SCIENCE

Fail

Last night I heard one of the most glorious stories of epic failure ever conjured by reality. It's so rare that you get something so juicy without a script, but this gem was mined straight from headlines.

Sir John Gurdon, is a British stem-cell researcher. Unless you're a bio-engineering groupie, however, his name might not ring any bells. Doctor Gurdon attended Eton, Oxford and is a Fellow of the Royal Society. His work has garnered several awards over the years, most recently the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Pretty impressive resume, I'd say. However, before he was "Sir" Gurdon, Johnny caused some trouble for his teachers. In fact, one of his high school science teachers said that since Gurdon preferred to "do things his own way" it would be a waste of time for him to continue learning the sciences. Hell, the professor continued saying that it would be a horribly bad idea for anyone who tried to teach this boy science. For sixty years, Sir John Gurdon has carried that report card with him. And now, he's a Nobel Laureate.

Many things about this story make me happy (dude, that stodgy professor--who's probably dead--just got pwned!), but some things just astound me. And some aspects make me think... Sixty Years

That's 1952... That teacher's nay-saying voice has been rattling around this man's head for as long as my mother has been alive. That in and of itself boggles my mind. There were no men on the moon when he took that report card home. Kennedy was alive and not even on the political radar. There were no Beatles. Not even Quarrymen! Just remnant shock from World War II and poodle skirts.

We hear this story--or variations on it--all the time. It's part of the underdog fixation. Tell someone they can't and watch them exceed expectations, right? Hell, I have been told that by a few people in my time. We've all been told at some point that we aren't enough. Most people believe this about themselves and just stop there, letting the broken record of it play into perpetuity. Believe me, I know this. Self-deprecation is the basis of my sense of humor. Without it, I'm a talentless hack whose only chance at a funny bone is banging a circus clown. Anyway, these rejections and slights from childhood/adolescence stick with us. Over time, those infinite loops of "you're not good enough" can erode one's bliss......or it can strengthen it.

You can choose how you let those voices control you. You can choose to listen to those report cards, or you can box them up and ship them straight off to Hell.

This is something I'm consciously working on right now in my personal life. I've got a lot of fat-shaming voices in my head that I'm trying to snuff out, but their roots run deep. Like first grade deep. I have to do this, though. I have to eradicate that shit because it's not healthy. It's not productive...even if it has been worth hours of jokes at my own expense over the past few decades. For a long time, those particular voices have not been helpful, they've hurt me. I've said for a while now that of all the wounds I've survived, I've inflicted most of them upon myself.

It takes work to tell the "good" voices from the "bad" ones. Snarky inner dialogue is a constant for me and is a good motivator. It's what keeps me going. The voices that tell me I am a "talentless, ass-dragging sea creature who couldn't write her way out of a wet paper sack" are toothless tigers at this point in my life. I can laugh at them and gain strength from the knowledge that they're wrong. But it's not always so easy to deal with.

I know authors and artists that are dealing with this, too. I know that every query rejection is another voice to add to the chorus of fear in your head. You get enough of these voices together and it can paralyze you. Don't let it. "What if they laugh at me? What if I fail? What if I'm not good enough?"

Who cares? Fail! Fail gloriously! Write the words you want to write, tell your story, paint your masterpiece, sing your arias and dance rings around the world if that's where it's at for you, but do it. If you fall on your face, you get back up. If you fail, do it with style and pinache. Do it, learn from it, and do it again...only this time better.

That's what goes into every brick on your path. Try try again.

Don't be afraid to fail. Aim for the sun, shoot for the moon, give it everything you can...but just fucking do it. Failure is its own success, so it is always an option.  What about you? What voices are you trying to kick in the junk and evict from your brainpan?

Nerdmaste, my friends.

A Friendly Reminder

This weekend I was reminded that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I did my self-exam and there is a spot of ow on my left breasticle. Now, this isn't the first time I've felt a disturbance in my Force. About two years ago I found a lump. It was tender and roughly the size and texture of the average grape. My doctor, she felt around and zeroed in on the spot. She ordered the mammogram, and after a month of waiting, I got my boops smooshed for science.The lump turned out to be nothing more than some dense breast tissue, but for the month between finding the lump and the mammogram, I was more than a little worried. So, now that lefty has another anomaly we'll be monitoring my ta-tas. I suggest you do the same. Not mine, obviously, but yours. If you have them. Gah! Anyway, the point is, you need to do a self-exam. Regularly. You have to get to know the topography of your own glorious tracks of land before you can sense if there might be something rotten in Denmark. Have a glass of wine, feel yourself up and make sure you and your boops have a nice long life together.

It's important. YOU are important.

Things That Make You Go, "WTF?!"

Good morning, folks. I hope your weekend was better than mine. I've got some caffeine and a bit of a rant brewing.

It is, of course, an election year and therefore everyone and their mother is sticking some appendage into their mouth or talking out of their ass.

By now you've probably heard about Republican candidate Todd Akin's outrageous and egregious claim about "legitimate rape" not leading to pregnancy. If you didn't, allow me to inform you. The Missouri nominee for a senate seat said,

"From what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy as a result of rape is] really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume maybe that didn't work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist."

Oh, sweethearts and dear ones, I don't know where to start with this one. Okay, that's a bit of a fib, I know exactly where I want to start, but I understand that some of you may not want to get into politics. That's fine. Those of you who do...let's get together after the jump and dive into the cesspool that is Horribly Stupid Soundbytes from Political Figures!

*Possible trigger warning. We will be talking about rape/sexual assault. 

Okay...for one moment let's forget that this is even about abortion. Okay? We're not going to talk about pro-choice/pro-life, ultrasounds, birth control or women's rights. We're going to focus solely on this gem of ignorance brought to us from Mr. Akin.

"Legitimate Rape"  What in the bloody blue blazes of Satan's scrotum constitutes "legitimate rape"? Here's how I understand it: Person A makes an unwanted sexual advance on Person B. Person B makes it known through physical cues or a simple "no" that these advances are unwanted. When Person A presses the issue and forces sexual activity to happen... this equals rape.

I know that our society likes to muddy the waters by taking pages from the Blame the Victim playbook. Rather than educate our youth that rape is wrong, we're telling our girls not to leave the house dressed like sluts. We're conditioning more women who will internalize assault as their fault and therefore be less likely to come forward. It does not help when judges let known rapists go because they feel the women were asking for it. It's true. Click the link and be prepared to calm your gag reflex.

So, is Mr. Akin saying that "legitimate rape" is one where a woman is ushered off the street into a back alley and violated by a stranger? According to Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), nearly 60% of all reported rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. Does Mr. Akin feel that "date rape" is a sketchy area because clearly the woman wanted to be with this man, therefore, she can't possibly have been "legitimately raped"? I'd like to know what the would-be senator feels on this matter, but he hasn't clarified this statement. (Sure, he's walked it back and tried to weasel out of it, but he stayed away from explaining this particular phrase.)

Rape is rape. If Person A is told NO, but continues anyway? Done.

"A Really Rare Thing" Mr. Akin seems to be focusing on the idea that getting pregnant as a result of sexual assault is akin to finding a four-leaf clover. (We'll get to his reasoning why shortly, believe me.) But, there is some factual basis to this part. The US Department of Justice estimates that 5% of one-time unprotected sexual encounters will end in pregnancy. That's rather low, to be sure. There are many factors that may contribute to or skew this figure--particularly when trying to apply it to incidences of rape or incest--however, RAINN estimates that in one year, 3,204 assaults (out of the nationally reported 64,080) will end in pregnancy.

The frightening thing about RAINN's statistics, however, is that a woman is more likely to get pregnant from an assault than her attacker is to spend a single day in jail.

"...ways to shut that down..."

This is where Mr. Akin's statement takes a turn for the wacky and truly terrifying. While yes, we women are graced with a body that does amazing things in the nether regions, I think Mr. Akin gives a little too much credit to the feminine mystique. According to his statement, I've got a vagina rigged with trip wire, laser sensors and high explosives that James Bond couldn't get into with all the help from Q. And if he did manage to Mission: Impossible his way in there with his secret agent sperm, I'd have my uterus on lockdown faster than you could say Pussy Galore.

Look, it doesn't work that way. You see, a woman has no natural failsafe. Any college co-ed will tell you that we cannot will ourselves to Please God Don't Let Me Be Pregnant any more than a man can make one big boob by smooshing both of them together. We are not so in touch with our strange and mystical ovaries that we can make them stop the presses.

Funny thing: we all learned this in school. Biology class is nifty. Granted that Mr. Akin comes from the generation of "put an aspirin between your knees" birth control, but I'm pretty sure he went to school before No Child Left Behind started to dumb down the masses.

Akin says that he got this information from doctors. Unless those doctors are the same high school girls who think that you won't get pregnant if you have sex in a pool, spin around 3 times and bark like a dog after he comes... I'm dubious of Mr. Akin's sources. I'm betting they look like that guy up there.

At least he finishes off with a bang, that cooky Mr. Akin. He says that if our wily vaginas don't manage to purge the invader semen, the rapist should be punished. That's fantastic. I'm glad he's on our side. (See above reporting statistics and the average that 97% of rapists walk free.)

There Should Be Some Punishment Here's the thing: Would-Be-Lawmaker Todd Akin is right. There should be some punishment. Rapists should be held accountable, women should feel they can report these attacks without the blame-the-victim bullshit that inevitably ensues and we should live in a world where a football stadium full of people are not assaulted every year. However, there are these roadblocks standing in the way of that utopia. They're called "politicians". Redefining rape, trying to package rape and abortion, using them as wedge issues and ammunition in an onslaught against women's rights... Yeah, to put it bluntly, they suck. And there should be a punishment for that level of stupidity. It's fine to be that ignorant in the privacy of your own home, but when it affects my uterus, you're done.

It reminds me of John Waters (filmmaker of such cult classics as Hairspray, Cry-Baby and Pecker). He once said that if you go home with someone and you can't see any books, don't fuck them. I think we need to impose a similar rule in politics.

So, here's what I want you to do.

If you think that Akin and other such people seeking office on a platform that spews ignorance and outright lies.... Don't vote for them. Period. Don't let this shit into a position of power. If he doesn't have a grasp of 4th grade biology, he doesn't get to play with your rights or money. Savvy?

If you aren't sure, you're still on the fence and want to see what's what? Pick up a book. Educate yourself. Scour Google for hours and use reputable sources, not just Wikipedia. Feed your head with knowledge, then, once you've done that... Don't vote for this shit.

If you agree with Mr. Akin and think he speaks gold-plated gospel... DON'T VOTE. Period. It's your civil right to vote, sure, but if you're completely off reality and scientific fact in the process, you've ceased to live in our country and now inhabit the same plane as unicorns, snozwankers and vermicious knids. Feel free to blow bubbles into your chocolate milk and fuck some electric sheep, but please, don't screw up my reality because you've abandoned it.

Nerdmaste, my friends.

EDIT 8pm, 8/20 - Two things have been brought to my attention since I posted this this morning and I wanted to give them a place here. 1) A dear friend of mine made the comment, "No doesn't mean no. No is implied until removed." This is an excellent point. She went on to explain that the burden of consent should not be on the victim, yet that is where we place it. She finishes off her statement saying that if there is already a blanket consent--for example, in a pre-existing relationship--it is up to the "victim" to communicate when sex is off limits. I think she's got an amazing point when it comes to where we place the burden of consent. It's something to think on.  And 2) Someone shared this open letter to Todd Akin by renowned feminist and writer Eve Ensler. Read it. Have kleenex handy. --jw

iGrieve

  http://jmak.tumblr.com/post/9377189056Like most people in the world, I did not know Steve Jobs personally. I never met him, never sat in the same room while he gave a speech and never so much as caught a glimpse of him through a car window.
Like some people in the world, I'm not a Mac user. I don't have an iPhone and I often joke that some of my friends are tethered to the Apple teat.
But like everyone in the world, my life has been changed because of Steve Jobs. The first computer I used in a school was an Apple II. In college, I learned how to use music writing software on a Mac. My iPod has saved my sanity on more than one occasion.
I think the biggest effect Steve Jobs had on my life, though, wasn't in his inventions, but his attitude. Steve Jobs knew what most of us creative types know: you have to fail. It's always an option and it's the only way we learn. Jobs made mistakes and kept moving forward through them. Steve Jobs took chances. One of the best risks he ever took was backing a tiny upstart group of geeks and writers in Emeryville, California back in the 80s. You know them today as Pixar.
I list Pixar as one of my most prevalent influences. No, I don't write material for kids, but then, that's not what Pixar does either. Pixar tells stories. Plain and simple. And their stories are good. I strive to find that level of mastery in my craft. Toy Story, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Wall-E... The world would not have those stories if someone hadn't given those geeks a chance. I am grateful not just to those at Pixar, but to Steve Jobs for making it all possible. For believing in someone else's skills enough to say, "Go for it."
When I heard the news last night that Steve Jobs had died, I cried. I've been in a state of mourning since then and part of me feels incredibly stupid for feeling so deeply about a man I never met. Say what you will about money and industry and business or bicker about being a PC or a Mac, complain about updates or lack thereof... but Steve Jobs touched our lives in ways we may never understand. The full scope of his life will not fit on a microprocessor or a nano. He was more than tech.

Steve Jobs was a dreamer. A visionary. An artist.

The world is different because he lived.
Thank you, Steve. Shine on.

Girl Resurrected

Sunday, Sean and I took K to the Science Center. I have to boast about the fact that my Mom Voice stopped 3 teenagers from banging on a computer monitor. Seriously, who the fuck lets their children (I don't care how old) get away with that shit? To give you more detail...you know how museums have the touch-screen monitors next to exhibits? Well, the Science Center has two next to one of their anatomical exhibits. That particular feature was down (after a free weekend and unattended kids, are we surprised?). I was at the next space over piecing together an anatomy dummy with the Hobbits when I heard terrible banging. I look up to see the afore mentioned twits pounding their fists on the wall screens like imprisoned apes.

"HEY!" I barked. I turned on the stern voice I usually withhold for serious problems with the daughter or when the cats are trying to unroll the toilet paper. "Stop that. Right. Now. It's already broken and you don't need to destroy it and make things worse."

The kids flushed and went off, heads hanging.

My Mom-Fu is strong!

But enough about that...

So, with the kiddo back in school I have more time to put toward my creative endeavors. Of course, this means writing! Woo! Some projects I want to spend time with:

  • Editing flash/short fiction to send to lit. magazines for publication.
  • A fantasy short called "The Giving Tree".
  • More work in the Zombie verse I've got going including editing the novella (title: Stitch), getting sequels outlined and written in a way that satisfies me and more shorts from the point of view of other characters.
  • Research and work for the YA novel I want to write (title: Banning Elizabeth).
  • Work on the short story "Woebegone" and see if I have a novel in there.
  • New fiction yet to be imagined.
  • Overhaul of the first novel I wrote back in 2008.

Yeah, it's a lot. But, some is editing, some is new work...and it's all do-able. But, other than writing, I've got a proverbial bug up my ass to do something else. As long-time readers of this blog will know, I auditioned for Blue Man Group about 7 years ago. For a while, all I wanted in life was to be a Blue Man. For various reasons, that did not happen. After I had my daughter, my priorities shifted and I made the conscious choice to let go of that dream. For a few years, that stung a bit, I admit. I felt like I'd failed. Now, though, I understand that I did the right thing for me and mine and that's what matters.
So, now, with a bad back and fifty pounds that won't look great on stage, being a Blue Man just isn't in the cards. (Not to mention that I just don't have the Oh-My-God-I-Need-This feeling about it anymore.) But, that doesn't mean I can't still play like a Blue Man.
For a while, I've been silent. My sticks are collecting dust and I never play my electric kit. My chops are rustier than the Tin Man's joints. I've let my musical muscles atrophy out of fear and shame from an imagined failure. But...the other day at the Science Center, something of that me woke up. We were playing with some of their acoustic toys (long pipes that just channel air to form amazing drone sounds, a ginormous sound box with 4 strings to pluck). And Sean and I started talking about how the notes on the "guitar" sounded very Blue Man. While we sat down and let K build things with magnets, Sean and I "composed" a piece just talking out patterns.
At one point, I elbowed him and said, "What are you doing? You're going to make me a musician again!"
"Again?" he asked.
Those skills have been dormant, it's true, but they haven't left me. Not entirely. And now, I have a desire to build my own instruments. I won't get the chance to play PVC IV on the stage at Briar Street...but what's stopping me from doing it in my own back yard? Or yours?
Lack of plumbing hardware, really.
So, I've decided that in the coming months, I will be gathering some like-minded troops from the Local Ohana and I will be making my own Blue Man instruments. I want to make a PVC instrument, a Drumbone...possibly a backpack Tubulum...and I want to have some Airpoles for good measure. The build will be a fun, communal  learning experience and playing the instruments with my daughter would be a blast!
When I do this, I will be documenting the build(s) on this blog, and possibly on my neglected percussion blog, Chickaboom. Pictures, hints, tips, rants...possibly video once they are ready to play. (I still have Drumbone memorized. Just need two people to get the slide going.)
I think this is going to be a blast.
How 'bout you? Ever build anything crazy? Geeky? Any homemade instruments or flame throwers out there? I want to hear about it.
What's rooting around in your brain and ready to hatch?