The Stupid 365 Project, Day 24: Curtains, Part 2

October 25th, 2010

Okay, so the world didn’t end.

No, that wasn’t a play for attention yesterday.  Although I have to admit that it was interesting to see all that response.  Sort of like the adolescent fantasy of dying so you can see who cries at your funeral.

Few things are more embarrassing than being wrong about the end of the world.  And people have been wrong about it over and over, almost since the beginning of the world.

The first big Western panic about Final Days arose in the last years of the 10th century, which (remember school?) concluded in 999.  The first millenium caused widespread panic, at least in the Christian world.  Muslims, Jews, and the people of the East and the as-yet unrumored New World were unmoved, for the obvious reason that no one except Christians began counting time at 1 AD.

The next big miss followed quickly, in 1054, terrifying even more people because the precipitating event was visible all over the planet.  That was the year that the light reached earth from a cataclysmic event that had actually occurred 6500 years earlier — the supernova of a star in the area of the constellation of Taurus.  One of only a handful of supernovae visible to the naked eye in the history of modern humankind, it was viewed with awe and profound misgivings by the Chinese, the Arabs, and the Christian world alike.

But the world spun on unaffected until astronomers turned their newly-invented telescopes toward Taurus and discovered the most active identifiable radio object in the sky, the Crab Nebula.  This gigantic, pulsating interstellar jellyfish is the remains of the star whose spectacular immolation frightened so many million people   here on earth.  Of course, the event also immolated any worlds that might have been circling it, so if anyone on one of those had predicted the end of the world, he or she would have been spot on.

Probably the most embarrassing wrong call occurred on October 22, 1844, in upstate New York, an area of the state that had seen the fires of religious revival so often it became known as The Burned-Over District.  In less than fifty years the District gave rise to the precursors of the Mormons, the Seventh-Day Adventists, and the Spiritualist Movement, and strengthened the conviction of the Shakers.  One group, the Millerites, determined that the world would come to an end on the 22nd.  They took food and a few worldly goods, said farewell to their neighbors and friends, and trudged to the top of a hill to meet the end.  Then, the next day, they trudged back down again, which was probably harder than going up in the first place.  They eventually moved on and became the Seventh-Day Adventists.  (The Burned-Over District gets some play in my Simeon Grist novel, The Four Last Things.)

There was a lot of end-of-the-worlding during the radioactive fifties and sixties, but in this increasingly secular century, fewer people take so seriously a deity-commanded End of Days — the bearded man with the sign proclaiming THE END IS NEAR has become a staple of magazine jokes, and some very profitable films have thrilled people by allowing them to sit safely in the dark while everyone else on earth (except whoever was top-billed) ate the big one.

Many people seem to anticipate the end of the world with a certain muted glee, perhaps because we’ve been wrong so often that the big, total-planet, all-involving, wall-to-wall Destructo Supreme seems a lot less likely to us than the much smaller, much more personal, and much more certain end that will come to each of us.  I don’t subscribe to any religion that involves a return ticket, so for me the world will very definitely end at the same precise moment I do.

If I can make it through 2012, I mean.

23 Responses to “The Stupid 365 Project, Day 24: Curtains, Part 2”

  1. Larissa Says:

    hehe…it’s all rather brilliant isn’t it? There’s all these people out there claiming that the end is not only nigh but that it’s Here. With a big ol’ captail H and that we have to jump on this bandwagon or another to be “saved”…except that that I don’t subscribe to any religion that says you get to live in the whispy white world above as one of the clouds with a little harp and a bird’s eye view…and even if I did, it still seems like a very sweet Hallmark publicity scheme. Great marketing on their part.

    Anyway-you’re forgiven for your fearmongering of yesterday. 😀

  2. Larissa Says:

    A random addition not at all related really…so I typed my last reCaptcha word (Ponbuxea) into the dictionary, just to see. Nothing. So then I typed it into Google and it pulled up my comment on your blog…the machine is getting too clever for me.


    That’s all.

  3. Phil Hanson Says:

    Hopin’ that the Mayas are as incompetent as the Millerites, eh, Tim?

  4. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Well, Riss, I actually think the world ended last Saturday night but since it was on NBC, no one noticed. The harp, by the way, is generally acknowledged to be one of the most difficult, and most painful, instruments to learn, so no, thanks.

    But I am grateful for your forgiveness, even if I’m not crazy about the term “fear-mongering.”

    Hey, Phil — whenever anyone gets going on Mayan prophecies, I just remind myself that they didn’t foresee their own extinction by the Spaniards. But I have fundamentalist Christian friends (I do, really) who are also lined up for the exit in 2012.

  5. fairyhedgehog Says:

    There was the Millennium Bug too: that was all set to get us in the year 2000. Or doesn’t that count as it wasn’t religious?

  6. Larissa Says:

    FHH I think that could count. People were pretty worked up over it…it was nearly religious at the very least. (c:

    I’m glad the world hasn’t ended just yet. That would really put a kink in most of our plans I think.

  7. EverettK Says:

    Oh, there were plenty of fundamentalist Christians (is that redundant? What’s a ‘dundant’ anyway?) who thought the world might end in 1999-2000, kind of an echo of the 999 fears that Tim mentioned. Fortunately, the Constitution still protects us from the worst of their activities.

    Anway, glad you’re still with us, Tim! (unless, of course, you’re really an advanced computer AI. hm…)

  8. Laren Bright Says:

    And let us not forget Y2K, which turned out to be only the end of 1999.

  9. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    FHH, I think it counts. I left out a bunch, actually — the appearance of the bubonic plague in Europe, a couple of total solar eclipses — a whole bunch of them. In some corner of our being, we’re yearning for the end of the world, even if it’s just as a way to get rid of reality television.

    Riss, I’ve got airplane tickets to Asia already paid for. I’ve got 400 books I haven’t read and 200 DVDs I haven’t watched. Good Lord, I haven’t finished “Spirit House.” The end of the world right now would be massively inconvenient. Even though it WOULD get rid of reality television,

    Everett, don’t know about “redundant.” It’s one of those words. My wife said to me this morning that she was handling something gingerly, and I thought that you can replace “carefully” with “with care,” but “with ginger” doesn’t communicate much. Explanation? Oh, yeah, your point. Yezzz ittt izzz stillll meeeeee.

    Laren, Y2K? Y2K not?

  10. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    I missed Saturday ( SF baseball fan), and I’m here today, so I am pulled back from the edge of the abyss before I knew it was there. I like the the idea of you having way too much to do for the world to end. Me too. Glad you are still here. I am a subscriber to your newsletter, and I don’t know if I could handle the richness of a daily email from you. BTW, add “gingerly” to “unkempt,” and “unruly.” You inspire a lot of fun.

  11. Phil Hanson Says:

    Hey, Tim, if it will get rid of reality television, then I’m all for it.

  12. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Lil, I’m shocked. Shocked, do you hear? To learn that the playoffs in which the Giants won a ticket to the Series, was more important than my blog. Shocked. I doubt whether there are many people who could put up with the — “richness,” I think you said? — of a daily e-mail from me. So I’ll just be ruly and hope y’all stick with me and Dreamhost doesn’t pull the plug.

    Phil, I’d probably vote for it just to get rid of Snooki.

  13. Bonnie Says:

    Oh, no!! I flunked my reCaptcha typing. Time to start again: Please don’t diss my reality TV. I live for the next episode of Project Runway! (In fact, when re-reading Queen of Patpong yesterday, I was picturing Tra La — yes, I know he has black hair — as Austin Scarlett, snipping away at Rose’s hair.)

  14. Gary Says:

    I went into a bookshop a month after Y2K. They were trying to sell off unsold Y2K survival kits at half price.

  15. Catherine Says:

    I’m impressed you managed to pull a lazarus Tim.

    Y2K in my town was sort of fun because some people decided to provide permaculture gardens for the local co-op. You gave them $25 and someone would come out and discuss with you the prime garden aspect and take an order for what vegetables you wanted. Then a couple of days later some guys turned up with a ute(pick up truck) and a heap of cardboard and mushroom compost, and cane mulch…and some seedlings. All you had to do was a little bit of weeding, and watering. The idea was if all the normal food distribution channels were disrupted by Y2K we could manage for our families and probably have excess to share or it would be all ok and we’d still have a great yield of organic vegies.

  16. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Bonnie, it’s not really reassuring that reCaptcha challenges you. Hmmmm. When I say “reality TV” it should be understood by all that I exclude “Project Runway.” There are a couple of chef shows, too. But see, the difference is that those shows are about skills, while the others are about trailer trash. They remind me of a great New Yorker cartoon years ago: A small curved horizon, black sky, no foliage anywhere, a sagging park bench and some empty tin cans, with the caption “The world without Mozart.” And so glad to hear you’re reading “Queen.”

    Gary, what would a Y2K survival kit have been? A fresh copy of DOS? I guess I’ve forgotten (because it seemed so bogus at the time) how sweeping Y2K was supposed to be — another gift of the global media, right up there with swine flu. Everybody over their swine flu by now?

    Catherine – Welcome. An organic garden for Y2K. Sounds like we should do a blog about people’s Y2K experiences. I just remember being deeply cynical about it and then thinking it would be great if everything went down at the moment Dick Clark said “Happy —” And then blank screens. I was so convinced it was a non-issue that I didn’t even back up the unfinished books on my laptop. Looking back, that was probably foolhardy. So — what did you plant?

  17. Bonnie Says:

    “Bonnie, it’s not really reassuring that reCaptcha challenges you.”

    Well, it’s more of an eyesight thing. I still type at least 100 wpm, in spite of computers and delete keys.

    ” Hmmmm. When I say “reality TV” it should be understood by all that I exclude “Project Runway.” There are a couple of chef shows, too. But see, the difference is that those shows are about skills, while the others are about trailer trash.”

    I have sunk low enough to watch The Rachel Zoe Project and the train wreck that is Millionaire Matchmaker. But I have weaned myself off them again, since I have better things to do with my time, such as sticking red-hot needles in my eyes. However, apart from trailers, I’ve not stooped low enough yet for any Real Housewives. There are depths to which I will not sink.

    Am now going back to curl up with the latest Jack Reacher, even though I could be watching Patti Stanger.

  18. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Oh, no no no no no no not Rachel Zoe. Oh no no no no no no not Millionaire Matchmaker. The very NAMES of these shows make me feel like Mr. Bill when Mr. Hand shows up.

    Jack Reacher is okay, though.

  19. Catherine Says:

    Thanks Tim.

    It’s ten years ago…so it’s mostly the stuff that really worked that comes to mind. It was pretty basic.

    I had cherry tomatoes for months. I started using them fresh in salads and then at the point where I couldn’t even give them away, I started roasting them and turning them into pasta sauce.

    Bok Choy was good young. Lemon grass, and basil thrived too. Basil turned into pesto with a little intervention. I think there was capsicum too. Coriander blew to seed fast. Italian parsley was also hard to kill. Most of it was handy to throw into whatever else was going. I swapped some of it with friends and we’d wander over to each other’s places to get a handle of herbs or whatever and end up sometimes combining meals…and sharing some wine.

    As for Y2K I was jaded pretty fast too. I did find a lot of the blather hilarious though. I have an Aunt Kit in London who was a computer programmer in the 70’s and she was big on saying ‘This isn’t a new thing, people knew about this in the ’70’s…followed up with ‘It all went to shit when those focking (it’s absolutely how she said it) Americans came and took over.’

  20. Catherine Says:

    Ok handle of herbs isn’t some weird Aussie slang or alluding to anything sinister and or illegal…I’m not sure how my typos are morphing… My intended phrase was a handful of herbs.

  21. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, again, Catherine. Amazing how what I thought was a vigorous and fascinating discussion of disposable razors got side-tripped into organics. Oh, well, I asked for it. As one who has grown tomatoes, I know exactly what it’s like to have a house that’s absolutely full of tomatoes, to the point where one’s friends begin to avoid one. And I’ve also had the humbling experience of slaving for months over my tomatoes only to be outgrown by a factor of 100% by a couple of plants that seeded themselves from fruit that landed on the ground. My God, how those things produced.

    Your Aunt Kit — by “Americans,” did she mean Microsoft? As I remember, Bill Gates was widely pilloried as having created the whole disaster by developing a global platform and achieving total control of an entire industry without ever having looked at a calendar.

  22. Catherine Says:

    Your disposal razor post harnessed the zeitgeist in this household. I’d only just bought another pack ( and for some reason it mattered that they be pink) and I had stood there in the supermarket thinking this is madness. I’d had all the environmental guilt roil around and still bought them.

    I was amused to see the discussion divert by way of Y2K to organics.

    My Aunt’s company that she had worked for was taken over by an American company. I don’t think it was Microsoft. I’m pretty certain she saw Bill Gates as the devil though. It amuses me when people rant about Americans as though there is this great hive mind of attitudes…anyway she was much more specific than just ranting against the entire population of the US,or a large company…it was just the ones that crossed her path.

  23. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Ohmigod I’m leading people astray. Pink. huh? You know, that involves the dye called red-32, which kills absolutely everything, from the garden snail up

    I’m just messing with you. And Americans can be quite objectionable, especially abroad. But who can’t?

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