Communion Of Dreams


Thanks, Carl.*

*This post previously ran at UTI last year. And while some of the personal details mentioned in it have changed – I did indeed keep that promise to tweak my manuscript, obviously, and things have continued to progress with my MIL – the sentiment is the same.

Jim D.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This has been a hell of a day. Not as bad as some, perhaps, but as far as routine days go, not the sort you want to pop up often in the queue. It started with my mother-in-law being ill. Now, most adults know how a young child (either their own or one they’ve babysat) can be when sick. Think intestinal bug. Think explosive diarrhea, of the toxic/caustic variety. Poor kid doesn’t understand what’s going on, or how to best cope with their misbehaving body (if they are capable of that on their own yet). Then picture that not in a toddler, but in a 95-pound woman well into dementia before the effects of dehydration and fever kick in. Took my wife and I two full hours to get her and the bedroom cleaned up.

And then I was on deadline to write my final column for my newspaper. Yeah, my *final* column. My decision, and if I want to go back the paper will be glad to have me. But because of the demands of care-giving, I could not adequately keep up with the art scene in my community (what I wrote about – weird to see that in the past tense). And I was feeling a little burned out with it as well. But still, closing off that particular chapter of my life was somewhat poignant.

So it’s been a day. Which is all just prelude to explaining that one of the refuges I seek after such a day is one of my “regulars”. Typically, it’s Twain, likely his Roughing It, which I have long considered some of his best and funniest work. But tonight, I turn to another old friend I never met: Carl Sagan, particularly his book Pale Blue Dot.

I’ve said before that I’m not a scientist. Which is perhaps why I don’t have some of the same quibbles that many scientists have with Sagan. But I really respect someone who can take scientific research and knowledge and present it in a form an intelligent layperson can understand. Stephen Jay Gould could do that for me. PZ Myers does it for me. So does Carl Zimmer. I could name others, but these are people I respect. In that same way, I really respected Carl Sagan, who I knew more as an author than as the host of of the PBS series, most of which I missed in its initial broadcast. Sagan helped introduce me to whole areas of science I had never considered before, and his considerable human decency in his atheism helped me understand that my own misgivings about religion were not an indication that I was lacking in morals or ethics.

So it was that when I started to write my first novel, Communion of Dreams (unpublished – yeah, yeah, I know I need to finish tweaking the mss and send it out again), I set most of the action on Saturn’s moon Titan, as a tribute to Sagan. Sagan had formulated a theory as to the nature of Titan’s atmosphere (that it contained a complex hydrocarbon he called “tholin”) which accounted for the rusty-orange coloration of the moon. His theories were pretty well borne out by the Huygens probe, by the way, though he didn’t live long enough to know this.

So tonight, on the tenth anniversary of his death, on a day when I’ve been through my own trials, I will nonetheless raise a glass, and drink a wee dram of good scotch to the memory of Carl Sagan. And I’ll promise myself, and his memory, that I’ll get that manuscript tweaked and published, if for no other reason than to honor him.

Here’s to Carl: Sorry you had to leave so soon.

Jim Downey


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