Turns out the key really is to just do it

This is the 101st day of my 92-day challenge. Back at the end of July, to celebrate my finally getting an independent host for WarrenBluhm.com, I committed to writing a blog post every day in August, September, and October, or 92 consecutive days. I don’t believe I’ve ever managed that.

Turns out it’s as easy as deciding to do it. It’s like working for a radio station that puts out nine newscasts a day, or for a daily newspaper: You put out nine newscasts every day, or one newspaper. You don’t have a choice. You made the commitment, you do it.

The difference is that the newscasts and the newspapers were a commitment to other people. For better or worse, over the years I’ve been much better at keeping those external commitments than promises I made to myself.

Several times over the years I’ve written about such commitments and made big announcements — my Kaiju trilogy, my pookha detective stories, even my superhero stories — and fallen through before the projects were completed.

So this time, I decided to just do it. I made no announcements like “This is now a daily blog.” I just started blogging every day. And what do you know.

I’m a little nervous that now I’ve given the game away, I’ll stop shipping a post every day. But I’m trying not to dwell on that fear; after all, I’m the proud author of Refuse to be Afraid.

This is the flip side of telling everyone I was going to do something and not doing it: I didn’t tell a soul until I could tell everyone, “Look what I did.” I like this feeling better.

And I feel a lot more confident that you’ll believe me when I finish by saying: See you tomorrow.

Choose how you react

“Choose to have the right attitude, and you choose success,” Scott Alexander wrote the other day. It’s an oft-repeated thought: You can’t control what happens sometimes, but you always can control how you react.

Not that it’s easy — what happens can be infuriating or heartbreaking or unintentionally funny, and your first impulse may be to lash out or burst into tears or laugh out loud in, say, a funeral parlor — but you can (and often should) control that impulse.

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The world’s greatest comic magazine

Marvel Comics traces its history to just before World War II, but its modern era, the one that spawned almost all of the heroes in its popular series of superhero movies, began in late 1961 with the release of the Fantastic Four.

They apparently realized they had started something special, because on the cover of Fantastic Four #3 was a blurb, “The Greatest Comic Magazine in the World!!” From issue #4 onward, the top of the cover was emblazoned with the more concise “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!”

For a time, it really was.

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The ones who remember

Continuing musings from the conclusion of Fahrenheit 451

Post-apocalyptic literature assumes that a cataclysm of some kind is the inevitable climax to dystopia — but catastrophe is always avoidable, until it isn’t. A series of choices makes the situation worse and worse until Big Brother micromanages lives (Nineteen Eighty-Four) or the populace lives in a drugged stupor (Brave New World) or people demand books be banned or even burned (Fahrenheit 451), or all of the above (2020).

But it doesn’t have to end with scorched earth, until, of course, the landscape is scorched. At any time before that, the disaster can be avoided.

In Fahrenheit 451, the earth is scorched, but there’s a sense that we will rebuild. This is scant consolation to those who must do the work of rebuilding, of moving from scorched earth to Eden, but it is better than inconsolable.

The challenge is finding a way to avoid the cataclysm, to stop short of Ragnarok and move straight to Eden, ending the dystopia without the devastation.

In the context of the upcoming election, there is little hope of emerging from dystopia anytime in the short term. Both major parties intend to maintain the surveillance culture, continue the restrictions on freedom that have been building for more than a generation, and wield the power of Leviathan against individuals who don’t toe the line.

But those who remember freedom need not abandon hope. Support exists for a culture where alternative views may be voiced and heard openly and in peace. Many are weary of the military industrial complex’s grip on the tiller. Many more, who want nothing more than to live at peace with their neighbors, are weary of being micromanaged by so-called leaders who think they know better. As The Powers That Be attempt to tighten the stranglehold, people still wish to come and go and they please, and to live their own lives.

We may or may not avoid the apocalypse, but many people yearn for something other than dystopia. Big Brother is an unsustainable concept. At some point totalitarianism must crumble, because its grip can never be total. The State cannot control millions and billions of individual lives against their free will. The Soviet Union collapsed. The Third Reich was a blip on history, a horrid abominable blip but gone in hardly a decade.

People get tired of living in fear. At some point they look the fear in the eye and say, “Shut up. Enough. We’re going to live our lives. Try and stop us if you want, but you’ll fail. Fear is not the boss of me.”

Emerging From Dystopia

An article making the rounds the other day noted that Ray Bradbury predicted all this, writing in his dystopian classic Fahrenheit 451, that people would demand tyranny and censorship, that it would not be forced upon us but enforced by popular demand. Yes, Bradbury’s book does contain that bleakness.

But —

But Fahrenheit 451 ends with hope, with Granger talking about a silly damn bird called a Phoenix that burned itself up every few hundred years and then got himself born all over again, adding that we’re the same but we’ve got one thing the Phoenix didn’t have: the ability to remember all the silly damn things we’ve done, and as long as we know that and remember, some day we’ll stop making the goddam funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them.

“And some day we’ll remember so much that we’ll build the biggest goddam steamshovel in history and dig the biggest grave of all time and shove war in and cover it up. Come on now, we’re going to go build a mirror-factory first and put out nothing but mirrors for the next year and take a long look in them.”

Every generation has people who remember and preserve the lessons and whisper encouragement to the peacemakers. Every generation we gain a few more who remember, and oh so quietly the biggest goddam steamshovel in history is being assembled, and someday someone is going to stop before he throws a punch or a Molotov cocktail or burns a book, and he’ll say to himself, “How stupid is this?”

Sometime after the end of Fahrenheit 451, someone found an old printing press and dusted it off and oiled it up and started making books, a little at a time, and people taught each other how to read them and write them and start to understand each other again.

That’s the difference between this novel and the other great dystopian works — Nineteen Eighty-four and Brave New World have bleak endings, the individual crushed by Big Brother and the gaping foolishness of society, but Fahrenheit 451 ends with hope, because Bradbury saw the potential in the heart of humanity. He looked up and saw the stars.