Being cooped up in a New England house this time of year isn’t fun. It’s all rain, mud and washed-out blossoms covering the streets and driveways. To live up here one must have a rich interior life. If you don’t have a Netflix subscription, books become really important in maintaining a positive state of mind.
Each year I try to have a theme to my reading. Last year it was “murder mysteries set in ancient Rome” (Lindsey Davis, Steven Saylor). This year it was classic science fiction (Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick).
If you think this stuff is only for people with Y chromosomes who can’t get dates on the weekend, prepare to be enlightened. The best science fiction is not about technology, but human nature, and what happens to human nature when you take it out of its natural environment and stick it on a spaceship in a faraway nebula.
Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) was one of the best, and one of his best books, published in 1962, was “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”
The plot is fairly simple. A creepy carnival comes to a small Midwestern town and people — lonely, depressed, middle-aged people — start disappearing while the sideshow coincidentally adds to its collection of sideshow “freaks” (yes, I know, you can’t get away with that anymore in politically correct America, but never mind).
A young boy and his best friend discover what’s going on and spend the rest of the book chasing, or being chased by, the evil demons who run the carnival.
Interestingly, the two boys are not the heroes of the book. The key role in the story is played by the father of one of the boys — a lonely, depressed and discontented 54-year-old library janitor/failed journalist who spends all his time worrying about death and the inevitable decline of old age (remember that a half-century ago, when most people died in their 60s and 70s, you were pretty much circling the drain at 50).
Realizing what the boys have discovered and understanding that fear and depression are exactly what the carnival demons use to exploit their victims, the father has an epiphany and learns to embrace the comic, meaningless, existential absurdity of life with joy, laughter and love, the expression of which ultimately destroys the carnival and its Hellish minions.
It’s a beautiful, poetic book, one that should be read by all of us Baby Boom geezers as we face the coming decades. Something wicked is indeed coming, and our generation is woefully unprepared for it. As one of my late aunts put it many years ago, “your generation is going to make terrible old people.”
As I approach my 70th birthday, I find myself surrounded by peers who, in one way or another, are resisting the aging process. Some color their hair, some don’t color their hair but wear it in the same style they did back in the 1970s (if you are a female wearing your silver-gray hair down to your waist, all you need to complete the ensemble is a broom and a black cat), some work out six days a week, some have divorced and married spouses half their age, some dress and talk like their kids or grandkids.
I don’t know if I should view these people as heroes or fools. Probably they’re a little bit of both, but I sense a large part of what they’re doing derives from the fear of growing old and dying, nostalgia for their wasted youth or desperation about appearing to be behind the times in this ever accelerating, digitizing, rules-ignoring, custom-and-tradition-be-damned world that spits out those who don’t keep up to the minute like so much phlegm.
So how should our generation face the future?
By accepting that there really is no meaning to life as such (a little exposure to Zen Buddhism is extremely helpful here; read some books by D.T. Suzuki or Alan Watts).
By realizing that there is no past or future, just an endless present that should be lived to the fullest (the best teacher lives in your house if you own a dog or cat).
By accepting that there are no such things as fear, sadness or worry: these exist only in your head and take your attention away from whatever is right in front of you.
By living one day at a time.
By putting your all into whatever needs to be done right now, to the point where you lose track of time altogether.
By loving, laughing and enjoying each day you are here.
By not caring what other people think (to a point; don’t break the law).
Even if you are in a wheelchair.
Even if you are in pain, or sucking oxygen from a tank.
Even if you are in a nursing home.
Even if a doctor has told you you have only a few months to live.
Live while you live, then die and be done with it.
Now stop worrying and get back to running your business.
Cliff Ennico ([email protected]) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series “Money Hunt.” This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com.
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