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How Do We Get There?


So scientists have discovered what might be the first ever exomoon, a moon around a planet in another solar system, and that’s exciting because within our own solar system moons have become the place to look for life outside of this planet. Specifically Europa and Enceladus may be homes for extraterrestrial life; worlds with big sloshy oceans and hot cores hidden under a thick layer of ice, which means that if there’s life there it may never have seen the stars. It may not have any awareness of life beyond its own world. And if you know your Douglas Adams you know what that could mean for life, the universe, and everything.

The reason they why they had never thought to themselves “We are alone in the Universe,” was that until one night, they didn’t know about the Universe.
Imagine never even thinking, “We are alone,” simply because it has never occurred to you that there’s any other way to be….
They flew out of the cloud.
They saw the staggering jewels of the night in their infinite dust and their minds sang with fear.
For a while they flew on, motionless against the starry sweep of the Galaxy, itself motionless against the infinite sweep of the Universe. And then they turned round.
“It’ll have to go,” the men of Krikkit said, as they headed back for home.

Or it might not be so bad. With the discovery of every new exoplanet, or even considering the possibility of life beyond our little blue sphere, my first thought is always, how do we get there? Because even if you barely know anything about astronomy you know that the universe is really big and that means there’s a lot of, well, space, between us and even our closest neighbors. Consider this: it takes eight minutes for sunlight to reach us and if you’ve ever looked at the sun you know how close it is. Also you should never look at the sun. It takes thirteen minutes for that same sunlight to reach Mars, and it takes a really long time for any sunlight to hit Uranus, but that’s another story.
It takes more than four years for that same sunlight to reach our nearest stellar neighbor, and that’s how big space is. Getting there seems like an insurmountable challenge, but we’ve been exploring the local solar system for less than a century. And as for the question, where are the aliens? we’ve barely begun to even look. Even if they use the same radio frequencies we do their transmissions are going to be limited by the same speed and distances as ours. Space exploration has already spanned generations and will have to take several more–it took Voyager 1 thirty-five years just to leave the solar system, traveling at about 38,000 miles per hour, and even if it doesn’t get pulled over for speeding it’s going to be a really long time before it reaches another solar system.
If we’re going to survive as a species–and I realize that’s a big if–the real challenge isn’t going to be living on this planet but what’s beyond it, which is why what’s out there, where the whole process of life started, where it must be continually starting in so many places, is the key to our very existence. And what’s out there isn’t going anywhere, so the question is, where are we going?

And All The Devils Are Here.

Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.

-John Milton, Paradise Lost

Except for the horns he might have been a nude middle-aged man, shaved, and painted bright red. But if he’d been human you wouldn’t have wanted to know him. He seemed built for all of the Seven Deadly Sins. Avaricious green eyes. Enormous gluttonous tank of a belly. Muscles soft and drooping from sloth. A dissipated face that seemed permanently angry. Lecherous—never mind. His horns were small and sharp and polished to a glow.

-Larry Niven, Convergent Series

Why, this is Hell, nor am I out of it.

-Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus

There was a time when I used to get lots of ideas… I thought up the Seven Deadly Sins in one afternoon. The only thing I’ve come up with recently is advertising.

-George Spiggott (Peter Cook), Bedazzled

People all said beware,

Beware, you’ll scuttle the ship.

And the devil will drag you under

By the fancy tie ’round your wicked throat.

– Frank_Loesser, Guys & Dolls

He was a softly glowing, richly smoldering torch, column, statue of pallid light, faintly tinted with a spiritual green, and out from him a lunar splendor flowed such as one sees glinting from the crinkled waves of tropic seas when the moon rides high in cloudless skies…So I chanced the remark that he was surprisingly different from the traditions, and I wished I knew what it was he was made of. He was not offended, but answered with frank simplicity:


-Mark Twain, Sold To Satan

Therefore Lucifer was perhaps the one who best understood the divine will struggling to create a world and who carried out that will most faithfully.

-Carl Jung, Psychology and Religion: West and East

There had been times, over the past millennium, when he’d felt like sending a message back Below saying, Look we may as well give up right now, we might as well shut down Dis and Pandemonium and everywhere and move up here, there’s nothing we can do to them that they don’t do to themselves and they do things we’ve never even thought of, often involving electrodes. They’ve got what we lack. They’ve got imagination. And electricity, of course. One of them had written it, hadn’t he…”Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.”

-Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens


Dragon By The Tail.

To: All Employees
Subject: FAQ Regarding The Dragon
As many of you have noticed the company has recently acquired a dragon. The dragon is currently located just off the main lobby on the first floor but may be moved if needed, and if time, staff, and the dragon itself will allow.
In the interest of providing a safe working environment we’re providing this FAQ regarding the dragon and general employee conduct.

1. Why a dragon?

Excellent question. Dragons are an exceptionally good low-cost security option, providing both efficient and extensive safety for the building and other company resources. Companies that have adopted dragons have found that losses due to theft drop by as much as 21% in the first year alone, before the dragon is fully grown. The dragon can also be used to incinerate large quantities of company documents. A single dragon can replace a single floor and hundreds of hours of shredding, again providing great security. Dragons are also exceptionally good at accounting.

2. Is the dragon dangerous?


3. Are there special precautions I should take around the dragon?

Yes. Most dragon-related problems can be avoided with simple common sense, though. Do not startle the dragon. Do not step on or try to step over the dragon. Do not approach the dragon from behind. Do not eat near the dragon. Do not wear perfume when the dragon has a cold. Do not wear jewelry around the dragon.

4. Can I talk to the dragon?

It would be best if you didn’t. There are also certain topics you shouldn’t discuss around the dragon.

5. What topics should be avoided?

Again use common sense, but we suggest avoiding Sean Connery, Peter MacNicol, Beowulf, the works of Tolkien, McCaffrey, Rowling, Andrew Lang, Perrault, and the Brothers Grimm, dairy products, swords, lances, and various world mythologies. A more thorough list will be posted in the break room and updated regularly.

6. Dairy products?

Let’s not get into it.

7. What does the dragon eat?

Mostly large quantities of sulfur as well as a proprietary mixture we cannot disclose.
On an unrelated note all employees who donate blood as part of the semi-annual company Dragon Drive will be entered in a drawing to win a $10 gift card to Chipotle.

8. You’re saying the dragon drinks human blood.

We’re not saying that.

9. But the dragon drinks human blood.

If that were the case–and we’re not saying it is–then we’d like to advise all employees that there could be unpleasant consequences if this need were not sated at least twice a year.

10. Is it true the dragon ate half the accounts payable department shortly after arrival?

We can’t confirm that, at least until a settlement is reached, but let’s say that mistakes were made and the full implications of owning a dragon had not been completely studied until after the dragon had been delivered and installed.

11. Can anything be done about the smell?

“The smell” has been added to the list of topics that shouldn’t be discussed around the dragon.

12. Could you define “around the dragon”?

Yes. This is still being studied but for the time being let’s say the entire building and the surrounding area in a radius of approximately ten miles.

13. Has the dragon reached full size?

No. Employees are advised to get used to entering through the second floor. A ramp is being installed and may be updated as necessary to provide a third floor entry.

Finally we don’t like to suggest that any employee is expendable but we are exploring filling departmental gaps with the dragon’s teeth.

There’s A Light.

Source: Wikipedia

Big Dave was a cab driver who worked for a company that ferried students at a discounted rate between Harlaxton Manor, where I was going to school, and Grantham, the nearest town. We called him “Big Dave” partly to distinguish him from another driver named Dave who worked for the same cab company, who we fittingly referred to as “Little Dave”, and also because Big Dave was big. No one ever rode in the front seat with Big Dave because there wasn’t room, and he always wore the same dark green sweater that made him look like a great mossy boulder. And on most trips he had a story, like the New Year’s Eve he went for a swim in the Trafalgar Square fountain, or the time he was bitten by the only poisonous snake in Britain.
On this particular night it was just the two of us making the trip from Grantham back to Harlaxton. We were traveling though a stretch of rolling farmland that, during the day, was green and bright, but at night a thick mist carpeted the ground as though hiding dark secrets. I was slightly drunk and tired and had an economics test to flunk in the morning which was why I’d left my friends. I’d leaned back in the cab and closed my eyes, only to be shaken when Big Dave spoke.
“Did you see that?”
I sat up. “What?”
“Look over there.” He pointed to a field on our left. “There was a flash of light.”
“What was it?”
Big Dave chuckled. “Will o’the wisp, probably. You’ve heard of it?”
I’ve always been interested in folklore so, yes, I knew: the will o’the wisp, also known as fool’s fire, is a mysterious light that lures travelers into marshes where they drown.
“Reminds me of a night I was camping. I’d come out of the bog.” He turned. “You call it the toilet. I was just about to go back to my tent when I saw this light moving around in the trees across the way so I went to check it out.”
He paused and looked out the window as we passed a clump of trees.
“It led me all around through the dark until I finally caught up to it.”
He paused again, probably for effect this time, so I leaned forward and said, “What was it?”
He chuckled. “A young lady lookin’ for a bracelet she’d lost earlier that evening. All she had was a little penlight. I had a proper torch so I helped her look.”
“Did you ever find it?”
“Yer. After about three hours.”
“It took you that long?”
He chuckled again. “Well, we took a few breaks to get to know each other. And then she helped me find my way back to my tent ’cause I was totally lost.”
“What happened after that?”
Big Dave started to rumble. “I married her! And she’s always there whenever I don’t know where I am!” And then he laughed so hard the whole cab shook, the headlights bouncing all over the road.


Is art ever dangerous? Does it ever really threaten the status quo? Is there any value in speaking truth to power, or in using words to try to take down the powerful?

Let me put it another way: when I was in high school my friends on the debate team were given the question, Is the pen mightier than the sword? And those things were defined pretty broadly. “The pen” was any form of communication while “the sword” was any kind of military power. I wasn’t on the debate team my friends liked to bounce ideas off me, even though I don’t think I was ever much help. On that particular question the best I could offer was that without the kind of organizational structure that “the pen” would provide any kind of large scale military operation would fall apart and even though I don’t think violence really can solve anything—unless your goal is more violence—words by themselves aren’t all that effective. And that’s why I was never in the debate club: with an abstract issue I usually took a nuanced view. I couldn’t come down firmly on one side or the other.

It’s a question that’s stayed with me, though. Because words, because art, can prompt action can we say that “the pen” is mightier than “the sword”? Perhaps, although we’ve also seen that words can be robbed of their power to be effective simply by being ignored, or dismissed, even when those words are powerfully delivered and backed up by facts. In the end, it seems, words only really have power if they appeal to those who wield the sword.


All About That Spice.

As every summer approaches its end there’s a chill and a thrill in the air, a spicy tang, a bittersweet tinge that makes the shorter days a little brighter and the longer nights a little softer. It’s a time to savor, to reap, or maybe sow, or even knit if that’s your thing. It’s a time to drink in what life has to offer. In short it’s pumpkin spice season.
Pumpkin spice season runs from September 15th through November 30th.
Pumpkin spice was invented in New England and was used as a form of currency for more than fifty years.
Pumpkin spice is a non-proprietary blend of cinnamon from Sri Lanka, nutmeg from Malaysia, ginger from India, and allspice from Jamaica because only tropical imports could make a large mutant gourd palatable.
Pumpkin spice is an oxidant. Or anti-oxidant. Whichever is the good one.
Pumpkin spice should never be consumed by itself but can be part of a complete breakfast when combined with other foods—say, olive loaf.
Pumpkin spice has been gluten free since rehab.
In recent years pumpkin spice has been gaining popularity in Britain, gradually supplanting the much more traditional turnip spice.
Your friends have your back. Pumpkin spice has your front.
Spoiler alert: it was pumpkin spice the whole time.
Pumpkin spice is an EGOT winner. Twice.
Pumpkin spice is a scientifically proven cure for the common epizootic.
Pumpkin spice enhances glazed doughnuts and causes glazed eyes.
Pumpkin spice knows all your secrets.
Combining pumpkin spice beverages with pumpkin spice candles can cause severe burns.
Pumpkin Spice is the only one of the Spice Girls still touring.
Consuming large amounts of pumpkin spice will give you the ability to fold space and time, facilitating interstellar travel. Watch out for sandworms!
The elements of pumpkin spice were first isolated in 1955 at UC Berkeley by a janitor and part-time physicist named Herb.
Your feelings toward pumpkin spice are not reciprocated.
Pumpkin spice knows all the words to “Louie Louie”.
When you gaze into pumpkin spice pumpkin spice gazes back into you.

Drive By.

Source: Whitney Museum

The bus was barreling toward the corner. So was I–toward the corner on the opposite side of the street. I got to my corner first and stood staring at the green light. Please change, please change, I repeated in my head. The light showed no signs of changing. Not that this is surprising. When have you ever seen a traffic light show any signs of changing? It just does, which reminds me of the joke, How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? One, but the lightbulb has to really want to change. I looked over at the other corner at the WALK/DON’T WALK sign. Sometimes you can tell when the traffic light is about to change because the walk signal will start blinking. This one, however, was firmly on DON’T WALK, as were the signals on all four corners which isn’t surprising. Nashville is a city that treats pedestrians as an afterthought, if it thinks of them at all. As much as it annoys me when people step out into crosswalks and force moving cars to come to a stop I understand why they do it. If they didn’t they might never get across, but that’s another story.
Anyway the bus was speeding forward toward the green light and I started waving. It was a nice day and the driver had his window open. “Hey!” I yelled. This has worked before: I’ve managed to get the attention of bus drivers and they’ve stopped and given me a chance to cross the street. This driver, though, was happily oblivious. It’s not like it’s his job to keep an eye out for people who need a ride, right? And I have had bus drivers drive right by me even when I was standing at an appropriate bus stop because they had their eyes firmly fixed on the road ahead, and I guess I should be glad they were paying attention to where they were going, although there was also the time a bus driver went right by me because he was turned halfway around in his seat talking to a woman behind him.
And this driver sped right by me and I decided to take advantage of his open window and I yelled, “Thanks a lot, asshole!”
After the bus had passed I realized there were people standing on the opposite corner: a woman with a baby in a stroller, a whole gaggle of preschool children, a priest, a rabbi, and a minister, four old people who were the spitting images of my deceased paternal and maternal grandparents, and my second grade teacher, also deceased but still there on the corner. And if I didn’t feel bad enough about my outburst the sign changed to WALK and I had to pass by every one of them to get to the bus stop on the opposite corner.

Numbers Game.

The phone rang. My friends and I looked at each other and then I picked it up.


“Hi, this is Sheila in Murfreesboro. Did you know Nashville is a local call for us now?”

Let me back up and provide a bit of context. This was 1990 and some friends and I were hanging out at my house. Murfreesboro is about thirty-five miles southwest of Nashville, and even though both cities had the same area code, 615, if you were in Nashville and calling Murfreesboro or vice versa it was a long distance call. Except suddenly it wasn’t. I’m not sure what prompted the change, but it was welcomed by the few people I knew from Murfreesboro who felt their humble ‘Boro was overshadowed by Music City. Also if you think where you live has the world’s worst drivers let me assure you that’s only true if you live in Murfreesboro, but that’s another story.

“Uh, okay,” I said. “Do I know you?”

“Oh no!” Sheila laughed. “I just thought y’all would like to know that the phone company changed it so we can call each other now for free.”

“So you’re with the phone company?”

Sheila laughed again. “No, I’m just callin’ random people in Nashville to tell ‘em about the change. So how’s it going up there?”

At this point I was laughing and I told Sheila what the weather was like, then added, “But you probably already know that.” Then I passed the phone around and each of my friends took a turn chatting with Sheila. She seemed to be a nice person and I wish I could remember if we learned anything about her other than that she lived in Murfreesboro and really, really, really liked talking on the phone. Eventually she said, “Well, it’s been nice talking to y’all, and remember if you ever wanna call me it’s free now.” And then she hung up. I’m pretty sure none of us thought about calling her back and we hadn’t thought to ask for her number—this was also before caller ID—so even if we wanted to we couldn’t. If we could have, though, it was nice to know it wouldn’t be a long distance call.

I’m not sure what the person responsible for this graffiti was thinking but presumably it was the local area code, although the area that used to be exclusively 615 is now also served by 629 and, really, do area codes mean anything anymore now that we can carry our phones anywhere? Perhaps not although every time I get a call from a number I don’t recognize that’s within the 615 area code I always wonder if it will be Sheila.

Four And Aft.

It’s been nearly four years now since I finished chemotherapy. So far there’s no sign of it returning, which is good. I never want to go through any of that again, and I don’t take the fact that I’m healthier now lightly even though there were too many things I took lightly at the time, too many things I regret.

My last day of chemo, September 22nd, 2014. wasn’t the end of my cancer treatment—and technically it’s never-ending since I’ll need checkups and scans for the rest of my life, but it’s the anniversary I’ve chosen to mark because chemo was unlike any other part of the treatment, unlike anything I was prepared for. The first day I went in for chemo, in early July, I was terrified. What would it be like? What was the process? The clinic I went to put patients in individual rooms and as we passed by one with a bed I wondered, should there be straps? Will they knock me out, cut me open? Well, I thought, as we passed machines and bags of fluid and needles and nurses in crisp uniforms, it’s too late to ask now. I wanted to ask sooner but I also didn’t want to bother anyone, the same reason I put off going to the doctor about the pain in my leg that had been keeping me up nights for at least a couple of months, or why I didn’t even notice the swelling that was also a symptom of cancer, a symptom that, if I’d noticed it sooner, could have been treated with surgery. I could have skipped chemo entirely but I had to go through three rounds of getting toxins pumped into me because of the toxic combination of taking my health for granted and not wanting to worry anyone.

Last day. Don’t let the smile fool you.

When I was diagnosed my wife stepped up and took on a lot more responsibility than she should have, partly because she’s worked in the medical field and has a lot of experience and knowledge and partly because I acted like a complete jackass.

There’s a saying that tragedy plus time equals comedy. Most of us, I think, apply the word “tragedy” to epic events that affect large numbers of people, but tragedy can be quiet and personal too. Cancer was my tragedy and went into it joking. People would ask me about my diagnosis and I’d say, “It’s a funny story…” In the cancer clinic nurses would come in to give me injections and I’d ask, “What are today’s specials?” Or when one of my IV bags was empty I’d page them and ask for a refill. My second day of chemo I came in with the same IV from the day before, for convenience, and when they start giving me my cocktail—“Could I get three olives and a little paper umbrella?”—I got an intense burning in my arm and tolerated it for about twenty minutes. It wasn’t a macho I-can-take-this attitude. It was the I-don’t-want-to-bother-anyone attitude. When I finally told a nurse she had to consult another nurse who explained that irritation sometimes happens if they use the same vein two days in a row. It wasn’t anything to worry about but she had to remove the needle and stick another vein. In that first week I noticed my jeans were getting tight but I assumed that was normal and didn’t want to bother anyone with questions. It was my wife who noticed my right leg was swollen and told the doctors who believed it was probably just excess fluid but sent me in for an ultrasound anyway to rule out anything serious. When I started my second of three rounds of treatment I made jokes about losing my hair and chemo being boring because I didn’t want anyone to know how stressful it was to spend hours sitting alone with a needle in my arm. Sometimes I had to go to the bathroom, dragging my IV stand with me, and once wandered so far away from my room I couldn’t find my way back. A nurse recognized me and asked if I was lost. I laughed and said, “No, I’m taking the fifty-cent tour,” because I wouldn’t admit I was scared and confused. One morning when I was waiting to start treatment a nurse came out to tell me my white blood cell count had crashed and all I thought about was whether I’d still be able to go out to a baseball game while they checked with the doctor to find out if I could continue treatment with a compromised immune system. When I went out in the sun I developed a red, itchy rash and ignored it. My wife noticed and contacted the clinic to find out if sensitivity to sunlight was something to be worried about. It wasn’t, but my own lack of sensitivity was and resulted in a pattern I’d keep going through. It was a pattern of telling myself I didn’t want to bother anyone only to end up causing a lot of unnecessary trouble. It didn’t end when the chemo did either. I developed migraines which I tried to hide because I didn’t want to bother anyone. It turns out all I needed was medication but even at the time I asked myself, what if they’d been a symptom of something worse? And it’s taken me almost four years to understand just how deep, and dangerous, my denial was. It was rooted in a very firm delusion that if I pretended nothing was wrong nothing would be wrong, which, in hindsight, I know was making things worse. Contrary to the saying about tragedy, time, and comedy my cancer experience has gotten less funny as it’s slipped farther into the past.

The fourth anniversary may not have the same cachet as its odd neighbors but this one is still significant because I’m glad the cancer is gone, I’m glad it’s over because, in spite of the way I acted, it wasn’t fun, it wasn’t exciting, and most of the trouble I caused could have been avoided if I’d been more responsible, which is why, yes, I wish I could do it all over again.

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