A Chance In the Heavens

The moon is approximately 400 times smaller than the sun and approximately 400 times closer than the sun. That is why both celestials appear the same size in the sky and occasionally, when the moon’s orbit brings it closest to Earth and its shadow falls directly on Earth, a total solar eclipse occurs.

Many objects come between the Earth and the sun that we never see. They are too small against our greatest light source. The transits of Mercury and Venus across the solar surface are minor astronomical phenomenon. The International Space Station passed in front of the sun during the solar eclipse this past Monday, an infinitesimal speck. Only the moon matches up perfectly in circumference, which we cannot help but notice.

When the moon is farthest from the Earth in its orbit and crosses the sun, it is called an annular eclipse, creating a bright ring of fire in the sky. Because the moon is slowly receding from the Earth, a final total eclipse will occur in approximately six hundred million years.

So totality, the complete blocking of our sun, is by chance. The experience is not repeated on any other planet by any other moon before any other sun. We are on the Earth at the right time. A particular set of circumstances comes together to astonish the eyes and then shake the nerves. Like Annie Dillard said in 1979, “Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as…flying in an airplane does to falling out of an airplane.”

She must have known she was emulating Mark Twain there and his famous comparison of the wrong and right words with the lightning bug and the lightning. That 1979 total eclipse made Dillard once again face the chasm between the lightning and her right words.

Here in the northeast, not in the path of totality, I only saw the partial eclipse on Monday. Yet the immersive 360° videos on Facebook and the podcast audio of the screams to the south and west and the infographics of the science made me think of writing too.

Such serendipity, of time and variables and alignment, is also the source of a writer’s voice like Dillard’s. A certain set of characteristics comes together in an individual and on a page (or a canvas or screen) at the right time for the right people and their irises tighten and their hearts skip. When you read Dillard’s piece on the total eclipse, her voice succeeds. Even if we’ve never seen totality ourselves, she brings the experience to us and we understand the world’s screams better through her words.

This week, I start my 18th semester teaching and seeking to understand voice and words as they now exist in an interactive world. It’s my 22nd class of students, my 8th year. The summer semester that just ended was good—executed much better than last fall—though 12 weeks ends too quickly. I’m looking forward to a full 14 weeks again. I’ve done a lot to prepare for this semester, or rather it has taken me 8 years to know what I want to do and create the system to do it.

Creating a clear path to your writing is part of the interactive writing process. Improving your interface is the same as choosing the right word. This blog post means I’ve successfully transferred my domain dotkalm.com from Yahoo hosting to Bluehost—a daunting, but necessary part of redesigning all of my websites to make them more accessible across devices. Now I can return to blogging more regularly.

This semester is also different because I’m publishing a book version of The Interactive Voice on Amazon. It contains only the first 7 modules of the 14-week course, but they are plenty for a volume one. The course midterm has always been a clear change of direction. I will release modules 8-14 in the spring as The Interactive Venture, a companion book on project planning and promotion.

Managing this course has always been a fight between writing the lectures, critiquing the student work, directing the social media conversation, and sharing it all online. From the beginning I’ve said I could not teach interactively without having been a producer first.

Publishing and blogging again means stepping back out from behind the scenes in a way I haven’t in a while. It’s always a strange transition, but it becomes clear when a project has reached totality.

We’ll see how everything aligns.