Zombie Apocalypses, Carousels, and The Cure: What Sustains Me  -- Jen Doktorski

So I was watching Episode 7 of The Last of Us a few weeks ago. My husband convinced me to try the series based on the insanely popular video game even though I told him I don’t like zombie stuff. He’s also got me watching season three of Picard. What can I say, there are some things you do for love, but watching The Last of Us is not one of them. Episode 3 could easily stand alone as a short film, it was that good, but my next favorite is episode 7, “Left Behind.” In it, we meet Riley who takes Ellie (one of the main characters) to a deserted, decaying, post-apocalyptic mall. As they rode the escalator with Aha’s “Take on Me” playing in the background, and walked past the Gap, Esprit store, movie theater, Foot Locker, and the ubiquitous Victoria’s Secret, I found myself in 1986 for the second time in two days. 

The night before this episode aired, we’d done some time traveling with friends at a reunion of the now-defunct Melody Bar. The place to be in the 80s and 90s in central New Jersey if you wanted to dance to tunes by The Smiths, New Order, and the Cure, spun by Matt Pinfield, who later went on to MTV fame.

So, in this episode of The Last of Us, Riley leads Ellie, eyes closed, past the broken glass and rubble of looted stores to a brightly lit, pristine carousel. “Shit,” Ellie says when she sees it. Shit is right. As she hops onto the ride, Riley flips a switch. It starts to turn, the horses go up and down, and tinkling music begins to play. Three notes in I’m head-to-toe goosebumps. “It’s Just Like Heaven,” I say out loud. The song by the Cure, not watching HBO Max on a Sunday night with my husband, though that’s pretty sweet too. I’m getting to the point here, I promise.

It’s that kind of heart-stopping visceral reaction. The kind that catches me off guard and makes my eyes tear up while I simultaneously break into a smile. That. That is what sustains me as a writer. 

When I experience an intense gut punch while watching a film (Aftersun) or great television, listening to music, or strolling through an art gallery, it reminds me why I wanted to write books in the first place and makes me more determined to create moments like that for readers. To put on the page an experience that touches them by transporting them to some other time in their life when the dance floor was crowded, the room was humming with possibilities, the zombies were quiet, and the only thing worth worrying about was the next song.

(Jen Doktorski is the author of five YA novels www. jendoktorski.com)


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