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Category: Big Picture

Dark Thoughts
As I sit here in the darkness, waiting for power to come back on, a familiar thought enters my mind: what if it never does?

And by that I mean, what if civilization just died? Because of some natural catastrophe…or because we messed up and killed it? What then?

What would happen to me and my 8 billion fellow humans and planet Earth and all the wonders we have wrought? And what of the story of our species, both good and bad? Would that history, that struggle, that aspiration, simply flicker and vanish?

Wup! The power’s back on! Awrite!

I wonder what’s on the tube?
Head First at Last
Okay, it’s done. Head First,my pull-out-the-stops graphic novel set in the parallel universe of Subconscious Comics, has finally arrived from my printer in London.

They surpassed my fondest hopes. It is gorgeous. Two years of hard work under a pandemic lockdown and forty years of cohabitation with my characters have produced — dare I say it? — a work of art.

It’s a limited run. I suppose there could be a second edition someday, but it won’t be like this one. Not of this size, not on such heavy paper, not with a hard cover, not nearly so nice. Nor will there sales on Amazon or any attempt at broad distribution.

This is it. 325 copies, half of which are already spoken for by my peerless backers on Kickstarter. The rest, I know, will find good homes.

Feels good.
A Cyst in Time
Did you notice during the pandemic that something happened to time? It seemed to stop flowing. For those of us who were touched by the fires here in the West, the effect was even more pronounced. Sometimes, it stood completely still. Or even ran backwards. It was as if we were caught in an eddy and couldn’t get out of it. Encysted in time, you might say, and beset on all sides by plagues and disasters.

Now, we are slowly, slowly breaking free from the blockage. Haltingly, uncertainly, society and culture are opening up. As with the landscape left behind by the fires, there will be a scar, but at least the flow of time has been restored. The disasters still swirl around us, but we have found the current in the stream and are moving forward.

I am not sure what we can learn from our brief captivity in that cyst in time. We are often counseled to live life in the present. It is seen as a way to happiness and even wisdom. In the cyst, however, there was no other choice open to us. Past and future were both cut off from us. The past not only disappeared, but nostalgia lost its charm. The future, where we normally park our hopes and dreams, became a fog, impenetrable and alien.

We were imprisoned in the now, forced to live in the present no matter how bad it was. There wasn’t much happiness to be found, and only now, back here in the flow, can we find the perspective to judge that period of our existence.

It sucked; that much I know. But I knew that at the time. Another truth: even when you live in a self-contained universe where time does not exist, you still age. Maybe that’s the beginning of wisdom I’m looking for. Whoopee.
Hey! A Little Help?
I had thought that we had a deal. A deal between me and nature shows, that is. The deal, as I understood it, went something like this: predators would pursue their prey. The tense music would swell, there would be long, protracted scenes of cold-eyed menace from the predator and flop-sweat terror from the prey. The suspense would build to a climax…and the lucky herbivore would finally escape. Barely.

The narrator would always make clear that the prey was lucky…this time. If I wanted to dwell on the horror of that hypothetical killing and eating, I could, but they would not permit the slaughter to happen on screen. They agreed (or so I had thought) that no animals would die in agony while I was still digesting my own dinner.

Well, it appears I was mistaken about that deal. Last night, on Planet Earth, a pack of African wild dogs, after a long chase across the Zambian grasslands, pulled down a wildebeest while I was watching and put some serious hurt on the poor bugger. I assume they went on to devour it on the spot, but at least I was spared that unpleasantness.

I suppose there must be a clause in our agreement that allows David Attenborough to do this if the predator in question is the focus of the show. If the stars are a family of kinkajous, say, or marmosets or meerkats or manatees, they will not die during the show. In a show about a predator, however, we know that its main job is to kill and eat other animals. I suppose you have to cover that part of the story no matter how bloody.

For some reason, though, I found this one depiction of the cycle of life to be particularly objectionable. I have seen nature shows, for instance, in which lions are the lead characters. As with the wild dogs, their line of work involves chowing down on adorable plant-eaters, but the king of beasts has the good grace to simply glom onto the victim’s neck until it suffocates. Still gruesome, to be sure, but I appreciate the exercise of noblesse oblige in allowing it to die before starting to eat it.

The wild pooches are not so polite, but I suppose that I can’t really blame them. They’re just doing their job. I am even willing to let Attenborough off the hook…this time. What really sticks in my craw, however, is the wildebeest itself. That’s right, I’m blaming the victim.

And no, not because it’s ugly, although that is hard to deny. It’s certainly no zebra or impala or dikdik, much less a meerkat or big juicy bunny. But let’s not dwell on appearances. Rather, I am down on the wildebeest because of the crowd it hangs out with. Specifically, the wildebeest tends to pal around with other wildebeests.

Whole herds, in fact, and that is where the problem lies. The wildebeest who was being pursued in this instance was desperate to get back to his herd. There, we were told, he would find safety in the numbers of his kinfolk, and the dogs would give up the chase.

There was suspense, of course, or I wouldn’t have been watching. The victim gets closer and closer to safety. Will he make it? Or will the bloodthirsty pack pull him down? He’s almost there! We can see some of the herd raise their heads and take notice. “Oh look,” you can imagine them thinking. “It’s Bob, and he’s about to be devoured by wild dogs. Bummer.” But do any of the herd lift a hoof to help? No sirree, Bob.

Now, a wildebeest herd can claim more than a million — yes, a million — of these brutes. And they’re big, too, with some of the bulls weighing as much as 400 pounds, complete with big hooves and horns. Couldn’t a few of them take a moment from chewing their cuds to go on a rescue mission? Maybe some young males looking to make a reputation? All it would take would be numbers, after all. No dog is going to hold his ground against a gang of gnus looking to rumble.

That doomed wildebeest might even be forgiven for thinking, as I had, that he had a deal. His deal would go something like this: if any one of us is threatened by a pack of dogs — or any predator — a pick-up squad of my fellow ‘beests will be dispatched to save me. In other words, the kind of herd immunity you can count on in a pinch. Maybe Bob should have gotten it in writing.
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Yes, voting matters. Polls do not.
~ H, Santa Cruz