25 May 10

Happy Towel Day

Today at the office we are celebrating Towel Day with a lunchtime reading of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And brownies.

Douglas Adams was the first author who made me think that maybe after all I could become a writer. I’d been plagued with self-doubt for most of my life, which kept me from trying or from sharing any of the work I did. Being a grade a weirdo is generally frowned on when you’re in grade school, and in college I found myself in an environment that valued conformity so highly that independent thought was a virus that caused social leprosy. It wasn’t till I skipped town for my junior year in London that I realized there was a wide world of weirdos out there, and cutting myself down to size so I could fit into a prepackaged box wasn’t the only path life offered me. I could be myself, and people didn’t have to like me. In fact, if people didn’t like me for choosing myself over conformity, they weren’t worth my time.

Shortly after arriving in London, I picked up a battered paperback of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at a second hand shop on Portobello Road, and finished it in a few hours at a pub near Notting Hill Gate. The title sounded entertaining, and at 35p it was within my budget range. It blew me away the first time I read it, and I still relish being thrown into fits of giggles by Adams’ turn of phrase. It was utterly unlike anything I’d ever been exposed to. The stunted literature courses I’d taken in college chose tame titles and taught them within safe boundaries, using the curriculum to make been-there-done-that observations worthy of a monthly book club — nothing that expanded thought and experience. But this text threw all convention out of the window. Whatever I had previously believed that literature had to say about the meaning of life, religion, god, interpersonal relationships, and the kitchen sink, it was all blown away with the irreverence of a rowdy kid doing a high-dive cannonball into a nice orderly lap pool. It was the first book that really made me think about reality and existence, and it made me laugh while I was doing it. What a revelation.

I gobbled up all of his works as quickly as I could. As much as I was enthralled by his fiction, it was ultimately his least known work that I loved best. Last Chance to See is an amazing text; it ought to be taught in high school Biology courses because I have never encountered something that really gets it when it comes to conveying the nature of the relationship between human beings and the rest of the planet. I can’t recommend this work strongly enough.

The day Douglas Adams died I was very upset. He’d spent most of his career trying to get the damn movie version of his book made, but he died just shy of its release. Leave it to the creator of the Infinite Improbability Drive to kick off in the most improbable way possible; prematurely and while exercising at a gym. I wish he could have written a few more books, and that he could have lived to see the iPad so he could have made fun of it.

So wave your towels high, kids, and raise a cup of tea in honor of DNA. So long, and thanks for all the fish.