Art Works Blog

Spring Forward with Station Eleven

Daylight Savings Time is upon us! Preparing to move our clocks forward has us thinking about Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, one of the selections in the NEA Big Read library. The novel moves the clock forward as well, only in this case it’s 20 years into the future after a flu pandemic has devastated civilization as we know it. Many members of the NEA staff have read the novel and loved it, so we reached out to them with this question: If you were living in Mandel’s apocalyptic world, what’s one object from this life that you hope you’d still have with you and why? Here’s what they said. What would your answer be?

Well, I would not miss the alarm clock. And since I don’t have a magic wand or invisibility cloak (yet), I guess I wouldn’t be able to take them along. I am not one for hauling artifacts around, even really cool stuff, so would have to let go of most objects. Somehow the one thing that I cannot imagine living without is soap. I love me some soap. And toothpaste. But I curse enough that I’ll just go with soap. — Carol Walton

Post apocalypse I hope to keep my binoculars. I’m a bit of a bird dork and would love to have them handy to observe avian life (what’s left of it) and zombie armies (particularly those headed in my direction). — Eleanor Billington

My copy of The Phantom Tollbooth. 1) It was my favorite book growing up—it would help me remember who I am. 2) It would continue to remind me of the bonds, connections, and human needs that hold together a civil society. 3) It would make a great firestarter if needed.— Jason Schupbach

At first I thought I’d take my Swiss Army knife or an old compass. But I’m thinking I’d be able to find something along those lines and if my life boiled down to my prowess with a Swiss Army knife I’d be a goner anyway. I’m looking [instead] at a pair of gold-wire “granny glasses” (like John Lennon wore) that my granny, Libba Lyle, left to me. I loved to tell about the time she took those glasses to Waits Jewelry and Fine Gifts to have them repaired. It was late in the afternoon and she’d had a few social drinks. There was no discernable plan of having the glasses repaired, or at least she hadn’t mentioned it. We were walking to the dollar store in Downtown Corinth when she decided to drop in Waits and took off her taped-up glasses. Two people were waiting in line but that was too many, so she marched behind the counter and asked Mr. Waits for “the little screwdriver that fixes glasses,” then came back and plopped down cross-legged in the middle of the store on the beautiful tiled floor and tried to replace a screw in her thick bifocals. Since she had neither the necessary tools of corrected sight nor sobriety it was taking a while. By the time the line had disappeared she was so engrossed in the task of screwing a long arm to an end piece that she refused all offers of help. Since Libba was in her 70s and lived alone in a big house on Foote St., everyone left her alone. Waits was an old and respected store. It was a big deal to act out on the floor and I remember my Mom and Aunt not being nearly as pleased with the story as I was. I loved seeing my grandmother give the world the middle finger. Whatever the social contract was there, or anywhere, Libba was not going to honor it.  (Eventually, though, she let me use the screwdriver.) Having those glasses and their connection to someone I loved would make me happy. Keeping your spirits up in an imagined world, or a real one, can be useful. — Sidney (Pepper) Smith

My trumpet. Why? So that I could be part of the Travelling Symphony and eventually find a nice town to explore my dreams of becoming a prophet in my own right with a small following. Half. Kidding. — Mo Sheriff

I would want my dog—for more reasons than I can name. As a practical matter, he’s vigilant and protective—with a well-defined sense of what he considers his territory and a robust commitment to defending it—by barking not biting I hasten to add—no matter what the mailman says. He hears things that I don’t and smells things that I can’t and so extends my sense of the physical world. He would be the constant in uncertain times. He centers and calms me—dissolving the anxiety which, let’s face it, pretty much defines getting around in a post-apocalyptic world. My dog finds joy everywhere and reminds me to look for it as well, teaching me to appreciate each moment. We will want to do more than just survive; we’ll want to consider deeply what it means to live and what it means to be human. I think there is something about the ability to forge deep bonds outside of our own species that enhances our humanity. Valuing the lives of creatures that are so different forces us to see beyond ourselves and realize we’re only a part of the planet and that whatever new world we create must begin with that premise. Humans and dogs have lived together for thousands of years—throughout countless civilizations. If I want even a possibility of living not just surviving in a post-apocalyptic world, I’m taking my dog. — Josephine Reed

I’d miss Saturday mornings—the luxury of sleeping in (something I’m pretty sure you don’t get to do after an apocalypse!), my cat at my feet, making breakfast, reading a book or the news. It’s unlikely, but I’d hope we’d still have some way to get news from outside our own small worlds—an operating telephone somewhere, maybe?—even just for the promise of the smallest sliver of knowledge of what else was happening out there. — Jessica Flynn

I have been thinking about this question for days until this past weekend when I sat down to eat lunch in a museum and watched a cafeteria full of people mindlessly stuffing carefully packaged food into their mouths and realized: this. Prepared food. This is what I would miss the most. Actually, I wouldn’t miss it at all because I would most probably die of starvation before I really had a chance to miss it. Poor Gardening Skills + Poor Slingshot Skills = Bad Outcome — Katy Day

Rather than offer up a particular book, which would be too predictable for anyone who knows me, I’ll go with my five-million-year-old fossilized megalodon shark tooth that I found on the beach along Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Much larger than great white sharks, megalodons don’t exist anymore and, though one can often find smaller ancient shark teeth along the bay, the big teeth are rare and super cool looking. But that’s not primarily why I’d want it. Lately, I’ve been spending many happy days with my family walking those beaches along the bay, so there are the memories it would conjure, and the reminder that amidst the painful nostalgia of what’s lost there can be joy in discovering something new. But even more: it gives me peace and perspective. I used to look up at the stars and feel deep existential angst about my tiny insignificant life, but now—and I’m not sure why—I find comfort in knowing I’m part of a vast and ever-changing continuum of time and space and living species. — Amy Stolls

What would you want to have with you in a post-apocalyptic world? Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page. 

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