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to the stars

I love space.

I have always known that I would never go to space.

I was an uncoordinated, fat kid who didn’t trust the military (Of course there are civilian astronauts. Lots of them! Neil Armstrong even, technically!) and I knew I would never have the discipline for it.

But I have always wanted to be part of the space program.

More than any other dream I’ve ever had — publishing a book! writing a movie! — I wanted to help explore space. It was my second dream job — edged out by paleontologist because, dinosaurs are amazing obviously — and the first I knew, almost as soon as I dreamed it, that I could never do.

Space is incredible. Vast and beautiful and endless. Every single thing we learn about space teaches us something important, but also opens us up to even more knowledge, to an even more expansive universe than we previously imagined, to an infinity so broad it’ll break you if you think about it too hard.

And I wanted to be part of it more than almost anything I have ever wanted.

And I knew I never, ever could.

Math and I have always been enemies. My lowest grades were always math. I had to repeat high school algebra. I preemptively took the ACT, well before I took the SAT, because I’d heard that the math was easier and I was T-E-R-R-I-F-I-E-D that my SAT score wouldn’t hit the minimum to avoid college placement tests. (It didn’t.) I didn’t want to struggle through at least 3 quarters of remedial math before also struggling through college algebra. (My ACT did.) I had to take a no-credit in my college algebra class because I couldn’t hack it. I ended up taking a logic class to satisfy my one single math requirement. I don’t think my final grade was very good. I excelled in sciences until they required math — here’s looking at you, high school chemistry — and I knew, deep down in the dark cave-like places where disappointment lives, that it would never get better. I would never make it through anything harder.

I took physics in college anyway, probably through a fluke of class requirements, availability, and timing, and it was torture. I understood the concepts, the ideas, the big stuff, the theoretical. I understood it and I liked it. I cared about it. Physics is… as close as humans get to magic. But the math bewildered and confused me. I tried. I read. I studied. I have never been a good studier, but GOD, did I try. I tried. And I just… couldn’t.

After putting in my second lackluster test performance, my very smart, very kind professor — a woman who worked for NASA and JPL and took students to the Marshall Space Flight Center and the Kennedy Space Center every year — asked me to stay behind after class.

I think I’d gotten a D and I was unhappily resigned. I wouldn’t call myself an overachiever, but with the exception of math, school had always been easy for me. Not just easy, but natural. It has always felt like learning was what I was supposed to be doing, the only think I’ve ever been particularly good at.

This woman looked at me with this awful kindness, the kind that strips you down when you’re not expecting it, and she said, “You just. You can’t do this math, can you?”

And my breath caught in my throat because I’d had teachers who sympathized with my struggles before, ones who tried their best to help, but no one had ever, ever looked at me like they actually got it — that I was trying my absolute fucking hardest and I just could not do it.

And I just nodded.

She smiled at me, soft, and she told me she would do everything she could to give me partial credit so I could pass. And she did. And I did.

I took an astronomy class with her later, a class I anticipated and dreaded in almost equal measure, because I still loved space and because I wanted to learn about it, and she smiled and nodded at me when I took my seat at the front and some of the dread faded because I knew she still got it and I knew she had my back.

I cried after that class a lot. Because I love space. And learning so much about it — it was a surprisingly in-depth class for even an upper division entry-level — was moving, but also devastating because I knew this would be the end of organized space education for me. There was nowhere else for me to go.

She told me once, about midway through, as we went over a test after class that she had never had a student who so clearly and easily grasped and engaged with conceptual information, but who couldn’t do the math. It was the kindest, most flattering knife I’ve ever had through my heart.

I’ve always told people that, if the opportunity arose, even if I knew it was a one-way ticket to certain death, I would go into space. This is true every single day. This has never, even for like, one minute in my entire life been not true. To reach into the rich dark and see the limitless sea of our existence, to leave the bounds of earth, I would give my life. In a heartbeat. In a nanosecond. In a Planck second.

I won’t set foot on an airplane, but any space vessel will do.

The privatization of space exploration pains me. The increasing incuriosity of the American public and their unwillingness to fund NASA and further exploration of our universe is nauseating to me. We are so small in the scheme of everything and we have so much to learn. We are a species built from survival instincts and yet our curiosity compels us to do so much more, to learn so much, to seek out the edges of our universe and understand them.

Math may have defeated my dreams of exploiting that curiosity to its fullest. It may have even crushed my dreams, but it can’t stop me from learning. There is always more to know. And if Opportunity could outlive her mission by 14 years to teach us as much about Mars as she possibly could, we can be curious enough to learn something from her and curious enough to care about what comes next.

The static from your television is 1% residual radiation from the Big Bang. You and I and everyone we love, we are made of star stuff. We are the universe, walking and talking and seeking. Stay curious. Don’t stop learning.

totally top three: january 2019


Jon Walker, Impending Bloom – This is an EP from a former bassist of Panic! at the Disco and it is nothing like what I expected considering the majority of his previous discography. It’s almost like… a really great, heavy 90s album? And since I have been extremely into reliving some of my 90s loves so far this year, it’s really hit right in my wheelhouse. Also, he used a fan’s joking lyric suggestion in “Like an Animal” and it actually made me laugh out loud on first listen. “Write a New Story” and “Like an Animal” are definitely my favorites, here, but it’s a solid listen all the way through.


The Littlest Man Band, Better Book Ends – How an album released in 2004 ended up as one of my favorite things in the first month of 2019 is a question for The Algorithm, but I’m glad regardless because this little lounge-y ska number is great and turned out to be well worth a full start-to-finish listen beyond the couple songs that kept showing up in my Spotify-generated playlists. “Always Sayin’” and “Stayed Away Too Long” and “Sunshine” and “Better Man” are all great, but the album as a whole is worth a listen. It’s like, I don’t know, grown-up ska? A little more introspective, a little prettier.


Roswell, New Mexico – I didn’t watch the first Roswell when it was airing because with the exception of Friends and Jeopardy, I didn’t actually watch TV regularly until like, 2006. But it was filmed in my hometown and they used my grandma’s driveway as a craft service spot and we ate a lot of free food, so I feel bonded to it, but also Crystal loved it, which meant that one of our first friend dates was driving her around and showing her filming locations and stuff that had been leftover (The Crashdown sign stayed up for YEARS after the show was cancelled and I think the UFO center storefront was still there when we moved in 2012…) but all of that is beside the point because this new adaptation is great. The story is compelling, the acting is really solid (and pretty), everything looks really good, and it’s a story about adults! On the CW! Where the dialogue sounds human! And charming! And it’s actually shot well and nice to look at! Also, it’s nice to be excited for more.


And three to look forward to…

the umbrella academy   miss bala   velvet buzzsaw

totally top five 2018: the other stuff

I started this post the same way I start most of them: with too many words and a lot of unnecessary information, but I got tired about halfway through because it’s been a hard month and enthusiasm meter is on E. And that bummed me out! Because I consider myself an enthusiast and I don’t like when that’s taken from me!

So instead of dwelling or letting this post feel like a chore, I’m going to make it (kind of) short on words and (pretty) long on stuff.


crys & ash at panic in mpls being rained on with confetti ash screaming while being rained on by panic! at the disco confetti
ash and crys with the members of ludo


Previously

2K12 | 2K13 | 2K14 | 2K15 | 2K16 | 2K17

totally top five 2k18: listening

2018 really reignited my fire for finding new music to listen to and also reinvigorated my interest in bands who I already liked who also happened to have new albums being released. It also sent Crystal and I all over the Midwest to revisit our first true love live music, which was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.

Anyway! Again, in no particular order:


Fall Out Boy’s Mania is really, really great and one of my most listened albums (and my most listened artist according to Spotify) of 2018. I like that Fall Out Boy has never seemed afraid to just write the songs they want to write regardless of what’s expected of them and that they keep producing music that is both really enjoyable and also meaningful and moving, regardless of whether you fall into their target demographic. They also continue to grow as musicians; they put on a hell of a live show. (We went twice! I cried! There was a lot of pyro!) and I can’t wait to see what they do next. Favorites: “Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea” (Patrick Stump sing-yelling “résistance” is… life-changing.) & “HOLD ME TIGHT OR DON’T” & “Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)” & “Church” & “Heaven’s Gate” & “Champion” (Which makes me cry more often than I should admit.) & Okay, stopping because I’m going to end up listing the entire album.


Don Broco’s Technology is another album I fell for early on in 2018 and while I tapered off on my listening, it’s one I kept coming back to again when I thought about music I had really loved last year. A solid, well-produced, well-performed alt rock/post-hardcore effort that sounds best while blared loudly in a car with the windows down. There is some really memorable guitar work on this album that gets stuck in my head and some nice synth work that plays complement better than I would have expected. They’re also the first band to get me to buy Warped Tour tickets. We ended up giving them away, but we did buy them! Also, they make real weird music videos. Favorites: “T-Shirt Song” & “Come Out to LA” & “Pretty” & “Everybody” & “¥” & Something to Drink” & “Blood in the Water”


Reggie and the Full Effect’s 41 is so, so, so good and it’s killing me that I haven’t seen James Dewees touring on it yet because the show I went to in 2009 is still one of the best and most fun I’ve ever seen. Reggie’s albums are always sort of a stylistic adventure and I think 41 is probably the most cohesive yet. It feels like an album made for adults who still have feelings and if I’ve had a favorite emotional breakdown while rolling around on the floor in front of my turntable, it would definitely be the one I had to this album. Also, like all Reggie albums, it’s also dance-y as hell. Also-also, “Your drywall skills are fucking aces / Not even elective / You smell bullshit from twenty paces/ Skills so damn effective” has got to be one of the most specifically complimentary lines I’ve ever heard in a song. Favorites: Broke Down” & “Heartbreak” & “Karate School” & “The Horrible Year” & “Maggie” & “Off Delaware”


I found Dead!’s The Golden Age of Not Even Trying very early on in 2018 through a mix of The Algorithm and also seeing a random comment on Instagram saying that if we were missing My Chemical Romance (Am I ever not?) this would be a good listen and both the album and that random Instagram commenter were right! (The Algorithm knows me. I am one with The Algorithm.) This is another solid alt rock effort with some really great, punchy guitar and K-I-L-L-E-R bass work and some really clever, lovely lyrics — I am extremely partial to “Are you always this extroverted? / I’d like to ask if I could learn it / If you’ve got knuckles to drag / Then I’ve got bones to sweep / Any port in a storm / Can you hear me?” and I think about it A LOT. Favorites: “The Golden Age of Not Even Trying” & “Jessica” & “Off White Paint” & “You’re So Cheap” & “W9” & “Any Port” & Youth Screams & Fades”


I had sort of… forgotten that Panic! at the Disco was still making music until the Spotify algorithm shoved “Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time” at me in late 2017 and I got re-interested and also dragged Crystal into it, kicking and screaming that she still loved Ryan Ross too much to listen to the new stuff. Pray for the Wicked is sooooooooo good. And so bright and clever and dance-y and FUN. Brendon Urie’s voice is a gift. And I am so glad that I dragged Crystal into it and she impulse bought us floor seats for the first leg of the tour because, wow. W-O-W. What a damn show. The album is a great whole and also great picked out song by song and I wish I was rich enough to just follow Panic’s tour around the world for the rest of my life. Also, I don’t know how I lived without the the delivery of “dying” in the third and fourth “when you’re dying in LA” in the chorus of “Dying in LA” for 33 entire years. Favorites: “Hey Look Ma, I Made It” & “High Hopes” & “Roaring 20s” & “Dancing’s Not a Crime” & “King of the Clouds” & “Dying in LA”


Honorable Mentions

bear ghost, blasterpiece   waterparks, entertainment   phantom thread score

ohhms, the fool   royal blood, how did we get so dark?   ghost, prequelle


Previously

2K12 | 2K13 | 2K14 | 2K15 | 2K16 | 2K17

totally top five 2018: reading

I made it another year reviewing all the books I read on Goodreads! Maybe this year I’ll 1. get better at reviewing and 2. read more dang books?!

And now in no particular order!


Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End ripped my heart out in all the best ways. It has a simple, genius concept that’s executed clearly without lengthy dragging explanations. It drops the reader in and expects them to accept the world as-is and then makes them fall in love with rich, engaging, charming characters and get attached to them, all the while knowing exactly how the story is going to end. Despite yelling the title at myself every time I felt even a tiny little glow of hope in my ribs, I was still absolutely devastated in the end and loved every second of it.


Janet E. Cameron’s Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World is a coming-of-age story that stays with its protagonist a lot longer than most, which I found both refreshing and really satisfying. I like the way time and place shape the story and that Stephen is struggling with more than one aspect of his identity. I like that even though it reaches extremely dark places, it never feels hopeless or like it’s enjoying the character’s suffering. There’s stronger writing here than I was expecting and some places where I knew the words would stick around for a long time. Really lovely.


Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism seemed like a fun, throwback book when I bought it, but it ended up being a lot more: scary and creepy and immersive and frustrating (I hate when you’re in the head of a character that other people don’t believe! It makes me furious and it was executed SO WELL here.) and also really lovely and moving and sweet. The heart of this book is a deep, living friendship between two girls and even with a great plot and pitch-perfect pop cultural references (that never feel cheap!) that friendship is what carries the story each step of the way. There’s some really great, grotesque imagery in here and I loved the multimedia elements, but most of all I loved that it had a really satisfying ending that never lost sight of the girls at its center.


S.J. Goslee’s Whatever was super, super fun and charming and smart and funny and had tons of great, teenager-y dialogue and goofy, teenager-y shenanigans to really get absorbed in. Also there is really fun, charming, awkward flirting! And characters who really like each other! And have interesting voices! All of the characters here are really engaging and the story as a whole is really what I most enjoy when reading YA, my most frequent genre of choice: teenagers who are figuring shit out, navigating rough spots, and still having a pretty good time.


K. Ancrum’s The Wicker King wins the award for Book That Made Me Yell At My Wife the Most because she hasn’t read it yet, but also won’t let me talk to her about it because she doesn’t want to be spoiled and I want, SO BADLY, to talk about it! This book is so freaking beautiful and dense and interesting and painful and god, I don’t know how to articulate it. I love the characters and the weirdness and the relationships and the imagery and the visual components and the really intense, almost brutal relationship at the center of it. This book was so unpredictable and unexpected for me. Also, it has one of the best author’s notes I’ve ever read. I feel like stumbling across this book at Wild Rumpus while being mildly intimidated by a free-roaming fluffy chicken was a tiny little moment of magic in 2018 and I am so grateful for it.


Honorable Mentions

natasha washington, calling calling calling me   carrie fisher, the princess diarist   simon james green, noah can't even


Previously

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