CLOSING THE DISTANCE

 

The furthest distance anything made by human hands has traveled is, at the moment, some 14 billion miles from Earth. The Voyager 1 space probe—launched atop a rocket from Cape Canaveral on September 5, 1977—is beyond the cosmic grip of the sun, floating in interstellar space. (Voyager 2, launched 16 days prior on a different trajectory, trails just behind at 11.5 billion miles from home.) These are insignificant feats, relatively speaking: the star nearest our solar system, Alpha Centauri, is 4.2 light years away, or more than 25 trillion miles; the universe measures 93 billion light years in diameter and is forever expanding. But the Voyagers are expected to exist in perpetuity, long after human civilization collapses. Against an unfathomable cosmos and impossible distance, the Voyagers advance.

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It’s part of mat culture’s basic nomenclature: closing the distance. An act of provocation, a catalyst for reaction, the twilight of anticipation and the seizing of initiative. Distance is a physical fact—measured in feet and inches, astronomical units and parsecs and angles determined in parallax views—and closing it represents the dissolution of space between bodies. Closing the distance is something more abstract, too, quantified in vague benchmarks of feeling and consciousness. It’s the assassination of doubt, crossing the gulf between what we want to do and what’s possible—now, here, with our abilities and burdens and creaky knees and taped-up fingers and faint predictions of what the future should look like a split-second from now.

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The Northwest Passage is the Atlantic-to-Pacific nautical route connecting eastern Canada and Alaska across the Arctic Circle. It existed for nearly two thousand years as nothing more than a captivating, delusional idea. At 900 miles, it was just too far and inhospitable to sail, the ice forever thawing and refreezing and leaving too many opportunities for calamity. When explorers began attempting to sail the Northwest Passage in the late 15th century, those hypothetical deterrents were fatal realities: every expedition attempting the Northwest Passage succumbed to starvation, or scurvy, or the cold, or disappeared into the frozen tundra, or just turned around and went home. The best-equipped crews, like Sir John Franklin’s, buckled under their own weight and ended in catastrophe and cannibalism. Then, at the start of the 20th century, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen set out with a crew of six aboard the Gjøa. When the small herring boat was trapped in ice, Amundsen spent two years learning from the Inuit how to survive in the Arctic. After a three-year journey that ended with 500-miles of skiing to the nearest telegraph station, Amundsen relayed the news: closing the distance was suddenly more possible than it seemed.

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The basics are familiar. Penetration steps into level changes, probing front kicks and downward stomps and bull-rushing, reaching for sleeves and collars with stiff posture, gripping and breaking and re-gripping, then you pass the guard, you slide into mount. You overcome your instincts to flail and act out of nervous, broken faith. You learn the cold value of efficiency through planning and repetition: how far to travel, when to embark, and what to do after things goes wrong.

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In Planet of the Apes, Charlton Heston leads a crew of spacemen past stars and planets and balls of gas at light speed for 2,006 years before crash-landing into an alien civilization of speaking, hierarchy-enforcing, dissent-crushing, rubber-masked simians. Primitive special effects work against the movie’s insightful narrative, a parable of science, religion, social and individual morality, fundamental rights, and the gap between the known and unknown, traversed through wrenching effort and fearless inquiry. Then, an awful reveal in the film’s famous climax featuring a blown-apart Statue of Liberty: the ascent of apes came after humanity’s self-inflicted nuclear destruction, where wisdom was cast off for bad planning and hasty imposition of force. Imagine traveling more than 2,000 miles and getting crushed under the weight of reality sprawled on top of you, bearing down with all its contempt.

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The physics teacher talks about the difference between distance and displacement. Displacement measures how far your position has changed. Walk four feet right, two feet up, four feet left, and two feet down—your position hasn’t changed at all. Distance, however, quantifies the ground covered, even if you wind up where you started. Relative to the beginning, displacement locates the destination. The distance is the journey and everything it demands of you.

 

@gondo.studio

 

 

 

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