Compelled to put pencil to page since I was 12, I comfortably call myself a writer. My crawlspace harbors detritus from nearly five decades—a small mountain of journals, short stories, criticisms, attempts at novels, poems, lyrics…and so much more!
Writers are cursed. We are always thinking about what to write next. We are self-centered, always evaluating how we are affected by what goes on around us so we can write about it. We are perpetually aloof as we receive input for the writing pile of possibility.
William Shakespeare wrote plays and sonnets. Emily Post crafted poetry. Stephen King authors short stories and novels. Fortunately for writers, writing takes many forms. Unfortunately, we don’t choose them. The lonesome complaint that calls us to write and the mystery of talent define our methods and forms. One thing all writers agree on: we write to tell the truth.
In the HBO series “Girls,” the passionate yet self-seeking protagonist Hannah Horvath called herself “an essayist.” The ludicrously talented Lena Dunham, who wrote the show and played Hannah, suggests it’s not a flattering claim—at least not on young Hannah. Essays are the perfect domain of the dilettante, the intellectual butterfly who knows a little about a lot. Essays are forgiving and elastic; the writing requires neither dramatic arc nor predetermined format. Early episodes of “Girls” depict Hannah’s futile attempts at achieving publication, much less gaining respect as a writer.
Perhaps because I am a Sagittarius, a moody fire sign that “seeks constant change, welcomes the unexpected, looks forward to every new season,” I accept the role of essayist. Short bursts of prose thunder appeal to the mercurial.
In recent years, I have been compelled to write about physics, geology, paleontology, and Earth sciences in general. Sagittarians look for clues that represent the truth of the future. We sense things before they arrive.
I have learned a little about Earth’s five great extinctions. The most massive to date, the Great Dying at the end of the Permian Period, was caused by disruptions in Earth’s climate cycles. Ninety percent of all creatures died, many by suffocating in an atmosphere that could not retain oxygen.
Here’s the socially unacceptable reality: that same thing is happening now. We are in Earth’s sixth great extinction. Imagine the look of horror on a grandmother’s face if I were to tell her the truth about her grandchildren, or great grandchildren, or another not-too-distant generation of her progeny: they will suffocate to death because the air they breathe will contain no oxygen.
I am still astonished that news about climate change arrives like this:
Some of the world’s top climate scientists have concluded that global warming is likely to reach dangerous levels unless new technologies are developed to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
Only pathetic hubris allows humankind to believe it can manage planet Earth. Homo sapiens will become extinct just like every other species has or will. But we are assured a unique celebrity in Earth’s history. We will be the first species to cause its own extinction. We have already played that leading role.