Friday, June 27, 2008

last gasp in a vacuum

For a stretch while I was working, I had gotten into the habit of waking up early to do nothing but lie still and stare at the ceiling of my bedroom. And think, or not think. I just lay there and contemplated the process of booting up to a new day. I kept a notepad on the nightstand in case something more profound than my choice of what to eat for breakfast that morning came to mind. And things did, or things didn’t. Then I got away from this routine, as I’ve gotten away from pretty much every non-biological routine I’ve ever attempted, and never returned.

Now that I’m not working, I’ve made a vow to my bedroom ceiling to return to this practice. I’ve also decided to blog my reflections upon this time spent lying in bed in the hope that the exercise may retain some of that dewy fresh quality to my morning thinking. An attempt to bottle the genie, so to speak, with the understanding that the genie is going to seem magical in nature as rarely as one’s thoughts seem worth recording in the morning. Too lazy to grant wishes, most of the time, the genie is going to just stare at the ceiling with me, debating each digital minute whether to get up or not, and wondering whether it’s Joe’s O’s or blueberry yogurt I’ll eat for breakfast.

The title of this entry was my waking thought. Actually, it was “last breath in a vacuum” but I thought “last gasp” sounded better. Not just because it’s more dramatic—a gasp instead of a breath—but also because of the vowel rhyme of “gasp” and “vacuum.” More poetic.

Lying still in bed this morning, with this title as my waking thought, one might be led to think I was contemplating death and dying. It is a theme visited by poets often, and I would imagine even more so by unemployed poets. However, an episode of Battlestar Galactica seemed to prompt this waking thought today. After watching my DVR recording of this last week’s episode, I found myself contemplating (along with my bedroom ceiling) the practice of execution by ejection from the ship’s airlock on the show.

You wouldn’t take a last breath (or the more poetic last gasp) in a vacuum; rather, your last breath would be taken from you. The vacuum would literally suck it out of your lungs. This loss of agency—you not taking your last breath but having it taken from you—would seem to confer an added disgrace upon the executed, and it would be my guess that this is one reason why a traitorous solider on the ship is to be executed in this manner, as opposed to other means.

Another being that the Battlestar is a ship, and execution by airlock ejection is the sci-fi equivalent of a more traditional punishment for mutiny, i.e. walking the plank. Though similar, airlock ejection is certainly the more dishonorable of the two ways to go. Again, it's a matter of agency. With the act of "walking the plank," the condemned takes his or her last steps into the sea; with airlock ejection, ready or not, he or she is simply blown out of a hole.

There may be some loosely analogous reasoning as to why I've never felt particularly satisfied after taking a dump on an airplane. There is a walking the plank quality to taking a shit. There is a splash and a swirling of water, and this is lacking while one is aboard a plane. Like airlock ejection, your shit is unceremoniously blown out of a hole with a vacuumous sucking of air. You don't feel as satisfied because there is a loss of agency there. You get the sense that you didn't take a shit--rather, it was taken from you.

Another thing about the episode that interested me was a paradox that it introduced—it termed itself a “mid-season finale.” This is precisely the kind of linguistic conundrum that George Carlin (who, by the way, died this week and whose passing deserves more mention than this parenthetical) would question with wild gesticulations and hyperbolic contortions of his face. How can there be a finale to the season that is only half-over? Carlin might say it would be like dying from a “mid-life fatality” or some such.

In my Intro Linguistics class at Brooklyn College, we watched an educational video discussing the marvelous nature of the English language. To my surprise, George Carlin was one of those who was chosen to comment upon the language. The others were all stuffy-sounding academians trying their damnest not to sound so stuffy; none said any one thing that I can recall now, except for George.

He said that we can combine the 26 letters in the English language in different ways to make hundreds of thousands of words. And that we can combine these hundreds of thousands of words into an infinite number of sentences, sentences which had never been constructed before. To prove his point, Carlin came up with an on-the-spot example of a sentence that had never been constructed before. It was:

"I am going over to the softball game to beat up Hitler's widow."

Our language never had a better ambassador, or shit-talker. RIP George.