the closest fantasy

Bear with me, this one is probably going to meander a bit. It does all go together, though, like a tangle of disparate roots sprouting into one intimidating hedge.

The fallow period of the year between Samhain and Yule is always nesting season for me. I fantasize about having a farm; I read a lot of homesteading blogs; I buy more things from the farmer’s market; I write stories where people spend a lot of time hungry, hunting food and preparing and eating it. Sometimes I even knit.

This year the story is a post-apocalyptic piece—a story about a farming community rather than a band of roving warriors, and about the young man who literally falls into the community and his struggles to get his feet under himself. The community is getting by without fossil fuels or their derivatives (plastics, most obviously, but also a number of food additives, current pesticides and fertilizers, etc. etc.), and I figured I should do some research to help me get a better feel for what that would change: what would be lost and what would be done instead.

So I picked up a copy of The Transition Handbook, the manifesto of a movement that seeks to move modern culture away from fossil fuel dependency and toward “local resilience” in order to avoid both climate and economic disasters (whether or not you believe we’ve passed peak oil yet, it’s definitely a finite resource). The book didn’t give me quite as much help as I would have liked; a lot of it was utopian news articles from the post-oil future or community-building exercises to get other people involved in the transition effort. Mostly it just made the present feel fragile and strange.

Next step was The World Without Us, which is an extended imaginative-reporting thought experiment: if humans just vanished tomorrow, what would happen to the world in our wake? It’s far-ranging and fascinating, and much better for evoking the atmosphere of a world in which our dominion over the earth is a thing of the past. It’s also sobering as hell, especially in the discussions of the eventual, inevitable failure of nuclear power stations (how long they stay stable depends on the state we leave them in, but without somebody there to keep up the maintenance they’ll eventually all have meltdowns) and the persistence of plastics in the environment (there just aren’t any microbes that know how to break that stuff down yet, and who knows how long it’ll take before they develop?). I wound up feeling like I couldn’t possibly justify this story, like there was no way to suspend disbelief and act like the world after our technological fall would remain a world that we as a species could carve out a comfortable life in. It was utter fantasy to believe we’d be fine!

And that brings me back to an idea that I first ran across on The Archdruid’s Report, though it may well have currency elsewhere: all apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic narrative is fantasy, not in the genre sense but in the dreams-and-yearning sense. It’s an escapist fantasy for pessimists; it says, the worst has already happened, and now we can fix it. Modern culture ends with a bang, and now the heroic survivors can live according to the author’s vision of How We Should Have Been All Along, forging a new society that isn’t Doing It All Wrong. It’s a fantasy of getting through all the ugly parts in one big catastrophe instead of a slow, grinding decline through increasing economic disparity, food and water shortages, natural and manmade disasters, and resistance to change.

The reality is what I have, though, despite how good the fantasy feels in a novel. And in a roundabout way that ‘s part of why I’m looking to buy a house. I want something I can feel grounded in for the reality AND fantasy versions of the future; I want the space and the resources to grow food and shelter my clan and forge a little community together. Something that feels more solid than the bizarrely ephemeral present with its promise of endless economic growth in a closed system.

….Which is a very long way of saying, if I’m slow at writing this winter, it’s because reality has temporarily overtaken my fantasies, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I’m able.

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