But I still ultimately disagree with the concept of saving people from themselves. Individuals have the right to pursue dangerous activities, as long as those activities don’t affect the lives of people who do not wish to be involved — and that extends into the realm of activities for which the downside cannot be predicted.
-Chuck Klosterman (in The Hazards of Other Planets)
I have been thinking a lot lately about the Mars One colony. And yes, I know the whole thing is super iffy and there is reason to believe it will never actually happen, but the idea of colonists on another planet, not in the pages of a book but in the real world, captures my imagination, and I have the luxury these days of spending time with things that capture my imagination.
The thing I love about Mars One is the daring of the whole thing. Daring to say that such an incredible thing could happen and daring the world to laugh at it. I don’t even care if money is the sole motivator. It’s a gutsy move. And all those people applying to be colonists. Knowing full well that they’d be heading out on an expedition they’d never come back from. Knowing full well they could die in some horrible fashion or (worse?) live a long time locked up with a bunch of crazy people. Knowing full well that they could be mocked mercilessly if the whole thing turns out to be a ridiculous hoax. I don’t care if they’re nutballs. It’s a gutsy move.
More people should be this gutsy.
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
I still remember the first real risk I took.
I was 22. Sitting in a black Ford Taurus, next to one of my best friends in the world, late at night. It was Halloween. Deep breath. Pounding heart. Unable to bear the idea of just swallowing everything I felt and going home to bed, safe and miserable. So I said it. I hedged a little. I worded it cautiously. But I said it. I suggested that maybe, just possibly, it was time to be more than just friends.
Sixteen years later that risk is still paying off so big it’s hard not to be reckless every minute.
We are the curators of our own lives. Curators make choices. Like when I was 21, 22 years old, I was selling vacuum cleaners, and probably making $125 to $150 a week. But when an opportunity came along to act in a play in Hollywood making $50 a week, I took it readily. That’s a curator’s choice. I felt my selling vacuum cleaners wouldn’t do anything for me as an artist.
-Leonard Nimoy (from an interview with Esquire in 2013)
All art is inherently risky. I’m taking this part of myself and throwing it out there into the world where anything can happen to it. It can be criticized. It can be mocked. Or (worst of all) it can be ignored.
Not can be. Will be.
We’re too old to go into this with illusions about that.
But I’m in a rare position in history and geography. I’m here in a place where I am free to create. I’m educated enough to create. I’m safe and well-fed and warm enough to create. I have all the tools I need to create. I have no excuses.
I will lay it out. I will tell stories that only a few will hear. (Not no one. Just not enough. Never enough for my fragile ego.) And I will remind myself why I do it.
I do it because I can.
I do it because I’m alive and because I want to keep being alive.
It gets harder to take risks as you get older. Life has rubbed off your boundless enthusiasm and confident optimism. Consequences are real to you because you have seen them and felt them. More is at stake. Those consequences won’t just be your own. Small lives depend on you.
But to stop risking is to stagnate, to cease forward motion and begin to circle. Any scientist can tell you that orbits are dangerous. A little bit of drag and your orbit decays, your crash is inevitable. (Or what’s the better option really? Endless circling?) Those consequences won’t just be your own. Small lives depend on you.
Not risking is not an option. Now we learn to risk differently. To choose our risks with open eyes, counting the cost. To commit ourselves to old-fashioned hard work, to following through, forcing the ephemeral into reality with the bleary-eyed doggedness of 5 am.
We dedicate ourselves to sacrifice our own needs to achieve our dreams and to never demanding that others sacrifice theirs. We take a deep breath and we accept the probability of failure. We stare it down and we plan more carefully than we ever have in our lives for how to survive it.
We hold our responsibility and our daring in constant tension and we hold on to each other to keep it from pulling us apart.
We choose our mountain and we climb it day after day. Hand in hand we approach each new chasm and, not daring to blink, we jump.
“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”
― George Bernard Shaw