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I Was Raised On Fiction—Phoenix BA'23
I was raised on fiction.
I remember as a small child listening with wide eyes and an excited heart as my parents read thick books to me (Just one more chapter, please!) enthralled by the adventures of the characters, the worlds they traversed, the adventures they underwent. As I grew older, reading on my own became my refuge from a world that was confusing and often painful. There were no school bullies to fear or homework to fail if I was busy soaring through the sky on a dragon, or battling an ancient undead king.
I was also raised on a promise.
Almost as soon as I was old enough to read, I remember parents, teachers, and other adults teaching me the ways of “green living”. Compost your food waste, recycle your plastics, walk or bike places instead of driving. Together, we can save the planet!
I never thought the fiction was reality, but I believed the promise was. That yes, the earth was in trouble, but it wasn’t that bad yet, and it never would be, not if we were all good and promised to use reusable shopping bags.
I don’t believe my teachers, my parents, my mentors, were lying to me. They believed it just as much as I did. They took what seemed like the best course of action, at the time. They didn’t know about, or didn’t want to acknowledge, just how fast global temperatures were rising, or just how much plastic was leaching into the water, or how protections for disadvantaged and desperate groups of people were being quietly and systematically stripped away.
Now, I am twenty-three years old, certainly no longer a child. I still read fiction when I can, but I often find my choices have less to do with escapism and more to do with answers. Can Dorian Gray teach me how to find meaning in life through beauty? Can Frankenstein’s monster (Adam, his name is Adam, why does nobody call him that?) show me strength through society’s rejections of me? Can the vampire Lestat help me find a purpose in a world plagued with violence, loss, and betrayal? Perhaps not. But I am rapidly watching the real world collapse around me, falling off the knife’s edge it balanced on and into a chaotic future that no one but the most depressed and desperate of scientists were able to predict (No one listened to Cassandra either, poor girl. She was always the most tragic figure of that story). If life imitates art, then perhaps the answers to salvaging my sanity lie within the pages of a book somewhere.
I have lost two homes to wildfires in three years. I have struggled through jobs that caused me daily emotional breakdowns only to earn minimum wage. I have stayed up night after night with scared and traumatized friends, trying to convince them not to stray into the unknown abyss beyond life, that there is something worth living for, truly, I swear, please listen to me, please don’t hurt yourself -
This morning, I woke up with a sore throat from the smoke I breathed the day before. I had a mask, but it was not enough. The air quality where I’m living rates above 150 on the Air Quality Index, meaning it is dangerously smokey. I am rapidly coming to wonder if I will make it to the age of thirty without lung damage from smoke, or from the actual plague that ravishes the world, both issues that my country of origin refuses to handle with care and wisdom.
I was never a big fan of apocalyptic fiction. But in the conditions that surround me now, I feel as though I am living in a story. And I am not the main character. All I can do is put all my effort into survival, and hope I’m one of the background names who makes it to the end of the book in one piece.
If you’ll excuse me, I have homework to complete. It’s important to earn your degree before the world ends, after all. Stay safe out there.