Monday, March 2, 2009

Writing Sample: "We never expected to live this long."

These are musings inspired by Elizabeth Bear's rather brilliant People Like Us.



When I was a very small child, I was convinced that nuclear war would destroy the world before I could grow up.

I thought this because many adults around me had grown up with the same fear, indoctrinated and terrified as children. The difference was in our educations: my parents were taught that survival was a possibility (both through after the Bomb B-movies, and that whole "hide under your desk with these magic radiation-blocking textbooks held over your head and all will be well" thing, which my generation all found hilarious).

I knew what a nuclear winter would do to the planet by age 8, and knew that humanity's survival or even the rebuilding of civilization was wildly improbable. The threat was just something to be accepted, as far from the control of anyone I knew as a normal winter was. I was not afraid, because I didn't understand death; I remember hoping that I would be one of the ones to die in the initial blast, and not linger on as a mutated and icky whatever.

After the nukes, it was AIDS. Grown-ups read their mysterious newspapers, which as all of us knew contained nothing good besides the funnies, and collectively and globally panicked. Every day SIDA (hey, I grew up in France) was on the news. I knew what sex was and what it was for (see previous parenthesis); now I thought that it would probably be what killed me, long before anyone could consider me "old." A little girl in my elementary school died of AIDS from a blood transfusion before anyone knew that was dangerous.

Then it was the environment, as we learned in greater detail as the years went on what a hopeless situation we had been left with - more by our grandparents and great-grands and great-greats than our parents...

Again, however, these were not reasons to live in fear, besides the fact that we were too young to feel anything but immortal. They became reasons, especially as we grew into preteens and teenagers and twenty-somethings, to make the most of every day.

A few things struck me in Bear's essay.
One was the observation that boomers are terrified of aging; though my parents are pretty good examples of aging gracefully, I see this terror in their slightly younger contemporaries, those who came of age in the Sixties and Seventies. I somehow hadn't really noticed that, probably because my parents' attitude was a bit different.
One was the realization that I *know* privacy is a myth, and that it doesn't bug me that much.
One was that most people my age assume that JFK, MLK, Malcolm X, etc were assassinated and that there was a cover-up. And that that is just the cost of doing business, government-wise; their screw-up was in getting caught.

One was the line "we never expected to live this long."

I didn't realize it, but I didn't. And now that I'm making all these decisions about future career/education/lifestyle/children/marital status, I'm terrified because I feel like I've never really thought about it before. Unlike The Who, I didn't "hope I die before I get old" - I just assumed that, statistically, I probably would.

Now I have a lifetime ahead of me and, it often seems, not the foggiest clue what to do with it.

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