A little while back, I noted how much of a relief it was to not feel like I needed to go to my LCS every week. But I find myself still taking my lunch hour on Wednesday to swing by anyway. Not each and every week, mind you, but at least as often as not. It's actually a decidedly conscious and deliberate decision on my part for one main reason: ritual.
Rituals of all sorts have been with man since... well, the dawn of man. We use them as a stabilizer in our lives. Back in the day, mankind simply didn't understand much of what was going on around him, so he fell back on rituals to provide some continuity in his life. He wasn't sure if he would be able to even find a mammoth, much less be able to kill and eat it. So he developed a ritual to perform in advance of the hunt because it was a way to give him security and confidence before taking steps outside his cave into the unknown. He knew that, even though he couldn't count on the outcome of the hunt, he could count on the activities proceeding it.
By the twentieth century, man had figured out a great many things. Everything from fire and the wheel to creating and harnessing electricity to bring a small amount of daylight to the city streets at night. But while man's knowledge has increased, providing a great many answers to what was previously unknown, we keep raising new questions at an increasingly rapid pace. So while I -- a resident of the 21st century -- can rest pretty comfortably knowing that I can reliably get something to eat any time I step outside my dwelling, I don't have any clue what my long-term future looks like. In effect, my future is just as uncertain as that of our Australopithecus afarensis friend, Lucy -- the only difference is that my future extends further out than my next meal.
(Bear with me, this will circle back to comics.)
Alvin Toffler, back in the early 1970s, noted this and began touting the notion of "future shock." The idea being that life is indeed moving much faster than at any point in man's history (and, indeed, man's prehistory!) and we, as human beings, are being forced to constantly adapt ourselves to ever-changing status quo; further, that some people simply cannot keep up mentally and experience a form of culture shock within the very culture they've been living in. In extreme cases, future shock can resemble post-traumatic stress disorder.
A man living in the 1800s could pretty well assume that his day-to-day activities weren't likely to change that radically over the course of his lifetime. He still had to question whether or not he could earn enough of a living to buy food and keep his belongings secure, but he knew that if he was a cobbler, his job wasn't going to appreciably change. At all. By contrast, today's jobs are radically different than they were even ten years ago. A decade ago, people found it amusing to see Leonard Nimoy with a cell phone, unintentionally mimicking Mr. Spock using a communicator. But that visual is not only passe but it's out of date, as it's almost common to see people wearing bluetooth headsets. How ubiquitous today are the iPod and Blackberry, neither of which existed before 2000? Compare the political landscape of 2000 (which, I shouldn't need to remind you, was pre-9/11) and that of today? We truly live in a completely different world than the one we inhabited a decade ago.
All of which points back to mankind's ability to adapt. We can, collectively, push societies and cultures forward with leaps and bounds on many levels but, as individuals, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep pace as we affronted from all sides by different forces, of which we may have only the most peripheral knowledge. Check out Beloit's latest Mindset List if you have any doubts about the wide range of changes going on in our lives. And do you know HOW we're able to keep up and adapt?
In an age when the jobs we have today will not be functional in tomorrow's economy, in an age when whole nations are leap-frogging themselves in technological revolutions, in an age where planning for anything beyond next week is almost laughable, we use rituals to keep ourselves sane. It provides that sense of stability and comfort in our lives so that we know there's at least that small portion of our life that we can rely on to be there over and over. The ritual gives us a focal point to relax and unwind -- however briefly -- from the rest of the world racing past us. Some people have a routine/ritualistic approach to how they get ready in the morning. Others focus around their favorite TV show on a weekly basis. Holidays provide annual outlets that work on a decidedly longer-term basis. And those of us who live and breath comic books have New Comic Day.
New Comic Day gives us an oasis for our lives' stresses. Whether you go on your lunch hour or after work or whenever, you stop by your Local Comic Shop for some period of time during which you can drop whatever's troubling you on their doorstep. You can, for the time you're in the shop, have your biggest worry be whether or not the new Captain America costume sucks. If you hit the shop at the same time every week, you're likely going to run into the same folks week after week as well, all doing the same thing. They've checked their concerns at the door, too, and can discuss Identity Crisis (or Ultimate Crisis or Crisis Crisis or whatever crossover DC's plugging these days) instead of the real ones in the rest of your life.
Maybe you take that a step further, and you scan through the wall of new comics in ritualistic manner as well. Maybe you take an extra few moments in every visit to admire the CGC 7.5 Detective Comics #27 beneath the glass counter. Maybe you flip through the latest issue featuring Spider-Man, even though you don't have any intent to buy it. It's all about creating a mental comfort zone for yourself, so that you can forget -- for a short while -- about Iraq and Web 2.0 and presidential campaigns and MRSA and global warming and...
It's pretty well documented now that the more life changes you might face in a short period of time, the more at risk you are to physical illness. With life speeding up on the whole, it's increasingly more likely for you to experience more and more of these life changes. Marriages don't last as long as they used to. Knowing more people almost inevitably leads to going to more funerals. Changing jobs, if not whole vocations, is commonplace. We're in a society now that reshapes itself on an almost daily basis, and I think that helps account for the seemingly increased problems we're collectively having. People are using more drugs to fight off sicknesses because their immune systems are collapsing under the weight of the life stressors. Crime, especially violent crime, is becoming harder to combat because more and more people are not able to adjust to the world changing around them and flip out by going on a shooting spree.
I've come to realize that I still need my New Comic Day. But where I used to think I needed it to keep my favorite stories from getting spoiled or being more "in the know" than the rest of the comic book community, I now need New Comic Day for my mental and physical health. I need the day as an anchor with which I can tether my sad little rowboat of sanity for an hour or so, not having to battle the increasingly turbulent societal waves crashing down on a daily basis.