Conversations in art about ecological collapse and our place in the changing world

Conversation 6

My Heart Can Barely Keep Up
Sue Goyette

sue-goyette-my-heart-can-barely-keep-up-the-scales-project

Priorities
Carla Gunn

Ailsa resents how she’s spending her weekend preparing lectures on species extinction, swirling mounds of ocean plastic and melting glaciers — not because she doubts the veracity or gravity of the situation, but because it’s all so damn depressing. How has Margaret managed to teach this depressing soul-crushing class for the last three years anyway? She further resents how Jeff managed to saddle her with this course in the first place. How smug he looked when he called her into his office to tell her she’d have to pick up where Margaret left off.

Sometimes she wishes she could be a climate denier, that she could honestly believe that the earth is cooling, or that this is all part of God’s master plan. Maybe she could try to find God. There would be a certain comfort in thinking of the dying planet as just a temporary staging area. An added bonus would be those communion wafers. As a child she looked forward to Sunday services with Nina and her mother mainly on account of those wafers. How divine they tasted melting in her mouth in a puddle of red wine.

She minimizes her PowerPoint and opens Amazon. Yes, they sell them! One thousand communion wafers directly from God’s Outlet for $13.99. She completes the purchase. This cheers her up. She considers what religion she’d actually pick if she was forced to choose one. She thinks she’d go with Ragnarok. She likes that in the Norse version of the end days there are both Gods and Goddesses with names. Why is the Christian God nameless? It’s like naming your dog “dog.”

Coincidentally, one of the Just Predict questions today is: What is the likelihood of global collapse within the next decade? Ailsa researched this for a good twenty minutes on Google before responding with 70%, although she felt this was a somewhat conservative guess. She has no idea how her teammates responded to this question, but she herself is fairly certain industrialized civilization is on the verge of collapse. She’s read the studies, the predictions, the models of this doomsday scenario versus that. But like everyone else she has things to do: groceries to get, conversations to have, dogs to walk, lectures to prepare, appointments to keep, coffee to drink, sex to have. Where in her overcrowded brain does she have the room to entertain such a large and catastrophic reality? One that demands a humongous venue and most certainly will require more than a few reprioritizations? She has grown quite attached to the priorities she has already, and they have taken years — her whole life, really — to organize. What the evidence is suggesting is that a good chunk of what has imbued her life with meaningfulness is in fact utterly meaningless. It is then that her mind does a wide mental sweep, searching for something — anything — to quell that feeling of profound disconnection. She experiences a momentary blackout, like a prolonged mental blink. No, she simply does not have the strength to fully immerse herself in this cause, no matter how worthy.

Feeling really antsy now, Ailsa closes the PowerPoint, clicks again on the Amazon link and browses lightweight summer pants. So many choices. She settles a light grey linen pair, adds them to her cart, and feels a twinge of guilt as she processes the payment. Shopping and mindfulness meditation, with its focus on the present moment has, she knows, become her God substitution. At present her moments are fairly benign. She wonders what she will do, though, when the Elites horde all of the resources, create a famine for the masses and her present moment includes starving to death.  Will she protest? Throw rocks at bank windows and beat the shit out of BMW convertibles with a shovel? And what about when there’s nothing left to do and no point railing against it all, like if there is a sudden environmental collapse leaving the population without water to drink or air to breathe? She knows from her AP psychology course that in a crisis like a plane crash, there are three sorts of people: those who slip into a zombie-like state and do nothing; those who scream and cry and generally freak out; and those who calmly set about planning their escape.

She likes to think she’d be the planner, like Walter in the novel Homo Faber who, when advised that the plane would soon crash, calmly examined his map, determined his present location and set about making plans for what he’d do once he’d escaped the wreckage. Ailsa knows that realistically she will not escape such a massive collapse, but really, what other contingency can reasonably be planned for? 

But forget all that for now — there are PowerPoint slides on plankton depletion to prepare. Fucking Jeff.

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