Lost In The Delta Quadrant, Or My Misspent Youth

More creative and geeky backstory.

Having prepared for a secretarial job instead of taking college prep, I went ahead and got a clerk-typist job for a couple of years upon graduation, but my heart and mind were already living the dream of being a student – and a famous writer and professor someday. I was in for a few surprises.

Perhaps the biggest was that in the world of 1980s academia, genre fiction was strongly frowned upon in favor of literary fiction. This state of affairs has been slow to change. Jeff Vandermeer, noted Steampunk author, addresses the state of affairs as late as 2009 in this piece.

Because I was taking a heavy course load, and due to being surrounded by the “lit fic only” mentality, I began to drift away from writing science fiction. I still read it, watched it, and enjoyed it on my own – Star Trek reruns and new series on TV, the original Star Wars trilogy installments, and other shows I found. Somehow I missed getting into Doctor Who at that time, but have recently made up for that omission.

My writing at college earned me good grades, though it was the usual output of a naive undergraduate, drawing from youthful angst about my first-world problems, or overly-ambitious attempts to step outside myself and be profound (one cringeworthy attempt to write from the point of view of a Holocaust survivor comes to mind). I switched from short stories to poetry along my trek. Then I wrote plenty of what are known in creative writing programs as “workshop poems,” while trying to avoid writing workshop poems. That’s a dimension of irony I’ll spare a description of, though you might get an idea of it from Billy Collins’ tongue-in-cheek poem “Workshop”.

Throughout college, the “write what you know” dilemma dogged me, since I didn’t know about much that wasn’t boring; I still fretted about my lack of “street cred.” I got my Bachelor’s degree and was pursuing a Master’s, until a “perfect storm” of life crises converged and culminated in my dropping out. During this emotionally and spiritually painful time, Satan attacked me at my weakest points, as Satan will do, because he has no qualms about playing dirty pool with souls.

Healing from the aftereffects of this spiritual cataclysm took many resources, the most important being trust in God and the passage of time. Returning to school didn’t feel right – the career in academia I had earlier dreamt about wasn’t a good fit. While the emotional dust was settling, I turned for solace to another passion, art, and a relaxing pastime, crafts.

I wrote poetry for my own enjoyment, did artwork, and got a diploma in floristry. Though I never made it past the apprentice stage in that field, I enjoyed the creativity and the physicality of it. It was a nice change from academia and less tedious than working in an office. I continued with my crafts and sold some things I made. I also worked in bookstores and retail, and after a few years went back to the university as an art major, but the cost of college was prohibitive. However, I realized I had enough of the basics to build on, and that with the help of books, museum and gallery visits, and practice, I could be a self-taught artist.

A few more years passed, and I sketched and painted after the death of my father and during my mother’s last years in a care facility. Time to set up for painting at home was sometimes scarce, but I carried a sketchbook and pencils to hospital waiting rooms and parks where I ate lunch, figuring that at least I could develop rough compositions and for later development into finished pieces. From the first time I heard the term decades before, I had related to the idea of being a “Renaissance woman.” I wished for my own Medici family to bankroll my explorations . . . the dream of many creative people who would like to quit their day jobs.

Poetry still appealed, and with age came a bit more skill at it. I made judicious use of my shredder for the real duds, instead of holding onto them hoping they were salvageable. Some fiction ideas had also begun floating in my mind. They were still nebulous, and I did little with them until one October when the phenomenon called National Novel Writing Month struck my world like an asteroid. What happened as a result sent me on the journey that has led up to this blog. More about that in the next post.


Interlude – Solemnity of the Ascension

My memory isn’t always the best. I joke that the reason I keep my whodunits after reading them is that I’m bad enough at following the plot that I’ll forget who the murderer was and be able to read the story again and have it still be a mystery!

So it’s no surprise that there are also times I get a bit confused with events in Scripture. In this case, the confusion I experience is between the Ascension and the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration stands out with its dramatic “special effects,” its dazzle if you will. I tend to form a mental picture of the Ascension taking place in a similar fashion, but then I have to go back and correct my mistake. The Ascension was more of a quiet denouement, though certainly no less signficant for that.

I suspect I’m not the only person out there who might have this need to make a clearer distinction between the two events. As regards the Ascension, one can gain a better understanding by comparing the accounts in the closing chapters of the Gospels (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20 and 21). I find it helpful to read from the point where the Resurrection has occurred, the tomb found empty, and then continue straight through to the end of each Gospel – which, by the way, comes swiftly. By the time I complete these readings, a clearer picture emerges.

If you do this yourself, you’ll see that the Gospel writers emphasize this time in different ways. Some include episodes only found in their respective book and no other. Matthew does not explicitly mention the Ascension. Mark’s Gospel has it after a brief summation of what took place on the road to Emmaus, and the time after that, when the disciples have reunited in Jerusalem and Our Lord appears to them at table. In Verse 19, “after he spoke to them,” it says, he was taken up. But how long after? In Luke 24, the Emmaus account and the events afterward are presented in greater detail – and afterward Jesus leads them out to Bethany then is taken up. John Chapter 20, Verse 30 assures us that Jesus performed many signs not written. So there is not one definitive chronological account; this is not unusual with the Gospels, but does not have to be seen as “contradictions” if we look for the deeper implications for our Faith that each account is conveying.

It seems fairly safe to conclude that the most important things to take away from these four Gospel accounts are that Jesus wished to clarify what all the events of His Death and Resurrection meant, namely, that He was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, and that the work of the Church was now to continue through His chosen Apostles.

The commissioning of the preaching of the Gospels to the whole world is the thread running through all of the accounts. Jesus is returning to the Father, having accomplished that for which the Father sent Him. Through signs, He to demonstrated in the physical world enough to show that what He told them about Himself was believable even to mere human perception. Yet He also indicated, through his words, that He desired them to have faith in Him more than in signs and wonders. He promised strength and other powerful spiritual gifts when He would send the Holy Spirit, to enable them to fulfill this commission He gave them.

As a young person, perhaps around the time I was being entertained by the impossible being made to look as if it were possible, thanks to Industrial Light and Magic, I pondered lots of deep mysteries; I tried to see how the material and spiritual worlds fit together. Young people are naturally full of wonder, yet they are somewhat uncomfortable at the same time with mystery. They pounce on contradictions and want to try to explain everything. I would try to do this with the juncture between our world and Heaven, for instance. I would think “Maybe Heaven is another dimension.” Perhaps it was the fifth or another, beyond the four dimensions of physical spacetime. Those thoughts were my mind’s way of trying to tame, label, and put in a neat box that which is beyond any of our comprehension.

Fortunately, I didn’t become overly obsessed with nailing it down to the point that I strayed off into one heresy or another. It was more of a tool I used, to attempt to wrap my mind around certain mysteries, until I grew and learned and my Faith deepened. So although it may have some limited usefulness as a metaphor, depending upon the context, as an actual explanation it’s too flimsy and can be discarded.

What do we think of just hearing the word “Ascension”? Rising to a higher plane? Evolving? Playing free association, so many thoughts can come. When I read or watch science fiction, I speculate about the fantastic – blasting off in a rocket, or pulling a lever and entering the dimension of hyperspace. The mode of travel is a means to another end, to reach the wonders of, say, an alien planet. It’s all good entertainment, and it stretches the mind. Some of it may be possible for humans to bring about in reality someday, and the rest may remain in the realm of fantasy forever. It doesn’t matter, in the end, because fantasy can also reflect deep human truths, as the classics in the genre by Verne, Wells, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and many others have proven.

I think about the history of mankind, how we have evolved and developed and, when we’ve got ourselves in line with God’s plan, improved here and there. I watch the advances of technology with some trepidation as science fiction becomes science fact, and can see how some of it might appeal, yet present great dangers. Having a smartphone is one thing; altering future generations’ genetic codes, or approaching the “singularity” where some speculate artificial intelligence might take over – those are scary prospects, and areas where more than ever we must preach the Gospel so that we make wise decisions and don’t try to usurp the power over our destiny that rightfully belongs to God.

Another pitfall to avoid is an older one that has surfaced in various forms for longer than modern technology has been around. Indeed, it may reflect a reaction against science, in a subconscious way, at least on the part of some of its adherents. I refer to the New Age belief that if we do certain practices, try to evoke certain paranormal phenomena, and so on, we will be guided by, and have the potential to become, “Ascended Masters” in our own right. This set of beliefs proposes that Jesus Christ was just the first, or one of a number of, “Ascended Masters,” and that we can become another Christ through our own efforts and with the aid of reincarnation or occult practices. Some vulnerable souls are attracted to these ideas, but they are being misled. Hopefully if you’re reading this, I don’t really need to warn you not to let yourself fall for these heresies and spiritual traps. But you may know someone who has, and it’s good to educate yourself about such things and be ready to defend the Faith and perhaps help someone caught up in these falsehoods to find the real Truth.

So to summarize:  When it comes to thinking about the Ascension, first study Scripture and look for the most important messages Jesus wants us to take away from everything that happened after the Resurrection. Avoid the errors of too much materialism on one side, and of pseudo-spiritual counterfeits on the other. Focus on the simple message this day brings, which is to go and make disciples of all nations, knowing that our Risen and Ascended Jesus is with us – to the farthest reaches of time and space.

Part II – That Faraway Galaxy That Felt Like Home: Seeing “Star Wars”

Tomorrow is Star Wars Day – May the 4th Be With You! So I will jump the gun just a bit here and share my own Star Wars tale, which is also the companion piece to my previous post about Apollo. In earlier posts I have described my youthful fascination with space and science, which waned somewhat in the intervening time. This is how the spark was rekindled, and some changes that followed.

An ordinary afternoon in August, 1977. My family, which consisted of the trio of my parents and myself, desired an outing but we were tired of the usual. I think it was my mother who suggested we “go see that movie ‘Star Wars’ and see what all the fuss [was] about.” Dad and I agreed, so off we went to the mall theater. As we settled into our seats with our snacks and sodas, bits of memories of those Apollo missions and children’s sci-fi books, and popular “flying saucer” mythos tickled the back of my brain.

This new movie would probably be weird, I thought. I wondered if it would be scary. At that point I wasn’t into action-adventure much. I’d seen a few episodes of “Star Trek” here and there, but I hadn’t read much science fiction for several years, nor had I gotten into mystery yet. I avoided horror because I was very easily grossed out. I tended to prefer “family stories” and teen romances. Safe, comforting traditional girls’ books. With my eclectic tastes, I still have a soft spot for those.

But it was time, in August ’77, to step away from my usual. The movie started with the John Williams fanfare, the iconic word crawl giving the backstory, and then – spaceships! Laser beams! The inside of the spaceship. Robots. The laser guns called “blasters” rather than the quaint “ray guns” of early sci-fi. I was caught up pretty much right away. The shift to the scenes on Tatooine, with Luke Skywalker as the farm boy dreaming of adventure among the stars, and R2-D2 and C-3PO fearing a horrible fate as spare parts.

And a princess in distress. A multifaceted princess who could shoot a blaster, sass Darth Vader, and plead vulnerably from a hologram, “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope.” I’m in danger right now of reciting a litany of Star Wars scenes and props that most anyone reading this will already know. I’ll stick to highlights of my own reactions. Still – there were so many! The world of wonder George Lucas had created was full of them. Little things that gave it believability, the grimy, dented, lived-in look that drew everyone in. You could live in that galaxy, it felt like. I wanted to live there.

A few things were recognizable from existing tropes – I remember thinking the Millennium Falcon was the first spaceship in the film that looked something like an actual “flying saucer.” Yet at the same time, the hotrod Falcon it turned the cliche’ on its head. Amidst all the amazement and suspense and action, it was as if the years between this time in the theater and the days of watching Apollo missions just fell away. I had this immediate, major epiphany – I had really never stopped loving space exploration, spaceships, science fiction, and science! Some part of me had quietly stored the wonderment and the passion away. Now, this movie had opened the box and let it all out again.

I became immediately obsessed. I bought the novelization (by Lucas himself) and read it over and over. I bought memorabilia including the original twelve action figures, Luke’s landspeeder, and X-Wing and TIE Fighters. I bought bubble gum card packs and comic books. I found other science fiction books to read. I founded a science fiction club my senior year of high school and was its president. And one evening, in my room, I sat down at the manual typewriter and started writing a science fiction story of my own.

This led to a complete change of plans. I realized I wanted to go to college after all, and major in creative writing, instead of becoming a secretary as I’d been studying to be. But since I was a senior, I could only tinker with my schedule a little and fit in an English Literature class – it was a great class, though, and the teacher agreed to become one of my science fiction club’s advisers.

I was sad at not being able to start college at the same time as my peers, but I was determined to see it through and start in a couple of years. In the meantime I read and wrote more science fiction, and went to local conventions. The show “Battlestar Galactica” debuted on TV, borrowing not a little from “Star Wars,” and my geek friends and I got some of our fix watching it. It didn’t hurt a bit that the show featured two good-looking young male leads – interestingly enough, in my school science fiction club females were the majority, shattering a stereotype of our time.

My parents, being rather conventional, found my sudden passion for science fiction a bit disturbing. And there were times that in reading I encountered viewpoints about God, humanity, sex, violence, the occult, and so on that were shocking to my sheltered self. Some books I felt too uncomfortable to read. Still, I was learning so much. I wasn’t quite sure how I would balance some of what I read and my religious beliefs; it was too early to know the things I do now, that faith and science needn’t be in conflict for instance.

I was also learning what the science fiction “establishment” thought of “Star Wars,” and was disappointed to realize it was not all positive. The term “space opera” was used sneeringly by some who only wanted their science fiction deep and thought-provoking. While as an amateur writer I was beginning to see their point, it couldn’t dim my “Star Wars” love all that much. What I really enjoyed was that I could connect with and sustain those feelings of excitement and wonder that “Star Wars” brought me. I could reconnect those feelings with earlier childhood wonders about the mysteries of the cosmos and mankind’s place therein, and the sense that we were living in extraordinary times.

The Part Before Part II – Detours Through the Occasional Wormhole

Sorry for the Delay . . .

I’m aware that too much autobiographical content can get tedious. I’d hoped I could skip straight to Part II of this “From Apollo to Star Wars” sequence, but that now feels incomplete as a means of laying the groundwork for the more “meaty” content of this blog, which I promise I’ll get to eventually. Meanwhile, I’m seeing that it was not easy being an intelligent girl when I was growing up. I was one for whom the course of life to what I want to do, has never been a straight line from Point A to Point B.

There has been much attention given recently to empowering young people, and especially girls and women, to go into science and tech – from the new emphasis on STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) to Girls Who Code, and much more. Perhaps if these sorts of programs had existed when I was growing up, they might have been helpful to me. It’s impossible to know in retrospect, of course, and like the “time streams” of Doctor Who, one wonders at all the possible universes that could exist, even if only metaphorically, with each choice at each fork in the road, and with other influences playing into each decision.

The woman I am now, with a stronger than ever curiosity about the universe and the planet we inhabit, fought external and internal battles to achieve greater authenticity, and at one time, to figure out what she wanted to do when she grew up. That never really did get settled – neither the growing up nor the career aspect. When I observe my fellow human beings, I see a certain number who have settled into a vocational path rather smoothly and early on, and advanced on it in a pattern of steady, mostly upward progress. My story is a tad more complicated.

I’m an explorer, at least within my mind. I’ve strayed off the type of straight course described above, whether through my fault or circumstances or a combination of both. My path has been a meandering one, and I’ve gone through various periods of jettisoning interests and taking up new ones. I also like to juggle several of them at once, to the point where I’ve wrestled with the fear that I’m a dillettante. I have ADHD, and this modus operandi is typical of my sort. There’s a new buzzword making the rounds, “multipotentiate.” I like that. It has a much better ring than dillettante.

I’m constantly aware of the need to find ways to deal with my busy mind, stay on track with life’s practical aspects, and do all of these within the context of my Catholic Faith. At the end of the day, even if things get a bit crazy, I’m grateful that God has given me a curious mind. It’s a blessing, if I can discern how to prioritize my unique gifts and interests, use my time wisely, and help others along the way.

Just as we humans inhabit God’s physical Creation, we move through its spiritual dimensions as well. In our life on Earth, we experience growth and change. Sometimes it’s difficult to envision the world of eternity, which will be quite different. And yet, we are created in His image, and Creation around us declares His glory, we are told. It’s up to us to ask God to deepen our vision of the implications of that for each of us. Living in this world requires a spiritual skill set, and preparing for the next requires trust and faith in what “eye has not seen, nor ear heard.”

Almost a Chemist

Science classes at my junior high consisted of physics in 7th grade, chemistry in 8th, and mini-units on various topics in 9th. The first two years went well; I even asked for a chemistry set and a microscope for Christmas in 8th grade and was considering a career as a chemist. In 9th grade, though, I went over to the dark side for awhile, allowing a gal pal to sway me into blowing off the class, convincing myself I hated science, and being a thorn in the poor teacher’s side. The lengths a nerdy insecure teenager will go to, to be perceived as cool!

My little foray into naughtiness was partly fueled by frustration with rejection and bullying in school and some family conflicts. Still, I felt remorse for my rebellion, went to Confession, asked for my parents’ forgiveness and the teacher’s.

There were deep consequences, though, to my identity and ambition. I was adrift, like matter blown off from a dying star. At the time school counselors were prodding us to make career choices so we could plot our high school coursework; so out of confusion and inertia, I allowed my mom to steer me into the secretarial track.

The other subject besides science I’d liked was art, but my family couldn’t see art as a “practical” way for their daughter to make her living. The artistic passion did keep my creativity going, though, and once given free rein, it has played a large role in my life.

As with chemistry, sometimes what is needed to get things going is a catalyst. That catalyst was already in the works, as a young filmmaker named George Lucas was working on the very early elements of it about the same time as I was attending my junior high science classes and wondering about my future.

From Apollo to Star Wars

Part I – Apollo – Age 7

As I’ve reached, and whizzed past, the mid-century mark of my own existence, I’ve begun to wonder, among other things, how Einstein’s Theory of Relativity might apply to memories. The faster and further I go through time and experiences, the more my earthbound brain ages, but the truth as it happened in the 1960s, and how I witnessed it, may still be there in its pristine original form.

The best I can do, all these years later, is attempt to capture the emotional essence, whilst questioning certain details, such as whether my grandma was visiting us in person on her birthday Sunday, July 20, 1969 when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, or whether we merely talked to her on the phone and my mind, thinking it would be cool to have her present in front of the black-and-white TV screen of my memories, photoshopped her image in there.

What is certain is that it was indeed her birthday, and that I had turned seven that spring. I had recently also made my First Holy Communion, having reached what the Catholic Church determines to be the age of reason, where I could be taught to form my conscience, to know right from wrong. I could begin to grasp the concept of a Sacrament, and know that the round white Host, once consecrated at Holy Mass, beheld mysteries luminous as the full Moon and even more amazing than the prospect of human beings landing on Earth’s satellite and leaving footprints in the dust. That little white circle of sweet-tasting bread became the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

As with my catechism classes in preparation for that great mystery, so had I led up to this day. For some time preceding, I had eagerly arisen to watch Gemini and Apollo missions being launched. I, the sleepy, cranky little girl who never did grow up into a morning person, had actually been willing to get out of bed when Mom told me a rocket launch was on the agenda. The litany of the countdowns, the excitement when the numbers reached zero and we had liftoff . . . the jettisoning of spent rocket stages. It was real, it was adventure, and I was watching it live. And this was the day of the Real Deal. These astronauts were really going to land their craft, step outside it, and walk around.

So, with each successive step leading up to that lunar landing on my grandma’s birthday, my excitement had built. It would continue through subsequent Apollo missions, and among many books I read in elementary school were children’s science fiction titles. I remember reading about Space Cat in a series of books by Ruthven Todd, and others that were probably written by such familiar names as Heinlein, Clarke, or Asimov, though specific names and books elude me.

The screen of our black-and-white TV gave off a bluish glow. The astronauts in their bulky suits moved like figures in a dream. One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. And a sense of possibility and progress was born in a young girl’s imagination. But what would happen to that excitement as that girl grew and life down on Earth went on around her? At the time, recall, there were no female astronauts, and soon I would learn that it was considered “dorky” to be into science. How I drifted from the wonder, and how I returned to it on an ordinary August day eight years later, will be the subject of my next few posts.

Introduction and Mission – Oh, and, I’m Not Really a Nun

I’m just a gal who prefers her privacy because of the sensitive nature of some of the topics that will be part of this blog. Although I’m not a consecrated religious, I am a Catholic, and loyal to the Church’s Magisterium. This can get a person in hot water for being “politically incorrect,” hence my desire at the current time to use a pen name.

This is a place for Catholicism, science, and science fiction to meet, spark speculation and thought, inspire faith, and hopefully entertain with a sense of mystery and wonder. Being baptized into the Faith at the age of six weeks changed my life, and in a lesser but important way, so did seeing the original “Star Wars” in 1977.