Sometimes, when re-reading books from my personal library, I come across the margin note, “SPACE WHALES.” It is always written in capital letters and the writing is always manic. I can see a certain rapture bubbling in the ink, and I know when the words were composted I was feeling wild, connected, overcome with the sense I was pulling on the fringes of something bigger than myself. Often, I wish I had written more than just “SPACE WHALES.” I wish I had explained the connection. What were the Space Whales that day? What snippet of coincidence inspired me?
Space Whales is a concept my friend Eddie* made up.
Eddie is conventionally handsome in a rugged sense. He quotes Joseph Campbell and Albert Camus and injects tangential observations into conversations so often my group of friends has named such exclamations “Eddie-sequiturs.” Perhaps because of his unique worldview, it’s often Eddie that I call when I’m trying to work through a rough patch. Eddie has an unmatched sense of intuition, and if I’m going down the wrong path Eddie will tell me long before I’ve figured it out myself. He’s like my personal Cheshire cat, the one resident of Wonderland who’s danced so long on the fringes of madness they’ve looped around to insight.
Space Whales are more or less Eddie’s personal version of serendipity. Space Whales are massive whales that roam the outer layers of the universe, observing us from afar. On occasion, they knock something into our paths with their tails or dorsal fins, some small clue that’s part of a larger patchwork of hints and signs that eventually lead to revelation. A famous author dies the day after you spent 3 hours talking about his work with a friend. You’re deciding between moving to New York or Los Angeles, and when you turn on your iPod the first thing that comes up on shuffle is Notorious B.I.G.’s “Going Back to Cali.” These are the Whales. Space Whales are a thing I text about frequently to college friends when I’ve encountered a striking coincidence. It sounds less New Agey than claiming the Universe is speaking to me. I think the inherent silliness of the phrase—I mean, come on, Space Whales?—is my sly way of acknowledging that I do not take notions of destiny entirely seriously.
In regards to the question of whether the universe has a plan for me, my answer falls somewhere between “probably not” and “no.” On most days, I fall closer to no. I think people are pattern makers by nature, and that we can veer towards profound self-absorption. This combination creates the illusion of omens, good and bad, specifically catered to us.
Still. I look for Whales.
I read King Lear my sophomore year of college. My professor asked us to summarize what the play was about in one word. After several failed attempts at an answer, one student figured it out. Nothing. The play was about nothing. My professor practically jumped for joy as she proclaimed that yes, this was exactly right! King Lear is about the void. It’s about nothing, and nothing is somehow how worse than the notion that as flies to wanton boys are we to Gods. The Gods are not killing us for sport. If they exist at all, we’re not even on their radar.
“But we make meaning,” my professor said, “That is the answer to this existential riddle. The fact that we’re pattern-makers. Something can come from nothing. We can derive meaning from an otherwise empty world.”
This is why I like hunting for Space Whales, despite being a lifelong skeptic. I like that, in a world that’s in all likelihood devoid of meaning, I can string together disparate connections. I can make meaning, even if it’s personal, even if it’s somewhat subjective.
I am the most hardcore pattern maker in the world, probably stemming from the fact I’m a voracious reader and a chronic over-analyzer. My friends tell me talking to me is like attending a Dennis Miller show. I speak in obscure references and strange allusions. When I want to talk about atheism, I talk about Alice Munro’s “The Love of a Good Woman.” When I want to explain the reasons a romantic relationship has failed, I’m summarizing a scene from South Park. This is perhaps why I tend to see so many Whales. For me, one thing so easily connects to another that a lot in life seems serendipitous.
I want to channel my obsessions in this column, show you the patterns that can be made from the various weird, obscure, and somewhat odd topics that occupy my mind.
I hope you enjoy this column. I’m going to show you all my Space Whales.
*Name has been changed