Why Don’t They Miss It?

This semester the campus is even emptier than in the Fall. On most days, it’s just me and maybe three or five other people in the whole building all day. It’s a large building. It used to have hundreds. I remember back in 2015 we had a tornado alarm, and it took 20 minutes to get everybody into the basement because there were so many people. Streams of people. Talking. And you could see their faces.

There was this short story by Ray Bradbury where every inhabitant of the planet disappeared and just one family was left. I feel like that family. No lines at Starbucks. No waiting for the bathroom. No annoying laughter coming from the neighboring classroom. No laughter coming from anywhere. I want the annoying laughter back!

Why doesn’t anybody else miss it? This is what I don’t get. I really miss all of it. The family in the Bradbury story missed it. But it turns out in reality almost nobody does.

35 thoughts on “Why Don’t They Miss It?”

  1. An interesting question to contemplate is whether or not people in modern societies are really connected, or if they’re just habituated. It’s probably an important question too, since if it is the latter, restoring the way things were/rehabitualising people would be fairly straightforward.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “There was this short story by Ray Bradbury where every inhabitant of the planet disappeared and just one family was left.”

    I’m familiar with much of Bradbury’s original writing (and thanks to Canadian television, the idiotic attempts to convert his moody prose into visual media in “The Ray Bradbury Theater”). This plot sounds like several of Bradbury’s tales, so which specific story are you referring to in this comment?

    Please tell me the name of this specific prose tale, and I will give you my unsolicited critical opinion of it — which I consider as accurate as that of any other critic’s words ever written.

    If your readers disagree with my judgment, they cam feel free to hammer me, but I have strong feelings om Bradbury, and want those critiques on the record.

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    1. I love Bradbury. He’s the only worthwhile person in the sci-fi genre.

      I once gave N a collection of Bradbury’s stories as a gift. The first one was about a lonely surviving dinosaur who hears the lighthouse siren and thinks it’s another dinosaur. He raises up in extreme joy to have finally found a fellow creature but there’s no fellow creature. Just a dead, stupid siren.

      N cried and didn’t read the rest of the stories. He identified with the lonely dinosaur.

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      1. Not to take away from your work, but would your husband be interested in writing guest posts in future? Only if he has the time and interest, of course. I’m asking because I sort of relate to his personality…

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        1. He thinks he has nothing interesting to say. Which is patently untrue because I find him the most fascinating conversation partner in the world. He’s so quick-witted and such a deep, original thinker. I get bored easily but he’s endlessly fascinating. If only he knew this about himself.

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      2. // N cried and didn’t read the rest of the stories. He identified with the lonely dinosaur.

        I understand him. Loved and was touched by ‘Dandelion Wine,’ yet couldn’t finish reading since it was among the saddest literary works I’ve ever seen.

        Btw, think I know English well, yet preferred reading ‘Dandelion Wine’ and other Bradbury’s works in Russian.

        In my mother tongue, the text goes straight to the heart; reading in English hinders this. The language I’ve studied for decades is like a veil, creating a distance between me and Bradbury’s world.

        Have you ever felt such effect of a foreign language despite knowing it quite well?

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  3. IMO, people in your tax bracket mostly hated their lives pre-COVID. They were chronically sleep-deprived, they never saw their overscheduled children or overcommitted spouses, they hated soccer practice, hated their commutes, hated work-related travel… and rather than see this as an opportunity to reassess their priorities, they just don’t want to go back. They are stultifyingly class-conscious (and absolutely blind to this fact), and cannot imagine deliberately living any other way, if things went back to normal.

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    1. I miss it too, every day. But it is slowly dawning on me that 2019 was the last year that was what we used to call normal. I was learning data visualization in 2019 and I had my private project of writing down every day what I did, what I dreamt, where I went, what I ate to see whether there are means of quantification of the daily activities. I read my entries sometimes and feel like crying. I took the little manifestations of life like grabbing lunch with my friend or going to a lecture completely for granted. Now I’m living in this Groundhog Day and I feel like in the part of the movie where the main character gets really depressed.

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      1. I was going to have a big birthday party for me and N this year. The invitations were going to say “we are 90!” Now I’ll have to wait until we are 100 together.

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      1. If you throw in that a lot of people have not been required to make mortgage payments all this time… why would anyone want to go back.

        They do not have the self-awareness or courage to figure out the completely obvious thing that is staring them in the face: that they could live a much happier, more relaxed life, if they stopped trying to signal their class superiority to everyone around them, sold their suburban monstrosity of a house, ditched the cars they’re making payments on, bought a reliable used Toyota with flaking paint and a couple dents, moved to a working-class neighborhood, stopped trying to pad out their kids’ college resumes, and either worked fewer hours, or lived on one income instead of two.

        You’re the really lucky one-in-a-zillion who truly enjoys the job you have. Most people are not like that.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I often feel as if people tried to make their own lives unpleasant on purpose. And it’s definitely a class thing. I see this among parents in my circle. First they had these gigantic 600-page manuals on potty-training and drove themselves and the kids nuts with them. Now it’s a 600-page manual on how to teach them to read. There’s a constant competition in whose kid learns to walk first, learns the letters of the alphabet first, hits some completely imaginary development milestones first. Cue cards, sight words, “my kid does second-grade math at 4! My 3-year-old takes Japanese classes on Zoom!” To me it’s all utterly insane.

          “Did you homeschool Klara during the snow days? How many hours? What material did you cover?”

          We baked a cake and built a snow fort. But that was the extent of the “material we covered.”

          Klara was 8 months old when a friend told me I’m not doing enough to maximize her employment opportunities. She was completely serious. So yeah. This lifestyle is a path to neurosis.

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          1. This is one of the things I have really benefited from with the Charlotte Mason approach: she’s like, by all means read aloud to your kids, they love it. But don’t start any kind of formal education until age 6: they need to play! It gives me a little bulwark to resist pressure from my parents, who think kids should be shoved up the academic ranks as fast as they can go. Fat lot of good it did us!

            Liked by 1 person

        2. I agree so much. My peers are exactly such people. My husband and I made some hard decisions early on that have allowed us to live on 1-1 1/2 incomes (I’m part time and I enjoy caring for my children and my home while still stimulating my mind and contributing my talents, but my family comes first). We are fortunate that he was successful in his career and I was able to fill in the gaps at home. I can’t imagine how stressed out all the 2 full time families are, and with all the activities and tutors and travel teams. The pandemic probably feels like a vacation in some ways.

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          1. It’s better than a vacation: it’s a life somewhat worth living, but without having to give up any of their precious status markers.

            It’s totally unsustainable in the long run, of course, but I think they like the fantasy that it can just keep going forever.

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    2. // IMO, people in your tax bracket mostly hated their lives pre-COVID. They were chronically sleep-deprived, they never saw their overscheduled children or overcommitted spouses… hated their commutes, hated work-related travel…

      Well, I do hate spending at least 2 hours a day in commuting to / from work and between 2 different places of work this year.

      Of course, I understand long-term danger and would rather be able to return working as usual, but long commutes significantly hurt quality of life for many people of all classes worldwide.

      There has been research on this. For instance,

      \ Researchers in England found adding an additional 20 minutes of commuting per day has the same negative effect on job satisfaction as receiving a 19% pay cut.
      Overall, bus and train commuters report more dissatisfaction than those who walk or bike.

      https://www.inc.com/business-insider/study-reveals-commute-time-impacts-job-satisfaction.html

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      1. “Overall, bus and train commuters report more dissatisfaction than those who walk or bike.”

        It’s all the other damn people. My morning commute (during normal times) is my favorite time of the day. The day is new, I am full of energy, I have my coffee, the radio’s on, and I don’t have to be anything to anyone yet, just me.
        Husband and I work at the same place, so we could carpool, but we don’t; we pay for two parking fees. One of the reasons is that he is such a grump in the morning, he ruins my glorious morning buzz and my whole day with it (and I annoy him in return with my ebullience). Peaceful solitude FTW!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Since my husband started working at home, I discovered what a grumpus he is in the mornings. I work on campus even when I don’t need to because it’s just easier. He turned out to be quite a chatty Cathy during the day and I go into my work mode and can’t switch in and out easily. He gets freaked out when he hears my work voice, so it’s no good.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Maybe they’re introverts by nature and they’re finally “getting their wish” for more solitude?
    Or their relations with others were often “not very positive” and they don’t mind not having to “deal with” others so much anymore ….

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  5. Another issue is all the inconvenience one has to go through to work in person. For example, where I work, you need to be tested for COVID once a week on a particular day that has been assigned to you. It is a PCR test using a nasal swab. You need to have a tracing application installed on your cell phone that will track your movements and notify you about the need to be in quarantine in case you get in contact with a COVID positive person. I receive an email at least once a week that someone in my building (or the floor) was identified as COVID positive which results in quarantine for a bunch of people. Of course, if you are in quarantine, your entire family has to be in quarantine, so forget about any daycare for your children for at least 14 days. Now, they are asking for volunteers from among the staff and faculty to work in the on-campus COVID testing centers. This setup is not exactly preferable to working from home.

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    1. It’s a lot better where I am. After the initial COVID test, we aren’t obligated to get tested. We are invited and offered prizes for agreeing but it’s not obligatory. We were offered a tracing app but it’s optional. Obviously, I refused. Quarantines in daycare are 5 days. And that’s after the initial test, which takes 2 days to offer results. So it’s more like 3 days. So we are fortunate. Your situation seems specifically designed to discourage working in person.

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    2. We have to get tested weekly now to even get into the building. I teach in person, so I drool into a small vial every Friday now. It’s no fun, but like with everything, you get used to it.

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    1. I read him when I was a teen. But he is a real writer. A great literary talent. He could write a grocery list, and I’d still read it. Genre doesn’t matter when we are talking about a genius, you know?

      OK, now I want to drop everything and go reread Bradbury.

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    1. Because she’s nowhere near Bradbury in terms of talent. Which doesn’t mean she doesn’t write entertaining books. Genius is rare while the skill of churning out stories people enjoy isn’t.

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