Author's Note: I wrote First Flight to showcase my "space poems," and to explore the idea of a computer companion, or a "Sim" , when I read that the army was exploring their potential for dealing with post-traumatic stress.
This was the first poem I wrote on my trip, shortly after leaving lunar orbit. Maybe I was feeling a bit regretful or nostalgic already.
When you travel through Space,
you find that it’s not shiny,
like people think.
No dust, no vapors to diffuse your lights.
Just your exhaust, which quickly dissipates,
absorbed by nothingness.
Matte black universe, capturing the light,
the absence of reflection,
and so silent.
Senses so deprived you hear
your heartbeat in your ears and you start
talking to yourself for stimulation.
Like paint on velvet, each precious
point of light consumed by black
along the edges .
Utter darkness, like the grasslands in my state,
where I almost hit a cow one night,
because it was so black,
with no reflection .
That last part I wrote because I heard about it from a friend. He described going off the road after almost hitting a black cow in the dark. I can relate to that from driving buggies on Luna. Sometimes, if you’re driving too fast, with the light and dark contrast so extreme, you can’t tell what’s shadow and what’s a hole in the surface. Been there, done that. Twice.
There aren’t that many ways for a young person to make good money AND a name for himself in this economy. Especially in Luna colony, where everyone has to work to earn their keep, and most of the jobs are tech or maintenance. Guys my age go to work, go to the bars, sleep it off. Lather, rinse, repeat . Pretty soon they’re old guys who’ve been doing the same thing for fifteen years and got nothing to show for it. Just not very interesting. Besides, I have the right personality profile . Someone self-sufficient, confident, and optimistic. Smart, but not too smart (geniuses aren’t encouraged to pursue risky careers). I like games and puzzles, and those are things I can do out there on my own. As a bonus, you can work on taking advanced courses, like physics or vehicle propulsion, or even cosmology, in case you’re wondering where all that stuff out there came from. Plus, I’m born and raised low grav, which makes me a better risk for space travel. No need for blue skies and butterflies and that shit. No nostalgia for the “cool green hills of earth.” Never even been there.
I didn’t know they let you choose the interior elements for your ship. The seat covers and consoles come in a variety of colors and patterns. I tried to pick something that wasn’t too boring, but not so loud that it would get on my nerves after a few years . I went with shades of tan, gold, and red, like sunsets on Mars. Warm colors were a good choice. The walls can be stenciled or stickered up with your favorite team logos, or motifs, or whatever you want. I like a few sports teams, but I’m not a fanatic. So, I didn’t have much decorating done before I left. There’s a computer program for making designs and printing them on plastic film, which you can stick on any metal or plastic surface. Lots of that in here. I’ve made fractals, crystals, and plant patterns, too. They even recommend you leave some space to work on during your flight. Not that I’m very artistic. Not that it’s really a flight, either.
Language seems to adapt only slowly. This is not an airship. I’m not flying. I’m hurtling through space in a metal can, with a cargo more valuable than I am. I’m monitoring a ship that can pilot itself, and communicate with home base, and with the destination, all on its own. Fully autonomous. Some people question why they even bother to send a living pilot on these runs. There are lengthy rationales, justifications involving humans and exploration and blah, blah, blah. The truth is: I am the back-up system. The human brain, wet and fuzzy and imprecise , is there in case something goes wrong . Makes me feel important. So far, there’s been a few malfunctions in communication and navigation, easily corrected. So far, we’ve been lucky.
This is our three year anniversary. I’ve got roughly a year and a half to go before we reach the moon orbiting Jupiter that is our destination. I say we because it’s me and Jolene out here. She’s my Sim counselor, and my best friend. We play games, she is a great riddler, but I usually don’t get the answer until she reveals it. We talk about what life was like on Luna, my family, what I want to do after the trip, about my fears. I’ve told her things I haven’t told anyone else . Probably never will, either. Sim counselors have come a long way since they were developed to deal with post-traumatic stress. I’m so grateful to have her as my “flying buddy”, keeping me company on this trip from inner to outer solar system.
I was so excited to escape lunar orbit, and head out into real space. Then, a few months later, I started to panic, to freak out. There was nothing outside my “window”. Nothing but black. Maybe the universe is filled with dark energy and dark matter, but that’s the problem. Whatever it is, it’s DARK. The stars are very far away, my friend, and when you look out there, past your worried reflection, it scares the shit out of you . Jolene said to write about it. Explore my feelings. Dispel my fears by putting them into words.
Space as a Black Box
Blacker than night,
Velvet soft, intriguing,
set with sparkling jewels,
Curiosity and wonder overwhelming,
I’m on the outside,
dying to get in.
Finding, an infinity of dark.
Matte black, reflecting nothing.
Hard edged, and cold as ice,
with insubstantial vapor,
hot as fire.
Inhuman scale of emptiness.
I’m on the inside,
Dying to get out .
Once I get to Jupiter, I’ll have a couple weeks R and R, and then it’ll be back in the can for the return trip. I might choose a new Sim. Jolene is blonde, very sweet, and understanding. I think for the return trip, I want a brunette, someone sexier, harder, not so sympathetic. Someone who will challenge me . Besides, getting to know someone is the most entertaining part of a relationship.
I hope I don’t freak out when the time comes. Some pilots do that. Get drunk and fight the inevitable. It doesn’t work. You signed a contract, and they won’t keep you at the outposts. They can’t- they’re under contract, too. Unless you choose the airlock, you’re on your way back, on schedule. I figure, if I did it once, I can do it again. Gotta keep it together. I’ll get back on board, I’ll turn on my new Sim, and I’ll go on studying and writing .
The main thing is, when I get back home, I’ll have almost ten years of good wages in the bank. I could invest in a small business, maybe get a real girlfriend. I could do something interesting with my new knowledge and the money I’ve earned. Then, once in a while, in my free time, I can sit in the bar with the other pilots, and we’ll talk about everything except space. When the wanna-bes come over to ask about it, maybe I’ll give them my poems to read. Maybe not. I’ll probably just nod and say “Space flight. Yeah. Been there, done that . Twice.”
Thoughts on a revolutionary artist
Street Art by Banksy
What is street art? There's a fine line between art done in public places and vandalism, or graffiti. Banksy mostly stays on the "art" side of the line. I first saw an article about his work in Wired magazine (Aug 2005), and immediately thought "this guy is a genius." A subversive genius, but a genius nonetheless... He uses stencils to make statements about everything from the WAR to politics, big business, government oppression, and the mess we're making of the environment. Art often elicits an emotional response, a punch in the gut, more so than the written word. It makes you think about, and hopefully, act on what you believe. What if, on the way to work or school, we all were provoked into changing something that needed changing? Perhaps the world would be a better place...
This image remains my favorite. There is something so inherently contradictory about angry protestors throwing flowers instead of bricks or Molotov cocktails at their opponents. Maybe the opponent is the government- they have riot police, we have flowers. Maybe its big business- they have zillions of advertising dollars, we have flowers. Maybe it's the corporate polluters- they have lobbyists, we have flowers. The question is: does the image mean are we powerless? Flowers are so ephemeral, so fragile. How could they possibly hurt anything? Or are the flowers a symbol of the intangible power that comes from belief and hope and the certainty of truth? Do they, like love, have the power to transform the enemy? I don't know what Banksy is saying, but the image sticks with me.
Below is the link to his website. He has also published a couple small books, which I found on Amazon. Be forewarned, you may find some of his images disturbing or offensive. But most of them are brilliant, especially the ones on the wall Israel has built around the West Bank. I also like the rats, in all their various incarnations and occupations. "We have met the enemy, and they are us."
or do a google search to see his artwork.