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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 thing 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 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 three: october 2018

October has been a MONTH, man. Since the end of it is going to be a mess, I started this on the 10th and am now finishing it on November 2nd. 2018 is really blasting by, isn’t it? I’m exhausted.

Crystal and I saw Fall Out Boy live twice this month and the shows were honestly spectacular. We saw them together in November 2007 and then for a variety of reasons (none having anything to do with Fall Out Boy, to be honest, just L I F E) hadn’t seen them again and it was really weird and interesting and exciting to see what ten years can do for a band. We had so much fun it was kind of unbelievable and I came out loving a couple songs that I was sort of meh about previously. (You cannot watch Patrick Stump jam out while doing “American Beauty/American Psycho” and not come out obsessed with it.) I love live music so much, it’s hard to articulate. It was so important to me for so many years and I took my access to it so extremely for granted. These last few months of shows have been massively revitalizing to me and I hope we can do it again soon.



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I hate brushing my teeth! This is literally a thing I have struggled with my entire life. As an adult, I am lucky to 1. know that it’s partially a sensory issue, and 2. have a very good dentist & hygienist who help me take care of my teeth, but also, I just want to be better about it! Generally, if I can get myself started, I can brush fine, but it can be hard to make myself do it twice every single day. (I read that the optimal number is actually three times in two days, but dentists say twice a day because it’s easier and humans are big dumb forgetful animals.) I figured the best thing I could do to improve on it (after YEARS of trying to make myself a twice every day person) was to make sure I was always brushing for two minutes every time I brush. I have a Sonicare which I like a lot AND has a timer, but also can’t handle using every time I brush my teeth (GOD WHO KNEW YOU COULD HAVE SO MANY PROBLEMS WITH SUCH A SIMPLE LIFE FUNCTION) so I bought myself a timer in hopes that it would inspire me to brush for the full two minutes! And when I found one that looks like a rocket, I knew it was meant to be. And you know what? Two minutes is a LONG time. But staring at a lil rocket helps.



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Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism was such a good, fun, creepy read with a really wonderful core of friendship and love. It reminded me of my favorite kind of campy 80s horror movies and also my favorite stories about loyalty. It has a great cast of characters, makes good use of pop culture (without being annoying or feeling phony), and an ending that made me tear up. And definitely a great read for spooky season!


And three to look forward to…


      

totally top three: september 2018

September is when I really start to become a person again (Spring and Summer are for normies. You heard me!!) and it’s been nice to watch the weather changing and decorating for the ~Falloween~ season and just generally enjoying the maybe fifteen days of truly pleasant weather I’ll get to experience until the next fifteen which occur sometime in May. Anyway! Becoming a person again generally means I become more able to watch things and enjoy them! Which is great!

I LOVED Castle Rock! I didn’t really expect to and really just went into the first episode curious (like most things) because I’d seen someone mention it on Twitter and ended up feeling really hooked in a non-manipulative way. (Nothing makes me quit shit faster than a cliffhanger!) I just wanted to know more about the characters and see that Castle Rock mythos exploited and man, did I end up enjoying it. Bill Skarsgård is… a babe. A brutal, giant-eyeballed, beautiful babe. André Holland is really good and nuanced and I have loved Melanie Lynskey since But I’m a Cheerleader and I was so excited to see lots of other people I’ve loved pop up as well. The cinematography is really beautiful and the placemaking is exceptional, making every location feel really alive and unique. Also, Sissy Spacek is fucking amazing. Really very interested in seeing where this one goes next.



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Dolly Parton & Sia’s new recording of Dolly’s “Here I Am” which they recorded for the Dumplin’ soundtrack (a book I loved and a movie I cannot wait to watch!) and which is absolutely so beautiful and tender and lovely that I can barely believe it.



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I feel like a lot of people went into Sierra Burgess Is a Loser thinking it was going to be like, super fun? Or similar to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and all I keep thinking is that none of those people were fat enough or weird enough in high school. A lot of this reflected my high school experience (and in ways I wasn’t expecting which was kind of interesting) even though I was way, way fatter than Sierra Burgess. She’s preemptively cruel in ways that I recognized and leans into her weirdness in a way that felt really true. But I also think people who didn’t think it was fun are wrong! Her friendship and exchanges with Daniel are fantastic and some of the brutal awkwardness let itself veer hard into the comedy of the moment which is always a great relief. It felt like an 80s movie with technology in a lot of great ways. And! It had my favorite trope of teachers calling out their asshole students in ways that both other students and teachers would probably kill to have happen in real life. Frankly, if you weren’t fat and bullied in high school, I don’t know that I’m particularly interested in your opinion of it anyway. Also, people forgive male characters for way worse deeds, so maybe let’s examine what’s going on there while we’re at it?


And three to look forward to…