Issue 1: How Not To Stargaze - Elizabeth Gibson

Taken from Issue 1 of 404 Ink

Firstly, don’t patronise the stars. They are older and wiser than you. Try to avoid even calling them stars. Humans came up with that word, and others – seren, tara, astra. They were just balls of fiery whiteness that quietly burnt without knowing what burning was, what combustion and nuclear fission were. They were pure existence. Something we can never understand because we are obsessed with doing and speaking.

Secondly, note the past tense. Don’t be naïve enough to think they’re still there. These stars existed millions of years ago. We are looking back in time. Whether they are still there now is something we can never be sure of. Some of them are definitely dead and gone. But we see them, there and shining brightly, oblivious that in their future, in that magical privileged age with us in it, their lights will be out, though we may well say, look, there’s Bellatrix.

Thirdly, never say their names without humility. Remember they come from people, people in myths, whereas naming people after stars might make more sense. But then where would stars’ names come from? Red Star, Blueish Star, Middle Star in That Line of Three Over the Houses Across the Road From Me When I Was Six? We’d have to resort to databases, a gigantean system, give them all letters and numbers and symbols, each distinguishable from the next by the tiniest dot or half a line. We could say, there’s E9.71*, but we wouldn’t, would we, we’d say, there’s the star that hung over us at that horrible campsite, the hilly one where every other step was a stumble. It led us to the loos that first awful night, bright and pure in the frost, like it was sent to us, like sugar in the sky, like moth dust. There’s E9.71*, also known as Antares. Yes, I know them all, I’m a stargazer. Don’t cry.

Fourthly and finally, don’t form an emotional attachment to a star. It may go out any time. Probably it was never there; there was no overlap between its life and yours. You just imagined that it liked you, that it followed you across the sky when you were alone and useless. When you whispered “Seren”, or “Tara”, or “Bella” – maybe nobody heard. Maybe you didn’t even speak. You were pure existence, gazing up at Leo and imagining him curl around you a million years ago.

- By Elizabeth Gibson