Rife with misadventure, brushes with death, and moments of existential insight, The End of the World Notwithstanding is a hilarious and reflective look at the emotional experiences that make everyday life exciting—and the physical ones that remind us we’re lucky to be alive. These nail-biting stories, all true, fill the reader with wonder, as in, “How do any of us survive?”
Encounters with wildfire, hideous insects, psychotic house pets, bad weather, gravity, predators, bullies, and the most potent force of all—fear—unfold in remote landscapes of the American West; on neon-splashed Hollywood sidewalks; in a Catskills summer camp for actors; in the Boston apartment of a famous senator; on a cliff high above the Mediterranean; beneath the streets of Paris. Goodwin looks for and finds meaning, if not security, in a clear-eyed acknowledgment of the human condition—and in the saving grace of laughter.
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“I haven’t laughed so much since David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day. Janna Goodwin is the human wrecking ball of fun.” —David Hicks, author of White Plains: A Novel
“Every word the right word, this book is a genuine keeper.” —Kirkus Reviews***Starred Review***
“The only writer who can make Nietzsche seem funny.” —Gary Buslik, author of A Rotten Person Travels the Caribbean
“An excruciatingly honest narrative, hilarious in its Chaplinesque escapades. Goodwin never rages against the pain in life, but conveys the strength of a Zen Master. This book is a beauty.” —Fay Simpson, author of The Lucid Body
“This is the only book I want to read, again and again, for the rest of 2021. Janna Goodwin has succeeded in writing the Best Book of the Year without even trying. There is a philosophical destination here, but the road to that destination is forever and wonderfully forking. I was thrilled to be carried along for the ride. And what message do we need more urgently these days than to laugh at ourselves at the height of our anxiety, that the best we can possibly do is to say ‘Oh well—ha!’ to everything, and to be reminded that we will, someday soon, be eating peaches again?” —David Hicks, author of White Plains: A Novel
“Decades ago, new to San Francisco, broke but needing adventure, I began to surreptitiously follow and eavesdrop on street people who muttered aloud, explaining and justifying their lives to themselves and an invisible audience. I found a significant percentage of them to be perfectly lucid, often employing a word-perfect prose bordering on poetry. Those voices came back to me as I read this captivating, trance-inducing memoir. Goodwin exorcises painful chapters of her own past, while—and here lies her genius—commanding guffaw after guffaw from the reader, yet never diminishing the gravity of her stories.” —Brad Newsham, author of Take Me With You
“Janna Goodwin’s writing voice is so clear, so candid, and so self-deprecating, it’s hard to believe she’s not sitting in front of you as you read her stories. They’re not always easy, they’re full of doubt and some genuinely bad decisions, but they are so very human. She wanders a lot, as people do when they tell a story, but you want to go along for the entire ride.” —Pam Mandel, author of The Same River Twice
“Goodwin spins a comedic memoir that mines the absurdity of human experience, offering readers profound moments of insight. Because of her sensibility—self-deprecating and quirky, self-aware and intelligent—I would follow her anywhere.” —Suzanne Roberts, author of Bad Tourist: Misadventures in Love and Travel
While I had no intention of writing a memoir—I just wanted to tell some amusing anecdotes onstage while raving about how a visit to the Grand Canyon permanently altered my perspective—I accidentally did write one.
These are true stories, and by “true” I mean that (except for the obviously imaginary sections) they happened. Even the truest of stories necessarily omits some (and emphasizes or embellishes other) stuff to make for a lively telling, and of course—as we do not typically record and transcribe our conversations with others—I’ve taken liberties with dialogue while adhering to the tone and quality of what I remember. Also, I engage in detours and diversions, some fanciful, some philosophical, and some factual, throughout. Where factual, I’ve done my best to represent subjects from wildfires to geology, cats, ships, and history accurately—but you should know that A) I might have made errors, and B) in service to a joke, I will always toss reality out the window without a second thought.
Regarding the dramatis personae, in several cases I’ve changed names and details, indicated—where the context does not otherwise make it clear—with an asterisk (*).
Chapter 1: You Are Reminded That Your Safety Is Your Own Responsibility
Chapter 2: Mind the Abyss
Chapter 3: Fraidycat
Chapter 4: Reality
Chapter 5: Then They Come Toward You
Chapter 6: And I’ll Obey
Chapter 7: How It Could Happen
Chapter 8: The Almighty
Chapter 9: The Wolf and Me
Chapter 10: Petrified
Chapter 11: The End of the World Notwithstanding
Chapter 12: Peaches
About the Author
The Wolf and Me
When Little Red Cap entered the woods a wolf came up to her. She did not know what a wicked animal he was, and was not afraid of him.
“Good day to you, Little Red Cap.”
“Thank you, wolf.”
—Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
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When I was in the fifth grade, I was friends (ish)—briefly—with Debbie Wiegler.
You’ve never heard of Debbie, but if you had been a fifth grader at Grant Elementary then, you’d have known all about her. She was one of those sturdy, self-confident, flaxen-haired girls with the loud, raspy voices who say mean things about everybody. The rest of us have to either openly admire the facility with which such girls express their aggression, or become unwitting objects of their formidable contempt. I walked a dishonest line between those two options: I feigned respect, and was therefore allowed into Debbie’s circle for a few short weeks. Her conduct went against everything I’d ever been taught in Sunday School about how to treat other people, and everything I believed, but she was popular, she owned lots of Barbies, and she had a horse.
One Sunday afternoon after church, I was invited to accompany Debbie and her family up to their winter recreational base, a one-room cabin on Casper Mountain. There, her older cousin, Kevin—who was compelling, what with the long lashes, the crooked front tooth, and the musky, unwashed tang of boy teenager—took us, Debbie first, then me, on our own, separate, individualized Skidoo rides. I had not planned for this (I figured we were coming up here to throw a few snowballs and sit in front of a fire, sipping hot chocolate) and had failed to bring a snowsuit. My gloves were made of knit cotton, and I had no hat. The Wieglers provided me with mittens and, at the last minute, Mr. Wiegler made me wear his red hunting cap, pulling the flaps down over my ears.
“Don’t let the wolves get you!” Debbie’s uncle called out as his son and I started out the gate for my turn. I had not considered the possibility of wolves before that moment, but even as it crossed my mind to worry, I also dismissed the thought, so as to be able to enjoy myself. There’s no wolves on Casper Mountain, went my reasoning. We quickly left the road, then departed from the established trail to gallivant about the white, wild, forest. When I thought we were going in one direction, we would instead go in another. I was anxious that we might get lost. What could I do but hang on? I have since come to appreciate the circumbendibus; it has gotten me where I am today, which happens to be here.
My ride would turn out to be longer than Debbie’s by approximately five minutes. This was not due to a navigational error, but because we would stop in the woods so that—wrong! Good guess, but no: not so that Kevin could molest me. No, unpleasant sexual encounters wouldn’t start happening for another few years.
For example, in high school, I would work part-time at a radio station where one night, a popular DJ—Al Smarmy—would ask me to reach above my head to get an LP from the top shelf. While my arms were raised, my hands holding a precariously balanced stack of records, he would press against me with what I would take to be his jabby belt buckle. When he panted, grabbing my hips, heat emanating from his groin against my posterior, I would realize something gross was happening—but I would still be, essentially, a kid, in an era when girls my age from families like mine had only the vaguest of notions regarding urges and pleasure, much less assault. I would have had no acquaintance with hard-ons or sexual misbehavior. The frotteur was an adult, a local celebrity who was thought to be a decent guy. I would assume that his concupiscence was my fault. Diffidently, I would smile because politeness was programmed into my cultural if not biological DNA. I would wriggle away, blushing. I would regard the affront as creepy and upsetting and keep it to myself, pretending it had not happened. What would I say? To whom would I say it? Al would, afterwards, start openly teasing me with innuendoes, in response to which I would accommodatingly nod and giggle in spite of myself. Sometimes, our learned performances of cheerful compliance are so embedded in our moral and physical repertoire that it is a challenge to overcome their instruction.
Janna L. Goodwin grew up in Casper, Wyoming, briefly attended Boston College, dropped out to write music reviews and perform improv comedy in Los Angeles, lived in France, and studied theatre at the National Shakespeare Conservatory in New York. She co-founded Ko Theatre Works, then earned a BA in Film and Music from Hampshire College and a doctoral degree in Communication from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her plays—including Killing Andrea; Serving Time; The House Not Touched by Death; If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home By Now; Pointers; and Mother’s Day—have been produced by independent theatre companies on the East Coast and in Colorado. Her solo show, You Are Reminded That Your Safety Is Your Own Responsibility, premiered at the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York and provided the material for this, her first book. Janna is a professor in the Department of Communication and a playwriting mentor in the Mile High MFA program, both at Regis University in Denver, Colorado, where she lives with her husband, Michael Karson.