Sunday, May 11, 2014

The danger of a quiet evening

Some thoughts that I have no where else to put. And unlike other ramblings, I happen to be sober.

Stop and think for a moment: what of any importance have you ever done?

Every Sunday for the past several months I have been watching Cosmos. It is a callback to my childhood when I watched some of the original, only now I understand more of what is being shown. The science information if excellent but what I find more impactful and incredibly humbling are the stories of the people behind the science. Each episode picks an important person or two and traces their contributions. Tonight it was Farraday, the man who invented the electric motor, the generator, and in the closing years of his life, suffering from a failing memory and deep depression, proposed invisible lines of force as the explanation for magnetic fields.

This motherfucker grew up in a slum, ended up the director of the premier science organization of its time, and knew, literally knew, how magnets work, all with no formal schooling. And what did you do today?

I grilled brats, had a few beers, watched the dog play, then sat on my ass for several hours, and I have a formal education, did not grow up in a slum, and don't have a failing memory. What's my excuse? How can I derive joy from watching a show about someone who has accomplished so much when I have done so little?

About six years ago I had a similar crisis of worth. Many, many years of retail management had left me feeling empty. I wanted more something, so I went back to school, got a real job and have since more than doubled my income. I have a nice house in a safe neighborhood, have a basement filled with electronic novelties and a motorcycle that is as overpriced as it is a cheap way to get attention and pretend that I don't care about it. To say that I live a charmed life would be generous.

And tomorrow if I were squashed flat by a dump truck I would be missed by a few and quickly forgotten.I tease about my advanced age but I will indeed be forty in two years. Forty. Slightly less than twenty years of adult life and what have I contributed? I have a man crush on Neil deGrasse Tyson but that isn't going to get any stars named after me.

Is it selfish to want to matter on a larger scale, to tire of being anonymous and unimportant?

Cosmos is not what depresses me. The show is a gateway drug to science and I hope it hooks many people. What saddens me is that I am simultaneously jealous of these men and woman and their contributions and either unable or unwilling to put forth the effort to emulate them. Tomorrow I will go to work, take some phone calls, fix some things, probably save the day for some HR manager, because that it was I do on Mondays. Then I will come home, eventually play video games, and go to bed.

And the world will turn. The world in the solar system in the galaxy in the universe. It will all still be there tomorrow and it doesn't care that I saved the day for some user. Stars are living and dying in unimaginable numbers, entire worlds and being created and destroyed, all while I sit on the couch, listening to the dish washer, drinking a Coke, wondering what my place in it is and if it really matters.

Everything I do feels transient. If I didn't go to work someone else would. If the company went under the customers would find identical services elsewhere. If the whole goddamn state fell into the Earth people would just get their cheese and beer from someplace else. Taken to the absurd, the universe has many ways that it could destroy our entire planet tomorrow. In the face of this cosmic uncertainty many choose to help their fellow man, contribute to the whole, or work toward understand how everything works.

Knowing that the end of life as we know it could happen tomorrow I have chosen to sit on my couch, drink a Coke, listen to the dish washer and perform uncomfortable self analysis, not necessarily in that order. The futility of my daily routine is astounding.

The dishwasher just stopped and the quiet is unnerving. The ringing in my ears reminds me that I have listened to music at too high a volume for most of my days. The fan in my laptop cycles on and off, cooling a device whose operation I vaguely understand but on whose operation my livelihood relies. The dog stretches, breaths, dreams simple dreams about her day. She doesn't care that her existence is pointless, her ball and her food are enough to sustain her.

The smartest thing in the room, the culmination of eons of evolution or the master work of a divine being, depending on your point of view, realizes that he has to pee. There are others of his kind living, dying, killing, breeding, discovering, learning, improving, and all he knows is that he has to pee. Others of his kind are sussing out the secrets of the universe and he is mustering the effort to walk across the room and down the hall.

Then he realizes the he switched from first to third person and is to lazy to go back and fix it. Screw keeping my tense consistent, there could be a meteor or a dump truck with my name on it.


  1. In the grand scheme of blog rants I've read (and there have beene many) this was some good sh*t. Self deprecating, yet entertaining. Reflective without resorting to navel gazing. That was a fun read and still made me take a cold, hard, look at what I'm contributing myself. So again... good sh*t, man.

    And is it weird cosmos has made me tear up damn near half the time? It's got a direct line to my emotions and I don't think I'm comfortable with it having that information about me.

  2. There is definitely something poetic about our cosmic insignificance and our struggle to understand it. The universe is so beautiful and we are so very small.