How to Survive the End of the World.

Via Andrea Balt
on Mar 3, 2012
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(Photo: Ruben Ireland / Via Tumblr)

“To look life in the face, to always look life in the face, and to know it for what it is, at last, to love it for what it is, and then to put it away.”

~ Virginia Woolf

Sometimes I have epic nightmares about the end of the world. There are three or four mental movies that are replayed in my dreams every couple of months: a tsunami, a zombie/alien attack, a world pandemic and a second ice age.

In them, I’m always with someone whose face I can’t remember when it’s over. We’re running away, hiding, whispering behind closed doors, looking everyone in the eyes, speaking gravely to each other, making quick life-or-death decisions and trying to be among the survivors.

There’s a sort of quiet desperation building up in my lungs like smoke, and every kind of feeling that ever passed through me is now present playing its tune in crescendo. My chest is an auditorium with a full orchestra and the conductor is not me. The air seems to be made of bricks, and just when it becomes impossible to breathe, I wake up.

I’m surprised then to see that the world is still here—untouched—and no one or nothing is trying to kill me. Yet something is taken away with each dream and replaced with the unknown; and for a few seconds, between my sleeping and waking, I’m suspended over the void like a puppet.

I have no control—during that brief time—over the strings that are pulling me. All I can do is stare right into the black hole of my being or not being and shiver, like any inexperienced ghost.

I guess everyone’s a bit afraid of disappearing. Even as you spell “impermanence”, your heart’s still beating and you can’t really tell what it’s like when it stops. But they promised you at birth that it will, it’s written all over your face (don’t look in the mirror, we’ll be ok); and it’s funny how everything we know about death is somehow still alive.

I’m wondering though, if we could remove death from the dictionary and replace it with a different word. ‘Cause what is death really, if not change? Aren’t we dying all the time?

(Photo: Francesca Woodman)

Isn’t my world ending every night and doesn’t it take me all the muscles of the heart, mind and body combined to wake up the next day and start painting again on a white canvas, with my bare and tired feet as if nothing had ever happened before?

(Abstract if I’m postmodern, tired and empty. Impressionist if I’m composed, romantic and well-rested.)

Let me ask you then, dear me, what if the zombies in my dreams are just an expression of my own mutant life; a life that’s never ending, but only shifting shapes and DNA alignment?

If change is the key to eternity then you and I have all the time in the world. Maybe this is the only formula to live forever. (Even if I don’t want to be eternal.)

So here I am waking up in a new, old place 28 days (or months, or years) after the end of the world, a little naked and a little scared with messy hair and puffy eyes as if I’d been raised by wolves in Siberia (or by a Computer in Virtualia).

It’s that time of the year when winter isn’t fully gone and all the snow you used to love two months ago is now but shitty, melted white; sweet spring with bird eyes and warm feet, still playing hard to get.

“Sustained by a breath, trembling and brief. If only my heart were stone.”

~ Cormac McCarthy

You’d think this raw, unscripted human condition would go away at some point, and it’d all finally turn into the epic movie it’s supposed to be; a movie that doesn’t end right in the middle, leaving you wondering, always wondering about its heroes and lovers and villains.

But the streets are empty, and it’s still too cold for a jacket and too warm for a coat; and all the things that used to mean things are not things anymore and after so much howling, we forgot how to speak.

Are the closing credits also part of the movie? So… be still, life, be still, until you’ve read them all?

Over the years I’ve noticed how my heart gets a cold right before a world ends and another begins. It swells, it drowns, it breaks and it makes infernal, creaturely noise as if it had a mouth and that mouth was me and I was painfully opening against my will. And I’m just leaving bite marks on everything I touch.

But I’ve also managed to keep a suitcase with me at all times, so I don’t walk into the new world empty-handed and without any kind of history (unless the past should be contagious, in which case, wash your hands!).

It’s lonely enough to have to relearn yourself again. And it’s terrible enough that no life comes with a manual. So it’s only to be expected that you should bring your backbone along. How will you know your North without a compass?

I don’t have much to lose or take with me to the other side of the world, or this side, or the underworld; it’s all the same, equally new, decaffeinated and undressed. Only a few imperishable items…

A book – because imagination is better than knowledge but they’re both contained in a page.

A song – because it’s the most effective and cheapest medicine for fear.

A lover – because it’s the ice cream in your summer.

A friend – because the world has to be shared in order to exist.

A pen – because I have to let you know about it all.

A mission – because who else will save us from ourselves, if not us?

A vision – because meaning is not something to be found but something to be created.

A memory – because I used to be a child not long ago and it was easier to forgive.

A scar – because brokenness is a door in a room full of mirrors.  

A heart – because it sees all things, even when it can’t see anything at all.


The world as we know it is constantly ending. You can’t resist, only exist. You won’t survive unless you die. There’s no escape other than through your own veins. You can’t run away, only along. And a frost-bit, old, birdly voice sounds better than a trumpet.

What’s in your backpack, stranger?

(Photo: Robert Doisneau / Via Tumblr)

They say it’s the last song,
They don’t know us, you see?
It’s only the last song
If we let it be.

Dancer in the Dark



[Photos: 1-Via We and the Color  / 2-Francesca Woodman / 3-Via OvO]


About Andrea Balt

Co-Founder / Editor in Chief of Rebelle Society, Wellness Alchemist at Rebelle Wellness & Creativity Curator at Creative Rehab. Unfinished book with a love for greens, bikes and poetry; raised by wolves & adopted by people; not trying to make art but to Be Art. Holds a BA in Journalism & Mass Communication, an MFA in Creative Writing & a Holistic Health Coach degree from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition®. In her work she tries to reflect the wholeness of the human experience by combining Art & Health + Brains & Beauty + Darkness & Brilliance into a more alive, unabridged and unlimited edition of ourselves. She is also on a quest to reinstate Creativity as one of our essential Human Rights to (hopefully and soon) be included in the UN Declaration. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram and sign up for her Monthly Stroke of Renaissance.


23 Responses to “How to Survive the End of the World.”

  1. karlsaliter says:

    MMMMMMMMmmmmm. Is it possible you are getting better?
    Just posted to Elephant Spirituality on Facebook.
    Big huge Bravo on wheels with chrome handlebars, Andrea. Thank you. I'm off to re-pack.

  2. Tracy says:

    Wow Andrea….this piece really moved me. Although I haven't been dreaming about the end of the world lately (except right after I saw Melancholia), I have been contemplating existence and non-existence. How do we really know what it feels like to not exist while we exist? And if we don't exist, how would we know? Then again….there are all the little deaths we die along the way in the microcosm of our own lives, when our world….our existence as we know it, crumbles around us. Who are we then? I've certainly felt that way many times.

  3. Capri says:

    Woah… that felt heavy & wonderful to read.

  4. Andréa Balt says:

    Aww, you're too kind. #MutualLove, you know it.

  5. Andréa Balt says:

    Thanks Tracy. Yes, I feel the paradox. Sometimes it's OK not to know. Others, it's unsettling. I always say that it's funny/sad how we can't really understand death but we can't understand it's opposite either: "unlimited/eternal life". So we're suspended briefly in this state and body and all we can do is wonder (and breathe). And never know who we are, but just be. #Mystery101

  6. Eric says:

    Love. This: "(Abstract if I’m postmodern, tired and empty. Impressionist if I’m composed, romantic and well-rested.)"
    ::Brava, Balt::
    I had a 'Braja experience' with an auto accident 7 years ago, then a 2-week coma (long story), it was strange to 'come back to the world'. talk about waking up from a nightmare…
    I can tell you: just about everything we think is important, isn't, all the things we think are problems, aren't. what matters is how we take care of each other and this absofvckinglutely beautiful world we have (–and are destroying).
    Grazie, Bella~

  7. […] Balt, in her beautiful Elephant Journal article (“How to Survive the End of the World”), […]

  8. […] Yet hunters are not. And people who eat animals are not. Our culture has got it all wrong. In our culture, you can be a small or large part of careless animal execution, every […]

  9. Jessie Paul says:

    In regards to "a friend — because the world has to be shared in order to exist," so cheesy, but I thought about "Castaway" and how Tom Hanks makes friends with a volleyball in order to cope with his isolation. I think we all need to expand our definition of friend in that way. Out in nature, a rock, a tree, a bird, a bunny, a tree, can all give us that shared experience if we let them…..

  10. Poetic and interesting….though could have done without the opening anorexic pubescent female figure…we're bombarded enough with them, thank you.

  11. Andréa Balt says:

    Wow Eric. Sorry to hear that and I'm glad you're alive. What would I do without your abofvckinglutely beautiful insights?

    But yes, naked we come and naked we go…

  12. Andréa Balt says:

    I loved that movie. I cried so much when he said good bye to Wilson, the ball. And I agree with you, everything is alive in a way, and to different degrees, even inanimate things. We're all subjects (the ones who contemplate) and objects (of contemplation) at the same time, so we're constantly relating to the world in both ways, "sharing" it.

  13. Andréa Balt says:

    Thanks for your feedback.

    Well, then I must be an anorexic and pubescent female. 🙂 I chose that picture not only because I identify with the image, but because I thought it fit with my message, pictured the "night", the drowning, being all covered in darkness, with only her head above "water", etc.

    I'm sorry if it reminded you of the usual "negative" female images the media throws in our face. I don't agree with promoting anorexia and I don't struggle with this disorder or want to add to it.

    But we have to remember we're all women, voluptuous and non-voluptuous alike, there's a place for each shape in the definition of beautiful; aside from any body image or fashion reigning throughout any period in history. I like my body and I also have my issues, just as I like other bodies, completely different in shape or size with their own issues.

  14. Vero Barnes says:

    Mesmerizing… you have a way with words that makes the reader delve right into this fantastic world of yours. I felt the anxiety and the rush one would feel as the world started falling apart. I felt the feathery lightness of this moment in suspension over this existence, like the lull at the top of the breath. Reading you is even better than watching a movie. Thank you.

  15. Andréa Balt says:

    Thanks so much Vero. Your comment made my day. Surviving the moonlight. Big e-hug.

  16. […] But due to unexpected life shortcuts, both of them were gone long before I could sit on their lap and play with their white beard and hear stories from when the world didn’t use to end. […]

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  18. @OdinsWood says:

    So we should just manifest abundance as we let go of security?