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I Lost More Than 600 Pounds - and My Childhood - in a Week!
Or, How a Flooded Basement Sent Me Into an Existential Spiral
It started with a flooded basement and ends with a contemplation of David and the things we leave behind.
Rising water required the temporary relocation of many of our storage bins from the basement to the garage, recently, and among those bins was the one containing our DVDs. We’ve culled the things before, but there are easily a hundred still in there: seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Smallville, all the Star Wars movies, Serenity, The Station Agent, and Once, among many others.
The last time we used the DVD player was in January to watch Pink Floyd’s The Wall in preparation for a college class I was teaching. There are a couple of DVDs we watch yearly, Emmet the Otter’s Jug Band Christmas springs to mind, but most have lingered in the storage bin untroubled for several years. If I get the urge to watch Star Wars, it’s easier to boot up Disney+ than it is to dig through a basement bin, and I’m pretty sure I have a digital copy of Once on my Apple account.
One of the bins we moved contains the CDs. I still buy most of my music in that format, although I copy them to my iPod soon after purchase.
Earlier this week, I took forty years of comic books to the local comics-shop and said, “Make me an offer.” Twenty-seven boxes, more than six-thousand single issues, more than 600 pounds of paper. They weren’t in flood range, but I hadn’t opened a single box since I re-organized them about five years ago. Sure, it’s possible that sometime in the next thirty years, should I last that long, I will want to read Wolverine #1 again, but I bet I’ll be able to find it electronically, in a format I won’t need to dig through a box, open a plastic sleeve, and use a magnifying glass to read.
I have a lot of books. Among them are copies of just about everything Robert B. Parker wrote. Maybe I’ll want to read them – even the turkeys -- again before I turn 80 (in twenty-eight short years), but in the meantime they are just taking up space. I justify them by saying someone else might want to read them – some orphan-from-the-storm-given-shelter with nothing better to do than read mystery novels – but that’s probably never going to happen. No one has ever asked to borrow one, either. If I want to read The Godwulf Manuscript again, or Night Passage, I suppose I could go to the library.
In all likelihood, I could get rid of all of it without missing it much. Dropping off the comic books was, frankly, a relief. I moved house more than thirteen times between 1994 and 2007, and those heavy boxes came with me. At one point, they had their own storage unit.
Among all the streaming services I pay for, I could let go of hundreds of pounds of physical and emotional weight tomorrow. I can borrow e-books from the library and change the print size, ensuring that I can read every word comfortably. It’s the future, baby! What if I just go with it?
But what if…?
Pink Floyd’s The Wall isn’t available on any legal streaming site at the moment. The only way I can show it to my students is via that DVD. Meanwhile, Disney+ is up to all kinds of bullshit, pulling things off their streaming service to save costs, much of it never committed to physical media. Can I rely on Amazon to store and pay the licensing fees on my favorite films until I die?
Maybe there won’t be any public libraries in thirty years. What happens if our vulnerable infrastructure fails, and we are left in the dark sans WiFi and cell signal? At least with my CDs and a solar charger I can spend the apocalypse listening to my tunes and sipping bourbon. (Assuming there is bourbon.) I can read the physical copies of my books and loan them out to other survivors. We can have CD-listening parties in the dark! I could entertain the kids with my comic-book collec—
Storage bins full of media as metaphor. I don’t sleep well a lot of the time. I am a science-fiction writer, and I very much doubt Mars is a viable alternative to a climate-addled Earth. There are too many people to move, too much distance to cross, and far too many obstacles.
But say Elon Musk and a few thousand of his pals did make it. What would they bring? Me? No? Real books? Hardly. The Mona Lisa is small enough, surely, or Van Gogh’s Starry Night. But Michelangelo’s David is 17 feet tall and weighs 12,500 pounds, or about twenty-one times more than my comic-book collection. Sure, David can be scanned and 3-D printed at any scale you desire. The idea of David will survive, although the most amazing thing about that statue is that it was hewn from rock with hand tools. If Musk and Co. leave David behind, what else – who else – will be on the chopping block? What will be left behind? It’s a question I try to address in a lot of my fiction. Not everyone or everything will make it to the future. (Note: History suggests rich, white people will be okay.)
But when your basement floods and your garage fills up, sacrifices must be made.
NEWS: Copies of Earth Retrograde (due out October 24) are starting to appear in the hands of reviewers, and I am very much hoping the book is well received.
I’m headed to ArmadilloCon this weekend. Love to see you if you are there.
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