The Academy Award for Best Picture — arguably one of the most monetarily valuable honors given anywhere in the world, a fact which is itself absurd — was recently bestowed upon the wrong film. Tens of millions of people from around the globe watched as the most famous humans, with the biggest possible stakes, royally fucked up, a fuck-up which was, even more preposterously, not rectified for minute after minute of unadulterated stupidity.
More consequential stupidity, of course, has wreaked far greater havoc than this debacle at the Oscars. Indeed, as our species struggles to cope with catastrophic and self-inflicted crises like rapid climate change, shocking wealth inequality, and the ever-mounting peril of nuclear holocaust, all that we seem able to do in response is fight over the meaningless differences in the pigmentation of our skin, over the irrelevant distinctions between which sexual organs we prefer, over the invisible borders we’ve established to divide us, and over our imaginary friends in the sky. This is not how educated and responsible adults are supposed to solve problems. On the contrary, this is how toddlers act before they get time-outs.
Moreover, the democratically elected leader of the (perhaps formerly) free world during the escalation of these existential-level crises is a stunningly inarticulate, insecurity-driven, orange reality TV star and pathological liar who has no previous political experience, who brags about sexual assault, who mocks disabled reporters, who openly advocates for the U.S. military to kill the innocent relatives of terrorists (itself an act of terrorism), who approves of torture, who calls global warming a Chinese hoax, who dislikes the freedom of religion and freedom of the press clauses in the Constitution, and who rose to power by bullying his political opponents about their appearance, accusing them of literally founding ISIS, and threatening to throw them in jail. In light of our collective choice to entrust this objectively thin-skinned and uniquely impulsive man with the nuclear codes, Earth-orbiting aliens deciding whether to save our failing planet would surely find it devoid of intelligent life and move on.
Such developments have led me to the horrific yet unshakable conclusion that humankind is essentially doomed, assuming that we don’t right the ship in the immediate future. My father, who shares many of my desperate concerns about our present state of affairs, has recently dedicated himself to doing what he can to prepare people for a much less comfortable time to come: helping found a university charged with solving global problems, securing land on the outskirts of Los Angeles to build housing for the city’s homeless residents, and so on. My conversations with him on this subject have, unsurprisingly, been fairly depressing. More than that, though, they have also burdened me with a persistent guilt about my planned direction in life, which has always been to become a novelist. After all, how could I possibly justify dedicating myself to writing, and to writing fiction, no less, with the knowledge that I could alternatively be working like him to assist my fellow Americans? And on the other hand, how could I live with myself if I chose not to write, with the knowledge that nothing else makes me feel so deeply whole inside?
This cocktail of emptiness and selfishness and confusion began to seep into my stories and poison my paragraphs, not ruining them outright, but instead giving me the vague, drunken suspicion that they were simply the single-spaced secretions of an overly inflated ego. Indeed, it wasn’t until a week ago, as I passed by one of the more ornate local churches, that this intoxicated feeling finally subsided (one of the rare occasions that a church has had such a sobering effect on me). Standing there, I remembered vividly the thoughts I’d had as a boy while reading Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, an almost thousand-page work of historical fiction about the construction of a cathedral in the 1100s, and, in retrospect, a bizarre book to recommend to a twelve-year-old.
Tedious as it may sound, that novel was one of the fastest reads of my life — the chapters flew by as I engulfed myself in not only another world, but also in another worldview. Even as a staunch atheist, I could feel the overwhelming awe that Follett’s characters experienced as they admired the practically anachronistic, approximately supernatural creation before them: this magnificent, colossal sanctuary and tribute to their Almighty God, rising majestically at the heart of the town, towering forty times higher than the humble dwellings in its environs, its iridescent windows illuminating a landscape of grey walls and colorless monotony, its every detail constructed with the utmost care over the course of decades and generations and hundreds of pages, this product of countless man-hours and several lost human lives, once burned to the ground only to be rebuilt yet more spectacularly, its architects undeterred, undeterrable, most of them knowing they’d die before they’d ever see their masterpiece completed, hoping against hope that it might serve as a beacon of salvation for their descendants in the next millennium. Among all my real-life encounters with beautiful cathedrals — St. Peter’s Basilica, Westminster Abbey — none have kindled within me such a profound sense of reverence for my species and its capacity to achieve the seemingly unachievable as did that mere ink-and-paper text. And frankly, it’s not even my favorite book.
In the shadow of the much less noteworthy Berkeley church, I was struck by a series of semi-spiritual epiphanies. Writing, it occurred to me then, is something incredibly pure— without sound, or pictures, or someone else to guide your words. It’s just your brain and the page staring back at you, daring you to say something no one has ever said before, shaming you when you lazily recite the ideas of others, compelling you to unearth what your true values are, and pressuring you with the prospect of posterity to do so with a stark elegance that is forever the envy of other mediums. In the end, it’s just naked words, naked arguments, and naked humanity. Perhaps this literary nudity has revealed my hidden speckle of optimism, but beneath all the dogmatic intolerance and the capitalist greed and the manufactured anger, I guess I think that we, in general, prefer to love rather than hate.
Of course, hate has gotten a gigantic head start, and its lead may in fact prove insurmountable, but we cannot lay down our arms — or our pens — just yet. To those striving every day for a better future, I say to you — and to my father especially — you’re my heroes. However, at the risk of making everyone reading this throw up, I’ll state for the first time that writers can be heroes too. No, not just journalists, although journalism is also a great passion of mine, and journalists undeniably do critical work. Instead, I mean to say that novelists, and imagineers, and fiction writers can make a genuine difference as well. There’s a reason that the Catholic Church has a long history of banning books, and it lies in the fact that, as many a writer has noted before me, ideas are incredibly dangerous, and books are nothing but ideas.
Ideas, beyond just being threatening, are really all that we have. And fittingly, I believe they’re all that we need to fix this shitty mess in which we now find ourselves. If everyone on this planet sincerely believed the notion that their god wanted them to murder their neighbors, and that the universe depended on them doing so, we’d all be dead in short order. Conversely, if everyone subscribed to a couple more rational principles — we’re all in this together, we should respect our fellow creatures, we should feed the hungry, we shouldn’t kill anyone — the Earth would soon be transformed into a virtual utopia. It is eminently clear to me that what’s missing today is empathy and understanding and tolerance, and how better to perfect these traits than by reading about places and people very different from oneself?
Ultimately, the root of my guilt about being a writer is captured by a proverb we’ve all heard more or less since birth: actions speak louder than words. But maybe it’s not sheer volume and brute force that’s required today. Maybe the key ingredient that’s been lacking all along is not swift action but quiet contemplation, not speaking loudly but listening patiently. And maybe we need a world wherein we escape from our outside influences and pour ourselves onto the page, and then show those pages to anyone willing to give them a chance. In short, we need a world that writes. We need a world that reads. And we need fiction.
— Logan Goldberg, BFR Staff
50 thoughts on “Averting the Apocalypse, Quietly”
Wow Logan Tom and I really enjoyed this . So well written and we couldn’t agree more ! Keep writing ❤
Excellent piece, Logan! Follow your dreams…
This is truly excellent, thankyou for embodying some of my own thoughts so eloquently!
You are a hero for today and every tomorrow, a hero who dares to look inward when thinking critically, a hero who understands the value of reading, listening and contemplating. Write, write, write. Write as if your life depends on it — because it does. And so does mine. It’s okay to put down the pen from time to time. But promise when you do that, you are doing it to pause, reflect, listen — to think and contemplate. And then pick up the pen. Again and again.
More power to you my friend!
Holy f–I mean, cow. Oh, wow. Exactly what I have been wrestling with. Thank you
Great job Logan.
As someone who is transitioning from studying environmental science to following my passions as a writer, I really fucking needed this. Thank you, and we’ll done. Can’t wait to read what you put out
“over the meaningless differences in the pigmentation of our skin, over the irrelevant distinctions between which sexual organs we prefer, over the invisible borders we’ve established to divide us, and over our imaginary friends in the sky”—>tastefully written
I, too, feel many of the things you have written about. But you have penned them more intelligently and succinctly than I ever could. Thank you for this post.
wonderful, follow your heart
Nice one there…
You will be succeed.
Reblogged this on Manny's words & works.
Right down my alley! Touching on my favorite subject–our fucked-up planet.
I kind of just clicked this randomly because the title intrigued me and it was early in the morning, and averting an apocalypse “quietly” seemed like a really good idea right now. Wonderfully eloquent, surprisingly thought-provoking. And I too love Pillars of the Earth and am an atheist, and I definitely understand what was said about the wonder and inspiration the words of that book evoke. Now I’m going to have to reread it again…
Fantastic post, Logan. I recently visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and was struck by this very thought. Anne lived in a horrible, oppressive time of unimaginable violence, but her diary is one of the most read and translated texts around the world. For many, she put a face and name to the Holocaust. She made it real to us. The thousands of lives lost are too difficult for the human brain to comprehend. What does a thousand people look like? What does ten thousand people look like? We don’t know, but we knew what Anne looked like and we could see ourselves in her.
We need people like Anne because we need to know beauty grows up through the dirty cracks of a corrupt society. That every dark age has been followed by an age of enlightenment. And art is what does that. Art is what pushes boundaries and opens people’s minds and makes it personal. It’s important work. The difficult thing is to write with the stakes raised – without taking ourselves too seriously. It’s a dichotomy. Writing can save the world. Writing is just some shit we do in our basement in our sweatpants.
I think – when comparing your job to your dads, it’s also about examining the nature of “value”. Is a garbageman less valuable than a doctor? Is an unemployed person less valuable than a working one? Is a mom more valuable than someone who chooses to not have children? In our capitalist society, people value productivity. And if you don’t produce, you aren’t worth anything. But this is a very narrow world view and one that leads us to jump to conclusions like “if people can’t afford health insurance they should die” or “if people can’t afford a college education they shouldn’t have one or they should drown in debt the rest of their life.”
Really, great thought-provoking post. Thank you for sharing! 🙂
I want to be a writer hero too, even if for just one day. But is it necessary to actually have a talent for writing fiction, or can I just post on a blog that no one reads?
Really great post Mr.Tom,I totally agree with you !
An insightful and well written article. You’re on point -author. We need a world where our skin color doesn’t matter. Where conflicts among continents and nations doesn’t need to end on battlefields. We also need a world where our choice of religion doesn’t mean others of different beliefs should kill us all off, or a glaring discrimination due to our religious beliefs. We need a world were golden rules- rules. Thanks for posting.
Reblogged this on Unfiltered.
Reblogged this on The Hard Mattress and commented:
“Ultimately, the root of my guilt about being a writer is captured by a proverb we’ve all heard more or less since birth: actions speak louder than words. But maybe it’s not sheer volume and brute force that’s required today. Maybe the key ingredient that’s been lacking all along is not swift action but quiet contemplation, not speaking loudly but listening patiently.”
This is truly an amazing piece written by Logan Goldberg.
An exceptionally fine piece,Tom.
Lovely. I appreciate the reminder.
While your thoughts are very articulate, and I agree that fiction writers are needed (as are many other professions), I must say, from where I stand (which is neither the US or the Middle East) wars may rage, the world may change but, I feel no more threatened by apocalypse than ever. Perhaps the egocentrism of your home country is rubbing off a little? Just because your populace made a poor choice doesn’t mean the world is ending, the US is not the superpower it once was, and for a lot of us… well, me at least–I couldn’t possibly think less of the US than I did before the election and I certainly am not thinking all that much more about it. The premise that we should be generous with our fellow human beings and work hard towards a better world is one I think many would agree with but, the thought that if the US doesn’t step up no one else will has been proven false time and time again. Trump, leader of the free world? The US hasn’t lead anything in years, other than the pursuit of laziness, the war for oil, and race for some of the stupidest events that have occurred in recent history. Your ship might be tearing in half, but mine isn’t even taking on water.
Reblogged this on StreetPsych and commented:
Definitely dig the message
Brilliant. Keep going! 🙂
This is such a provoking post. I believe you are exactly right in saying that we need more patience and more contemplation along with ideas. We have been shifted into such outspoken “doers” that we often overdo, or over voice our opinions without really putting them into solid ideas. I’ve been really inspired to write more lately, my topics vary a bit from what you seem to present, but your words were still great motivators for me. Truly appreciated this read!
Nice post indeed!
Journalism presents us with what has already happened and what is likely to happen subsequently. Fiction allows us to explore the potential consequences of our actions before we commit to them.
This is stunning. “Writing, it occurred to me then, is something incredibly pure— without sound, or pictures, or someone else to guide your words. It’s just your brain and the page staring back at you, daring you to say something no one has ever said before, shaming you when you lazily recite the ideas of others, compelling you to unearth what your true values are, and pressuring you with the prospect of posterity to do so with a stark elegance that is forever the envy of other mediums. In the end, it’s just naked words, naked arguments, and naked humanity.” almost took my breath away. And its so true to look around us and see all these incredible people making such stellar difference to the world and sometimes doing things that we are passionate about like photography and writing seems so mundane. But the truth of the matter is, there has never really been a more dire need for such worldly distractions because in the imagination of us writers, fiction and other wise, I believe, lies a possibility of a better reality. So here is to that.
Beautifully worded work though. An absolute pleasure to read!
We’re trying hard to find a way out, but the world is huge and complex, the resistance is always out of your imagination.
Never stop writing, never stop sharing your ideas! So much love for this post.
This piece rates among my favorite things I’ve read in a while. More please!
Great article. Wish it was a bit shorter ☺
Interesting post! Thanks
Couldn’t had said it better myself… Nice
“Of course, hate has gotten a gigantic head start, and its lead may in fact prove insurmountable, but we cannot lay down our arms — or our pens — just yet.”
Thanks, Logan. Great post–and, wow, your cathedral analogy…that it came through Ken Follett’s Pillars is such an interesting way to reference history. Your experience of a real church building reminding you of Follett’s historical fiction really speaks to the power of writers as artists and teachers, of fiction as a guide to truth. Sometimes writing is most didactic when it is fiction or poetry.
When Shelley says, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” he reminds us it’s a quiet, unacknowledged power, but power nonetheless.