Staying Alive; or, The Martian as an Allegory of the Human Condition

Never despair, but if you do, work on in spite of despair.”- paraphrase of Edmund Burke

Recently I checked out my various accounts so I could assess my financial situation, and I received a devastating shock. It was much worse than I had supposed. Despite a generous Christmas gift from an anonymous source, which I thought had put me out of trouble, January’s income has been so low that I still find myself in emergency mode. My first reaction was despair. I work all day long, seven days a week; I don’t ever do much else. And yet still it seems to be for naught. Every month I find it difficult to pay the rent and other bills. There is no surcease and no end in sight. My income as a freelance writer has never enabled me to do more than survive, and during the COVID pandemic, although I work the same amount of time or more, there is simply not as much work to be had. I could see no relief, no way out.

Fortunately, though, just a few nights previously I had watched the film The Martian, about an American astronaut who is left for dead on Mars when the rest of his team departs for Earth. He wakes up after the sandstorm he had been caught in and manages to stagger back to the habitat, but then he calculates the amount of rations remaining and realizes that he will starve to death before he can possibly be rescued. His first reaction is despair. However, he soon snaps out of his gloom and realizes that he has to “science the shit” out of his situation so that he can find some way to stay alive.

As I was wallowing in my despair, this story began playing in my head, and I realized that I too had to science the shit out of my predicament. Instead of moaning and groaning, I had to figure out some positive way to attack the problem. All of a sudden, as ideas began to occur to me, my depression lifted. I leaped out of bed (it was early morning before sunrise) and wrote down the thoughts that were crowding into my mind.

One of the important things I did immediately was revamp my schedule. I write at least five hundred creative words a day almost every day of the year. I had recently shifted from writing these words in the evening before bed to writing them first thing in the morning, which is my period of peak performance. For years it had been my strong desire to put my creative work first in the day, and finally I had made the change. I realized, however, during that surge of enlightenment, that I wasn’t ready to pull that off. Early morning was also when most of the article and essay jobs were posted, the jobs I could count on for quick money. I decided, for now at least, to switch back to ghost writing work in the morning and creative work in the evening. The first day that I made that change, I claimed and finished three times my usual amount of daily assignments.

You see, the triumph in The Martian is in the astronaut’s attitude. He encounters one crisis after another, but instead of giving up in despair he works the problems one after the other. And that’s what I realized I had to do too: attack my situation with a positive attitude. Of course, in the end, the astronaut cannot do it completely on his own. His crew turns around to come back and get him, even though they had almost made it all the way back to Earth. We all have our networks of relatives, friends, and supporters without which we would be unable to survive. I have had loved ones who helped me back to my feet when I thought I had received one punch too many and would be unable to rise again. The point is, though, that when difficulties seem overwhelming and insurmountable don’t despair. Don’t give up. Don’t surrender. Instead, work the problem. Science the shit out of your situation until you figure out something you can do to climb back up into daylight.

I’m a professional writer; I make my living by my words. I’m happy to share these essays with you, but at the same time, financial support makes the words possible. If you’d like to become a patron of the arts and support my work, buy a few of my available books or available stories, or become a Patreon patron. (Heads Up: I haven’t been keeping up with my Patreon posts recently – if you head over there it should be for purely philanthropic motives.) Thanks!

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