I remember the night I lost all faith in my mother as a care taker. She had done a lot of things in the past to make me question her ability to parent (like allowing my delinquent brother to handle alcohol when he wasn't even a teenager), but nothing quite compared to one particular Friday night.

I was watching Seinfeld, enjoying the hell out of it, when all of the sudden I hear this car screech down the road, followed by several loud bangs as it sped off into the distance. It was odd enough to distract me from playing Frogger with a bald man, and apparently everyone else in the neighbourhood, as well.

My dad had just stepped outside, about to go off somewhere for the night, so he had seen the whole thing. He yells at me to get him the phone, and I do, and together we both go out to join a congregation of neighbours who are meeting in the middle of the street. We piece the story together like this:

A car, passenger door open, goes flying down the road, doing about 70mph, turns the corner without slowing down, hits 2 cars parked on the street, and speeds off.

While we're talking, a red car pulls up to us, and someone starts yelling "that's the car! That's the car!" Someone else starts taking down the license plate number, and my dad turns to look at the driver, and says (very loudly), "Oh my God! It's my fucking ex-wife!"

My mother, very inebriated, stumbled out of the car screaming about how pissed off she is about my brother, Eric.

My dad and I turn in shame and begin walking back to our house. I can hear my mother yelling (slurred) the pet name she has for me. I look at my dad, and ask:

"I'm adopted, right?"

And unfortunatley, I do share this incoherent, screaming woman's blood.

The police eventually show up, while my mother drunkenly raves on about my brother. No one knows where the hell he is, but we're all left to assume that the passenger side door was open because he either jumped out, or was pushed out. And since my mother was driving about 70mph, that's a nasty fall.

The police restrain my mother, and decided to take her downtown for driving under the influence, a serious offence. My mother, obviously thinking clearly, decides she doesn't want to go to jail, and actually bites one of the cops. She's thrown into the back of the police car, and they haul her away, and all the while she's kicking the window, screaming.

And ever since, I've had one of the pickiest guys I know when it comes to dating. I don't want to end up with someone like my mother, after all. Then again, I'm sure my father didn't, either.

It's Sunday afternoon, and I find myself in Children's Hospital. My friend Chris's oldest daughter is there.

The place is squeaky-clean and they've painted it with bright colors, a full crayola box of colors designed to make a place of illness look friendly and fun. They are high ceilings, textured masonry and I like what I see of the architecture. But it smells of disinfectant.

I pass children playing with a brightly colored wagon. Is their brother or sister in here? Are they getting their tonsils out? Are they gaining another brother or sister? Or are they about to lose one.

I try not to think of that. This is a hospital. Children shouldn't be here. But many are.

Beth is thirteen years old, with a sweet, gentle disposition and a love of books. She writes exceptionally well for her age. But she has a prominent jaw and Alfred E. Neuman's own eyes at an age where looks are about to become everything. And she has scoliosis in a really bad way. Walking she hunches over, and carries her books on one side because one leg just doesn't work quite right. So Monday she went under the knife.

I find her sitting up in a Geri-Chair, with an IV plugged into her left hand. Beth smiles at me, but it's obvious she's in agony. When I was thirteen I spent my days hunting for pubic hairs, reading Heinlein and hoping to french kiss Denise. Beth won't be doing any of that. Instead she'll spend next year in a brace. She shows me the puncture marks on her hand from the IV. The last couple days have been the worst, since they stopped the morphine, and made her do with tylenol and codeine. Soon it will be just tylenol. But this child is moaning.

Chris and Kim are there, and very happy to see me, particularly as Beth likes me. I sit next to her and we try to talk. She's in pain, and doesn't understand why this had to happen to her.

Chris in particular doesn't understand. He was a fundamentalist for years. He and Kim met at a very conservative Bible college. But he's also utterly honest, open-minded and hungry for knowledge. Years ago we debated on the topic of evolution versus creation. I told him evolution held all the cards, and if he did the research he'd find out I was right.

So Chris did the research. That's the kind of guy he is. Because he is honest, he changed his way of thinking. Yet I wonder how much of that was the evidence and how much of it has to do with the poor suffering girl sitting next to us, begging to be put back in bed. It's very easy to point out all the beautiful, miraculous things in the world and see some form of intelligence behind it. But how do you argue that the human spine was intelligently designed, or the human knee. How do you argue the intelligent design of a genetic system that produces so many misfires?

I wonder if Beth herself weren't exhibit A for the scientific proposition.

I take her hand and tell her the truth. That I know this is horrible, but I don't know any way in the world to make it better. And I promise her the pain will end. I tell her to hold on to that one promise I can make with confidence.

She nods and tries to believe, Beth really is special. The nurses come and lay her down. It's time for her nap. It doesn't hurt when she sleeps.

I walk down the long corridors to the parking garage, and smell the antiseptic. The staff here is kind and genuinely cares. But children shouldn't be in such a place. And knowing that they are, I weep.


Beth has come through her surgery, and the pain is gone, though she will have to be careful for the next year. And she is two inches taller (5 cm) than she was before the surgery. While I feel bad for what happens, I thank God for modern medicine.

This is the second half. You should start with March 22, 2004 by bewilderbeast.

I sit on the edge, listening to the symphony of raindrops landing on my red coat. I am soaked through; I've been here for at least an hour. It's always worth the wait.

"I haven't seen you here, before."

"I haven't been here before," I reply in my imagination. In reality I don't speak; I just look over my shoulder and nod at the woman standing there. She looks like she wants to say something but won't, and I smile at her shyness.

That's why I'm surprised when she asks for my name. The personal question is unexpected. I don't mind, though. It is a small, ordinary name, just right for a girl sitting in the rain on a lonely afternoon.

"Julia." Julia, of Latin vintage. Soft-haired.

I don't ask her name. I want her to continue to be an unknown, a stranger. Random encounter with long blonde hair and large boots. It happens, then, quickly, while I am busy not asking. The rain stops, and a band of colour appears across the sky. Rainbow with stranger.

"Sandy." Not a stranger any more. It seems right for her, though, so I nod. Sandy blonde. Sandy, from Alexander. Alexander, head in the clouds. Alexander, explaining everything. Explaining the rainbow.

"You know, it doesn't really have seven colours." He said that, once. Long ago. The day I discovered it.

The nylon of her coat rustles, and I spiral back into the present. She has joined me on the edge of the cliff. Alexander didn't like to leave people hanging, so I explain.

"The human eye can't tell indigo from blue. It's just the extension of a fairy tale, the corruption of truth to suit an ideal." His words in my mouth bring him back to me across time.

"Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it isn't there," she responds. Her tone is comforting, and I realise that I am crying. It sounds like something I would say. I look at her, trying to see a piece of myself reflected in her eyes. It isn't there.

"Julia, everyone's sitting on a precipice. It's just that not everyone looks down. It isn't about the cliff. This is about you, your inflection, your salvation."

"Then why not make it yours?" Alexander, protector of mankind. Will she fulfill her destiny?

"You can't save everyone."

No. Perhaps she has forsaken the meaning of her name along with its maleness; or perhaps she has outgrown it, tried to save the world, failed, and moved on. He could never manage that. Moving on. He is still there somewhere behind me, trying to protect mankind.

It's good to know that she won't be another failed saviour, fallen into depths of chemical and mental disappointment. That she won't leave moving on to the ones she hasn't saved.

At the same time, it's disappointing. I once thought that his sense of purpose was a product of his name. That it was ingrained by Alexander the Great long ago, was dripping down through history to conquer the present and patch its threadbare spots until it becomes too pleased to care that someone else is in charge, now.

"Thank you." As I leave, I wonder if she feels the hole where her meaning has been ripped out.

Damn! I hate this place. There are so many people who write amazing stuff ; and I just can't follow suit. Although I do like e2 for the factual content, the main reason I come is for the beautiful stories. For once I shall contribute, with my own story, in an attempt to give back some of what I have taken.

For all the Story Tellers

I like Tolkien. I would call myself a fan, but I'd rather not be associated with that sort of behaviour. I also like languages: Quenya, Sindarin, Lojban, Brezhoneg, Swiss-German, Anglo-Saxon... I have many other unrelated and strange hobbies. I also live in Switzerland (a fact which will become vaguely important later on).

My story takes us back just over a year. I'm on irc, with people from a French Tolkien forum (in fact, this is the place for French-speaking Tolkien-lovers - the quality of discussions is amazing, even by academic standards, let alone what is usually found on the 'net). Anardaiel comes in.

<Anardaiel>I'm rather new to all this irc stuff...
<themanwho>Don't worry, we all have something to learn

It appears that I made a good impression. Out of the blue, she asked for my email address and gave me hers. So I sent her an email for her birthday. We got talking and I met an interesting, intelligent and sensitive person. We set into regular pattern: I would send her an email for lunch and before I went home (my flat has no internet connexion); she would send me emails to read in the afternoon and first thing in the morning. We gradually became close friends, talking about our hopes and worries, our ups and downs.... She lives in France, near Paris. I live 600 km away in Switzerland. But we decided we ought to meet some day. So she invited me over end of June.

We exchanged photos... I found her absolutely lovely. I apparently "wasn't exactly her type", but reminded her of a friend she really likes. At this stage, I wasn't really interested in whether I was her type or not... but I was slightly disappointed.

One day, she didn't write. I got really worried. Turns out, that she had just not been home all day.

... I'm sorry I was such a pain yesterday, but you had me really worried. I think it made me realise just how much I love you.
*hugs*, themanwho
Her reply:
I feel like I'm the luckiest person in the world. I'm so glad I met you ...

We went through so many stages: moving from "Hi Anardaiel" through "Dear Anardaiel" and "My dear Anardaiel" to "My dearest Anardaiel"; from "yours" to "hugs and kisses". I tried another I love you. She told me that I couldn't just say that. It means so many things, she said. I couldn't think of a single meaning she could attribute to it which wasn't my intended meaning. She learnt not to eat when reading my emails: she nearly choked on her apple with delight.

So it turned out that our meeting in June would no longer be just friends. It was almost worrying... We tried talking on the phone. The first time was a disaster. On later occasions, we found each other.

All the same, it was with great trepidation that I got on the train. Would she be as pretty in real life? What would happen to my not being her type? Did we love each other?

It was too hot... The temperature in the train was well over a hundred. I picked up my bag, trembling and sweating. This is it! As I saw her, relief flooded me: she is gorgeous. I don't want to be shallow: I don't know if I love her because of her looks or whether she looks great because of our love. Anyway... the chemistry was there, as I discovered when we exchanged our first hugs and kisses. She took my hand in hers as if to say this is where you belong.

The distance is difficult... we have only spent 30 days together so far. But... she is the single greatest thing in my life. This has to count for something...

So, one year on, Happy Birthday my darling. And happy anniversary to us: a year ago today, I sent a stranger a message for her birthday, not knowing what would happen.

That was an email I'll never regret.

Heeeyy, all right, time to brew some coffee...with my new coffee maker!

Gonna make some coffee with my new coffee maker...yeah yeah yeah...my new coffee make-uh! yeah!

All right, now, you, old coffee maker, here's your eviction notice. No, no garage sale for you, you're broken and a pain in the ass. Yup, buh-bye. In the trash!

Gee, this trash is overflowing. I'll have to emtpy that later. Maybe after work.

OK, now, new coffee maker, time to get you out of this box! Hmm...I need to cut this. Here, this knife will do. There. All right. Now, I'm just gonna pull you out...um...OK...that's not gonna work. Let's set you on the floor. *GRUNT* All right, come on! *GRUNT* Come on, you bitch! *GRUNT* Come out of the frickin box! *GRUNT* There! All right, let's throw those aside, set this up here. Here, kitty! Here's a nice new box for you to play wit -- aw, there's a good kitty! Hmm..instructions...yeah, right! Toss that over there...OK!

All right, new coffee maker! Awesome! Let's just plug you in...oh, wait a minute, let's get that undone...OK..keep the twisty-tie for something else. All right, we're plugged in! Time to brew some--!

Oh, wait, let's set the time. Let's see...one...two...three...four...five. OK, one..two...eleven...damn I hate doing the minutes...twenty...twenty-five...forty-seven...fifty. There, 5:50 AM. I love coffee makers with timers! What's this? Remove film before using? OK, if the sticker says so...seems like a nice film covering, though. Might keep it from getting dirty. Oh well. Film: you're fired! I kinda like that show.

All right, now let's brew some coffee, bay-bee! Oh, neat. Here's that water filter thingy. Chlorine-free coffee. Nice. Where do you put this? Oh, I see. Better put the grinds in first. There. Now let's put the...wait a minute, the water filter thingamabob doesn't fit. What's--? Oh! You don't need the paper filters with this thing! Rock on! Yeah, now it fits! All right, now let's get the water...put it in the thing...put the pot down there...OK, now, where's the...oh, there's the on button. There! Whoo hoo, bay-bee! We're brewin' some coffee! With the new coffee make-uh! Ta-dow!

Gots a new coffee make-uh, yeah yeah yeah, uh-huh, yeah! Now let's go shower while it brews, yeah!

Wait, let's play a little soccer with the box. "He shoots, he sco--!" Oh, sorry kitty! I didn't know you were still in there!


"Self-improvement is masturbation." -- Tyler Durden, Fight Club (1999)

Well, it's a clever saying at least, but it's bullshit. Then again, masturbation's pretty good stuff too anyway, heh. Anyway, with all the introspection and self-healing I'm embarking on these days, I haven't neglected my body, but I haven't exactly focused on it either.

That ends today.

For the first time in my life, starting about a month ago, but that I first actually noticed yesterday, I'm actually pleased with how I look. When a pair of young women smiled at me, just because they wanted to, as I strolled down the Santa Cruz Boardwalk yesterday during my "time off", it occured to me that "hey, you look good, women are checking you out!"

Of course, just because I'm pleased doesn't mean I'm done. Every part of me has room for improvement, and it's only when we stop trying to improve things (even when it looks okay) that we stop growing as people.

I love lists. We all know that by now. This is what we call a shitlist; everything that appears here is doomed to be destroyed:

  • Ten more pounds. I'm officially at the top end of my healthy target weight. I've never been there before as an adult -- I peaked at 235 pounds. I'm down to 189. My target range is 151 to 189. So I've made it that far already, and the funny thing is I wasn't even trying to diet. I'm still not. But getting down to 175 to 180 will satisfy me.
  • The beer gut. I've lost 46 pounds. Holy shit. My stomach has shrunk immensely, but there's still some flab there. I still have love handles I don't want. They're doomed -- and they're next. They're going down with the weight.
  • The unremarkable tone. There's no flab in my arms or legs -- not tons of muscle tone but they look good enough. My stomach, though, even without the "beer gut", is missing the mild six pack I want. I want more muscle tone across the whole body. I want to turn heads when I walk outside in a bathing suit.
  • The sleepy, droopy eyes. This one's something that plastic surgery will be needed for, unless I can discover muscles I have that I've never used. My eyes always look droopy and sad. I tend to look sleepy, or upset, or worried. Okay, fine, for much of my adult life, that's been an accurate description. But not anymore. I want to be able to express sadness when I need to, but my eyes need to beam when I'm happy. It's the eyelids -- they're huge and thick and need to be "adjusted."
  • The bent nose. Another surgery thing, but I'm sick of it being bent the way it is. Time to go.

My beer gut has bothered me for years. Even my ex-wife got sick of me whining about it. I realized though that since I've managed to lose all this weight without really trying, it's time to put real effort into my physical appearance. It won't take lots of time each day, just some focus and drive. Anybody who read my March 21, 2004 entry knows that I have found a whole big stash of that stuff. I've already got some good confidence -- it's time to back it up with some good looks.

The plan
I already exercise a decent amount. I don't mind walking, I take stairs when I can instead of elevators, since I'm not too thrilled with elevators anyway, I lift things and move stuff around, and I'm even improving my posture (no more slouching; I don't even let sadness or depression serve as an excuse anymore for slouching and anytime I catch myself doing it, I force myself to stop).

Still, some minor things need to change:

  • Daily exercise. Probably just some crunches and a round or two of Dance Dance Revolution should do the trick. Just for now -- if I end up needing more for the muscle tone I'm after (remember, not beefcake, just "cut" a bit more than now) I'll do that later. The gut and the weight are the current targets. I don't mind replacing fat weight with muscle weight; if I end up around 185 but look nice and ripped, then I'll be happy.
  • Watching the diet. I am already doing very well here. I will devote a bit more attention to making sure it stays right. I don't eat breakfast enough, which must be fixed. I am already eating appropriate meal portions, so that won't change. I just need to eat more often.

You, my intrepid readers, get to follow along on this process. I'm going to write daily about what I've done to achieve these goals. Obviously the first few are easier -- I just have to do stuff. The ones requiring plastic surgery, though, require me to start putting all these different pieces together in my life and get the money situation cleaned up again. Still, having goals is important. And here, mine begin.

I'm still going to write more about my other goals as I work them out. Obviously, from yesterday's entry, some of my goals are already apparent and clear to me. I've got some more I'm figuring out, and I'll pile those in too.

I want to let the world watch (if it wants to) my own rebirth, so that's what I'm going to focus on over the next month or so. Maybe longer.

One of the suggestions I got from a minister at the church I visited yesterday (Novus Spiritus if anyone's curious) was that I should write letters to the universe. I'm going to be doing that too, but I think writing all this stuff down, too, is important. I'm going to pick up a notepad and do the letter thing as well; the physical part is apparently important, since the idea is to burn the letter after I write it, to turn it to smoke and give it back to the universe. Kinda sounds like bunk, as the letter itself is obviously a part of a universe even before I torch it, but hey, I've always liked playing with fire anyway, and what could it hurt to try this? At worst, I'll still be able to figure out things and write it down, just for me, and help it stay clear and focused. At best, it'll actually work, and the universe will pay attention to me, and offer up some help.

I've also decided to clone my entries here onto LiveJournal. I'll be stripping out the Everything2 specific markup (the square brackets), but leaving the rest of the markup alone. I'm doing that for Erica in fact, since reading writeups on E2 bugs her a bit, but I also want to do it for a few other people back in Colorado who read my stuff sometimes too. It's time for that journal to stop stagnating.

For those of you reading this from LiveJournal, and who want to see my writeups on Everything2, head over to http://everything2.com/, and type "willfe" into the search box. You'll see my user page; click the number (currently it's 87) in the "number of write-ups/experience" box to see a list of everything I've written there. It's split into pages of fifty entries each, so if you seriously get into my writing, you'll want to check every page of the list.

There is a picture of me, taken when I was about seven years old, wearing one of those God-awful yellow helmet things from Radio Shack with a flashing light and siren on top. I had the goofiest smile on my face, and inexplicably seemed to enjoy wearing it. My brother found this picture one Thanksgiving while he and I were going through a box of photographs. He nearly peed himself laughing. I nearly did, too.

I used to joke that when I grow up, I want to be a fire truck. People around me would sort of double-take and then say you mean fireman, right?

I would respond Nope! and then go whooooooo! whoooooo! like a siren.

They'd all sort of move away a little, like the ex-cons moving away from Arlo on the Group W bench.

To me, the funniest thing about this, beyond the obvious happy insanity of a grown man going whoooooo! in the middle of the street, was that a grown man was speculating on When I grow up....

I never did.

If you were charitable, you might call me "life-long learner." I've only recently left academia, though my current position still rests on the fuzzy edge of Harvard University. My office is just up the street from the Center for Astrophysics, on Concord Avenue; I go there once in a while to attend colloquia, raid their library, or use their archives of astronomical photographic plates to do some research. This spring, my organization is co-hosting a one-day conference on Mira variables with them. I wouldn't have a prayer of being admitted to Harvard as a student, but I still like to go there, just for fun sometimes. Like a moth in a sunbeam.

I'm an astronomer. I study variable stars. I study how they're born. How they change with time. How they die. I think this is fun. It satisfies my curiosity about how things work. And they pay me to do it, too.

Imagine: Fun. Salary. Nirvana.

It boggles my mind, still, how lucky I am to be paid to understand how things work. To tinker with the universe. It also boggles my mind that the ivory tower has yet to kick me to the curb and force me to get a job at, say, a consulting firm, or a telemarketing agency, or a Wal-Mart.

Welcome to Wal-Mart. Would you like a shopping cart? Whooooooooo!

I like to learn about things. I like to understand. When I was little, one of the books I inherited from my big brother was Tell Me Why. I was fascinated by the things in this book. Like Why does the moon follow us in the car? Because it's so far away it appears to move a lot less than the trees and houses closer to us. Oh.

Then came H.A. Rey's The Stars, and its silly, squat cartoons of cavemen and astronauts. To this day, I remember getting a charge from the fact that constellations change over time. I still browse that book now and then when I have a chance.

The seeds were planted by those books.

I spent eleven years in college and graduate school. Thirteen if you count my two years as a postdoc. All to look at stars. This isn't normal. It can't be normal. And yet here I am.

Some days I come to work at 6:00, hours before anyone else, just to be here, to enjoy the quiet of my office and think. I love it here. I can't imagine doing anything else.

Sometimes it's hard. Though they pay me generously to do the work that I do, you can probably imagine that they can't pay me a lot. That's ok, for now; while money is nice, I like to think that he who dies with the most fun wins, so money isn't really what I'm after. Sometimes, though, I also regret not being able to work on things more tangible. The universe is interesting, but awfully remote. I won't be visiting the objects I study any time soon. My conversations with the stars are very one-sided.

One of my grandfathers was a plumber. My parents still have his box of tools in their basement. The lid is rusted shut, and the tools inside are probably useless now that pipes are all PVC, and fixtures can almost be installed by hand nowadays. When I get despondent about things, I think about career changes. Computer programmer. "Analyst." Consulting. Plumbing, even. I sometimes tell myself I could go back to trade school to become a licensed plumber. OK hours, decent pay, and I work with my hands. No desk, no scrambling for soft money, no email, no internet.

Then I realize I'd probably never do astronomy again. Some people can actively pursue hobbies and live vibrant, exciting lives outside of work. That isn't me. I'm a couch potato when I'm not working, and I doubt I could keep going when other things move in to take up my working hours. And that makes me sad and afraid, and I start to look for ways to stay in the business of learning for a living. There's a grant I should apply for. Does Sky & Telescope need an article this month? I need to finish up that book outline and introductory chapter and shop it around. Maybe NASA's got some E/PO money.

Seeds were planted. They bore strange fruit.

A friend of mine died Monday. Janet Akyüz Mattei. She was my "boss", but calling her that seems so ridiculous; she wasn't the boss of anyone, really. A good friend, a mentor, a teacher, a colleague, absolutely. Not that she wasn't a strong and enthusiastic leader, it just wasn't in her nature to be a "boss". Bosses rarely inspire the kind of devotion she did among those who knew and worked for her.

She was a life-long learner, too. She started working at the American Association of Variable Star Observers in early 1973, fresh from a stint at the Maria Mitchell Observatory. Within six months, she'd been appointed the director. Since then, I think Janet's love of learning permeated everything she's ever done.

I think she was enraptured by the universe. Her wonderful variable stars. Her flowers. Nature. Travel. People. She was an instant friend to nearly everyone she met. Perhaps it was because she was just a good, friendly person. But maybe she looked at every person she met as someone to learn from. Maybe that's why she hired me back in July 2002.

Janet fought Acute Myelogenous Leukemia for seven months. She finally lost that fight, when an infection raced through her with no help from her recently obliterated immune system. She went into a coma early Sunday, and died quietly Monday afternoon. Her husband said she looked satisfied when she went. She was 61.

Here at AAVSO headquarters, we're a little lost this week. She'd been on leave since last September, when the cancer cells were discovered taking up 70 percent of her blood cell count and she was instantly admitted to the hospital here in Boston. We'd been working on our own since then, and we managed to keep things running very well (if I do say so myself). But her death brought a finality to things; it feels like her presence is leaving us now, in spirit and in body. There was always the hope she'd stick around; she was just too positive a person to die. But of course, she wasn't, and she did. She'll be buried here at Mt. Auburn Cemetery on Friday. And then we'll get back to work.

I'm not sure why I'm writing this. Closure, maybe. Maybe to take an opportunity to share something of myself, something I don't do very often here.

I'm probably the last person in the universe who should be dispensing practical advice, but here's a little if you'll allow me. They may seem like platitudes, but they're also true.

I hope she will forgive me for plagiarizing, but like sensei said to Lometa once, Life is good, but sometimes not nice. Enjoy your life when you can. It's very short, and occasionally difficult. Try to have a little fun now and then. And don't be too self-conscious when you do.

Tell people you love them. If you don't have someone to tell it to, find some. It's hard sometimes, but it's worth it.

Don't stop learning. At worst, it keeps your mind happy.


And look up once in awhile. We live in a pretty amazing universe. Enjoy it.

Godspeed Janet. Take care.

Godspeed all of you, too.


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