A Sense of Wonder

When I was a teenager, one of my favorite pastimes was playing Trivial Pursuit.  One Saturday night each month, my parents invited our neighbors to come over and play.  We would usually play two games, eat impossible amounts of food, laugh a lot, and compete.  Though the games were fun, each team wanted to win.

trivialpursuit

 

Some of the questions were easy, others remarkably obscure.  I tried to remember as much of the trivia as I could from game to game–I have always had a knack for holding on to useless information!

Many of the questions were run-of-the-mill.  Who won the Cy Young Award for the National League in 1984? (Rick Sutcliffe.)  Who was the 23rd president of the United States? (Benjamin Harrison.)  Who won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1956? (Ingrid Bergman.)

ingridbergman

 

But others were mind-bending.  I recall one such question that asked what object weighed approximately 6.5 sextillion tons.  (The earth.)  What was the heaviest known substance in the universe, so heavy, in fact, that a teaspoon-full would weigh more than every person on the globe put together? ( A neutron star.)  Where did the lowest-ever recorded temperature on earth, -128.6 degrees Fahrenheit, occur in 1983?  (Vostok Station, Antarctica.)

antartica

 

Somewhere along the line, though, something struck me.  Here we were, playing a game, testing our knowledge on everything from baseball to cooking, from television history to astronomy and the mysteries of the universe.  And I realized–I was much more concerned with getting the questions answered correctly than I was absorbing the information and thinking about it.  Some of the facts I learned playing Trivial Pursuit were astonishing.  Didn’t they merit at least some pondering and reflection?

catthinking

 

*********************

In The Eye-Dancers, when we first meet Marc Kuslanski, he is a know-it-all, the class science wiz, the one Mitchell Brant, Ryan Swinton, and Joe Marma turn to when they are haunted by the “ghost girl” in their dreams.  Marc likes to figure things out.  He reduces complex puzzles to their simplest form, and logically and meticulously solves them.  His view of the universe has no room in it for the unexplained.

equations

 

In chapter 6 of the novel, the narrative describes Marc’s views . . .

“Few things irritated him more than mindless adherence to false beliefs, or unsubstantiated assertions of ‘magic’ or ‘miracles.’  Or ghosts.  There was no magic.  There were no miracles, and there were certainly no spirits who stalked you in dreams.  There was only truth, and fact.  Everything had a valid, natural explanation, a reason grounded within the existing laws of the universe.  Today’s mysteries were nothing more than tomorrow’s ongoing catalog of scientific advancement and discovery.”

scientificdiscovery

 

Over the course of The Eye-Dancers, Marc’s perspective will be tested, challenged, and, ultimately, ambushed.

Maybe we are not as rigid with our views as Marc Kuslanski is with his, but certainly we live in an age of scientific marvels, technology that, a generation ago, would have been relegated to the world of science fiction.  No matter how hard we try to guard against it, sometimes the sense of wonder escapes us.

technology

 

A century ago, very few people would have conceived of commercial jet aircraft that can transport you around the world in the span of hours.  If they had observed such a machine, they would have gaped, wonder-struck, perhaps terrified.  Today, we are so accustomed to jets, we may yawn as they fly overhead.

We are saturated with technological marvels, advancements that have shaped and altered society.  Just twenty years ago, the idea of a smartphone, and all the accoutrements that go along with it, would have seemed a fiction, something to be found in the pages of a novel or in the mind of a movie producer or screenwriter.

smartphones

 

Even in this age of computer chips and digital communication and information overload, however, there are still many phenomena that boggle the senses and stretch the limits of the mind.

For instance . . . nearly everyone has stepped outside on a crisp, clear night and looked up at the stars.  They dot the sky, one by one; there are so many it becomes dizzying to count them all.  And yet . . . what we see is only the slightest fraction of the whole, a microscopic drop, a solitary snowflake in a winter storm.

starsinsky

 

There are more estimated stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on all of the earth’s beaches put together.  And when you look up at those stars, when you make an errant wish, a resolution, a promise to the vastness that surrounds you, you are observing, in effect, the equivalent of a mere handful of sand.

grainsofsand

 

At times, the stars appear so close, close enough to reach up and touch.  But their distance is nearly impossible to fathom.  They are so far away, in fact, that the light you are seeing, striking your eye from the depths of space, may have taken millions of years to reach you.  You are, in effect, looking into the distant past. . . .

lookinpast

 

Or consider the sun.  We see it every day (well, not quite in Vermont in winter!).  It is constant, our own personal star, the one thing we can count on through all the changes and winding pathways of life.  It is so there, so present–it’s easy to forget the power and energy it emits.

thesun

 

Imagine for a moment that a pinhead-sized piece of the sun were to be brought down to the surface of the earth.  A speck, a mote of sun-dust.  Yet powerful enough to kill you if you were to approach to within even ninety miles.

pinhead

 

I fear that, at the beginning of The Eye-Dancers, Marc Kuslanski would have simply shrugged at these facts.  He is so concerned with the inner workings of the wonders of the universe, the reasons behind them, the ratios and equations that prove or disprove them, he cannot appreciate the wonders themselves.

logic

 

I would like to think that, by novel’s end, he would be more ready to pause and look and ponder.  And more ready to admit that not everything can be explained by a mathematical formula or a cold, logical theory.  Some things, by their very nature, must remain a mystery, beyond the purview of a textbook definition.

mystery

 

Some things must be experienced, not explained.  Marveled at, not dissected.

Loved, and not taken apart and analyzed.

Several decades ago, astronomer Carl Sagan may have said it best . . .

“Our Sun is a second- or third-generation star.  All of the rocky or metallic material we stand on, the iron in our blood, the calcium in our teeth, the carbon in our genes were produced billions of years ago in the interior of a red giant star.

“We are made of star stuff.”

starstuff

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

59 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. billyanderson74
    Jan 24, 2014 @ 19:08:21

    WOW!

    Reply

  2. teagan geneviene
    Jan 24, 2014 @ 19:13:28

    Mike, you have quite a skilled hand at weaving an interesting post back to your novel. Well done.

    Reply

  3. eemoxam
    Jan 24, 2014 @ 19:32:39

    Thank you so much for the reminder of the important role that wonder should always be allowed to play in our lives. An excellent book that inspired the wow factor in me more than once is A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. I highly recommend it if you haven’t read it.

    Reply

  4. jenniferkmarsh
    Jan 24, 2014 @ 19:58:46

    What is this ‘sun’ of which you speak? There is no such ‘sun’ in the British Isles 😉

    Seriously though: what a beautiful message this post has! It’s lovely. And I totally agree with you. Sometimes, instead of an answer, just let the question linger. Let a mystery remain 🙂

    Reply

  5. Shelley
    Jan 24, 2014 @ 20:03:10

    My memories of Trivial Pursuit are of me hanging off a living room chair, drinking red wine and wondering how my incredibly bright buddy knew so many facts. Grey is an easier world to live in. 🙂

    Reply

  6. Meredith
    Jan 24, 2014 @ 22:43:53

    The vastness of the universe makes me feel uncomfortable. To think of the universe, the wholeness, the immensity, makes me feel lost and alone. But when I’m at the family cabin in central WI I sometimes lay on the dock and stare up at the stars and marvel at the fact that I am indeed a part of the universe. No matter how small, no matter how insignificant in the gigantic scheam of things, I am part of it. At those small moments in time I realize, I am a star.

    Reply

  7. jjspina
    Jan 24, 2014 @ 23:17:27

    This was an excellent blog. I don’t know how you come up with all these terrific ideas for blogs! You are so talented and creative that it blows my mind, Michael! Keep blogging and keep creating. You are one of a kind! Best wishes my friend! xo

    Reply

  8. evelyneholingue
    Jan 25, 2014 @ 02:32:30

    Really admire your creativity. This is rare to keep up with such quality and variety.
    Bravo.

    Reply

  9. DeDivahDeals
    Jan 25, 2014 @ 02:58:26

    It’s amazing how much knowledge we take in during the course of our lives and it’s equally amazing on how little we retain…

    Reply

  10. Gallivanta
    Jan 25, 2014 @ 05:25:31

    I like the idea of being made of star stuff.

    Reply

  11. paekthoven
    Jan 25, 2014 @ 06:16:55

    This is so very true! Not only to the extent of creativity, but also with education! I’m really not proud to say this, but lately, I’ve noticed the changes in my studying habit. I’ve been overwhelmed with all the work that I have started to work on my assignments just to get them done, instead of learning the materials!

    Reply

  12. Fashion Mayann
    Jan 25, 2014 @ 14:06:00

    Trivial Pursuit Saturdays were very popular at my house too, and I wasn’t very good at it because I’m terrible when it comes to history or science … However, that’s why I’m always amazed by how some things even work (like a computer !). You never stop telling us how wonderful life is, with your excellent writing, and you should be thanked for this, over and over again !

    Reply

  13. stockdalewolfe
    Jan 25, 2014 @ 15:48:59

    I loved this post! Perhaps my fav so far. Loved what you wrote about the stars and the sun and grains of sand. Very important to see things in perspective. And the Sagan quote is a fav, too. Your writing is so clear and natural– it is as if you are speaking to us. Bravo to you on this one especially!

    Reply

  14. John W. Howell
    Jan 25, 2014 @ 19:53:22

    Really nice post. Sometimes we wonder about things and it is good to know others have done the same about the same things.

    Reply

  15. chalkdustfairy
    Jan 25, 2014 @ 22:06:18

    I think it’s extremely clever how you intertwine things from your novel into your blog posts. Smart! I might borrow that trick sometime, if it’s okay with you. 😉

    Reply

  16. Mary J. McCoy-Dressel
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 00:12:41

    When I get a notification for your blog post, my fist thought is: What kind of creative post is he going to have this time? This is a great thing, Mike.

    Reply

  17. Ste J
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 16:32:56

    Are the Trivial Pursuit peaces pieces of cheese or pie…?

    Reply

  18. insearchofitall
    Jan 27, 2014 @ 23:12:54

    The way you write is quite moving. There are things that just can’t be explained, like the voice in your ear that tells you there is danger and to move away from that person or to put your foot on the brake when the light turns green, only to watch a huge panel truck barrel through his red light. How do you explain that to people and have them deem you sane? I think you could write those things well. There are so many things that can’t be explained but we can’t see everything. Science can’t measure it. But I think you understand it. This old grandma loves to read your writing. 🙂

    Reply

  19. laurie27wsmith
    Jan 28, 2014 @ 10:02:44

    A great post Michael. I was a great fan of trivial pursuit, loved it. The daily miracles of nature that occur all around us seem to be overshadowed by technology. The one thing that fascinates me is this, we, a man and a woman can make another human being. Thousands are created daily and it’s taken for granted. Yet you look at a new born child and the enormity of our universe seems to waver a little at the sight of another creation. All made up of the same basic matter, it boggles the mind.
    Cheers
    Laurie.

    Reply

  20. FreeRangeCow
    Jan 28, 2014 @ 15:36:16

    Oh my goodness, Mike! “-128.6 degrees Fahrenheit, occur in 1983” I immediately Googled this to see if it were even inhabitable…turns out, it is, but you’ll most likely need to breathe THROUGH something, like fabric. Ouchie!

    Reply

  21. Holistic Wayfarer
    Jan 30, 2014 @ 05:02:15

    Love the realization that struck in the playing and yes, I share in the awe at the glory of our world. I’ve written things along this vein. Great job.

    Reply

  22. Charron's Chatter
    Jan 30, 2014 @ 15:35:48

    sextillion. Earth is sexy!! 🙂

    Reply

  23. Sherri
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 11:56:13

    Another great read Mike, thanks! We love Trivial Pursuit too. I still have the American version I bought all those long years ago when my kids were young and when we play it even now we always laugh at the American sports questions as me and my English family are absolutely clueless 😉

    Reply

  24. reocochran
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 17:23:22

    Awesome post with such nostalgic thoughts attached. Take it easy and hope your gaming days will keep going strong… Robin

    Reply

  25. Angela Grant
    Feb 03, 2014 @ 15:29:47

    I am always amazed at how you develop a story….I wish I had your talent.

    Reply

  26. firecook
    Feb 04, 2014 @ 20:24:15

    Thank you for follow my blog. What you wrote was interesting thank you Keep up the good work:)

    Reply

  27. stormy1812
    Feb 05, 2014 @ 00:07:29

    I love that last line – “We are made of star stuff.” It’s pretty amazing to think about really. Our world is pretty mind boggling. I, like you, believe some things are just meant to be wondered about and admired and others are worth checking into and finding the answers. Like with most things, it’s about finding that equilibrium. I like your perspective on the world. It’s awesome! 🙂 Trivia Pursuit is a good game.

    Reply

  28. mlhe
    Feb 13, 2014 @ 18:50:34

    Tweeting “star stuff” is really fun!

    Reply

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