Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Odds: Forty-Two (Part III)

Click here for the previous installment...
Click here for the entire story (so far).

Everyone knows the answer to life, the universe, and everything. The problem is that no one knows the question. Hi, my name is Tavis Highfill, but you can call me Nick Fisherman. Today I’m here to talk to you about the number 42. It’s a beautiful number which, unlike 24, has a grand history of significance. Hey, did you notice that those two numbers are the reverse of each other? Interesting coincidence, don’t you think? Tons of religions looked at 42 and said coolly, “nice...nice.” Some think it’s bad number, but don’t worry about them. Why, just now, I read a tweet that came in while I was at work involving Molybdenum, whose atomic number happens to be 42. Boom, apophenia again! The most famous uses of the number come out of writers Douglas Adams and Lewis Carroll (the latter likely influenced the former).
I’m not going to go over what other people think of the number, because why would I do that? I’m going to explain how I came to the number myself. I first started watching the hit television series LOST on September 22, 2004. I didn’t look that up. It’s just something that I remember. It’s practically a religion for me. I grew up in a TV family. That’s what we did together. We didn’t go hunting, we didn’t do crafts, and we didn’t ignore each other. We watched TV. But when I was young, my viewing practices were limited. I spent a great deal of time watching PG-13 movies on HBO when my parents were at work. Sorry not sorry, mom and dad. I fell in love with Quantum Leap because it was my introduction to science fiction, was on before my mother got home and needed the TV for herself, and was just generally awesome. I also felt like I was getting away with pretending to be an adult for an hour a day.
I watched a few other things on my own, like Spiderman cartoons which seemed like a huge betrayal against my parents, because even though they hadn’t told me I couldn’t watch it, they also never told me I could. Besides the standard family-oriented programs like Step By Step, Boy Meets World, and Full House (one of the worst shows ever made, admit it) the family watched Scrubs, Will and Grace, and a few other comedies. In the summer of 2004, I started seeing previews for LOST, and I was immediately excited. A daring tale of survival, mystery, and intrigue. Was it drama? Was it science fiction? Who were these people? What is the island? It was around this time that I was starting to feel like television may be more relevant for my skills as a writer than books. I turned out to be right about that, by the way.
The years following the premiere of LOST saw me adding series to my repertoire exponentially, and I do mean that literally. With every passing season, the number of hours of scripted primetime television I was watching increased dramatically. I was watching the majority of new series, and catching up on series that I had missed. I was going back to long-lost legacy programs like Firefly, Dark Angel, and Surface, as well as then-current seasoned series like Battlestar Galactica, Smallville, Veronica Mars, and The 4400 using illegal streaming links. I was obsessed, and still am. I got to the point where I was probably watching 70-80 hours of content per week, no joke. I was more dedicated to understanding the art of television than most people are to their fulltime jobs. Again, no joke.
I was watching shows I loved, shows I could only watch while working on other things, and even shows that I absolutely detested. To that last part, I watched a couple of seasons of 2 Broke Girls, and stuck with Bones long past the point they ruined it. I finally managed to watch Stargate SG-1 & Stargate: Atlantis, Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Angel, and Odyssey 5. My sister’s gift of Netflix allowed me to streamline my viewing habits, and made it easier to watch shows like Farscape, Supernatural, SGU Stargate Universe, and Alias, among many, many others. I’ve seen Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Dollhouse, Heroes, and Prison Break at least twice. I’m going on a third for that last one to prepare for the revival. It would be impossible to count how many times I’ve seen any given episodes of LOST. Now that I’m running this website, and have lots of other responsibilities, my repertoire is much more tempered, but it’s still pretty strong. I study television like some study film. I look for what makes a good show and what makes a successful one, along with what’s happening when those two things are in conflict. I hunt for easter eggs, research interesting casting decisions, read trivia, and analyze trends. I’m an expert. If I could have earned a bachelor’s degree in the field, I so would have, and I would have kicked ass.
I used my knowledge of how to tell a goddamn story to write my own. My writing got better, not just because I was older and more experienced, but because TV taught me story structure. My high school teachers are not responsible for my talent, and my college professors sure and shit didn’t teach me two things. Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse are the ones who began my education, because they sent me on a path of exploration. They taught me how far to go with a cliffhanger, how to develop character relationships, and even why reading is important. Even though it’s clear that I gather the majority of my inspiration from TV, I do read some. The special LOST numbers of 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42 led me to reading the five primary books in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy franchise. And so it was Douglas Adams who got me interested in reading again, and taught me that I should shy away from the so-called “classics” and gravitate towards exciting cult lowbrow fiction. I still don’t read as much as my contemporaries, but I read The Hunger Games trilogy, yet part of The Magicians trilogy, and many Richelle Mead novels.
Forty-Two is important because it’s not important. It doesn’t really mean anything. It doesn’t matter what the meaning of life is, because what would knowing that change? Is that really what you want; to have a purpose? If your purpose is to help someone else, aren’t you really just helping someone whose only purpose is to help someone else? Do you find comfort in “God’s plan”? Why? I say that if the point of life is to reach some sort of literally lofty goal, then there isn’t real a point at all. When you play a game of chess, you know that there will be one of two outcomes; a stalemate, or a win. But you’re not playing so you can discover which one, are you? You’re not even really playing to see who wins, should that be the result. You’re playing for the game itself. You could just knock one of the kings over and walk away from the board as soon as you sit down, but what the fuck would that accomplish? My God isn’t moving us around to his liking in order to get something done. She doesn’t send hurricanes, and she sure as hell doesn’t kill children. I don’t know why you’re praying to a God who kills children, but he sounds like a prick.
The number forty-two taught me what life is really about; whatever you make of it. Everything is just about choices, and your purpose is to make the world a better place. If you’re interested in making it worse, then your life is meaningless at best. There are quadrillions of stars in the universe, a couple hundred billion of which are in our galaxy alone. The chances that a planet with conditions like ours exists—as far from the sun as it needs to be, landscape as it needs to be, in a solar system as far from the central black hole that it needs to be—are incredibly low. Evolution has led us to this moment right here where I’m writing this, and you’re waiting to. The perfect set of circumstances had to combine in a perfect series of causal connections in order to make you be a thing that is real. I find that far more impressive than a God who came into being via magic and then just decided to invent you. Forty-Two is my third number because in no reality is it not. Click here for the next installment...

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