Mary Roach's Packing for MarsIn one of my very first posts on The Nerge, I ranted about how NASA Hates Me, which was about my attempting to fill out an astronaut application. More recently, I wrote that reading My Dream of Stars by Anousheh Ansari made me realize that my affinity for puking probably completely disqualified from ever making it into space. Most recently I read Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars, which unequivocally confirmed that I am woefully physically deficient in what it takes to be an astronaut, especially when it comes to puking and fidgeting.

I have to admit I did not read the book in its entirety. This is because Roach just adores all things repugnant. She loves to linger in details about corpses, shit, and puke. I guess this is no secret to anyone who has glanced at her book Stiff. But I was woefully unprepared for how much she writes about gore and ick and I have a pretty low tolerance for The Gross. This is despite the fact that I worked in animal surgery for a time and had to deal with many things gruesome, horrible or just yucky; somehow in that context I could handle it. (Except dog shit, which is the most disgusting substance on the planet. How thousands of owners spend their days picking it up is really beyond me. But anyway…)

Maybe it’s that I can handle it, or I can tolerate it when it has to due with animals who are not humans, but I really cannot read pages and pages about vomit, or gore, or dead bodies. I cannot. And as I read Roach’s book, I realized that if she even hinted at these topics, if therewas even a whiff of gross out, than a major turd bomb was imminent. And I learned to skip ahead. Thus, I read as much of the book as I could.

If I had left any hope of being an astronaut, this book snuffed them out. Although I am calm in emergencies and tense situations, I think at this point I’ve read enough about space being The Great Nauseator to convince me that space would be one long nausea roller-coaster for me. Also there’s the irrational animosity, something which astronauts and other normal folk experience from being in close quarters with a small group of people, but I experience just working in an office. I realized the bile I experience when my coworkers open their mouths and spew trite, boring words is completely irrational, and that they are nice people trying to have a conversation, but the hostility is tenacious. So I imagine that on the ISS I would experience murderous thoughts with abandon, especially since I couldn’t go hike in the Contact incessantly and pretending that I’m Dr. Ellie Arroway, minus the crush on Matthew McConaughey.

NOTE: In the following clip, you probably want to skip ahead to 1:30.

I’m currently taking a course in music. It’s not in any school. It’s in the my home, my music studio, and the world at large. At times in my life I have taken music classes in various instruments, but it is only now that I have fallen in love with electric guitar, and am trying to get a band together, that I feel that I am always studying music wherever I am.

After my all-encompassing and life-changing experience at Ladies Rock Camp, music became a different experience for me. It even sounded different. When I listen to my favorite music now, I can hear all the instruments distinctly, whereas before it was just melange of sound. Every song I hear sounds so new, even songs I’ve heard dozens (hundreds?) of times. It’s like I’ve suddenly gotten a new sensory input. But the most important difference is that I have gone from being primarily a listener of music to a creator of music.

For now, I am collaborating with another musician who is only slightly more experienced than me. One of us comes us with a song and then we collaborate on polishing it. We also sometimes just jam and see what happens. I realize that this is what musicians do but it is all new to me. I have barely done anything in my life that is collaborative in real life other than having a conversation.

These processes appear to access a part of my brain which is so elusive I have no idea what to call it. Notes and chords appear to happen on their own at terms, and I can’t tell if they are coming from somewhere inside me or just floating into the room and I’m transmitting them like a radio. I realize the latter idea is scientifically impossible, but it’s hard to describe the feeling. I’ve experienced it when creating visual art, but being I have been drawing since I could hold a pencil, it seems more familiar and less bizarre to experience this type of creativity when I draw or paint. However, it also reminds me a bit of when I took calculus in high school and could ace tests without the slightest idea of what I was doing. That feeling of not knowing what I am doing is very present when I am playing music with someone else at this point, yet for the most part, it still works.

I don’t know where this experience is going, but it’s immensely exciting. It’s amazing to have such a powerful ongoing experience in mid-life. Life — you just can’t beat it.

peak oil

I think I’ve mentioned before that I think Homo sapiens is an evolutionary mistake. There’s a lot about people that doesn’t really make sense. One human characteristic that I’ve been thinking about lately is grief. I’m not saying that no other animals experience grief, but I can only speak about the human experience. It seems to me that this is one of those areas we have evolved too far. As I get older, I find more and more people who are permanently altered by grief, and not for the better. There are deaths that some of us can never get beyond, and it permanently lessens our quality of life. There are even people who die of grief. So, what evolutionary advantage is a mental state that can kill you? No advantage at all.

Another weirdness are dreams. At this point in my life, my dreams have evolved into sequences so detailed, long, and complex that there really isn’t that much difference between them and my waking life. The two main differences seem to be that my dreams have no consistency from day to day, and that my dreams usually don’t have banal activities like brushing my teeth or taking out the trash. Other than that, my subconscious creates people with distinct appearances and personalities — just as in “real life” — and there’s a fairly logical sequence of events. It’s kind of like watching a movie except I’m in it. And, unlike most movies, I have no idea what the end will be.

I do sometimes know I’m dreaming, which adds another level of weirdness. I had a dream last year where I told the people with me that they didn’t really exist, I had created them with my mind. They did not believe me and instead began to argue with me. Their point was that they had gathered before me and I had showed up last; so how could they not exist if I appeared later? I agreed that what they said made sense but that I would wake up soon and they would vanish. Which is what happened. But I ask you, what kind of crazy brain-eating-itself creation is this? Could this not be too much imagination? Could this not be another evolutionary mistake, that ones mind is so convoluted that it creates world and then argues with its own creation?

Lastly, I’d like to present to you the mind’s great attachment to permanence. That is, we tend to see the things around us as permanent. This is especially true of those we love; we can’t imagine them not being there (which leads to problem #1 above). Whatever our present life is, it seems like it will always be that way. I’ve felt this way on the last day of a job — that I can’t imagine I will never again come to work at this place. Even when the change is imminent. Now, Buddhism talks a lot about impermanence, meditating on it and accepting it and what not. But why have our brains evolved to see things as permanent, so much so that it takes a great deal of time and energy *not* to see things that way?

I’m sure there are other examples, but these three human experiences point to a species that it just too evolved.