The Resolution Will Not Be Televised

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If you want to torture yourself, make a resolution. As Oprah demonstrated to us all during her fifth or sixth trip around the world on the weight-loss yo-yo, the easiest contract to break is one with yourself. The more rigid the rule, the more likely the snap.

All resolutions get broken eventually, which is why I resolved years ago to never make any more resolutions. This instance, of course, will be the exception that proves the rule. I am certain.

Instead, I give each year a motto; a theme aid me in focus and self-improvement.

Fifty-Two weeks ago I launched Full-Frontal Nerdity in response to my 2014 motto. My goal was to complete and post one small project a week for as long as I could keep it up, and also get over my fear of the internet. Since then I have shared fifty-six musings on science, poetry, relationships, math, writing, logic, love, farce, and life in general (oops, I already said “farce”).

Last year’s motto was Citius, Altius, Fortius (Swifter, Higher, Stronger) and in every way this year of writing has lived up to the goal. My creativity flows with more ease than it ever has, never in my dreams did I imagine I could stick to a project with such consistency for an entire year, and by doing so I have gotten much stronger in voice, skill, and will.

Now it is time for a new motto to build on in the new year. I say “build” because the old mottos never go away. It is still important for me to remember to Join the Party (2011) more than my introversion inclines me to, and to remind myself daily that Nobody’s Perfect (2013) or able to please everyone ever. Any time I feel frustrated with my career or person I still try to imagine my better version and Act Like It (2012).

This year, I hear the voice of my oldest and best friend. When we were tweens she moved away to Cape Cod, and during a visit we found ourselves stymied by tourists as we attempted to get from point A to point B on the sidewalk. Always practical and self-assured (and thus my role model from early on), she implored to the world in general, “Walk with a purpose, people!”

It remains to this day the best advice I have ever heard.

So in 2015, my motto is to Walk With a Purpose. To live more deliberately, always with a goal, even if that goal is simply to finish a really difficult crossword puzzle. No more Law & Order reruns “just because they’re on” (though I will miss you, “Cha-CHUNG”), or aimless wandering through Facebook. More reading of things I have been wanting to read and catching up on films and friends I actually want to see. That’s the idea, anyway.

To Walk With a Purpose in my career will also mean taking chunks of time to work on larger projects now and then. That does not mean the end of this blog – not in the least. But it does mean I will probably not be posting as regularly. I hope to still keep it up monthly, and it is quite likely I will have things to say more often than that now that my brain is kicked up to a swifter, higher, and stronger gear. Whatever happens, though, thank you so much for participating in this past year, and helping motivate me to live up to 2014’s motto.

I will see you again soon, on screens large, small, and in between. Happy New Year!

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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.)

Logical Mystery Tour

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Once upon a short time ago, I spent over twenty minutes arguing with a Time Warner Cable representative about how math works.

My monthly cable bill had suddenly increased by $7 (increased again, I should say, because this was not the first time), so I had looked and found a new $7 charge listed for the modem. (The modem I had been using for no charge since…always.)

The TWC representative tried repeatedly to convince me that they had always been charging me $7 for the modem, it’s just that now they were listing the fee as its own line item on the bill. I replied that if that were true my bill total would not have increased (because, math), but it had increased, so there was clearly a new charge for something, and would she please just fess up to it already.

After twenty minutes of our own little version of Waiting for Godot (“I recognize that tree!”) she finally succumbed to the power of how numbers work and agreed there was a new fee. I agreed to no longer be a Time Warner Cable customer.

While I appreciate that this woman provided the kick I needed to finally bail on cable, our conversation makes me want to bang my head against a wall. For six years, I have spent much of my time helping adults prepare themselves for the rigors of law school, and in that time I have been repeatedly surprised and disheartened – as I was on that phone call – with the general lack of logical reasoning employed by humanity.

Logic is important, even if only to save us from Kafkaesque conversations and murderous thoughts. If we used it more, our civilization would be in a much better place.

For one thing, logic allows us to recognize when people (and cable companies) are lying. It demands reasons and facts be given to support arguments – including our own. With logic, we also recognize when a statement is technically true (“That Awkward Moment is the #1 comedy of the year!”) but essentially meaningless (“Dude, it’s still January”).

Even more relevant to our current state of debate, logic helps us stay focused on the actual point, instead of getting distracted by more convenient statements that are off topic. Sure, mental health and how we treat it is a major problem in the world, but it isn’t a relevant rebuttal to “I think there should be more gun regulation,” any more than “vegans are annoying” addresses whether we should let the pregnant pigs move around, or “I hate science” is an argument against global warming.

Most importantly, though, logic is vital because it exercises a skill that is crucial to human success: creative thinking.

It is no coincidence that Einstein was a skilled violinist while Hitler was a bad painter; creativity and reason go hand in hand. To be logical is to be able to mentally entertain as many possibilities as can be imagined and then evaluate them against whatever facts are known. It is to know that there was a mass extinction of dinosaurs, imagine the infinite reasons it could have happened, and use the evidence of meteor strikes, lack of evidence of spontaneous combustion, and miniscule likelihood of alien invasion to conclude that most likely the meteors were the culprit.

(It is also to know that the limited facts demand language like “most likely” instead of “of course it happened that way, how dare you question me?!” or “I don’t believe you so no it didn’t!”)

Logical thinking trains us to have flexible minds, which is the ultimate reason it needs to be more prevalent in our world today: because mental flexibility is the key to empathy. Yes, it also helps if we have and understand emotions, but empathy by definition requires the ability to think beyond our own personal situation.

In college, I was once asked by a boy (he was a boy in every sense) why I was pro-choice; to answer him, I started by saying, “given my own health issues, I can certainly imagine why someone might need-“ and he cut me off by rebutting, “It’s not about YOU. You’re so selfish.”

His statement was technically true – it wasn’t about me – but meaningless, because it WAS about my ability to put myself in another person’s shoes; to imagine circumstances that, while not true for me, may be true for someone in a different place or time or dimension.

A rigid “I would never” is not enough to close the book on any subject. That’s great that we would never; it is completely our right to choose to “never” – but somebody would, and shouldn’t we at least take the time to explore and understand their reasons before we judge?

Without empathy, progress can only happen once everyone personally knows a victim of sexual assault, a minority being denied rights, a dark-skinned person who has suffered harassment by those in authority, or someone forced to make a bad choice in a bad situation. Of course, the sad fact is, everyone already does.

That some people still refuse to acknowledge it defies logic.

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.

Bright Fights, Big Cities

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Rivalries are fun, but even more fun when you win. I know, because this weekend Harvard beat yale in The Game for the 8th year in a row (the Harvard Band remains undefeated).

I have experienced both sides of the rivalry see-saw. For one, I cheer for team Democrat, which is so bad at competition they couldn’t win a game of solitaire. I also live in Los Angeles, which tries hard to convince the world (and itself) that it is just as good as New York. It’s an awesome city, to be sure, but people come to the U.S. to see New York, then maybe L.A. later (after a quick trip up to Boston to photograph the John Harvard statue).

There is some serious rivalry between cities, as evidenced by the glut of “Umpteen Reasons My City is Better than Your City” lists clogging the internet, and the fact that anyone from Chicago will spend hours arguing it is the best place in the universe – never mind that they moved somewhere else.

(Smaller cities and towns are just as competitive; I’m from north-of-nowhere Berlin, New Hampshire, and you can bet we knew having the paper mill made us better than those lame-o’s in nearby Milan.)

Like rivals like, and within groups of relative equals those rivalries are free to get nasty and silly – like how I never capitalize the word “yale”.

Since I am a citizen of both the Ivy League and a top U.S. city, and am riding high off of my school’s continued Ivy dominance this weekend, and had yet another run in with a super-proud non-resident Chicagoan recently, I decided to mash up the rivalries. Because superficially judging your peers is fun! And mash-ups are totally in right now.

New York: NYC is the Harvard of cities. Harvard’s motto is “Veritas”, which means “Truth”, but I think of it more like, “Preach”. The truth is, there is only One. No matter how many other schools achieve equal quality, it will still be the only one whose graduates get to say, “I went to Harvard”. And then have everyone hate them. “I’m a New Yorker” carries similar magic.

Los Angeles: That makes L.A. yale. Totally legit in its own right, but it will just never catch up to the First. yale tries so hard, their motto is even a one-up on Harvard’s: “Lux et Veritas” (Light and Truth). It doesn’t matter how many national tours come to Los Angeles, New York still has the only Broadway. Quality has nothing to do with it – you can’t catch up with history.

Chicago: It seems like Chi-town should be Princeton, but Dartmouth fits best. Both schools are academically equal to the Big Two, but location carries weight. Chicago is a mecca of culture in the middle of our middle, featuring difficult travel to and from and godforsaken winters. Princeton, NJ is no metropolis, but it isn’t the Vermont/New Hampshire border, either. Dartmouth’s actual motto is, “A voice crying in the wilderness.” ‘Nuff said.

Boston: Princeton gets paired with Boston. It can hang with the big dogs but is palpably smaller, and Boston’s two main themes are History and Academics. The fact that Princeton not only hosted Albert Einstein but also still hosts his brain satisfies both categories.

San Francisco: I love SF, but its residents either have a giant chip on their shoulder or a massive inferiority complex (or both). Plus a mild haze of depression (for which I blame the fog). Sounds like Brown to me! Denizens of both passionately love their home – and resent their peers even more. Brown is also the quirkiest of the Ivies, which San Francisco certainly matches, and to top it off Brown’s motto is, “In God we hope.” That kind of has to be your motto when you live in earthquake central.

Atlanta: As the major city nobody seems to think about or even remember most of the time (except when watching The Walking Dead), Atlanta is the Columbia of cities. The parody lyrics to Columbia’s fight song are “Columbia! (‘What?’) Columbia! (‘Oh..,’)” for this reason. Both grab a little attention now and then with stunts like the Olympics or James Franco, but then quickly fade back out of mind.

Washington D.C.: U Penn’s parallel could be New Orleans, but Washington wins. Penn is the third-oldest Ivy, but is usually thought of late when listing the schools, in much the same way that D.C. is a major city very few people respect. I personally remember Penn as always good for a party (which is why NOLA was in the running), but motto is the key: “Laws without morals are useless.” (*cough* Congress *cough*)

Austin: Finally, Austin gets the honorary Cornell award for, “Aw, aren’t they cute trying to hang with the big kids.” Both came a little late to the party (Cornell is 100 years younger than the next-youngest Ivy), both embrace their weird with gusto (Cornell’s motto – “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study” – is practically a mission statement), and both are so isolated by wilderness (upstate New York; the insanity of Texas) that depression is a major issue for their residents.

If only Austinites had the support of similar safety nets.

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.

Life, the Universe, and Thanks for All the Dolphinfish

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I thought it would be nice to go back in time for my birthday this year – get a glimpse of things as they were when I was born. Plan A was to invent a time machine, but I had a wedding to go to this weekend and one of the cats has a UTI, so I just didn’t get around to it. Instead, I went with Plan B – the stars.

Whenever we look at the stars, we travel in time, because the star we see is not the star of this present moment. Light may be the fastest thing in the universe (non-super-hero), but even it takes time to get from there to here. That ray of sunshine is SO eight minutes ago, and the moonlight is even more passé since it had to travel from the sun and then bounce.

Somewhere, up in the night sky, there is a light from 38 years in the past; an echo of the day I was born. Turns out, its name is Zeta Doradus – a yellow-white dwarf star a little bit brighter and hotter than our own sun. Sounds just like me.

Zeta Doradus looks like a single star, but really is a wide binary system. We can only see the primary star (Zeta Dor A) with our naked eye, but closer inspection with a telescope reveals Zeta Dor B, its dark partner, a mere .018 parsecs (22 light minutes) away. It’s similar to how I look like a fun, normal person until folks get closer and discover the quirky neurotic tendencies that make things a bit more complicated.

The Zeta Doradus we see today is an echo of the star that was at my birth, but it has been around much longer. It was first noticed and named by humans around 1600; specifically by Dutch humans, which is nice because 1600 is also roughly when my Dutch ancestors came over to the New World.

Dorado” is the constellation where my birthday star lives. It is Spanish for “dolphinfish”, also known as “mahi-mahi”. Why those Dutch astronomers chose to name their new constellations in Spanish is beyond me, but since I am trying to teach myself Spanish this year I appreciate the happy coincidence.

In the night sky, the Dolphinfish is located just behind the Flying Fish, because apparently that’s what mahi-mahi hunt. Dorado is also referred to as the Goldfish (yummy) or the Swordfish (less yummy, more badass). Whatever the title, my Zeta star is located in the tail – which I like to think makes it a strong driving force.

Star gazing always puts me in a Romantic mood (and a little-r romantic mood if there’s a cute boy nearby), because of the way past, present, and future intersect in one moment. That light we see is an echo of the past. This moment is my present, but is also the future of the star in the sky. I cannot know the star’s present (Zeta Doradus could have exploded thirty years ago and we’d have no idea) any more than I can know my own future, but 38 years into my future is exactly when I will be able to see Zeta Dor’s present, which by then will be my past.

Looking at the stars too long can make a person dizzy, in more ways than one.

We do know that Zeta Doradus is/was a relatively young system – only .58 gigayears (but not looking a day over .5). It is/was young enough to still have a “debris disk” around it – the aftermath of its formation – and I’ll be damned if I’ve heard a more fitting way to describe the current state of my own life.

There are no planets yet discovered around Zeta Doradus, but if one existed at a habitable distance, it would have a roughly 420-day orbit. Which also means that if I lived on that planet, I would be only 33 (sweet).

As for the future/present – who knows? Astronomers predict Zeta Doradus will not be content to stay in one place its entire life (I can relate), and will likely leave Dorado for the constellation Pictor in about 4400 years. That’s French for “the painter”. From Dutch culture to Spanish fish to French art – that’s a life path I could live with.

My look into my birth year has been rewarding and enlightening, but there is one small problem I haven’t mentioned: I can’t actually see Zeta Doradus from North America. The Dolphinfish is a southern constellation visible from 20 degrees latitude on down. I could see it from southern Mexico, or Puerto Rico, or India, Hawaii, the Virgin Islands or Australia. Not to mention Antarctica, where the penguins are watching it right now.

This sounds to me like the most important lesson I could learn from my birth star: it’s time to take a vacation, pronto! New Zealand, here I come; save some mahi-mahi for me.

FDR U Ready 2 Rock? (The Vote!)

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It’s Election Day, America! Not for Idols (except in North Carolina – good luck with that, Clay), Next Top Models, or folks who Got Talent, but for the people who *actually* have an effect on our lives. (Sorry, Tyra. I love you but it’s true.)

One advantage of my current singledom is extra free time to do awesome things – like watch all 14 hours of Ken Burns’ ‘The Roosevelts’…and remember how moving FDR’s fourth inaugural address was…and how eerily prescient.

So today, I present my first guest blogger: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As you read his words (they’re brief, I promise), let them inspire you to step up and participate today.

Voting is inconvenient? Roosevelt ran for President four times, served three full terms, and stood for every speech without actually possessing the physical ability to do so. He got through this particular speech while suffering from both polio and congestive heart failure – we can handle some research and waiting in line for a smidge.

One vote can’t make a difference? Roosevelt was almost assassinated before his first inaugural, saved only by the fact that the gunman chose to stand on a wobbly chair (I binge-watched the first two seasons of ‘The Newsroom’ too – history!) No wobble, no New Deal, no end to the Depression – little things often make a huge difference.

It’s all just too fubar to bother trying? As FDR reminded us, we can’t let perfection be the enemy of good. We may not achieve it any time soon – or ever – but the point isn’t to be perfect; it’s to keep trying:

Mr. Chief Justice, Mr. Vice President, my friends, you will understand and, I believe, agree with my wish that the form of this inauguration be simple and its words brief.

We Americans of today, together with our allies, are passing through a period of supreme test. It is a test of our courage–of our resolve–of our wisdom–our essential democracy.

If we meet that test–successfully and honorably–we shall perform a service of historic importance which men and women and children will honor throughout all time.

As I stand here today, having taken the solemn oath of office in the presence of my fellow countrymen–in the presence of our God–I know that it is America’s purpose that we shall not fail.

In the days and in the years that are to come we shall work for a just and honorable peace, a durable peace, as today we work and fight for total victory in war.

We can and we will achieve such a peace.

We shall strive for perfection. We shall not achieve it immediately–but we still shall strive. We may make mistakes–but they must never be mistakes which result from faintness of heart or abandonment of moral principle.

I remember that my old schoolmaster, Dr. Peabody, said, in days that seemed to us then to be secure and untroubled: “Things in life will not always run smoothly. Sometimes we will be rising toward the heights–then all will seem to reverse itself and start downward. The great fact to remember is that the trend of civilization itself is forever upward; that a line drawn through the middle of the peaks and the valleys of the centuries always has an upward trend.”

Our Constitution of 1787 was not a perfect instrument; it is not perfect yet. But it provided a firm base upon which all manner of men, of all races and colors and creeds, could build our solid structure of democracy.

And so today, in this year of war, we have learned lessons–at a fearful cost–and we shall profit by them.

We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations far away. We have learned that we must live as men, not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger.

We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community.

We have learned the simple truth, as Emerson said, that “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”

We can gain no lasting peace if we approach it with suspicion and mistrust or with fear. We can gain it only if we proceed with the understanding, the confidence, and the courage which flow from conviction.

The Almighty God has blessed our land in many ways. He has given our people stout hearts and strong arms with which to strike mighty blows for freedom and truth. He has given to our country a faith which has become the hope of all peoples in an anguished world.

So we pray to Him now for the vision to see our way clearly–to see the way that leads to a better life for ourselves and for all our fellow men–to the achievement of His will to peace on earth.

— Franklin Delano Roosevelt, January 20, 1945

Intolerance vs. love; information vs. fear; progress vs. destruction. The trend of civilization must remain upward. Citizens of the world, members of the human community, go vote!