Startide Rising – David Brin

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“The propensity of Earthlings to get into trouble, and to learn thereby, was the reason my owners agreed to this mad venture – although no one expected such a chain of unusual calamities as befell this ship. Your talents were underrated.”

 I adore space opera, and I especially like really big space opera, where distances and years are measured in millions, billions, or other illions, and there’s plenty of room for what should be momentously unforgettable events to be lost to memory, leaving us with lots of interesting backstory, obscured by the mists of the ages.

The Terran exploration vessel Streaker has crashed in the uncharted water world of Kithrup, bearing one of the most important discoveries in galactic history.  Below, a handful of her human and dolphin crew battles armed rebellion and a hostile planet to safeguard her secret–the fate of the Progenitors, the fabled First Race who seeded wisdom throughout the stars.

This book was published in 1983, and while it is part of a six-part series it can stand alone.  I found this at a Goodwill for about fifty cents.  How could it not be amazing? It has space dolphins, for crying out loud.  Let that sink it.  Space. Dolphins. Their culture is called “fen”.  As it turns out, this book was exponentially better than I had anticipated.  I’m not the only person who thought so; it won the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 1984.

The one thing that I think this book is rather light on is a sense of gravity.  Sure, there is a body count, but not unconscionably high.  There are intense situations, and there are rumblings about how even if Streaker escapes, Galactics have already started taking out all the human settlements in an effort to get at the secret of the ancient fleet’s location; but they don’t strike the note of despair news like that should.  Even concerns about how poorly humans treated dolphins before the fen were uplifted are brushed off. The animals simply say there’s no resentment on their part because they understood that being preyed upon was a reality of nature. That may be an interesting idea, and consistent with the dolphin worldview Brin has created, but it still feels like he’s letting us off the hook.

Overall, I recommend this book – if space dolphins and aliens are your cup of tea.

Hang on to Your Hats, Kids. We’re About to Discuss Philosophy.

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This past Tuesday, I found myself discussing existentialism in our American Literature class.  I was disappointed that the groups we broke off into did not have very much time to discuss our views or how it corresponds with the literature we were reading.  This is truly no one’s fault.  In reality, we had a great discussion.  But I doubt there is enough time in the day for me to discuss this philosophy with anyone, because I really could go on and on, all day.

I spent several years dedicating myself to exploring a plethora of spiritual paths. I read the Bible and attended churches with a variety of denominational and nondenominational labels.  I read several Buddhist texts, visited mosques, spoke with rabbis about this terrifying wayward feeling I had been experiencing.  I even participated in a few Celtic Pagan celebrations, thanks to my best friend and his entire family who welcomed me into their homes for these festivities.

But the only texts that ever wholly spoke to me, truly moved me, were books from the likes of Sartre, Camus, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Simone de Beauvoir.  I have always been fascinated with existentialism and the concept of the absurd, and I think that is because it allows me to find meaning in my life – something that, given my lack of religion, eluded me for the longest time.

Existentialism is a philosophy that emphasizes individual existence, freedom and choice. It is the view that humans define their own meaning in life, and try to make rational decisions despite existing in an irrational universe. It focuses on the question of human existence, and the feeling that there is no purpose or explanation at the core of existence. It holds that, as there is no God or any other transcendent force, the only way to counter this nothingness (and hence to find meaning in life) is by embracing existence. (Shout out to philosophybasics.com for the concise description.  My own paragraph of explanation I just deleted was quite massive.)

Absurdism is a philosophical school of thought stating that the efforts of humanity to find inherent meaning will ultimately fail (and hence are absurd) because the sheer amount of information as well as the vast realm of the unknown make total certainty impossible. As a philosophy, absurdism furthermore explores the fundamental nature of the Absurd and how individuals, once becoming conscious of the Absurd, should respond to it. The absurdist philosopher Albert Camus stated that individuals should embrace the absurd condition of human existence while also defiantly continuing to explore and search for meaning.

I believe emphatically in free will and the meaninglessness of life.  And while you may believe in God, Krisha, Xenu, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, my reality is no more right or wrong than yours.  What matters most is what you do with the time you have on this planet, and how you treat the world around you.  Life truly has no singular meaning or purpose, and if there is a meaning, we cannot begin to comprehend it.  Therefore, life cannot have meaning until you give it meaning and you find your purpose.  With this new understanding my confidence, happiness, and feelings of liberation have increased exponentially.

Looking for some literature to help you wrap your head around existentialism?  Look no further, here are my favorites!

  1. The Stranger/The Plague/Myth of Sisyphus – Albert Camus (I lumped these together because I adore each of these books, and couldn’t pick just one)
    “I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.” (The Stranger)
  2. Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk
    “It’s easy to cry when you realize that everyone you love will reject you or die. On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone will drop to zero.”
  3. Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace
    “You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.”
  4. Nausea – Jean Paul Sartre
    “It’s quite an undertaking to start loving somebody. You have to have energy, generosity, blindness. There is even a moment right at the start where you have to jump across an abyss: if you think about it you don’t do it.”
  5. The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera
    “Anyone whose goal is ‘something higher’ must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.”
  6. Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka
    “He again told himself that it was impossible for him to stay in bed and that the most rational thing was to make any sacrifice for even the smallest hope of freeing himself from the bed. But at the same time he did not forget to remind himself occasionally that thinking things over calmly – indeed, as calmly as possible – was much better than jumping to desperate decisions.”
  7. Waiting for Godot – Samuel Beckett (Have patience with this play)
    “The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh.”
  8. Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut“It’s a small world,” I observed.
    “When you put it in a cemetery, it is.” Marvin Breed was a sleek and vulgar, a smart and sentimental man.
  9. Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
    “I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie extoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.”
  10. Steppenwolf – Herman Hesse
    “I believe that the struggle against death, the unconditional and self-willed determination to live, is the motive power behind the lives and activities of all outstanding men.”

In essence,  it’s not what you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you. Yeah, I quoted a Batman movie. I’m not the only one drawing parallels, though.

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My First Workshop

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I’m trying to put myself out there more, socially as well as creatively.  I am so incredibly terrified of both.  This week, I went to my very first poetry workshop. I was so nervous, and I was dreading it, and I kind of wanted to throw up – but I didn’t – and I did it.  And I’m very happy that I did.  For me, writing has always been such a deeply personal exercise (and sometimes it is more of an exorcise, let’s be honest).  I have never read anything of my own out loud to anyone at all.  It added an extra layer of vulnerability to my already unreasonable level of anxiety, and I thought my heart was going to explode, like the chest-bursting scene from Aliens.  Think I’m joking? I was so worked up the first afternoon that I legitimately gave myself a migraine.  It was 100% worth it.  I made friends, learned a lot, drank coffee, heard some great poems, discovered a passion for ecopoetry that I never knew existed, and came away with material for my poetry that I can actually say I am proud of.

We focused on traditional forms of poetry over two sessions: Villanelle, Shakespearean Sonnets, Sestina, and Ghazal.

The Villanelle

Villanelles have a LOT more structure than I originally thought.  It is a nineteen-line poem with two repeating rhymes and two refrains.  It is constructed using five tercets (three-line stanzas) and a quatrain (four line stanza).  The structure goes: A1 b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 A2.  I took the villanelle I shared in my last post and fixed the structural errors in it:

Valediction of Terra

My forests are ashes, my oceans now dust.
Our eternity will dissolve as the last cairn crumbles.
There can be no romance in concrete and rust.

The theft of my bones long garnered mistrust,
but avarice of Man was once more subtle.
My forests are ashes, my  oceans now dust.

Bleed my body dry, drink it all if you must.
Oil trickles from snarled lips as you greedily guzzle.
There can be no romance in concrete and rust.

Children who squabble ’til atoms combust
have no regard for upon whom they pummel.
My forests are ashes, my oceans now dust.

I yearn for the days spent in soft wanderlust,
before whimsy was choked by bloodshed and stumbled.
There can be no romance in concrete and rust.

All that remains is your gluttony and lust.
There is naught left but ruin and rubble.
My forests are ashes, my oceans now dust.
There can be no romance in concrete and rust.

The Ghazal

I had never heard of a Ghazal before Tuesday.  It’s a form of Persian poetry that takes its name from the Arabic word meaning “the talk of boys and girls,” and is known to be used for flirtation or sweet talk. Loss and love are the most common topics for this style. It is composed of 5-15 couplets, with no enjambment.  Each couplet should be able to also stand on its own.  The interesting thing about the Ghazal is that the same word is repeated at the end of the first couplet, and throughout the poem in the second line of each couplet.  Also, the very last couplet is the only one that should rhyme.  Poets try to include their last names in the last couplet, as a “signature stanza” but I didn’t do that because my last name is pretty much the least poetic or appealing word on the planet.

Ghazal: Love Like a Butterfly

I am hopelessly enamored with the splendor of the butterfly.
Does no one else wish they could dance like a butterfly?

The slow burn of a million magnificent sunsets
paints the wings on the back of a butterfly.

His arm grazes mine and the heat sends a jolt,
an electric current in my heart like the restless fluttering of a butterfly.

Deep and unremitting as a worm-like caterpillar’s appetite,
my love is concealed like the pupa’s sweet butterfly.

One day I will cast off my inhibitions and we will laugh,
drinking nectar with the proboscis of a butterfly.

We will sing in the glimmering starlight
with the twinkling merriment of a butterfly.

I am only 3/4 of the way through my Sestina, and I can’t wait to finish and share it.  But I probably shouldn’t share any of my three sonnets with anyone.  They’re all about Star Wars. I enjoyed writing them, but they’re laugh-out-loud level of cheesy.