Seven years ago I had an idea for a book on artful living while flying between Vancouver, BC, and Portland, Oregon. I was nearing the end of a long period of transitional living even though I didn’t know it yet. There was a different sensibility than, one that still held onto the thread of progress and change. The company I worked for was developing a new solar technology that promised to crack the code of higher efficiency and lower costs. After years spent in the Southwest, the mist and green of the Pacific Northwest felt like renewal. Now, years later, a different job and have lived in the same city for seven years, I have a very different perspective. I have realized that the book I wanted to write and why it’s been so difficult to complete all these years is one that serves as a guidebook to the inevitable apocalypse.
Apocalypse isn’t meant to be deliberately provocative, it’s the right term for the future. With the election of Donald Trump, the unrelenting persistence of climate change and the other existential threats that are becoming ever more possible with each day, I don’t think it’s hyperbole to think regarding an apocalyptic timeline. In fact, end times are on the lips of most sentient people these days if only as black humor. Our video games, television, and cinema are filled with apocalyptic themes we have an insatiable appetite for. Espionage, serial killing, alien invasions, and zombies are everywhere serving as an outlet to the reality of our own impending doom. It’s easier to escape into denial than to face overwhelming odds. History is replete with tribes who relented to oppression without much of a fight or who finally gave in to a deluge of violence rather than fight to their last person. We love to portray heroic figures who rise up and save us from impossible odds, but that is a fantasy that makes it tolerable to live in a world where we are powerless to affect change and control our own destiny’s. Reality is a harder pill to swallow. Let’s face it, most of us identify more with Cypher in The Matrix, than we do with Neo.
Today’s post is a shift in my approach to my book and to the way I intend to communicate moving forward. It’s not a new pessimism, but rather a realistic optimism. My favorite 20th-century painter Francis Bacon was famous for taking an approach to life, that is really at the core of the book I’m writing—blind optimism. I’ll save the deeper dive into this philosophical approach, and it’s underpinnings for other posts, but in essence Bacon, like many artists, was interested in truth. He knew the journey toward truth was the point, not finding truth. This provided him with an optimism despite his work being an unadulterated reveal of the darkness of human nature. In his last interview he said;
We are all prisoners, we are all prisoners of love, one’s family, one’s childhood, profession. Man’s universe is the opposite of freedom, and the older we get, the more this becomes true. I am a desperate optimist. Optimist, because I live from day to day as if I am never going to die. Desperate because I don’t have a very high opinion of the human being and of me in particular.
This is the conversation we need to be having at this time. We’re burrowing further and further into a never-ending cycle of irony and denial. That disconnect is leading away from communal cooperation and returning to reactionary tribalism which pushes us every day faster toward our own demise. We no longer live on the playing field of conventional warfare, sustainable population growth, or a moderate appreciation for our natural surroundings. Every decision we collectively make now has profound effects on our future well being. It’s hard to face this idea, and it often seems overwhelming in the face of the political circus of the Trump administration. How can we live artfully in the face of such looming disaster? Why not just lay in bed all day and drink ourselves to numbness? Denial seems like a pretty good place to be right now. However, like Bacon, we should take a different tack.
I’m advocating for Artful Living at the End of the World. I’d rather be awake than asleep, and you should want that too. Being alive is always better than dead, no matter the conditions. Being aware means, you are alive. Live optimistically against the odds because what you can’t control or change doesn’t matter to you, it only layers on more anxiety. This isn’t a selfish approach either. It’s not time to stop paying your bills or run away and live on a tropical island. That’s still denial. Walk with your head up into the storm and feel the rain and sleet pelting your body. Accept the pain of the world we’ve all had a role in creating because this is, on some subconscious level what we accept as being the result of our desires. There is no pleasure without pain, no light without dark. As Charles Baudelaire once said; “Modernity signifies the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art of which the other half is eternal and the immutable.” If we are not embracing both of those halves of artful living, then we’re not really living.