Why do we yearn to create stories?

Why do we yearn to create stories?

We are story animals.

It’s scribbled somewhere in the spirals of our DNA. Some trait we evolved—I think we forced ourselves to encode it there, to learn, to yearn to share. It is like a sound that we feel, but it cannot escapes except through new stories we must create. For me it happens when I learn something, when I actually come to understand a concept. Something passes from teacher or writer to me, and that sound begins to build there at the back of my head trying to escape…no not escape and leave me, but to seek out another mind to cross to. I have received some token, some spark—It is my responsibility to push it forward to new minds so it doesn’t wither and die like my biological form must do.

Of course, not all stories have a creature like this hiding in their narrative, but some do, sometimes the simplest ones.

And writing—unlike storytelling from memory like a Shaman from our deep past relied upon—allows these ideas to lie dormant…waiting. Not for one lifespan, or even ten lifespans, they have the opportunity to endure.

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Who would take a one-way journey to Mars?

Mars One

Mars One is a not-for-profit organization whose goal is to establish a human settlement on Mars

Mars One is a not-for-profit organization whose goal is to establish a human settlement on Mars. In January this year they began the selection process for the astronauts who will make the one way journey to establish a human settlement on Mars. The road map has designated 2023 as the year that the first four humans will land on Mars.

Mars One have begun a search to find the best candidates for the ‘next giant leap for mankind’

Although they have not set an upper age limit for the first crews to settle Mars, with my age placing me in my mid fifties at the time of the scheduled first landing, I suspect I may be beyond it.

Even so I have written a short post on the type of person suitable for this one-way journey.

Australian National Maritime Museum

Many humans have travelled to new lands with the intention of never return but there has always been the potential of a return. Even the convicts forcefully transported to Australia in the eighteenth century departed with the dream of one day returning to their homeland, buried deep in their hearts. In contrast the astronauts of the Mars-One missions must be able to embark on the first truly one-way journey in human history. They must choose to severe all physical ties to their past, and everyone they hold dear. But the void this will leave, like the vacuum of space, will be filled by Mars.

Many of the early seafaring peoples left their homelands to travel to new lands, sometimes on voyages of discovery, other times to help build new societies, but there remained always a chance to return. Even the brave ancestors of the Polynesian peoples, floating in the expansive Pacific Ocean in little more than voyaging canoes, would have held tight to a small hope that they could choose to risk a return journey.

COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII PRESS Side and top view of an Outrigger canoe from Satawal, Caroline Islands.

A Mars-One astronaut must sacrifice all of this; they must jettison all hope of return. They will never hold the people they love in their arms when they laugh or cry; or hear their footsteps; or begin a journey home to them. They will have to accept that they will be several hundred million kilometres from their loved one’s arms when they exhale their last breath.

Experiences that have been part of human existence for Milena will become foreign to them; walking in the open air, swimming in the ocean, feeling warm, no, hot sun on their face. Even walking in one direction for more than a minute, without a spacesuit, will be many years away from being possible.

When they jettison all of this they will be an empty cup, ready to be filled with everything that is Mars. Apart from gaining 37 minutes and 22 seconds each day, they will participate in the birth of a new society and make a positive influence on its formative years. New experiences await them: learning to eat, drink, and exercise in a new gravity; smell and touch the martial soil and rock; seeing the horizon closer than it has ever been.

They will take their newborn existence, like the dry martian soil, and moisten it with the human spirit to alchemise the raw, unformed clay that will be moulded over many years to become a human Mars.

They will need to be learning creatures, and imbibe the essence of whatever they are charged with learning; much like the properties of some rocks to imbibe fluid, drawing it into themselves. They will need to be writers too, of their experiences and emotions but also of Earth. I feel that the first Martian novel will be of Earth.WritingPadAndBooks

Curiosity must drive their behaviour and creativity will be an indispensable element of any of the first Martians but it should not be the bloody minded kind that works in isolation. Any candidate must prove they will be open to the ideas of others and capable of trusting them enough let go of their own. They must be active collaborators and strive to be an enabling ingredient of a team that empowers it to achieve more than the sum of the individual contributions. They will need to let go of old ways with practised ease to release and foster new methods of practise and existence.

English: Mars Terraforming

English: Mars Terraforming (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The selection of the first humans to live the remainder of their lives on Mars will be long and exhaustive. The qualities they need to posses such as resilience, trust, curiosity, and ingenuity are also the qualities that will mean these people will have real relationships on Earth that they must physically sacrifice to become the first Martians. They will have to throw the ropes, that physically connect them to earth, into the water just as the ancient mariners did but for them it must be without harbouring any hope of return.

So which of you would take this one way journey to Mars?

HUGE New Gale Crater Panoramas from Curiosity

Associated posts:

What might have been?

So much of the built landscape of the Australian bush stinks of what might have been, even some areas quite close to major cities.

It’s like we lost the fight against a harsh unforgiving environment, and an almost genetic apathetic indifference. It seems that for most Australians okay is not only good enough, it is the absolute height of their ambition.

Let this frustration temper our ambition, not lower it!

How can a westerner come to understand Seppuku?

If there is one part of Japanese culture that alludes most westerners it is ritual suicide by disembowelment known as seppuku, or “Hara-kiri” as it is better known outside Japan.

Seppuku became an integral part of Bushido (The way of the Warrior) and was used in several ways:

  • Capital punishment for disgraced samurai rather than be executed (this was not an option for other classes)
  • To avoid falling into enemy hands, and possible torture and revealing military secrets
  • To follow your Lord into the next world
  • In protest of a lord’s decision

Seppuku is poorly understood and is often used to support an argument that the Japanese people hold human life in little regard, when in actual fact it is more truly a proof of the opposite.

The act of seppuku is common in historical literature and drama, the most famous in my experience is the story of Forty-seven Rōnin.

The Forty-seven Rōnin also know as the Genroku Akō incident (元禄赤穂事件) occurred at the start of the 18th century and is the story of group of samurai who are forced to become rōnin(masterless warriors) when their daimyo (feudal lord),  Asano Takumi-no-Kami Naganori, is ordered to commit seppuku after being tricked into insulting a court official.

These rōnin plotted for over two years to avenge Asano’s honour.

Even early in my martial arts training I was exposed to mentions of these”Forty-seven Rōnin” but it wasn’t until I read the novel The Tokaido Road by Lucia St. Clair Robson that I learned more than that these rōnin were the epitome of bushido.

It was while reading this novel that I had a satori moment where I feel I came understand seppuku.

St. Clair Robson’s novel tells the fictional account of Lord Asano’s daughter who, also vows to avenge her father’s honour, and travels The Tōkaidō Road disguised as a high-ranking courtesan to reach Oishi, the leader of these Forty-seven Rōnin.  From her point of view he and the other rōnin have done nothing to avenge their Lord for two years.

Spoiler Alert

In the end the story matches the historical facts and the Forty-seven Rōnin succeed in killing the court official who betrayed their lord and then surrender to the will of the Shogun. The shogun deliberates; will they be executed, forced to commit seppuku, or set free?

As a typical westerner I read an appreciated the story of revenge and truly expected them to be rewarded for the honour of this act and be set free. This story, and history, had a different ending and it appears that the happy ending eventuated but was not the one I expected; The Forty-seven Rōnin, were granted “the right” to commit seppuku, thus returning the honour of both their Lord Asano and their own families.

I had a double take and read this again, while my mind raced and was forever changed.

What would Takuan Soho tell Mark Cavendish?

A letter by Takuan Soho(1573-1645) to Mark Cavendish, pro tour cyclist, winner 15 Tour de France stages

Although you see the rider that moves to pass you, if your mind is not detained by him and you meet the rhythm of the advancing bike; if you do not think of blocking your opponent and no thoughts or judgements remain; if the instant you see the moving bike your mind is not the least bit detained and you move straight in and wrench the lead from him; the line that he was going to use will become your own, and, contrarily, will be the line that defeats your opponent.

Adapted from the letter by Takuan SohoThe Mysterious Record of Immovable Wisdom” to Yagyu Munenori, head of the Yagyu Shinkage school of swordsmanship.

Character arc: like a scramjet, or a lead balloon?

I’ve been considering different methods for plotting the scenes in my novel and have come back to the Action-Reaction concept; that is, something happens and the character reacts.

At a higher level each scene must move the story forward; the state of the story must change. It can either be; a change to the character’s goals, needs, fears, or state of mind; or simply changing the reader’s understanding of the character.

This Action–Reaction–Change loop changes the state of the story and increases its momentum.

I plot a scene out for eacharacter:

  • Action
  • Reaction
  • Change

ARC – Character ARC:

But is it the arc of a lead balloon or a rocket?

The momentum of object can increased by either adding mass, or accelerating it to a higher velocity. It’s the same with a story; we add mass by incresing the readers understanding of the character or place, and accelerate it with action.

But the two changes must be in balance. Simply increasing the mass i.e. learning about the character slows it down, as energy is lost in getting this new material up to speed. And increasing speed alone puts the story in a precarious state where it could be either deflected off course, or leave the reader behind.

My brother worked for NASA for about a decade before returning to continue his research at the University of Queesland in Australia. His primary focus is the Scramjet (supersonic combustion ramjet). For this type of propulsion system to operate everything has to be in perfect balance; so that a controlled hydrostatic air flow through the engine can be achieved.

Planning my scenes I try to to get the mix just right too. I include a little of both mass and accelleration that change the story; it’s a balancing act.

Too much mass to early and the scene or entire story will drop like a lead balloon, too much action and the story will accelerate out of controll or the reader will let go…they won’t care.

The art is to get the balance right and soar like a scramjet

What defines an “Intelligent” species?

I’ve always struggled with how to classify a species as intelligent or not. It must be simple and applicable across any expected type of life, not just the ones we have so far encountered on earth.

I would normally classify YouTube as the antitheses of a thought-provoking blog but was stunned the other day when my son sent me a link to “I’m a Stupid Cat” that got my mind racing on this subject.

It is the typical “funny cat” video set to music and lyrics (language warning) and although it is not precisely anti-cat propaganda it does highlight the innocence of a domesticated cat’s life.

A screen capture of the YouTube video “I’m a stupid Cat”

Hidden amongst the profanities and humorous anecdotes was a startling observation that “[cats] don’t even know they’re going to die.”

And it was precisely this quote that struck a chord with me.

Is it this quality, an understanding of time and personal mortality, that defines an intelligent species?

It is also interesting to note that our species is taxonomically known as Homo sapiens, Latin for “knowing man”.

A little research turned up an article on The Daily Galaxy entitled “The Planet’s Other “Intelligent” Species: Do Dolphins Have a Sense of the Future?” At the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, Kelly the Dolphin could very well [have] got the upper hand on her human trainers… or pets?

All the dolphins at the center are trained to retrieve trash that has mistakenly fallen in to their pools. Upon seeing a nearby trainer, they are to take said trash to the trainer. In return, they receive a fish for their cleanliness.

However it seems that Kelly has found a loophole in the system, and is exploiting it to interesting ends. She hoards her trash, underneath a rock at the bottom of her pool, and when she sees a trainer she goes down and removes a piece of paper or trash to get her fish. However she won’t use all her paper at once, instead she holds on to them for the future.

It is an interesting behavior, considering that it is very much like humans storing food for the winter; it displays an awareness of tomorrow.

The Planet’s Other “Intelligent” Species: Do Dolphins Have a Sense of the Future?

I’m not discussing the intelligence of this animal or that but each entire species and it is not useful to quote a single specific example such as the dolphin “Kelly” above, otherwise one could use a human baby as proof that Homo sapiens do not pass this test.

The quality must be inherent in the mature species and only absent by exception.

Although René Descartes is credited as the father of analytical geometry (the bridge between algebra and geometry), crucial to my work as a spatial scientist, he is perhaps best known for the philosophical statement:

“Cogito ergo sum” (French: Je pense, donc je suis; English: I think, therefore I am) – in part IV of Discourse on the Method (1637)

Which also harks back to the classification of our species as “Knowing Man”.

So…is the comprehension of time and mortality (or more colloquially: do they know they’re going to die) a valid way to classify a species as intelligent or not?

…and what does this mean for us and these other intelligent species? Are they to be protected? Are they exempt from use as a source of materials or food? And are they also unsuitable for use as involuntary manual labour or entertainment?