For seven decades, the Alaska Highway has mesmerized adventure-seeking travelers. In one breathtaking stretch through the Yukon, glacier lakes and rivers snake through aspen forests and rugged mountains that climb into the clouds.
In recent years, though, a new sight has been drawing motorists’ attention, too, one they can spot just a few feet from their cars’ tires. Bumps and cracks have scarred huge swathes of the road, with some fissures so deep a grown man can jump in and walk through them. Scientists say they’re the crystal-clear manifestation that permafrost -- slabs of ice and sediment just beneath the Earth’s surface in colder climes -- is thawing as global temperatures keep rising.
Yuko Takamatsu was somewhere in the sea off the coast of Japan. Two and a half years had passed since the tsunami, and no one had found her; but no one was really looking, either, except her husband, Yasuo Takamatsu, who loved her very much. Takamatsu first searched on land, at the bank where she vanished, and along the beaches of Onagawa, and in the forests in the mountains. After two and half years, in September 2013, when he still hadn’t found her, he turned to the sea.
He contacted the local dive shop, High Bridge, to ask about lessons. The dive instructor, Masayoshi Takahashi, led volunteers on dives to clean up tsunami debris along the coastline. Takahashi and his team had encountered bodies locked inside cars or drifting through the water. Takamatsu felt sure Takahashi would be the one to help him find Yuko. On the phone, he said, “Let’s just meet and talk about it.” At the shop, he confessed his plan. “At the age of 56,” he said, “the reason I’m actually interested in learning to dive is that I’m trying to find my wife in the sea.”
“Backstory” is a term used to refer to information that precedes the story at hand. Backstory fills us in on details that will prove important to the story (if it is not important, it shouldn’t be there, and maybe most stories have no backstory). Sometimes backstory weighs so much that it threatens to tip the story over backward; that’s not good either. But you can cut-and-paste until the surface is how you want it to be. Writing is actually a muscular sport and requires a good deal of trying this and trying that. Only if you are willing to do the hard work of lifting what needs lifting can you expect to find your way to that perfect surface.
Lance Olsen, an experimental fiction writer, has written a book that consists, in the first part, of openings, and in the latter part, of endings. We might consider the former backstories and the latter, stories, even though both parts are narrative.
Happiness for the market researchers and corporate psychologists is a matter of feeling good. But it seems that millions of individuals don’t feel good at all, and are unlikely to be persuaded to buck up by technologies of mind control that induce them to work harder or consume more. You can’t really be happy if you are a victim of injustice or exploitation, which is what the technologists of joy tend to overlook.
Push-button cuisine is one of the great, unrealized dreams of postwar food technology. In the 1950s and 1960s, food manufacturers, along with their allies in the container and chemical industries, imagined a world of effortless convenience, where, in the words of one 1964 newspaper article, “entire meals… can be oozed forth by a gentle push on a few cans.” The aerosol container seemed to be the apotheosis of ease and modernity, “a sort of Aladdin’s genie, ready at the touch of a fingertip to perform all sorts of bothersome kitchen chores.” Dozens of different aerosolized food and beverage products were introduced, from spray-on-coffee-concentrate to spray-on-pancake-batter. But despite the hype and high hopes of manufacturers, consumers didn’t buy it. By the late 1970s, only a few of the spray-foods survived.