figure 8

The circumference of the earth is just over 24,000 miles. If you walk 66 miles every day for 365 days, you will have walked 24,090 miles—just over the length of the equator. If you walk 10 miles a day, it would take six and a half years. If, like those 1,136 Americans from the 2003 America On The Move report, you walk an average of two and a half miles each day, a trip around the world would take just over 26 years.

This year I traveled, via plane, train, bus, and car, around 27,722 miles. It’s a loose calculation. I didn’t include the miles walked between Wicker Park and Logan Square, the distance between my front door and the grocery store, or the front door and the coffee shop. I didn’t include the aimless circling I took to during the summer, the pacing from kitchen to bedroom to living room while calling my parents, the running for the bus, or the tipsy footsteps back and forth to the bathroom at the Rainbo Club.

I didn’t include a walk up a hill in Glanusk, sinking mud paces through a sheep pasture at dawn, or the steps around the slate wall I couldn’t climb in my treadless boots. I didn’t include the dream walking through a psychedelic Paris built entirely on parking structures.

My body has moved around the circumference of the earth and still the actual miles under my feet rival nowhere near that distance. I am too small, and I will only get smaller; the universe will continue to push my body until I am compacted, the pressure pushing closer and closer until I am one with everyone else.

I dreamed a conversation between Carl Sagan and Gertrude Stein.

Carl recalls a photograph snapped by a space probe, a portrait of Earth in 1990 taken 3.7 billion miles away. The picture is grainy, streaked by faded colors. In the center of the rightmost beam, a tiny light—a point less than a pixel in size—hovers in space.

Carl shows the picture to Gertrude and tells her, “That’s us. Everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was lived out their lives.”

A pale blue dot. A mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

Gertrude’s dark eyes swim in the muted colors of the photograph, her mouth as I imagine it slightly agape, then closed, and her hands clasped on either knee.

“Hmmm,” she says, after a while. “You live on this earth and you cannot get away from it and yet there is a space where the stars are which is unlimited and that contradiction is there in every man and every woman and so nothing is ever settled.”

This strikes a chord of terror straight through my heart, but Carl just smiles and Gertrude gives him her kind, bright eyes. And though I am dreaming this, I’m not there anymore. She leans back in her armchair, a cigarette poised between her fingers.

“It really is the most interesting thing,” she says

The Pale Blue Dot, NASA/JPL

(This is the earth, Valentine’s Day, 1990. I am 2-years-old. Where were you then, dear Reader? Where are you now?)

Conversation adapted from the following works: Carl Sagan, The Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. New York: Ballantine Books, 1994. Gertrude Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography. New York: Random House, 1937.

notes for further exploration
This is part of “Radical Storytelling,” originally submitted to the SAIC Collections on 14 Dec 2013.


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