athelind: (Eye of the Dragon)
I just got word that one of my oldest friends, with whom I had fallen completely out of touch, died this morning from a massive heart attack. Evidently, he'd been having symptoms for a while, but had just started a new job, and didn't want to take the time to see a doctor ...

I had been thinking just this past week or two that I needed to get in touch with him again.

I don't think he was more than six years my senior. As I said to the mutual friend who let me know, my being the youngest of our group doesn't seem like that big a gap after passing the half-century mark.

We met way back when I was still in high school; I was at a science fiction convention, overheard a fascinating conversation on abstruse philosophy of fantasy magic, and, quite uncharacteristically, interjected myself into it. I got two long-enduring friendships out of it.

At the time, Jim had already written at least one multi-volume fantasy epic and had several more mostly finished. He never got them published outside of long-defunct fanzines, and if you do a search on his name on Google, all you'll find is his soft-porn anime fanfics. Our whole circle read his stuff, though, in photocopies of his single-spaced typewritten manuscripts. I used to have custody of his "back-up files", in the days when that meant a Big Box of Manuscripts in Manila Envelopes.

But now ... dammit. I've lost a friend, but ... it hurts just as much that nobody will ever have the chance to read those novels of his, that he'll never get the fame that he should have.

I know what I've lost. But anybody who's ever enjoyed a fantasy novel has lost something, too, and most of you will never know it.

I need to start writing again. Serious writing. For Jim, who was always goading me to get my own ideas down on paper.

And maybe I'll throw a few nods to him along the way.

Good night, Jim.

I should have been a better friend.

athelind: (explore)
#CarlSagan is trending today on Twitter.

It would have been his 80th birthday.

I offer this, because there is little more that need be said:

We succeeded in taking that picture (from deep space), and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

Happy birthday, Unca Carl.

Thank you.

athelind: (Eye of the Dragon)
A common reaction to Robin Williams' suicide is surprise, most particularly surprise that he suffered from depression.

That part … did not surprise me at all.

Look at him. Pick any movie, any scene, especially the ones where he's smiling. His smile, more often that not, is almost apologetic.

That is the face of a man who is constantly, keenly aware of the fragile, transient beauty of life and existence … and the more beautiful the moment, the more that transience weighs upon him.

That is the face of someone who feels sadness in the midst of the most sincere joy, because of that joy.

That's depression.

It's not just languishing in the dark and reading Goth poetry. It can also be smiling with tears in your eyes. It's not an inability to feel joy or happiness – it's when even joy brings pain.

Some people think that if it weren't for the lows in life, we couldn't appreciate the highs. When you suffer from depression, it’s exactly the opposite: the highs in life just bring the lows into sharp relief.

If you look at Robin Williams' life – his loving family, his career and fans, his financial security, his supportive community – and think that, in the face of all that, being depressed "doesn't make any sense" – you're absolutely correct.

Clinical depression isn't an emotional state. It’s a chemical imbalance. Those serotonin levels don’t respond to logic or reason or perspective, and even when you know all these things intellectually, they don’t magically make the emptiness go away.

I was lucky. I had acute depression, not chronic, and I don't seem to have whatever quirk of psychology or metabolism that leads to substance abuse or addiction issues. I can empathize with the late Mr. Williams, deeply, but I can't ever know what it was really like in his head, to have the Black Dog sinking its teeth in your throat, even when surrounded by those you love and who love you in return.

Subject line courtesy of Patton Oswalt's Twitter.
athelind: (explore)
"It's a bad week for NASA," someone said.

To those we've lost as we reached for the stars:

Apollo 1: 27 January 1967
Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom • Edward H. White II • Roger B. Chaffee

Space Shuttle Challenger: 28 January 1986
Francis R. Scobee • Michael J. Smith
Ronald McNair • Ellison Onizuka • Judith Resnik
Greg Jarvis • Christa McAuliffe

Space Shuttle Columbia: 01 February 2003
Rick D. Husband • William C. McCool
Michael P. Anderson • Kalpana Chawla • David M. Brown
Laurel Clark • Ilan Ramon

Though a nation watched them falling, yet a world could only cry
As they passed from us to glory, riding fire in the sky

athelind: (Eye: RCA Magic Eye)
He changed the world with good design.

Who could aspire to a better epitaph?

November 2016

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