Deeplight

Today’s episode is about light, darkness, change, conservation and choices. Featuring the WORLD DEBUT of Deeplight, by Stephanie Spence. 

Deeplight Credits:

Open World is a partnership between Philo’s Future Media and Flash Forward Presents, hosted by TK Dutes and Rose Eveleth, produced by Brittani Taylor Brown and mixed by C. The intro music is Dorica by BlueDot Sessions. Additional music by T.H. Ponders

Sponsors:

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TRANSCRIPT

 

TK Dutes:

Welcome to Open World. I’m TK.

Rose Eveleth:

And I’m Rose, and this is a show about hopeful futures and how we get there.

TK Dutes:

Today’s episode, I’ve been waiting for this one, we’re headed out into the darkness. Where are we going, Rose?

Rose Eveleth:

We’re going, I think, into the ocean, which I’m super excited about because I am obsessed with the ocean. I know you do not feel the same way about the ocean.

TK Dutes:

I struggle with ocean things.

Rose Eveleth:

One day we’ll get you there. And today we are going to go there and it’s going to be rad and surprising. So buckle up, we’re going.

TK Dutes:

And now Deep Light by Stephanie Spence.

Halo:

Imagine earth the way it used to be, how bright it was. Sure, pick a city in 2050, and it was probably crammed with recyclers and joined up solar panels, but from the distant eye of a satellite, the lights of our cities were so beautiful. From the glowing noughts of London, the Chicago’s golden web, to the itty bitty specks of rural towns, pretty and so wrong. It took us until 2100 to realize how bad we messed everything up. I’m not talking about the rising seas, the black water in LA, or the folding skies over Perth, well no, I’m talking about all that wonderful solar powered heaven gifted light.

Halo:

Las Vegas was the first city to reach perfect sky glow, a cute way of saying, “We’ve gotten so efficient at making light that it never actually got dark.” Even after pretty much everybody had moved on for cleaner water and better food, light stayed on. We’d wired them that way. Only took a few months to speed up what we had started ages ago, when the first fluorescence started nibbling away at the night. Less than a year of perfect sky glow, and then the havoc really started.

Halo:

Light shock killed toads and snakes, [inaudible 00:02:42], coyotes looking for the moon, in the ways of a moth looking for love. And the sea turtles… nevermind. Whoever finds this, you probably don’t remember, which is thanks to the Halo Project. That’s what I do, what I used to do I guess. Simple work. Take apart the power grids, stop the municipal timers, and seeing all those street lights and billboards to sleep. Night, night, air and light. Simple. Just got to do it for every unoccupied city, suburb, and town on Earth, but that’s what it takes to earn back the night. (Silence)

Halo:

I didn’t mean for things to go quite like this. I know it’s just a matter of time before someone says, “Hey, didn’t we send someone down to Boca? Why are the lights still on?” Well, whoever you are, whoever finds this NE EMO’S recording, just know this; I tried and in the end, I don’t regret failing.

Halo:

NEEMO, how far now?

NEEMO:

[beeping]

Halo:

Yeah, I can smell it and I’ll be there soon.

NEEMO:

[beeping]

Halo:

Is that… Wow, it’s even bigger than I imagined, and you can’t even drink it. What a waste. Oh, sandhill cranes. Let’s see. The biggest power repository is north, which is right over… What? What the hell? Did I say the job was simple? It was supposed to be. One little seaside tourist town should be easy for a single Halo outer and their NEEMO. The grid was uncomplicated, the map small, but what I was looking at wasn’t on the city map. It couldn’t be. It was a ship. No little yacht or pleasure boat either, this was a cruise ship, or a luxury eco liner, late 2080s probably, judging by the tacky, Save the Earth Wire the Waves light screen that span the rails.

Halo:

It was way out in the water where the shore used to be. I think the nose of it all smashed up in some building, like it had been eager to get a taste of the land before it into the sea. And yet, all the lights were still on. I can even see the deck lights underwater, slanting away into the deep. If a wooden pier can survive a decade of neglect, it can survive one minute of me walking on it. Just because it’s old, doesn’t mean it’s…

NEEMO:

[beeping]

Halo:

Oh, shut up smart mouth watch.

Kite:

Howdy. Shadowy planks, am I right? You wouldn’t believe how many of those I found ankle first. You need some help? If you’re stuck, you can just say so.

Halo:

I’m not stuck, I’ve got rope.

Kite:

Rope? Sure. Prodded wood, sandy banks-

Halo:

I can handle a bit of sand.

Kite:

Oh no, no doubt, you look capable. Tell you what though, I’m just gonna leave my hand right here and you put your roping into it if you want to.

Halo:

Thanks. And bye.

Kite:

Hey, wait. Did you see?

Halo:

See what?

Kite:

The cranes! It is a perfect night for a stroll. And don’t worry, I’m not following you. I just live on that beauty there. Nice ship right?

Halo:

Hope you’ve got your tetanus shots.

Kite:

It’s not as bad as it looks. Some of the rooms are even dry.

Halo:

I see.

Kite:

You know it’s nice to hear someone’s voice. I mean, I’ve got the goals and the sea, but I miss people. The laughter, the joy, the unexpectedness. Don’t get me wrong, the free cabin and spectacular sunrises aren’t doing me a bit of harm, but it’s been dull since my radio broke.

Halo:

Uh-uh (positive)

Kite:

For example, I’ve always been into the Halo reports. I mean, what are we at now? 10% dark. That’s pretty good.

Halo:

Look-

Kite:

I mean, Halo, that’s who you work for right? Dark body suit, dark glasses, dark expression. Even your glare is kind of, “Grrr ignore me, I’m trying to save the world.”

Halo:

I’m not.

Kite:

Wait, I’m sorry, let me ask you something. I have always wanted to know this. Do you get a little irritated when you look up and you see the moon? Like it’s making fun of you? You ever wish you could just pinch it and get that one last bulb off?

Halo:

What? No. Nevermind. Just stop. I’m just doing my job.

Kite:

I’m sorry… Oh, I am so sorry, I haven’t introduced myself yet. I’m Kite, like the bird or like the sailing thing on a string. And you are?

Halo:

Doing my job.

Kite:

Right. Very cool. Look, um, Halo person… Halo then. You don’t have to feel bad about turning off the lights in that ship. I mean, I don’t need light to get by and I am down for the mission. You know?

Halo:

Glad things don’t need to get weird.

Kite:

In fact, I could help you get to the power supply room. I mean, you see how heavy the lean on the hall is. You can’t make it without a boat and a little bit of know-how. Those old piers and stuff, I mean, I don’t have to tell you, they just don’t hold up.

Halo:

Is there another way NEEMO?

NEEMO:

[beeping]

Kite:

Ooh, cool NEEMO. I’ve always wanted to take a look at one, could I um…

Halo:

NEEMO are you sure?

NEEMO:

[beeping]

Halo:

Fine. Yes.

Kite:

Great! OOh, my lifeboat’s just out there. This way to the ride of a lifetime.

Halo:

Did you know that Las Vegas means the meadows. I spent my first two years a Halo in the hell-bright that was Vegas, killing off that skyline block by block. So many panels powering billboards and stadium lights and my eyes burn just thinking about it. It cost 100,000 per square mile to get that whole city turned off. Even though by that time, the only ones who wanted to stay on were a couple of electro historians, and the cult of light. Remember those guys?

Kite:

No?

Halo:

Good.

Halo:

Here’s some advice for you. If they ever use this recording as training on how not to do your job. Don’t go into ruins alone, don’t talk to people you find living alone in ruins and don’t trust people with nouns for names. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve nearly been stabbed by a hunter or a chase taking things a little too literally. But Kite was… well, she had a boat and I had job to do.

Halo:

And look, it had been a month of walking through the wild alone with no one but NEEMO to talk to. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone to that ship, maybe I should have hailed back up and waited. But I was thinking about that quiet shore with this lonely flock, a few cranes, Kite and me, and how after Vegas went dark, the bats came back, the lizards, the dragonflies and the mallards, the meadows came back. And despite myself, I went right onto that ship. Maybe I should have waited, but here we are.

Kite:

Here we are. Home sweet home.

Halo:

Makes me glad I got my tetanus shot.

Kite:

Okay, now now, I wouldn’t lead a friend anywhere dangerous. The engine room’s down here. After you. I moved in here a few months ago and I never get over the fact that it sounds like it’s about to digest you.

Halo:

What ran the ship aground anyways?

Kite:

Oh, hurricane um… Which one was it? Brickley, Bentley, something with an E and a B and 100 miles per hour of altitude.

Halo:

Bernadette.

Kite:

Bernadette! Hey, you really are good.

Halo:

I watch trending videos on the local flora, fauna and the weather, like everyone else. Whatever… Sorry.

Kite:

Don’t worry about it. You get used to the quiet sometimes and you forget what it’s like to be around someone else.

Kite:

Oh…

Halo:

There’s tunnels all flooded.

Kite:

It happens. This whole thing still rocks and moves from time to time and the sea takes what it wants. There’s another way if you’re up for a climb. Ease out this way. It’s steep so just keep your back to the wall and think happy thoughts. Like, what’s the city like these days?

Halo:

Good… Damn.

Kite:

I got you. You’re okay.

Kite:

Happy thoughts. Um, lasagna. Is that still thing?

Halo:

Yeah, most big cities are peaceful and there’s plenty of food, including lasagna. Plenty of work too, dismantling the burbs of the outskirts.

Kite:

But you chose to wander? Like a kite without its string. Doesn’t that make us birds of a feather?

Halo:

Hey! I’m not haunting some old ship, I’m… Halo is important work. Every reduction in sky glow helps up-

Kite:

What is it?

Halo:

I thought I saw… Nevermind.

Kite:

What?

Halo:

It’s stupid. It can’t be.

Kite:

Seriously, what?

Halo:

Something moved in the water.

Kite:

That’s all? You fricking scared me. I mean, there’s a ton of junk down here, clothes, seaweed, you name it.

Halo:

It wasn’t moving like seaweed. It looked like a sea turtle.

Kite:

Like a turtle?

Halo:

Yeah. You ever seen one?

Kite:

Once when I was a kid, they used to hatch up in Fort Lauderdale, really cute. I haven’t seen one since. I guess they moved to another beach up north just like everyone else.

Halo:

There were turtles where I was working in Vegas, in the casino tanks. The cult did something to them. I think they were trying to show us that we could live alongside nature. They would mess with their eyes, made them blind, said that it would increase their innate magnetism. Folks would be called, made them turn away from the lights and able to get to the sea as hatchling.

Kite:

Wow. That’s awful.

Halo:

Yeah, and it didn’t work. When the test group was brought out to sea, poor things would crawl back into the city lights. You’d find them dead on doorsteps, stuck in automatic sliding doors that don’t slide anymore. I helped Halo rescue a few hatchling, pack them up and they’d be shipped back to beaches they hatched on, as best we could anyways. I like to think that some of them made it back home.

Kite:

This is kind of romantic.

Halo:

What?

Kite:

Little hallway, so close I can see the shine in your eyes, you telling me about your hang ups. All we need is a little bit of wine a candle? Oh, wait, no, no candles, right?

Halo:

Forget it. (silence)

Kite:

No, it’s cute. Don’t be embarrassed. I get it. When I was a kid I was obsessed with sharks. Everyone thinks they’re extinct but I know they’re not. They’re still down there right? Down where it’s empty and dark. They just need a chance.

Halo:

If this is a date, it sucks.

Kite:

Just this dork now. Hold on while I do this.

Halo:

You know they’re building huge recyclers down in Atlanta. A few years from now they’ll send cutters out here to raise all this junk anyways. Turn it back to clear coasts and swamp land. But in the meantime, the least we can do is help, it matters.

Kite:

It does matter. It really does.

Kite:

There, the tilt’s bad here. You still want a hand or are you gonna rope your way all the way down there too?

Halo:

Hand. Thanks. Sorry about the turtle thing, it’s better not to get too personal.

Kite:

Hey, I don’t mind a little personal. It’s been nice to get to know you.

Halo:

Shh…You hear something?

Kite:

Just water.

Halo:

All right. Creepy boats might be your thing, but I want to get out of here as quick as possible. NEEMO you ready?

NEEMO:

[inaudible 00:18:12]

Kite:

Oh, so the little watch does the dirty work.

Halo:

It was made for this. Shouldn’t take much to get the whole ship turned off with it guiding me. What’s wrong NEEMO?

NEEMO:

[inaudible 00:18:25]

Halo:

Power supply not detected?

Kite:

Yeah, I’m not surprised. I wouldn’t put my power supply anywhere near all this water.

Halo:

I knew I should have trusted someone with a noun for name!

Kite:

Okay, okay I’m really sorry about this. Oh, okay, a knife? Really?

Halo:

I’m getting out of here. Even if I have to cut my way out.

Kite:

Now, calm down.

Halo:

You just sealed us in a flood compartment. Why do I need to be calm?[inaudible 00:19:00].

Kite:

Have you ever thought that maybe all this shouldn’t just vanish?

Halo:

No. I really haven’t.

Kite:

Well, what if I told you that all these lights were still working for a purpose?

Halo:

NEEMO, send your coordinates!

Kite:

Wait, wait, wait. You trusted me enough to come in here with me. You just have to trust me one more time.

Halo:

I’m not listening to anything you have to say.

Kite:

But you should, because I know the only way out. Down, you’ve got to dive. Follow me. Don’t lose sight of me.

Halo:

NEEMO? Fuck, Kite. Dammit. God. (Silence).

Halo:

Down. Following NE EMO’S blinking green eye. It’s [inaudible 00:19:51] dark, the water filled with blurred shapes, but down, down, there was a light.

Kite:

Ta-DA

Halo:

Go ta-DA yourself! What’s wrong with you?

Kite:

Oh, sorry. I just I knew you wouldn’t come without little push.

Halo:

Little? That was little?

Kite:

Okay, okay, okay, I’m sorry.

Halo:

I can’t believe. Okay. Where are we?

Kite:

Air pocket under the main deck. Cabins are down here. I’ve seen these bubbles come up and I dived down here looking for crabs once, and well…

Halo:

What was that? Something just touched my foot.

Kite:

Big Fish.

Halo:

Like a shark?

Kite:

I think it’s a grouper. Don’t worry, there’s plenty for it to eat besides your foot.

Halo:

I knew I should have gone to Denver.

Kite:

You won’t think so when you look at this, come on, through the cabin door, just one more leap of faith. Look.

Halo:

My eyes were adjusting to the dim so I looked through the cabins hallway and there it was. All along the hope of the cabin decks was… It took me a while to remember what these were called. A reef, a coral reef, just swarming fish in forms I’ve never seen before. Yellow eels, diamond-eyed rays, rainbow schools of tiny shiny fish. The heat in the light of the cabins formed a perfect womb for all these branching corals all the way up to the ceilings. This little bit of perfection right in the middle of the rotting ship and its lights. Nature had found what we had messed up and somehow made it right again.

Kite:

Glorious, isn’t it?

Halo:

It’s beyond that, all of this, I thought all the reefs are gone. Extinct.

Kite:

This ship. I think they were smugglers, I mean think about it, party goers upstairs, living goods in the salty holds. Can you imagine how much a piece of coral would have cost? And when the ship went down…

Halo:

It all kept going.

Kite:

So, are you going to tell on me?

Halo:

Yeah, the police are on their way.

Kite:

Look, help me out. I just want to keep this place going for as long as I can.

Halo:

It’s not up to me. Our outing locations are detected by atmospheric drones. Those blue lights you see up at night. Up there. That’s the president, the EPA, the IOW and every other pissed off sounding acronym. Even this NEEMO will rat you out when their data gets uploaded. Two months, maybe four, they’ll send someone else to take care of what I didn’t, and this place gets destroyed anyways. So we’ll sink it. Lights and everything.

Kite:

Wait, what?

Halo:

If you can flood a critical mass of compartments the way you did that room? Maybe we can manage it. This world doesn’t need to be saved. Even though it’s all different. It’s okay. We can let go.

Kite:

Hey.

Halo:

Hey, what?

Kite:

Thank you.

Halo:

It’s really just my job. I’m cold. There is a way to get out of here right?

Kite:

Of course. Let’s go.

Kite:

You’re crying.

Halo:

So what? Crying? Good for you. I’m told it’s therapeutic to let things go.

Kite:

Yeah. I think so too… For what it’s worth, I’m no expert, but I think those turtles will come back someday.

Halo:

You’re right. You’re absolutely right. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but someday.

TK Dutes:

That was so good. A surprising story about friendship.

Rose Eveleth:

Mm-hmm (affirmative)

TK Dutes:

And ecological anarchy, low-key?

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah. Yeah, for sure.

TK Dutes:

There’s some stuff happening.

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah. I love sort of turning some of these problems on their head and asking when is it a problem? And when can you just let things be? You know, the question of the end of darkness is something I think a lot about. This idea of what happens if we never have any more darkness? And that would be a sad future.

TK Dutes:

Yeah.

Rose Eveleth:

I do think it’s a really interesting conversation around trying to do the right thing and following orders and restoring the environment, but then also understanding when it’s okay to not, when it’s okay to let things take their course. And that conversation, I love the part where they’re sort of fighting about whether or not something needs to be saved, and what that means and what that looks like. So I loved that.

TK Dutes:

And I thought it was like a low-key, a cautionary tale of what happens when we rely on tech too much. Just as it unfolded, you can hear them talking about how we got all these lights now and the animals, they’re not reacting well. Like you said, when do we stop? I feel like we have a chance now to take this story seriously actually. These are great stories, but this is the time for us to really think like, okay, thanks for all these LED lights, but also like, turn them off some time.

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah, totally. And those are all things I think that the creator of this piece, Stephanie thinks about and thought about when she was making it. And so when we come back from this very short commercial break to pay the bills, we’re gonna hear from her about all of those things and more.

TK Dutes:

Awesome. (silence)

Rose Eveleth:

Stephanie Spence, thank you so much for joining us, and providing us with also, the world premiere, I believe, of that piece, which is so exciting. Let’s start with the origin story of Deep Light. Where did this start? How did this begin?

Stephanie Spence:

I’ve been working on my own Solar Punk podcast series for a while. So I’ve had the pleasure of thinking a few hundred years into the future. What does humanity look like? In a future that’s a lot more ideal than the one that we have right now? What kind of structures do we need to build to get there? What does society look like? And Deep Light kind of came out of this vision of a transitioning future where we’re working towards having our beautiful green cities that are filled with trees, and there’s no pollution, but there’s still a lot of hard work, to get to that point.

Stephanie Spence:

One of the things I’ve been grappling with in my project is like, how do we get rid of micro plastics in the ocean? How do we reduce emissions? and Deep Light was the answer to one of those questions, which was; in a world where we have sort of the perfect solar grid, we have lots of energy, we don’t have as many energy problems as we do now. How do we reverse the problem of light pollution? Which is always been an interesting question to me.

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah. And you’ve sort of just answered it. But are there any sort of real world news items or events that you drew from specifically for this piece?

Stephanie Spence:

I remember reading about what I think of as one of the world’s most interesting science labs, and it’s at the bottom of a very deep lake. What they’ve done down there is they put a bunch of sensors, and they’re trying to see how far light pollution can travel? And the answer is, really far. So, if you grid up the world with a ton of lights, it affects every kind of ecosystem. So when I was writing about Halo traveling around turning off all these bulbs, I was thinking of that problem, where all these man-made conveniences that we have can wreak havoc in places that we didn’t really expect, including at the bottom of a very deep lake, all these different scenarios. So that was kind of my inspiration for this particular project.

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah. And you sort of in various places described your work as both sort of Solar Punk and Afro Futurist. And I’m wondering if you can talk a little about where you see those two genres kind of overlapping or connecting or if there’s ever tension between those two genres.

Stephanie Spence:

I always see them overlapping in the future, just because I have this really inclusive vision of the future that I’m thinking about. Where some of the people that we don’t get to see in science fiction really get to take main stage. And my family comes from Jamaica, and I have always felt that you never see smaller nations when you think about science fiction, or it’s hard to find, I should say. You never get to see how do different societies thrive. Usually, it’s kind of an American, and you know, you shoot up some astronauts, and there’s like a billion dollar program. It’s very… it’s sort of easy in that sense.

Stephanie Spence:

But what I really want to see is, how do other places fare? I guess when I think about the intersection of those, I think about what faces do we not get to see in science fiction, I feel like, there will be such a great role to play for everyone when it comes to Solar Punk not just the tech conglomerates of the world, not just the billionaires, but average people who are building their own resilience in their own communities.

Stephanie Spence:

I feel like this audience probably knows, but climate change is really going to affect a lot of island nations first. It’s going to affect a lot of places on the coast, a lot of poor communities, and I just feel like solar punk can really empower those places and those people and just kind of draw an eye towards the future where everybody’s really getting the chance to participate and save our world, if you will.

Rose Eveleth:

And maybe for listeners who haven’t encountered the term Solar Punk before, how would you define that?

Stephanie Spence:

Ooh, oh my gosh. In the most broad sense, I see Solar Punk as sort of this movement that grabs the future, from the role of the average person, like a future that’s sustainable, and sustainability, not just in the sense that, “Oh, we have great recycling, and we have solar grids,” but a future where we can see every kind of person thrive. I think, traditionally, Solar Punk is definitely the beautiful deco aesthetic and the green trees, and like, animals living in urban environments, and sort of like a very, almost like a fantasy setting. But I think what I’m most excited about is seeing how we can get there societally and technologically.

Rose Eveleth:

One thing that I found really interesting in listening across the pieces that we selected for this collection, and not just the pieces we selected in fact, I think almost every piece that was submitted is, there’s a really recurrent theme of loneliness and sort of what it’s like to be a person out there trying to make a better world and how that’s almost inherently a lonely thing. And there’s loneliness in this piece, right? Where you have Halo and Kite, are both kind of alone and talk about being alone.

Stephanie Spence:

Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Rose Eveleth:

I’m curious, it was so interesting to me, because we’re putting together this hopeful collection, and to see this theme of loneliness pop up over and over again, was not something that I think we expected to see. And I’m curious why you think there might be this thread of loneliness across the pieces?

Stephanie Spence:

I think I ended up with sort of a lonely feeling, because I think it’s difficult for people to see right now, how as a society, we can be transformative. At least that’s how I feel sometimes. You turn on the news it’s politics, and there’s just all sorts of chaos, and there’s all sorts of problems, and I feel like it’s difficult to see what that future is right now. Especially how I mentioned, this is sort of like a transitioning story towards a different kind of future. I feel like, at least for me, I was thinking more of the individual, and like smaller groups of people as the one sort of grabbing on to that change and sort of moving things along. So I think that’s why I ended up with a lonely feeling. But I think it’s interesting that others kind of keyed into the same thing.

Rose Eveleth:

Right? Maybe they all came to it from a different direction, but sort of wound up in the same place.

Stephanie Spence:

Yeah.

Rose Eveleth:

Another theme obviously, in the piece is lightness and dark. And one thing that struck a couple of people who listened to it on the team on our side was the sort of flipping of, usually light is good and happy, and everything good is light and darkness is bad. And in this case, it’s actually sort of the opposite way, we want to return to a time when there is more darkness. I’m curious if you thought about that as a symbolic choice, or if that was just inherent in the story itself?

Stephanie Spence:

I guess a little bit of both. When I started thinking about this story, it wasn’t necessarily the theme of light and dark that I was playing with, but more of the idea that things that are hopeful can emerge out of darkness. Where I guess in the story though, the two roles are sort of flipped you know, as darkness being good and light being bad. But just the thought that something can emerge from situations that aren’t very hopeful. And I really just liked the idea that even though there’s so much destruction and chaos and stuff, that something beautiful could emerge, that really was sort of the impetus of thinking about it. I think the scene underwater was the very first scene I thought of, and so yeah, I guess it’s more of that theme. Sort of like a triumphant. Something good happening out of a greater badness was where I was coming from.

Rose Eveleth:

It is interesting. One of the other things that we noted when I first started listening to this piece, I was like, this doesn’t seem very hopeful, because it’s pretty bleak [crosstalk 00:34:51].

Stephanie Spence:

Yeah, I know. I was like, I wonder if this is going to be a problem.

Rose Eveleth:

No, but I mean, it’s actually a commonality across a lot of the pieces, is that they start out sort of being like, everything is bad but there is this glimmer of hope, and that feels like where we are right now where it’s acknowledging that things are not good, but they can be better. What do you hope that people feel when they come out of the piece after it ends? Do you have an emotion or a hope that people might sort of feel a certain way at the end?

Stephanie Spence:

You know, when I was thinking about just designing and writing it, what I was interested in was sort of this feeling of awe. There’s just so much to be worried about, you know, in climate change, and in the middle of this kind of wild time-period that we’re living in, but I was thinking about how there are just sort of these small miracles and these small moments of happiness sort of enveloped in that.

Stephanie Spence:

Like the idea that summers are longer, which is generally a bad thing in climate change, but there you get longer to like appreciate the flowers, you get longer to spend outside with your family and stuff like that. So I guess the feeling I was going for was just want to kind of wonder, knowing that things aren’t ideal, but still finding some kind of beauty in them.

Rose Eveleth:

I love that the beauty shows a coral reef. I’m scuba diver, and so the coral reef thing I was like, Yes! That’s the most hopeful thing in the world, is a coral reef, right?

Stephanie Spence:

I know, I’m such a fan. I’m a snorkeler so that’s just so near and dear to my heart.

Rose Eveleth:

It’s like that first scene in Finding Nemo where they’re going in underwater, and you first get that sort of travel through the reef. And it was… I love that. So great. [crosstalk 00:36:30]

Stephanie Spence:

I know, the ocean is amazing.

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah, it’s truly- yeah.

Stephanie Spence:

I’m such an ocean fan.

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah. we’re ocean fans, I think.

Rose Eveleth:

The premise of the piece, this future where there is no darkness, and that we have to kind of pull it back. Is that something that you worry about?

Stephanie Spence:

Um, not necessarily. Obviously, so many emissions, so much pollution, things that we’re going to have to scrape back. And just in terms of like, the broader, I guess, Solar Punk movement, I think a lot about what that will take, like, what will it take to like replant millions of forests, what it will take to remove oil from all of the world’s oceans. So while I’m not super worried about the dark just yet, I think there’s probably lots of other things to worry about. I do think about what those whole movements look like, like what does that mean, for us?

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah, there’s a line in the piece where they’re kind of both reassuring each other that these small actions matter, right? they sort of say to each other like, “It matters.” “Doesn’t it?” “It matters”.

Stephanie Spence:

Yeah.

Rose Eveleth:

And I think that so often, in particular, conversations around climate change, you hear like, Oh, it’s only these 10 companies, they control, everything, it doesn’t matter. I’m curious if some of this is… if you thought about sort of trying to push back against that narrative with this piece a little bit, that these individual actions do make some difference.

Stephanie Spence:

Basically, my whole adult life I’ve been working in the progressive nonprofit space. When I got out of college, I was working in the environmental space. And in my mind, I could just see how much we’ve pivoted from like 10 years ago. I remember when I was an intern, just out of college, we were doing projects, where we were telling people, “Oh, this is how you conserve water, this is how you should conserve energy.” And from that time in like 2010, or whatever that was to now, when we’re really finding people, or really finding the corporations that are at fault, there’s just been such a move away from that sense of like, climate change is up to us, which is a good thing.

Stephanie Spence:

But at the same time, I do feel like it makes people not feel very hopeful, it doesn’t feel like there’s a lot one person can do. So that is definitely something that I grapple with, and that I sort of tapped into for this project. And I know every now and then you hear a story about one person who’s on a solo expedition to plant like, 1 million trees, and that stuff, I just find very moving, you know, in this just like, an entire broader world, where it’s really hard for someone to feel like, “Oh, something I do matters” “I think that matters,” something like that. I like to see bombs of the world where you’re throwing out flowers and small plants. I like that.

Rose Eveleth:

At the end also, there’s this idea of letting go of your plan, right? That you think you’re doing one thing and you sort of need to check off the boxes, and do the thing, having this very specific idea of what we need to do in order to make the future, and kind of allowing ourselves to let go of that and let go of control a little bit. And allowing for things to be slightly different than maybe what we thought they were going to be or we thought the plan should be.

Stephanie Spence:

Yeah.

Rose Eveleth:

And I’m curious how you think about sort of balancing letting go with not giving up and that sort of tightrope.

Stephanie Spence:

I don’t know, I feel like it’s important to sort of cultivate that sense of, okay, we have a mission, we have a goal, but that’s probably going to change, it’s probably going to become messed up, probably become not feasible at some point in time. So having that firm belief that yeah, we can change things, but also just realizing, oh, this one particular thing didn’t work, or it went the opposite way that we thought it would and just sort of letting that go and saying, Okay, well, we made a mistake or we didn’t understand, and now we’re gonna try something different. And I think that sense of like resiliency is just so important to think about, and that’s just something that sort of drives me. So, yeah, that was something that I hoped to put into the work.

Rose Eveleth:

Did anything surprise you in either the writing or the producing of the piece that you sort of uncovered in making it?

Stephanie Spence:

I don’t know if I was surprised exactly, but I had to turn it over a lot in my mind, I was just like thinking about sort of the role of the government, I guess. So just kind of thinking about what does like a good government look like? Or What does a good organization look like was something that was surprisingly sort of hard to write, if that makes sense? So just like the Halo Project, being this big federal project, and thinking about what would be the right way to do this was kind of a surprising challenge for me.

Rose Eveleth:

Like, how optimistic are you when it comes to this Earth’s health as a broad[crosstalk 00:40:53], question?

Stephanie Spence:

You know, what? Even when I’m not optimistic, I remain optimistic. Even if I’m not like entirely sure about how does the world stage respond to climate change, how does our nation respond, I still believe in the resilience of the individual and of people and communities. I think when people are fighting for their own folks, they will show up, people will come out. And so I guess that’s the one piece of optimism that I’ve held on to for a long time, and you know, you get to see it in your own community, when people show up whether it’s like activists or families or something like that, I do feel like people will always care, and that’s driven me for many long years working in these spaces.

Rose Eveleth:

Another sort of theme kind of related to giving up, letting go, balancing, sort of making sure that you’re not losing sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing, or does there just seemed to be this element of put the potential for collateral damage, right? Mission at all costs, even if the mission is good, can sometimes bleed out into other places. And I’m curious if you think that that’s a thing that you ever worry about when we talk about, sort of even Solar Punk, where we all want a better world, but do we all agree on what that looks like? And is there ever a place where sometimes in the name of a greater good, we forget that there might be places that that mission doesn’t make sense?

Stephanie Spence:

Yeah, absolutely. I think maybe I think about ecology too much. But-

Rose Eveleth:

Impossible.

Stephanie Spence:

I do feel like… Exactly. You know, there is something of the personal I think that’s lost in the broader sci-fi narrative, or maybe the broader Solar Punk narrative, we do talk a lot about, you know, society has achieved 100% green energy, and we’ve gone to space, and it’s so awesome out there, and we have this perfect future where everyone is included and stuff like that. But what does that mean, I guess, on a personal level, or what did that cost on a personal level?

Stephanie Spence:

Yeah. When I think about the personal stories that must have happened, or that would happen that would pave the way for this kind of future; I do think a lot about what does that cost? You know, I grew up in Florida, I mentioned again, that my family is from the islands, a lot of people would probably have to move. What does it cost to leave your childhood home? What does it cost to be moved away from a place where you have history? What does that cost to say, okay, we built this neighborhood on top of a swamp, and now we have to turn it back into a swamp, so we’re gonna let that all go, we’re gonna raise it, and we’re gonna plant trees which is great. But that still has some kind of personal costs to it.

Stephanie Spence:

So that’s definitely something that’s reflected in the story too, and I think about that a lot, that a lot of places that we know we love might be gone in a few hundred years. So while that’s different on a big scale. In some ways, it’s good, but it could be bad for the individual, there’s a lot of that tension there too.

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah. And you have also sort of an outsider coming in with good intentions but who doesn’t understand the local place, and is sort of just trying to do what they think is the right thing, without a local context, which is something that is a classic sci-fi narrative without knowing it’s a classic sci-fi narrative, right? Of going to a new planet and being like, “Don’t worry, we’re here to save you.” And they’re like, “We’re good. Thanks.”

Stephanie Spence:

Yeah, exactly. There’s definitely that.

Rose Eveleth:

So the last two questions that we always ask everyone is, number one, what is your favorite piece of hopeful media? It could be a song, it could be a YouTube video, it could be a TikTok whatever you want. Anything that makes you feel hope about the future.

Stephanie Spence:

Last year, I think it was last year. I went to the opening show of Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer Tour, which was so good, and the album was so good. It just fills me up with so much joy. Oh God, that album is just so perfect in so many ways. And when I think of that clash between, idealism and a future where government’s gone wrong, it’s sort of just- Everything is in that album, I have such a hard time even talking about it just because I love it so much. But yeah, we have that clash between the sort of traditional dystopian sci-fi, where you see a lot of government takeover of artificial minds and stuff like that, and there’s this whole sort of horrible element to it. But then, there’s also this whole cool funk element that I think everybody loves. There’s lots of dance pieces. It’s very light and happy in some places, and to me that’s just that’s perfect. Thank you, Janelle for that, I love it so much.

Rose Eveleth:

I saw her on that tour also in San Fransisco

Stephanie Spence:

Oh my gosh.

Rose Eveleth:

And there were two different people wearing pussy pants, and they’re walking around, and one woman had lights in them and they lit up, they had lights, and it was just incredible.

Stephanie Spence:

Just everything from the album to the tour was just so perfect.

Rose Eveleth:

So good.

Stephanie Spence:

Yeah, that’s what I needed.

Rose Eveleth:

I know. Yeah. And then our last question that we’re always asking, which is sometimes the hardest question, particularly on a day like today, where we are in the midst of what feels like a turning point on pandemic news, in the US at least, what are you most hopeful about right now?

Stephanie Spence:

I remain hopeful in the resilience of people. I’ve said the word resilience a lot, but I do feel like people will find their way through the darkness. There’s so much to be worried about right now, I’m sure lots of people are feeling it, I’m sure you all are feeling it. But I feel like people always put one foot in front of the other and keep on moving forward. Even when governments and systems and corporations are doing the wrong thing, I think there will always be people who are trying to course-correct, and as far as I can tell, those people can make a huge difference in the way that the human narrative plays out. So, yeah, I remain hopeful in the resilience of people. I don’t see people ever giving up. You know, when things get super rough, when their families are at stake, I think people will always try their best.

Rose Eveleth:

Well, thank you so much for joining us today on the podcast. I’m so excited for people to hear your piece.

Stephanie Spence:

Thank you so much. Thank you both. (silence)

TK Dutes:

Deep Light was written and created by Stephanie Spence. Sound Design by Sara SP Procter, Halo was played by Vin Vox, and Kite was played by Julia Shivani. Open W#orld is a partnership between Philo’s Future Media and Flash Forward Presents

Rose Eveleth:

Hosted by TK Dutes and Rose Eveleth.

TK Dutes:

Produced by Brittany Brown.

Rose Eveleth:

Intro Music by Blue Dot Sessions. Additional sound design by TH Ponders.

TK Dutes:

With engineering by C. You can contact us via social media, we are on the Twitter’s @OpenWorldPod.

Rose Eveleth:

You can email us @Hello @openworldradio.com, you can visit openworldradio.com for more about any of what you heard on this show. More links to the amazing creators who we featured here, how to find their work. Also, there are transcripts of each episode up on the website if you want to read those or revisit them. And we really love taking this journey with you. So thanks for coming along for the ride.

 

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