Monday, September 12, 2011

Idea Garage Sale Continued: Disasters, Threat or Menace?

Two new fires on the map this morning, I see.

To cheer yourself up, bear in mind that today is the anniversary of the discovery of the Caverns of Lascaux, by four teen-age boys and a dog, during the Nazi occupation of France. Which is the kind of thing that makes you sit and ponder the possibility that God writes YA fiction...

So anyway, let's see if I can finish that thought I started yesterday. The fact that I'm having trouble writing about writing about disaster while a disaster is going on in my metaphorical backyard and the airwaves are clogged with 9/11 memorials and Elaine is still in a coma (but showing improvement) illustrates one of the hazards we face. Disasters are painful to think about. They should be painful to think about. And we avoid pain for good reason.

This is one cause for the time lag between the disaster and the historical explorations of and fiction based on the disaster. Another is that it's only with the passage of time that we can even get a long enough view to see the plot and structure of the disaster. Clouds of smoke, homes and national forests and pastures burning, evacuation, suspense, endangered firefighters and cattle and wildlife, jurisdictional disputes among agencies - this is the core experience of the wildfire, but it makes bad narrative. Only afterward, when we have the whole map of the affected area and can view its path, when the casualty statistics are assembled, the bills delivered; when the years have gone past and we've seen which areas needed to be burned over for their wildlife to come back and which subdivision developers went bankrupt and which families developed recurring lung problems, and the unpredictable repercussions have appeared - the local political dynasty founded in the ashes, the restructuring of this county's emergency services or that county's population of hobby ranchers - only then will we be able to find a narrative thread we can fruitfully follow.

Because that's the whole impulse behind talking, writing, drawing, and filming about chaotic terrible things to begin with. Irwin Allen movies aside, it's not entertainment, and catharsis is only a part of it. We are a pattern-making species. We crave order. More, we need it. Without it, we cannot extract useful generalizations with which we can map the best course of action through the next disaster.

Which is coming. In our hearts, we all know this.

Tune in tomorrow for a discussion on how to extract story from disaster, real and imagined.


  1. I'm getting depressed by this drought, the fires, the threat of fire. It's making me down right edgy and nervous. I'd rather deal with a hurricane. It approached, hits, goes away. Then you have the job of cleaning up and fixing what's been mangled. But this...I can't do a damn thing to make things better, to make it rain. It's simply horrible.

  2. Yeah. I'm not as close to bad ones as you are - the ones on the fringes of San Antonio have been relatively easy to deal with - and you can see how it preys on me. Hurricanes, positioned where we are, are experienced as Good Things at the end of a long drought. We could really use a hurricane, one of those that brings down the water instead of just blowing in winds to spread fires around.

    Which sounds heartless toward the people on the coast who would have to deal with the hurricane and the fact that their regular evacuation routes have, y'know, FIRES on them...