Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Coping Mechanisms - Like Carl Sagan Making Whale Sounds - Or Creating Drinking Games

"Life is a shit storm, kid. And when it's raining shit, the best umbrella you can buy is art."

So quoth the Peter Falk character whose name I am too lazy to look up, from the underrated movie "Tune In Tomorrow." I'm one of approximately seven people to have seen this picture, and that includes the entire cast and crew and all the mothers thereof.

Anyone who knows me - or has had the incomparably down time to actually read this blog, specifically the "Double-barrel Unemployment" posts - can surely tell you that my past couple of years have been a bit of a shit storm. Okay, maybe not one of those early June end-of-the-world shit downpours, but a shit shower. A shit drizzle, at the very least. And yes, I definitely turned to art on more than one occasion to help get me through that creepy darkness in one piece - if you can call [Adult Swim] cartoons, "Sunny in Philly" and "Surf's Up" ART. I use those so frequently that their collective medicinal value has started to wane. "Wane???" Yeah, it's waning. Same goes for ATHF, Futurama, Archer, Tom & Jerry and Hoarders.

But you know what hasn't waned? The soothing, healing, rejuvenating power of Carl Sagan's PBS series "Cosmos." I can't exactly explain why this 30-year old series has such an effect on me, and some would say that pretty much defeats the purpose of this post. So, those people are hereby excused from reading any further. We'll wait. We'll wait a couple of minutes, apparently, as one of those people seems to think this is his personal chat room. Hang on. (sigh) Any time there, buddy. Don't worry about the half of the class that is staying, legitimately interested and anxious to hear about Joe's depression/anxiety and how "Cosmos" coats it in a cool, soothing, protective salve. Really? Gonna take that call here, are you? Okay. I guess we're all invited. Your girlfriend wants to see other people? Oh dude - that is tragic! Well, it would be tragic, if you hadn't taken that call here, in our room, in front of us, as we are all clearly waiting for you to leave. "Let's see other people?" You know what that means, don't you, bra? It means, "I'm already seeing other people and I've already decided you're not cutting it so goodbye." Ha! Yes, that's it. Move along. Scat. We have ancient TV miniseries to discuss. Buh-bye.

Okay. Where were we? Oh yeah - Cosmos. How can a nerdy science series, produced around 1980 by an admitted carbon and water, how-can-we-be-alone-in-such-a-vast-universe "chauvinist" possibly be the slightest comfort to an overwhelmed person in 2011? Dr. Sagan's presentation oscillates between too-elementary and too-M.I.T.-Grad-School, and his perception of the cosmos (everything that is, ever was or ever will be) and our place in it is at once heartening and bleak. Bits of it are empowering and comforting and can make a math-averse non-scientist feel like a peer of the best and brightest in earth's short history. Other parts, late-1970s-special-effects notwithstanding, can instill feelings of massive, overpowering insignificance and futility. The universe doesn't know or give the tiniest rat's butt about the earth or anything or anyone that has ever happened here. And so on.

And yet.

And yet, when my best job ever was going to hell and we all knew we would be on the street in the middle of the worst employment market since the Great Depression... when my soul mate was in the I.C.U. with an unidentified infection trying to kill her... when she and I were both unemployed simultaneously... and other times of indescribable stress and anxiety (like when they canceled "Wonderfalls")... I have resorted to dusting off the old "Cosmos" DVDs and falling asleep to them, night after night, until the storm clouds have passed and the sun returns - however briefly - to warm my cheeks and make life once again worth living - to gently coax me back in and off the ledge.

Maybe it's the material itself, telling me that I'm tiny and that's okay. Maybe it's Sagan's optimism, his irrepressible glee at the fact that our country at that time had begun to land exploratory robots on other planets. Maybe it's the effects, technically limited, but artistic. Maybe it's the music - an eclectic blend of classical and 1980's most ethereal electronic compositions by the likes of Tomita and Vangelis. Maybe, it's the reverence with with Sagan approaches the subject matter. Maybe. I know it's a combination of all of the above. I can watch the episodes wide awake or I can fall asleep before the opening credits end - it doesn't matter. Life makes more sense. I am closer to being at peace. I can cope with the stuff with which I need to cope, and I can let go of that which I can live without mastering. It's like a drug, only it's good for me.

Sure, the next morning, it all comes crashing down and the guy in the car next to mine - the guy who clearly has never seen "Cosmos" - is just as capable of ruining my fragile little day, but for an hour at a time, I cope. I deal. I survive.

I survive. Thanks, Dr. S. And thanks also for creating a show with several built-in drinking games. I'll share just one, the most obvious: Every time Sagan says "billion," drink. You won't make it through the first episode.

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