Justen Russell’s story “Holding On” was published in Metaphorosis on Friday, 21 October 2022.
At its core, “Holding On” is about coming to terms with what it means to follow your dreams. In our world, very few people will ever be astronauts, or presidents, or best-selling authors. Even among the privileged and connected, who have more opportunities than most, luck can be more important than skill. In the face of abysmal odds, as we grow up, most of us will replace our childhood dreams with the more attainable sort.
I don’t think I ever acknowledged giving up on certain dreams. Somewhere between middle school and University I simply relegated the moonshot goals from “someday soon” to “someday.” Very purposely, I never pursued them. Despite wanting to write, it was safer to leave it as a dream for the future, “when I had something to say.” The reality was, in putting words to the page I would have had to confront the very real risk that I might fail.
The idea for “Holding On” was flushed out during the first lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Paris, where I was living, we were mostly confined to our homes. One hour of outdoor activity was permitted each day, provided we were alone and stayed within one kilometer of our apartments. Surrounded by tall buildings, there were only a few spaces I could stand to feel the sun on my skin. It was in one of those, looking up at the bright blue sky, that I started to wonder what a space elevator would look like. Would it seem to taper, would it be visible from a distance, would it seem to curve towards a vanishing point in the sky? Europe has no shortage of tall, impressive monuments. There are architectural spaces that play with space to invoke a sense of grandeur. I have stood beneath building meant to humble me and felt incredibly small. I could imagine what a space elevator would feel like to look at, but not what I would actually see. Maybe that is why I kept coming back to it?
Laika, Belen, and Haru all grew out of those imaginings. I could feel what it would be like for them, growing up, working and living in the shadows of a gateway to the stars. What would it be like to have, always on the horizon, a constant reminder of how small your life currently is, and how big it could be. Living in an impressive city of my own, with great monuments visible along the horizon, far outside of my one-kilometer existence, I could empathize at least a little with their plight.
The mussels came from an article I read about mussel farming off deep-sea wind turbines in the Netherlands. Floating away in space was a deep-seated fear of my wife’s that she wanted me to share. The parallels between Polynesian- and space- exploration—that is a pet comparison of mine. I think there are many parallels in the past to the transformations of today: space exploration, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, migration, inequality, even if the specifics are different.
I suppose you could say “Holding On” came from having far too much time to think and far too little to do but dream my own dreams and turn “someday” back into “someday soon.” A big thank you to all those who helped me flesh this story out.
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