Carv's Thinky Blog I'm an author with a focus on satirical science fiction.


Silent Sky‘s Closing Night

(Written September 16)

I have a lot to say tonight, on two different subjects. It was our closing performance of Silent Sky, and yes, I do tend to gush at moments like these. Je ne regrette rien, Gentle Reader.

Part 1: On Producing Silent Sky

Producing a show this big was a first for me. In eight years of college, I don't remember ever once hearing a lecture or reading a book about how to be an executive producer. I made it up as I went, tried to follow the film model when possible and remained determined to admit when I screwed things up. I learned a producer needs to trust her or his creative team to do the creative work the way they know best; your job as the producer is to smooth the path before them and make sure the flow of money and lines of communication remain unimpeded. I learned one may argue with doubters but never with the calendar. I learned the sincerest compliment is often a paycheck. And I learned, sometimes the hard way, a path toward success for Silent Sky.

I mention that because several people came up to me tonight and expressed sincere interest in porting our production to other spaces. As tempting as that may be, I gave them as soft a no as I could manage. It's not that I don't believe anyone else should produce Silent Sky — Oh, my, no, you most definitely should. It's so important for so many reasons that this singular script become part of our regional- and community-theater canon. But not our production. No, your Silent Sky needs to be local, and it needs to be offered from your heart, and it needs something very particular to this story.

I trusted my gut on this one, and I'm so glad I did. I knew this script needed a female director. Maybe not every year, maybe, but this year for sure. Then I went further, and in so doing, I learned something crucial about Silent Sky. Since you might produce it elsewhere, I will give you that lesson for free.

Silent Sky needs women. Great women. Brilliant women. Artistas, if you will.

What you want is to find a female director with enormous skill and a big heart. It doesn't matter if she's a science geek, but it'll be helpful if she's a sister. She needs to be able, as Deane Shellman did so gracefully for us, to convey complex ideas via magical images and sounds. Then, rally female designers to what is now that director's project. I don't mean one or two female designers. I don't mean a few. I mean your entire design staff should be women. Because to this day, even in our relatively liberal field, it's still all too common to see an all-male design staff but rare to see an all-female one. The latter should be and feel no more unusual than the former. As Gunderson points out in her script, "We need a model." We need everyone who does theater to see, and on a regular basis, that talent has no gender.

The rest will take care of itself. With much stress and little sleep, perhaps, but I promise you one day during tech week you'll look up and find yourself beyond the earth's gravity. It'll happen. Enjoy the view.

Part 2: The Meaning for Me

Directing and yes, producing, it turns out, are a lot of work, especially if you do those jobs correctly and with all your heart. And why would you do a job like that any other way? The object of the game is to find that charge of electricity you felt upon first hearing or reading that story and take a good look at it. Ease it out into the light. Name exactly what hooked you, then make that hook the focus of gravity for your own production. I can't and won't speak to what hooked Deane on this story. I can only tell you what captured me. Because just as Laughing Stock was my love letter to the theater that rescued me from loneliness, just as The Credeaux Canvas was my farewell to youth, my instigation of Silent Sky should tell you something about who I am on a very deep level.

Like the heroes of that story, I find a joy in learning I'm wrong about something. It's embarrassing, sure, but yesterday I didn't know what the truth was and now I know one thing it isn't! How amazing is that? Yesterday I imposed my wishful thinking on the world; today it told me its own truth — and entrusted me with the revelation! "You were perfectly wrong," Henrietta Leavitt announces, and her colleague cries, "I was!" — not with anger, nor resentment, but happily! That's part of what I find most persuasive about the scientific method over other ways of analyzing and interpreting the world. A good scientist understands it's better to know a less-than-optimal truth than to bank on vestigial fantasies. She knows graduating from the latter to the former is a moment worth celebrating rather than grieving.

Oh, and then there's that closing monologue. I fall in love with it every time I hear it. "A telescope named Hubble," says Leavitt, "with wings set for space, shows us how vast and beautiful it all is … Because wonder will always get us there — those of us who insist that there is much more beyond ourselves. And I do." And I choke back tears every night because Gentle Reader, that is my heart being spoken from that stage, by an actor who is not me, directed by an artist who felt that truth, too. And it means I'm not the only person who takes heart from that lesson. Lauren Gunderson does. Henrietta Swan Leavitt did. And I know from all the smiling, tear-streaked faces in the theater that our idealism has touched something in a hundred hearts each night at OLT. The audience members believe in that future; they just needed to be reminded of it. Hope is not lost, my friends. We may trip over our foolishness sometimes, we humans, but we do still have a calling. We are made of star stuff, Sagan reminds us, and there is something within us that looks up into the night sky and longs to go home there again.

Yesterday a machine made by earnest minds and begrudgingly rendered tax dollars met oblivion in the atmosphere of Saturn. Along the way, though, it sent us this photo.

Look at that pixel. It's the earth-moon system. It's you and me. It's everyone, in fact; all our stuff, all our art, all our music, all our wars, all our feelings, all our corpses, all our dreams. It's a stunning reminder of our fragility, our lifelong dependence on each other, and the ocean of silence and cold in which we swim. We are not merely a species. We owe each other and the universe — call it God if you like — more than that. We aren't just family. We are one. We are one tiny dot of desperate yearning but we are infinitely precious. Intelligence is the greatest thing the cosmos has yielded to date, and something tells me ours is not the gold standard for intelligence so it behooves us to get out there and mingle with our siblings. They have much to teach us, perhaps art and stories to share with us, and heaven knows we have much left to learn.

Last night I looked through a telescope at the Andromeda Galaxy. I gazed across two and a half million light-years of intergalactic space at the waltz of a trillion stars. I imagined them accompanied by all their associated worlds. Most were barren, of course, others spattered with life so primitive it could barely be said to deserve the title. Yet I find it impossible to believe I wasn't also looking at civilizations — starfaring species, perhaps, living and dying on the whims of supernovae and calling to each other dimly across the night. We will never meet those species. Their families and ours will have passed long before our galaxies collide four billion years from now; our sun will, in fact, be in the process of puffing itself up for a turgid, crimson swan song. All of that knowledge, all our music and art and beauty and emotions, will have come and gone long before that collision. So will theirs. Life is precious. Intelligence is a gift. Like all beautiful gifts, it comes with a responsibility to cherish and protect it.

The trick, I think, is not to waste energy seeing God as other earthlings do. We have a valueless tendency to lasso God down to our level, make him fallible and petty and vindictive like ourselves. It's a shame we ever feel that drive to domesticate the ineffable. No, I think the path forward is to see the earth as God does: a pixel in the whirlwind, a sputtering spark in a vast, frozen darkness, an embryo of life in the worthy throes of struggling to be born.

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Two Quick Links

Words, Words, Words: Science Fiction

Before I write anything else, I want to thank everyone who came out to hear me read from Mr. Klein's Wild Ride this week in Lacey, Olympia and Tacoma. If you bought a book, double thanks. Let me know what you think of it. In fact, please let everyone know, especially if you enjoyed it. Go to my Amazon page via the links in the post below and leave a critique. Authors say this all the time, but we say it because it's true: reviews from readers like you matter. If someone looks for my book and finds few or zero reader responses, it de-legitimizes both me and the book. So even if you don't like it--and I'm pretty sure you will--post a review. It shows the book is getting some action. And it may just talk someone else into buying it!

Now, then. In addition to writing novels and being the managing editor of Oly Arts, I also still write for the Weekly Volcano. This week's cover article is a preview of 10 shows planned for this theatre season that I think you're most likely to enjoy:

"Top 10 Shows Not to Miss"

And here's an essay about why you should attend a show I curated, called Words, Words, Words: Science Fiction. It's a benefit for Theater Artists Olympia that collects beloved tales of the fantastic from 1897 to the present. I chose half; our stellar cast chose the rest. You're gonna love it. And if you buy one of my books while you're there, I'll donate two bucks to the Midnight Sun Performance Space. Everybody wins!

"Futures Past and Present"

I hope to see you out there in the stars!

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Science Mike

Star Wars, Episode VII (or, as Saturday Night Live called it, Star Wars and the Four Jamaicans) opens one week from tonight! If you haven't taken the time to swing by a Verizon store and grab their free Google Cardboard "hardware," and downloaded the Jakku Spy feature from the Star Wars app, you should. It's incredibly cool, and all free! That saves you hundreds of dollars on the cost of an Oculus Rift, while allowing you to experience one of the burgeoning technologies featured in Mr. Klein's Wild Ride. As for me, I'll be parked in front of Regal Cinemas in Lacey next Thursday, then at the Seattle Science Center IMAX on Friday. I've also been scarce on social media to avoid spoilers, so wish me luck! Er...the Force. Whatever.

If it seems I've been scarce around my own website as well, you're not wrong. I've been overwhelmed with work and kinda-work these last few months. I'm not complaining; every assignment helps. I was hired by an educational game company to work through Halloween, but that job was extended three times and will continue through at least January 18th. I've also done paid acting work for Joint Base Lewis-McChord, two radio interviews, the Creative Colloquy Volume Two release party, and further prep for Credeaux Canvas. Consequently, writing for fun--or even to promote my published writing--has largely fallen by the wayside. That won't last forever, but it also won't change much over the next week. With what little free time I had remaining last week, I followed friends' suggestions and played through Valve's Portal. Yep, that's me, a cutting-edge gamer from eight years ago.

Mostly I want to recommend the work of a guy named Mike McHargue, aka "Science Mike." I looked him up on the advice of my brother- and sister-in-law, and boy, did they fit the speaker to his audience and vice versa. If you've enjoyed my lines of questioning on this site in the past, particularly my nonfiction efforts on Rereading the Bible, then prepare to meet your new obsession. Like me, Science Mike was raised in a fundamentalist Christian religion but struggled to reconcile his growing understanding of scientific naturalism. Like me, he discovered moral conflicts between himself and his sexist, homophobic denomination. Like me, he made the change to atheism in early adulthood. Unlike me, however, he changed back--not to fundamentalism, but to a humanistic Christianity that reveres the Bible without believing every word of it. We differ in only one respect: he think it's somewhat more likely that God exists than that he does not, while I think it's slightly less likely (while still acknowledging the strong possibility of a deist or otherwise hands-off definition of a Creator). He knows more about science than I do, especially computer science. He claims a subjective experience of God I do not, yet admits anecdotal evidence shouldn't convince any other rational person to believe. I find him fascinating. I love what he does, and it offers a safe path for Christians who can no longer accept the fundamentalist notions of their parents or peer group but still wish to seek Jesus's nature in their lives.

Give him a shot, won't you? He's at I've been devouring his podcast over the last twelve hours as I worked and worked out. From where I sit, the world could use a whole lot more Christians (and other religious truth-seekers) just like him.

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I Contain Multitudes

Within my body are over seven octillion atoms, each a cloud of gnats flitting around an infinitesimal nucleus and a relative ocean of empty space. They drift past each other, at times forming molecular bonds by sharing or trading electrons. Of the octillion-plus molecules in my body, seven out of ten are triatomic water. The hydrogen atoms in those molecules attract each other, so water molecules are likely to socialize. But for the most part, the molecules in my left hand will never have any interaction with the molecules in my right hand. They have no interest in clapping. They are strangers, similar yet isolated systems on either side of the complex galaxy that is me.

Within my body are some seventy-five trillion cells, separated by moats of watery soup. They are islands, organized into archipelagos yet unaware of each other's presence. Particles drift from cell to cell like canoes. We imagine our impulses zapping from neuron to neuron, leaping narrow synaptic gaps like impalas, but they actually change form on their way in and out of each cell. They're short-range Pony Express carriers, not lightning bolts.

My organs are the meat bags that keep me alive, slopped together in a wet sack of skin like sausage in a casing. My liver has no other name. It has no identity. It has no intellect or intent. It's just three pounds of offal put together in such a way that if oxygen and sugar water happen to find their way in, bile comes out. I need it to live, but I'd recoil in horror if ever I could look through my abdomen and see it. (The hole in my abdomen would also be a matter of some concern.) My organs don't know of each other. When food passes through my stomach, that organ has no idea what lies down the digestive road--and perhaps that's for the best.

As I look out my office window, the millions of cone-shaped photoreceptors in my eyes take in individual photons, encoding them as pixels of color. One sees red, another blue, another green. They don't share information with each other. They're how I take in the world, yet they're blind to each other. Like a fly, I see the world through compound vision.

We imagine we store memories the way an iPhone records video, but we're wrong. Is it any wonder I recall events differently from you or anyone else? We actually "remember" events as a series of addresses, each calling up a different sensory building block. Thus, if I try to remember, say, a childhood vacation, my memory actually goes something like "orca face/chlorine smell/popcorn smell/laughter." And that's Sea World. I don't remember what people said. I don't remember what I said. I just remember four or five bits of information. Then, if I try to remember what the hotel pool was like later that vacation weekend, my brain will access the very same "chlorine smell" bit as before, plugging it into the easy-bake memory recipe for "hotel pool." There's no real history in my brain or yours, no shared vision between all our cerebral cells. My autobiography has been written in fridge magnet poetry, not clear syntax or incontestable video. You and I remember shared events through altogether different sets of words. It doesn't matter. The past is mostly gone anyway. Of all those thousands of bits we took in on that long-ago day, a mere handful remain to make us smile.

My brain is not a single organ. It's more like nine member states in an awkward coalition, each part "single-mindedly" pursuing a different role. Even my cerebral cortex, the capital of my consciousness, is split down the middle, with surprisingly limited interaction between its two hemispheres. Sever the corpus callosum between them, and bizarreness ensues. Place an apple in such a person's left hand and tell him to name it; he'll nod politely but find it impossible till you or he transfers the apple to his right hand. However different I may feel about this, I am not a conscious unit. My brain is many, as is yours.

Yet I do have a mind. I perceive the world as if I had a single I to speak of. At every level, my body is a collection of disparate items. My mind is a cloud of mixed agendas. My physical structure is plural beyond imagining. My memories are choppy, my vision pixelated, my sensory intake discontinuous. Descartes was wrong: we are, yet I think.

In decades and centuries past, we humans imagined ourselves as bloody corpses with loftier, invisible ghosts residing inside to keep us moving, thinking, and feeling. We called those animating wisps our souls. We tried to find them by praying, then by weighing. Dr. Duncan MacDougall claimed a human soul weighed three-quarters of an ounce. He was wrong. Our souls are nothing. They are nothing at all. And yet...

We often speak of the "god of the gaps," then lose faith as the gaps in our understanding of the universe diminish. Yet here remains one gap that has never closed. In fact, it has widened. We have no idea why we see ourselves as selves, single selves gliding through the world as single points behind our eyes. I feel like an I in here, not a they, yet on every level I am vast and disunited. I am a hive mind.

Perhaps the word soul should be redefined as whatever it is that brings unity and focus to all those trillions of disparate voices, intentions, and activities within our bodies, all those organs coming together into one recognizable personality. No anatomist, physiologist, psychologist, or theologist can explain it, yet here I am. Is that a miracle? Am I a miracle? I say yes, for after all my selves' cacophonous I am to say it.

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