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Thursday, April 22, 2021

Read "Jamie's Wedding" from Stories from the Quiet | Short Story Collection in Progress

 

 

Notes: We are facing a binary choice: change, or die. That is the growing consensus among scientists to economists to philosophers to ... well, me. I'm no expert in any of those fields, to be sure; but I do study, I do read, and I do observe. Because my opinion isn't heralded in the New York Times or on PBS News Hour does not mean it is worthless. The popularity of an opinion is in no way connected to that opinion's truth or validity. Most truths, in fact, are deeply unpopular, and are met with violence and oppression, as do those who espouse them.

Change ... or die. Our political systems and governments are antiquated and increasingly anachronistic. So too--very much so--our economic systems, capitalism in particular. Our social structures are worse off than our infrastructure: they are crumbling from the strain of their own internal contradictions. And yet, despite the enormous damage they inflict on society, and very much on the environment, we cling to them. That has got to change. As in now.

To survive what Carl Sagan called the Bottleneck will require massive changes in worldview, philosophy, science, economics, all of it. If we don't ... well, what I call the Quiet will win anyway.

What is the Quiet? I sense it every day where I live, which is southwestern Oregon. It is a holy peace, one that underlies everything, but is almost totally absent in most people and the places they live. Why? Because their heads and their hearts are full of ruinous bullshit. Let's just get honest about it.

The Quiet is going to win. That much is certain. If we don't change, it will win. We won't be around anymore to sense it or be renewed or uplifted by it (the few of us who bother in this modern day), but it will be there anyway.

But if we do change, it will still win. It's still coming back. In that case, we'll just be smart enough to know that we can't defeat it; we can't change it; we can't get around it. It's coming; it's on its way; and we had better change now so that we can continue enjoying it--and that our kids can enjoy it when it's their time to.

What are the odds on that? Not great. There are 8 billion human beings on this planet. Very, very few give a shit about anything beyond the frontiers of their noses. That's deadly, and must go away forever. Other things that need to go away: capitalism (as I mentioned), corporations (at least as they are structured today), conspicuous consumption, greed, most status seeking, and probably a hundred other ills and evils.

Like I said. Our chances are not great. At all.

Even so, the Quiet will win. That is inevitable.

There is tremendous peace in that, at least for me. Our time as an out-of-control middle-school-stunted species is quickly coming to an end one way or another. For humanity to see the next century, we are going to have to grow up. Not a tiny percentage of us, all of us, or very nearly all of us.

These stories are from the Quiet. In some, we get our shit together and continue our journey through the Cosmos. In others, we don't. If I were to write these in proportion to the chances of both, I suppose I'd have to write four hundred stories where we don't pull our heads out of our asses to one where we do. But I am an optimist, when it comes down to it, so I will write more than one of the remote possibility where we greet the Quiet not as middle schoolers, but as adults actually worth the title.

Thank you for reading. And please forgive any errors you may encounter. These stories are roughly edited.


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1. Jamie's Wedding

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He woke with a sharp pinching sensation under his left armpit, then another, much sharper.

   “Gaah!” he yelled, sitting up and tearing his shirt off.

   A crab fell out of it after he stood and violently shook it. It sideways-skittered away, hiding in a nearby crack. He reached with his right hand and inspected the damage.

   Blood. Not a lot, but enough to get him to curse richly.

   “Jamie?”

   Tanica blinked up at him. She was half in, half out of her sleeping bag, her white T-shirt bright in the early-morning sun.

   “What’s up?”

   “Think this’ll soak through my tux?”

   She sat up. “Sea critter getcha?”

   “Crab.”

   She sleepily shook her head. “A tuxedo. I still can’t believe you’re going to wear one.”

   “It’s a theme wedding,” he shrugged, wiping the blood on his pant leg. “You wear weird clothes at theme weddings.”

   She pulled a water bottle out of her nearby backpack and drank from it. She shook her head again after she swallowed. “A theme wedding from such an awful time.”

   “It wasn’t all bad.”

   “Bad enough.”

   He shrugged again and dropped his shirt over his head. She came to her knees and began rolling up her sleeping back. “Tell me again why it’s a theme wedding from 2045—I mean, besides the obvious?”

   “No other reason but the obvious.”

   “Some of your guests have talked to me about it. They don’t know if you two are nuts, or if you are trying to alienate people.”

   “Definitely the first,” he answered. “And maybe a tiny bit of the second. I think people should remember. It was a dark year, but also a very bright one. Humanity finally decided to pull its collective head out of its ass that year.”

   “Some say it wasn’t for another two years before that happened.”

   “Whatever. 2045 or 2047 or 2050, or even 2060. We’re both optimists, so we’re going with the optimistic number.”

   He gave his armpit one more inspection, then rolled up his bag. She got up, dressed, and did the same with hers. He slung his backpack over his shoulder and with her turned to face the Pacific Ocean. It was a bright morning; it was probably going to be hot, just like yesterday, though it was still only early June.

   “Did you know that people used to party down there every day? There’s a long ridge of sandstone fifteen feet under. All sorts of etchings on it. The sea never got that high.”

   “I’ve seen old videos. Pretty cool.”

   “Let’s go. We’ve got to get ready for this ridiculous theme wedding of yours.”

   “And Jill’s,” he corrected.

   “Seriously gonna have another talk with that girl,” muttered Tanica, taking the lead.

   They were on the “flat stone” nearest to the remains of the old Ocean Beach Pier. The “new” pier (it was over sixty years old) was a kilometer to the south and stretched more than two over the sea. The flat stones were artificial, like little islands, and had their own paths back to shore. People commonly used them to camp, as they had, or eat picnic lunches.

   The old buildings of Ocean Beach were largely gone, save for a few, which stood artfully in the low incoming tide. The city had retreated up to the hills a mile and a half inland. Pathways led to it; these were bordered by gardens and sea walls covered in flowering vines.

   It was going to be a beautiful day to get married.

 

 

Tille Dunver, their village’s chief, was the officiator. He stood before Jamie and Jill, who were dressed in a black tuxedo and white, flowing wedding gown, respectively. The bridesmaids—also a relic from the past—were standing off to the side, dressed in purple (“periwinkle”) gowns. Jamie’s “best man,” Josh Graves, stood behind him and down a step. He too wore a tux.

   Behind was Jamie and Jill’s village, separated by an aisle lined with flowers.

   “There was a time when weddings, for all the flowery language, for all the exhortations of commitment to one another and to God, were in truth nothing more than social or suburban status points, and reasons to consume unthinkingly,” began Tille. “There was a time when a wedding day was the biggest day of the young bride’s life. Can any of you imagine the thinking that somehow justified that as sane?”

   The crowd, maybe sixty in all, chuckled. Some shook their heads disbelievingly.

   Tille glanced at Jamie and Jill, then back at the crowd. “When Jamie and Jill declared that they wanted this wedding to look something like those old ones in such an insane time, and then asked me to officiate it, I balked. The world of that time was heinously violent and willfully misinformed and dark. And so I asked them: ‘Why do you want to relive on such a special day such an awful era?’ And Jill answered, ‘Because it ended. Because we survived it. Because whatever horrors were endemic to it were overcome.’

   “Such are the requirements for any relationship—perseverance, hope, faith, optimism. Despite billions of human beings back then who were indifferent to the fate of millions of species of plant and animal life, of their own lives and even their childrens’ lives; despite those billions refusing to change their ways in order to save themselves; despite the ignorance, hatred, shortsightedness, and authoritarianism that raged back then, enough of the human species—maybe three in every hundred people, maybe—refused to go along and get along. They persisted, and ultimately won.

   “We are here because of that three percent. That’s all it really takes to bring big change the world—just three out of every hundred people.

   “Today, because of that three percent, the world is slowly healing. Humankind’s true purpose has finally been accepted and embraced: to take care of this world—not our world, this world—and all the other living creatures on it.

   “Today we consume less per person than a man or woman living in 1960 did. Our economics have changed—radically. We can choose to work, or choose not to work. In either case, no one starves or is kicked to the curb or ostracized. No one.”

   “Corporations—those giant tumors that once took great delight destroying the biosphere—are no more. There are still big businesses, yes. But they are entirely dependent on local governments to allow them to exist; they must share at least three-quarters of their profits with the community-at-large; and they are no longer in any way allowed to influence government, no matter how minute, no matter how grand, the scale.

   He glanced at Jamie and Jill and chuckled. “A wedding back then typically cost more than a hundred thousand dollars. That’s right: a hundred thousand dollars,” he repeated when the congregants gasped. “People used to go in hock way past their ears in order to finance one. They lived in debt, and they died in debt. Very few questioned any of it, the total insanity of it. In fact, they thought you insane if you refused to go into debt!”

   He paused for a moment to let his words sink in.

   “Jill is a marine biologist. She says that despite global climate change, the ocean is showing signs of vast healing from that terrible time. Is that true, Jill?”

   Jill, smiling from behind her veil, nodded. Jamie squeezed her hand.

   “And Jamie? We all know what Jamie does.”

   A few in the congregation applauded; a couple whistled.

   “His little farm—which I’m sure isn’t how he’d like it to be known—is thriving. He lives on what it and his basic income provide. But that is enough. That is more than enough.

   “In those terrible times, people commonly died of starvation. They commonly died of insanity from living on the streets. You had to ‘make money,’ or ‘make a living,’ as it was known, or die. I’m not kidding,” Tille went on when a few in the crowd murmured. “ ‘Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,’ was the common refrain. “ ‘Don’t be a loafer. Don’t be a welfare leech.’ Any of you know what ‘welfare’ was back then?”

   A few nodded. Both Jamie and Jill did. Tanica, sitting in the first row, shook her head with disgust.

   “Back in those days, ‘welfare,’ so called, was the state grudgingly giving citizens a pittance in order to get by, every penny of it carefully monitored. It was never enough, and many suffered horribly, including their children. When UBI was rolled out, these ‘pull yourself up by your own bootstraps’ folks got violent. Why? Because mercy and decency were always nonexistent with them and within them, despite many of them claiming religious sensibilities whose very moral codes strongly advocated for helping others out.

   “In the end, it didn’t matter what religion you belonged to, what savior you followed, what lofty things they said that were ignored by virtually everybody. What mattered was your relationship to this world, to its needs, to the life on it. Christianity is a dying religion. So is Hinduism, Buddhism, and a hundred other so-called ‘faiths.’ They aren’t dying because everyone became materialistic or began worshiping another religion, science, but because people finally learned to honestly start living the worthy moral truths each religion espoused. And when that happened—when it really, truly happened—the flowery texts and the iffy miracles and the massive contradictions their holy books contained … they could all be discarded. And they are.

   “It is safe to say that our world today is far holier, far more religious and spiritual, than anything they could have dreamed of.

   “In those days, a couple got married, found themselves an overpriced suburban cookie-cutter ‘home,’ and there they holed up until they died—that is, when they weren’t trading up in order to climb the status ladder. Old friends were forgotten and kicked to the curb in order to protect the ever-fragile structural integrity of the union. And it was fragile: in 2045, the divorce rate in the country known as the United States, whose land were are standing on today, was nearly three-fourths: three out of every four marriages ended in divorce. Not too many years before, a philosopher coined the now-familiar term amatonormativity to describe dysfunctional societal notions about romance and marriage, ones that made them absolute priorities, even over older friendships.

   “It was just one facet of suburbia and industrialization that added to the wanton indifference and destruction. It harmed whole generations, many irreparably.

   “We don’t live that way anymore. Thank God.”

   The congregation applauded. A few whistled.

   “Life isn’t perfect today. Far from it. Problems are part and parcel of existence. Greed and selfishness still exist. Dysfunction and depression can still be found. Backstabbers and conmen and –women are still around. There are still plenty of ignoramuses still trying to destroy what they don’t understand or refuse to accept. But compared to those days, they are vanishing, each one, as we as a species come, more and more, into our own.”

   He stopped for a moment. “Enough sermonizing. Jill, Jamie, you’ve written your vows to each other. Let’s hear them now.”

 

 

They stood at the boarding deck of the San Diego Harbor Tower more than seven hundred feet above Fifth Avenue and watched as the Blue Pacific dirigible loomed quietly overhead and came to a stop. Invisible magnetic docking lines kept the big airship from coasting away in the nice westerly breezes coming off the water far below.

   They stood in line to board. The ticket-taker ran a hand-held device over their tickets; the device beeped twice.

   “Congratulations!” the man said, glancing up at them.

   They gave him a grateful smile.

   “Seats 22A and –B,” he said. “And have a nice honeymoon!”

   “Thanks,” said Jill. She took Jamie’s hand.

   They got to the stairs. The village had bought them an air cruise to Bali, with a two-night stay in Honolulu on the way. The Blue Pacific’s great bulk shadowed the sun. It would be their home as they crossed that vast, healing ocean.

   Jill kissed Jamie’s cheek as they boarded.

 

 

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