Don’t Let the Hodor Hit You on the Way Out

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There is a Hodor-sized hole in my heart right now. I knew the medieval BFG was going to be absent from Game of Thrones this season, but now that we’re almost halfway through the emptiness is palpable. No lumbering innocence. No verbal nuance. No exquisite torture from simultaneously craving more “hodor” and dreading his last.

[For those unaware, the character Hodor is a large but gentle servant of the Stark family who speaks only one word: “hodor”. Imagine Lenny from Of Mice and Men hooked up with Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy, had a three-parent IVF baby with The Hulk, wrapped it in wolf pelts and tossed it backwards a few centuries. He’s perfect.]

My own Hodor is also missing this season. He, too, was a large, joyous man with an unfortunate penchant for accidental damage and a real name other than Hodor. [Geek of Thrones: fictional Hodor’s given name is Walder.]

One Hodor can do plenty of damage, intended or not; two Hodors can really mess a girl up.

Human Hodor and I bonded over our mutual love for his namesake. When I described the character to a GoT newbie as “simple-minded” and he amended, “simple-worded, not really minded,” it was the first time I realized I completely loved how human Hodor’s brain worked.

Hodor became our talisman. One evening after a Thrones viewing he bid me farewell with a kiss and a “Hodor.” It was ho-dorable. Soon, it was our standard greeting. First thing in the morning: Hodor. After receiving a thoughtful gift: Hodor! In exchange for a lovely plate of eggs: Mmm….hodor.

Before long we had hodored our way into being completely hodor about each other. Then, after a deep and emotional talk one night, he left the room and hit me with a simple text: Hodor. “Hodor too,” I replied, and that was that. Like Westley and Buttercup, we had no need for “I love you.” As Hodor wish.

Scientifically, fictional Hodor is an extreme example of a person stricken with expressive aphasia – when the Broca region of the brain suffers trauma, leaving speech limited but comprehension intact. Giant Hodor was probably a giant baby, so perhaps his mother dropped him a time or two. My own Hodor did not have the excuse of a head injury; his affliction was more traditional: fear.

From early on, he was honest about his commitment skittishness. The word “relationship” frightened him, even though the trappings of one did not. In practice, he seemed pretty gung ho about the actions of a relationship, so I didn’t mind that he was more comfortable saying “Hodor” than “I love you”. The meaning was clear to both of us, so I didn’t worry. I probably should have worried.

In the end, my Hodor turned out to have more going on in his head than he was aware of (though in his case it wasn’t a warging Bran Stark). When we broke up, he refused to admit that his fear might be greater than he thought, insisting instead that he must just not love me. Oh, the Hodor!

Maybe it’s true – maybe he didn’t – but like his namesake, Hodor also doesn’t know what happened when he ceded control of his brain for a moment. He doesn’t know that on the last night we spent together (three days before he bolted), he actually told me “I love you.”

He doesn’t know this because it was one of the last things he said before falling asleep – right between “”I love my bed” and “I also miss the coffee” (he had been out of the country for a while). I’m not sure which made me happier – that he said “I love you” instead of “Hodor” or that he placed me ahead of coffee. Holy Hodor, Batman!

I have no idea what to do with this information now. It wasn’t worth making a big deal of at the time, and I did not know our next conversation would be a breakup. At that point, it seemed a little awkward to mention it.

But as Hodor knows, little words can pack a big punch. I have recovered from many romantic devolutions caused by many problems – not being right, not being ready, not being even remotely interested; I’ve never had to get over someone who loved me back but didn’t consciously know it.

Hodors leave big shoes to fill. What’s a girl to do? Oh right, stare at Peter Dinklage for a while. Mmm…hodor.

Manual Husbandry

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Call me bitter, or single-in-my-thirties (synonymous, I hear), but I have decided arranged marriage sounds like a pretty solid idea. Sure, the ideal is to catch eyes across a room, discover mutual attraction, nurture a true connection, and fall madly in love – but I only write movies, I don’t live in one.

In the continued absence of kismet, alternatives must be found. There are countless ways for the fairy-tale-challenged to help fate along these days, from mixers and speed dates to apps and algorithms, but as a wise motivational poster once said, Keep It Simple Stupid. An arranged marriage just may be the Ockham’s razor I’ve been looking for.

To put it another way, I am frakking tired, and it sounds so blissfully easy! Now, I’m not saying I want to let a bunch of complete strangers match me up via some insane reality show where you get married first – probably naked or blindfolded – and only learn each other’s names after. But why not put my trust in people who know me well and love me?

I recently stayed with married friends who were lamenting during the visit that hubby’s younger brother needed a someone. He had recently moved to their town, so it had become their mission. Jokingly, they said I should move there too and marry him, because then they would definitely love their sister-in-law. With the safety of 3,000 miles between my home and theirs, I joked back, “I’m in!”

Ah, but there is always truth in comedy. The thing is, if all three parties (me, them, Brother), were willing to ignore “reason” and dive in, the whole arrangement would probably go swimmingly.

They have known me for almost twenty years, known Brother his entire life, and they love both of us too much to fix either of us up with someone lame. (Plus, they have other family to answer to.) Brother and I have met, and I already know he is smart, funny, and cute; if he is also half as kind and generous as his big sibling – whom I have always adored – I am sure he would make a terrific companion. As long as he doesn’t hate me, what could possibly go wrong?

Sure, we’ve barely conversed, and I don’t know if he likes cats, and no one has test driven anything, but marriages have overcome worse problems – at least neither of us is Kanye (or Robert Durst). Tim Gunn has taught us time and again that we humans have a remarkable capacity for Making It Work – even more so when the die is already cast.

And the benefits! Oh, the plethora of pros that outweigh the petty cons! At this point, I am a fully-baked cookie, so there is no more need for trial and error. Little evolutions will always happen, but by now I am not going to suddenly turn into an asshole any more than I am going to suddenly get better at being wrong. If a man and I are compatible off the bat, we can expect to remain so (assuming he is also fully baked – by life rather than pot). The financial savings alone should we skip courtship and go straight to commitment is inspiring.

This is also why people get so much more efficient at dating with age, but even efficient dating is still a lot of work. There are so many other important things in life that require time and attention; if there is a way to go from zero to partnered without trawling the massive dating pool, sign me up! Yes, the “systems” of computerized dating are designed to cut the work, but they also turn the koi pond into an ocean and the increased volume outdoes any algorithmic advantage. In the end, we spend even more time devoted to catch and release.

Friends can help, which is why one of mine recently asked me to join him in an OK Cupid pact where we each had veto power of the other’s potentials – but if we’re gonna go there, I say let’s GO THERE. Instead of letting a trusted friend choose the audition pool, why not let them pick the winner? Worst case scenario, it is a poor match and the two of us can bond over our mutual disappointment in our former friend. They say common ground is the first step toward connection…

So far, I have fallen in love several times and never had it end in partnership, usually because, while he loves me back, his eternal adolescence leaves him scared of commitment. If the commitment Band-Aid has already been ripped off, he can relax and just enjoy me!

Having tried the other options – choosing for myself, letting chance decide, being set up by a mutual friend, acquaintance, co-worker, and even an ex – with nothing to show for it but exhaustion, the blissful simplicity of an arranged marriage sounds divine. Besides, there would be something truly backwards if I were willing to put my fate in the hands of chance, geography, math and near-strangers, but not dive in when two beloved, trusted friends point and say, “Jump.” Right?

Of course, in this particular case we are all left-brained logic types, so the joke will remain a joke. My right brain just wanted to jump up holler that she’s game.

(But don’t tell my mother; I’m not quite ready for that arrangement.)

Fifty Shades of Green Eggs and Sham

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Happy V-Day! Ladies, let’s celebrate this year by wanting more than to have sexual “liberation” forced on us by an older/wiser/richer “savior Prince”. Dr. (Seuss)’s orders.

I am Sham.

Sham I am.

 

That Sham-I-am.

That Sham-I-am!

I do not like that Sham-I-am.

 

Do you like BDSM?

 

I do not like yours, Sham-I-am.

I do not like BDSM.

 

Would you like it in a book?

 

I would not like it in your book.

I would not give it any look.

I do not want BDSM

I do not want it, Sham-I-am

 

Would you like it in the dark?

If it’s just a harmless lark?

 

I do not want it in the dark,

It is not just a harmless lark.

I do not like your F-ed up book,

I will not give it one more look.

I do not like fake S&M,

I do not like it, Sham-I-am.

 

Is it better done with force?

If he beats you like a horse?

 

Not done with force.

Not as a horse.

Not in the dark.

Not as a lark.

I cannot like your violent book,

It should not get a second look.

You do not get BDSM,

You want a master, Sham-I-am.

 

Would you? Could you? If he hit?

Let him! Let him! Just a bit.

 

I would not, will not, go for it!

 

You may like it.

You will see.

Would you like to be set free?

 

I cannot let you set me free,

As I already pleasure me.

I do not need it done by force,

I do not need to be a horse.

I do not need the total dark,

I do not need a messed-up lark.

I do not need your sad bad book,

I do not need a single look.

I do not want warped S&M,

I do not need it, Sham-I-am!

 

The pain! The pain!

Again! Again!

Could you want it with more pain?

 

Not with pain! Not to free!

I say again, Sham, let me be!

I do not want a man to force,

I do not want to scream ‘til hoarse.

Your fantasy is pretty dark,

Abuse and rape are not a lark.

For girls this is an evil book,

And victimhood is a bad look.

I do not like it, Sham-I-am.

 

Say! With a fox?

Look, he’s a fox!

Would you if the guy’s a fox?

 

I would not, even with a fox.

 

Would you if he’s super rich?

 

I would not, could not be his bitch.

Not for a fox. Not if he’s rich.

I do not need to be set free,

I do not need it, Sham, you see!

Not as a lark. Not as a horse.

No need for dark. No need for force.

I will not read submissive books

No matter how risqué it looks.

 

You do not like BDSM?

 

I do not like your savior scam.

 

You do not like it, so you say.

Try it! Try it! And you may

like the nightmare Christian Grey.

 

Sham! I do not need your muck.

I already like to fuck!

 

Yes! I like the sex and stuff.

And my libido is enough!

I like to do it in the dark.

I sometimes do it as a lark.

I’ll also do it in the sun.

I’ll even do it just for fun!

And by my choice. And just for me.

Because it is so good, you see!

 

So I do not need an excuse.

Or else a psycho savior ruse.

And I already have no guilt

For being sexy to the hilt.

And if I want BDSM

I’ll find an equal, unlike them.

 

So take this f-ed up book and scram.

We do not need it, Sham-I-am.

In the Blink of an Einstein

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TEN… By the time I was ten, I was madly in love with Albert Einstein. I have no idea how I even learned about him in the first place, but the source of my love was obvious. He was mischievous yet deeply profound, musical, passionate, curious, kind, odd looking, and more than a little alien; that is a vibe I could dig. My taste in men hasn’t changed much since.

NINE… In 9th grade, I decided to finally understand the Theory of Relativity. (Enough to do a report for school, at least.) My favorite illustration of how time is relative involves a flashlight and a train:

Imagine a light shining up from the floor of a moving boxcar, to a mirror on the ceiling. Turn the light on and it hits the mirror, bounces, and returns to the source. To an observer on the train with the light, the beam travels a distance equal to twice the height of the boxcar (up, then down).

But to an observer on a hill watching the train go by, the light travels further. Its journey isn’t just up and down, but also the horizontal distance the train travels in that time. To the observer on the hill, the light’s path is two diagonals of a triangle whose base is the distance traveled by the train and height is the height of the boxcar.

Since Rate (speed) is equal to distance divided by time, and since the speed of light is always the same, the fact that the light travels different distances means it also does so over different times. To the observer on the hill, the light’s journey took longer. More time passed than did for the observer on the train, even though they were both watching the same light.

EIGHT… This principle of relative time was demonstrated for a much wider audience in the 80’s, when a different Einstein – Doc Brown’s dog – spent a few seconds in a speeding DeLorean that simultaneously lasted a full minute for Marty McFly.

SEVEN… Any tween who was ever forced to play Seven Minutes in Heaven already understands the relativity of time with excruciating clarity. How slowly those seven minutes pass when we are awkward and self-conscious. Yet when I met Hodor earlier this year and we set a kitchen timer to 20 minutes on our second date (an attempt to wield some grown-up control over our teenage attraction) we were suddenly on a speeding train. Those minutes passed in seconds, and we had to reset the timer at least three more times to test its functionality (for the sake of science, of course).

SIX… I once even experienced the entire life-cycle of a relationship over the course of a six-hour conversation. Via text. It started as a chat about a basketball game, during which we acknowledged our usually moderate flirting had escalated to blatant, and then both admitted we were very interested in the person but not currently ready for the relationship. The raw honesty on display made me far more interested than at the start of the conversation, and our subsequent discussion about how to conduct ourselves in the future felt like passing through a break up and coming out the other side. In the course of one night, I gained an amicable divorce.

FIVE… Time is relative everywhere, not just in love (though especially in love). When I teach a five-hour logic class, I am most definitely on the train. Passage from start to end seems to take no time at all – though I know we traveled because I finish exhausted. My poor students experience the full expanse of the time, however, watching from the figurative hillside.

FOUR… Soon, we wave goodbye to the year 2014, a year full of time quirks. Looking at the bulk of events, we seem to have both traveled far and stood still. A lot of ugliness we thought was behind us turned out to be very present. But at the same time, the fact that we are now talking openly about things like religion, drugs, law enforcement, homophobia, sexism, racism, principles and so on is a huge step forward for our community.

THREE… For the first three months of 2014, I was an observer on the hill, living more life than my counterparts on the train. On January 1st I was a single girl between projects; by the end of March I had hundreds of regular readers and had both met and fallen completely for Hodor. For the last three months, I’ve been back on the train; Hodor left in September, but it feels like only days ago to me.

TWO… Career-wise, I ticked off a second full year of waiting for the biggest deal of my professional life to finalize. It is my own personal Groundhog Day – stuck reliving February 2nd when February 3rd is the day life starts. I fully understand why Bill Murray’s character experiments with violence in that movie.

ONE… December 31st is only one night, but somehow we imbue it with the weight of an entire year. With so much time passing in an instant, it is easy to feel bruised by the impact. But it is important to remember that the real significance of New Year’s Eve is…

ZERO. In almost every sense. It is nothing, a place-holder, just another day; it is also something, a baseline foundation from which to build another year. Zero can add nothing, nor can it take anything away. Yet it has the power to multiply things exponentially, or to negate them entirely.

It’s all in how we choose to use it. So, I say we use December 31st for a little bit of reflection, a whole lot of appreciation, and a healthy amount of celebration. Travel on the train or off, but remember it is still only one night, much as zero is only one number among many.

As long as zero isn’t also the amount of champagne left for drinking, everyone will be just fine.

Ceci N’est Pas une Post

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Love is a curious paradox; one no one can explain. Who understands the secrets of the reaping of the grain? Who understands why spring is born out of winter’s laboring pain, or why we all must die a bit before we grow again?

Due respect to The Fantasticks (from which the above are lyrics), but I don’t want to “try to remember” September. This past September broke my heart. Besides, The Fantasticks is a play where two dads arrange for an old dude to attempt the rape of one dad’s daughter so the other dad’s son can save her and fall in love. That’s fucked up.

(Yet it is a truly fantastic play – how paradoxical.)

Love IS a curious paradox. We can only find it when we aren’t looking for it, we have to fail at it to in order to succeed, and it is hardest to lose when we didn’t need it in the first place.

Sartre (the original Debbie Downer) nailed it in Being and Nothingness, observing that love is so vital to us we desire to control the will of our beloved; we wish we could guarantee their love in return. Yet love is only valuable when freely given, so the moment we could secure it would be the moment it lost all meaning. (Though he said it in a far more complex and French way.)

The very thing that makes love terrifying – the fact that it can be lost or not returned – is the only thing that makes it worth seeking.

Breakups are also paradoxical. A love that matters is thusly worth fighting for, but in fighting we risk removing the value entirely. Still, the fight itself is necessary.

A long time ago, when I was young(er) and dumb(er), I got mad at my boyfriend for not doing the dishes while I was at work. He pointed out that I had not asked him to do the dishes; had he known I wanted it, he probably would have. Or, let’s be honest, he probably still wouldn’t have, but at least then I’d have had every right to be angry. As it was, I couldn’t blame him for not satisfying an expectation I had never vocalized. Grubby dishes aside, he was completely right.

Now, I speak up whenever I want something. Including – and especially – when that something is a someone.

When a love matters, it is important to tell them they matter. It is important to say out loud what we want, to give voice to all of the good that stands to be lost, and to politely point out that they are making a huge mistake.

But somewhere in the middle of the argument, in the middle of the tears, the declarations of “we’re awesome”, and the “that’s no reason to throw it all away”, there is also that little voice inside speaking the truth we don’t want to acknowledge. The one that knows the paradox cannot be resolved, asking, “What good is a love I talked someone into?”

Winning the fight means losing the value of the love. Yet to not fight would mean it never really mattered in the first place. And round and round it goes… the following statement is true; the previous statement is false… this sentence is not here.

I guess the trick is to fight for what we want and also have the nerve to never get it.

I do not know the answer; I only know it’s true. I hurt them for that reason, and myself a little bit too.

(It really is a Fantastick play. Go see it.)

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life Partners in the Universe

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Confession time: I write romantic comedies for a living, and I do not believe in The One.

Before anyone takes away my pen and paper, let me clarify – this is not a Nicholas Sparks situation where my cynical outlook toward humanity and borderline-misogynist opinion of women drives me to churn out one crassly formulaic story after another. I absolutely believe in love, soul mates, true partners, and all that crap; I just don’t believe each of us has only One.

Both my head and my heart reject the idea. Already, in my short time experimenting with love, I have met at least two men with whom I am sure I could have enjoyed spending the rest of my life. The fact that things didn’t work out doesn’t make them – or our relationships – any less wonderful.

As for my brain, the idea of The One is straight-up depressing on a practical level. There are 7.2 billion people on the planet, most of whom – even with the internet – we will never meet. What if someone’s One lives in North Korea? Tough?

But I like proof when possible, and astrophysics can provide: The Drake Equation is a formula developed in 1961 by astronomer Frank Drake to calculate the probability we will ever detect intelligent alien life in the universe. Since men are from Mars and women Venetian, I figure it applies.

While the actual Drake Equation is impossible to calculate (so far) because most of its variables are unknown (for now), it is pretty simple in essence. Just a straight multiplication of the probabilities of various factors necessary for finding E.T. – like that aliens exist in the first place, or have detectable technology.

Specifically (hang in there) it looks like this: N = R*Fp*Ne*Fl*Fi*Fc*L, which looks completely like gibberish until you know what all the shorthand stands for. Let’s do it!

N stands for the number of alien civilizations we can detect. In other words, it is the answer we are looking for – it is the number of The Ones.

R is the rate at which stars form in the universe, so for mate searching it is the rate at which humans form. According to P.T. Barnum, there is one born every minute, so let’s say R = 1.

Fp is the fraction of stars in the universe hosting planets. Equivalently, let’s call it the fraction of persons with the proper parts for one’s sexual orientation. Whatever your preference, that should be ½, but I (a heterosexual) will remove another ten percent because supposedly that’s how much of the population is gay. Fp = 2/5 (aka 40%).

Ne is the fraction of planets that pass the “Goldilocks” test, or in other words are suitable to sustain life. For sustaining a relationship, this would be the fraction of the population between, say, 25 and 55, which is 1/6 of humanity.

Fl is the fraction of Goldilocks planets with actual life, which I will translate as the fraction who possess the first piece of the relationship P.I.E. – Physical attraction. This is where things get harder to calculate, but I’ll base it off my own experience. Let’s say I’ve met about 10,000 people in my lifetime. (I have lived in three major cities, traveled a lot, and been a performer all my life, so this is fair.) There have probably been about 200 to whom I have been attracted enough to want to sleep with them (don’t worry, Dad, I didn’t). So that makes Fl = 1/50.

Fi is the fraction of life-bearing planets with intelligent life, and that perfectly corresponds to the second piece of the relationship P.I.E. – Intellectual stimulation. I’d say I’ve met about 25 men I felt I could keep talking to forever, and 25 out of 200 is 1/8.

Fc is the fraction of intelligent life that possesses the technology to make themselves detectable. For a life partner, that means having the last piece of P.I.E. – the Emotional support to sustain a relationship. There have really only been two men in my experience with all three pieces, so this last fraction is 2/25.

Lastly comes L, which in the Drake Equation represents the length of time any technologically advanced alien race will remain actually detectable. (For our civilization it has only been about 100 years so far.) In terms of humans, this is the serious dating window. Let’s go with 20 years, which at 365.25 days per year, 24 hours per day, and 60 minutes per hour comes to 10,519,200 minutes. If you want to check my math, ask someone from the cast of Rent.

Putting it all together, we can see that my N (number of ‘Ones’) equals: 1 sucker per minute, times 2/5 who are heterosexual men, times 1/6 at a datable age, times 1/50 who are physically appealing, times 1/8 also intellectually stimulating, times 2/25 with the trifecta of emotional support, all multiplied by 10,519,200 minutes of partner seeking.

The result: 140. There are 140 The Ones for me on Earth.

Of course, my numbers are largely anecdotal and would never pass the scrutiny of peer review, but the point remains – no way is there only One perfect partner. In fact, if we use the actual rate of human birth – 267 per minute – the number comes out to be 37,380 The Ones. Which is almost exactly the population of Bozeman, Montana. (For real; it’s off by about 100.)

37,000 ideal potential mates seems like a lot, but that’s on the whole planet. Add in that we also have to meet them, and (preferably) speak the same language, and both be available at the same time… the number whittles down quickly. If we’re lucky, we experience maybe a handful in our lifetime. And then they have to want the relationship too.

When you consider that a “forever” relationship requires three major things to happen in unison – first, we have to be ready for the responsibility ourselves; second, we have to meet one of the 37,380 potential partners; and third, that person has to also have decided they are ready for a grown-up relationship – it is no wonder it feels like there is only One magical person out there.

Patience is definitely called for. Or, perhaps, a move to Bozeman, Montana.

Drummer Wanted (Timing Optional)

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Thought Experiment: Imagine another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind… (Just kidding. Let’s avoid the Twilight Zone and whatever sparkly vampires may be lurking there.)

Thought Experiment: Imagine – for real this time – that you are a musician. Maybe you play the guitar, or the piano. For the windier among us, perhaps the harmonica or saxomaphone. The instrument doesn’t matter; what matters is that you are a musician.

It is part of who you are, something you have loved and developed since childhood. You practice every day, you study other musicians, read histories of music, and broaden your knowledge as much as possible. Along the way, you find examples of greatness to emulate, and many more examples of not-so-greatness to serve as cautionary tales.

As a solo artist, life is good. Simply making beautiful music is fulfilling and enjoyable. But you also see and envy those truly great bands – The Beatles, The Who, the E-Street gang, and other bands that are more current than the ones I love because of my parents. Someday, you think, I’d love to be a part of something like that, too.

So now you have a choice. Two roads diverge, as they say. On the first path, you go for it; go make yourself a band. You put up flyers at local music stores and concert venues, you go to gigs to see what musicians are out there, introduce yourself left and right, and tell everyone that your proverbial drummer is indeed wanted.

This is a tried and true method of forming a band, and it will work. Every drummer within reach will audition for your band. Some will be terrible, some will be assholes, one might be Animal (if you’re lucky). A couple will probably be good, maybe even great, and that is who will end up in your band.

Will it make you Nirvana? It’s possible, but not likely. Maroon 5 is probably a more reasonable model to shoot for, and the odds are you will be just as good as that cool band we all knew in college. Which band? Exactly. Still, you will have your fun.

On the second path, you keep doing what you were doing all along, but turn your band-mate radar on. (Play-dar?) Practice, play, create, grow; attend shows, find new music, meet people. Do your thing, and all the while be ready for the McCartney to your Lennon to present himself. When someone’s music seems to work really well with yours, suggest a jam session, and explore.

Is it possible you never find that magical partnership? Sure. You could walk right past each other, or he could be serving 5-10 for murdering J.K. Simmons (topical reference to a current indie film almost no one will see), or you could find that ideal counterpart right away – but those scenarios are all outliers. At the very least, you will surely be inspired by several people along the way, and grow into a better artist in your own right.

Of course there IS a third path – doing nothing, while you sit around and mope about not being in a band. But that one is a clearly marked Dead End.

Which road do you choose? Neither is better, they just focus on different things. Is your goal to be part of a band, or to be prepared for great collaboration when the opportunity knocks?

We are each our own instrument. Life is our music. Some people seek their band, find it, and it’s good. Others hone their craft, watching for potential partners along the way, and have a fulfilling journey regardless.

The choice is personal. So stop asking me why I’m not on OK Cupid – but do remind me to look up from the music once in a while.

The Rural Juror

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This week, I finally lost my jury duty virginity. It was just as magical as I had imagined it would be, and so much more because it was real.

Parts of the experience were disappointing; some of it was scary-exciting (armed guards!); none of it was as painful as I’d heard it would be, except for the beginning – getting up at 6:30am. Sure, it was all over way too fast (they released us for the day at lunch time), and ultimately the whole thing was a bit underwhelming, but what can you expect from your first time?

I definitely plan to do it again, and maybe next time I’ll even get to finish (a trial – what did you think I meant? Perv.)

All sexual innuendo aside for a moment (just a moment, I promise), I really was excited to get to experience jury duty after all this time. Nineteen-and-a-half years after becoming a registered voter, to be exact. (Which makes the whole thing extra special, since nineteen-and-a-half is also the number of years I was a human before losing my more literal virginity.)

New Hampshire never called me to serve (and as far as I can remember, never even called anyone I knew), nor did Connecticut, and I was starting to think California would snub me too. My heart went all aflutter when the summons finally appeared in my mailbox last month. I’m a real citizen now!

Yes, I realize this joy makes me weird. But you know what’s sad? That it makes me weird. The ladies who ran the jury room – bless them, they have to do that every day and they have it down to a finely-tuned vaudeville routine – had quite a few bits about how NOT to get out of jury duty:

Don’t claim your boss won’t pay you (that form you filled out already says he will); don’t say you can’t understand English (if you passed your citizenship test, you do); don’t report for duty and then hide in the bathroom…you get the idea. They have clearly seen every trick in the book – which means people regularly try to pull them.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a small town girl with a fondness for civic duty, but I simply do not understand wanting to get out of jury duty. (That last sentence is my attempt to justify the title of this piece, because I really wanted to make the 30 Rock tribute happen.)

Wouldn’t it be great if we actually thought about jury duty the way we think about sex?

Sure, it’s not something for every day, or we’d never get our work done, but when the time comes, it’s special. That summons appears in the mail – date night, baby! We get a little dressed up (no ironic “guilty” tees or costumes), show up on time, and prepare ourselves for anything (I could not believe how many people brought nothing to pass the hours of waiting).

Not every outing will end in a connection. Sometimes, we go home disappointed. Other times, we make a match (to a jury pool), but it isn’t a match made in heaven (dismissed). And every once in a while, if we’re lucky, we end up finding a long-term partner.

Maybe it’s a short trial; maybe a really long one. Some pairings will be awful, some fascinating but ultimately pointless, and sometimes – some very rare times – we will be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time and it will be important.

The best part is, just like with love, we never know which one it’s going to be. Jury duty = sex? Motion sustained!

Over Easy

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“In winter, when the fields are white, I sing this song for your delight-

“In spring, when woods are getting green, I’ll try and tell you what I mean:

“In summer, when the days are long, Perhaps you’ll understand the song;

“In autumn, when the leaves are brown, Take pen and ink, and write it down.”

-Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty

On the other side of the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty is a hyper-literal prissy pants; having a conversation with him could justifiably be classified as torture, and if I were Alice I probably would have pushed him off that wall myself. Still, his understanding of linguistic nuance is admirable.

Different words have different definitions because they mean different things, and those differences matter. “When I use a word,” he tells Alice, “it means what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” Dumpty may also be completely nuts and kind of a snot about it, but that doesn’t make him wrong.

“Nice is different than good.”

                                                                        -Stephen Sondheim’s Little Red Riding Hood

Also a pretty big brat, Red is the poster child for blissful ignorance before she heads Into the Woods and has wisdom (pelvic) thrust upon her. She starts out so inexperienced and self-absorbed that she can’t tell the difference between her granny and a wolf in a bonnet, survives a major trauma, then comes out the other side knowing things, many valuable things, that she hadn’t known before.

Her biggest lesson? Just because someone is friendly, cool, (super well endowed), and a source of exciting new adventures, he isn’t necessarily good for her. If a girl’s not careful, she can end up swallowed whole.

“You know me – I like things to be easy.”

                                                                        -My Ex-Boyfriend

I should know better than to open up old wounds, but Cancer 2 has always been impossible to resist. It would not surprise me at all to learn that my genetic code is programmed to bond with his chemical signature. And there he was: seven years older than when he broke my heart, not an inch less charming or attractive. The bastard.

Time does not heal all, but it soothes things enough to allow conversation. We joked like old times, discussed life choices – mine to keep after the improbable dream, his to return to science and help the world – and apologized for past behavior. Inevitably, we compared relationship statuses – mine a freshly broken heart, his a recent engagement. The frakking bastard.

It is no fun to learn that someone so great, who was simply too young when we met, is older and wiser and bestowing his gifts on someone else. I cursed fate, and circumstance, and myself, and of course him. Then I did something totally crazy – I actually listened.

There was a theme running through our conversation: a big easy.

We hadn’t spoken in seven years because he didn’t like to deal with having hurt me. He left the industry for science because he didn’t see himself pushing through the decade of humiliation and struggle it takes to break in. His current relationship was so good in part because it was so easy.

“As much as I liked you,” he said at one point,” I don’t think our relationship was right for me.” Finally, I understood the song. He prefers the path of least resistance; he likes pleasantville; he wants things to be easy.

I want things to be great.

Neither choice is better than the other, but they are definitely two different things. Greatness is rarely easy, and ease is rarely exceptional. No matter how awesome we consider each other, or how strong our chemical attraction may be, he has no need for ‘extraordinary’ in his life, and I have never been interested in ‘easy’.

No quantity of king’s horses or men could make us fit together, now or back then.

As Red would say, isn’t it nice to know a lot? (And a little bit not.)

The Logarithm of Love (Ice Cream Headache)

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In 1960, Smokey Robinson’s mama dropped some serious truth when she insisted he better Shop Around. Given the decade, Smokey probably assumed her wisdom came from a woman’s deep understanding of bargain shopping, but I prefer to think she was simply keeping up with modern trends in mathematics.

Around that same time, numbers guys around the world were turning their attention to a decision-making dilemma they dubbed The Secretary Problem (also The Marriage Problem). Since the parameters of the problem are applicable to many real world situations, and since I choose not to indulge the sexist world of the Mad Men era, I call it the Ice Cream Headache.

Imagine yourself in an ice cream shop facing dozens of flavor options. You have to decide on just one, and ideally you want to choose the very best of all. The rules are simple: first, your choices are finite. (Even though Baskin Robbins lies and offers more than 31 flavors, they still don’t offer “infinity” flavors.) Second, you can sample flavors, but only one at a time, only once each, and you must make a decision immediately upon tasting – choose it, or pass. Finally, there are no ties. One is decidedly the best (for you).

To maximize your chances of walking away with The One, it turns out “shop around” really IS the best strategy – to a point. Mathematicians came to find that the optimal approach is to always reject the first 36.7% of flavors you try (that happens to be 1/e for all you natural logarithm fans out there), then choose the next flavor that tastes better than anything that has come before.

Say there are nine flavors total. This optimal method means we will taste the first randomly selected three and not choose them, no matter what. The odds of The One being in those first three (which means we will definitely NOT win the game) is 33%. The other 67% percent of the time, we still have a chance.

After rejecting the first three, we will choose the very first flavor that tastes better. If we happened to taste the second best flavor in the first three but not The One – the odds of which is 25% – we are guaranteed a win. Only The One will taste better, so only The One will be chosen, no matter how long it takes us to get to it. The remaining 42% of the time, victory depends on when in the subsequent tastings The One appears.

When the math is said and done, probability shows that employing this strategy to the Ice Cream Headache results in victory – choosing The One – at minimum 37% of the time, which is the best chance possible and far better than choosing at random.

Sure, in real life we are free to piss off the ice cream vendors as we test every single flavor over and over until we are either satisfied with our decision or just satisfied, but the parameters of the Ice Cream Headache are remarkably realistic when it comes to dating.

In love, we generally get one shot at evaluation – Burton and Taylor notwithstanding. Likewise, the choice is usually a now-or-never situation. (We may dream of “sampling” a person and then getting to try all the other people too before ultimately deciding, “You are the best,” but in reality that ends with a “Screw you, I’ve moved on” and a drink in the face.) Finally, even with today’s online resources, we still have a finite number of candidates.

Applying the lessons of the Ice Cream Headache to a partner search yields some interesting results.

For one, it helps redefine the idea of “success”. We usually view situations as win or lose, but mathematics has a third option: draw. Victory in the Ice Cream Headache is walking away with The One, but failure isn’t everything else; failure only happens if we walk away with a flavor that is NOT the best. Remember that 33% chance The One was in the automatically rejected first group? In that case, the player would never choose any flavor, because nothing would ever meet the requirement of outperforming everything prior. In life terms, the player stays single. I like the idea of a single life being a “draw” rather than a loss.

More significantly, the Ice Cream Headache validates the practice of living a little before settling down. The average life expectancy of an American woman is 82 years; 77 for American men. If we apply the “discard the first 36.7%” rule, no one should even consider choosing a life partner before age 30 or 28, respectively.

To apply the strategy more specifically to our dating years, let’s say no one dates seriously before 15, and we reserve the last 10 years for writing memoirs and bowling. That leaves 57 shopping years for women, and 52 for men. Again, if we automatically pass on the first 36.7% of candidates, that translates to 20 years of dating before possibly making a choice (19 for men). Starting at 15, that pushes the start of decision time to our mid-thirties.

Yes, this simplifies things with the premise that potential mates will appear at a steady rate across our dating years (now more likely with the internet), but the end result is still valid. Statistically, the optimal strategy over a lifetime for successfully ending up with your ideal flavor is to not get serious about choosing until sometime after 30. Mama was right: you better Shop Around.

Of course, this still doesn’t solve the problem of that awesome mocha chip gelato you finally go for deciding he doesn’t want you. But it helps.