Robert (gurdonark) wrote,
Robert
gurdonark

Beyond the reach of the farthest radio telescope

In November 2002, I did the National Novel Writing Month competition, writing 50,000 words in less than thirty days. I finished the resulting science fiction novel, "Lonely Distance", in a matter of a few weeks. I wrote it as a first person narrative, chatty in the way my favorite letters or weblog posts can be. But I made my narrator a fellow who gains an obsession with a "space alien" with whom he can communicate only virtually. My goal was to explore the inner experience of obsession, though a wordy, self-absorbed narrator, and to watch obsession fade and something else, maybe something a little nobler, replace it. It's about the passage from one phase of living to another, from the fever to the stony cold to the cure.



I wanted the fellow in my novel to find grace where once longing ruled. I also wanted to explore the notion of a non-agape, non-philios obsessive love divorced from biological imperative. What if you distill out the physical and the romantic from that longing which is "love's black sheep cousin"--is there anything left? My thesis was "yes". So my protagonists "falls for" someone for whom he can feel no "sexual" or "romantic" love, at least not in the way "romantic" love is casually defined these days. He has before him only the feeble screen of radiotelescopic communication.

Is that love? Is it something else? It's really only contact. But contact is so precious--so rare, really. Eventually, the literal contact fades. But does the real contact, the touching of "souls"? Was it all smoke? Do we truly learn to love, aside from need and desire? I believe(d) so. I also believe in the transcendent power of communion between people, regardless of circumstance, regardless of mutual exchange of benefit.

I think, sometimes, there's a core, a metal milk shake blending cup, which the human longing tries to fill. I imagine that those cream-filled chocolates for the upcoming holiday are filled with a giant machine that pours the cream into the milk chocolate. The real love is that creamy core of marshmallow, replacing the hole. What a horrible thing at easter when the bunny filling isn't right! I imagine that love should fill in hollow spaces just that way. I know--the term "love" sounds trite, or too much like crush/kiss/blushing stuff. But "compassion" sounds too chummy, and "charity" sounds either victorian or offensive. So "love" will have to do.

Lately I've been thinking of the term "true compassion". I sometimes write of avoiding an "acquisitiveness" in relationships. Don't get me wrong. I'm as frail and human as the next person. I can be as driven by selfishness and desire as much as the next fellow. I like the physical and the romantic. I'm glad I'm married to someone I care for, rather than being some ascetic "loving wanderer". I am not much of the roving do-gooder type. But I like to hunt for way of relating to people not dependent on how many kudos or comforts the people I care for demonstrate to me.

I like to see people more than as people I might someday receive affection or adulation or attention from, but as "real friends". I like to imagine that I can teach myself to "love" even when people cannot/do not love me. Sometimes that may be just staying out of someone's way. Sometimes it may require a radio telescope's microphone, sounding out a call into a void beyond the reach of my furthest optical lens.

When I began my novel, I promised myself that I would self-publish it if I finished it. It's not that I think it's going to make me the next Kilgore Trout. I delayed that for much of last year because I was involved in a trial which required me to prepare all Spring and much of the Summer. Now, though, it's eighteen months since I finished the novel. My kind friend kenmora, who's a coolest artist when he's not an even cooler writer, designed me a cover. But I've hesitated to do the final editing and finish. tonight Ken sent me a cool prompt about it--a NASA announcment--and I'm pondering this bit of "finisher's block". I am going to finish, and get it done up by a print on demand place, and then always know that I did this thing, and that I held it in my hands. I plan to have it in print before this time next year. I even found a tiny press that seems affordable and professional and capable of giving me an internet listing, an ISBN and something to hold in my hand. For that matter, I really need to write another book of chess poems, and then get somebody to do a chapbook and all that on a semi-commercial basis, so that I can get a prettier chapbook out of it, and sell more of them.

Part of the delay with the novel has been sheer sheepishness. I never felt that way with the chess poems, because they were silly by definition. But the novel is something more "real". But why? The novel, after all, is in that mildly repetitive gurdonark style, less a novel than a first person rumination on obsession, and how to replace obsession with compassion. That sounds too pat, though. What if the obsession is the compassion? Is love an obsession, when you know it can never be an actual obsession? How can one replace a stand-in for compassion with the real thing? That's the work of more than one month's quickly written novel. Besides, the obsession-theme seems a little too gurdondark. I had fun with my "darkside" journal, until I realized I'm boring to the point of banality.

The other sheepishness is less philosophical. I wanted to drill some points home in my novel, particularly in the side comic relief subplots. So I drilled them in over and over. I have to re-read the book to see if they are drilled in altogether too repetitively. I should think more positively--it's not "repetition", it's "Old Testament cadence". Why all the hesitance, anyway? It's not as though it's going to have a lot of readers. I figure I'll donate a couple of copies to the library which had so many sci fi books when I was a kid. I'll read it myself. My wife will read it. That's a good readership, I think.

The novel did not solve for me the dilemma posed to the protagonist. But this notion of "true compassion" is something worth seeking out. The Buddhists have a concept of "non-attachment", which couples with compassion to try to achieve a way of surviving the suffering of this living business. "Non-attachment", in my limited understanding,need not mean rejection of the experience, but instead a declination to become too caught up in the world around me. But I confess I get altogether caught up in the experience of the Moment (hell, I even capitalize). The song says there's "no trains for Heaven, for the Kingdom lies within", and let me tell you, that resonates for me. I'd like to live a few moments when I really am kind, just to experience the texture of kindness, like the feel of satin. Who needs an afterlife, if you can have one minute of real, unselfish love? Corinthians 13 me, please. Isn't the virtual experience a way to hunt for peace in the lonely distance?

LiveJournal intrigues me because the virtual connections matter so much to me.
"Lonely Distance" derived in part from that fascination; however, as many novels do, I took the dilemmae and ran them out ad absurdem.

But in LiveJournal I love that feeling of being able to see "throgh the monitor".
I love it when I "know" someone, even though I have never and may never meet that someone. I also am puzzled, but bedazzled, about how I can completely misunderstand and miscue as to someone's posts when I find the poster in question so accessible and cool. I wonder, too, if I am very easy to "see" through the monitor.

I read so many times about people who get into running word-gun battles, or who have emotive trolls in their journal universe. The oil runs a bit thick in my journal, preventing anything from over-heating. So I've been spared anything worse than today's multi-account-serial-adder, last year's serial adder, and the serial-controversy person who tries to bait people by posting controversial things just to get people riled, whom I finally removed from my friends' list when it became a bit apparent. None of those folks have been impolite or difficult, so I've been fortunate, indeed.

Sometimes one of you writes something and I completely miss what you are really saying, and then I feel badly because my comment is so inane, or, worse yet, "tries too hard". It doesn't matter, of course, I'm just one person out in the void. Indeed, I should learn the lessons inherent in trying too hard. Nobody gets punished so much as someone who tries too hard. But LJ folks consistently find me trying hard for connection, for communication. I'm all about the communication, I suppose.It's precious to even mention the missed connection--less time talking about fixing the phone, more time silently focusing on the wires.

In "Lonely Distance", I wanted to take a jumble of things I don't understand, and write them down obsessively and quickly. Then, I told my fellow novelists over an ice cream sundae at a Denny's, I would publish the result.

I believe that pledges made to oneself over hot fudge dessert should always be kept.
So the novel is coming to fruition, this very year.

But the lesson? I'm still learning the lesson. I'm still learning what love and compassion and interconnection mean.

I thought briefly last weekend about deleting my journal. I thought it distracted me from focusing on things I want to do. Then I realized that this LJ is a "man at work" LJ, and I use it to chart the things I mean to get done. Rather than deleting my journal, I need to just delete the things I do in life other than loving my family, trying my cases, writing and publishing, helping others, eating better, exercising, and trying to figure out a damn decent line to play against the Gruenfeld Defense. This LJ has been a beacon. But my friends' list are the lights in the harbor. They sail, and I don't always see them correctly through the fog. But it's a comfort they're there, hidden among the little cats' feet.

It's a full moon tonight, in a sky filled with planets, and I want to buy a Heathkit Radiotelescope, and pierce the lonely distance.
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