A look behind-the-scenes of Stories from the Hearth’s first ever collaborative episodes, and the making of The Pale Blue Dot (E07/08)
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us… The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.”
So said Carl Sagan, when describing the pixel-sized speck of almost nothing that was Earth, floating in a tiny pocket of an immeasurable vastness of space, in a photograph (taken by the Voyager 1 space probe in 1990) which became known as ‘The Pale Blue Dot’.
Sagan says a lot more on the subject, all of which is worth reading (here’s a link), but I think the essence of his speech is encapsulated in this quote. Billions of people, over millions of years, have fought and died, loved and lost, hated, killed, pillaged, plundered, destroyed and rebuilt in ridiculously small ‘corners’ of a planet which, in the true Universal scale of things, matters not a single damn jot. And yet we continue to pursue meaning as fervently as we always have, whether it’s via the business-end of a gun, a pen, our bank accounts, or through our communities, friends, family, and selves.
I happen to think that there is no meaning to life, aside from that which we give it; and yet that doesn’t stop me still searching (perhaps foolishly) for a reason from time to time, especially when the chips are down, and the weight of the world grows heavy on my shoulders. But when I get to thinking like that, one of the things that often comforts me (perhaps ironically) is the fact that, on a large enough scale, none of this really matters.
That may be hard to hear, it may be hard to read, you might – quite understandably – reject the notion wholeheartedly. I’m not saying that I know it for a fact that nothing really matters; I’m just saying that it’s what I feel the science and the Universe tells me.
Take my story ‘The Pale Blue Dot’, for example, which spans episodes 7 & 8 of Stories from the Hearth. The whole point of that story – the reason it came to me and was so fun to write (which hopefully came across, though my anxieties surrounding writing comedy are a whole other story) – was to boldly illustrate the gross shortfalls of humanity.
I thought: what if in ‘x’ amount of years the only remnants of humanity, the only extant evidence that Earth ever hosted life, is a shitty, beat-down, busted-up space station hanging somewhere in the Milky Way, which itself has almost been resigned to the history podcasts. I thought: what if the concepts, languages, belief systems, and cultures which we hold so dear today go extinct, and all that’s left of them are versions so diluted that the aliens who interact with them don’t even recognise them as being of Earth.
In such a Universe, our anxieties, stresses, hopes, dreams, aspirations, loves, fears, successes and failures all blur into nothingness. They become, in the context of quantum space-time and the near-infinite expansion of a universe which may or may not be but one in a multiverse, almost… comical. Ridiculous, I might say. Our lives are but silly sub-atomic blips in the blackness.
I think that often we strive so hard to shine bright, that we forget just to live.
Cheery thought? Bleak bastard? That’s for you to decide. For me, though, this thinking brings hope. It helps make me take stock of my immediate surroundings, and to (try and) make the most of them. Episodes 7 & 8 of Stories from the Hearth were really, really fun to write and to produce, and the feeling of freedom that came with just allowing myself to enjoy my work was revelatory. It’s a feeling I most definitely want more of.
Part of that enjoyment – a large part – was the chance to work with other artists, and to collaborate with them on the project of ‘The Pale Blue Dot’. I find great energy and inspiration in collaborations, but don’t always have the requisite initial energy to reach out. For ‘The Pale Blue Dot’, though, I hired the talents of two friends, who I’d met through my time working at Scottish Borders café and bookshop The Mainstreet Trading Co. (my mum’s the bookshop manager there, you do the maths).
Robbie Durham – actor, singer, and now voice actor – worked with me to develop unique character voices for a host of the crazy alien characters I’d concocted, and working with him to develop those characters was simply wonderful. I laughed so hard hearing his various (hilarious) ideas for character voices, and relished the challenge of mixing his work as seamlessly as possible into each episode (not an easy task, but one through which I think my production skills grew).
Jack Magee – award-winning illustrator and friend (winner of the ‘Cal Bannerman Oddball Pal of the Year Award’ 2014-21) – on the other hand, designed some absolutely stunning episode artwork, which included redesigning the various characters of my creation, turning from the page into solid, visually-represented people.
Gladly, I opted to hand both Robbie and Jack the reins (after giving them some brief, loose direction). Watching them take my story and run with it, making it in many regards entirely their own, was an interesting process. It was a test of ego and of creative control, and yet was indicative too of all that I’ve already discussed. If I’d taken myself and my story too seriously, I would have ended up inadvertently strangling the creative freedoms of Jack and Robbie, in turn producing art which I’m sure would have been much less engaging and entertaining than it ultimately turned out to be.
Instead, I had to remind myself how small we all are; how small our planet is, and how tiny the corner of it I occupy really is. I had to give Robbie and Jack the space to breath, to perform, and to create; and I am so glad that I did, for I could not be happier with how the episodes, and the story itself (now a collaborative achievement, no doubt) turned out.
Let’s allow Carl Sagan to take us out:
“There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
Listen to Stories from the Hearth here, or wherever you listen to podcasts. You can check out the podcast’s Instagram at: @storiesfromthehearthpodcast, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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New Stories from the Hearth episodes are generally released every 3rd Sunday. The next story episode is out Sunday 6th June 2021.