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LAce Posted Monday, April 5th, 2004
Jocelyn Johnson

For a few sleepless nights, I reached for the remote and found strange talk about space on my television. First it was Noam Chomsky, grey headed and soft spoken. I’d seen his books before, but never read them. “The United States government aims to own space,” the renowned linguist reported without irony. “The documents are public. Anyone can read them.”

He was talking about recent modifications in U.S. space policy, detailed in the government’s ‘Strategic Master Plan.’ America’s growing emphasis on domination and militarization of space is spelled out there in bold directives:

We can and we must do more to fully exploit space, to not only to maintain our current military advantage, but also to enable the Chief vision of achieving ‘asymmetric advantage,’

The Plan compels us.

Today, control of this high ground [space] means superiority in information and significant force enhancement. Tomorrow, ownership may mean instant engagement anywhere in the world.


A few nights later it was Nikki Giovanni, talking about space on my TV screen. I spied the poet between commercials for toothpaste. Her light brown face was accented by a few moles, the color of chocolate chips.

“Oh yes, Mars, we must go to Mars,” the poet intoned. “Mars can’t come to us; earth is too crazy. No, we must go to Mars, to confront what we don’t know; like the African slaves who confronted The Middle Passage and survived it. Going into space is necessary to save humankind.”

Giovanni twinkled as she spoke. Her clothes were an odd cacophony: stripped tie, pink pants, red shoes. At sixty years old, she sat with one lung, having lost the other to cancer.

“I’d be a great candidate to go out in to space,” Giovanni offered without irony. “Yes I’d be very interested. I told those people at NASA about my 10 percent solution: every 10th person on earth should get the opportunity to go. Now that would drum up interest in space exploration.”

When the interviewer prompted Giovanni to show her unlikely tattoo, she rolled her sleeve up hurriedly. ‘Thug Life’ was scripted in swirls along her narrow forearm. Her exposed skin was thin and worn like an old paper bag; not the likely arm of a thug—or an astronaut.

“Yes, I got my tattoo eight years ago, right after the rapper Tupac Shakur was killed,” Giovanni explained, “to show my commiseration with the young man. I’d always rather be with the person looking down, swinging from the tree, than with the mob below the tree. I would always rather be with the people being mowed down, than with those behind the guns. I got this tattoo because I want to identify will all the young men out there who are being mowed down. I’d rather be mowed down with them and become the fertilizer.”


For days afterwards, my mind was crowded with images of Chomsky’s space, a vast storehouse for American arms and egotism. And then there was Giovanni’s space littered with human vice and frailty. I wondered if space would become a new standard of authority, from which governments could mete out privilege or punishment, to whomever on Earth they deemed evil or else free. I wondered about thugs as victims and victims becoming thugs and what it might mean to be compost for new generations.

I knew that world hadn’t changed; only my view of it. I knew the world hadn’t changed but I still couldn’t sleep. The world felt different against my skin, like an itchy wool sweater, so I got out of bed and shuffled outside to see for myself.

Standing in my backyard, with my comforter wrapped around me, I looked up at the swath of night sky between silhouettes of black walnut and catalpa trees. Even with the spray of city lights, the full moon and Venus were visible beacons; and between the pin pricks of stars there was


Nothing to see.

There was only a great black emptiness above me. There was only the cool night air. I stood there for a very long time. Then I came inside and wrote these words to you:

You are probably busy with your waking life: your family, your job, putting one foot in front of another. But if you are like me, if you find yourself sometimes sleepless, and worrying, don’t just lay there tossing and turning. Get up and do something.

I hope you get up and consult the night sky. I hope you go into the quiet night. Go somewhere and write, if only for the pleasure of it. Write even though you are just an infinitesimal speck in the cosmos. Let ideas spring from you, from your sense of what you want the world to be, what you are willing to contribute to it.

Please, don’t leave it all to poets or politicians; or react like a pinball in a machine to narrow choices laid out in front of you: Crest or Colgate, with us or against us, kill or be killed. Think of the possibilities in between the rhetoric. Think of what is, but also what could be. Remember: space is yours too, at least for now. Stake your claim.

Related Links:

  • Air Force Space Command's Strategic Master Plan: FY04 and Beyond (pdf)
  • Air Force Space Command's Strategic Master Plan: FY06 and Beyond (pdf)

    Comments [post a comment]

    Posted by Lela Schneidman on Monday, April 12th, 2004 at 7:24 AM
    if i could see the night sky from this cloudy mountain top i'm on, i certainly would consult her. thank you for reminding me of my speckhood, and of my power to contribute greatness to this global neighborhood. you are the greatest, Jocelyn! when are you coming back to India to hang out with me?

    Posted by Alla Michelle Watson on Sunday, October 31st, 2004 at 2:01 PM
    This is such a great story, Jocelyn. Beautifully written and compelling, with strong images and original similes. The last line left me breathless! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and vision.

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