I’ve been a space head since I can remember. I have an early memory of the 4th grade; sitting in an oversized leather chair in my pajamas with my shower-fresh combed hair leafing in amazement through the pages of a coffee table book of sci-fi art and spaceship designs. I’d never dreamed a thing so wonderful even existed. (It wasn’t even my book; it belonged to another kid and he hated it. He’d asked for a baseball mitt, but the little bastard wouldn’t give the book to me.)
So yeah, I was that annoying little kid who ran around telling everyone how far away the earth was from the sun. (By the way, it’s 92,960,000 miles.) One day, a teacher stopped me in the hallway as I was parroting this now-tedious fact and asked me the following question: “What does that distance mean in real numbers?”
“Here’s ten of this, there’s 20 of that, so what does 92,960,000 really mean in sheer size?” My mouth fell open and my brain seized up as I tried to imagine 93 million any-things. Sometime later, I heard something about there being more synapses in my brain than all of the cells in the body, more synapses than grains of sand on a beach, more synapses than the size of the U.S. National Debt. Still later, a kind, older woman whose name I have unfortunately forgotten gave me a second hand copy of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.
Last day of school 1988; a bunch of us were sitting along a curb scratching in the dirt with sticks and talking about summer plans, wishing we had money, a car, girls, beer, whatever. Out of left field a friend asks, “Hey, what if the orbits of the planets are just the electrons in a larger system? I mean, what if we’re just atoms in the thumb of a giant?” Boom. I felt a mild electrical shock and the inflight shift of my mental carry-on items that flight attendants are always warning you about. I got up slowly and wandered away (“Hey, where you going?”) until I found myself six or seven rows deep in the corn field that surrounded the house on three sides. I dropped to my knees and stayed there for some time, trailing my fingers through the dry dirt, listening to the cicadas scream, listening to the crunch of the stalks, blinking back the sun and sweat that stung my eyes and just staring at nothing, just trying to hold this moment in my mind.
In that instant, I felt high. I felt as if I’d just caught a glimpse of something magnificent hiding behind a curtain. I knew right then that I wanted to hear more of this, see more of this. I wanted to run toward the explosion. I wanted to feel this shock, always. I have since learned to place myself directly in the path of oncoming astonishment in order to find these moments. As a result, I’ve developed an active imagination.
I am now a grown-ass adult, but when I get a knot in my boot laces, I hold my breath and pretend I’m trapped under water and can’t surface until I’ve unknotted them. When I walk down the street, I subconsciously tap my fingers as my hands swing into direct alignment with random objects – the corners of doorways, the paint-clogged rivets of mailboxes, the cracks in the cement. It’s as if I’m closing a circuit between the objects, and sapping the energy of the city in small increments. (I listen to music with headphones almost always. There’s something about the close proximity of the sound and having the singer’s voice right in my ear that I find immensely comforting. It makes me feel as though I’m carrying them around in my skull.)
LOOKING TO THE SYRIAN SKY: New souls, first time in the oven. Haven’t had time to cook all the way through. Give ‘em a few passes; two, maybe three more lifetimes, they’ll get golden. Right now they’re like student drivers, running around like chickens minus heads, waving that Human card and shouting “YOLO!” like no one had ever thought of it before, as if them getting their hearts busted up had never happened to anyone anywhere, ever. Young, old. Doesn’t matter. Give ‘em the gift of patience and the time needed to learn more perspectives than just their own. They’ll see. Special X-ray imaging cameras from the boys down at R&D will clearly show the rest of us as the strange beasts we have evolved to be; ghost tendrils of compassion emanating out from our chests and great golden rings of Seraphim eyes wrapped around our enormous heads in an effort to always see the next disappointment coming, our chests revealed as layer upon layer of shattered hearts, like exploded onions. Each heart that ruptures beneath the weight of crushed or rejected love blows shiny new dandelion seeds outward which cling to the insides of our ribcage and take root. The heart must survive, but it doesn’t have to be the same one you were born with. Can’t see any of this with normal eyes, of course. It would terrify a new soul. Tongues would crack dry, eyes would cross, bodies collapse like sacks of wet lightning never to fuck or eat again. Or maybe not. No way to communicate or explain any of this, really. No way to know for sure. Gotta wait. Be patient.
“I’m not surprised, Ted! If I was a sheep, I’d be watching my back right now!” (Why?) “Because of the Beast! They say it’s as big as four cats, and it’s got a retractable leg so’s it can leap up at ya better! And you know what, Ted? It lights up at night! And it’s got four ears! Two of them are for listening, and the other two are sort of back-up ears! It’s claws are as big as cups, and for some reason it’s got a tremendous fear of stamps! And uh, Mrs. Doyle was telling me it’s got magnets on its tail so if you’re made of metal it can attach itself to ya! And instead of a mouth, it’s got four arses!”
A funny thing took place recently. I was at a baseball game with some friends. I drank a few beers, ate a hamburger and enjoyed the fireworks. After the game, we walked outside. There was a long white limo with gull wing doors parked out front and we talked to the driver as we stood around debating the rest of the evening. Suddenly, a small crowd of teenage black girls came up to us and stopped short, asking excitedly, “Who’s famous?” All of my friends simultaneously pointed to me; I was wearing all black and a pair of gold-rimmed sunglasses. These poor girls began SCREAMING. They wanted my autograph, and they wanted their photos taken with me. One of them wanted to hug me. “Can you make me famous?” she asked. “I can sing and rap!” Another one shrieked with excitement and fell over. “Stay in school, read books,” I said as I hugged each of these strange girls…