The Big Idea: Randee Dawn
Who wants to live forever?
One great thrill we get from writing and reading fantasy, science fiction or even horror is about imagining creating and watching creatures who toy with mortality. Ancient demons, immortal gods, fae with unknown lifespans, potions that turn back the clock. We’re fascinated with tweaking time – and simultaneously terrified by it.
Time weighs on me now more than it did in my 20s or 30s; there are more “never gonna do that” listings in my bucket list column than there used to be. Mostly because there’s no time. My body tells me that. My patience is shorter, my attention span shifted. I get cranky at things that waste my time, because they feel like theft.
When I first started writing Tune in Tomorrow, a book that muses on what a reality TV show/soap opera created by mythical creatures, for mythical creatures – but starring humans – would look like, I confess that I didn’t give the nature of time much thought. After all, Tune‘s a funny book (if I’ve done it right) full of slapstick, puns and backstage shenanigans. I’m an entertainment journalist and trust me, I’ve seen some stuff.
But time was always part of the story. The title even harks back to classic cliffhangers soaps relied on, suggesting the answers you crave will all be there if you tune in … tomorrow. Many soap actors devote their careers to one character, one show. So what would it be like to work among creatures who live for hundreds, if not thousands, of years – who’d want you, a puny human actor, to stick around longer than their molting cycle? What would it like for them to confer a “prize” (an “Endless Award,” in the book) for your talent that gave you immortality – so long as you were employed on the show?
Weirdness would ensue, to say the least.
In one way, it’s an ideal solution to the conundrum of never being able to die: immortality, but conditional. Exit when you’re ready (in my world, you don’t turn into a heap of dust with all your years accruing at once) and live as long as you want. After all, immortality ranks up there with almost everybody’s top three super wishes (right after flying and invisibility).You could do All! The! Things! You could invest your money wisely and spend hundreds of years tending your portfolio. You’d be wealthy and … forever young. Or young-ish.
But I wanted to explore what this would feel like beyond a thought experiment. Long life is a double-edged sword, something people my age are only starting to comprehend. We’ve already read the moaning and groaning of creatures like vampires, who’re purely exhausted with all the chasing down of victims, the sameness of meals every day. Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire got it right – it takes stamina to be a bloodsucker decade after unending decade, until Buffy catches up with you.
For humans, this is exponentially more horrifying. Mortality introduces stakes to a life (not wooden stakes, we’ve moved on from vampires now), while immortality removes them. Like a river you’ve stepped out of, the world moves on without you. Loved ones and friends die. Politics, entertainment, culture, medicine – everything goes on, while you stay fixed in place. Actors in the book stop going back to the “real” world on the other side of the Veil, living full time on sets and in dressing rooms, with the occasional jaunt to protected areas of the fae world. Meanwhile, the real world becomes its own alien landscape, made all the more so because they no longer participate in it. They’re like Severance‘s “innies” – cut off from anything but their jobs.
I feel this pain, now that the car I’m driving has crested the hill of middle age and is heading faster and faster toward … well, you know. There’s a line from The Breakfast Club that used to make me well up like a baby when I watched it as a teenager: “When you grow up, your heart dies.” Tragic! Unfeeling adults, lazy and comfortable! Yet that’s not it – as I understand now, it’s not that your heart dies, but you become less relevant to the world even as you live in it. Everyone on TV feels like they could be your kids’ or your grandkids’ age. The soundtrack of the zeitgeist – Muzak, music in movies, lyrics – is not your music. Technology advances come and go so fast they’re like quicksilver in your fingers. And then you learn that three of the four Golden Girls were in their late 40s or early 50s on the show. You’re behind the times, not ahead or even in the middle of them.
The world moves on.
It takes more effort to remain in touch these days. It’s tempting to stay in my own version of a dressing room, to withdraw and engage. To understand only the things I already know and say “enough.” To stop listening to new songs or watch new movies. So I actively push back. I listen to Billie Eilish (who’s already mainstream). I think about what it’s like to grow up as this generation, in this version of the world. I try to taste the world as it is, not as I want it to be, so I won’t get stuck. So my heart won’t die.
One character in Tune in Tomorrow is terrified of losing their position on the show, and that fear makes them do terrible things. To be thrown out into the cold, into the “real” world, is a horror that justifies them doing anything to protect their station. But it’s not sustainable. Something has to change. It may take a newcomer, a rising star to upend the way “forever” has always worked.
Because the way “forever” has always been, doesn’t have to be … forever.