Let’s Believe in Something Bigger; or what happens when you try to write about nature when you’re a city girl and really want to write about the X-Files

I don’t believe in nature. I mean, I don’t buy into the way we talk about nature as this special thing, something separate and beautiful that we want to go visit, go commune with, because it’s so amazing and will change us. That seems like a whole lot of bullshit.

I don’t believe in nature as an isolated thing, where we can point and say, “Oh, this here isn’t nature, but that tree over there, that’s nature. Damn, that’s some beautiful nature. Or that mountain — great nature; I’m going to climb up that mountain, be in nature, and come back down enlightened.” That’s just naive.

My issue is that talking about nature as something distinct means creating a category of not-nature. It builds up a binary way of understanding the world. I have no time for that. I am too queer for binary understandings of the world. At best they’re passe, at worst they’re actively damaging.

When we make a binary between the natural and unnatural world we are fucking stuff up. We are doing harm. Think of all the times when someone or something is called unnatural as justification for bigotry. Kissing girls is unnatural. Miscegenation is unnatural. Being anything other than a good christian is unnatural. Witchcraft. Kink. Dying your hair blue. All unnatural, all wrong, all things that shouldn’t be.

Nature, in itself, isn’t bad. I have nothing against the big idea of nature. But the way valuing nature and the natural is used as way to pass judgement on the unnatural is a mess. A very human made mess. There is nothing pure and natural in deciding to make these judgements. We are more than our natural state, there’s socialization and man made beliefs, histories and norms to contend with. The creation of binaries, of hierarchies, of bullshit, is very human. We can’t be trusted. We make messes of everything. No wonder we’re so enthralled by the idea of something outside of our influence.

That’s what we mean by nature so much of the time — something outside of ourselves. Something bigger, something untouched, something grand and epic. And then of course our goal is not to let it stay that way, or goal is to go camping in it. We want to visit. We want to take pictures of the grandeur of nature so that when we don’t have time to get away from the city we can make that photo the picture on our computer’s desktop so we can see parts of nature behind all our email and word processing. We want apps that mimic nature sounds, thunder or rainforests, to block out the sound of traffic while we try to sleep. We want to be a part of nature. We want to be in it, or we want to make it ours.

Theory: doing that makes it no longer nature. Not in the same way at least. Nature is something that’s outside us, but once we find our way there, it’s no longer nature. Not exactly anyway. It’s now known. It’s here for us to categorize, to place in hierarchies, to organize. It’s something we understand. And that’s just sort of sad.

I like the idea of NATURE as the great unknown. I like the idea that there is something out there that we don’t understand at all. I find that comforting.

There are lots of things in my life that I don’t understand, and I like the idea that there is something out there that no one understands. The idea of the unknowable is reassuring.

I’ve been thinking a lot about space lately. There’s a lot we don’t know about space, and a lot we do. I’ve been watching a lot of The X-Files, and Cosmos.

Cosmos is great. Every episode Neil deGrasse Tyson is in his little animated spaceship, and I learn something new. Science! I’m so bad at science! I don’t care about science! But this is fun! I mean, except for the parts that bring up my childhood fear of the sun dying. But other than that it’s a lot of fun.

There are so many things that I didn’t know, that I didn’t even realize were knowable. Space is so big. I know that sounds hollow, space is so big, but it IS. Space is so big, there’s so much out there, but all of the parts that we understand are on my television, explained so nicely. Cosmos does such a good job at presenting information clearly, in an interesting manner, that mostly isn’t terrifying.

The X-Files is a better show. The X-Files is amazing. I was too young to watch it when it was on in the 90s, but now it’s streaming on Netflix. I picked it up recently, just at the end of season two, right around “Humbug.” (That’s the one with the freakshow town. What a great episode. The first episode Darin Morgan wrote. The episode I showed to my girlfriend to try to get her hooked.) The X-Files is great on a whole lot of levels, but one of them is its fascination with the unknown. The X-Files is interested in the kind of nature that I’m interested in.

I like the idea that there are things that we don’t know, that can’t be explained by conventional wisdom. Some things can’t even be explained by TV logic. (Two words: invisible elephants. “Fearful Symmetry” is very skippable.) I like the idea that there is something bigger than us, something grander. So why not outer space? In these times of globalization looking for the untouched might mean looking up at the stars? So much of the planet is mapped, visible from satellites, and connected by cell phone towers. There are still exceptions, from the Marianas trench to deepest darkest Peru, but the world has gotten smaller. And still, there is still more than we can ever know. There will always be unexplained phenomena. Lights in the sky. My cousin was just showing me pictures of her trip to Nevada. She visited a natural hot spring. No one knows how deep it is. “It goes all the way down to middlearth,” I think that’s how she described it. I know she didn’t mean that this hot spring would open up into a world of elves and hobbits, but we really don’t know what’s down there, so anything could be possible. I find this comforting.

In a way, my beliefs are directly opposed to the spirit of the show. Mulder wants to believe in aliens, and the conspiracy to keep knowledge about them secret. He wants to find out, and make this information known. Scully wants to believe in reality, in the scientific method, and in the idea that doing the way they’re supposed to be done pays off in the end. Again and again her skepticism is challenged, but she still holds onto the idea that we can know what’s going on. They’re trying to understand everything. They’re trying to solve mysteries. They just aren’t that good at it.

The thing about watching The X-Files in the year 2015 is that I know it won’t work out. I know the mythology is never wrapped up in a satisfying manner. I know the movies aren’t supposed to be very good. I know I shouldn’t get excited about the upcoming revival, even if Gillian Anderson has only gotten more beautiful. Watching The X-Files in 2015 is an exercise in futility. It doesn’t work. The mysteries are never solved. I’m not exactly bothered by this. Like, as a viewer, I bet this will be frustrating — I’m honestly not sure if I’ll stick with the show the whole way through, knowing that there will never be proper narrative satisfaction. But on a philosophical level, I think there’s something beautiful in the show never solving itself. It never answers all its mysteries. It only creates more questions.

This is very human: to create puzzles that we can’t solve. To get in over our heads, to get caught up in complicated tangles of plots. To keep going when we should maybe stop. We say we want nature, but we also want to map the whole world, to sort it out and put it away in the right little boxes. Boo to all that.

Let’s think bigger. Let’s let the messes stay messy. Knowing more things is good, it’s fun, but we’re never going to know it it all. That’s impossible. There are always going to be things about the world that can’t get explained on well made television shows with good special effects. At least I hope so. I find the unknown very reassuring. I want to believe that there is something out there that we aren’t going to understand.


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