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February 12, 2024


STAR-CROSSED: An Interstellar Love Story

It’s my Home|body anniversary. On Valentine’s Day it will be exactly one year of me producing an essay weekly—in constant collaboration and conversation with you, my dear readers, truly the best of my life. The most satisfying (and fun!) writing I’ve ever done, ever-enhanced by the deepest response. I’m never at a loss for topics—there are no less than 18 semi-drafts in my queue and dozens of ideas on lists, not to mention a whole Monster/Metamorph trilogy I keep promising (Coming Soon), but first:

The Most Romantic Tale Ever Told, interspersed with my dad’s whack Valentines to my mom (you can see where I get my dark humor and weird creativity) rescued from the hoard.

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Though Elmer would like to think he was a contender for most romantic, my award goes to the Voyager Interstellar Message Project of 1977, a NASA mission first to take pictures of Saturn and Jupiter and then to keep going for a billion years, transporting a diverse collection of human ephemera to outer space as a sort of perpetually-traveling time capsule, complete with decodable instructions on how some alien who someday discovers this might play the record when they don’t know English or records. A team was assembled to sift from the world’s content the most representative—from whale songs to infant cries. Etched with these amazing hieroglyphs, the collection would fill two Golden Records on two separate crafts. Even more romantic then the wild gesture of this fantastical, far-fetched adventure, is the story underpinning all the stories.

This short bit from RadioLab aired on Morning Edition on Feb. 12, 2010 on NPR and had me crying in front of my kitchen radio. Carl Sagan And Ann Druyan’s Ultimate Mix Tape is well worth the seven minutes, with Ann talking about her collaboration with the famed scientist on this project and, ultimately/instantly, how they fell in love and projected their new huge love into space for posterity. Listen:

It was a chance to tell something of what life on Earth was like to beings of perhaps 1,000 million years from now. If that didn’t raise goose bumps, then you’d have to be made of wood. It was also the season that Carl Sagan and I fell madly in love with each other and here we were taking on this mythic challenge and knowing that before it was done, two spacecraft would lift off from the planet earth, moving at an average speed of 35,000 miles an hour for the next 1,000 million years and on it would be a kiss, a mother’s first words to her newborn baby, Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, greetings in the 59 most populous human languages, as well as one nonhuman language, the greetings of the humpback whale, and it was a sacred undertaking because it was saying: we want to be citizens of the cosmos, we want you to know about us.

_Ann Druyan, Creative Director of the Message Project

The greatest hit of this record, in my opinion: the part where they recorded the biorhythmic sounds of Ann in love. She and Carl had known each other for years, but this project was the first time they connected romantically. They discovered an instant love for each other in a call about Ann finding just the right piece of ancient Chinese music (2,500 years old) to include. Two days later, heart racing and body fueled by that new intoxicating mix of dopamine and other natural love drugs, she went to record her brain, body and nervous system sounds at Bellevue Hospital.

Part of what I was feeling in the recording of my brainwaves, part of what I was thinking in this meditation, was about the wonder of love, and of being in love, and to know it’s on those two space craft. Even now, whenever I’m down, I’m thinking, and still they move, 35,000 miles an hour, leaving our solar system for the great wide open sea of interstellar space.

Be still my beating heart. You can dig deeper into the content of the record—images turned to analog, the sonic playlist—on this NASA page. I’m stealing a few of the instructions etched on the record as tattoos as soon as I get my tax return, because imagine a world where we all come with some instructions on how to play us, complete with a handy map of where to find us in the cosmos. Perhaps then to celebrate I’ll dig more into the contents of the Golden Record in another post, and explore what we might now, almost 50 years and eons of “content” later, add to this collection.

First, I swing back in time to a memory with my father, who taught me the word “romantic” wasn’t just for lovers but for those delicate gestures of appreciating little things in a big way, the overlooked art of collecting the universe’s many glimmers. We listened to opera on the record player. Though I was shy outside, our house was loud and liberating (if often awful) but on this day, we bellowed along with Puccini’s La Boheme at the pinnacle of this aria with Pavarotti peaking around minute three:

La Boheme - Pavarotti- "Che gelida manina" Fiamma Izzo d' Amico "Si, mi chiamano Mimi"

I am poor but happy. I am rich in poems and love songs. In dreams and fantasies my spirit is a millionaire.

My dad’s colleague had come to the door to drop something off and we hadn’t heard the doorbell over our insane duet. I also remember country records—Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn—and standing on his toes while we danced in the den. I wanted to make sure my girls knew about records and appreciated various “old” music, so we play some sometimes in our basement, though the window of their young openness to such musical exploration is quickly closing/already shut. At least records themselves can be a glimmer, an artifact to cherish.

Will these messages from our little lives on earth be received? It’s all quite a gesture of hope, this launching, and similar to what I do each week here. Assuming a future reader will try to decipher. Even just one good one will do.

Krista Mad­sen is the au­thor be­hind word­smith­ery shop,  Sleepy Hol­low, inK., and pro­ducer of the Home|body newslet­ter, which she is sharing reg­u­larly with The Hudson Independent readership. You can  subscribe for free to see all her posts and re­ceive them di­rectly in your in­box.

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