Firefly (haiku)

Two different takes on the “firefly” prompt from Haiku Heights:

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firefly diamond

ring on my finger, divorced

after first marriage

(Aack! Was I an evil child??)

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Firefly signals

Coming in for a landing

Serenity’s here

(Oh, I got my geek on now…)

Haiku Heights

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Science Fiction

(NOTE: This post is a version of my 10th Toastmasters speech, which I gave earlier this week. You’ll just have to imagine the gestures, facial expressions, and vocal variety!)

I am a science fiction geek. Always have been; always will be. Books, TV shows, movies. Doesn’t really matter. It’s a special filter through which I see life. I’ve learned a multitude of life lessons from sci-fi. Here are five…

Lesson 1: DON’T PANIC!

New job? DON’T PANIC. New baby? DON’T PANIC. Starting your own business? DON’T PANIC. Fire in a crowded movie theater? Even then—DON’T PANIC. It rarely does much good, so DON’T PANIC.

Those are the words inscribed in large friendly letters on the cover of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the best-selling travel guide in the universe!

I first read Douglas Adams’ book, about poor Arthur Dent, dragged about the galaxy after the earth is destroyed for a planetary byway, when I was 18 and traveling the trains around Europe. This was well before the days of Kindles, back when travelers still traded paperbacks to have something new to read.

DON’T PANIC was particularly helpful advice for a young person traveling alone for the first time, nervous, frequently lost, and—let’s face it—a little bit panicky. Plus, it made me laugh hysterically. Did you know it’s practically impossible to panic when you are laughing?

DON’T PANIC.

Lesson 2: Engage!

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, there is always a “situation”—a problem to solve, a disease to cure, a civilization to rescue—and it generally involves flying off into space somewhere. Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Be still my heart!) orders the course to be set. “Course laid in, captain.” The captain points his finger and says, “Engage.” And they fly off to save the universe.

I had a prickly relationship with my father growing up, and when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I went home to spend some time with him. Every night we would watch reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Watching Jean-Luc point his finger and say “engage.” That was how we were able to engage—a common interest, a common experience, a common love of science fiction.

How do you engage with life, engage in intellectual pursuit, engage with family, engage with friends? However you do it, just engage!

“Engage.” It’s more than an order—it’s a philosophy.

Lesson 3: If you want to do something, you have to go do it!

Octavia Butler was rare in the literary world, an African American female science-fiction writer—and the first sci-fi writer to receive a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.

I discovered her work many years ago through a science fiction book club. We all loved her writing so much that when we saw she was going to be at a sci-fi conference a few hours away, we eagerly jumped in the car to go see her.

At the conference we were enthralled with her speaking and followed her around like puppies waiting for a treat. I had her sign all my books and I told her how much I loved her writing and that I wanted to be a writer too, and her response was “Well, you know what you have to do to be a writer? Write!”

I’m a slow learner, so I’ve picked up my pen and paper occasionally over the years. I’ve taken writing classes. I’ve experimented a bit. But I never really committed until I started this blog for my writing challenge “May Manuscripts – 31 Days of Meeting the Muse.”

You know what I learned? I’m a writer! When it comes right down to it, when I commit, I am a writer.

What is it you want to do? Have you committed? Lesson #3: If you want to do something, you have to go do it!

Lesson 4: Be magnificent!

Lesson #4 comes from the British TV show Doctor Who, which has been around since 1963, with 11 different incarnations of The Doctor. The Doctor is a Time Lord who travels through time and space in his ship, which happens to be a blue British Police phone box. The Doctor is particularly fond of Earth and its human inhabitants, and typically has a human “companion” who travels with him.

In the episode “The Runaway Bride,” Donna is accidentally transported to The Doctor’s ship—in the middle of her wedding. Confusion ensues, and she spends the episode traveling with The Doctor to save the world from the evil Empress of the Racnoss.

At the end of the adventure, The Doctor asks Donna what she’s going to do next. She doesn’t know. He asks her if she wants to travel with him, to become his companion. But Donna decides The Doctor’s life scares her to death; she declines.

He looks at her with sadness, but understanding. “Thanks, then, Donna. Good luck. And just…be magnificent.”

How many times has anyone told you to be “magnificent”? Or “wonderful”? or “spectacular”? Choose your own adjective.

Donna’s response: “I think I will, yeah.”

Lesson #4: You don’t have to save the world from an evil empress, but whatever you choose to do, be magnificent!

Lesson #5: Pursue Love

Our final lesson comes from a giant in science fiction Ray Bradbury, who wrote The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, and The Illustrated Man.

A few quotes…

  • “People ask me to predict the future, when all I want to do is prevent it. Better yet, build it. Predicting the future is much too easy, anyway. You look at the people around you, the street you stand on, the visible air you breathe, and predict more of the same. To hell with more. I want better.”
  •  “If we listened to our intellect we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go in business because we’d be cynical… Well, that’s nonsense. You’re going to miss life. You’ve got to jump off the cliff all the time and build your wings on the way down.”
  • “Love is the answer to everything. It’s the only reason to do anything.”
  • “My job is to help you fall in love.”

Do you see the lesson? Science fiction is not about the science. It’s about the humanity. It’s about understanding the human condition. It’s about love. Pursue love.

It’s true I’m a science fiction geek. Science fiction is the filter through which I see life and learn the lessons I need to learn. Don’t panic; engage; if you want to do something, you have to go do it; and then…whatever you do…be magnificent. Be magnificent and pursue love.

RIP Ray Bradbury

Did anyone else’s heart sink when they saw that Ray Bradbury had died?

I grew up on science fiction—that projection of current science into a possible future and the exploration of the impact it could have on human society. The genre as a whole strongly influenced my thinking, and probably contributed to my being a strategist and a writer. Ray Bradbury in particular left a mark with his vivid short stories from The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles.

Two stories from The Illustrated Man, with its undulating tattoos shaping disturbing tales, lodged in my brain. In “The Veldt,” Peter and Wendy have become so attached to their technology (in the form a nursery prophetic of the Star Trek holodeck) that when their parents try to take it away, the children murder them via the lions in the African veldt they’ve created. Parallels, anyone?

And in “Kaleidoscope,” after a space ship explodes, the crew find themselves floating in space—away from each other. Their communications last a short time, and in that span their various reactions are explored. Imagine the inevitable end—imagine speeding through space, running out of air with no one to save you. Imagine how that would feel. Bradbury did, and let us feel it too. THAT is a horror story.

Ray Bradbury is one of those giants upon whose shoulders many other writers and thinkers have stood. I think it’s time to pull out my old, beat-up copies of his work and remind myself just how giant he was.

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A lovely tribute from Peter Sagal at NPR.