Wednesday, October 7, 2015

I Collaborated with Britney Spears & Iron Maiden But They Didn't Know it

I made a mashup of Britney Spears and Iron Maiden you can listen to on my Soundcloud site. I'm calling it Criminal Number Beast Running To the Hills (Britney Spears vs Iron Maiden). It's totally preposterous and kind of janky but I chuckled the whole time I was working on it. You can stream it or download it and you know, have nightmares to it.

Hilariously, I thought about adding Bruce Dickinson's rant where he mentions "Britney fucking Spears" in a live performance in Rio but then decided not to, because I thought maybe it would come across as angrier than I wanted it to sound, so you know, I ditched that idea.

Also, the graphic is from a t-shirt on

Thursday, October 1, 2015

New Episode of Found *NSYNC Fan Fiction

A new episode is up of the podcast I do with my friend Sacha called Found *NSYNC Fan Fiction, where we chronologically read aloud pages of one author's *NSYNC fan fiction, from a binder found at a thrift store in Chicago. We have not read ahead, so you're experiencing each page with us IN REAL TIME.

You can listen to it here on our podbean site, or here on i-Tunes.

In this episode, we learn shocking news that threatens to change the lives of Joey, the narrator, and the narrator's family at home during the*NSYNC tour, which brings the tension between them to a head. Alyson Hannigan makes a cameo (as in Willow from Buffy), as do Joey's parents. We drink ten year old Limoncello while Sacha accompanies the reading on a Casio keyboard, which somehow magically evolves the podcast into a radio soap opera. As usual, there's plenty of weird accents, snickering and snarky asides, while we try to just, really, hold it together without losing our shit entirely. I suggest listening to this episode on headphones so you can hear the piano better. And hey! It's free!


Friday, September 25, 2015

Loving to Make Fun of Things We Love

A few years a go I turned 40. When it came time for me to decide what I wanted to do for my birthday, I thought about what my favorite activity is, what I really I enjoy doing that I could share with other people, was that I really enjoy sitting around with like-minded friends who have a similar sense of humor and experiencing media that we can make fun of. It could be movies, it could be music, or it could be TV. So that's what I did. My husband said, "I see you looking wistfully at those quinceanera dresses in the windows of those shops on Western Avenue. I will buy you a beautiful princessy cake-layered quinceanera dress for your birthday, and you can have a party." This, of course, because I have the fashion sensibility of a sixteen year old girl. Once we saw that those dresses are thousands of dollars, I told him not to buy me a dress. Instead, I said I would just wear my wedding dress, because it was pretty princess-y. I told everybody to come over and watch ridiculous found footage curated by a friend who collects this sort of thing while we ate snacks and I wore my wedding dress. So I turned 40 and all I did was sit around and eat snacks and make snarky comments with my friends because I think  that may be one of my favorite activities.

It is also true that I like making fun of things I like. Jerry Seinfeld (or maybe it was Jeff Garlin) said in an interview with Judd Apatow in his book Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy (don't ask me what page, when I finish reading it maybe I'll write about it), something to the effect that good comedians make fun of things that they like. I can understand this. I may love something but can also see the preposterousness in it, which is why I understand when people make fun of music I like. I definitely feel like we are capable of seeing multiple sides of something, both loving things and why somebody would make fun of it. One of my friends was recently wearing a Whitesnake t-shirt, and asked her "Are you wearing that shirt because you like them or you're being serious?" She answered the perfect answer (which is probably why we're friends): "Both. I am a fan, and I stole this t-shirt from my brother, but I mean, come on." Clearly this is someone who can both enjoy something but see it for it's preposterousness, which I can totally understand (especially in reference to Whitesnake; I have done Here I Go Again at karaoke multiple times).

I remember making a mix tape for a friend in college and she sent me a letter back itemizing hilarious comments about each of the songs. I loved each song on the tape (which is why I selected those songs) but her commentary making fun of each song was so hilarious -- I could simultaneously understand why she said those comments and enjoy the music at the same time. It also proved to me that she actually listened to the tape, so that made me appreciate her comments all the more.

I wrote the zine The Bad Lyrics Project that listing some of my favorite bad lyrics, but I will be the first to say that a lot of the lyrics I mentioned in the zine come from songs that I do actually like. In fact, the reason I stumbled on many of the lyrics was because of my familiarity with the songs because I listened to many of them with some amount of frequency.

This is all why I loved The Worst Rock n' Roll Records of All Time: A Fan's Guide to the Stuff You Love to Hate by Jimmy Guterman and Owen O'Donnell (Citadel Press). This book appeals to the same part of my brain that generated the Bad Lyrics Project. And I feel like it would be an awesome college class to teach: Music to Make Fun of 101, and companion volumes for required reading in the class would include Kill Your Idols: A New Generation of Rock Writers Reconsiders the Classics or maybe Chunklet magazine issues #18 and #19, The Overrated Issues Parts I and II.

I chuckled aloud at parts of this book and marveled at how they articulated things that I always intuitively felt but never had words for. When my husband suggested I read this book, he said,"This book reaffirms how you feel about particular songs," which gave me a nice feeling of recognition and a kind of vindication. There were moments reading this book that I was like, "Holy shit. I could have written that. Not as articulately or as hilariously, but that sentiment, that is totally how I feel about that song and is EXACTLY my style of humor." It's kind of weird when I run into writing that strikes me that way, which doesn't happen very often but when it does it feels really special. When I read this book I thought There's a version of me out there as manifested by these two other music writers who are like, my energy or something, but with way better writing skills. Or something. Like me. But better.

Without getting into the specifics of what artists and songs they talk about in the book, suffice it say that I love that devote some space to some of the music I grew up with when MTV first went on the air when I was a kid (although the book isn't limited to that).

But I will however, list my favorite quote, on pg 116. It's actually in reference to a particular album, but it totally stands on its own point, in reference to performers in many different fields:

Why does nearly every rock and roller we trust let us down sooner or later?...Is it that we hold impossibly high expectations for performers to maintain over the long run, or is rock and roll truly the domain of the young and hungry? At the very least, there is a propensity for performers to start choking on their own fumes once the become rich and famous.

I particularly like that bit about propensity for performers to start choking on their own fumes. It's like a version of believing your own press, or becoming so successful in terms of making money that you are then unable to recognize when your music sounds good anymore because your idea of success has changed. I think intuitively we all know that the "fume choking" happens around the time you go from doing work about the universal struggles in life to struggles with fame. When the switch happens, nobody takes you seriously anymore -- the moment you start with the "why can't you people just leave me alone?" business the public is done with you.

Is rock and roll the domain of the young and hungry? Maybe. I'll have to think about it some more while I sit here eating Funyons in my wedding dress.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Dance Party Workout Mix Tape #12 Download Link

Ye me encanta bailar: I love to dance
I made another dance mix tape for you to download as one track. Here it is on my website. It starts and ends with warm up and slow down songs. The last fast song is started with an airhorn to signal it is the last fast song. I find these mixes to be not just good for dancing but also for cleaning, running and commuting. And here's a blog post I wrote about it for Dance Dance Party Party on the DDPP blog. I DJ under the name MC Escher.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Class Authenticity, The Rain In Spain & Sooonshiiiiiiine: On Alex Niven's Oasis' Definitely Maybe 33 1/3 Book

My cat hates it when I read because I'm not paying attention to him.
I feel bashful when I share with people that I like Oasis. One time at work I requested a desk copy from a book distributor of the original Oasis drummer's memoir (Oasis: The Truth: My Life as Oasis's Drummer by Tony McCarroll), and when it arrived, one of my co-workers opened the package and pulled it out and pinching it like it was contaminated underwear, he said, "Should I grab bag this?" I said, "Actually, I requested that book." I had to come clean; I thought I would have intercepted the package but he got to it before I did.

I've on the sly been reading books about Oasis and special Oasis-centered editions of Mojo and Uncut for years, and the only person that knows this is my husband, who makes fun of me. If Oasis ever comes up in conversation, he starts singing the refrain from My Fair Lady "The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain," which I agree, does actually does sound like a line that would be in an Oasis song.

Has anybody done a mashup of Oasis and My Fair Lady? Because I can't possibly be the first person to make the connection of the working class Brit elevating their status by way of some sort of performance (a lower class Eliza Doolittle learning/performing the mannerisms of the upper class, the Gallagher brothers elevating their status from working class to British nouveau riche by creating/performing music etc etc etc bla bla bla).

when there's no sooonshiiiiiiine
And that's where Alex Niven's 33 1/3 book about Oasis' first album Definitely Maybe comes in. But I'll get to that in a minute.

My relationship with Oasis is a carryover from a previous boyfriend of many years ago who got me into them. Previous to him, I had always kind of found them boring. However, when someone can act as a tour guide for a band and expose you to the right songs with the right introductory explanation, that's where the appreciation can come in. You would think after the relationship ended I would not want to have listened to a band that my ex was into, but amazingly, the amount of time I had to lay off Oasis was relatively short, and then Oasis was reintegrated into my heavy rotation. And in fact, even though at that point I'd only had the first two Oasis albums and a variety of other B sides, it was actually the boyfriend after him (now my husband), who gifted me the third Oasis album, Be Here Now. That third album is the one that Noel Gallagher told Chuck Klosterman in a 2011 interview on that during the recording "We were taking all the cocaine we could possibly find," which explains its less than stellar success.

Oasis' first two albums (Definitely Maybe and (What's the Story) Morning Glory?) are solid. Although there are a fair number of songs from later Oasis albums that I do like quite a bit, somehow there weren't any Oasis albums that captured the anthemic energy of those two albums. The more recent work made by the Gallagher brothers, independent of each other after the breakup of Oasis, lacks the synergistic awesomeness that happens when they were in a band together.

Sidetone: I saw some hilarious press conference with Noel Gallagher (the elder brother and primary song writer for Oasis) when Oasis broke up. I could have sworn that he described this one event that preceded the breakup of the band. Liam (the younger brother and the one with the iconic Oasis snarly whine that people tend to equate with the band) asked Noel if the Oasis tourbook for the next tour could feature his clothing line Pretty Green. Noel said no, which made Liam so angry he smashed a guitar. His own guitar. This is, of course, hilarious to me.

Independent of each other, the Gallagher brothers pursued their own bands. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds have a few good songs and Liam Gallagher's now defunct band Beady Eye had a few good songs, but both projects were missing the ingredients that the other brother puts in it. Noel's band is missing Liam's Mancunian drawly sneering sass, and Liam's band is missing Noel's songwriting input. At this very moment I'm listening to the High Flying Birds album "Chasing Yesterday" on Spotify and maybe it's because it's 12:42am on a Wednesday, but I'm hardly feeling moved to do air guitar moves. Is that a saxophone? Is that why Liam Tweeted on May 7th of this year, "Just coz you have a SAXAPHONE on your new record and you think your all Pink Floyd LG x"? Because that's about when this album dropped. I should also add that Liam then Tweeted "Everybody knows your just another PRICK in the wall LG x" which in spite of the spelling error, is actually pretty funny.

So, both brothers are aging, estranged from each other beyond just their notorious constant bickering, making music that isn't quite as awesome as they once did when they were together in the 90s, ruling British music with anthemic rock. Something about it is sad to me.

Oasis very much appeals to the part of me that loves anthemic guitar-driven rock music, which I refer to as the Guitar Center part of my personality. I do love me a good anthemic rock song.

Now would be a good time to mention that the ex-boyfriend who got me into Oasis also gave me a bunch of the guitar tablature for Oasis songs that I liked. After much practice I could fake my way through a few of them, but never in a way that wasn't ridiculously embarrassing, accompanied by a lot pausing and me going, "Wait! Wait!" while switching cords. Mostly what I remember though is that Wonder Wall requires a capo (this, because the Oasis Tour Guide boyfriend showed me), that Noel Gallagher writes a lot of music with alternating D and D sus chords, and that Cast No Shadow was sort of easy to play.

After reading Alex Niven's book: Oasis' Definitely Maybe book, from the 33 1/3 series (Bloomsbury), I had half a mind to pull the guitar back out and give some Oasis songs another go (although the aforementioned songs are actually on Morning Glory), but come on. Honestly, NoWaysis. The most that I'm willing to do is listen to Oasis in the car. P.S. Wonder Wall is actually one of the more boring Oasis songs. No wonder everybody thinks Oasis is boring. They're better when they're doing arena rock. Also, NOBODY wants to hear me snarl whine my way through Oasis at karaoke. "But we really want to watch a short Jewess from northshore Chicago perform Rock'n'Roll Star at the American Legion Hall" said ABSOLUTELY NO ONE.

That is, except for my husband. He did tell me that he thought my Cigarettes and Alcohol rendition was pretty rocking. So I guess that's a thing. I did get a karaoke disc with a bunch of Oasis songs but it's shitty and low quality, and the lyric graphics are all janky and get jumbled on the screen. Boooooo.

So as a semi-closeted Oasis fan, I enjoyed Niven's book. For one, he defends accusations of Oasis making simple and derivative music, and the difference between pastiche and plagiarism (and how depending on the musician's class, the same act can unfairly be considered one or the other), and how class plays into the Oasis narrative. I found the book to be thoughtful and worded so articulately that if there was anybody sitting next to me I would have read them the passages I was putting stars next to.

In the foreward Niven writes, "It was also important to me to try to show that even the most simplest-seeming pop music can contain multitudes of meaning." I couldn't agree more. We all know that as an audience member, the meaning we derive from a song may not actually be in the songwriter's intent. Sometimes meaning can be derived from considering the song through a lens unintended by the writer and performer. We might use a historical lens, a sociological lens, or a critical lens used by those who consider pop an artform worthy of intellectual digestion. I've always thought that no matter what the topic, there is always something intelligent to be said about it. It may require some processing, or if it's about some work of art what you come up with may not be compatible with what the creator intended, or it may even be cynical and snarky, but the potential is there for thoughtfulness on any topic. Hence, any pop song "can contain multitudes of meaning," as Niven writes.

I also loved Niven's point defending Oasis' musical output as being a creatively successful work that is more than just simplistic stealing on page 25:

"When middle-class musicians resort to appropriation and collage it is often applauded as 'allusion' or 'pastiche', when working-class musicians do it they are dismissed as plagiarists, or prosecuted as outright thieves. The notion - still popular in some quarters - that Oasis were chancers who rose above their station by stealing other bands' creative property is patronizing and ultimately untenable. Whatever can be said about their musical conservatism in later years, on Definitely Maybe, Oasis's appropriation of the past was just as valid, and just as creatively successful, as the sample tapestries on Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions."


At the beginning of the book, Niven included a lengthy Dostoevsky quote from The Brothers Karamazov, about being rejected by the unforgiving world, but then watering the earth with one's tears that then bring forth fruit. It's making art from one's grief. It's a fitting quote for the story of a band confined by the limits of their membership to dead end working class, but making art inspired by dreams of escaping their station, which Niven posits is a large part of the Oasis narrative.

I love the image of the Gallagher brothers (and the rest of the band) against the world that looks down on them (even though everyone knows they never really got along). So the idea of the band being years past the prime of their success of the first two albums (not to mention broken up) creates a weirdly poetic wistfulness in me, especially considering I wasn't even all that into them until after their first two albums had already peaked. And before you jump in and go "Well maybe you're being wistful for the relationship with the Oasis tour guide boyfriend" I feel it important to say that I was really unhappy in that relationship because it was a really unhappy time in my life.

What I want to say is that the wistfulness comes from the part of my personality that gets really caught up in other people's narratives, especially performers' story arcs, like for example Britney's rise and fall and rise again (but as her current Zombney the Undead state where she's been replaced by an automaton, managed by other people).

But the truth is that I think the wistfulness comes from the part of my psyche that fears the decay of getting old, past one's prime, sick, or even worse, what happens when all your dreams come true and then you're not left with anything to look forward to (which is why I think some celebrities turn to religion in their "YES BUT WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!!" moments). The Gallagher brothers and their fellow Oasisians are hardly decaying and I'm happier as I get older, but it's probably true that there's my fear of death in there somewhere. Queue up the Andrew Lloyd Webber music to accompany the one-time glamour feline singing about her days in the sun, unsuccessfully copying dance moves of the younger cats, but alone and frail, unable to capture the magic of the Ball. And so on.

Niven writes about Oasis that they were confined as "losers in a failing city" then escaped their economic and social status by becoming rock stars. He describes it excellently on page 18:

"In 'Rock'n'Roll Star', Noel Gallagher's alternative plan was to get a car and drive it as far as he could away from Manchester, a plan that was ambitious given that he had no money and had never learned to drive."

Ah yes, even part of the class you might not even have the background to exist within it once your there. How very Eliza Doolittle.

A band is on top of the world, then they get bloated and it all falls apart. I will always be pulled into the rock and roll narrative. After all, the rise and fall is the greatest story ever told. Of course it's better if the narrative denouements out with a rise again, but the climb back to the top is often pretty artificial. We all age, we all die, or at least we all have to live in the real world where it isn't always the high of being on top again: grocery shopping, daily living, paying bills, trimming your toenails -- life is not just one big montage of being on top all the time. Sometimes it's boring.

All this is to say that the real problem with the rock and roll narrative is that often it's a rise and fall that may or may not have a rise again, but if it does have a rise again, the rise never recaptures the magic and vitality of the first initial rise. This makes sense to me. For one, everyone loves an origin story and sequels are never as good as the origin stories, the Oasis origin story being one of a working class band becoming extremely successful such that for Brits, being a soccer hooligan became cool, (as opposed to the art school snobbiness of a band like Blur, the sort of anti-Oasis). But more to the point, the narrative does not account for people getting older or ending the band. Nobody wants to watch rock stars age.

Niven sums it up best on page 20:

"After Oasis really became famous, after they finally, decisively escaped from Manchester, the strength of their idea that pop music can allow anybody to achieve empowerment in a moment of liberation would be undermined by the boring reality of their status as lofty celebrities. When you are actually a rock star, singing about the fact to crowds of thousands every night is not a statement of idealism. It's a description of a daily work routine."

Ah, the bloating. It's as if to say their narrative went from underdog to the overweight dog of the status quo. In the documentary Live Forever: The Rise and Fall of Brit Pop, Louise Wener, former lead singer of the Britpop band Sleeper, talks about Noel getting invited to Downing Street to see Tony Blair. She said of Noel's visit how "Everything he was about, he used to not "belong" to anybody, and then suddenly he did, he was right in their pocket, and in that very instant, he was neutered, like someone had just come in with a knife and cut his bullocks off."

If there was the Oasis biopic (there seemed to be some discussion around 2011, but it seemed like it never really panned out), that visit would be the moment where it's clear the band went from being the band that united the classes, their music played ubiquitously in bars, discos, weddings, just, everywhere in Britain with anthemic "We're in this togetherness," to a sort of resented and resentful cynical parody of themselves. "Cynicism is the patois of the status quo," Niven writes on the first page of his book, as if to remind us that the rock and roll rise and fall ends in the band leaving youthful earnest rebellion behind and turning to jaded cynicism.

I loved Niven's discussion of Britpop. In this quote, he's referring the the song Shakermaker, which ripped off part of the I'd Like to Buy a World a Coke jingle, which well, Coke is pretty much a symbol of consumerism. Oasis was considered to be the more sort of authentic, less middle class alterna contemporaries Blur, Suede and Elastica. I enjoy the overview laid out so articulately here, with a little help from critic Jon Savage as well, on page 27:

page 27. Thanks, Google Books!
The sentiment about Britpop being composed of ill-informed bougie bands singing about working class is the classic "You're a suburban poseur, why are you complaining about gentrification in your city block?!" argument. I don't know if it's really warranted because I'm sure it's more complicated than that. And to be fair, I do like Blur, Suede and Elastica. But I do like the quote's overview of the different bands within Britpop and what they each tended to symbolize, the implication being that Oasis represented an authentic honest working class while wanting to be the upper class, while many other bands in Britpop merely wanted to criticize the middle and upper class, attempting to identify with the lower class.

I never thought I would say this but I think I just wrote a piece on how the career trajectory of Oasis symbolizes death. This wasn't quite what I envisioned in discussing a band that appeals to my interest in anthemic rock which is usually celebratory, but I suppose any story with a linear arc only goes in a single direction, forwards, and nothing lasts forever. Well, as long as you don't have to listen to me play any of these songs on the guitar it'll be fine.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Thoughtful & Hilarious, Which Is What I Always Wanted School To Be Like: Thoughts on Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

I guess Aziz Ansari is mostly known for his work in the entertainment industry, but for his book Modern Romance he took his comedy skills and used them to comment on dissertation level research he did with the help of a sociologist. They collected mass amounts of field data from different countries about dating, in a time where texting and social networking technology is so prolifically intertwined in our lives. It's thoughtful and hilarious, which is what I always wanted school to be like.

He draws some conclusions about modern dating based on his data, so there's some good advice about dating. And even though I'm married and am not looking into dating, nor would I consider an open marriage, I can still appreciate this book; you don't have to be the representative sample of the research to enjoy its results. Also, it made me think about the fact that I didn't grow up or date in an age where much of my own communication was done via texts (I got married in 2002), so it was pretty eye-opening to see how that type of technology configures into dating now.

There are two really good quotes I enjoyed in this book.

This first one is in regards to the shift away from "companionate" marriage (such as arranged marriages where you might learn to love the person, or perhaps just finding a decent person to start a family with) to the soul mate marriage (marrying someone because you love them and they're what you consider to be your "soul mate"), (page 24):

"We want something that's very passionate, or boiling, from the get-go. In the past, people weren't looking for something boiling; they just needed some water. Once they found it and committed to a life together, they did their best to heat things up. Now, if things aren't boiling, committing to marriage seems premature."

It's pretty Fiddler On the Roof-y, all like, you know, the first time I met you was on our wedding day, for twenty-five years I've cooked your meals, milked the cow, given you children, I suppose I love you -- you sort of learn to love the spouse you end up with.

Sidenote: Has anyone made a drug called "Fiddler on the Roofie" and what would it do?

But honestly, I think if you meet someone and the water is boiling right away, even if you're extremely compatible, there are moments where the water is not boiling, or if it is, sometimes it's boiling with anger. After all, people are people, and even if they're "soul mates," arguments are still going to happen. It reminds me of something John Lydon wrote in Anger Is an Energy, about his wife, who is the love of his life. They have a deep intimacy and intense love, but they also have some crazy arguments. Lydon wrote about their relationship, "When you really love someone, you can practice hate in an enjoyable kind of a way," as if to say that when your bond is strong enough, you can power on through the arguments in a constructive or even enjoyable kind of a way.

Along the same lines of cultivating a deeper relationship, I also enjoyed another quote in Modern Romance (pg 247). It's advice about getting to know someone by properly investing in a person, giving a potential mate a fair chance before moving on to someone else, as is particularly common in on-line dating:

"Think about it in terms of the music of Flo Rida. When you hear his latest song, at first you think, Goddamn it, Flo Rida. You're just doing the same thing again, song after song. This song is nothing special at all. And by the tenth time you hear it, you're like FLO!!! YOU'VE DONE IT AGAIN! THIS IS A HIT, BABY!!!

In a sense we are all like that Flo Rida song: The more time you spend with us, the more you see how special we are. Social scientists refer to this as the Flo Rida Theory of Acquired Likability Through Repitition."

I can appreciate this. There are certainly songs, movies and albums that have taken a while to grow on me. I think music is a good way of talking about acquired likability. Sometimes I need to hear a something a few times just to make sense of it, especially if it has really complex or jarring harmonies. I think the acquired likability in terms of people is not that far removed from the "devil you know" theory; even the jerk you know is better than the person you don't know. That's why on Angel Wesley Wyndam-Pryce hired Harmony Kendall to be Angel's personal secretary, even though Harmony is clearly the enemy. Even the vampire you know is better than the unknown job applicant for a supernatural detective agency that you don't know. Why is that the example I came up with? I have no good answer for this.

Why is it that my two favorite quotes in the book have to do with heating up things over time? Good question! Well, one of the points Ansari makes based on his research is that a good way to develop a relationship is investing time in a person before writing them off, which seems like wise advice to me. However, I must admit that there is the smart ass voice in my head that says "Get to know someone so you can have adequate confidence that you've made the right decision in writing them off." Perhaps it's worse when someone dumps you after they get to know you because they have a fully informed opinion of your loserness. It's almost like that voice in my head is saying this:

If someone spends 5 minutes with you and writes you off, you can say they're the asshole. If someone spends 5 years with you and writes you off, you can say you're the asshole. They have their evidence to build the case of your assholery. They have legitmately gotten to know the real you and are able to fully judge you. That smarts!

I'm a little embarrassed that this is rapidly turning into what sounds like an entry in Bridget Jones Diary.

Now, rationally I understand relationships are two way streets, and sometimes they don't work out, and it's not all one person's fault. I used to go to a therapist who did a lot of couples counseling, and she said that she thought the three things that cause stress in marriages tend to be time, money and sex. So those things can obviously figure in to relationships as well, and they're complicated topics. One thing I took away from that was that it's a good idea, when people get married, to have one joint account for things they share, like rent, groceries, utilities, dining out with each other. Each partner though, should have their own bank account for personal expenses, like clothes, gifts, music, luxury items, etc. That way there's no arguing about finances. To this day my husband and I do this and it has always worked out for us. I advise everybody to do this as well.

Aren't you glad you read this? Because I'm sure you were really tuning in to hear about how my husband and I organize our finances. My credit history! One for the ages.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Elegance of Nothingness and A Slice of Reality Loaf

I enjoyed considering what types of parallel universes could be theoretically possible as per Brian Greens's The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos. Some suggestions included a universe that's really multiple universes (a multiverse) each separated by different "bubbles," a universe where we're really just a computer program (sort of like The Matrix does Tron does the ol' metaphyscial how-can-we-disprove-we're-not-just-a-brain-in-a-vat situation), or my favorite: reality is a big loaf that we're really just seeing is one slice of it. It gives the term "homeslice" a whole new meaning. Also, the idea of thinking of reality as one big loaf made everything so adorable I just couldn't handle it, especially because I think of my cat as a loaf, so of course, a cat loaf reality IS CLEARLY THE MOST EXCELLENT THING EVER.

cat loaf multiverse
I enjoyed reading this book right before bed in the hopes that I'd have some real awesome dreams. However, I have to take pills that help me sleep, and they kick in quicker when I lay in bed and read, which means that I often don't get much read before bed. I should add that falling asleep getting loosey-goosey on medication is probably not the most optimal situation conducive to consuming a book about physics. That being said, I can only blame the sleeping pills for so much. This book wasn't exactly all easy to get through for me. It took me a long time to get through The Hidden Reality. Even if I was totally awake, there were parts I had to re-read over and over to understand them. I didn't let that stop me, especially considering there were many parts that were conversational that I very much enjoyed, but I'll be honest, there were parts that I don't know how much of it I can truly say I fully understood.

I always have a few books going at once, which is helpful in a situation like this, where the book is a bit more challenging. It helps me from getting too frustrated. Sometimes I'll go read other stuff for weeks and then come back to a book. For the most part, the only books I tend to be monogamous to and only read without some other book action on the side, are fiction books. I can read fiction faster without interrupting them with other books (I guess I get sucked into the narrative, the last two books of fiction that I enjoyed very much being Catie Disabato's The Ghost Network and also Gareth P. Jones' No True Echo), but science books, unless they're super awesome (like books by Mary Roach or Diane Ackerman), those take me longer. Sometimes though, a book of any genre will pull ahead in front of the pack and demand all my time, ones where I'm like, No, I don't want to go out, I want to stay home and read this book, as I get further in, and it will take the lead because after the initial beginning investment of a hundred pages or so, I'll get pulled in more, and that will take the lead until I finish it, while all the other books get put on the back burner. (Recently the book that pulled ahead was John Lydon's Anger Is An Energy: My Life Uncensored, which is miles ahead of his last book Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs. Perhaps this is because he is also significantly older and wiser. I was sad when the book was over. My mom used to say that she was sad when she finished a good book because it was like losing a friend, and I know exactly what she meant.)

There are some really good quotes in The Hidden Reality. One that I enjoyed was about the unified theory (the idea that there's some theory or equation that can explain, like, everything). The author had a conversation with a philosophy professor in college who told him (pg 337):

"Let's say you find the unified theory. Would that really provide the answers you're looking for? Wouldn't you still be left asking why that particular theory, and not another, was the correct theory of the universe?"

I know I'm not covering any new ground here when I say that we can all pretty much agree that science doesn't really explain everything we want it to; it only disproves things that are not true, and an explanation is only a theory until it is proven false. And then the disproven theory isn't even a theory, it's just an explanation dead in the water.

Does this mean we can't have confidence that our explanations we accept as being the current up-to-date answers are correct? This makes me sad, that we can't ever really be 100% sure that we're right about something, and that probably we'll never know all the answers. I'm always afraid I'm going to die before I ever get any real satisfactory answers about things. Specifically, I'm afraid something tragic will happen to me, like a bridge will collapse when I'm on it or something, and that not only will I not live long enough to get some real explanations to big questions but also that I won't live long enough to find out what happened to Agent Cooper in the Black Lodge, which will supposedly be answered when Twin Peaks reemerges in 2017.

Accepted theories getting proven wrong over time is only a few degrees removed from the theory suggested by Mac on It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia when he says, "Science is a liar sometimes." He labels a series of past scientists who have a bunch of right answers but get some parts wrong, as a "Bitch!"

How are we ever supposed to get to the bottom of anything?
No matter how on the money some theories are, inevitably parts of them end up on the cutting room floor because newer developments illuminate more answers, which means I don't have 100% confidence that I will ever get some solid answers.

Another interesting point The Hidden Reality makes, is about how bizarre it is that the universe exists at all, considering how much energy/time/space is required for that to happen. On page 339 he had a very poetic angle on somethingness and nothingness (pardon the liberties I took shortening the quote):

"But because nothing also seems so vastly simpler than something -- no laws at work, no matter to play, no space to inhibit, no time to unfurl...Why isn't there nothingness? Nothingness would have been decidedly elegant."

It's kind of fascinating that there is anything at all really. But I can totally understand this. I'm continually shocked when shit gets done, just shocked that somebody accomplished something. When a building gets built, an event gets planned, a road gets paved, an operation happens, or any kind of project really, I kind of marvel that somebody followed through on something. I feel like getting anything done takes so much work and it's such a struggle, especially considering how easy it is to lose momentum when something is taking longer than you expect. I'm in a perpetual state that's a cross between laziness and low-grade helplessness, so I can appreciate it all the more when somebody makes something happen. That's why it makes sense to me that we should find it shocking that the universe exists at all, because honestly, that'd be so much easier for the universe, to just not exist at all. It would be considerably less effort. It's kind of amazing that the universe continues to expand, considering how hard I know it is to just, well, keep going. Indeed, nothingness would have been "decidedly elegant," because being a slacker is so much easier.

Another point I'd like to add in talking about this book, and I'll just say it: one might argue that I'm intellectually lazy. I want explanations for things, but I don't want any actual equations. How many people get into astronomy and then lose interest in it because they have to learn physics? I'm sure I'm not the first asshole to fall in love with stars exploding and the rings of Saturn, only to realize that to really study that stuff you have to do things with numbers and equal signs, which makes me go, "Nah, fuck it." Sure, I'll watch Cosmos and love it, but if you want me to do anything beyond marveling at the universe, like actually do some math, I'm out. I bet lots of people secretly think I want answers! But I don't want to do the work to fully understand them!

That being said, even though I don't have any particular fascination with numbers, there are a couple really good quotes about the subject of math in The Hidden Reality. On page 341, Greene writes:

"A couple years ago, in a public debate...I said that I could imagine an alien encounter during which, in response to learning of our scientific theories, the aliens remark, 'Oh math. We tried that for a while. At first it seemed promising, but ultimately it was a dead end. Here, let us show you how it really works.' But, to continue with my own vacillation, I don't know how the aliens would actually finish the sentence, and with a broad enough definition of mathematics (e.g., the logical deductions following from a set of assumptions), I'm not even sure what kind of answers wouldn't amount to math."

I love this, it's to say that math is just explaining the experience of the world, which is why I loved when he wrote a few pages later (pg 344), "Reality is how math feels."

Is there an equation that would explain how I feel like getting things done is so often lugubrious and time-consuming? Is there a reality in which I'm in a different slice of the reality loaf and I get satisfactory answers to things? How do they get the cat to pose for the camera with the bread on it's head?