Rising Above the Haze

I feel like there’s something special about the view of the sky at higher altitudes… maybe it’s from being physically nearer to the clouds, or perhaps it’s something in the air pressure; probably it’s a combination of both. Or perhaps it’s just my own placebo fooling my senses because I feel so powerfully that I am at finally where I belong. There are times when the sky looks so strikingly indistinguishable from the most beautiful painting, just placed there in all its glory so high above us, particularly at those fleeting times when the sunlight hits the clouds from just that right angle to unleash those gorgeously glowing vanilla skies.

Whatever the case, I find it so incredibly interesting that there is so much grandeur in this world all around us, particularly in the sky so high above us because we rarely get the chance to view it from any other angle than we have here at ground level. We’re so utterly confined to the planet’s surface, not necessarily any less beautiful in its own right but so much less identifiable simply because we are so bounded by the surface, by the relentless tug of gravity rooting us to it. But when we get those exceedingly rare opportunities to free ourselves from these chains and actually bring ourselves up above the haze of the surface world we spend so much of a majority of our time viewing it all from, and look upon the same familiar world yet from such an unfamiliar vantage point, there is so much more beauty laid bare we are otherwise entirely ignorant of.

Consider a simple airplane trip, for example. As the plane begins to roll down the runway it’s not so different from any typical car ride. You feel the wheels rumbling over the imperfections of the pavement, and the shuddering of the vehicle as those vibrations rumble through its body. But something amazing happens as the plane reaches that critical speed and the upward lift of air acting on the craft’s body almost seems to cause the oh-so-familiar ground to just casually drop away just as much as it seems like the plane is actually being lifted up from it all.

And then gradually the influence of humanity upon the planet grows less and less apparent, even as the networks of straight lines and right angles so absent from the natural structure of things bare themselves so glaringly to you. The awesome immensity of the planet is further revealed to you as you climb higher and higher and still there is no end in sight. What a truly gigantic landscape we are all a part of!

As you approach the cloud line which was once so high above, so utterly and completely out of your reach and comprehension, you start to notice what I have found to be one of the most striking observations I have ever witnessed—that the blanket of clouds, for the most part, is so much like another surface, as if occupying its own sphere encircling the planet. This was never apparent to me looking up from the ground. But gazing down from the window of an airplane I find myself captivated by this; somehow it’s incredibly beautiful that this should be the case.

And you realize how relatively insignificant we each are, individually for sure but even as a whole. There are no actual boundaries; unless you’re looking at a fabricated map you could not possibly tell that some arbitrary invisible line separates one state, or one country, from the next. You see how pockets of civilization tend to be tightly packed, especially around significant landmarks, almost as if huddling together against the incredibly vast expanses of unsettled wilderness still surrounding so much of our prized civilization.

Even the cities themselves don’t have actual boundaries. There is no protective bubble enclosing a city and declaring it as such. If not for the signs on the roadside, or the data from your GPS, you would not truly know that you have entered or exited some decided “city limit.” No, they are simply collections of structures and grids placed upon the Earth’s surface, utterly at the mercy of all of nature’s influences just as everything else is. They have no privileged rights, no advantage over any other point on the globe except for the most carefully positioned among them. You’re just surrounded by structures and a certain density of other people.

At some height the roads and highways vanish into obscurity, as do entire cities at sufficient elevation. From high enough above the surface you cannot even see evidence of the presence of our own race, except maybe for the grid work of landscaping so blatantly obvious because of all the straight lines and right angles. But then your aircraft starts to descend upon its destination, ever so gradually, and you are left to observe the reverse of all of these thought processes as this privileged vantage point is taken back from you, and your suddenly-heavy feet are returned to within the haze of Earth’s solid surface so that the glory of it all can tower over you so tantalizingly once more.

Posted by Eli Stanley | at 11:25 PM | 0 comments

The Fragile Eggs of Companionship

I've had the sinking feeling, at times, that I've put too many precious eggs in too few welcoming baskets. And at times I’ve been afraid that some of them, some of the most carefully and deeply invested eggs, have been casually dismissed…neglected…tossed around…even stomped on, crushed and obliterated, whether intentionally or not. And when this happens, what else is there to do but pick up the pieces, these shattered remnants of what had been a blossoming interpersonal relationship, and try another approach? I’m not one to just turn my back and walk away, because there must have been a good reason why I had been compelled to invest so deeply. Some combination of factors had made it worth it, had made it seem reciprocated in kind, and I want to put all effort into at the very least reevaluating and redistributing these factors so that something, if not all of it, can still remain between us. Sometimes this was just a casual friendship, sometimes a much more enduring one, once it was even an intimate one. As it turns out, obviously enough, the magnitude of the resulting damage is in this same order.

Interestingly, it's not those who blatantly stomp on the eggs who inflict the most pain. In this way it's quick and made very clear, at least, despite the violence, despite the pain. No, rather, it's the more casual, slow-going dismissals that are particularly difficult to make sense of and deal with—when you don't realize the damage that has been accumulating, that mess slowly growing in the bottom of that particular basket, oozing and spreading over any other still-healthy eggs. It slowly infects the entire scope of the relationship, so gradually that it goes almost entirely unnoticed until one day you open your eyes and all of the damage, all of the shattered broken mess, is laid bare.

My first instinct upon realization is to gather them up, all of these eggs I've distributed, all of the ones still healthy and functioning at least and, after cleaning up the messes of those that didn’t endure, encase them in something hopefully impenetrable like diamond, or adamantium. Protect them, these fragile investments of mine, so as not to let any possibility remain of such abuse and hardship. Then, once properly armored, maybe give a few of them back (just a few!) to each connection of mine, enough to at least enjoy a nice friendship, and keep the rest of them locked safely away inside an unbreakable vault to deny any access.

But what good would that do? Sure they'd be safe inside the confines of their hardened shells, but life would then be almost unbearably dull and lonely. Because what at first seems better and more comforting, to carefully reinvest the new batch and take in the comfort of knowing they will be safe in their armored shells, is actually its own separate kind of trap; the comfort would be short-lived. The relationships they symbolize would now be unchanging by definition, perhaps even more destined to fade because of this. Because again, a gradually fading, casually dismissed investment is much more damaging in the end, being unchanging in this decline, than one that can be addressed and modified accordingly.

The deeply-rooted trouble here is that addressing the complications of any relationship requires the willful cooperation of all parties involved. So your friend, or your partner, must also desire to make amends together with you. I believe this is the supreme difficulty we all face in our relations, why it sometimes seems so difficult to connect with those we hold so dear. They must also realize that there is something which needs addressing, that there is perhaps not enough cushioning for those ever-fragile eggs you are incubating together. This is the case with even the most casual of friendships, and I assert that this is the primary cause of most, if not all, damaged relations of all kinds.

I think, then, of all the potential, all the as yet unrealized beauty that these priceless, fragile little eggs can bring me and others, the fullness that will otherwise be hopelessly lacking among all relations. Whether this is a “standard” friendship, even if maybe one of those incredibly fun ones that are destined to dwindle somewhat in time (but on good terms), maybe even one of those exceptionally real, dependable, everlasting ones that you can rely on until the bitter end of time, or maybe, just maybe, a romance, the truest most beautiful fairy tale come to reality, it doesn’t alter this fundamental idea of cooperation and mutual effort and consideration.

And sometimes a little nudge is all another person needs to realize a shortcoming on their part; for this reason it is always important to keep up your own efforts. I’ve noticed a lot of people tend to sit themselves on the sidelines and insist that the other person is the one who needs to come out and say or do something, but the danger here is that if everyone involved is under the same impression, nothing is going to happen. Somebody has to begin the effort! But I, or anyone, cannot bring out this potential alone. It is, as uncomfortable as the realization makes me, entirely dependent on others. This has to be done carefully; it can't be forced, or pressured, or otherwise coerced without jeopardizing the very thing being attempted to develop.

No, the eggs need to be able to grow, to hatch and blossom, on their own time. If we want any chance of a meaningful relationship (any kind, friendly or romantic), the eggs need to exist in all their full fragile glory. For when you are entrusted with these eggs you are their incubator, their basket. You need to understand the responsibilities you have been trusted with. Understand that they need love, patience, and understanding—all that you can muster, to the absolute best of your ability. They will thrive and reward you beyond the wildest dreams imaginable. Nothing else in the world can provide this like a truly understanding, mutual relation can.

I can't help but wonder what things would be like if people, with all their feelings and emotions, could be reliably fit somehow into a calculation. A set of calculations can triangulate the position of a tiny rock, or spacecraft, hurtling through space to incredible accuracy. This can be very, very useful, for obvious reasons. That the factors involved are even able to be recognized and predicted make all the difference. The same goes for many, many things in our lives. But such a strategy is all but useless with a person's feelings. Sure, there must be people who have developed an uncanny skill in reading people, and maybe can make startlingly accurate predictions about others and how to go about building whatever depth of relation is most achievable between them. But I don't think there is the slightest chance of such a practice being even remotely reliable on a large meaningful scale, or across a meaningful timeline, by most people. The depth of each person's mind is an unimaginably complex place, and I find it somewhat… frightening, to be honest, but ruthlessly fascinating. Maybe it's a wonder anyone gets along at all, let alone bond like so many lifelong friendships have or especially truly fall in love. These precious eggs we are always entrusting into each other represent so much of what is so advantageous to us as human beings, able to form these sorts of bonds among each other and face the wild complexities of the world together.

And so absolutely any connection is meaningful and important beyond any combinations of words, and is worthy of every bit of care and consideration possible. It's just not worth missing out on because of what may very well be petty differences exaggerated by stubbornness from one or both sides. That person you met one time, who said something weird and you never talked to them again, could have been the most beloved friend or companion you could possibly have hoped to have. That person who you used to be good friends with, and who never seems to call or want to hang out anymore and you don't feel like you should have to "put all the effort in," could also be the most beloved friend or companion you could possibly have. One extra little egg entrusted to them could have made all the difference. You don’t know unless you’ve put forth all of your effort deemed worthy for their cause, and carefully but graciously invested upon them a portion of your own collection of priceless eggs for incubation.

Whatever the case, the nourishment of these eggs needs cooperation and uncompromising honesty. For the love of all things, please let’s communicate with each other. Effectively! It's stunning how often this gets in the way, this simple lack of communication, needlessly complicating things or destroying them altogether. When there are differences between two people, embrace them! Differences can help us learn together, see things from entirely separate vantage points, like nothing else can. And when there are similarities between people, embrace them as well! Similarities can help us reinforce our own drives and interests because we find comfort when other people have developed them similarly yet independently.

If you feel even the slightest shred of feeling for a person, even the tiniest bit of compassion for another, don't completely give up on them when things might have grown awkward or distant. And if someone, no matter how dear to you they are, wishes for you to lose touch with others (or if you realize that this is happening of its own accord), please consider this long and hard. There is probably more at stake than you realize. I submit that it is absolutely not worth it in the end if a newly found loved one imposes upon you to spend less time, or no time at all, with your previously held group of friends. I do not believe that one single romantic relationship can outshine a handful of long-held friendly ones… yet I see this time and time again and is, ultimately, one of the primary driving factors built into this writing.

Because it hurts, because there is no reason why a person can’t retain all prior friendships, even if somewhat less devotedly, after entering into a romantic one. That romance should be built into the already existing web of connections without drastically altering its structure. Otherwise one is going to come across as if those friendships were only mere placeholders for the one actual relation that was being sought after all along. And I don’t believe that anyone actually goes about their lives that way, but many seem to tend to react in such a way as if this is somehow what is “meant” to happen. I worry sometimes that societal factors have built into many peoples’ minds that that one true love romance-turned-marriage is the prime objective and all else is secondary if not spread out to the sidelines altogether. But no, with every bit of stress that I can place on a single sentence, this is not how our ongoing relationships need to play out. All of these precious eggs that have been devoted in such an interweaving mesh of interconnections have had so much care, consideration, and time built into their foundations that unimaginable havoc is bound to be wreaked upon them under such circumstances, havoc probably not even realized inside the blissful mind of the romanced party.

This isn’t always the case, of course, and I applaud all of those who manage to maintain the best combinations of relations possible. In my own experience, however, this is not often the case, and it troubles me more deeply than most things witnessed so far in my time. And I always try to tell myself that it’s merely a phase, an understandable phase where hormones and emotions run rampant, but in truth this doesn’t comfort me much because I know that by the time those emotions have settled, and someone begins to desire those friendly relations once again, they may be long gone after having moved on themselves, having exhausted their own efforts to keep that basket warm and nourishing.

I, for one, am going to always focus on distributing my own eggs as far and wide as I can manage, carefully considering those seeming to be most worthy and considerate of them, in order to enjoy as much shared fulfillment in life as I can possibly maintain. And I hope that others will do the same in return, not only for me in particular, but for everyone else striving so earnestly to connect with so many other people inhabiting this wildly complicated planet together. Each of us are all we all have to truly connect and relate with, and this should never be cast to the sidelines. Don't reinforce the eggs. They need room to grow. Reinforce the baskets, and reinforce your individual efforts to form, retain, and nurture these connections. The time we all have here together needs to be cherished with every fiber of every person's being. Every little tick of the clock occurs and is gone forever. I don't like to think of time as the means by which wounds are healed, but as the means by which they are learned to be dealt with and learned from, and maybe even simply forgotten if such is the case. Perhaps this is what some call "healing”. As long as we try hard enough, the best is yet to come.

Posted by Eli Stanley | at 11:07 PM | 0 comments

My Proposal for NASA

With the recent success and popularity of NASA’s Curiosity rover’s landing on Mars on August 6, 2012, I feel like this is a good time to put forth an argument for the advocation of NASA’s potential and usefulness. Because NASA inspires; not only does it inspire, but there are so many so-called “trickle-down” technologies which are in existence because of the direct result of NASA research and ingenuity. Among these are advances in artificial limb technologies, improved radial tires, video enhancing and analysis systems for both law-enforcement and military applications, firefighting equipment for more light-weight breathing apparatuses, radio communications, what is now called “memory foam”, enriched baby food, water purification systems, and of course some of the most obvious technological benefits such as satellite communications and GPS, many of which are so widely used and relied upon today in our world that it’s hard to imagine them not having been developed in the first place.

I understand that one of the biggest (and most reasonable) concerns over space travel is, to put simply, cost. Among many things, certainly of great particular concern, especially these days, is the cost of the fuel. Not only is it wildly expensive (a single Shuttle launch reportedly cost about 1.1 billion dollars), but the fuel could presumably be used elsewhere. And that's fair enough, for sure; I don't think anyone could argue the validity of that concern. However, I strongly believe that the cost is justified.

So because of the admittedly immense cost of space travel endeavors as they are today, and of my sympathy with the associated concerns, I'd like to propose a gesture not totally unlike the "moments of silence" which have long been observed to pay tribute to various tragedies.

The Space Shuttle reportedly consumed three and a half million pounds of fuel per launch. This is definitely a lot of fuel… staggering, in a way, to think that this is for a single launch. However, in one day in the United States there is an estimated two and a half billion pounds of gasoline consumed. Simplifying the math will lead you to a ratio between the two, which shows that a single Shuttle launch is equivalent to just barely over two minutes of U.S. gasoline consumption:

       2,500,000,000,000 lbs / 1440 minutes   =   1,736,111.111 lbs/minute (fuel consumed per minute)
       3,500,000 lbs / 1,736,111.111 lbs/minute   =   2.016 minutes, or 121 seconds

So I propose that on some appointed day, probably on the day of a launch, to maximize the symbolism, every American operating a gasoline-consuming vehicle pulls over and shuts off said vehicle (safely, of course) and observes a moment of admiration for a mere two minutes and one second. Those measly 121 seconds represented the entire cost of fuel for the launch. Once two minutes and one second have passed, everyone will resume their day with a profound sensation of accomplishment resting in their hearts, warming their souls, renewing their faith in the power of human potential. Because in that brief period of time the entire fuel consumption of the launch was not being guzzled away by the citizens of the entire nation. In a vague sort of way it’s almost as if we paid for it entirely.

And I realize that this is ridiculously absurd. But I like the idea behind it, the gesture itself, the implications of what two minutes of us not aimlessly driving ourselves around can amount to. Of course the cumulative effort and cooperation of every single American is pretty much as far-fetched a thing to hope for as can be imagined, not to mention the fact that no money would actually be "saved" by this gesture; most people are still going to resume their drive and use up the same amount of fuel they would have anyway. Also, the Shuttle is now phased out of use completely, so the analogy is somewhat weakened by that. But the numbers could easily be manipulated to account for whatever newer vehicle is used, once they get developed. It won’t likely be too much different, although they will hopefully be more efficient and less demanding.

Speaking of collective effort, I have another proposal, one I am much more serious about. I believe it to be much more practical and, granted, probably at least as much more controversial. If every American adult was made to pay a sort of "NASA tax" of ten dollars each year, this would amount to about 2.5 billion dollars (estimates of the adult population of the United States is about 250 million). For perspective, the estimated cost of the Voyager program, perhaps the most important of any non-human mission so far, was about one billion dollars. Many have been cheaper, and some will definitely be more expensive. Of course the Apollo and Shuttle programs were exceedingly expensive. But space exploration involving human astronauts will always be much more expensive than robotic alternatives, and I think both should be pursued simultaneously and cooperatively. For more perspective, the 2012 budget for NASA is 17.8 billion dollars, slightly less than half of one percent of the national budget. This direct contribution from the public would increase the budget by about 14%, nudging the total over twenty billion—higher than it’s been, adjusted for inflation, since 1969, the year we first landed on the moon.

Also worth noting, the entire cost of the brand new (and so far wildly successful) Curiosity rover’s mission to Mars is said to be approximately 2.5 billion dollars—precisely the amount this action would revenue each year.

What is ten dollars to any one person, really? Certainly for any "average" American this is a measly amount of money--though I would not want to advocate any dismissal of the value of money when the issue might actually be quite serious. But how often does one of us go out to eat and spend close to, or more than, ten dollars? Or buy six sodas over time, or one movie ticket, or one CD or DVD, or 1/6 of an XBox game? I could lose ten dollars out of a hole in my pocket and it would have no lasting effect, if I even noticed it missing at all, and I’m not rich by any reasonable measure. Of course there must be exceptions to this generalization… I don't doubt there are people and families that are in legitimate need of absolutely any ten dollars they can get. In these cases, for situations truly this severe, I would not press the issue personally. Assuming this policy was ever actually adopted, I imagine it would take at least some effort of will for most people to come to terms with the justifications of the mandatory "NASA tax." But I would hope that in most cases it would not be much of a struggle, ideally none at all. Maybe most people would actually grow to appreciate the investment. And, of course, using the word “tax” in advocating this idea is probably going to stir some resentment, but I don’t know of a better way to execute such a plan if it could ever actually be adopted as a whole. I mean, we pay taxes every day, on virtually everything that we ever purchase, whether it’s a measly candy bar or a new TV or a car. Taxes are necessary for our economy’s continued growth, budget and success. The simple term should not infuriate, it should inspire dreams for what such small percentages of our earnings can initiate and progress with the help of our direct influence. This is a beautiful opportunity.

Even if a quarter of all American adults--62,500,000 people--truly cannot afford to contribute or just outright refuse to participate because they can't find the necessary minute shred of compassion within their blackened hearts, somehow legally filtered out of the “taxation”, then the same 2.5 billion dollars could be accumulated from $13.33 per person. Not so much of a change; or, if kept at $10 per, then the sum would still be a respectable 1.88 billion dollars and it would still benefit enormously.

Or this could be implemented as one dollar a month, or fifty cents biweekly, automatically taken out of your paycheck (whichever applies). We could even go less extreme and have each American adult invest one dollar at the end of the year. Just one dollar from each of 250 million people makes quite a sum even still (250 million dollars). Even one pitiful penny from each of us will supply them with 2.5 million dollars at the end of a year. Or we could add to the nation-wide tax revenue even a fraction of a percent, say one tenth of one percent, to all taxable purchases. I don’t know what that would amount to, but surely it would be an appreciable amount over the course of a year. If your area’s tax rate is, say, 8.75 percent, it would simply become 8.85 percent, and would hardly even be noticeable. There are any numbers of variations for such a policy to be implemented, any wide range of possible contributions, investments, from the people of such a promising nation to put forth. Each of them would provide such a benefit to NASA, or even another yet-to-be-established space program. I am somewhat surprised and disappointed that something like this hasn't already been adapted, but to be fair, the funding received by NASA from the government already is pretty much a portion of the taxes already being collected by the general public, and even this much gets its own share of controversy.

So one could argue that we are all already paying taxes, and, well, where do you think the money going to NASA already is coming from? But the point is, the money is there, in each of our possessions. I’m trying to suggest that we appreciate that NASA is an investment of government spending, not a “special case”, and deserves more than whatever they decide to allocate each year from the collection of public taxes alone. NASA would still be given what the federal budget deems worthy, valuable of course in its own right, but and then some, as an extra contribution from the general public who so deeply wallow in the returns of this investment aggregated over all the years it’s been utilized.

One could also argue why NASA? Why not an organization ready to clean up the atmosphere, or the oceans, or the forests, or the roads, or the education system, or whichever one of countless organizations with countless goals in mind? These are all also admirable goals, and very important, for sure. I do not mean to demean the value of any other charity or organization. Indeed, I would encourage donations wherever they can be given! Nothing is stopping anyone from contributing to any of these; anyone with extra generosity can invest to their heart’s content. I am simply advocating the addition of a small amount of money, to be carefully determined, into the tax system specifically for the nation's space exploration budget, and specifically for NASA, and not at the mercy of yearly budget cuts and not factored into what the government decides to fund of its own accord. I think this should be an independent contribution on top of what is deemed worthy of NASA’s federal budget. I argue that the investment into NASA exceeds virtually all other possibilities of organizations and charities of similar “scope”/”endeavors”. I argue that this extra contribution is in all of our best interests. Because in this age, in the twenty-first century, it seems obvious that the benefits of discoveries and advancements are mostly all going to be showered down from the frontiers of engineering and scientific innovations, and we need to keep that off-world frontier burgeoning, because that is the realm from which so much of what we cannot even anticipate is in all likelihood going to come from and work to make this world a better place for all its inhabitants.

With so large a population any amount of contribution, matched by all, so miniscule in each individual case, amounts to incredible quantities. And, especially in this case, with incredible quantities comes incredible discoveries. Another option for NASA’s benefit is for them to host some sort of annual Kickstarter-like fundraiser. This way the contributions would not be mandatory, and would not be defined by a standard, but could be absolutely anything a contributor might be willing to put forth… and, like most Kickstarters make use of, enticing rewards could be offered to stimulate the generosity. With a high enough investment perhaps one could even be rewarded a tour of a NASA facility, or the witnessing of a launch, or even a trip into orbit around the planet!

I just think that the implications of what is out there to be found and studied, the knowledge to gain, the unexplored worlds to really see for the first time, and the potential for our expansion and survival, are paramount in importance. The Earth's atmosphere is pretty much represented by the simple coat of lacquer on a standard globe. That's it, all which separates us here on the surface from everything out there ready to explore and discover... the frontiers of our thoughts are out there just out of our reach! Ready to be stumbled upon, ready to expand our knowledge of the universe and of ourselves and of this lonely planet we inhabit so fruitfully. And the effect on our culture is perhaps most impactful of all… because after we first went mankind to the moon, after we first saw photos of the entire sphere of Earth, so small and fragile suspended up there in the utterly black sky, the entire world was forever changed. We saw the implementation of so many new laws and organizations with renewed effort to clean up the planet, more efficiently manage our resources, and interact with each other not as a world divided by colorfully painted borders on the surface of a globe, but as one continuous, commonly inhabited and shared borderless planet. Because you can’t actually tell where one nation ends and the other begins, it’s completely arbitrary and meaningless when viewed upon at a distance great enough to actually observe large portions of the surface of the Earth with a single sweeping glance. There are no borders. And we finally saw this in its entirety when those first photos from sufficient distance were published. We began to truly understand that we are all one, we are all together, we are all striving to survive and make the best for ourselves on this enormous, bountiful world. But we need help to keep on advancing and improving the quality of life the world over… and it seems like NASA is one of, if not the prime candidates to continue to advance this frontier of discovery and innovation to continue this trend we’ve been so privileged to be a part of.

So let’s put forth a way in which we can not only keep those discoveries coming, but we can actually feel like we have been a part of their fruition by direct contributions, whether mandatory (but hopefully appreciable) or by generous voluntary contributions alone. As incredible and profoundly impactful as those fleetingly brief years were during the Apollo era, who can even imagine what newer insights and discoveries and cultural overcomings are idly awaiting our efforts to uncover? We need to go and find them. We need to keep dreaming about tomorrow and ever-expanding the frontiers of our thoughts and desires, and I can’t think of a better way to achieve this than to let the NASA organization keep doing its thing, of course managed and controlled for the best of all interests. It is absolutely incredible what they have managed to provide for the world so far in their fifty-year-plus history to date.

As Neil deGrasse Tyson so beautifully puts it, “We went to the moon, and we discovered Earth. I claim we discovered Earth for the first time.

And you cannot put a price on that.

Posted by Eli Stanley | at 6:58 PM | 3 comments

Merging Two Worlds

I realized long ago that my interests, my devotions and my heart exist almost exactly in equal depth for two discrete places—Kansas City, the place I currently call home and where my family is and all of my current investments such as school and work are rooted, and Cheyenne, Wyoming, the place I used to call home and where so many of my closest friendly bonds still reside where I grew up during my most formative early teenage years. Each place has more than its own fair share of positive considerations and factors to keep each set of emotions, interests, devotions and investments powerfully tied to them. I take a lot of comfort in this, but for that reason I find myself stuck in a perpetually awkward state of longing for whichever place I’m not currently breathing in the sweet air of at each passing moment.

So there is a kind of distance which always separates me from both places simultaneously…because this distance isn’t just the obvious physical one, for however many actual miles are between myself and one of these beautiful places, that same number of miles, manifested emotionally, always works to separate me from the other. If there was some way that I could merge the two worlds, and have forever all of the cherished variables that I so long to be a part of, all of them combined in the most wonderful way, I would tear apart the fabric of space-time with my bare hands to bring them together and I don’t think I could ever ask for anything more.

There are almost 700 torturous miles separating these two worlds. And each one has its own intense well of gravity, always mercilessly tugging me away from the other. Only periodically do I get the opportunity to cut the chains keeping me rooted here in Kansas City and let myself drift that way, over to Cheyenne. The largest of these chains are those of school and work—because only with the blessing of each of these can I make time to temporarily break free from their otherwise unrelenting grip on my focus. I can always still keep in touch and communicate in ways not so different from what is usually taking place anyway, so it’s not so much a matter of separating myself from the people I’m surrounded by here as it is a matter of separating myself from the career-oriented lifestyle I’m surrounded by. And so the beautiful fairy tale setting I can’t shake from my mind (if I even wanted to) is the one in which all of the people I so often find myself dreaming about, together in equal parts both here in Kansas City and there in Cheyenne, are here with me together at once. I absolutely cannot think of a better world than one which incorporates all of the best attributes of both of these, seamlessly combined into a true fairy tale setting if there ever was one.

For obvious reasons my most immediate concerns are those of school and work, and so there really is no question about where I need to be now…at least for the time being, in this moment. And being closer to family, both immediate here in town and slightly less immediate only a couple hours away, is a very nice thing. But on the other hand, in the place that I used to call home (and still do for a fleeting two weeks out of the year), I have some of my longest and deepest-held friendships and the physical surroundings which never fail to provide intensely treasured nostalgic feelings of their own. And although this woefully short amount of time I’m able to take advantage of each year is so relatively brief, separated by about twenty-five times this amount of time, in which I must remain devoted to more productive pursuits here at “home”, all of this time and distance that seems so daunting all the while I’m away seems to just dissolve and fade away the moment I arrive and see all the familiar faces I’ve been missing for so long. And then it’s almost as if I was never even gone at all. It’s a feeling of belonging simply without compare.

If there is ever any doubt in my mind about whether I should really be utilizing my entire vacation time to travel out there and mingle into the ongoing social network, whether I’m still going to fit in and be appreciated, it is utterly demolished almost immediately as I never fail to seamlessly blend back into the scene. It's funny, sometimes, how often people are surprised that I'd take my vacations and come out here to Cheyenne time after time. "Cheyenne, of all places?!" Yes, beautiful Cheyenne, so full of all these wonderful friendships. Truth is, there's no place in the world I'd rather be when I get the chance.

I guess I could say that I’m more physically tied to my current home, and more emotionally tied to my prior home. But this is without a doubt mostly because of the simple fact that I’ve lived here for so long and have career-oriented goals that have been progressing for much of that time. I guess I could also say that my bright future (as its prospects are currently situated) lies here in Kansas City, while my longed-for past (as its prospects are currently situated, as well) lie all the way over there in Cheyenne. There are some deep considerations in this realization, because there are many important variables which are so easy to overlook if I let imagination run rampant and neglect to consider more than sheer longing for the past and what I only get to experience briefly each year.

There is something to be said, of course, of the fact that my time spent in Cheyenne each year is a worry-free vacation from my career-oriented goals and that these emotions are undoubtedly heightened by this. Admittedly, by the end of each visit there is a part of me looking forward to returning to my busy, productive routine back in Missouri. I do enjoy being busy and productive, and I always have to admit that the carefree vacation really does need to come to an end, as far as my bright future is concerned. So it’s difficult to say how things would be if the situation was reversed and I was using my vacation time each year to visit friends and family back in Missouri. I think it would be strikingly similar, in its own way—I would miss family and friends, and I would try to set aside time to come visit, and I would probably feel an intense longing for such times once I returned (to Cheyenne). But I would realize that I needed to return, because I would have a productive life to continue when my vacation time ran out. The two versions are not so different. Such is my devotion to and my connections in both places.

Perhaps the most important consideration of all is that I’m really only drawn back to Cheyenne each chance I get because of the incredible people in it. I’m not particularly drawn to the place because of the place itself—although if I happened to be passing by and absolutely none of my good friends remained, I’d probably drive through and stop at a couple familiar places at least to appreciate some nice nostalgia. But my true interests lie with the inhabitants and for this reason I need to be careful not to rely too much on these people who might not stick around themselves. I must take this fact of life for all of its implications, because when all things are considered the most important thing, besides the familiar friendly faces I definitely would like to be close to, is to be situated physically where I can make the most for myself regardless of the people that have every reason of their own to come and go (the same thing applies, of course, to Kansas City). In an ideal world I would situate myself in the best physical location and have every friendly face from anywhere I could desire forever within my reach—but such is not even remotely likely going to be the case, and this is the primary reason for my wandering mind to create and hold onto this idea which shines so brightly in its potential glory for how I could possibly have the best of all possible worlds right here in the palms of my hands, at least in my idealized daydreams.

So I always find myself torn so cleanly down the center when I consider all of the possibilities that I might have any control over establishing for myself. Kansas City has its obvious physical advantages, and of course a good many deep friendships, while Cheyenne has its unmistakable nostalgia and harbors some of the most deeply-rooted friendships of all. This is the nature of my longing to merge the two worlds, because if I could remain here in this better-situated location on the planet’s surface while still having these friends (combined with my many friends I already have over here) then I would be hard-pressed to imagine a way to be any happier with the Universe.

To anyone who knows me particularly well, or even not, it must go without saying that the primary key to the happiness found in Cheyenne is one Dave Ewaliko, with whom I’ve shared most of every single one of my most cherished memories and most deeply held thoughts. And this isn’t to discount any of the almost countless other intensely-cherished friendships I have rooted in the city (both cities). These people should know who they are. I adore every single one to the utmost of my overflowing heart.

I find it absolutely incredible how intertwined my thoughts are with a place full of people that I’ve only fleetingly kept in physical contact with over so many long years. Early on, after the intense move well over eight years ago (2004), I always comforted myself with the thoughts that the “loss” of Cheyenne, or rather, "The Motherland," as Dave and I came to refer to it, would fade away in time. And of course I was right, to a degree. But there is still somewhat more longing than I had anticipated, or at least had hoped for. I guess I always knew deep down that it was going to be a “scar” for life. It’s interesting how emotional damages can be so much more excruciating than even the most severe physical ones. In the summer of 2007 I fell off a house while working construction and broke my back... fractured my 12th lumbar vertebrate. But miraculously, I feel little pain or even anything more than occasional discomfort at this stage afterwards. The only reminder I ever have is some discomfort if I stand in one place too long, and this doesn’t happen often. It makes things like washing dishes frustrating. On the other hand, I am haunted regularly by the memories of past fortunes that were left behind once my family moved away in June 2004 and the imaginings of things that might have gone so differently had this not been the case. I do see them as wonderful memories, but even the most incredible of feelings can simultaneously bring the most intense longings. And these memories, for all the times that they bring unrivaled happiness and comfort, can sometimes revive the most tragic despair for such good times which are so long gone. Such is the double-edged blade of nostalgia.

I can say in complete honesty that the absolute best days of my mid-adolescent teenage years were spent in a two-and-a-half-year period of unrivaled bliss over in Cheyenne, namely with two incredible friends, none other than Dave Ewaliko and Cliff Cox. In those years we had conquered the world, as it had mattered to us at the time. Yet I can also say in complete honesty that the absolute best days of my elder teenage years were those I spent with my best friends I had here in KC, with Sean Lusher and Jacob Knepper and, similarly, it feels like I had conquered the world all over again with them. The value I hold to each time period is so similar in its worth that I cannot pin down a specific route that would have played out for the better if it could have been more long-lasting—if I had stayed in Cheyenne, then those mid-teenage years definitely would have culminated in ever-increasing intensity as we aged into adults, and yet those late-teenage years I spent here in KC would have had a more powerful foundation, and in turn a much more powerful transition into adulthood, if I had arrived here sooner. The dividing line is, in all practicality, because of all of the intricacies involved in each particular case, impossible to gauge effectively. The thoughtful devotion may be an obsession, but it is an obsession I passionately indulge.

Because even still every time I hear or read about issues Dave is having over there in The Motherland, I want nothing more than to just leap head-first into my car and drive nonstop all the way there, pull into his driveway, throw him into the passenger seat, and drive to Anthony's Pizza (even though it doesn't exist anymore... but any place would do). Then we could go back to his house, stopping at the Mini-Mart for 64 oz. sodas on the way, to laugh our vocal cords sore playing Fifa Soccer or Monkey Ball or watching MXC... and I know in my heart that, at least for the duration of our game-playing or TV-watching, any troubling issues would be in the back of our minds (if anywhere at all). His dad would say hi to me in his ever-soft voice as he rushes to the kitchen to cook sausages for us, his siblings Cece and Jonah would be playfully screaming and throwing each other around the house, Autumn would be laughing at it all or telling them that they're stupid, and his mom (though she has sadly passed on since such memories were so deeply rooted) would be sitting on the couch, telling me about how “special” I am. How special is it when a few experiences easily recalled into memory can rival, or even surpass, the most impressive dream?

They say that home is where the heart is, and I say that if home is where the heart is then there is not a single homeless person in the world. But some people might be unfortunately misplaced.

Long ago, Dave and I came up with a semi-serious pact that when we're wrinkly old geezers assigned to wheelchairs we'll still be sitting out on our neighboring porches (because we will be next-door neighbors), chatting about all the insanity we lived through and all the girls we chased, cherish and loved. It sticks with me, in part because I truly want this to happen. In a way I can precisely imagine the two of us, sitting side-by-side in our rickety old rocking chairs, cracking jokes and reminiscing about all the good times (most of which are yet to come), cracking the same old jokes, Dave bursting out in his oh-so-characteristic hearty laugh (although the years will have taken their toll on it), and just simply enjoying truly cooperative company with each other as a gorgeous Vanilla Sky makes its complex interactions over the horizon.

Everybody has forever to look forward to. Life is absolutely not short, it is the longest thing possible to experience and because we have absolute control over our investments within it I feel it is of the most profound importance that we pursue those things most cherished to us. Because forever is so much more than just a word… forever is the amount of your life that you'll always know you have all such people in your life. And even when they're not around you anymore, or very fleetingly so, as unfortunate as that is, there are still so many ways to talk with them, and even visit whenever possible. Distance plays its unfortunate role in so many cases between people who would otherwise enjoy nothing more than being in each other’s company, but at the same time this same distance can help to strengthen and filter out everything but the most cherished connections of all. And you will know you have one of those true and long-lasting friendships when you can show up on their doorstep after absolutely any amount of time and distance and within mere moments all of the most deep and cherished feelings of all come flooding back as if a tidal wave was unleashed from the deepest depths of the ocean. And you'll know when that term "forever" is to the fullest extent when you see such a person after so much time has passed, and you’ve each pursued such separate paths, and yet each time your paths cross once again it seems exactly like there was no time passed at all.

It may be a fanciful daydream to imagine myself having the best of both of these worlds combined, but if nothing else at least I can collide and merge them within in my own mind, and imagine how wonderful things would be if I had all variables in my grasp at all times. But of course I cannot physically have this fortune. I can, however, relish in all the bountiful memories each holds, and pursue with the best of my abilities all of the time that I can spare to continue to make the best of each, as separately as they must be, and as intertwined as they can be, because I have the power to make it so as often as I can manage.

And so I am somewhat distanced from my current home, here in Kansas City, emotionally, and from my long-lost home, there in Cheyenne, physically. But life is complicated, circumstances are complicated, cooperation is complicated, and my deepest desires are perhaps most complicated of all. So if I seem a little bit distant at any point in time, to anyone from either location, please understand that as much as I’d love more than anything to be there sharing time and memories, old and new, with you, I might seem a bit distant only because I am.

Posted by Eli Stanley | at 7:06 PM | 1 comments