I’ve been away for a few days at a top-secret location. The location is actually not-so-secret, and I may have been there for more than a few days – who really keeps track of details like this anyway? – but the crucial piece of information is this: it’s a space I have come to think of as “Bunkerland.”
It’s a nice name, right? Reminiscent of post-apocalyptic movies like Zombieland, with fewer Twinkies and maybe one of the “serious war film” veteran actors instead of
Michael Cera Jesse Eisenberg. I’m honestly not that current on film tropes, so I leave the rest to your imagination. Back to the Bunker…land.
For a place built like a bunker, it’s surprisingly easy to get into. It’s a simple trick; become equally immobilized by your past regrets and future fears. Don’t look back, and don’t press forward. Make only the arrangements necessary to wait right here. Everything else can go; if it’s not in the bunker, you don’t need it. Forget “does it spark joy” – the new litmus test question is “can I avoid it?”
With practice, you can carry on enough of the bare essentials of daily life to maintain your bunker’s top-secret status. It’s like wearing really high-quality camo – camo so camo, no one else even sees it. And yet it doesn’t look like you’re wearing nothing (of course I know where your mind goes) – it looks like you’re wearing … something. Just whatever is non-obvious – by anyone’s standards – in your particular time and place. It’s far too much work to deal with people, that’s why you live in a bunker for heaven’s sake. It’s a lifestyle.
Speaking of the Bunkerland lifestyle – contrary to popular belief, canned goods are no good. They take far too much work to open. They require finagling a can opener. Can openers are officially banned from Bunkerland after too many instances of semi-opened canned good failures. And pull-tab cans are one broken tab away from dinnertime disappointment. No one needs that around here. So leave the Spam at the door.
Things in bags are fine. Bags are easy to open. Frozen vegetables are great, and show a certain laudable regard for your future self. If you manage to microwave frozen cauliflower or broccoli, congratulate yourself. You are an exemplary dweller in Bunkerland. Have a “Good Citizen” award. Just don’t expect me to get it for you. I’m still trying to get my bag of peas open over here.
While we’re on the topic of eating – may I suggest paper plates? Terrible for the environment, great for your counter space. Dishwashing is one of the things you don’t need in your bunker. It neither sparks joy, nor is unavoidable.
Of course, all the talk about food and dishes is avoiding the main issue. The question we should (I suppose) be concerned with is: how to get out of Bunkerland? After all, it isn’t some sort of extended-stay motel. It’s a space specifically arranged for an emergency. When the immediate emergency has subsided, it’s time to move out.
But unlike a movie, the timing isn’t dramatic. There are not always major plot points to guide or goad the action. And so, moving out can take a while.
My very best advice, fished from the depths of honesty and experience, amounts to this: be patient – and let boredom be your ally. In the walls of Bunkerland, boredom is the one thing that never has enough room.
You will, eventually, find yourself engaging in small acts of unfaithfulness against your bunker: small acts of relish. Small acts of improvement.
You may notice your cauliflower is delicious. Then you may notice it could use a little something. You may fork in a bit of pickled garlic chutney, and admire the splash of vivid red color and spice.
You may find yourself remembering that you quite like canned tuna, canned chickpeas, and canned tomatoes. You might begin to eye the can opener with the expression of one plotting a coup.
You may notice that “can I avoid it?” isn’t quite as expansive a list as you thought. You might remember how good it feels, sometimes, to not avoid it; the rush of confronting a challenge. You may even begin to thoughtfully experiment with washing one or two dishes, here and there (nothing crazy, mind you).
Most telling of all, you may find yourself thinking about “tomorrow” without immediate dread or apathy.
These are signs it’s time to move out. Once the bunker begins to hold you in more than it keeps everything else out, its purpose is finished.
Of course, like reruns of Zombieland or an unopened Twinkie, your bunker will always be there for you. But so will the rest of your life.
And that’s the one thing you can’t – and shouldn’t – avoid.
Citizens of Bunkerland, welcome back to the world.
It’s possible that I should just invest in a better can opener. But I did discover tuna now comes in bags. Very convenient.