At the start of every month I ask my Facebook followers to suggest some writing prompts and challenges and then I post the one I chose at the end of the month. This time I picked ‘Addiction’ which was a one word prompt. What came to mind was a list poem so here it is:
I was contacted this week by a younger writer who wanted to know how I was able to keep writing when dealing with my own doomerism. In case you are not familiar with the term ‘doomerism’, it basically describes people who have a fatalistic and pessimistic view of the future of humanity. I’d never heard of the term but it makes perfect sense, particularly for younger people. It’s all right for the rest of us, isn’t it? Chances are, if you’re over forty, you’ve had an education, found a partner, maybe had kids, you have a home and a career and if the whole world ended tomorrow, at least you had a life for a while. At least you had the chance to experience a certain amount of things. Younger people quite rightly fear that they won’t get the chance. Everywhere you look, everything is very bad. For creative people this can be a real problem. How can you sit down and write poems or stories when you’re convinced the world will end before you get a chance to share them?
To answer this, first of all let’s take a quick look at the reasons young people are experiencing doomerism.
Climate change – probably the biggest concern for young people today. This summer has really brought it home. Wildfires, droughts, water shortages, crop failure… These things are happening and happening on our own doorsteps. The UK is having its driest summer since 1935 and recently broke the record of highest temperature recorded when we tipped over 40 degrees. We are used to being a wet green country, not a parched dry one. Many counties here have hosepipe bans and restrictions in place and although some rain has now arrived, the dry weather is predicted to go on until October. We had a dry winter last year and if we get another one, we are in real trouble.
The cost of living – another worldwide issue, but one that is really affecting people right now where I live. One of the big supermarkets is about to introduce a buy now-pay later scheme for food shopping. Seriously. Wages are falling as inflation is spiralling. It is becoming impossible here for young people to rent a home, let alone buy one. Our money is not even stretching to cover the basics which means more and more people are working just to live and life should not be like that. It’s depressing. Especially for young people.
Fuel crisis – whichever way you look at it, we are in trouble. The big companies are raking in record profits while UK households are seeing their bills soar to levels that will be simply unaffordable for most. The war in Ukraine has added to the problem with some European countries planning to ration gas amid fears of power shortages and cuts.
Threat of nuclear war – We haven’t been this close to possible nuclear war since the 1980’s and it’s terrifying.
I could probably go on! But I think the list above covers the big ones and hints towards their implications such as food shortages, famine, decimation and extinction of wildlife, recession…
So, not a lot to feel hopeful about maybe? And how the hell could anyone put pen to paper with all this fear running around their head? I mean, with this shit to look forward, why put an effort into anything? It’s all pointless, right?
Not to me. And here is why.
You are alive. Whether your life is what you imagined or hoped it would be, whether everything feels hopeless or not, whether you are rich or poor, fat or thin, tall or short, you are alive. You exist. You are here. You didn’t get flushed down the toilet, you weren’t lost to a miscarriage, you didn’t die in the womb or when being born, or as an infant. None of us know how much time we have here but while we have it, we ought to grab it with both hands and make the most of it. Easier said than done, I know, but every now and then just think about it. You are alive. You are the only you. No one else like you has ever existed and no one else ever will. You are a one off.
You are young. A lot can happen in a short time. A lot can happen in a lifetime. It sucks to be born in such a turbulent times but people have been born in worse times. Don’t let it beat you. Refuse to. Fight back any way you can. Be resilient. Be tough as hell. You deserve a life and to be happy just like the rest of us. You haven’t got it as easy as previous generations but you can change it.
Economic and societal systems change. They have before and they will again. We are currently, in my view, at the end stage of capitalism. It’s eating itself and destroying the planet and it can’t go on much longer. But we used to live under other systems and we can do again. Nothing stays forever. Everything has its time and then time moves on. I think we are in for a lot of chaos due to capitalism, what it has done to the planet and to us, but something else will emerge because it always does.
It gets worse before it gets better. I truly believe this. Sadly, humans seem to have to let things get really, really bad before they wake up to what is going on and start to demand change. That’s far harder when the establishment control most of the media but eventually people’s lives become so opposite to what the media is peddling, that they realise they have been duped. This is happening right now with people waking up to the fact energy and water companies should never have been privatised and run for profit. It might take a while to change things to help people, but it all starts with public opinion shifting and it is.
When things are scary, knowledge is power. I like to know what is going on so that I can prepare for the worst case scenario. I’m not exactly a dooms day prepper. I don’t have an underground bunker, weapons or a hazmat suit stashed in the wardrobe, but I do like to be prepared as much as I can. It makes me feel better, less helpless. When Russia invaded Ukraine and there was fearful talk of a nuclear war, I started researching how to survive one. I keep a survival notebook full of tips on how to find water, filtrate and sterilise it, different ways to start fires, build shelters, and so on. I add to it all the time. Anything that might be handy. I buy more basic foods than I need just to keep up a good supply. It might be useless, it might be nowhere near enough, but it is something and it is better than doing nothing because it makes me feel less helpless. One major thing everyone should get to grips with right now is growing their own food and collecting their own water. Hopefully this record breaking summer has woken people up to that.
Words can change the world. Think about the power of words and books to change the world and shift opinions. It’s staggering. Stories are what bring us together and stories help humans interpret the world and respond to it. Writing and other creative pursuits are so important during difficult times. As a writer, you have the power to hold a mirror up to society and let people know what is going on.
Writing is therapeutic. It really is! But you have to do it and commit to sticking to it to really feel the benefits. If you give up on writing or allow doomerism to put you off and consider it pointless, then you’re going to feel even worse. Writing can help you, so let it. Write about your fears, your hopes, your anger, your disappointment. Pour your thoughts, emotions and dreams into characters and stories that will carry the weight for you.
Writing allows an escape. Just like reading, when times are tough, writing allows you an escape into another world. I love my other worlds and I feel the longing to escape to them whenever I’ve had a stressful day. Those worlds are your creations and you can control them and vanish into them any time you like.
Don’t lose hope. Despite everything, we have to hold on to hope. Sometimes it feels like the world is full of bad people and not worth saving but I think tough times bring out the best in people; something more primal and ancient emerges when our backs are against the wall. I always remember a quote I once came across that said whenever you see a tragedy, look for the people who are helping. It’s simple but true. Cars crash on the road, people stop, phone the emergency services, run in to help if they can. Natural disasters occur and people rush in to save strangers. Everywhere that something terrible happens, you will see ordinary people helping others. It is in our instincts to help and protect each other and I still believe that most people are good.
Fight back. Join a political party that shares your concerns for the future. Volunteer, spread the word, or just bring up the conversation with your family, workmates or in your place of education. Conversations need to be had about where we are all going so why not start them? You might just make a few people think about it for the first time. In short, if you give up, the bad guys win and we can’t let them do that.
I hope this is a helpful list to any young people feeling understandably anxious about the future right now. Is there anything you would add to it? Feel free to comment and share!
Ever since I watched Maximum Overdrive when I was a kid, I have been fascinated by post-apocalyptic fiction and drama. Developed from a short story by Stephen King, Maximum Overdrive explores how a group of survivors come together after machines start turning on the humans who made them. Not your usual post-apocalyptic concept, but it still explored how a small group are left when everyone around them has perished. I remember pretending it was real when I walked my dogs around the fields where we lived. I’d pretend I was the only soul left alive in the area and I’d pretend to be grossed out by dead bodies and gruesome finds, while I plotted in my head how I would continue to survive in this new world.
As a huge Stephen King fan I inevitably went on to devour The Stand – a thumping great book about an apocalypse caused by a virus. I found it so fascinating I read it twice! Everything about it intrigued me. From the outbreak of the virus and the horrific details of how quickly it spread and decimated the population, to the individual stories of the people who survived and how they came together, to the rise of good people and bad people and the ultimate battle between them.
Currently, I am watching The Walking Dead for the first time and I am almost at the end of season 10. I’m utterly addicted! A zombie apocalypse is an even more gory and frightening one, but again, it is the human stories that fascinate me – from survival of the early outbreak, to the hopes and fears of groups trying to find safe places and barricade the walkers out, to the inevitable bad humans who are arguably more revolting and dangerous than the walkers, to the fascinating survival skills the humans pick up or develop along the way. I genuinely feel like should a real end-of-the-world situation arise, I would be better prepared thanks to watching this TV show!
I am also currently writing my own post-apocalyptic series and it’s been great fun but also incredibly challenging. I have delved into dystopia before, with The Tree Of Rebels set far in the future after wars have nearly obliterated the human race, but this is the first time I have attempted post-apocalyptic fiction that starts as the tragedy unravels. It’s challenging because it’s been in my head for so long and I have read and watched so many post-apocalyptic books and films, that I feel a bit intimidated. I so want to get it right that sometimes I struggle to write it at all!
I have however written the first two books and I am half way through book three. Because there is a good chance I will want to go back and alter things I am not releasing any of them until all four books are ready. But writing it, and watching The Walking Dead got me thinking – what is it about this particular genre that fascinates us so much? It’s hugely popular – you only have to look at the various Walking Dead spin-offs in action or in the pipeline, to see that the end of the world as we know it is a big business. Here are a few reasons I think the genre is so popular:
Dissatisfaction with this world – I don’t think anyone would swap this world for one over-run by walkers, deadly viruses, or rampaging robots, but even so, I do think a dissatisfaction and anxiety about the society we live in fuels our interest in post-apocalyptic fiction. Characters in post-apocalyptic dramas tend to find a new way of doing things. Once they have survived long enough to start rebuilding, they tend to rebuild in a different way as if they have learned from the mistakes of the past, and I think we are curious about this. If everything was razed to the ground and we had to start again, what kind of society would we work to build? I think most of us would opt for a kinder, fairer more environmentally friendly one and that’s interesting to think about.
Curiosity about how we would react – they say you never truly know how you would react to extreme danger, pain, fear, or the threat of death. We simply have no idea whether we would die easily or become a true survivor. Would we hide away crying, or would we come out fighting? In post-apocalyptic fiction and drama, the weak don’t tend to last long. Characters make stupid mistakes and fall victim to all kinds of terrible deaths. We like to think we would do better. We would be smarter, faster, stronger and more adaptable, but would we? Wondering about this fuels our need to watch and read the genre.
Fascination with survival skills – in a post-apocalyptic world, characters are forced to go back to basics. Walking instead of driving, using horses instead of cars, building shelters, hunting animals for food, fishing, setting traps, filtering water so it’s safe to drink and so on. In our modern lives we don’t need to do any of these things and we tend not to worry about food or oil running out, but maybe we should. We used to be better connected to nature and we used to do all those things to survive. Things are far too easy for us now and we are softer because of it. Watching post-apocalyptic shows and reading the genre makes us more aware of the need for such survival skills. Anyone with these skills is going to have a better chance of survival and I think we enjoy picking up a few tips, just in case!
Boredom – I think to a certain extent us humans grow bored of the society we live in. Once you are in the never ending circle of work, pay bills, work, buy food, work, work, work, you wonder if a different kind of life is possible. In post-apocalyptic situations, the characters are freed from the drudgery of the work/money hamster wheel and they can do whatever they like. Life might be dangerous, but it’s certainly never boring.
Disillusion with the human race – now, I would obviously never advocate population control or the mass death of humans! But like a lot of people, I am endlessly disappointed with the human race. I am frustrated and saddened that they continue to vote for selfish, rich people who continue to wreck the planet. I hate to see our wildlife being decimated, our continuous consumption pushing the planet to the brink. If we are not careful, we’ll have a post-apocalyptic situation on our hands sooner than we think. Human beings can be wonderful, but they are also frustratingly stupid and selfish. I see this more and more around me and I weep for what we are doing to Mother Nature. I can’t help thinking she would be better off without us here. I think we enjoy the genre for this reason too. In books and films where the majority of the population have perished, we get to see what the world would be like without most of here, without us wrecking and polluting, using and abusing it.
The need to go back to basics – I’ve blogged before about my strange desire for a far more basic life. If I could, I would withdraw from society almost completely. If I could live in a little house or cabin far away from humanity, with woods and fields and a stream around me, I would go in a shot. I would go off-grid and get back to nature. I enjoy watching and reading this aspect in post-apocalyptic shows and books. People living basic lives, at one with nature, far away from anyone else.
Preparation for the future – sadly I think this might be one of the main reasons the post-apocalyptic genre is so popular. We are faced with climate change disaster and ecological disaster, not to mention soil disaster, and the possibility of more pandemics. Wow – sometimes I wonder how any of us get up and get through the day with all that hanging over our heads! It plays on my mind constantly. I have no idea what will happen but I have very little hope that the powerful people in charge will do the right thing. I think millions of us will suffer and die as things get worse in the coming years and for young people, the situation is even more dire and depressing. Maybe we are fascinated with the genre because we are trying to prepare ourselves for what may be coming our way.
What about you? Are you a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction and drama or is it something you avoid? Do you have a favourite post-apocalyptic TV show, film or book? Let me know in the comments!
Dreaming of Another World is a brand new feature on my blog, inspired by a piece I wrote a few weeks ago. Following on from my post Dreaming of Another World, I wondered if other creatives felt the same as me, that another world is possible and could just be glimpsed during lockdown. I reached out to other authors, wondering what their reactions to lockdown were in terms of the future. Has it made them want something different? Has it made them change the way they are living, for instance? Do they have daydreams, like me, about a different way of life? Each week I hope to post a response to these musings from guest authors and bloggers. This could be stories, poems, essays or personal pieces.This second piece is from author Lily Hayden.To find out more about Lily click on the link at the end of the piece.
Dreaming of another world- Lily Hayden
Headphones in and eyes down, I spent my commute dreaming of a world where I didn’t race from a school run to jam myself aboard a packed and late train that spilled us out at a hectic station. My head would be full of all the things I would do ‘if I had time’ as I was swept up in a sea of commuters like a dull, drab shoal of fish swimming past the now-familiar rough sleepers and brimming commercial bins, dodging the puddles from cleaners hosing down the pavement outside the strip of bars and restaurants until I reached my office to sit at a desk for nine hours exchanging eye rolls with my colleagues as we counted down the days to the weekend with the same lethargic lack of enthusiasm; “Ugh, Monday!”, “How is it only Tuesday?”, “Happy Hump day.”, “One more day!” and finally “Thank God it’s Friday!”.
My head, like the commuter fish around me, would be full of all the wonderful things I could do if I wasn’t a slave to the rat-race.
“I’d love to go vegan,” I’d lie to myself as I inhaled my fourth coffee before midday. “I just haven’t got the time to meal plan!”
Same for exercising. Not a chance could I fit gym time in amongst juggling work, writing and raising four children and numerous animals.
“Love the concept of zero waste!” I’d shrug as I clicked through an Eco page on Instagram in my lunchbreak. “But who’s got time to go searching for all that? I can barely manage one big shop on the weekend.”
“We should do more with the kids,” I’d say to my husband as we flopped down exhausted on the sofa on a Friday night, feeling the familiar pang of guilt as they all disappeared off to their rooms once the takeaway had been devoured. “If only we had more time!”
And then suddenly we had time.
“This is so strange,” we would repeat to various neighbours that we only ever saw in passing as we all flew from school runs to work on a never-ending hamster-wheel of rush, rush, rush.
We played games in the street at a social distance and went for walks in the woods that I’d never set foot in despite living on their doorstep for thirty-seven years. We baked, and we gardened, and we sat in the sun. We made little schedules for the children, and the big ones helped the little ones with their schoolwork. We skimmed stones in the river and explored the fields and the forests. We went from driving every day to once a week, and I thought about the carbon footprint reduction.
80,000 people commute into Cardiff every day for work with an average commute of 19 miles taking 48 minutes according to various sources. That’s 1.5 million commuter miles on train, bus and car pumping out tens of thousands of tonnes of CO2 every year.
“Did you know Cardiff is the fourth most polluted city in relation to size?”
“If half of those commuters worked from home, imagine the impact to pollution!”
Imagine! The world could start to repair the damage we’d done to it!
We had enough time to watch the news, to really watch it and talk about it, rather than scroll past on our way to work, the gym, drinks, dinner with just an apathetic ‘how awful’… And we had time to take to the streets chanting ‘no justice, no peace’ when we woke to the reality of the cycle of oppression that we had been complicit in. Strangers united to topple statues of terrible men who did terrible things in the name of profit and power.
We clapped for the nurses that work gruelling shifts putting their own lives at risk to care for others, but all they wanted was fair pay and protective equipment to keep them safe. Of all the people in powerful positions, a football player was the one to convince our Prime Minister that while schools stayed closed to the majority, children would go hungry without their free school meal. The staggering reality of poverty in our country felt like a dirty, little secret had been exposed.
But not everyone could stay home and breathe. A hotchpotch of roles were marked as essential alongside the obviously necessary ones as businesses interpreted the loose rules to suit their pockets, and instead of question the necessity we ordered takeaways, and everything from Amazon, we queued to buy paint from B & Q, and the country sold out of hot tubs.
And then we began to grow bored of entertaining ourselves. By nature, humans are sociable creatures; we missed our friends and our family, and worried that the children needed the routine of schools. By the end of June, mixed messages teased of our ‘playgrounds’ re-opening, and we craved our postponed holidays, desperate to jam a facemask on to jet off to foreign shores the minute the planes took off, or gather outside the pub to clutch that first ice-cold pint or queue to fill a basket in Primark. We were chomping at the bit to get back to ‘normal’.
The emotional need for normality was exacerbated by the very real fear that there would be economic repercussions of the wheel not turning and millions of worker bees furloughed; businesses would fold, and jobs would be lost forever. With fear in our hearts, we will jump back on the treadmill as soon as the whistle is blown. It’s likely that we’ll never have this chance to collectively stop again in this lifetime.
Imagine though if that was the last chance that the world was willing to give us.
On Monday I could be back on that train, headphones in and eyes down; the only thing that would have changed would be the facemasks we are wearing, and wouldn’t that be a horrible, horrible waste. Over forty thousand people have died, and tens of thousands are still recovering from a very serious and debilitating illness.
We cannot let this be for nothing.
I know it wasn’t just me on the train dreaming of having the time to be better, having the time to care, to educate myself, to read, to share, to connect, to donate, to question the morality of the society I live in. I don’t want to go back to seeing my own children for just a hectic hour each morning and evening, missing their lives so that I can pay to keep the roof over their head. My husband took over sixty business flights last year, we drove maybe twenty thousand miles of car journeys. I don’t want to contribute to the destruction of our planet anymore. I don’t want to be shocked when I read that over one million children in the UK rely on free school meals or scroll past news of more racial injustice because I’m too exhausted to be angry. I know that it’s not just me on the train dreaming of a slower pace, more time and deeper connections.
I dream of a world where we learn from the lessons we’ve been taught.
Thank you so much to Lily for this wonderful and thought-provoking piece. If you would like to find to find out more about Lily’s writing, please follow the links below! And if you would like to contribute to this feature with a non-fiction or a fictional piece do please get in touch!