Feeling of doom

Evard Munch's The Scream convincingly captures the “feeling of doom.”

No, my doom is not because of the election, though writing now to you from my dog kennel I cannot yet know the results we will wake up to Wednesday morning, or in fact if anything will be settled by then. (Oh, did I mention I’ve been sleeping in a dog kennel with Jackson?) But let me explain.

For this we must go back in time, that slippery substance which we float in without feeling its passing, but if we step out of it… well, then things really get weird. Let’s see, how far back do we need to go?

Nearly four decades ago, maybe longer, I began a file called “Document of the Last Days (DOTLD).” (And when I say “file” I mean an actual place to keep actual things.) I had the then strange notion that I wanted to write about the coming crisis and should start collecting data. My idea came from working as an environmentalist in the ‘70s. Over time, all the work that we had done — and by “we” I mean little bands of dedicated young people all over the nation — was being erased or overturned piece by piece by unfriendly forces. We began to realize that the environmental struggle would need to be an ongoing effort, not something that could be accomplished and that would stay accomplished.

So for DOTLD, I began to clip things out of the newspaper (you know, that ancient device some of you may be holding): articles about old growth trees cut down, whole forests slain; items about little frog species disappearing; odd stories about pollution; tics of nature. At first I added to my file once every week or two; but the pace picked up. Soon these items came in such a barrage that I began keeping whole segments of the newspaper, even entire newspapers or magazines.

Finally I gave the whole project up because what started as something circumscribed and very Pacific-Northwest turned into a worldwide tsunami of troubling information. Every year, every month, there were new crises. To the never-ending roll-out of environmental disturbances — initially about losing wilderness — now I added notes on soil depletion; ag run-off into our watersheds; chemical saturation, and its effects on our well-being and the health of our pets; the first signs of collapse of ocean fisheries, loss of salmon runs, and the destruction of the reefs. I haven’t even mentioned yet the unexpectantly dramatic loss of ice at the poles; electronic waste; the Sixth Extinction; men’s lowered sperm count; PCBs in Inuit mother’s milk; rape culture…

And, thanks to the current inhabitants of the White House, the dangers to our democracy. Now we can add to the file notes on our plutocracy; American fascism; the rise of the extreme right’s Jew-baiting, White Supremacist Movement, Nationalist violence, LGBTQ intolerance; gun violence; the full-faced corruption and ethical scandals of our “public servants;” and, perhaps of ultimate importance, the actual irrelevance of truth.

You think I’ve gone too far, gotten too negative? I think this is just the surface of the pond scum we’re trying to swim in. Yes, there are many amazing and miraculous events and projects alive in the world — I often talk about them and certainly will again — but for now, “Tenir les barricades!” To the barricades! We’re fighting dark forces.

Every once in awhile the reality of these current dark days sinks into our bones and we find it hard to even move. I’ve had several months of domestic darkness too — septic system failures, windows cracking for no good reason, deeds of trust unreconveyed, physical calamities, and ghosts — culminating with, completely out of the blue, a small neatly pleated pork humbow leading me directly to the Emergency Room at the Northwest Hospital and Medical Center (an affiliation of the University of Washington).

I started sneezing. Then my hands itched. Then my ear canals started tingly. Then, slowly, but picking up speed, my finger joints swelled and stiffened, my skin turned red, and an itchy rash raced up my arms. By the time we pulled into the ER, I had forgotten that I ever cared what others thought of me in public: I was moaning and itching and squirming and starting to disremember how to breathe.

Soon I was whooshed away in a wheelchair into a room with a bed, then all the clothing on the top half of my body magically disappeared, and a team of four caring professionals started poking me with needles containing various potients to slow down my auto-immune reaction to… that humbow? I don’t know. (Special thanks to Dr. Pawa, Curtis, Christie and Constance for getting me back into my body kindly, quickly, and efficiently.)

While I was still buzzing and the large muscles in my legs were jerking and spasming, I began thinking about time, how it streams along in little moments, which like that old geometry/physics problem can always be divided into tinier and tinier units — halve this one, now halve that half, now halve that quarter, and keep halving ad infinitum — so that you can never see the whole of it, or ever get to the other side of the street. But stepping off Einstein’s relativity train gives one time to think.

Anaphylactic shock is a fascinating way to be reminded that we are rarely in charge of our bodies, or really much else in the big scheme of things. Lying in a hospital bed gives one pause; there’s time to go backwards and dig up memories that have been buried somewhere along the way on that string of entropic moments called life. It’s rewarding to see what can be found there; to see what jumps to the top.

After I had re-entered my illusion of being in control of myself and had managed to find my clothes, nurse Christie handed me a stack of papers about what I had just experienced. One sheet included a list of symptoms one can experience during an anaphylactic episode: the unlikely “feeling of doom” jumped out at me from the middle of the page and seemed exquisitely apt.

Yup, I was certain I would die on the ER floor when it seemed no one was noticing that my body was not acting in standard ways and that odd noises were coming out of my mouth.

And “feeling of doom” perfectly describes how many of us are reacting to this current state of affairs. Looking back I realize it’s been building slowly over time and is picking up speed. This feeling of impending cataclysm keeps some of us awake at night; creeps into our dreams; our conversations and our heads. It’s all encompassing, amorphous, and almost solid. It leaves us shaking.

My feeling of doom, however, passed rather swiftly in this instance into gratitude. One needs to feel the depths to feel the joys. And, oh, I’ll have to talk about sleeping in a dog kennel next week.

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