Once the apocalyptic smoke clears, they’ll go for the canned goods. We can breathe easy for as long as the Chef Boyardee and mandarin orange segments in light syrup hold out. Although, ‘breathing easy’ is probably a relative concept in clouds of radiation and billowing ash. No matter, once they get down to the beets and off-brand potted meat products, it’s time to be looking for any light you may have been hiding under a bushel. You know, abilities – fixing things, building a Boy Scout-worthy fire, tying knots in cherry stems with only your tongue. Oh wait. There won’t be any cherries. Better find out now if you can do it with a twist tie or a bit of shoelace.
Writing grammatically correct prose won’t cut it. Writing even tantalizing, gripping, I’m-sorry-your-thumb-is-dangling-by-a-tendon-here-hold-this-dishtowel-to-it-I’m-almost-finished-reading-this-chapter brilliance will not keep you out of the soup for long. Sure, they love literature when their bellies are full and their bank accounts are flush and the sky isn’t poisoned orange. But let the comet collide or an odd little man with too many incendiary toys have three bad days in a row, and, after a fortnight of licking gum wrappers for flavor, writers will be looking a little too much like milk-fed veal.
As much as we hate to admit it, they don’t need us. Not in the way they need mechanics and engineers and guys who can tell them their tongues will turn purple and swell up to airway-obstructing proportions if they eat that particular plump, pretty mushroom. If we ever ride the evolutionary pendulum back to days full of foraging and nights full of fretting, verb-tense agreement and snappy dialogue are doomed to lining everybody’s boots against the damp.
Painters and sculptors and those able to craft ‘art’ from dryer lint and bodily fluids will be trying their best to look inedible too, snatching paranoid glances over their shoulders and sleeping in shifts, but the rabble will go through the wordsmiths first. Let’s face it, even the crappiest piece of visual art doesn’t require an eight to fourteen hour commitment, all the while holding out hope that it may get better if we just give the artist a chance to find his stride. To be fair, poets generally aren’t that demanding of our time either, but their status is jeopardized from the outset by the appearance of elitism. Being hungry is bad. Hungry and made to feel stupid because it’s hard to grasp the connection between paralyzing angst and the sighing sun on indifferent hills is asking for a homicide. Homicide begets a roast, a stew, and leftovers for sandwiches. And the wheel goes round and round.
The musicians are relatively safe. Damn them and their unkempt hair and bong-smoke.
You see, Nature is a competent painter. Chemical sunsets, I’m sure, will give us all something to gawp at as we pass the gas mask around for a few moments of respirational ease before the dark takes us all to bed. Highly developed linguistic capability not only separates us from the chimps, but ensures that even the dimmest hillbilly can relate a story or the news, more or less. So, artists and writers are a redundant and showy indulgence that we trot out once survival becomes routine.
Varied, complex melodies, however, are the exclusive province of man. Birds pipe and warble. Waterfalls crash. The wind hisses, moans and sends boughs clattering. The rainforest can deafen you, but not like Scheherazade or California Dreamin’ turned up really loud. Even the Oscar Meyer Weiner jingle is pretty impressive when you hum it and compare its complexity to any natural symphony. They won’t eat the musicians, because they just can’t get Happy Birthday To You or Feliz Navidad from a gaggle of geese and any old seasonal change or meteorological event.
It sounds grim. It is. And it isn’t. It’s us against them over and over. Man against nature; dreamer versus laborer; words estranged from tangibles. The best ammunition in these wars is the acknowledgement of their existence. Everything is the most important thing in the world – to somebody.
So to the writers, write. It’s not like you can help yourself anyway. But do master something of use, you know, just in case. Study the manual until you can fix a carburetor. Practice assembling an assault rifle blindfolded. And if you’re built for it, learn to lap dance – they’ll always need that. If you’re not, learn to cook or sew or how to patch the blessed roof.
Above all, before the cataclysm, whatever you do, go out today and make yourself indispensable to a musician who knows Kung Fu. You just never know when you’ll need a minstrel between you and a hungry machinist.