A Scientific Quest

Questing is great fun. Whether you quest for love, dinner, adventure, sales or memorabilia – even the word is awesome. Take, for example, a conversation that recently happened in the house of AlwaysLiz:

Husband: “How was your day?”

Me: “Really great. I quested for science courses today.”

Husband: “Very good.”

While I’m aware the conversation sounds mundane, it is greater than the sum of its parts. My husband is perpetually considerate enough to ask about my day, and I usually have some snippet to share. His response is “Very good” if he can tell that the information I’ve shared is positive. In this particular case, it was “Very good,” followed by “Are you taking a class this summer?”

The quick answer is no, I am not. The longer answer is yes, yes I am. I am undertaking the most lovely of scientific quests: a review and continuation of the science I learned over 30 years ago when I was in high school and knew everything. Now that I’m on the other side of 50 and cruising along, perfectly secure in the conviction that I don’t know everything, I realize that anything worth knowing is worth relearning if I’ve forgotten a thing or a plenty along the way.

This brings me to my strange, sometimes antagonistic, relationship with science. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, I have brains in my head and feet in my shoes, but I didn’t go to Science-land when I went to college. I went to hang out in Humanities town, with some business classes and French tossed in because why not? I took a math class for fun, and a physics class to get the science credit – and it was in that physics class that I realized I hadn’t paid much attention in high school. Not that I disregarded the whole notion that the universe is an amazing place made up of incrementally smaller parts, little Matryoshka dolls of atomic and subatomic particle-ness stacking within each other with ever-expanding and no-edge type limitlessness.

No, I found the universe to be compelling and quite harmonious but freaky as crap. I do not apologize for this. I am at heart a dreamer, and there’s nothing quite like the notion of an asteroid hurtling toward Earth at a skamillion miles per hour (that really needs to be a word) to give me the heeby-jeebies. Further, in a less universal (ahem) notion, there’s diseases on Earth to obsess about. Ebola, dengue fever, malaria, and so forth are absolutely fascinating, and under a microscope quite lovely, but again there’s that whole nightmare-inducing component. It’s kind of like when a student gets lice, we all get itchy. Just saying.

Enter my daughter, who has impressed me time and again how awesome science and math are when one approaches it with a sense of humor and a certain method. Those of you who are science-y call this scientific inquiry, but I am still not invited to the science-people party even though I window shop occasionally, listening to my daughter tell me stories of experiments gone awry and other experiments gone well and ruminations on nature and global warming and things that People Should Really Care About. Because I do care, I am now embarking on my science quest. I started today, with Biology Crash Course. I have been a fan of John and Hank Green via Vlogbrothers and the Crash Courses of History and Literature but I have stayed away from the science courses because, again, I have felt uninvited to the party, an intelligent layperson who is content to listen rather than participate.

As Hank Green was talking about covalent bonds and the octet rule, I started laughing. Leave it to the brothers Green to write and present information in a way that would resonate with me: gossip, happiness, and the fundamentals of life. The whole episode started off with a presentation of how carbon is a tramp. Brilliance. I am no closer to being able to participate in a science-y conversation of science than I was 15 minutes ago, but I am on a quest and my adventure is a productive one.

When my husband comes home from work tonight, he will ask me about my day and I will be able to tell him that I started my science quest. He will respond, “Very good,” — and it will have been.

Book Diva Time: Books about the Fae

 

Since I’ve rededicated myself to spreading joy where I can, what better place to start than sharing books? I read book lists and recommendations the way others follow their favorite websites, blogs, or book club picks. The challenge for people who are like me — neither exclusively high-brow, nor low-brow, nor middle-brow, but rather some capricious version of uni-brow I guess – we like All The Books. We don’t care if a book is for teens, or for kids, or for people with advanced degrees in physics. Bring it. If it’s well-written, I will read it. If not, I will give it to someone else to read. This is what I like to call a win/win scenario.

I’ve been rotating the books on my shelves for ease of access and reconfigured one to include books about the Fae. I love the struggle between the Seelie and the Unseelie Courts and who’s good and bad — and actually why good and bad don’t really matter in the land of the Fae. The books lend their own rhythm to the mythology of alternate-universe type characters whose morals are inhuman. A couple of my favorites:

Holly Black, the Tithe series. Written as young adult novels, these books are anything but youthful and exuberant. There’s no joie de vivre amongst these pages. In fact, Black captures ambivalence brilliantly. Her characters are compelled toward each other even as they try to tear each other apart. Of course there’s love, but it’s the kind that demolishes universes. For those who like their stories badass and complicated, check these out.

Karen Marie Moning, the Fever series. This is a series of stories in which the main character, MacKayla, finds out she has Fae powers as she’s trying to discover who murdered her sister. The pages are loaded with charisma, cheating, double-crossing, and conniving. If you’re looking for an easy-breezy novel set, this isn’t it. Sure, there’s love and betrayal and reconciliation and more betrayal (because, remember, Fae), but it’s rendered with Seelie and Unseelie flesh. Sounds gross; believe me, it isn’t.

A frothy bit of floof you can read while waiting for an appointment:

Skylar Dorset, The Girl Who Never Was. Our main character, Selkie, discovers why no one wants her to know her birthday: she’s half faerie and there’s a bit of a problem with that. She is also in high school and likes a guy who may or may not be human. In other words, this is like the Fever series because our gal discovers she’s part Fae, and like the Tithe series because the main character is in high school. That’s where the similarities end. Where Tithe and Fever are both immersive and loaded with innuendo, out-uendo, and all the endos, this is simple. Kind of sweet. Probably boring to people who want their literature ponderous and complicated. However, don’t hate: some books exist to entertain and pass time. It did for me: I really did finish it while I was waiting at the doctor’s office.

This is not a list of read these books during 2017 or your life will lose meaning. Nope, I’m quite sure your life has meaning already. These are just some fun books you might like to read if you like stories about the Fae, or if you have some bit of free time while you wait in line and/or don’t really need to concentrate. Next week: Legends, myths, and why Neil Gaiman is amazing.

More

Joy

Do you remember when you were young and you would spin in a circle with your arms spread out, whirling and whirling until you dropped to the ground from the dizzies? You’d watch the clouds spin from your ground-level vantage point, if it didn’t make you too woozy. Essentially, you were self-inducing the same feeling you would later come to recognize as drunk. The point is, though, that you would spin in the circles for the simple joy of it. No need for someone to correct your technique or tell you that you were spinning wrong, there was only this moment when you played with gravity and gravity may have pulled you to the ground, but you still won. It was wondrous.

Then you “grew up,” stopped spinning because you realized that it gave you an upset stomach, or too closely reminded you of being drunk and nauseous. Other activities induced similar feelings of ‘glad to be in the moment’ for you: maybe it was spending time with friends, or spending alone time with a special someone, or reading a book, jumping from planes – whatever it was, you did this thing for the simple fact that it brought you joy.

Being joyful is a tricky proposition during adulthood because there’s so much that threatens it. How can a person be joyful when there’s so much pain? Joy isn’t a constant, or at least not for me, but it is there among the other emotions and deserves its nurturing too. We do ourselves a disservice when we refuse to allow ourselves that small respite from everything else we’re supposed to be doing to engage in the activities we love. I submit that our capacity for joy is one of the few things that makes life bearable. It isn’t money, or 500 skamillion friends, or an overabundance of things to do: it’s an appreciation of the moment, a connection to the very things that make us glad to be hanging around on this planet in the first place.

I am serious about protecting my own joy. This is an awkward time of year for many people, and definitely for me. I don’t handle conflicting demands on my time very well and instead usually opt to behave in a zombielike fashion because it’s easier that way. That is until this year when I promised myself I’d simplify. So far, and I admit it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, I’m doing well at cutting the excess out from the to-do list so that I can enjoy myself (go figure).

One of the most enjoyable activities for me this time of year is sending holiday greetings. Even though I’m killing trees and spending money on postage, I like to send a happy hello to another person that they can hold in their hands – like a 49 cent hug, I suppose. I know email is quicker and the graphics on my social media are all cute and what-not, but I haven’t put my hand to pen to cardstock so it doesn’t give me the same happy feeling that getting paper cuts on my tongue from licking envelopes does. That’s my unapologetic nod to doing a thing that makes me happy.

The other nod is that I love movies. On the big screen, popcorn beside the point. I love hanging out in an alternate reality for a length of time so that I can feel the feels without any sense of responsibility for them or any need to make them better. It’s the same reason I like to read, but my more immediate circle of friends understands the reading more than the movies. Why would I love to go spend too much money for a couple hours of escapism? Well, because it’s fun. The movie I saw yesterday, for its entire 130 minutes, momentarily filled a place in that part of me that still believes there is no problem that can’t be solved as long as we have hope. I left the theater with the same feeling I had when I used to whirl around in circles until I fell: a little woozy, but joyous.

As a warm-up with hopeful carryover beyond the New Year, I encourage us all to engage in the activities that bring us joy. They aren’t less important than our other commitments; that’s like saying our commitments to other things are more important than our commitment to our own health. That said, with all movie-going, card-sending joy in my heart, I encourage you to do the things that bring you joy. If it’s spending time with people, go do it. If it’s sitting around the house eating Cheetos, bring extra napkins to wipe that orange-y goodness off your fingers. If it’s writing your story, or telling your truth, or walking the dogs, go. You deserve the joy.

And Now a Word From Our Sponsor   

I’m back from hiding, metaphorically peeking out from under my blanket just in time to vote for the next President of the United States. I enjoyed an odd summer away from writing and spent it doing nebulous, whimsical, forgotten yet cherished activities which I didn’t even bother to post on my social media. I think that might mean they never happened. However, I am now looking to see whether it’s safe for me to come outside of my little self-protective cocoon.

I have been doing my day-to-day adulting of course: do the job, love the job, worry about the job, obsess about the job, switch topics and fret about my children, go back to obsessing about the job. Lather, rinse, and repeat. Oh yes, now I can obsess about my sparkly and prematurely grey hair, which while I like it, I’m on the worry train and it hasn’t switched tracks yet, so I’m just riding this to its ambiguous destination. Kind of like my writing.

I have become dizzied by the political whirligigs and maelstroms slinging around 2016. I consider myself to be a fairly reasonable person who believes that information is generally good and that research goes a long way toward understanding, but I am stuck. I can’t process the information as it concerns the American presidential candidates. Do we really lack anyone better? I’m reminded of a novel by Isaac Asimov in which the current global president is someone who doesn’t want the job, but who would accept it as his/her duty for six years before giving it to the next person. I like that idea a whole lot. I liked it enough to check on my Googles for the title of this novel, but the Googles linked me to a listing of books that offer alternative (obviously dystopian) versions of political life in the future. The Handmaid’s Tale and Wall-ee (yes, really) jumped into my short term memory. Yep, there you go: Wall-ee for president. I’ve oversimplified the reason for that list, but my Googles at least made me feel slightly better. No more informed, but better.

That’s the whole point, though. I think. I may have forgotten what my point actually is because I’ve been assaulted with ignorance and character assassination masquerading as information for way too long. I am not going to feel good about exercising my democratic right in November. I didn’t feel good about it during the primaries either. Although I am vaguely aware that there are two other party ticket runners, I am only aware about them in the sense that I am aware that eating right and exercising are good for me. In other words, I am not aware of them. Does this make me horrifyingly under-informed? Yep. Guilty as charged and now please pass me the green beans while you measure my pulse. I think I still have one.

I’m overexposed and also blighted for information at a time when I most need it. As a good American would, then, I will look for sparkly diversions. I hear there’s line dancing at the Ignorance is Bliss Bar and Grille. They have free chips and salsa on Tuesdays. This rant has been brought to you from our sponsors. Who are they? I don’t even know that. Looks like it’s back to the blanket for me until I can sort this out.

An Open Letter to First-Year Teachers

Dear first-year teachers,

We see you and your youthful exuberance bopping around campus, bounding through your days on hope, ambition, and caffeine. We cringe, or worse yet, predict that your happiness won’t make it past September and the first round of report cards or parent-teacher conferences. Still, you have determined that the weight of paperwork won’t interfere with your lesson plans, even if you have to stay up until 3am creating those finely tuned celebrations of learning. You hold your head high while the paperwork falls in delicately wafting drifts over your heads, settling on your perky desks to rest for a bit before you efficiently collect the papers and arrange them in order of importance.

We watch with indulgent pride as you create your system, your backup system, your sub-sub-backup system of organization, and wonder how you became so proficient at using the tech tools that make us swear. At some point during the year, however, we realize that we’ve been watching you behave with awesomeness, energy, and efficiency instead of helping you through the obstacles new teachers must overcome. There is no class that will prepare you for the conflicts of interest that inevitably occur when student A and test A do not match: not even if you put them in a box, not if you pair them up with socks, not if you put them on a train, or on a boat, or in a plane (Thanks, Dr. Seuss). Unfortunately, there is also no class for when students A-G not only don’t know the concept but don’t have any idea that there’s a concept worth knowing. Yet, you march on, smile fixed in place and sparklies for all.

I will let you in on a secret, first year teachers: we desperately need you. We need your enthusiasm to remind us of the joys in our jobs as much as you will unfortunately need our more experienced and sagging shoulders to cry on. You will have to learn to grapple in your own way and on your own time with how undervalued our shared profession is – and yet, how rewarding and fulfilling. I have my students read the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling every year – not just for them, but for me as well. “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs …..” has allowed me to keep my cool. You will find your own symbol or write your own quotespirational phrase on a post-it note to remind yourself that what you do is remarkably important.

Your fan, alwaysliz

My New Library

After accepting the fact that my desire to read all the books ever written has impacted my finances, I returned to my local library today for some free words-in-print goodness. I love the shelves upon shelves of awesome at the library: Young Adult fiction over here, Books on DVD, over here, adult fiction and nonfiction over there — all ordered using the Dewey decimal system. The sliding doors even whoosh in a celebratory manner when I walk in. In my mind, the library showcases the slight musty smell of well-loved books, and the soft noise of small children trying their best to be quiet by using their whisper voices: “MOM! LOOK HOW WELL I’M WHISPERING!” I’ve heard on more than one occasion – while I’m in the adult section. With headphones on. I am always proud of my fellow parents who will answer, “You’re doing great, try talking like this now,” before they create a whisper game.

I am only digressing a little since kids and parents feature in this narrative again. I entered the library humming a jaunty tune (off key, Prince for you inquiring minds), went through the lobby, the sliding doors, heard the whoosh – and stepped into the Starship Enterprise. Gone were the juice-box spilled carpeting, the books for sale section, the rotunda of librarians on call, and the cluster of parents with their overflowing baskets of movies and books. In its place was gleaming flooring, computer stations galore, and noise level posters with accompanying directions on how to set the phones. No musty smell, no bounding children (they were in a sequestered section with soundproof glass or something because I saw them tumbling about even as I couldn’t hear them). I felt underdressed because Captain Kirk the librarian was standing at his station looking dapper in his polo shirt and Dockers. Me, I was in my library uniform of denim cutoffs and a slouchy t-shirt.

I was disoriented. With the emergence of Librarian Kirk and his triple-screened computer system, it appeared as though Dewey Decimal System had taken a semipermanent vacation. I found my way over to a computer terminal and began teaching myself how to find the books I wanted. I tried four times before I found the Young Adult section, but at last I found it. You might wonder why I didn’t ask the librarian to give me a tour. I might wonder why you’d ask such a silly question. Teaching myself means trial and error until I can kinesthetically absorb the knowledge. It is the most effective way I have to navigate new surroundings, and these surroundings were bright-sparkly new. Eventually, I figured out the system. The challenge then became a personal dilemma over whether to get audio books, of which were abundant, or e-books. Many of the classics have been rendered available and check-outable on e-reading devices. Cool, I have one of those, so I asked Librarian Kirk to show me how to check out e-books.

While still slightly bemused, I turned to leave the library, and heard the dulcet tones of a child who was practicing his whispering: “MOM! LOOK HOW WELL I’M BEING QUIET!” Thank you, small human person for reminding me that the more things change, the more constant they are. Leaving the library with nothing but a couple of download code options, I was content.

If you haven’t gone recently, please join me in reading all the books ever written (or audiotaped, or electronically published) for free. I will be wearing my Lieutenant Uhura ensemble the next time I go so I feel dressed appropriately for the occasion.

30 Days of Blogging–Goal Achieved!

After a month of blogging for the sheer joy of sharing my passing, quirky thoughts with people, I pause to celebrate my self-assigned challenge of posting every day for 30 days, fully well realizing this particular project isn’t complete. I met the construct of the assignment I gave myself, and in so doing, I saw what I care most about.

For instance, in everything I decided to consider, so many more ponderous ideas flitted around my noggin. There is a huge part of me that would have commented on the whole Donald Trump running for President scenario, but I haven’t written about train wrecks yet, so I won’t start now. You’re welcome. I also realized that I type almost the exact opposite of what worries or concerns me on a particular day. For those of us who read as a form of escape, the same is true for those of us who like to entertain and inform. I don’t type specifically about the issues pressing most on my heart and in my mind largely because I can’t address the larger issues of my life’s focus in fewer than 1,000 words. There’s no particular word count limit to what I produce, but I have considered my blog a drive-by along the path of someone’s day, not a sit-down experience. I may change that soon.

I have learned that verb tense switching is annoying and also runs amok on my pages, the byproduct of the fact that I live in the present with nods to future and past imperfect (subjunctive because it is, after all, myself I write about, and perfection isn’t the motif of my days). Time is a nebulous concept to me, as evidenced by the boxes I sorted through recently. If my children’s graduation programs can sit in the same box as their preschool artwork, believe me that I have no trouble with the notion that past, present, and future are all hanging out in my noggin clamoring for representation on the page.

Carving out a spot of time to participate in something I love, it turns out, is part of the USRDA for self-actualization. I am pretty sure my husband feels the same rejuvenation after working on the truck – even when the truck isn’t cooperating. My words haven’t always run out of my brain into my fingertips, as can be seen in the range of topics I write about. There was one night I almost wrote about what I had for dinner a la the YouTube “What I ate today” genre, but I stopped myself because my fingers refused to type something quite that idiotic.

Here I sit, a few hours before I go to vote because, wow, do we all need to engage in the democratic process this year. I may go back to posting once a week, I may continue to post more. Either way, I am grateful that I decided to see what would happen if I wrote every day.

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