Inhospitable. I’ve been chewing this word around lately: it best describes the world in which I find myself. I really do mean “find myself,” with all the implications of that phrase: confusion, surprise or even shock, a daily sense of “how did I get here?” or, more accurately, “How did this place get to be like this?” How did the planet become so inhospitable in just 65 years? It was different in the years during which I grew up, and even when I first became an adult. I cannot, of course, pinpoint the moment or year that the planet turned from a somewhat challenging landscape into one of absolute inhospitability: it occurred gradually. I am only partly speaking of environmental change; that’s not the only aspect of life that’s become inhospitable.
People like me, born many decades ago, came into an environment very different from the one we’re currently surrounded by, and therefore we are experiencing, to varying degrees, culture shock. Maybe this happens to every generation – I certainly saw it happen to my mother – but now the changes are speeding up. Some of my peers – I’d say maybe half — hide from the new: they still listen to “the oldies” from the 1950’s and nothing else, have carved out lives as similar to those of their parents as they could possibly manage, have little or nothing to do with the Internet much less “social networking,” and are bewildered when forced to confront anything outside the zone of comfort they’ve created. Who can blame them? It’s scary as hell out here.
Remember the scene in Back to the Future, when a car pulls into a gas station and three uniformed guys run outside to cheerfully provide service? Funny it was – but it was no joke. On one level, the scene signifies the novelty of the automobile at the time, but on another level that scene captures precisely what I’m talking about. I wonder if younger people can even begin to imagine what a mindfuck this can be – although I must admit that even those in their 40s are going through it too, what with the culture changing so rapidly. Culture shock keeps hitting us in waves, rolling over one generation, then the next, with barely a pause in between.
In this inhospitable environment, each day is a struggle. The smallest task – paying the cable bill, ordering a prescription refill – takes hours, despite the ability to accomplish them by pushing buttons on a telephone. That’s because, after all the button pushing, it turns out that the cable company lost your phone number and declares you don’t exist, or they think you’re another customer, or…any number of mixups. The refill needs your doctor’s permission, or the insurance company won’t pay for the scrip anymore, or the pharmacist decides it’s too soon for a refill. The first hour of the day, at the very least, is eaten up with these hassles, by the end of which you’re in no condition to sit down and write as planned, so you decide to go out to do the food shopping and write when you get back. Except that the bank won’t cash your check until tomorrow, and the store is out of your brand of whatever, or the car won’t start, or the bus doesn’t come, and the temperature takes a sudden dive and you’re freezing and can’t stay outside in your shorts and sandals one more minute.
Everywhere we go we run into mobs of people. We jockey for parking places, or we wait half an hour for a bus with no empty seats. We wait on long lines to pay for things.The people paid to wait on us are idiots or annoying or nasty. We make a phone call and are put on hold before we even say hello.
Most of these problems are connected to overpopulation. Too many of us compete for fewer and fewer resources, and our poor depleted planet is less and less able to accommodate the hordes of hungry humans. Why we never talk about overpopulation as Ground Zero of the planetary crisis I don’t know, unless it’s because we’re so busy trying to protect our right and access to birth control and abortion. O, the supreme irony of it all!
Coda: After I posted this, I left my house and proceeded to have one of the worst days of my life, which included several of the above named hassles. I almost deleted this, afraid I’d spooked myself. Then I figured, nah: I’m not superstitious. But if tomorrow isn’t better, it’s comin’ down!