The Waiting Place or What to Do When You’re Trapped in Space

There’s a spread in Dr. Seuss’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go!, that’s always given me the most unsettling feeling. That’s not totally unusual. For brightly-colored, whimsical children’s books, Dr. Seuss’s body of work has a fair share of moments that veer off into the uncanny. But this moment isn’t the creepy, haunting Pale Green Pants with Nobody Inside Them, or the vaguely threatening advances of The Cat in the Hat.

No, Oh, The Places You’ll Go! takes me into the straight up existential dread of a purposeless, empty life. One minute, you’re looking at the colorful illustrations and bright, hopeful prose that have become a staple at all high school graduations; the next, you’re immersed in the eerie, twilight world of The Waiting Place.

We all find ourselves trapped in the waiting place from time to time- those moments in our lives where we are in between places and things, the uncertain formlessness where it’s impossible to see what’s ahead. There’s a certain helpless horror to it, and yet at the same time there’s also a kind of resigned peacefulness to the waiting. It’s one of those tensions that makes us human, I think.

One of the main functions of science fiction is to magnify our paradoxes, and confusion, and issues in order to better explore them.

One of the main tropes used to explore the alienation of waiting is the stranded-in-space (or time) plot line.

The very last episode of Stargate: SG-1 finds the team stranded in both space and time when Lt. Col. Sam Carter uses an Asgard device to create a time bubble around their ship to protect it from enemy fire. SG-1 is trapped for fifty years watching the beam from the enemy ship creep closer to their hull, while they wait for Carter to find a way to get them free.

It is compelling, in an achingly melancholy way, to watch the characters adjust to the new normal. To see them live out their lives, and experience the ensuing cycles of love and joy, life and death, sanity and insanity—all in  the midst of being stuck waiting for the rest of the cosmos to move around them.

The DC animated TV universe of the 1990s and early 2000s, (Batman, Superman, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, etc.), never shied away from the deeper themes of science fiction and fantasy.

In the first part of the Justice League episode, “Hereafter”, Superman appears to have died. In the second part, he is revealed to have been teleported to a future earth with a red sun. Powerless, and with only the immortal and reformed villain Doc Savage for a companion, Superman is forced to come to terms with the limits of his mortality while in a dead and barren time.

In nearly complete opposition to these deep, solemn reflections, there is Mystery Science Theater 3000, or MST3K, (the newest iteration of which hit Netflix on April 14th). The ridiculous narrative of a man and his robots stranded in a satellite above earth by evil scientists weaves its way between the segments of B-movies that said man and his robots heckle. While the campy humor is plentiful and purposeful, there is something inspiring in Joel’s, (later Mike, and now Jonah), ingenuity and indomitable Midwestern snark in the face of an isolating and annoying situation.

I may not be stranded in space watching bad movies, or in time waiting for a better past or a more favorable future, but I am in The Waiting Place right now. I’m waiting to hear back from internships so I can know how and when I can move forward with my education. The question these far-fetched, science fiction situations forces me to ask myself is, what will I do while I’m in the waiting place? The question it makes all of us ask is, will we let the waiting consume us, or will we find a way to carry on in spite of the waiting, or even in the waiting?

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