Everything in the world appears to be wrong, and I cannot seem to fix any of it.

The bees are collapsing, the amphibians are dying, the seas are warming, women are killed outright for sins men are carrying around in their heads, cops can shoot black people and walk away without even a slap on the wrist, and atrocities that I wouldn’t write into a book because I’d make myself sick have been done, ostensibly to keep me safe, and no one will ever be brought to justice for it.

And I feel like I could pour out the balance of my life on any of these things and I would die exhausted and the problem still wouldn’t be fixed. Might not even so much as budge.

And in some cases, it might be worth it, except that I don’t even know how to start. You may eat a whale one bite at a time, but I don’t know even where they’re keeping the forks.

Douglas Adams apparently thought, later in life, that he should have been a scientist, that being a scientist would have given him some chance to make the world better, and maybe he was right. (I think writing “Last Chance to See” really kicked him hard. I understand why.) Certainly politics isn’t doing it. The good politicians are, at best, trying unsuccessfully to put the brakes on the worst of what the bad politicians are doing. Scientists probably have the best shot at fixing anything. It’s a shame I’m so crap at math.

The problem…a problem…one of more problems than I can begin to fathom…is maybe that our narratives are so often about the hero fixing things. Winning. Making a difference. The heroine slays the dragon, averts disaster, keeps the world from going completely to hell in a handbasket. The hero shoots the bad guys or fights their way to justice or takes bloody revenge for the ills of the world, or whatever.

Anyway, you win. You don’t…I don’t know…make one tiny difference and hope the people who come after you don’t mess it up too badly. Even games that have no victory conditions also have no consequences. You lose at Tetris and you don’t have to cope with loss, you just restart.

Maybe we need the books and the games and the narratives that give us the coping mechanisms for not being able to fix things. For being one tiny person in a world that is so desperately screwed.

Because honestly, I am having a hard time coping with that right now. My usual small victories are looking smaller and smaller. I truly believe I’ve made a difference in the world, but the difference is so little and the world is so large and no matter how big those victories get, the world will always be so much larger. I could measure my life out in children who have read books and turtles helped across the road and food kitchen meals provided and all of that is good and it might prove that I’m not an awful human being, but the seas will not get any cooler because of it.

It seems cruel that despair is a mortal sin. They really get you coming and going on that one.

So, here we are again. We may fix nothing, so we might as well cope. Anybody read any good books?

24 thoughts on “Unfixable

  1. Maya says:

    There’s a Jewish tradition that saving one life is the equivalent to saving the whole world. Days like this, I have to try to scale that down- saving anything may make more of a difference than we can see. It’s the only belief that can make keeping on trying into a reasonable endeavor, for me.

    • ursulav says:

      Well, if any people on earth have had to develop coping strategies to a high art…!

      I like that. I don’t know if I can make myself believe it all the time, but I like the idea.

  2. David T. says:

    There isn’t a single part of this I don’t agree with. The news has been nothing but disheartening for a long while now, and I only have so much energy to take care of my little corner of the world while trying to make things better for everyone else. There simply aren’t enough hours of awake that I can spend on the things that concern me. But I think Maya said it best: you scale down a bit. It may not feel like much, but I like to believe that it does. And perhaps you write a hilarious blog post or two, and I chisel the chicken-poo of my wife’s boots, and maybe both will make a little more difference in this world. Not enough to affect the change we want, but enough to affect others who can help.

    We haven’t met, and I don’t normally recommend music to people I don’t know. But I was relating similar woes to a friend of mine last year, and he suggested I listen to Frank Turner’s “Love, Ire & Song.” Google it. It might help, it might depress you further, I couldn’t say for sure. But it sure helped me when I needed it.

  3. Hollas says:

    It really does seem like the world is going to shit, but statistically we live in the safest time in history. We tend to hear on the news about what problems there are a lot more now, which in the case of the horrors of Ferguson and Eliot Rodger, can be good things because now the terrible racism or misogyny is being brought into the light so we can try and deal with it. Less people are dying of disease and war than at any point in history. We have to take a whole world view. We are are progressing as a species but sometimes down amongst the hate and despair and bad decisions it can be hard to see.
    As to the warming oceans, I don’t know when we can curb that. It might be another generation before much gets done about it. The politicians and oil barons have so much power right now. I just hope that the next people in charge will decide to to do something. In other parts of the world it has started already. Canada and the USA just have to get with the program. I try and help in my own small way by donating money when I have a little extra to science organizations or museums. I don’t usually have much since I am a cake decorator, but even a couple dollars will help if everyone can put a few in the box, right?
    I think that every little thing you do that is good helps. You are inspiring the next generation and this one. Your stories and art make me smile and cheer me up when I have a bad day.
    In other news, I haven’t been reading a lot of fiction lately but I have been enjoying Dinosaurs Without Bones by Anthony J. Martin. His glee at discovering dinosaur tracks and such is infectious. I have learned new things about dinosaurs which always improves the day. After this book I have another science book about the evolution of whales.

  4. RhianimatorLGP says:

    The best piece of advice I can give you is stop paying attention to the news for awhile. These days we’re inundated with world class problems that we did little to cause and can do even less to fix. All of them puffed up to look even worse because that sells. Worrying about them will only do bad things to your health, not fix anything.

    That said – I will tell you where you have done something good, even if the ultimate problem is unfixable. your work is helping me cope. My cope has been in very short supply lately, but all I have to do is listen to KUEC or Hidden Almanac, or read one of your fairytale stories, and it’s like getting a deep breath of oxygen.

    it is not easy dealing with the fact that my best beloved is laying in a hospital bed with ALS, fearing that he will soon be unable to communicate and be helpless and in pain. Sometimes I am even envious of Cancer patients, since Cancer can be fought, treated, and even if it leaves you with less bits than you started with, you can still get on with life as long as you beat it. ALS is death by millimeters where things slowly stop working from the outside in. It’s genetic, it sets in right about the time you’re old enough to have acquired a few clues, but not old enough to have had much of a life. (35 to 40 or thereabouts) At present, it cannot be fought, only endured.

    Next Sunday I’ll be taking along some of your stories to read to him, or maybe a download of a KUEC episode or two to cheer him a bit.

    For all that – Thanks

  5. Liz KIllebrew says:

    We all need to turn off the news for a while.

    Everything in the world isn’t wrong, but we hear about everything wrong like it happens next door. Things have progressed so much-in most of the world, women have legal and reproductive rights far surpassing what they ever had, more people are educated, pollution is recognized and combatted world wide, people in America care that the police killed a black man (not the case even thirty years ago), the WHO says obesity is the world’s biggest health problem, people stand against rapists and religious psychopaths, and the list goes on.

    There’s a lot worth striving for. We have to keep plugging along, fixing what breaks, and putting it back on track when stuff goes sideways. If you feel you aren’t doing enough, change what you do but demanding that you fix all of the world’s ills singlehandedly is crazy. Even the heroes of fantasy novels have companions.

    I don’t want stories that prepare me to lie down and accept attrocity or the status quo. I don’t want to settle. It’s inspiring that Tolkein created and held onto his vision of beauty and purity from the trenches of WWI through the bombings and death camps of WWII. Keep writing with a vision of what’s good- we need it.

  6. Isy says:

    I was watching a documentary on Africa the other day (David Attenborough, of course), and we got to the episode labelled “Future”. I somewhat assumed it would be doomsaying – that’s what documentaries traditionally have done at the end of them – but it was not. It was a look at what we in the West tend not to be told, the stories of the African people working to fix their country. For instance: a village by the ocean decided they were going to protect their local sea turtles. They protected the nests. They have an organized effort to get the turtles out of fishing nets. And as a result, their turtle numbers aren’t declining, they’re growing.
    But most interesting to me was that of a group of Masai, who have traditionally killed lions as a part of their culture. All of their lions have names, and when a Masai kills one, they get to take the lion’s name to use. But one of the hunters decided he felt sorry for the lions, and he prompted a change in the tribe. Now they work with conservationists to help track and guard the lions, and the number of people/lion conflicts in their area has dropped to near nonexistence. Instead of taking the lion’s names when they kill them, now the lions have the name of the hunter who protects them.
    I’m not going anywhere with that, beyond the fact that fixing can be done by culture as much as by science. I just thought it was really interesting. I do agree we don’t seem to have those coping mechanisms, but I think until now they weren’t as critical. I don’t think we were meant to have the entire world’s woes at our doorstep, along with mobs of people clamoring that if you don’t engage with every single one of them… well, you’re a Bad Person. We ourselves need some cultural change, I think. But media is a conversation, and artists are the changemakers. Now that you’ve mentioned the problem, maybe we can get to working on it?

  7. Isy says:

    I want to say, furthermore – I was the one who brought you that morning cloak. I brought it because you helped me out a lot during a shit time when I was ruining my life because I hated myself so much. And you helped me realize that wasting seven years of my existence didn’t ruin the rest of it for me, that maybe it would pass, and I too could have things get better and be some awesome author/artist with a nice garden. So thank you so much for that.

    • ursulav says:

      Moth-Bob! Thank you again for him–I don’t know if you saw the photos of him at the bar, but he was a small nice thing in the weird occasionally-awfulness of book tours, and I was very glad to have him along.

      • Isy says:

        Personally speaking, I would like a photo series with Moth-Bob at all fine dining and drinking establishments. It can be a counterpart to Kevin and Ursula Eat Cheap.

  8. Stevie says:

    Well, on the good book front I highly recommend ‘Nine Goblins’; indeed, I have been recommending it in the hope that lots of people will buy it so you will write the sequel.

    I think you are underestimating the importance of artists. My daughter is a hospital doctor who cares for very ill people; it’s immensely stressful and sometimes rewarding. It feels good to pull someone out from under the wheels of the proverbial ten ton truck, but it doesn’t happen very often; the main thing which keeps her on track is her passion for music. With it she is wrapped up in learning the piece she is going to sing next, or the concert she is going to attend; without it she’s lost. She reads books which interest and amuse her; she looks at paintings and sculptures which intrigue her. Without all of those things she couldn’t do what she does because it would be unbearable.

    So, please continue to be a painter and a writer; scientists need people to do that so they can be scientists. On a bad day, when she had lost someone she had hoped to be able to save, your Valentine’s made my daughter laugh out loud; you took some of the burden off her shoulders so she could carry on. We are both grateful…

  9. Marc-Antoine Parent says:

    I know exactly how you feel. Let me pass on a story that makes me feel a bit better:
    Google translate and tiny hand fixes from https://www.colibris-lemouvement.org/colibris/la-legende-du-colibri

    One day, says the legend, there was a huge forest fire. All terrified animals, aghast, watched the disaster helplessly. Only one small hummingbird was busy, fetching a few drops with its beak to throw onto the fire, back and forth. After a while, the armadillo, annoyed by this ridiculous agitation, said: “Hummingbird! Are you crazy? It is not with these few drops of water that you will put out the fire!”

    Hummingbird replied, “I am well aware, but I’m doing my part.”

  10. Darla says:

    I can’t save the world. The world is too huge, too overwhelming, too broken for me to do that on my own. What I *can* do is help one person here, encourage one there, and generally be a light in my little corner of reality as much as possible. If I think about all the things I’m not doing/can’t do for all of everyone around, I go nuts and NOBODY gets any help.

    You change the lives of the turtles you save. You change the lives of the “weird” kids who read your books and realize that not only is it okay to be offbeat, but it’s fantastic. You also change the lives of the grownups who read your books and realize that the weird kids are the COOL ones. These are good things. These are WORLD-changing things, if viewed from the right perspective. And who knows? Perhaps one of those weird and wacky kids will grow up and solve global warming, or save the bees, or look at the world just *that* much off-kilter, and find The Solution to one of those huge problems. Or maybe, they’ll just be happier, better balanced, generally more excellent people, who will foster an environment of better, happier, more excellent people, and you won’t be trying to save the world on your own anymore. Sounds like a win to me, either way.

  11. Argent says:

    I was going to look up some novels and short stories that fit into the narrative … there’s one whose title I don’t recall about cascading failures on a cargo vessel near the orbit of Jupiter that fits very well … when I remembered that the reason I don’t recall the title was that it was just too depressing and apposite that I decided I never wanted to read it again the first time I read it, and I think I’ve blocked the name as a defensive measure.

  12. dester'edra says:

    Agreed. The revelations of the last several weeks are beyond overwhelming. One of the reasons i tend to shy away from a lot of activism, despite my concern with the state of the world, is just that–the whale is so big, and there are several of them, and i don’t even know where the forks are, and it’s all too much for me with too many opportunities for failure, that i feel like i’m drowning in it.

    So ok, i’m not the right girl to go out and do the protests or the radical peace work or switch my life to an ultra low impact vegan system.

    In my better moments, though, i try to remember that clearing away the whale doesn’t just need people to eat whale, it also needs people to cook whale and wash the dishes, or get chairs and antacids for the whale eaters, or tell stories that can inspire new folk to eat some whale. I’m not much good at eating whale, but i can wash some dishes. Maybe my way of contributing is doing a little office work for people doing important work i believe in. Maybe yours is taking care of one small plot of environmentally conscious garden and telling stories that remind us it’s ok to be odd and to follow your own path and to strive for something meaningful. I’m not sure if either will entirely fix the problem–for every whale we eat, we find another–but i also know i get paralyzed by panic if i think too many steps ahead, so i focus on whats right in front of me.

    I do have a quote by thomas merton hanging on my refrigerator that i find helpful in a tangential sort of way:
    “There is a pervasive form of violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by non-violent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and the pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by multiple conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes one’s work for peace. It destroys one’s inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of one’s work, because it kills the root of the inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

    –dester’edra (short hair, long braid, works security with kevin)

  13. B. Moore says:

    Deary me. I agree. Very much. But…Well, I guess I could go on and on repeating what other people have voiced, and better than I could ever speak aloud in a lifetime outside of when I’m REALLY on a roll and rambling to the point where I can actually say exactly whats on my mind. But the thing is…it may not sound nice, or selfless, but sometimes you have to remain optamistic not for other people, not necessarily anyway, but for yourself. To keep your marbles in one jar. To remain happy with what you have and striving with utmost difficulty and suffering and tears and joy and optamism to whatever goal you posess. Its not the greatest reason, but after so many years of pain, suffering, depression, and HATRED of myself and everyone I realized the hard way that optamism isn’t ignoring the bad things in life if only for your own happiness. Its knowing the little things you do that you think are tiny…yes, they doubtless will probably not change the world. But they will make a difference to one person or child or turtle out there. I know that for me, your art and words have changed my life, forever. It sounds silly, and cheesey, but it is true. My mindset has been forever altered to look at everything in life and nature and people and the silliness and strangeness of everyday life. I could contiue but It’d be pointless. I don’t know, exactly, what I just said or why but I mean every word. Take it or leave it I suppose. And as for books….my favorite book of all time was recommended to me last year by my magical English teacher and feminist wizard Ms. Hammond. We had to do a book report and I asked if she could reccomend a book to me. She said to be more specific, and I said “something thats written WELL” because I was tired of fantastic ideas but poor storytelling ehhemmazerunner and wanted something that would grab me by the hand and drag me on an amazing story. She reccomended “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and I too, reccomend it to you. Its…not everyone’s cup of tea, but its just so well done and amazing…The genre is Magical Realism and if you’ve never read magical realism I’ll warn you you either love it or hate it but I think if anyone can appreciate it, its Ursula Vernon. I’d provide a summary but its near impossible. The best I can do is the story spans 100 years in 400+ pages, telling the story of the Buendia family and the town they live in, called Macando. It has war, love, gypsies, strange weather patterns, gold fish, magic swamps, curses…everything under the sun. By the end iof the book you will have read the entire lives of these people…some from when they were just born to when they are over 90 making little gold fishes in the attic…and its just amazing. Sadly though, not a week after I picked it up and fell in love, Marquez actually passed away, at a decently old age. I was very sad to hear it, but I have so much respect for that man after reading his work. If you like the novel by the way, read his short stories, like “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”. Very good stuff.
    I’m sorry if I sound like an annoying hippy but I hope you have a nice day, regardless of what’s going on in the Wide World anyway…and happy holidays…

  14. B. Moore says:

    O gosh, sorry for saying so much but I just realized: I feel like I should warn you if you do pick up the book (which I HIGHLY reccomend you do it was so well written and engrossing and interesting and my gosh the town of Macando is so well described its amazing and just how well he can make 100 years pass even if you don’t like it you can at least respect how well he manages to span time) I forgot to say that the ending, no spoilers I think, is a bit…ehhh…well it isn’t the happiest ending, so I know the Wide World has been crumby and you may not want a sad ending or a grim one so maybe don’t read to the end if you’re feeling blue? Well certain bits of the book are ridiculously grim in all honesty, but others so lighthearted and pleasant and interesting, like the first few pages are just so funny, when (oh dear its been a while so I might be wrong) Jose Arcadio Buendi (the father) becomes obsessed with these weird ideas of magnets and alchemy and silversmithing that hte gypsies introduce he spends all of their money doing stupid things and his wife is just “what are you doing you fool that isn’t going to work you’re so stupid” and the gypsies just roll with it and keep giving him refunds, probably because they think its so funny really.
    Oh one more warning/advice. If you borrow/buy it, get the paperback copy with the well done GREEN cover with abstract colorful squiggles and the About the Author in the back! (or just make sure the copy has the family tree) It’s a good copy and has a family tree of the Buendias…you’ll need it. There are literally over 19+ Aurelianos. I kid you not. But once you get into it its easy to tell whos who.
    And if you’re looking for something else thats incredibly well written, diverse, and amazing and long-lasting, read anything by Ray Bradbury. I reccomend the Martian Chronicles. Even if you don’t like science fiction its just so beautiful and amazing and sad where it needs to be and thought-provoking through and through.

    Golly, sorry I typed so much. I’m just so excited today, and talking about that book makes me really happy and I ramble a lot. I am not the kind of person to immedietly assert my opinions or reccomendations, but when it comes to books, I am still blown away by how amazing that book is, and I’ve read a lot of books.

  15. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    OK, first; If you take the 24/7 newsfeed world seriously you will shortly die of panic or ulcers. It is their business to push every story to rivet your attention so hard that there is actually a chance that you will stay tuned to them during the commercials. I’m not even going to talk about political bias, which is not only extant but inevitable. I’m just talking about the basic need to keep you glued to the idiot box and sell you name brand breakfast burritos. This leaks over into the print media, and so on.The bees have been collapsing since the mid 1970’s, possibly longer. I can certainly remember “viewing with alarm” stories on bees dating to 1977. To some extent, species die, have always died whether man was around or not, and will continue to die into the future. That’s the bugger end of evolution. Why are you always hearing about it? Because wildlife charities don’t get donations by saying “Well, six species went extinct over the last year, but that’s about average since the evolution of spines.”.

    Are there things going on we should stop? Sure. Can we identify them? Maybe.

    Also; go read a good translation of Juvenal’s SIXTEEN SATIRES (ok, if you CAN read it in the original Latin, go ahead. Show off.)

    2000 years ago the foremost satirist of the Roman Empire complained about garbage not getting picked up in the streets, senator’s wives being immoral, street gangs running amok, justice for sale …. it reads like he’s talking about New York circa 1975. In the interval we have developed modern sanitation (damn few people die of cholera in the West, and far fewer than used to elsewhere), modern dentistry (50 year-olds who still have their teeth are commonplace), and have created a society in which the primary dietary problem of the poor is that they are too fat.

    We live in a world where the fact that in large tracts of real estate women are treated like farm animals is considered WRONG. Hows THAT for change for the better?

    We live in a world where the social and political establishment is trying to disarm the peasants, and FAILING. THAT’S A NEW ONE!

    During my lifetime we have gone from not producing enough food to keep the world population alive, to not producing enough to keep them well fed. It doesn’t sound like much, but the population has more than DOUBLED. Yes, there is hunger; most of it is caused politically, often deliberately. It used to be that we simply COULD NOT grow enough food. Now we CAN, but for various stupid reasons we don’t, or if we do we don’t get it distributed. Not good, but moving in the right direction.

    Don’t panic. The people who want to sell you on panic mostly want to have lots of control over your life and money and by and large cannot be trusted. Be charitable locally; you are likelier to do good in situations about which you know something. Tend the environment locally, for the same reasons. If somebody wants to sell you on the idea of imposing some Big Plan on an area on the other side of the globe, ask whether the locals have been asked their opinion. If nothing else, for the sheer novelty of it.

    Aside; bonus points for anybody who can explain the moral and ethical difference between a meddling 19th century Christian Uplift Missionary and a 20th-21st century meddling secular uplift missionary. Use both sides of the paper, if necessary.

    The world is flawed. All the religions I know of agree on this. Nothing will be perfect in this life (although a good cigar, a good book, and a sunset can come damn close).

    And, to a large degree, the world is unfixable. There will never be an end to poverty, ignorance, bigotry in this life. View with DEEP suspicion anyone who says there will. The verdict of history has been that such people are most often SALESPERSONS for poverty, ignorance, and bigotry.

    Have some tea. Read an old favorite book (DIGGER works for me!). Help a friend. Help a stranger (hell, give the pan-handler a $20. Yes; he’s going to blow it on Thunderbird. So he’s going to have a pretty good evening, on you. This is bad?)

    And don’t let the turkeys get you down.

  16. Elliss says:

    They say the devil is in the details but I think he’s even more in the big picture. When you look at everything that’s wrong with this world it’s so easy to become totally overwhelmed and frozen into inaction because you just don’t know where to start. The Hummingbird has got it right. I don’t think we’re supposed to fix the whole world. If we fix the little bit we have contact with, and everyone else works to fix the little bit they have contact with, suddenly everything is just that much better. So many of the other are right too. As bad as things are, they are still a whole lot better than they used to be. A friend and I joke with each other, “at least the Vikings aren’t coming to kill our menfolk and steal our daughters”. Sure, there’s lots lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce. But we’ve eradicated a fair number of bad guys too. And since when can you believe everything the press tells you anyways? It isn’t about the truth. It’s about ratings which leads to money. Plain and simple. The more we get your attention the more we get paid. So take a deep breath and count your blessings. And then try to be thankful for ten things you’ve never taken the time to be thankful for before. And then pick up your bucket and your eye dropper and go after another forest fire. If you take a moment and look around, you’ll see me to the left with the ikea watering can doing a little dropping of my own.

  17. Rita says:

    Every little story you write, every nectar-producing flower you plant, every smile you give, helps make it better.

    “The plans and schemes of tyrants are broken by many things. They shatter against cliffs of heroic struggle. They rupture on reefs of open resistance. And they are slowly eroded, bit by little bit, on the very beaches where they measure triumph, by countless grains of sand. By the stubborn little decencies of humble little men.” – in Flint’s In the Heart of Darkness

  18. Katherine says:

    “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it” Terfon

    Many different types of activist groups exist. Some wallow in anger. Some simply do the work that is needed, then enjoy their lives. Last year I held an event for the UN International Day of Peace, it was called “Peace One(sie)Day”. Our theme was “Celebrate what you do want!” and we wore silly onesies and signs around our necks with peace words such as “joy” and “respect”.

    You can shake your fist at the world, but if you can’t imagine a better world, how are you going to get there? I find if you join the right activist group, being with a group of people doing something positive actually lifts your spirits. In your case perhaps join a group who plants trees to offset carbon emissions. You don’ need to do this every day of your life. You don’t have to be the one true hero. I loved that Neville Longbottom could have been “the chosen one” as well in Harry Potter. Not participating and wringing hands can just make you feel worse and worse. Joining a group gives you some camaraderie and makes it easier to see the good you are doing. After all, many hands makes light work!

    Lots of love,

  19. Pingback: Your Audience Thinks These Thoughts As well | Katherine Phelps

  20. clew says:

    I am a scientist, or anyway I’m banging my head on a wall trying to become one, and I need something encouraging to read. Digger’s perplexed elucidations of morality really help. Thanks.

Leave a Reply