Fragments of Attention and Earth Abides Review

Desperately Seeking Motivation

It’s possible that I’ve slipped permanently over the invisible line between adequate functioning and barely functioning. I suppose that’s to be expected so close to age 80, but it happened too abruptly for me to adapt gracefully. When the physical body is in decline, it’s hard to know whether a too-long spell of mental apathy is just part of my normal cycles or a permanent side effect of the physical decline. The uncertainty makes its own contributions.

Add to that, the effects of summer heat on a body that doesn’t regulate heat properly. Not for me lazy days in the sun. Instead, it’s necessary to get out as early as possible to do the little bit of gardening I’m physically  capable of before the heat (high 70s) is too much for me. I often think about those genteel British ladies who accompanied their husbands to India during the days of the Raj. Many of them didn’t survive the intolerable heat. I wouldn’t have either.

So the writing has been waiting for me to find the words again. I look at the cover of Camp Expendable, which would usually be sufficient motivation, and nothing stirs in my brain. Maybe today. At least there are some words here.

Gardening – Inside and Out

Indoor gardening for food and herbs (and strawberries) is still in its early stages. Mixed results so far, but mostly encouraging. I’ll probably write more about it soon. Outside gardening is slow and piecemeal, with the aid of my son’s strong back for digging up weeds and turning soil. My apartment is one of five, but having space for gardens once again is a pleasure, even if there’s a hug gap between what I’d like to do and what I can do.

Still Reading – Earth Abides review

Even reading to stave off boredom during the mental blackout is useful. Part of my brain still responds to and appreciates interesting ideas. I don’t normally read post-apocalyptic science fiction because most of it just rehashes popular memes about the end of civilization, and doesn’t do it particularly well. So, even after reading several praise-full reviews of George R. Stewart’s classic Earth Abides, I was hesitant to order a copy. I’m so glad I finally risked it. Five bucks brought me a battered, yellowed paperback that sucked me in almost immediately. Here was no lusty hero, battling his way through hordes of humans gone violently wild, to save his wife and children. Instead, there was an academic-minded recluse who was always more of an observer than a participant in daily life.

Which resulted in a post-apocalypse story for thinkers. Ish (Isherwood Williams) has plenty of adventures, but it’s his propensity for introspection that makes them important. The book follows him from his near-death from a snake bite (which actually saves his life, in the long-run) to his death many years on, after having been the titular head of a small community of survivors.

What is unique about the book, and undoubtedly led to its being ignored in the post-war frenzy of optimism and consumerism (it was published in 1949) is that its characters do not start civilization up again. Ish is the only one who even cares about that, and he eventually sees how impossible and pointless it would be to try. The characters who come together into a tiny community are not only in a state of shock at the loss of everyone and everything they’ve ever known, they’re quite ordinary people satisfied to live on the leavings of the lost civilization.

Stewart was saying something that no one wants to hear: that most people are not doers or creators; they want the assurance of comfortable routines, and they will cling to what they know. Modern civilized humans are, mostly, unfit for survival in a world without modern appliances, running water, etc. Hence, they will scavenge the old world, satisfied to eat out of cans rather than learn to garden. They will follow a strong, decisive leader, even if reluctantly, but Ish was not that leader. So the next generation “regresses” into a comparatively primitive state because the only world they know requires them to learn ancient survival skills rather than reading.

Ish’s awareness that most people don’t really care about much beyond their own little lives rings true for anyone who is an objective observer of the human race. And it’s inevitable that some of the Amazon reviewers believe that Ish looks down on almost everyone and considers them to be inferior, if not downright stupid.

It’s a book to read for real insights into how people behave under abnormal stresses. Slow, thoughtful, engaging, and a thousand miles from the average PA novel.



11 thoughts on “Fragments of Attention and Earth Abides Review

  1. I think I know how you feel, I get very little in done in the summertime. And being the same age as you are, I know all too well that gap between what one would like to do and what one can. Over here, it’s winter at last, and I finally feel I’m aive again. When the weather finally moves into autumn over there, you’ll hopefully pick up, too.
    PS Would love to send you the rough up of the collection cover. Do you feel you could cast your wise eyes over it at the moment?

    1. I hate summers, for the most part. Only gardening redeems it, and this is the first time in over 15 years that I’ve had a place to garden. Now that I can barely manage it. Do send the rough. I hope you found something different.

  2. This year I seem to have given up on a bunch of things I used to do, mostly because when I did them last year they were followed by pain in large amounts and by worse-than-usual brain fog for days.

    I think having to deal with the day-to-day of disability ages you, so I’m older than my chronological age. Which is not the way I was planning to spend retirement. I was going to be one of those energetic preppy people in the ads, the ones with the hiking boots.

    It’s gotten so bad lately that I’m even going to listen to another orthopedic surgeon who seems to think he can get me walking again. I doubt it, but I will listen, because the previous three gave me a feeling that I didn’t want them anywhere near my spine.

    Maybe that’s good – trust is earned by listening and answering questions. I have no interest in what those three wanted to do: I only have interest in how I’m going to be better after, and how hard it will be to pay for the improvement. The last time cost me a year of my life and unbelievable pain.

    But it would be very nice to walk again. As long as I don’t have to sacrifice being able to get around, and still being able to ride a bike! Things could get a lot worse, too.

    Glad you can garden – if that’s what you want to do. I really need to get me another assistant – I got burned when I had the previous one all trained, and ready to be useful, and she told me she wouldn’t, after all, be able to do the job. I’m not accepting anyone who isn’t far better than I am again.

    All those things I’ve given up? I’m taking them back.

    1. Always take back as much as you can, for as long as you can. That’s really all it comes down to. Either that, or give up. I do give up on too many of the bad days, and I’m trying to get that under control. It’s a whole new mindset, and it doesn’t always come easily.

  3. I hope you get your energy back. Time to have a chat with the muse. 🙂 Earth Abides in one of my favorite books! I probably read it 40 years ago, and I still remember so many details. It had a profound impact on me. Your reflection on it is spot on. Take care of yourself.

    1. The muse hasn’t been speaking to me lately, I’m afraid. But I think it’s hanging around nearby, waiting for better days. We’ll see. And thanks for the kind words.

      I’m pretty sure yours was the review that got me interested in Earth Abides. For a PA novel, it’s incredibly laid back, and probably not very appealing to today’s average reader. Which is a shame, because most of that stuff is so shallow and forgettable. EA is one of those rare books that is worth rereading.

        1. I guess it wasn’t your review then, that set me onto it. It would be interesting to know what you think of it now, if you haven’t read it in all those years. Our tastes and our perspectives change, and what we remember isn’t always what was there.

          I thought I was subscribed to your blog. Hmmm. My own memory is definitely declining.

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