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Archive for May, 2016

Life is nothing but a never-ending series of choices. Every choice has its consequences, both good and bad. Every choice has an easy way, and a hard way. Most of us spend our time trying to figure out which choices are going to give us the best results, for the least amount of bullshit. It’s never exactly what we want, but that’s life, and it’s certainly better than the alternative.

Some of us dare the Fates and take the hard choice, the choice that’s fraught with uncertainty but gets us another step closer to our ultimate goal, to the place/career/love we want more than anything else. Most people who take those steps fail. Some stop right there. Some keep trying. Every now and then someone succeeds. And that’s how we get our great artists, our star athletes, our world leaders.

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My husband and I were talking this weekend about the rut we’re in. Every day is pretty much the same: work, dinner, computer, sleep. Rinse and repeat, ad nauseam. We both claim to want to do something different with our lives. I want to do the full-time writing thing. He wants to do the full-time blacksmith thing. We want to work for ourselves and get out of Southern California and get some property somewhere in the trees of the Pacific Northwest.

But apparently we don’t want those things bad enough to actually do anything to get there. We spent some time trying to figure out why that is, why we keep talking about these desires and yet doing nothing to advance toward them. The conclusion we came to is that we’re safe right where we are, and change is scary.

We have the epitome of a First World problem. We have a nice two-story house in the suburbs. It may need some significant cosmetic work, but it has a solid foundation and a good roof and everything works the way it’s supposed to. We have a regular income that allows us to eat decently, keep the lights on and the water running, and feeds the beast that gets my husband back and forth to work. We don’t usually have anything leftover at the end of the month, but our basics are covered, and we can make adjustments for the rest. We have a nice routine and few surprises. Quiet and safe in our little corner of the world.

And yet we are dissatisfied. It is a common dilemma, I know. Most people get to a point in their lives where it is no longer possible to reach their dream, and so they quietly plod through their existence and make the best of what they have. Some can achieve a certain measure of contentment, despite themselves. They never actually forget their dream – it still makes for a good fantasy every now and then – but they’ve accepted that it will never come to pass.

But my husband and I can actually still achieve what we want. We have the skills. We have the desire. What we don’t have is the courage.

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You see, leaving your nice, quiet, safe little rut takes a huge amount of bravery. You don’t know what’s out there. Will there be monsters waiting? Will your family understand? Will you suddenly learn it’s not REALLY what you wanted? Worse yet, what happens if you FAIL?

Safe is easy. Risk is scary. Status quo is good. Change is bad. From childhood we’ve been encouraged to take the safe route. Follow the rules and play nice with others and do what society expects of you, and life will be fine. Want to be an actor/writer/musician? Okay, but get that degree in accounting/engineering/law, just in case. Always work with a net, because that’s safe.

But sometimes you just can’t be totally safe. To advance, you have to take chances. You have to test your boundaries and abilities and hope you can come out the other side. Explorers and scientists and artists throughout history have often put their own lives on the line to make the breakthroughs we all now take for granted. What if Magellan had never set sail? What if Curie had never gone into science? Both of them died as a direct result of their works, but they would have eventually died anyway had they stayed safe in their little ruts. By taking risks, they each gave the world invaluable legacies.

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I doubt there are those kinds of legacies waiting for my husband and I. But we can certainly change the way things are now to make things the way we want. While there are obvious logistics issues, there’s nothing we can’t handle, as daunting as some of the tasks may seem. Hell, there’s a part of me that would be happy to just stuff everything we own into storage, sign the house back to the bank, pack the truck with the cats and other essentials, and just go see what we can find. We wouldn’t be the first to make such a bold change, and it would certainly yank us right out of our rut by the hair. It would be terrifying, but sometimes that’s just what you need.

Because if you wait for everything to be perfectly planned and the timing to be just right before you start your journey, you might as well never pack your bags. The circumstances will never be perfect. NEVER. Which is exactly when you’ll reach your goal if you don’t take a chance.

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There has been increased talk lately about Mars and space exploration. Partly because of NASA’s little engine that could, the Curiosity Rover (which also has its own Twitter account @MarsCuriosity). And also because of the Mars One Mission that set the geek world ablaze when it announced it was screening for colonists to send to the Red Planet by 2026. The latter has partnered with the likes of Lockheed Martin and SpaceX, and already scheduled its first unmanned mission for 2020. That’s only four years, people. And ten years until boots on the ground. Fifty years ago we took ten years and invented a shit-load of technology to land on the Moon. Seems like we should be all over this now.
Earth from Mars

I can see my house … (Earth as seen by Curiosity – NASA/JPL)

But humans being what they are – especially here in the United States of ‘Murica – space exploration (and science in general) has become a political hot potato. Facts are no longer accepted as truths, and any drunken redneck’s opinion is more valued than any eminently credentialed scientist, as long as the redneck makes sure to cite God and the Bible as his sources. Even without that divine backing argument, many humans still refuse to acknowledge scientific evidence: a senator brings a snowball into the chambers to disprove climate change (“Jim Inhofe’s snowball …”), celebrities use personal experience and anecdotal evidence to argue against childhood vaccinations (“How Much Harm …”), a rapper doesn’t “see” how the planet could possibly be round (“Flat-out wrong…”), and state-supported educators are debunking evolution with creationism in science classes (“The Bible v. the Constitution”).

Here we are, standing in the glare of a Bright New Day, and instead of embracing the light, we’re running willy-nilly toward a new Dark Ages. If ever there was a time to get off this rock, it’s now. Before we kill ourselves with our own stupidity.

Entitled to Opinion

Now, lest you go burning this witch on the nearest cross, let me say I don’t understand why science and religion have to be mutually exclusive. Many of our greatest scientists have also been deeply religious. Roger Bacon, the widely acknowledged father of the scientific method was also a Franciscan friar. Dr. Francis Collins describes himself as a “serious Christian,” while leading the Human Genome Project and serving as Director of the National Institutes of Health. As I told someone recently, science is for explaining what we can, and religion for explaining what we can’t.

But I do have to admit I have more faith in science than I do in religion. Science may have brought us the hydrogen bomb, but I believe religion has caused much more harm in the long term. It is behind so much of the hate and fear I see these days in my own country, the avowed Home of the Free and Land of the Brave. Science tells us there is only one human race, just shaded slightly differently from region to region, and that gender/sexual identity/orientation is likely pre-programmed. Religion decrees that there is Only One True Religion (and it’s whichever one you’re following), and all others are infidels, and we must punish those who are different because God Hates Fags.

If ever there was only One True Fact in the world, it’s that hate only breeds more hate. Which leads to fear, fear, and more fear. Certainly not the way I want to spend my remaining years on this planet.

The last time we let science lead the way we came up with things like memory foam, the Dustbuster, and freeze-dried food. According to the Business Insider, there have been nearly 1,800 ancillary technologies that came about directly because of the space race (“20 Everyday Things We Have Because Of NASA”). Apollo 11 flew to the Moon using a 64Kbyte on-board computer (“Apollo 11: The computers that put man on the moon”). My smartphone has literally thousands of times more memory capacity. Just think what NASA could have done with that back in the ‘60s.

This is why it’s so important to get back into the space game with delirious abandon. The naysayers are decrying the cost and lamenting that no good could ever come of exploring beyond our little blue marble. These same people would have told the first cave man wondering about fire that he was crazy to think something so dangerous could be so useful. Just more proof that hate and fear don’t advance us as a species.

Jumping full tilt back into the space race will do far more than just get us to the next door neighbor. Advancements in materials science, recycling, air/water purification, micro-agriculture, medicine, computers, communications, and dozens of other areas will have Earthly applications that could benefit billions of people. And if you’re just not that altruistic, think of all the money you can make getting your investments in on the ground floor of something that could generate trillions of dollars through untold number of patents and technologies.

Mars Landscape

My yard, if climate change continues… (Curiosity’s view from “Rocknest” – NASA/JPL)

So we need to go to Mars. And while it may make some sense to screen for only the best and the brightest to lead the charge, I think my husband and I would be perfect candidates. We’re both intelligent people with a broad base of experiences and education. We get along with each other really well and don’t mind being isolated from other humans. We can sit in a small space for days on end gazing at glowing screens without ever peaking outside. We both can MacGyver our way out of problems. I can document our progress, and he can build a laser cannon with toothpicks and bubble gum to fight off the raging Martian spider hoards. We can survive on limited supplies (as long as they include tea, coffee and dark chocolate M&M’s), and – if worse comes to worse – my husband can create methane from water. Other wives will understand. The cats may not like it much, but our doctor will be glad to hear we finally lost all that weight.

Besides, it’s the safest place to be if Trump wins in November.

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