Note: The title to this piece was
created at the last minute by Chris Lott
the other co-editor. It likely completely misrepresents the piece and
all ideas in it. But Tom is in Arizona and I am here, so...
Hello, gentle readers (and non-gentle folk, too). This is Tom, the conspicuously absent co-editor. Yes, I've ditched town, leaving my partner Chris to struggle with the final steps of putting our first issue on-line by himself. Thanks to the miracle of internet technology, though, the ghost of me will still be around to read submissions, contribute moral support, and provide my own take on the commentary (which is about all I was good for anyway). The rest of me will be basking in the 90 degree warmth of a Tucson October (followed by the 80 degree pleasantries of an Arizona November, and so on). A Fairbanksan, an Alaskan, I am no longer, and so, it is with this frame of reference that I begin my first editorial for Eclectica magazine.
It was a cold, moonless, clear-skied night, and I was on my way back from a math tutorial at the University of Chicago. My path took me through the quads, and as I entered them between two large, gothic buildings, I heard the strange sound of George Bush's amplified, nasal voice. There was no one else around. I followed the cement pathway towards the middle of the quadrangle, where a flagless pole stood. At its base was a large boom box, turned up loud. I sat on the raised base of the flag pole and listened as George Bush stated matter-of-factly that the United States was now officially at war with Iraq. The news echoed off the stone faces of the university buildings. The grounds were well lit, but up on the walls and roofs of the buildings, gargoyles and grotesques played in the shadows, and it didn't take a jump of the imagination to see them as the source of the echoes.
It made me shiver to think that the events of my life and of the world had come to this particular moment, where I would be alone in the middle of the University of Chicago quads, late at night, just at the moment when Bush would be announcing this war, and that, inexplicably, there would be a radio there, turned up loud and echoing from the walls, apparently just so I would hear the news. I was convinced this meant my destiny was to die in the Iraqi desert. At that time, of course, I had no way of knowing that Saddam's threat to make it "the war to end all wars" was going to prove far from ominous. I only knew that I could be drafted, and there could be a drawn-out conflict with Iraq, and that history seemed bent on repeating itself again.
A few years before that, I'd read about a guy named Fukiyama who said we were approaching the "end of history." What I took to be his basic premise was that all of the major events of history had already passed. There would be no more major wars, revolutions, fundamental changes in human existence. Now, all that was left was a kind of global mopping up. What impressed me most about this idea was how totally uninspired it left me feeling. I began to look around and wonder what the point of anything was. What's the point of having another Superbowl when we've already had nearly thirty of them? How pointless is it going to be when we reach Superbowl five-hundred? Where's the drama in that?
It occurred to me that drama, or the lack thereof, was essentially the root of the dilemma Fukiyama had created in my mind. History is a story, and story is drama, and without the dramatic element, history (ie: life) becomes pointless. Could he have been right that the drama, and therefore the life, had gone out of history?
The need to view life in dramatic terms is, I believe, the basis of apocalyptic prophecy. After all, how can you have a good story without a good conclusion? The apocalypse, for all its unpleasantries, is one hell of a conclusion, in more ways than one. At its roots, the apocalyptic vision gives us a sense of purpose. Either we will be rewarded for achieving that purpose, or we will be punished for failing it.
But to be honest, I don't believe in the apocalypse. I don't believe in the end of history, either. In fact, when it comes right down to it, I've got trouble with belief in general.
I'm twenty-six years old and very, very conscious of my own mortality. I keep feeling like life is passing me by, in the sense that I wish I was already an accomplished author, a husband/father, a success at something. Instead, I find myself unemployed, far in debt, and on my way to Tucson, Arizona: a place I've only visited once, where I have no family and no prospects. I'm leaving behind family and friends, my identity as an Alaskan, a fledgling career as a teacher, and a lifestyle that, except for the icy winters and the sense that I haven't really had to "grow up" yet, was suiting me just fine. Which isn't to say I'm drowning in despair, because on the contrary I'm very excited about the move, but the overall effect has definitely left me more conscious of my own mortality.
What does one do with one's life?
You that are reading this, does it ever boggle your mind to know that there are something like six billion other people on this planet with their own individual dreams, dilemmas, insecurities, things that make them laugh, etc.? And every one of us has to struggle with that fundamental question. Not "Why are we here?" but more specifically and more practically "What do I do with my life?" That is the human drama--one that, at least from my perspective, is in no danger of losing its mystery. It takes place on the level of the individual, and as our capacity for communication grows (ie: as the internet grows), we'll become more and more aware of the individual dramas unfolding around us. History, yours and mine, will continue.
Before I sign off, I'd just like to throw out a few questions that have been nagging me for answers:
Okay, I'll cut myself off on that one. I hope you enjoy the pieces in this month's issue as much as I do, and, of course, I hope you'll tune in next month to see what's cooking then.
October 3, 1996