The Universe, Myself, and Everything In It or How I Laid Like a Tuna On a Mattress for The Holidays

The holiday is coming to a close. Last day for the boy to sleep in. As a family, we have been on a roll of hibernation, intense socialization and reflection.

I spent the first day of 2012 visiting the grave sites of my family. My ex-wife proposed it to me, and I felt it was a worthy effort to make on behalf of my children, my family and my life. There is nothing rational about praying over a grave. Though I have become more and more of an atheist in recent years, my feeling that there are forces in the universe that have influence and are deeply interconnected to my own being, has grown exponentially. To stand over the grave of one’s parents, grandparents or a lost sibling, is to touch something so deeply distant, so primordial, as to invoke the essential reason for existing on this planet at all. It awakened me to the fact that, as an artist, it is the message I have been receiving from my subconscious for years.

Hibernating these past weeks, has given me an opportunity to regenerate my energy. After months of producing an inordinate amount of drawings (almost a hundred), setting them up for a showing in my home, creating prints, a T-shirt and a book, and then having dozens of people visit us over two weekends, I was left with an intense feeling of inner exhaustion. The prescribed antidote for this, was sleeping late every day and watching a continuous stream of Star Trek Voyager episodes over the past two weeks.

Since Halloween, this family has been on a Star Trek kick. Noah immersed himself in the character of Captain Kirk. This set off a chain reaction of streaming episodes from the entire series. But the focus has become Voyager, simply because I had seen so few of them.

In a house without television, we watch things on the computer with awful frequency. My pet peeve is commercials. I hate them. Therefore, I have taken to avoiding Hulu or other online venues that force me to watch them. Netflix allows me to view without limit and without commercials. Since their pickings for films have become less appealing, old television shows are what we seek out, which include selections from the BBC.

Star Trek seems to appeal to us for many reasons. But key among them is that it reflects a form of hope for humanity. It incorporates ideas, that would not be found in other shows. Alien beings can embody terrorists, fascists, republicans, buddhists and a variety of traits found in various human ethnic groups. This allows the writing to explore many varied topics.

To give one example, in episode 2 of Season four, the character of Kes, an Ocampa alien, who is about to exit the show, expresses the special transformation that is taking place in her. She is asked to describe her experience. I have taken the time to transcribe the dialogue between Kes and Neelix:

Neelix: So tell me more about what is happening to you. What does it all mean?

Kes: I don’t know… and that is what makes it all so exciting. It’s as if I can see into a place where the distinction between matter and energy—and thought no longer exists. And that is only the beginning. I feel that all the boundaries that are within me are about to fall away.

Neelix: It sounds er…er…ugh…interesting.

What this character is expressing is what people of all disciplines of meditation are seeking. A place where the inner boundaries fall away, and there is only pure being. The experience that I am a mass of energy, interacting with the eternal forces that are all around me, the planet, the universe. Connecting this to the simple experience of praying at a gravesite or lighting the holiday candles, is to touch the very energy that this fictional character expresses. My hat goes off to the writer (Joe Menofsky) who inserted this piece of dialogue. Sometimes media can clarify a hard to describe point of view by using an alien character to express it.

On top of our hibernation, my wife and I have had to tolerate our prepubescent son’s growing obsession with the online game of Minecraft. If your children are not of the age yet, you are in for exposure to a whole new world…literally. I have borrowed a paragraph from Wikipedia to better express the essence of this growing phenomena.

Minecraft is focused on creativity and building, allowing players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D world. Gameplay in its commercial release has two principal modes: Survival, which requires players to acquire resources themselves and maintain their health and hunger; and Creative, where the player has an unlimited supply of resources, the ability to fly, and no concept of health or hunger.

A sample of the Minecraft interface

One of the many aspects of playing this game online, is that the players begin to develop online relationships. Cooperative play, where the players are logged into a server, may also include live chat between the players. My son also, Skypes one or two of his online friends, where they interact in real time. He has made acquaintances from across the country who he has been speaking with live, on a daily basis.We are in awe of how fluidly Noah and his friends interact with the technology. They instruct each other on resources and other character development features, built into the game. Or offer creative help which involves other, more sophisticated software like Photoshop. In this way, they are teaching each other. And the hard thing to accept is, that with this new technology, we adults have no idea as to where this can lead. What form will this take as it develops? What are the practical applications in the world, as the boys grow into men? And how can an antiquated education system prepare them for the world they are creating?

The last thing I will add in this morning is a quote from the late great Christopher Hitchens. Although I found him a bit pessimistic, alcoholic and eternally grumpy, he is one of the most lucid and intelligent journalists of the past decade. An avowed atheist, he had the unique ability to dissect massively accepted conventions, holier than thou icons such as the British royalty or Mother Teresa, in a way that makes so much sense as to rip the veil from them permanently. And in truth, I may claim to be an atheist, but my views are that the human spirit has been created for greater purposes than to be limited by the pedantic version of God that is shoved down our throats on a daily basis. God, as a public idea, is dead. Jesus is a myth. Christmas is a bullshit tradition based on pagan rituals that have nothing to do with giving, or love or joy. And the sooner we destroy these icons, the sooner we can come together and have some meaningful interaction.

The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more. – Christopher Hitchens, The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Non-Believer, 2007

My only disagreement with the late Mr. Hitchens is that he says “there is nothing more, but I want nothing more.” I believe there is more, and as the Star Trek character of Kes states, we can aspire to touch that place in us where “the boundaries all fall away.” This is the place where truth appears. And this experience of truth tells me, that I am here for more. But what that “here” is, cannot be expressed in a mere quote. The experience of a boundless, endless interaction of the universe, is but a fleeting glimpse that comes from a struggle to connect to an inner stillness. And then for one instant, I feel connected to all that is. And my own ego centric existence no longer seems that important. This is my wish for humanity. And hopefully, the expected traumas of 2012, will point more of us, back toward ourselves, so that meaningful interaction can begin.

Happy New Year and Peace to you all.


One Comment on “The Universe, Myself, and Everything In It or How I Laid Like a Tuna On a Mattress for The Holidays”

  1. Lillian Firestone says:

    Well said, Bruce. Wishing a good year to you and your near ones.


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