MY LIFE ON A SPACE STATION
TURBULENT MAGNETIC BUBBLES
TIME IS A LONG, LONG LADDER
MIRROR OF THE PAST
WISHING AND WAITING
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF MY OLD FRIEND
TIME STANDS STILL
TIME AND OTHER NONSENSE
Sometimes you gotta share the truth, even when it’s embarrassing as all hell. Remember back in the late 60s and early 70s when everyone of a certain age was smoking? And I don’t mean tobacco. I mean pot. Grass. Weed. Whatever you called it, virtually everyone was doing the stuff. Rolling joints, passing the stash. Experiencing mellow, and the hungry horrors. Man, that weed was groovy. Laid back and cool.
Everyone but me. To this day, it is literally impossible for me to chill. I am the most uptight chick on the planet. Back then, I really was trying to get high. It’s not that I didn’t try. I mean, I tried to dig that scene as much as anyone. But the truth was, I couldn’t inhale. I could not force my lungs to breathe in that grey smoke, that foreign material that might as well have been composed of neon red lights screaming: STOP! DO NOT PASS GO! DO NOT COLLECT $200!
So now you understand why I wasn’t, shall we say, the most popular girl in town. In fact, I had to be one of the most lame, nerdy, geeky kids in school. They didn’t use those terms then. Those are 80s, 90s, and new millennium words. What were the words? Uncool. Uptight. Weird. One of the smart kids – social death for a girl. Okay, and for purposes of full disclosure, I was a theater kid too. I could emote. I could debate. I looked ahead and tried to ignore the eye rolls and snickers behind my back as I dressed like a hippie but somehow never pulled off the look. A virgin in the days of the sexual revolution, scared to death of any contact with a male creature. A girl who didn’t go out in the woods to party, to drink and get smashed or laid. A complete social flop.
While I’m admitting to my teenage indiscretions, I’ll skip to my late 50s and say that it was only a few years ago that I first and ever rode in a limousine. Nowadays, people hire limos for 12 year old birthday parties, for crying out loud! Girls have ridden in limos six times by the time they are sixteen! But somehow, that doesn’t seem quite so bad because my 60s hide an even worse secret…
Here is the embarrassing thing I want to admit today. Last week was the first time ever – ever! – that I had a manicure in a salon. My daughter was in town and she wanted to treat me to a facial or a massage, neither of which I have ever experienced before. But I couldn’t bear either one. The manicure seemed the most mild, the least invasive of all the choices. The most true to my body, to those lungs that couldn’t inhale, to that girl who was too uptight to get high, and who never got her groove on.
I chose Bora Not So Boring Pink nail polish. An all-dolled-up 57 year old woman who was probably a Victoria’s Secret model only last year scrubbed my hands, arms, and nails and chattered nonstop while I realized just how short, plain and overweight I really am. I’m a senior citizen with wrinkles! It was like being in middle school again. But I have to admit, she was quite nice and didn’t mention my frumpiness. She acted like my new BFF! She pretended my nails weren’t so ugly as I imagined them to be, and she polished them till they gleamed with Bora Not So Boring Pink.
I spent a few days staring at my newly pretty hands. And attended a wedding where not one person even mentioned my nails. What’s with that? Now the polish is beginning to wear off at the tips, and I am returning to my real self. The one who never inhaled because her lungs refused to allow foreign objects to invade. The one who went to proms in the back of Dad’s old car. The one who was afraid to walk into an upscale day spa just down the street. So uncool, chipping nail polish is. Reminds me of my high school days. Maybe next week, once the blisters on my over-danced wedding feet heal, I’ll walk back and ask for a touch up. We’ll see. I don’t know. Will think about it.
TIME AND OTHER NONSENSE
What would my life be like if I lived on a space station? I mean a station orbiting high above the earth, rolling gently through our galaxy, rocketing into outer space. I mean an enclosed world all to myself, a world with no one but me.
On my space station, there’d be no conflict. No arguments, no yelling. Peace, calm, my mind at rest. Would it be freeing? Would I feel like I did as a child at the end of each summer, waiting in boredom for school to start again? It could be an eternity of boredom.
I’d need to stay busy, I suppose, or go mad. Ballroom dancing? Fun, but not without a partner. Gardening might be essential for survival, but I doubt I would find joy in weeding. I’d need to exercise. Treadmill, yoga. And meditation. I could watch my own navel.
How would I spend my time? Would I bring the complete works of Shakespeare with me to fill the hours? Would I choose great literature, opera, ballet? Mozart? Yum Yum and Van Gogh, Monet? Star Trek? Anne-girl and her Gilbert? Jo and Beth, Meg, Amy? The Big Bang Theory? Would I study string theory, quantum physics? The stars? Or would I discover them for what they all are, points of light too far away to reach.
Why would I choose to live by myself, in the middle of nothing, without company from any other human being? Would the melancholy become intolerable? I might crave affection to distraction. I might get all the way out there, billions of miles from anyone, only to find that I miss humanity. Of course I would miss my children. I would miss Paris, and the beauty of a New England autumn, the Acropolis and Rome. Mont Ste. Michele, Giverny. Would I miss you? Would I grow old and in the utter silence of a frozen universe, think of you?
TIME AND OTHER NONSENSE
I am nothing if not consistent. I consistently come back to the same place year after year after year. No, it’s not the fried clam shack. No, it’s not the ice cream stand. It’s not even the wine shop. Though I frequent them often, it’s none of these fine establishments of New England culture and cuisine that catches and holds me.
No, where I come back to time and again is limbo. Not the biblical limbo, not Dante’s limbo. No, it’s not exactly hell. Just a frustrating, all enveloping while it lasts, depressing state of emotional turmoil.
I visit a place that never changes. It’s the place where I feel bad about myself. It’s the place where I wonder what my life could be. No matter how accomplished I’ve become, no matter how well activities in my life are progressing, no matter how much proof there is that I lead a solid, productive existence. A dozen things go right. And then, for no good reason and with no warning, I’m back in limbo.
In limbo I experience melancholy. A sadness sweeps over me. I feel a yearning, a desire for something different, for a better life than I now have. I am one of the most privileged people on earth, and I know it. Why is it that I can’t be happy with what I have? Why do I get these spells of downheartedness? A strange sensation washes over my skin, leaving me wistful, longing for something to change. It’s like the cold wind that comes in autumn after a long, warm summer. It prickles your skin and makes you wake up. Makes you turn direction. Reflects your thoughts toward winter.
This feeling – it’s wondering, it’s longing, it’s yearning, it’s aching to reach for something but I don’t know what it is and I can’t find it anywhere. Like Carole King’s Tapestry….”my life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue, an everlasting vision of an ever changing view…a tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold.” The vision is there, but my tapestry is complex, with so many folds and turns and twists, hidden alleyways and dead ends and false turns, that I can’t see what might be there before me. I am consumed with the present, and leave no time for pondering. I don’t see the places that will trip me up.
What’s it all about? sang Dionne Warwick. Is it just for the moment we live? I suppose my limbo place makes me pay attention to the pitfalls and shortcomings and disasters that are in me. I guess limbo serves a purpose. But perhaps I’d be happier if my emotional habits didn’t include always returning to that one sad place where I wonder what is wrong. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I move ahead? Where is it that I long to go?
TIME AND OTHER NONSENSE
A while ago I signed up for daily emails from NASA, me being a space and sci-fi geek. It’s true. Today an email reported that a NASA probe had reached the edge of our solar system. One would think that the solar system has no end. That it drains comfortably and seamlessly into the infinity of outer space. That there is a calm transition from our worlds to the universe beyond. One could think so, but one would be wrong, and now there is proof. The probe’s data shows that rather than tranquil, empty space, the edge of the solar system is composed of a turbulent field of magnetic bubbles.
A sea of frenzied, troubled bubbles. All attracting? Or all repelling? Perhaps some combination that allows individual bubbles of all permutations to intermingle or float alone. Does the field hold our solar system in place, keeping it from expanding too far or diluting its strengths? Maybe it blocks out a hostile, threatening cosmos. Magnetism, crushing us, also holds us all together as one. Turbulence, inconstancy, keeps us oxygenated and alive. Bubbles, closed impenetrable forms, are also spheres that hold the endless circle of creation. How amazing, how profound. The universe isn’t smooth and easy any more than our lives are. There is messiness and unhappiness and lack of control. And boundaries that aren’t clear cut. That bleed out even when you try so hard to rein in. And people saying and doing the wrong things and making all kinds of stupid mistakes. And mysteries, challenges of the unknown. This is the norm, if we take space as a model. The universe is a dangerous, difficult place.
Yet we have to find a way to live in it for the short time we have consciousness and awareness. Magnetism is strength. Turbulence means change. Bubbles – simplicity and clarity. The world is what you discover in it. The answers lie within your own mind and heart. The challenge is to assess the whole, to dissect and reassemble the pieces, to find the beauty in all things.
TIME AND OTHER NONSENSE
“Who knows where the time goes?” “Time is on my side, yes it is.” “A time for every season under heaven.” Three songs that were popular at one point in time over the last decades. Three different takes on time. What is time? What is the meaning of it? How can 40 years, for example, have gone by since I graduated from high school? How can time possibly be on my side when it has robbed me of my youth? And who has the patience for the slow but sure turning of the clock of the seasons, when one’s life must be lived in such a very short period of time?
Why so many questions?
Inquiring minds need to know what makes the world work. Why a life can turn in a minute from calm to upheaval, from happy to sad, from joy to despair. Why things left unsaid and undone will never be resolved if too much time goes by. No one can play catch up with time. Time will turn the wheel relentlessly, moving us farther and farther away from our original intentions. Refusing to allow repeats or do overs. Despite what Einstein had to say, there is a linear nature to time that is cruel. There’s no going back. It keeps on, it won’t stop, it doesn’t allow us to jump off or start again. Timing is virtually everything. Unless we’re crazy, unless we’re nuts, unless we’re living in some fantasy world where everything is okay, we’re stuck. Held hostage. Having the time of our lives…
TIME AND OTHER NONSENSE
At some time in your life, you’re going to begin questioning why you exist. You’ll take a look at the length of your history, at your stories, your accomplishments, your failures. You’ll think of your present, of the beliefs you cling to and those you’ve allowed to slip away. And the future? An indecipherable mass of uncertainty. You can’t know.
Time only travels in one direction, even though one’s memory is not linear. But what if your life was more like a space elevator? A space elevator that runs along a ribbon-like track made of carbon nanotube fiber. Carbon nanotubes have enormous tensile strength. They can be woven together to form a very thin ribbon or cable of immense strength. The ribbon is cemented into the ocean floor at the equator, and a length over 22,000 miles long launched into space. It rises up to orbit with the earth, held in place by centrifugal force. That force at the top of the ladder is stronger than gravity. The ladder will seem stationary at its base on the surface of the earth, while its top will be spinning through time and space.
Now add an elevator that can climb the carbon ladder and deliver you right up to the top of the world, more than 22,000 miles up. And what’s at the top? A hotel for space tourists, of course. A real destination that you can visit as many times as you wish, vacation time permitting.
If you compare the ladder to your life, the base cemented into the ocean is your past. The cement, your family; the ocean, your friends. This is your watery world. Now step into the elevator cabin and thrill as you climb the carbon ribbon toward the sun. This remarkable journey is your present. You’ve got to shield yourself from the radiation all around you. And protect yourself from electrical storms. Those are the challenges your life brings your way. At the top is your future, that space hotel in the sky with every amenity available in the universe. What a vacation! You can’t imagine that future, you simply have to experience it. It’s the enormity of space: who can know what it will bring? Since it will take many days to reach the top, you’ll need a few months of time to fully enjoy your space hotel.
But then, probably too soon, your vacation is over and you must descend. Your past becomes your future, your return to your beginnings. The journey is still pleasant, though your ears may pop. But unlike the space hotel orbiting the earth, your final destination is known. Your future is no long a mystery. You’re going back. You’re going home. Your future becomes your past. Your present repeats, though in reverse.
How is it possible to know your future? How can you choose a future, when only the present is real? Maybe we live in parallel universes, where at any given time, what’s real can vary. I wonder if the only way to figure out why you exist is to take that carbon nanotube ribbon of a space elevator into the sky. Up through the clouds, up past the atmosphere, up into the coldness of space, up where the earth holds us but still allows us to spin freely in time, in utter darkness and emptiness. Time is a long, long ladder. But I wonder which way to travel on it. Which way is real. Which way?
PS Space elevators and carbon nanotube space ladders are real concepts originating in science fiction, but currently being designed and developed. Someday, you’ll be able to take your vacation up a very thin ladder to a space hotel in the sky.