Friday, September 25, 2015

Passing of the Salmon

“I have some bad news,” the bartender tells me, just recently, in fact. I prepare myself for the worst. She’s getting to know me quite well and probably actually knows the things that matter to me, I realize.

I don’t drink, mind you, but I’m there several times a week. I drink diet coke and ask them to take their ahi tuna salad and substitute salmon. I’m pretty regular about that. It’s not typical bar food, I suppose, but it suits me.

I like salmon. I eat it a lot. I have a couple ounces for breakfast. And it’s a common thing for me to eat when I eat out.

“I have some bad news,” she says again, making sure she has my attention, and that I’m prepared. “They’re changing the menu. There’s not going to be any more salmon.”

I am stunned. I stare at her in anguish. It’s what she expected, and she seems sad. She knew this wouldn’t sit well. But I elaborate.

“The salmon were going away anyway,” I explain. “I always expected that. They’ll be extinct. And often when I eat salmon, I think, I’m really going to miss this. I just didn’t expect it so soon, and for this reason.”

There are still salmon in the world. That’s good at least. But she’s right that I’ll be sad when I come to the restaurant. Still, maybe it’s a wake-up call. Practice. The salmon aren’t quite gone, like the rest of the ecology. Climate change mostly, though we’re fishing out the oceans anyway, and not taking very good care of anything else.

I expect mankind itself to go extinct inside of 20 years. It’s not going to be pretty. Maybe if we started saying it out loud now, it would hit us in time to do something.

I’m going to miss the salmon, when it happens for real.

And soon after that, humanity itself.

Though whatever’s left probably won’t miss us.

Author's Note: I attended a Cary Tennis writing workshop this last weekend. This is one of the stories I wrote. The writing prompt was:
Visualize something you really love. Use the phrase “I'm going to miss you.”

Postscript: In August 2022, this article appeared: What’s Behind Chinook and Chum Salmon Declines in Alaska?. In March 2023, another appeared: California cancels salmon fishing season as population dwindles due to drought: “It's devastating”. I feel like my 20-year timeline is on track, and not just because of these stories. It's very upsetting.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Martian Unjustly Triumphs Over Gravity

Author's Note: To clarify, this essay was written and posted Wednesday, September 9, 2015, before The Martian reached theatres, and certainly before I ever saw it. I hear it's due out October 2. I hope and expect it will be excellent, and yet...

I know it's a little early in the game, but I want to be the first to complain that Matt Damon won is going to win the Academy Award for best actor for his portrayal of Mark Watney in The Martian when Sandra Bullock didn't win for her portrayal of Ryan Stone in Gravity.

Oh, it isn't that I didn't won't enjoy his performance. He's a great actor. But The Martian is such a brilliant movie with such a strong story line, that I'm pretty sure I could have won the Academy Award myself had I been cast in the role.

In fact, I came away from reading The Martian with the distinct impression that while, yes, this character is pretty amazing with his ability to come up with good ideas and do back-of-the-envelope calculations, what really gets him through the ordeal is his sense of humor. His teammates who left him behind seem like smart folks, but I bet they would not have survived a similar ordeal because they seem to lack this critical attribute. And this core survival skill, humor, is carried in the character's language, in the words the Mark Watney character would say, no matter who played the part.

I'm not saying Damon is bad at delivering lines. He's great at that, in fact. It's just that to play the character of Mark Watney well, it just isn't necessary to be all that great. The lines themselves exude greatness and the Oscar for best screenplay rightly acknowledges that. But Damon's chief contribution to this movie isn't his performance but his box office appeal.

By contrast, Bullock really took Gravity from a few bleak lines and some clever special effects and turned it into a personal human drama through the sheer force of her performance. Hers was an Oscar well-earned, yet never realized.

Given time, others will surely join me in acknowledging this grave injustice. And the Academy is increasingly well-known for its biases and blunders, I suppose, so maybe this isn't that much of a surprise. But I just wanted to be first to defend what's still a really fine performance by Bullock, and to say that Damon would have done do well to graciously correct the injustice by sharing his award with her in his acceptance speech.

As I said, it's still early in the game. The coming future seems all too obvious, and yet it's not yet written, so there's still time to break the cycle. Perhaps this time it will be different.