Stargazing in the lab-created diamond sky

Using synthetic stars to navigate the reaches of my mind

The world inside my head suffers from overpopulation. Thoughts multiply by the multitudes, and sometimes I just have to escape. I need a vacation from my own consciousness.

The first place my headphones and I run is the stars.

Music and the Cosmos are two of my dearest friends. When I feel overwhelmed or lost in real life, it helps to just get lost in melodies. And if you’re lost, you need stars to guide you. So I use the mellow tones as my backdrop while the heavens navigate me.

Music is the rocket ship that helps me reach new heights in my head, previously uncharted thought territory. The Stars help me map those expansions to my own universe and find my way through.

I loved spending moments with those friends onboard. They were and are just as real as my other friends there. One is a million eyes without a single voice; one is a million voices without any eyes. Isn’t it sad that such beautiful beings have no idea that the other exists? Stars can’t hear a single note. Music can’t see a single shimmer. So I guess I am the one who connects us. I am their satellite. Stars have nothing to do but shine, so I watch. Music has nothing to do but sing, so I listen. It makes me feel quite lucky to be only human; five senses suddenly seem like a lot.

The only place we three weirdos could all be together was Crew Deck, so I scurried up there as often as I could. I would start our sessions by gripping the salty iron rails topped with thickly varnished wood, leaning over to see the sea below. I would watch it hit the base of my floating home, get lost in its rhythmic fizzle, gauge if it was angry or calm that night. Sometimes it felt like it mimicked my own temperament.

When I was ready to start exploring, I would slide on my headphones, press Ignition, and lay down flat. I would gaze up in wonder at the world drifting above me, and begin drifting into my own world of music … It was magical. It was surreal.

But that was worlds ago. I’m in another dimension.

I’m in New York City now, living in Manhattan—a sentence that still feels foreign when it leaves my lips (or my fingertips). And in the City That Never Sleeps, there is no such thing as night, just a dark version of day. The skyline shines so brightly that you can’t really see stars above. So that makes stargazing rather difficult.

The stars are where I look to find myself. If I can’t see them, will I lose myself? Will I become someone else?

The world around me has changed considerably, and the world inside my head evolves constantly too. I make sure of that. But at its core, my mind is still always the same chaotic place no matter how hard I try to clear the clutter. It’s still hard to navigate. Stars help me guide my thoughts to calmer territory.

There is no such thing as Crew Deck in my new frontier. So I head upstairs to the local observatory—my building’s rooftop patio—to spend time with the familiar friends I’ve missed so much. Music is still here and ready to play. All I’m missing is the Stars.

I open the door and look up in anxious anticipation. Can’t wait to see those beautiful eyes.

Instead I see that the sky is completely covered by clouds, glowing a luminous gray. A hazy shade of winter.

Even if one could conceivably see Stars from inside this island of light, none will be visible tonight.

I lower my gaze to the beautiful buildings all around me. I’m probably the only person on earth who could have the audacity to be disappointed at this sight, the only person who considers this view second-best. I berate myself for letting such a thought come to fruition.

I remind myself of how I knew this was a possibility—the last night that Music and I spent time alone with the Stars on crew deck, I prepared myself for the fact that I probably wouldn’t be able to see them anymore in my new home. They were one of the friends I’d be leaving behind—but also one I knew would always be there, even if I couldn’t see them for awhile.

And then I remember also telling myself that the only twinkling I would see at night would be the glimmering skyline, and that that was nothing to cry over. That was a precious gift, and a privilege I had earned every right to.

I don’t know if Music is a drug that causes me to hallucinate, or a ticket that takes me on an adventure. Either way, it helps me see different things, and I’m well on my way into the trip.

Despite the cloud cover, I now see everything so clearly. Maybe there are no actual stars in sight tonight … But there are artificial ones.

I’m not on a rooftop anymore. I’m not even on earth. I’m floating in the middle of a manufactured galaxy. I’m in another dementia.

This foreign realm is part steel, part stardust. Solar-powered and Battery-powered. Every illuminated being is a star, twinkling in Technicolor. Some are glowing and some are glimmering and some blinking and some burning. Some flicker from the flashing images of a big screen TV lighting up a neighbor’s living room. Some turn on and off in tandem to ward away planes. Some are close and some are distant.

And this space is not a silent void; it’s Surround Sound. There are red safety stars and blue screen stars and shooting stars that scream out sirens as they pass and green stars that tell the red stars when to go and red stars that tell the white stars when to stop and all kinds of stars that honk and screech and rumble and roar and satellites that sweep by and stars that collide with each other and burst into pieces and yellow stars that occasionally blink into and out of view when a distant office worker or apartment owner decides to enter or leave a room. And then there are the fleet of golden stars flying all across the universe in an infinite meteor shower.

There is an endless expanse here just waiting to be discovered and charted.

This is the only universe where you can walk right up to the stars and touch them. You can stare right at them without burning your eyes. You can even climb your way inside them.

If these astrological bodies are the star signs governing the citizens born in this metropolis, I can easily see why New Yorkers are their own vibrant and nonsensical breed. They’re aliens, genetically engineered under counterfeit constellations. They don’t operate by the same logic as the rest of the world, because they make up their own. They always did. That’s how they got here. They’re a hybrid breed—part man, part machine, part Martian. A cybernetic culture of creatures who put themselves together piece by piece, who don’t know how to quit because it’s not in their code, who move at too fast a pace to be satisfied anywhere else.

Maybe the reason this place feels so familiar is that I am an alien coming home. Maybe this is where the real Stars were guiding me all along.

The foreign physics must be what spur on these beings at their incredible speed. Their minutes are our milliseconds—unless they are spent waiting. Then their minutes are millenia. The creatures probably created these stars because the real ones didn’t move fast enough. They are impatient to get anywhere—especially heaven. Maybe they don’t think they’ll get there naturally and that’s why they constructed buildings that scrape the sky—an effort to scratch their way in.

Everyone says these aliens are heartless, but I think they’re just misunderstood. Sometimes you can see that they don’t like who these stars have made them. Someone unrecognizable; alien even to themselves. But they’re not cruel; they just have a really thick exterior. That rough skin is what they use to protect themselves in this harsh environment. Sometimes they forget they can take that skin off and be just fine. So in reality, the aliens are not assholes; they just play them in the streets, and sometimes they forget that they’re only playing a role. Their streets are movie sets, so you can see why they might get confused.

The beings do welcome you into their universe. You don’t even have to speak their language; you just have to pull your own weight and stay out of their way. Their customary greeting is the avoidance of eye contact with you. Their sign of respect is to ignore you completely. Their way of life is to show no signs of life. They just move, almost on autopilot. Are they alien or machine?

Well, though they may be fascinating specimens, the theories on their way of living require further independent study. I forget, I’m here to see the stars.

I’ve decided I must try to spend the most time observing the binary pair—two adjacent buildings with grandiose spires at the top, which light up from base to tip and glow in rainbows. Sometimes they’re one color, sometimes they’re six colors at once, sometimes they cycle through one whole color at a time. And they switch up the speed. It seems to happen at random, although they make it look well planned. I don’t think the two buildings actually have any correlation to one another, but they look like friends caught up in some deep celestial conversation in a language I don’t speak. I can tell they look happy, though.

It’s them I try to focus on most, since they will soon be eclipsed by the building under construction next to mine. Just a few more stories, and then I won’t be able to read theirs anymore. But another star will soon be born.

I desperately wish I could see the Chrysler Building from here, but it’s not in my orbit. It’s a rare display, visible only by surprise when I happen to cross one of its adjacent streets. It always lights up my countenance.

The Empire State Building is my pretend Polaris. And never in all my light years here in this urban universe has the sight of it failed to put a smile on my face. It always thrills me, because it’s not just a building or a star—it’s a symbol of power, one that I have harnessed. And I can’t take my eyes off of it when it sparkles.

I’m not sure what the science is, when to predict the pattern, but occasionally all the lights on the observation deck transform from a steady glow to a lively dance. They take turns flickering on and off at a rapid pace for several minutes straight, never tiring or slowing to catch their breath.

The beauty of this synthetic star is rivaled only by that of the Eiffel Tower, when it glitters on the hour at night. I miss that universe that I got to live in for awhile, too.

Where will all these man-made stars navigate me, I wonder? If you follow fake stars, will you get real lost? If the plastic Pleiades push you into the realm of daydreams, are those dreams still considered real? And are daydreams still called daydreams if you have them at night? And can dreams really be real anyway?

What do you truly need in a night sky in order to find your sense of peace and direction?

You need it to be still enough for you to catch your balance. You need it to be dark enough to see where you are in life, so you can reorient and course-correct. You need it to be calm and quiet enough to put the eyes of the Stars with the voice of the Music, until they form one being who knows everything about you. It sees straight into your soul, and it uses your headphones as a stethoscope to help you listen to your heart through your head. And then this creature stares at you expectantly until you tell it what you’re searching for. It calls out to you in the haunting voice of Jim Morrison—“You’re lost. Tell me, who are you?” Those eyes don’t look down on you. They simply gaze back at you with a comforting smile. The knowing smile that says, “I’m sure that you know what to do.”

This must be why they refer to the cosmos as something divine. That’s what they are and that’s what they do. They’re so unabashedly honest and refreshingly sincere. And the quixotic quasars of midnight Manhattan are no exception. The eyes look different, but the expression is the same. They force you to be honest with yourself.

So, turns out these fake stars still bring me to the same places the genuine ones always bring me: To the Future. To the Past. To Possible Presents.

I ponder where I’m going next, and how I’ll get there, and how it will bring me closer to where I want to be after that. I think about where I’ve been. I think about how far I’ve come—geographically, professionally, existentially. Where would I be right this moment if I had made some decisions differently? Where are all my friends and family right now? Are they thinking about me, too?

Though these stars are engineered, my wishes on them are genuine. I wish for all the loved ones who appear in my thoughts, and also for the ones who don’t. I still love them; I just didn’t think about them tonight. I wish that they all find peace and happiness wherever they are—and that they realize that peace and happiness is wherever they are, if they just look hard enough.

I remind myself to look too, as sometimes I forget.

Anyway, I’ve enjoyed the celestial stroll through my own dimension of dementia, but it’s getting cold up here. Time to go back down to earth.

I turn off the music and grab the rooftop railings. They’re thick metal with a matte beige finish, and no sea salt to be found. They’re not the same as those of the ships I loved and hated so much.

I listen for the lullaby of the waves. Instead I hear the rumbling of insomniac machines being maneuvered by smaller machines who call themselves people.

I peak down at the world beneath my feet. It’s stationary.

And yet … it’s not stationary at all.

This ground itself doesn’t move, but everything else does, so it’s still just as alive as the sea. It’s in a constant state of movement and evolution—stars are always busy being born, aliens are always roaming, and the cars come and go in waves. And sometimes the cars are angry and sometimes they’re calm, same as the ocean.

So in the end, it’s the same ritual as onboard; it’s just different surroundings. I lean on the railings, I look down at the waves, and I look up at the stars twinkling. And I get lost in their immeasurable beauty. And I still see the same faces cross my mind. And my headphones still take me places and help me open wide and welcome doors of perception. And cloudy or clear, moon or marquee, stars or skyscrapers, nighttime is still my favorite time of day.

I’ll never change. I’ll always change.

So here I am, feet back on the ground but head still in the clouds, and just as starry-eyed as ever. I still see this city for how wonderfully alien it is. I still feel like an astronaut walking among luminaries and Little Green Men. I’m still trying to open their eyes. I’m discovering more and more about how I’m just like them and how I hope to never be like them. Soon I’ll learn how to speak some of their language. And eventually I will adjust to this cold, harsh atmosphere well enough that I won’t need my space suit—but I will never stop trying to warm up the place.

I prefer not to use a map while I explore this urban universe. I like to use these stars to guide me home. All I have to do is find my Polaris, and then I know I’ll get there, one small step at a time. And the best thing about synthetic stars is you can still see them in the daytime, so that means I’ll never get lost.

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