“Twelve Tips to Avoid Depression While Living at the Space Station,” by Daniel Hudon

Nov 20th, 2009 | By | Category: Prose

Consider your situation. All your friends are at least three hundred miles away and none of them have a rocket ship with which to visit you. The post hasn’t delivered the mail in two months. Every time you meditate, you start levitating, a false goal your guru told you not to pursue. You have forgotten the smell of freshly cut grass. Despite the short tether, you have developed a debilitating fear of getting lost in space and refuse to do any more spacewalks. The toy sharks that used to float menacingly about the station have disappeared. Domino’sTM won’t deliver. You long to play a game of billiards. Your new jumpsuit itches. The ninety minute orbits make you dizzy. Your colleague has taken to talking to himself, in Russian, whether or not he’s beating you at magnetic checkers. You are more homesick than a child at summer camp. Weightlessness is weakening your bones. You have an overwhelming desire to pour yourself a bowl of Corn Flakes and not have them all float away. You crave a barbecued steak.

Whattodo, whattodo?

Try the following. They won’t solve your situation, but will hopefully keep your spirits up as the monotony of a life in space begins dragging you down.

1. Look at the Earth. It doesn’t matter if you’ve already spent every spare moment looking at it. Look at it again. Admire the chains of mountains, the glittering rivers, the magnificent continents dotted by lakes and garlanded with forests, the myriad archipelagoes and estuaries, the blue, blue oceans. Few people are able to enjoy the view of their home planet passing by their living room window. An entire planet floating in space below your feet! Savor the view. Think of it as living in an IMAX movie, only better. The capacity to be surprised and impressed by the beauty will keep your mood positive. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â

2. Watch the sunrise. Yes, it’s easier to stay in bed but think of all the poets who would give their firstborn to have your vantage point, nevermind the frequency: a new sunrise every ninety minutes – sixteen per day! Each one unique! Consider this fine example by Russian cosmonaut Valentin Lebedev who spent two hundred and eleven days in space: “I watched the sunrise today. Magnificent view! The sun was still behind the horizon when suddenly, a blue sword sliced into the Earth and a smooth blue arc spread before the dawn. Later, when the sun came up, it was as if melted copper ran on the clouds, its warmth licking the sleeping Earth.” And he wasn’t a poet — get out of bed before you miss another one!

3. Throw a party. Celebrate the national day of whichever country you’re flying over exactly forty-eight hours from now. Make up songs. Wear silly hats. Blow bubbles within bubbles. Light candles and admire their spherical flames. Play charades (might be difficult with just two people, but you can improvise). Stay up late and talk about the meaning of life. Make it the best two person party in the solar system. Repeat often and connect yourself not just to life but to the entire Earth.

4. Practice juggling. The number of circus acts who have made their debut in space is so far exactly zero – you’ll be the first! You can juggle pretty much anything in space, even bowling balls and globules of water. Remember: when you throw things up, don’t expect them to come down.

5. Write a letter home. Nothing connects you to life like a letter to a loved one. Tell him or her that you’re in space, man, and wish he or she could join you to ease up on the loneliness. Don’t mention that going outside – into the darkness of the universe – now gives you the creeps. Do mention that you have a new appreciation for sunlight. Be honest. Speak from your gut about your loves and passions. Make it a letter worth reading a thousand years from now.

6. Get some sun. There’s nothing like a blast of good ol’ Sol to keep your spirits up. Ground control probably has you working too hard anyway. Take a break. Go to the porthole for a good dose several times a day. Just don’t overdo it. Five minutes is probably enough. Don’t forget your sunblock. Without the atmosphere to impede them, those UV rays can be particularly nasty.

7. Become a devoted cloud viewer. Why are they the way they are? Where are they going? Keep a journal and answer these questions a different way every day. Develop your own secret theory. No one needs to know.

8. Learn to play a musical instrument. What could be better than playing music in space? You could be a rock star with groupies light years away. Think of the possibilities. Invent your own instrument if you have to. Practice for an hour every morning and an hour before bed. It will give you something to look forward to – the key to living a meaningful life. Get your colleague to play a duet with you. Pretend you’re making music for the cosmos – the harmony of the worlds!

9. Look at the Earth at night. From lightning strikes in the silent dark to cities lit up like Christmas trees to the Aurora Borealis and Australis shimmering at the ends of the Earth like celestial wreaths of light, here is a cornucopia of delights. Imagine you are the flying dream inspiring one of the sleepers below.

10. Make a movie. Make it funny. You’re not going to want to watch some depressing arthouse melodrama. Think sight gags and slapstick. Float into the frame with a goofy smile on your face and float out again. Imitate fish. Film the silly hat scene in your next two-person party. Enact a joyful celluloid letter to your future self. Upon repeated later viewings, this sight of your own smiling face will keep the dark dogs of depression out of your orbit.

11. Exercise. We hate to say it, but this is a must. Nothing gets your endorphins going like pumping up your heart rate for twenty minutes three or four times a week. Strap yourself into the treadmill and get at it. Better yet, start an intra-mural water polo league (sans water). Wear skimpy trunks and make sure the games are televised so Earthlings can catch all the action.

12. Watch the sunset. Whether or not your work day is done, take time out to watch the sunset. Like the sunrise, there’s a new one every ninety minutes and each one is different. Plan to watch three or four per day. You may never get another chance to see so many so often. Who knows when you’ll be back in space again? Maybe next year, if your bones recover, maybe never. Make the most of it while you can.


Daniel Hudon, originally from Canada, teaches natural science at Boston University. He writes both prose and poetry and is writing a series of instructions for how to build pretty much anything from atoms to galaxies. Heck,
why not? He has new work appearing in Tiferet, The Charles River Journal, Neon, The Nashwaak Review, Slow Trains, Two Hawks Quarterly and Diagram. His first book, “The Bluffer’s Guide to the Cosmos,” was published this spring by Oval Books (London, UK). He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. You can find some links to his writings at people.bu.edu/hudon.

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