The Entropy Shuffle
Entropy, all my cells diminish gradually. I’m not half the man I used to be. Oh, I believe in entropy.
- sung to the tune of “Yesterday.”
It’s been the sort of month to make one think about entropy. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. Or something equally Yeatesy and apocalyptic, but of lesser scope, fit to the scale of my life.
A few weeks ago I had to drive my wife and daughter to the airport. We woke about 3AM. I went out to warm up my wife’s car. At a quarter to four we went out, suitcase and baby in hand, to find the car had ceased running. And it wouldn’t start up again. I’d not fueled my car up the previous day because I’d anticipated driving my wife’s higher-mileage vehicle while she was out of town. There wasn’t enough gasoline to get us to the airport. The nearest station was closed. As was the next, and the next. Then, the next. Siri proved of no use, telling me no gas stations were within miles, even as I asked the question from the darkened parking lot of a gas station. Stupid Siri. We’d about despaired, planning to risk limping on fumes to the airport. Just as I drove out of the last gas station I saw the lights of another about a quarter mile down the road. Lights, meaning open. Saved!
I managed to get the malingering vehicle into the shop two days later. The mechanic couldn’t get it started the next day. The following day it ran. The mechanic declared it an insoluble mystery and threw up his hands. At least he didn’t charge me.
Can’t leave my family to the mercies of an intermittently feckless auto. So off to the car dealership. And entropy strikes my bank account. On regular monthly cycles. (Thus, probably not a good example of entropy. Orderliness contraindicates the second law of thermodynamics. But humor me. This is the theme.)
A couple of weeks prior to this adventure the washing machine broke down. A repair bill about the same size as the cost of the washer later, it is back in service, churning along on its daily duty. Two adults and a baby dirty an amazing amount of apparel.
Three days ago the dryer followed suit. Up and quit on us. The slacker.
Things fall apart.
Fundamental to story telling, I suppose. As a writer you set up the baseline state of a fictional world, then introduce elements that will tear it apart. Maybe by the end of the story a new baseline state is established, maybe not.
Fantasy does this well. Tolkien shows us the orderly Shire, then proceeds to swing a wrecking ball through Middle Earth, including the Shire. He even provides earlier examples, having the hobbits trek through ruins of prior civilizations. The center falls apart over and over again. Steven Erickson does this in The Malazan Book of the Fallen with an archaeologist’s eye for the cyclical nature of empire and civilization, the ruin and detritus of the ancient past shouting mutely about impermanence.
What do we do with this? We live with it. And live well, if we can manage it. Stuff breaks. It just does. Decrying the fundamental laws of the universe is an unprofitable enterprise. Accept it. And if you’re a writer, use it.