Sunday, August 02nd, 2009 | Author:
What lady could resist my turtleneck?

What lady could resist my turtleneck?

I was listening to the love story between Carl Sagan and his third and final wife Anne Druyan from an episode in Radiolab.

I kept playing it again and again because there this gigantic gap in the story that seems to require a giant cognitive leap that I just couldn’t make.

Carl was on his second marriage with his wife Linda Salzman with which he had a child with. Anne Druyan was in a serious relationship with a man and the two couples were friends.
But 1 phone call changed everything.
I guess its supposed to be reckless and romantic but I just don’t see it.

Here is the story as written by Anne Druyan in the Epilogue of Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium with a few minor edits by me. [Note that I did NOT cut any part of the crucial telephone call of her story. It was just written that way.] :

In the early spring of 1977, Carl was invited by NASA to assemble a committee to select the contents of a phonograph record that would be affixed to each of the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft… Here was an opportunity to send a message to possible beings of other worlds and times. It could be far more complex than the plaque that Carl and Carl’s wife, Linda Salzman, and astronomer Frank Drake had attached to Pioneer 10. That was a breakthrough, but it was essentially a license plate. The Voyager record would include greetings in sixty human languages and one whale language, an evolutionary audio essay, 116 pictures of life on Earth and ninety minutes of music from a glorious diversity of the worlds cultures. The engineers projected a one-billion-year shelf life for the golden phonograph records.

How long is a billion years? In a billion years the continents of Earth would be so altered that we would not recognize the surface of our own planet.  … It was conceivable that, Noah-like, we were assembling the ark of human culture, the only artifact that would survive into the unimaginably far distant future.

In the course of my daunting search for the single most worthy piece of Chinese music, I phoned Carl and left a message at his hotel in Tucson where he was giving a talk. An hour later the phone rang in my apartment in Manhattan. I picked it up and heard a voice say: I got back to my room and found a message that said Annie called. And I asked myself, why didn’t you leave me that message ten years ago?

Bluffing, joking, I responded lightheartedly. Well, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that, Carl. And then, more soberly, Do you mean for keeps?

Yes, for keeps, he said tenderly. Let’s get married.

Yes, I said and that moment we felt we knew what it must be like to discover a new law of nature. It was a eureka, a moment in which a great truth was revealed, one that would be reaffirmed through countless independent lines of evidence over the next twenty years…

What message did she leave him? Wasn’t it just a message about finding the right piece of Chinese music? So why would Carl say she should’ve left that message 10 years ago?!

I can understand the usage of narrative ellipses and very subtle exposition to make a love story mysterious, alluring and still remain a little private. But I still think there’s something severely wrong here.

How does she go from talking about this neat little project to make a Noah’s Ark record to send out into space, billions and billions and billions of years, and then to making a call to Carl and suddenly they’re talking about “for keeps” and suddenly “let’s get married”?

Carl and Anne

Carl and Anne

I don’t believe I am missing any context from the story that would make it easier to understand since the Radiolab interview is pretty much presented as a self contained story about the moment Anne fell in love with Carl Sagan.

She basically “yada yada yadaed” her way out of the best part of the story without any attempt to actually say “yada yada yada.” She just presented it as so, and expects the reader to accept this giant gap!

Not only that but there seems to be almost no sympathy at all to the victims of this reckless love affair in particular Carl Sagan’s wife at the time, Linda Salzman. In fact, Anne even sounds catty and competitive when she disses the very similar project Carl & Linda worked on:

“It could be far more complex than the plaque that Carl and Carl’s wife, Linda Salzman, and astronomer Frank Drake had attached to Pioneer 10. That was a breakthrough, but it was essentially a license plate. The Voyager record would include greetings in sixty human languages and one whale language…”

Oh Snap! She just called that project “A LICENSE PLATE!” and then goes on to say how great HER project with Carl was in comparison.
I would totally love to see the cat-fight that should ensue had these ladies been from the ghetto.

It also makes me wonder about Carl and the way he gets chicks. It seems like he goes around asking ladies if they want to work on some “ark of human culture” to send into space and then uses his famous “billions and billions” line to make them starry eyed romantic about the project and its context as a cosmic human endeavor.

Understandably, Linda Salzman was pretty upset with Carl and did not understand why Carl did this. Neither would I if he used this same story to explain his love for Anne.

The heart does want what the heart wants. But damn! You ice cold, Sagan.. you ice cold!

Category: Opinion
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One Response

  1. 1

    I thought so too! I heard this on NPR and started thinking “Wow, that was convenient,” which I found out after a bit of research it wasn’t — at least not for their partners. Anne was engaged at the time to Carl’s good friend Timothy Ferris who was a physicist and writer for Rolling Stone. It was Timothy and Anne who were working together on the Golden Album. It kind of puts a different spin on such a romantic story. I was so happy to find your blog and see someone else thought the same thing.

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