Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Red Dwarf Philosophy


When I was little, Red Dwarf would come on PBS either sometime before Doctor Who, or sometime after. I can’t really remember because it took me a long time to be interested in either. I was too young to really understand either series, one because it was already well into its twentieth season by the time I was able to watch and understand television, and the other because it was a show that unabashedly didn’t make sense.

As I’ve grown up now, and as I’ve learned to love Doctor Who, I’ve also learned to love Red Dwarf.

But, I’m not surprised at all that I didn’t get it as a little kid. As a television show, it’s not only absurd, it is constantly revisionist. Or rather, to put in terms I would understand as a little kid, it just didn’t make any sense.

After all, the only real constant is that the Lister is a bit of a slob, Rimmer is an uptight smeghead, Kryten is a tidy mechanoid, and Cat is a humanoid cat who loves fashion. Everything else about the plot? Well, that’s subject to change at anytime.

So, while out having coffee with a friend, I complained that while I liked Red Dwarf, the further I got into the series, the less I enjoyed it. This was because they kept changing entire plot points from the previous series. I found it difficult to keep changing what I knew about the show.

All of that was encapsulated in one character: Kristine Kochanski. Her character’s past is changed depending on what they needed her for. Did they need Lister to pine after someone he only spoke to twice? Or did they need Lister to pine for someone he once had an intimate relationship with? Or did they need Lister to pine for a dead love?

(Yes, I can probably write a feminist analysis of why Kochanski’s character changes to fit what they need for Lister, but that’s another blog for another day).

I reasoned to my friend that with only six episodes a season, it shouldn’t be that hard to keep some semblance of continuity, or at least explain why the senile ship computer changed appearances very suddenly.

Holly’s appearance depends on the season.

“But you’re missing the beauty of it,” my friend said. “With Red Dwarf, you just accept what is. That’s the secret to enjoying it.”

And I realized right there that there was some sort of life lesson wrapped up in that. (I’m on a life lesson kick lately, sorry.)

I often think that there should be emotional continuity to what people say and do, but I forget that all of our actions are influenced by how we change and develop as people, how outside influences exert pressure on us, and how we deal with those. All of those things are constantly change, so you and your friends are also constantly in flux.

People and relationships will usually still be what they are at the heart, just like Red Dwarf is always a roommate sitcom in science fiction at heart.

So, you got to treat people and relationships like they’re Red Dwarf; treat them like they are who and what they are now. Let go of what you sort of knew, and know that history is always being edited. It’s a part of our very DNA to rewrite the past. After all, we are not made of the same cells we were when we were born, let alone last year.

So just accept life on an episode by episode basis. Do that, and not only will you like Red Dwarf more than you do (I assume you already like it some, because… come on, it’s got some great zingers), you’ll maybe find that you like the people in your life more. That way, if something goes bad, there’s always the next episode. It’ll be different then.

More Like Aurora Bore-ealis

I just may be one of the only people in the world that feels as if they are owed an Aurora Borealis. Now, I’m starting to think that I’ll be doomed to chase that green streak across the sky, like a sad pathetic Gatsby whose hopes and dreams are reflected on the end of dock that seems just out of reach.

Yeah. Gatsby reference. Boom.

The reason I feel owed this astronomical phenomenon is simply because I had long dreamed of traveling to Iceland to see it.  After all, “the best place in the world to see it is Iceland”, people said, and I usually believe people.

I did get to ford a river on an Icelandic Pony Lord-of-the-Rings style though.

I was there, instead, for a different, and ultimately more rare event. I was there when the volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, blew. I know this is rare because the day before it exploded, I went on a tour and we drove by it and the tour guide said so. He also said that they knew it was going to go off soon, they just didn’t know when. “Could be tomorrow,” he pondered aloud, which I’m sure was a spiel he had said hundreds of times before. How was he to know that he would actually be right that day?

Some of you are probably thinking that watching Eyjafjallajökull slowly spew smoke is enough; that mother nature doesn’t owe me anything. She gives you oxygen, Boom. Be grateful. You survived a volcano exploding less than a hundred miles from you. Talk to the people of Pompeii, and they’d say you were pretty lucky.

But still. I wanted Aurora Borealis because, for me, it’s not real until I can see it with my own eyes.

The earliest thing I can remember about the Aurora Borealis was when I was perhaps ten, maybe eleven. My dad was telling me stories about this amazing magic light that appears in the night sky, and weaves and ducks through the atmosphere all because of magnetism. I never really believed him –or, let’s be frank, understood the science of it– even as I grew older and he would repeat the same stories. Even as I got older still, and I saw beautiful pictures, I still had some doubt.

But the thing is… my dad lies a lot. Well, exaggerate is the better term. He likes to see what stories he can get away with, and then sometimes forgets to say “fooled you”. He’s always been like that. So sometimes I don’t believe things he has actually done, such as create patents, or work as key innovator on the Emergency Alert System, until my unfailingly honest mother confirms them. And other times, I believe things that are inane, that he has no reason to lie about other than it’s just how he likes to make jokes.

When I was a child, I asked him how many deer antlers it took to make a velvet chair. Instead of correcting me that velvet on antlers were not the same sort of velvet used for upholstery, he smiled and said “thirty-two.”

So, as you can see, when it comes to the stories my dad tells about wandering through the Wisconsin woods at night and watching the green line dance along the horizon, I have a need to see it for myself.

Some would say, pics and didn’t happen, and we have plenty of pictures. But whatever you see in the pictures, that isn’t actually the Aurora Borealis. The need for a long exposure to capture the light actually blurs the the true shape of it. Or at least, so I’m told. So, it’s not pics or it didn’t happen. It’s seeing it with my own eyes, or it didn’t happen.


Last night, Colorado was supposed to get a rare event. We were supposed to see a strong (level 5) Aurora Borealis as far south as Denver. Excited, I made hot chocolate, and drove out in the mountains in the middle of the night with a pair of binoculars, a camera, and two friends.

And we sat there in the car for a few hours hour, talking about all the good things friends talk about, sipping on peppermint hot chocolate and feasting on After-Christmas-discounted shortbread cookies. But the Aurora Borealis never came.

Instead, we craned our necks out of the car window, shivered, and talked about our favorite stories while we waited for something to never come.

When we left, though, my friend said, “I’m glad we tried.” And I knew she was right.

Because if you want something, you’ll never get it unless you try, even if it’s something you’re not even sure is real. It was a painfully cliche moral lesson that wrapped up the night, but it was true. You’re never owed something until you try enough to get it.