2013?: A Doomsday Day Planner
(Paper Chase Press, 2013)
I had planned to review Mark Hagen’s 2013?: A Doomsday Day Planner at least six months ago—in other words, before 2013 began. It just never turned up at my door. December 21, 2012, came and went without a noticeable Mayan recalibration of the cosmos, and I didn’t dwell much on the missing book, which, after all, was predicated on the idea that you probably weren’t going to need it. The planner’s (non)existence, for that very reason, felt like an elaborate joke unto itself. 2013? Get real.
Then, in mid-April, as we enjoyed the overdue thaw, the overdue book arrived, mystery of mysteries, as if it had entered a wormhole half a year ago and only just that afternoon popped out, with no sense whatever of lost time. This rendered a good third of its calendar functionless, but functionality is not quite the goal Hagen has in mind. This is the only day planner I’ve ever had that won’t lie flat open on your desk.
It is, however, beautiful: perfect bound, with perfectly rounded corners; a clean, bright typeface; a black-on-black cover with seductive texture, depicting a featureless circle that must be our black, dead planet. In the lower right-hand corner, a mocking “2013?” Once you open it to note an upcoming job interview or vacation, you’ll find yourself mightily amused by the encyclopedic aspect of—and overall impetus for—this volume.
Each date, rather than offering a vocabulary word or single-panel comic strip, comes with a historical footnote concerning some prior prophecy of doom. Flip to June 9, for example, and you’ll read:
1694 English Nonconformist Protestant pastor John Mason preached in 1690 that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent and that it would take place in Water Stratford in 1694. Believing Mason a prophet and that everywhere else would be destroyed, hundreds of people sold their possessions and moved there between the fall of 1693 and Easter 1694. Mason died of a quinsy in May of 1694.
A quinsy, for the layperson, is a peritonsillar abscess, or a “collection of infected material in the area around the tonsils,” per the National Library of Medicine. I mention these grotesqueries because they would seem to me part of the point of this exercise: one almost wishes the world would end, if it meant you could avoid dying of a tonsil infection, or take the rest of humankind down with you.
We laugh at these doomed doomsayers, yet soon enough one recalls that the terminally gullible continue to latch onto these stories. Back in 2011, Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping had a fundamentalist following convinced that the End Times would kick off on May 21—there were even billboards advertising the date of the Rapture. An easily mocked belief became tragic as devout families ran up credit card bills, stopped taking their kids to school, and quit planning for a future they knew would be pre-empted.
A Doomsday Day Planner, then, can be read as a warning about warnings. We should be making our destiny, not predicting it. The last page is blank but for an immortal quotation from William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “I decline to accept the end of man.” This polite rebuke alone puts all the religious solipsists and con artists in their place.
Perhaps it is this nod to the enduring spirit of civilization that has made me use the planner in earnest, for I have always been the disorganized sort, remembering only those things my brain deems important enough to remember. A gravity draws me to the stark lunar calendars, the elegant graph paper (which makes me wish I had some talent for design), the fold-out poster that styles those silly divinations as radial lines, all shooting out from a black void of overconsciousness.
The message about our mental and physical fallibilities is driven home in the later entries, which become more and more frighteningly verifiable, to wit:
2100 Scientists claim that the influence of human behavior on the earth’s ecosystems through deforestation, mineral extraction, hunting, pollution, urbanization, and the introduction of nonnative species would result in the extinction of one-half of earth’s higher life-forms by 2100.
So: almost a century left to fret away. Still, the first page has blanks in which to inscribe the user’s allergies, blood type, and emergency contacts—the world may take a while to end, but you won’t. Is putting your life in order a finally meaningless gesture? Of course. It’s not as though reality happens on schedule.
MILES KLEE is the author of Ivyland, a finalist in the 2013 Tournament of Books, as well as short fiction, essays, and reportage. He lives in Manhattan with the screenwriter C.F. Lederer, his wife.