Your Persistent Insistence

(July 26, 2011)

We’ve been running in circles now for far too long
I just don’t understand why you feel it’s so wrong
Too stubborn to grasp what's been here all along
Here staring us right in the face…

Every moment we share is so precious, at worst
I want so much more I’m afraid I will burst
But I know that I am not alone in this thirst
If only we’d finish this chase…

But when the struggles turn fierce I can close my eyes tight
And summon your presence with all of my might
While we’re laughing and loving you’re bathed in the light
Of a hope more intense than the sun
But my sheer force of will holds no power against
Your persistent insistence to run…

Any soft spoken word full of hinting within
Makes all of my armor just peel from my skin
And I’m left here to tremble and shiver again
As you inevitably wander away…

Every touch of your skin and the warmth of embrace
Every single last treasured brief glimpse of your face
Seem somehow to never be more than a taste
Despite anything I can say…

But when the struggles turns fierce I can close my eyes tight
For as long as I care we have unending night
And we’re laughing and loving this beautiful sight
Where our wildest dreams cannot be undone
But my sheer force of will is never enough with
Your persistent insistence to run…

You seem so content to remain on your own
And I just don’t know how to lead you from your throne
What good is the safety and comfort concealing
All of these things we both know you’re feeling?

I’ve let all the depths of my feelings display
And by now you would think I’d have seen things your way
…I’ve tried, but there’s no way to just wish you away.

Posted by Eli Stanley | at 9:13 PM | 0 comments

Reweaving the Tattered Threads

(July 23rd, 2011; revised April 4th, 2012)

Have you, or has someone you’ve witnessed, ever fallen out of touch with a dear friend, whether for obvious ugly reasons or for more subtle, gradual ones? I know I’ve seen this far too many times, personally. Thankfully it has not happened to me on so many occasions, but I can’t really say the same for most people in general. From what I’ve witnessed over the years, I think that so many people are too willing to let go of a connection that should be treasured as nothing else in this world has any right to be treasured. And especially in this day and age, with the advent of all this technological prowess, this needs not ever be the case. There is so much opportunity for communication, and friendly relations with fellow human beings brings so much vast, priceless beauty into our lives like nothing else can, and only the most extreme of unfortunate cases should have even the possibility of the power to sever such incredible connections.

So often people seem obliged to just sit around and proclaim that a certain person will call or text them if they “really cared.” But this attitude is woefully self-righteous, because that other poor person has every right to feel the exact same way. Does either person really have a more justified reason to be so stubborn? In some extreme cases, maybe a person has made a dozen calls or texts or emails or some other method of reaching out that have all gone unanswered—in this case they may have a strong point, if no reasonable attempts have succeeded in getting through. If a person is refusing all attempts at communication, then there’s only so much one can do. But this person could still keep on keeping on, if only because there may be some legitimate reason for the lack of communication. In the most dramatic cases it really might just mean that the other person is simply uninterested in any further communication—unfortunate, but it happens. In such cases the burden of reciprocity really does fall on this other person to make some sort of effort in response. You can only reach out so many times before the very act of doing so becomes such a burden that it begins to reduce your own feelings of connectedness toward nonexistence.

There should be a balance. If you want to converse with someone, you should be able to call, text, or otherwise make contact with them with a reasonably likely chance to be received and responded to. And if not in a reasonable amount of time, for some valid reason, then you should be able to expect a return call, text, email, or whatever other means of communication in the near future. It shouldn’t be a constant one-sided battle, and it shouldn’t boil down to a persistent stubbornness from both sides to be the one to receive the effort at some cryptic time of day. It should be a shared connection. I don’t think there is a more effective, efficient way to retain such a blazingly glorious of worldly appreciation. It takes two to truly effectively converse, and no party should assume the default “advantage.” Ideally, you would initiate contact with your friend just as much as your friend initiates contact with you (all other things being equal) and gender, race, age, circumstance, and the like should not have much of an impact on this ratio.

But yet I’m always hearing complaints from friends that other friends don’t ever contact them. And I usually ask “well, have you tried contacting them?” to which there is, most of the time, some half-justified excuse about having already tried some number of times, without some desired response, and in most cases this person, the self-proclaimed “victim”, is now just sitting around and feeling like they shouldn’t have to be expected to make any more attempts. Fair enough, I suppose, if you really are willing to accept the likelihood that most of the communication is now over—because that is the probable outcome with such an attitude. Your own attitude is likely to be reflected upon the other, and this is one of the many, many situations in which optimism simply trumps all other mindsets.

There are far too many potential factors that may be involved and may be able to explain in completely rational and understandable terms why a person has not been responding as promptly as another person feels they should be. Work, condition of phone or computer, available funds, family life, and random disasters are just a few of the more generic examples. But maybe you know, somehow, that none of these genuine factors are among the underlying reasons for their lack of response. In this case we are back to where we were earlier, where at some point the burden of reciprocity falls on them. And while they might just simply be ignoring you, this is not the most rational and reasonable thing to assume (and I am assuming that your closer friends would not, by definition, behave like this toward you). At this point things rely very heavily on how well you know this person and how they interact with others (with yourself, most importantly). If your judge of character is even slightly effective, then you should have already filtered out such troublesome people. But to be filtered out so early on is a hefty assumption that such a person is so blatantly obvious in their reckless relations with friends; most of the time you probably would not have seen this coming. And so this is an extremely difficult matter to puzzle out. In an ideal world this simply would not ever be the case, but, alas.

There is another similar yet very different problem, in which someone has not lost physical contact with a dear friend but has lost the emotional connection itself. Because there really are some valid reasons for a loss of contact with another—namely one or both moving or any number of significant lifestyle changes which may render the communication practically futile. This is where I categorize most of my own lost communications. Although I’m not proud of any of them, I understand that the factors of life just play out in such a way sometimes. I at least have never been in a fight that drove a friendship away entirely, thank goodness. They are not tied to any feelings of resentment or other harsh realizations. But the crucial idea here is that the communication should still be possible; regardless of the severity of the situation, although something as extreme as a friend moving thousands of miles away AND somehow losing all communicative resources does pretty much cancel all possibilities. Of course at this point it’s literally unavoidable, and so you really have no choice but to move on to those connections that you actually have some control over. This argument is, of course, not about those hopeless cases. If they ever did reach back out to you, as their situation improved, things would rapidly approach normal again.

And so stressed again is the idea that a deep, meaningful connection between two (or more) people is absolutely precious considering the insane complexities of any individual mind and the immeasurable factors of this far-reaching phenomenon of life and the thick, tangled mess of its intertwining vines of influence in and out among the billions and billions of the individuals which comprise it. The ranges of interests and mindsets and thoughts and devotions of the humans inhabiting this world are intense and wildly eccentric and so I find it one of the most incredible luxuries that any set of people can really connect on a level deep enough to truly understand and appreciate each other’s company. Don’t give this up! Don’t let petty disagreements and unbalanced responsibilities tarnish this most powerful and meaningful of pursuits. If you have to make the call four times out of five, so be it. If the other person comes to the same conclusions, and feel like they are making the call four times out of five, then this won’t even be an issue because you’ll both be grabbing hold of the reins of communication whenever a desire is felt and then the only concern that’s left to deal with is when you both try to call each other at the exact same time and only get set back by a busy signal (or straight to voicemail, as land lines lose their relevance).

This conscience entanglement with your fellow humans is perhaps the most valuable commodity on the planet. You can’t get it anywhere else, and its depth is typically in some way proportional to the time and intensity you’ve spent with the person. If you drop everyone from your contacts list who hasn’t independently contacted you within any prior week, or month, then you may soon find yourself without a single long-lasting friend. Obviously there is some filtering going on between those friends that don’t necessarily need to say something on any particular day to remain in your esteem and those friends who will be remorselessly forgotten after some arbitrary period of non-communication—so why the extreme differences? Clearly it’s because of the depth of the connection, and the expectations you have placed on their friendship, but just as clearly this very depth had to come from somewhere in much the same way these failed attempts did. And so it comes down to the details that set some certain connections apart from the rest, and this is where your own judgment truly comes into the equation, for you can set these parameters to whatever reasonable, considerable levels you feel are adequate to suit your desires. But be wary, because any drastic requirements are going to be exaggerated when applied to the real world full to its brim of unimaginably complex interactions among its inhabitants. Expecting more out of some people is only going to increase the likelihood that they will not live up to it. Perhaps it is better to just play it by ear, in a sense. The frequency with which a person contacts you is just the result of a complicated chain of causes and effects which somehow trickle down into their allocation of time and devotion they feel compelled to express toward you. Who is anyone to demand any more than this?

I really don’t feel like there is any situation in which a person should lose all hope in another’s eyes—because everybody has the capacity to better themselves, and not only has this capacity but also the inherent desire to do so. So when presented with the opportunity to reconnect with a distant acquaintance, no matter the extent of the distance, be it mental of physical or some combination of both, you should grant them at the very least the attention necessary to determine whether or not the prior issues have been improved upon. I like to think that in most cases this will indeed be true, but in the worst-case scenarios you will (hopefully) quickly realize whether this really is not the case. And if not, if things really are still so unfavorable, if the deciding factors have not improved in any substantial way, then it should be no difficult feat to simply revert back to the non-communication that existed just before the attempt. But the attempt itself is absolutely worthwhile. The possibility of a reconnection is priceless in the face of nothing at all. And you should be always on lookout for the opportunities to do the same thing—give an old friend a call. Take a browse through your contacts, and you’ll probably find someone you miss communicating with. What’s the harm in giving it a shot? They may be one of those people sitting around wondering why their friends are not taking it upon themselves to put forth some effort. Frustrating as it may be, it could make the difference between a friendship slipping away into distant memory and one rekindled by the simple act of speaking or typing a few friendly, heartfelt words.

I like to reflect upon the lyrics of Richard Marx’s gorgeous song “Better or Worse,” in which he sings “Everywhere I look around, it seems when things break down it’s easier to just throw them away. But a promise left to die can sometimes still surprise, and start breathing in the morning’s lighter day. And the hearts that learn to bend are the only ones who mend when they’re broken.” The song may be intended for a romantic couple, but I like to slightly twist lyrics so that they apply just as well to other similar things. It’s not much of a leap, really. The same fundamental appreciations exist between friends and romances; they just reside within different contexts and priorities. But they apply just as well. He later sings “And I am going to love you, even when it hurts.” because, well, it is going to hurt. This hurt can be used to some soul-searching advantages.

A similar idea is expressed in Don Henley’s beautifully written song “Heart of the Matter” in which he sings “I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter, but everything changes, and my friends seem to scatter but I think it’s about forgiveness… even if you don’t love me anymore.”

And Aaron Lewis sings his heart out in his first solo album’s song titled “Vicious Circles” when he croons “We run in vicious circles until we’re dizzy with disdain, and there’s miles and miles between us, yet we still remain.” Because once you’ve established such a connection, it doesn’t matter where in the world you move to, or what you do, or how much time passes between communications—your memory has recorded the companionship, and your lifestyle has been affected in some way so that the potential will always remain. Nothing but your own stubbornness or unwillingness will keep this from you, provided the other party returns the efforts in even the smallest imaginable fashion.

These masters of poetic thoughts have captured the essence of this idea, that there are incredibly valuable factors running much, much deeper than one’s desire to be the center of attention in a relationship. Problems should be considered, addressed, and mutually sought after for correction. Trials effectively dealt with will help to weave the threads ever more powerfully. If some friends have wronged you in some way, as long as it has not been so profoundly horrible as to cause you to curse their name for all time, then forgiveness is always a viable option. It’s okay to hurt over somebody. It’s okay to miss their face, their laughter, and their joking mannerisms. It’s okay to long for the time when it seemed as if hardly anything was ever on their mind but to find out where you were and what you were doing, and to offer their company or invite you to theirs. These are positive hurts, because it reminds you of how much another person ever meant to you. And just imagine how many people might be feeling the same way about you.

If you are clutching the tattered threads of a dear friendship in your hands, realizing the damage that has been done before it’s too late, then before the connection is severed completely you have every reason and every opportunity to reweave the fragile, precious strands into an even more powerful bond. Do this carefully, and do it together, and the strengths of this connection have every right to be more deeply entwined and as stable as possible. Sometimes all it takes is a humble acceptance of a shortcoming on your own part (and perhaps also their humble acceptance of a shortcoming on their part), and the stage is set for the possibility of a revival of a truly personalized partnership unlike anything you can find anywhere else. The uniqueness of each individual means that every single such connection is remarkably valuable in its own right, and cannot be substituted in any other way. Each one is unimaginably precious and should only be discounted entirely under the most extreme unfortunate circumstances when nothing within reason can be done by either party.

I think that the nature of these connections—which require so much effort from all sides involved—simultaneously makes them extremely difficult to establish and maintain but by the very same nature they are luxuries far more valuable than any worldly possession you can ever get your hands on. So don’t let them go so easily. Fight to keep at least some strand of friendship between yourself and anybody whose companionship you have ever appreciated. You will never find the same connections again, but you can build up throughout your time on the Earth as many intertwining threads as you are willing to keep hold of and weave as intricate and as powerful a rope as you are willing to put effort into. This rope, signifying so many relations you hold so dear with our fellow members of humanity, will always be there to hold on to, to grasp when life takes one of its unfortunate turns, there to help you right yourself and appreciate the things that truly matter because they truly care about you. And your life will be demonstrably fuller and more meaningful and more rewarding because of your efforts, and by these efforts so many countless other lives will be just as demonstrably fuller and more meaningful as well. Because, of course, just as you will benefit from their devotions, so will each of these recipients benefit in kind, because of you and your efforts, and the incredible sum of joys and sorrows and memories that are yours to share together if you would only work together to reweave the tattered threads of a once-flourishing bond of friendship.

Posted by Eli Stanley | at 5:57 PM | 1 comments

Falling To Our Knees

If you've ever failed to achieve some goal you've set out to attain, so carefully planned out and brightly shining in your own mind, or have ever been suddenly dismissed by the person or people you’ve put so much effort and consideration into pursuing some path together with (friendly, romantic, business), or have ever been struck with a spontaneous, profound realization of reality you never saw coming, then you must know what it feels like to sink down into the depths of the awkward, uncertain musings of uncertainty and near-overwhelming anxiety. You must know what it's like to feel that sting of skinned knees as the strength of your core falters and the pillars of your emotional foundations collapse to the earth.
But there is hope even here, as you stare at the dirt surrounding you as you reach out to grapple something, anything of substance. The acceptance of personal weaknesses, when coupled with a positive outlook, is such a beautiful combination with so much potential. On one hand, you have the realization of a weakness, a fault and, in turn, the means to do something about it because you have identified its existence. This is the first and foremost step. Then, on the other hand, you have the hope which must exist within you and the goal for what you wanted so desperately to make of it. Our inherent intelligence allows us to establish goals and devise the means to achieve them, and identify with rational cause and effect analysis the source of a shortcoming. Whether or not the most direct blame appears to be within ourselves, our own obvious weaknesses are perhaps the best places of all to begin; this is from where there is not much room but to improve.
When you find yourself down on your battered knees it's that much clearer what needs to be done to stand right back up, now that you do not have that luxury you had taken for granted. The dirt and rubble tearing at exposed skin serves as a powerful demonstration of solidarity in something so persistently unchanging, yourself as a unique individual with a unique mind and unique pursuits despite having fallen due to some circumstance, almost as if the earth itself is saying to you "Get back up. There is only pain and boredom down here where nothing ever really changes on your timescale." You have a mind, and a will, and the recognition of pain and the boundless joy of success, so use that to your advantage. Find it. Something dragged you down, or shoved your over, and something can help to pull you back up. Oftentimes it is entirely within your own mind.
But within the more effective of these reactions is where the beauty lies: hope and determination and perseverance in the face of tragedy, no matter how tragic. And so even the darkest of times, the lowest of lows, the most skinned of knees, have their value if you just open your mind to what they can and should reveal to you, and make that exerted effort to identify and properly deal with.
There is just something about life in the pain of thrashed knees… something so deeply beautiful in its potential, in its revealing of failure upon you, and in the pride and thrill of overcoming it. Don’t ever fall down without gleaning some sense of how to avoid a repeated occurrence.
And then sometimes it isn't even necessarily sadness, or any sort of tragedy, that brings you to your knees… sometimes it is simple awe and admiration, or any sort of overwhelming rush of emotions. Some bit of powerful news might have been delivered unexpectedly, or some intellectual pursuit may have at last been revealed to you in its full implicationsperhaps a profound realization, an epiphany so staggering to your understanding of the immensity of the universe around you strikes at your core and your legs surrender their proud stature in submission to the awesome might of the rational world.
I find this simple act so poetic. The beauty of existence and all of its complexities can often be overwhelming. It’s like a bow to the Earth, this primal gesture of submission, to nature itself, like saying “I understand that I am but the tiniest of all things in comparison.” Perhaps this is a subconscious way of dealing with the staggering, overwhelming rush of the intricacies in understanding the world all around you as this sensation brings to you a vision of your true place among all the factors of the Universe through a momentarily amplified sense of scale. As if such an acceptance forces an emotion of such humility that the only thing your body and mind can do to cope with it all is to collapse halfway to the Earth, where your weaknesses are the constructive opposites of your strengths and your mind can recollect itself as it takes it all in.
Once this effect has diminished enough for you to regain your senses, you hopefully have gained some sort of insight into yourself and into the importance of your place, and what led you to this circumstance. You may seem insignificant at times like these, but we (presumably) alone have the capacity to appreciate our existence in this way, and to truly make the best of it. Our potential for thought is limitless, as long as our mindset allows for it. Positivity is sorely underrated when it could be all we need to retain our former glory.
The strongest among us may not wear a crown. Those best suited to rise to a challenge may crumple under the pressure, while those you would never imagine to prove themselves so valiantly may seize the reins and achieve something absolutely, unimaginably incredible. No opportunity, nor any single person, should ever be discounted entirely. The most powerful gains sometimes occur when the stakes are at their most extreme… because there is always hope, no matter where you are or where you've been, no matter what you’ve done and what you intend… unless you yourself abandon it. So when you find yourself overcome with emotion, standing on the brink of a revelation powerful enough to shake you to your core, just let your knees fall to the Earth. Just let it happen. You may not even have the chance to consider this option, consumed in the moment, yet you will walk away in the end with a gain as powerful as you allow it to be.
Even the most capable among us must realize that we are practically powerless on a universal scale, unable to simply will the deepest workings of the universe to our desires. We must adapt to them. We cannot just hold out our hands and summon the cleansing rain we desire… but we can gaze into the horizon as the clouds inexorably roll in and fall to our knees as the refreshing waters inevitably wash over us… and in the brightness of the aftermath we can better ourselves to our wildest imaginations.

Posted by Eli Stanley | at 5:53 PM | 0 comments

The Luxury of Knowing

(Originally written on June 15th, 2011)

I am often struck by the realization that so many people are unwilling to share their deeper thoughts and feelings with their fellow humans. And while I can certainly understand a reluctance to open up the most tender, personal and fragile thoughts to another person, I believe that there is a beauty to the possibilities that such a sharing can bring if you can overcome the fear of doing so. There is nothing else that can provide this depth of communication and the joy and the connection that a mutual partaking should yield.

It is of course worth noting that there are people out there who are, simply put, jerks. They won’t genuinely care about your deeper thoughts and feelings, and they might even laugh or condescend or turn around and spread silly gossip. This is most unfortunate. But it should not stop you. If somebody laughs at something you believe in, then you should just shrug it off and know that they simply disagree, they probably see it in another way, they may or may not have the upper hand on the subject, and while they may actually find it funny, this should not in any way demean the idea in your own mind. Even if they turn out to be the most jerkish of all jerks, and have nothing but ill intentions toward your precious feelings, it was still a worthwhile endeavor. You now know that they are not worth your precious time. Better sooner than later (or never at all). No other part of your thoughts need be affected. You can filter them out, and become that much closer to realizing who all of the legitimate connections in your life truly are.

Think of all the wildly vast consciousnesses out there, each of them shaped by an utterly unique set of experiences and genetics. To me it is a wonder that any two people can get along so well as to be able to share in the most deep and meaningful pursuits of all. And yet there are plenty of them… all it takes are two people exhibiting a genuine mutual interest and respect of each other and the desire to share with each other these treasures that are their thoughts on this crazy and entirely subjective world of ours. Of course it helps if the two minds are naturally similar in their thoughts, but even this is not necessarily required. Even two people who disagree on all of the most fundamental beliefs between them can still achieve this profound connection simply because they are so different. Disagreements are underrated. Ideally, they should only work to expand the considerations of both parties, at the very least. There doesn’t ever need to be offense.

You should be able to walk up to somebody, even a random person on the street, and tell them that you think that something they think is wrong, and expect nothing but a respectful curiosity in why you feel this way. Maybe a healthy debate follows, or maybe you both simply agree to disagree. Either way, each of you now knows at least a little bit more about each other, and this should be a celebrated thing. And maybe, just maybe, one of you will have succeeded in convincing the other of something that they had not yet fully considered. In any disagreement there is the possibility of a furthering of understanding. If somebody proves you wrong, don’t see this as an attack or some form of disrespect—see it as an open window into unfamiliar terrain, providing hitherto unexplored realms of knowledge and viewpoints.

This connection between two people, this sharing of thoughts and feelings, is so powerful and important. Of all the life forms that walk and crawl and slither and fly around this planet we all inhabit, only your fellow humans are capable of sharing this with you. And although there are fellow human beings practically anywhere you can go, it is but a minute fraction of all the life that abounds on the Earth. And on a cosmic scale the significance is much more striking—you could travel a thousand light years and never ever find a fellow human being with whom to share your mind. It’s all right here, around us and among us, and yet so often we shy away from anything deeper than a laugh or a similar taste in a movie or a song.

I can only imagine that any individual person has as deep and complex a mind as my own. And I try to imagine all of the seven billion of these roaming the Earth, interacting each and every day with countless others, and the insane tangled mess of interconnections that results of this. But the thing that troubles me most of all is that without this effort applied between any number of people, there is no connection to speak of. If you don’t share your deeper thoughts and feelings with those people you trust them with (hopefully a great many of them), then what are these thoughts and feelings really worth, in the grand scheme of things? You can entertain these ideas in your own mind each and every day of your life—all the while building them up and furthering them—but the sum of your thoughts and feelings are only set into some sort of legacy in proportion to how many people (and how deeply with each) you shared them with.

This is by far the biggest inspiration I have for writing these "essays." I want to share these thoughts and feelings that I feel so strongly. I want to know that people have a deep understanding of how I feel on the widest variety of subjects as possible. And I’d like to know how each other person feels on the same topics… whether they agree, and whether they might have more to add to the ideas, or whether they disagree with any number of them and why this is so. I’m always delighted to have my mind opened further to some consideration that I had not approached from a certain angle (if at all), or to something that I might very well have simply gotten wrong for all this time. I hold no negative feelings for someone who disagrees (respectfully) and especially for those who will take the time to make this known and to offer their own differing viewpoints in return. If it suits my worldview even better, then it was a productive sharing. And if it serves to further solidify my worldview, then it was still a productive sharing! It should be worthwhile either way. And this should be how it is for everybody and for everything.

The most frustrating of all is a lack of communication between potential romantic partners. Once the interest has been established (which of course should have its foundations rooted in this very idea of sharing thoughts and feelings), it should only be natural to continue to further them—willingly and mutually. And yet I’ve spent the better part of the entire past year constantly struggling to establish this foundation, even in its most rudimentary form. No matter how deeply I divulged my deepest thoughts and feelings, I was met with a perpetual wall in return, with a sign posted claiming to be “afraid to share my feelings.” Apparently the humble admittance of everything I long to pursue was not worth reciprocation. The wall remained, and I had only the briefest glimpses of a potential that looked so bright and hopeful. And I’m not proud to admit that it was these momentary glimpses that kept me hanging on to the belief that the wall would eventually crumble down. I see now that, if this ever really was the case, it required more skillful tactics than I have at my disposal. There is definitely a point where an excess of blind optimism becomes naivety, and I’m extremely troubled by how blurred and indistinct this line seems to be. I need to get a better grasp on how to separate the two and to remain in the realm of realistic optimism. I feel like I am making some progress with this.

I thrive on mutual interest… mutual effort—for both friendly relationships and for romantic ones. I don’t know why I was held captive for so long despite the constant disappointments. But I definitely feel like I have now learned some extremely valuable life lessons on such matters. I will no longer blindly fight for a connection that is repeatedly swatted away and stomped on. I have no problem with making a first move, but unless it is returned fully in kind, then there is a serious concern right away. I realize, even as I sit here and type this, that this sort of thing is an easy thing to say, and that when it comes down to it all over again there is every possibility that I will simply fall into the very same spike-lined emotional holes I’ve been working so hard to climb out of for the past several months. But I am going to do my absolute best to gather up the tattered threads of my capacity to pursue further interests, and I will be as cautious as the returns on my efforts dictate.

And so I’ve come to realize, in the past year far more than ever, that there is a luxury in knowing how somebody feels—both about their deeper thoughts and feelings and about me (or, in your case, you) in particular. If you are a particularly well-spoken person then it is probably no problem for you to open up and let somebody into your mind and to share with them how you feel on your most cherished thoughts and feelings and, here especially if they are a romantic interest, your emotions. But to receive the same in return has been exposed to me as one of the finest and most elusive luxuries a person can receive—because any individual has no control over whether or not another person is willing to entrust them with this treasure of a connection. And it is truly a treasure—perhaps the most valuable of all luxuries this world has to offer its inhabitants, because of the beauty that is felt when you know that somebody else feels the same (or is willing to discuss their differing feelings) about some thought that you hold so dear to yourself.

If there was a well that contained all of the depths of my patience, I would carefully spoon out every single last drop of it, if that's what it takes.

And if the returns of some endeavor are proportional to the difficulty with which it is overcome, then I stand to become the happiest man on the planet.


Posted by Eli Stanley | at 5:46 PM | 0 comments

The Tangled World Lines of History

Needless to say, we have come a long way in the history of our species. We have evolved far beyond the mundane meanderings of our ape ancestors. We have formed fellowships among each other and the foundations of knowledge-bases so fundamental in the development of an ever-progressive species and so complex in their intertwining influences that there is perhaps no other course which could have brought us even close to the pinnacle of human achievement that we inhabit and enjoy today. The tangled mesh of world lines we have carved into space-time is truly incredible: we've travelled across and around the planet; over unforgiving landmasses by our own rugged feet; over unpredictably disastrous oceans by  the confidence of unproven ships and navigation skills; also over it, by the wings of mechanical creations countless swore would never prove to be fruitful endeavors; and even far above it, by the rocket thrusts of engines so powerful they consume the fuel equivalent of thousands of automobiles per second.

Sometimes I wonder, as I go about my daily routine, how many coincidences must have taken place to allow for such an incredibly diverse and productive world to exist all around us? And then I wonder was anything ever really a coincidence after all, or merely the inevitable consequence of an emerging superior intelligence given our specific circumstances, or even simply divine planning? No matter which way, coincidence or circumstance or prophecy, a lot has taken place during our (relatively) long history, and the interweaving threads of influence, no matter which way you look at them, paint a powerfully profound, thought-provoking picture about where we've been thus far, where we're all located at this very moment, and where we've any possibility to end up in the foreseeable and distant futures.

There is a wonderfully beautiful passage from one of my most cherished books of all time, Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson, in which after describing how much escape velocity an object needs to be freed from (and to safely enter into) each of the gravity wells of Earth and Mars, he stresses the “tremendous force” required to shift such an “enormous inertia” and then goes on to say:

            “History too has an inertia. In the four dimensions of space-time, particles (or events) have directionality; mathematicians, trying to show this, draw what they call "world lines" on graphs. In human affairs, individual world lines form a thick tangle, curling out of the darkness of prehistory and stretching through time: a cable the size of Earth itself, spiraling round the sun on a long curved course. The cable of tangled world lines is history. Seeing where it has been it is clear where it is going--it is a matter of simple extrapolation. For what kind of D n [change (Delta) in velocity] would it take to escape history, to escape an inertia that powerful, and carve a new course?

            The hardest part is leaving Earth behind.”

I am so moved by this analogy—that the relentless flow of time, and the history that comes of it, are like an enormous, thick tangle of vines hurling around the Sun (which itself hurls around the galaxy, which is paving its own massive course through the Universe), of which every single individual human affair and the intertwining of every single life as it interacts with every other in every possible way is but an individual line among billions, and the entire mess is carving a deeper and deeper, ever-more complex course as it plows along. And to alter this course which is so ancient, so engraved in our long history and into our daily lives, requires a force not so much unlike that required to propel a spacecraft into the depths of space. This "force" may be exceedingly difficult to quantify, being an analogy, but the fundamental idea is there: how much cooperation, unification, overlapping of ideals and goals between nations, is needed before we as a species are ready and willing to carve this course away from everything we've ever known and strike out on a purpose unlike anything we've ever had the capacity to achieve before?

It is often said that history is doomed to repeat itself. The more pessimistic among us will point out catastrophic disasters, both natural and man-made, that they believe are inevitable consequences on a long enough time scale. Oppression, war, asteroid impacts, segregation, global warming and other environmental damages, and general abuse and cruelty are some of the more deeply troubling examples. But also inherent in such a repetition of history are the social and intellectual triumphs, no less significant in their influence on the course of history. Even if we have waged countless wars on our fellow humans over time, in no way admirable, then it follows that we have also stumbled upon countless discoveries and quality-of-life enhancing advancements over the same time span. It might be that it really comes down to which extreme holds the most impactful influence on our species as a whole. Which course has managed to carve out the deeper path?

Picturing the actual world lines that would be present on some sort of visual all-encompassing map, there would be a handful of lines among the billions upon billions that have ever had the chance to spread their influence which branch out from the rest…a very, very rare few. These are those individuals lucky enough to have ever risen above the blanketing atmosphere which encases all but the tiniest, most unimaginably miniscule fraction of the entire vast history of our species. These wildly fortunate people, however few they may be, have all experienced the luxury of gazing upon the Earth in all of its magnificent, distant glory: they have gazed upon the entirety of our planet as no other group of human beings in all of history has ever had the opportunity, and most of whom all along the way have perhaps never imagined was a feat even possible.

The overwhelming majority of these world lines would, of course, begin at their origin, and then rise up and circle in and among the rest, never actually leaving the planet’s orbit, and would hardly even appear to have risen at all. Pull back even a fraction of one light year from the planet and all of the intercontinental flights, and even the sum of all suborbital flights such as those to the International Space Station, would seem like the playful curiosities of a child first identifying with the tools with which he can shape the sand at his feet on the beach. On any scale grander than the surface and atmosphere of the Earth, we've hardly moved at all.

But in that tiny, microscopic minority of history resides so much of our crowning achievements as a technological civilization: Twenty-four of these lines, lines so faint they would barely even be discernable out of the glare of the countless rest of them, would veer off from the rest to encircle the Moon. And twelve of these would actually touch it and create a physical bond between the two worlds.

Twelve people, out of all the billions and billions and billions who have ever lived, have ever stepped onto another world. And as epic and as glorious as this is, even they did not free themselves from our deep gravity well. They did not leave Earth behind. In the grand scheme of it all, the Moon is really as entrenched in the deep well of Earth’s course as the rest of us humans. It really was “one small step for man,” despite its incredible “giant leap for mankind.”

I can’t help but take this idea further in my mind. I imagine that this course that we are carving, year after year, revolution after revolution, gets just a little bit deeper each time. Not a literal gravity well of course, this time, but a metaphorical one—a gravity well of habit, of motivation and, perhaps most importantly, of willpower. We might just grow so accustomed to waging wars and battling politics that the crowning achievements will gradually falter. It will get more and more difficult to gather the excitement and the incentive to explore like we had in so much abundance during the Apollo era. If things hadn’t changed so drastically, there is no doubt that we (humans, not machines) could have been on Mars by now. We could have escaped the gravity well, and truly left Earth behind.

And even yet we still can.

You would only have to travel a portion of the way to Mars to be able to look out the window of your spacecraft and see both the Earth and the Moon in their eternal majestic dance around each other, raw and unfiltered and perfect. At such a distance, and with but a single outstretched palm, you could eclipse the entirety of human history, every single life that has ever flourished, every single thought that has ever inspired, every single emotion that has ever connected, every single action that has ever influenced, every single river that was ever crossed. All of it would fit within your grasp, as if you could crush it with a single motion or sweep it away onto a greater path.

I hope one of the astronauts of Apollo 8 had the thought to do this when they became the first humans to orbit the Moon. At that time, of course, they had became the most distant humans to have ever looked back upon our cradle of civilization. Since that day we have not further branched our world lines in any substantial way, although we went back several times afterward. We strengthened them, these oh-so-fragile lines, but have not furthered them since. There are still only twelve world lines on the map which enter another gravity well., and even so it's a gravity well within a gravity well. We have not yet left Earth behind.

But some day we will. Some day we will be on Mars, or on Europa, or on Titan, or even at Alpha Centauri, and our influence will be spread so much farther. Each time we travel a significant distance out into the cosmos the explorers will be able to, in essence, cradle human history in their palm with a mere outstretched hand. They will have travelled so far away from this tangled mess of human history that has never before branched away to such distant places that with just a glance they will be able to gaze upon the sight which holds everything that we have ever experienced. And the next more-distant travelers will be able to do the same thing, and the next…

The off-world permanent human settlements that Robinson was really hinting at would finally be freed of this immense well that our tangle of world lines has been carving through space-time all these years from our lone position here on Earth. Humanity would no longer be utterly at the mercy of any number of global catastrophes that might befall us: be it global warming, nuclear war, a massive solar flare, man-made disaster, or an Armageddon-scale meteor strike (or any other number of extinction-bringers). Humanity is utterly exposed in this one lonely location in space. The odds may be minute, but it’s not unfeasible. These brave explorers, however—they could start fresh and establish new territories, new pursuits, and build off the vast examples of successes and failures that are evidenced in our long, troubled history. They could finally do it right this time, and provide our fragile species the means to further advance beyond the limited confines of a single, vulnerable world. History has so much to teach us. At the very least we could have the shot to form a more stable, independent and efficient foundation for those pursuits which are much better suited to be sought after in the absence of so much confusion and conflict on the ground.

And once there, basking in the glory of an utterly new and uninhabited world, the men and women who made the journey can look up and, to quote now Carl Sagan from his excellent book Pale Blue Dot:

            “They will gaze up and strain to find the blue dot in their skies. They will love it no less for its obscurity and fragility. They will marvel at how vulnerable the repository of all our potential once was, how perilous our infancy, how humble our beginnings, how many rivers we had to cross before we found our way.”

We will, at long last, truly be branching out from this thick cable of tangled world lines of history to begin to encompass all that is out there for us to grasp, and to explore, and to understand, and to inhabit. We will be that much further along in our efforts to fully realize our unique potential. There will always be problems here on Earth, and those problems will always be best dealt with here at home. Maybe even helped along by some discoveries made out there where the persistence of turmoil does not hinder so much. And there will always be curiosities beyond our limited grasp here, out in the vast frontiers of space, and those curiosities will always be best sought after in the starlit blackness. The best is yet to come, with all things considered, and all things pursued. And it will be marvelous beyond our current comprehension, and far beyond the hope of meaningful words.

Posted by Eli Stanley | at 5:42 PM | 0 comments