Return To The Cosmos… And To Science.
Sunday March 09th 2014, 10:11 pm
Filed under: Family, Knowledge Junkie, Me, Myself, and Reid, NYC

34 years after his hero Carl Sagan first gave the world “Cosmos,” Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of New York City’s Hayden Planetarium, hosted the first episode of a new “Cosmos” series tonight. It was fantastic.

When I was younger, I had a huge passion for science. This passion was spurred on by shows like “3-2-1 Contact,” “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” and countless reruns of Carl Sagan’s original “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.” Although the original “Cosmos” series from 1980 was made up of only 13 episodes, they felt like new adventures every time I watched them.

Sagan didn’t just make science unbelievably interesting to me in an easy-to-understand way, he showed why science was such an easy subject to embrace and love. It’s the story of us all, of all that has ever existed, and of all that will ever exist. “We are all made of star-stuff,” as he famously said.

Although the world tragically lost Carl Sagan in 1996, his work lives on. With the invention of YouTube, I watched many of his old television specials in college. Even without the assistance of drugs, I found what he taught to be mind-blowing, just as “Cosmos” had been. I even read a few of the scores of books he wrote and/or edited. Dr. Sagan made science so obvious and so wonderfully magnificent at the same time.

Unfortunately, by the time I was in college, I had been discouraged from being anything more than an amateur scientific observer due to two very specific issues. First, I posses scientifically-proven terrible mathematical genes, a trait shared by the genes of everyone in my family. I probably could have overcome those faulty genes and learned not to fearhate math if not for the second issue. Beginning in the eighth grade, I had an unending series of science teachers and professors who could be ranked from “less-than-inspiring” to “downright-unhappy-with-having-to-teach-science-and-eager-to-take-it-out-on-their-students.”

By the middle of high school, I held little interest in a professional life in the field of one of my greatest passions. By that time, I had enough other things to be passionate about that it didn’t bother me. I went to college in New York City and studied acting and writing and continued with another of my longtime passions, comedy. I even took a class called “The Philosophy of Science” to satisfy one of my science credit requirements without having to do anything too sciencey. And especially not mathy in any way, whatsoever.

In my defense, I did date a wonderful, brilliant scientist for many years. But I also vividly remember being in a pharmacy with her, carrying her biology book, the cashier looking at both of us and, apropos of nothing, correctly stating that she was clearly the scientist. My mouth wasn’t even unconsciously pouring goofy nonsense out at the time. It was just that obvious.

I’d left science behind, though not my curious mind. During my time in New York City, both during college and after it, The Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural history was one of my favorite places to visit. It’s a giant sphere, at the center of which, sits another very large sphere. Throughout the giant, spherical planetarium are dozens of decorated spheres of all different sizes in an exhibit called the “Size Scales of the Universe.” (That’s site’s not all that exciting, but there’s a picture of the inside of the planetarium and some size scale examples, so you have some idea what the hell I’m talking about.)

Each of the smaller spheres represents the size of something when compared to the sphere at the center of the planetarium. For instance, there are models of all the planets in our solar system hanging around the center sphere, to size scale as if the center sphere were the size of the Sun. There are also spheres that represent how big the different parts of atoms would be if the big center sphere were a proton.

Actually, there’s a similar sort of exhibit on the web that you can take a look at to kind of sort of get an idea of what’s in The Hayden Planetarium, The Scale of the Universe, created by Cary Huang. It’s great, but don’t use it as an excuse not to visit the planetarium in all it’s three-dimensional, gigantic, spherical glory. Seriously, I’ll know.

I never cease to be amazed at how the Size Scales of the Universe exhibit made it so easy for me to suddenly comprehend the most massive of size relationships between so many things in our universe, from the very largest macroscopic galaxies to the tiniest microscopic parts of the cells in our bodies. Standing in that room always seems both so obvious and so wonderfully magnificent at the same time. When I’m in there, I’m always reminded of my youthful passion for science and the people that made it so obvious and so wonderfully magnificent, people like Carl Sagan.

I first became aware of Neil deGrasse Tyson not from my many visits to the planetarium of which he is the director, but rather through that other passion of mine I mentioned, comedy. Tyson has appeared numerous times over the years on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” and its sister show “The Colbert Report.” I won’t explain what those are, because you should just know. I try never to miss either show, but if there are ever times when I go to extreme lengths not to miss an episode, it’s when Tyson is the guest.

He’s funny and personable and, over the past 15-or-so years, like Bill Nye, he has been an advocate for the absolute necessity of Americans to renew their interest in science. Both on a “wow, that’s neat!” way and a governmental “we’ll put money into this!” way. Every time he appears on one of these shows, I find what he had to say about science absolutely fascinating. I’ve always thought his advocacy for a renewed focus on science in America is extremely important. Science has been getting trampled on in this country for at least half of my life, which I find extremely offensive and, quite honestly, just plain bizarre. How could you not “believe in” science? That’s not even how it works.

I even bumped into Dr. Tyson a few times in New York. I think the longest conversation we ever had was, “Hey, I’m a huge fan of your work!” and him running away yelling, “Thanks! I don’t just do ‘The Daily Show!'” I knew that by the time of that run-in, but I’m sure he got that all the time. I also ran into him once when I had grown a large, gnarly beard for the part I was playing in “Hamlet” (Old Hamlet [The Force ghost of Hamlet’s murdered father, played by James Earl Jones in “The Lion King”]). It was also the middle of the winter and I was wearing a long trenchcoat. I attribute the large beard, the trenchcoat, and my over all largeness to him not making eye contact with me and quickly ushering his children inside the nearest building very quickly.


Even though I felt terrible today, physically, mentally, and emotionally, and even though I spent most of the day in bed, there was no chance I was going to miss the premiere of the all-new “Cosmos.” This premiere of this sequel to Carl Sagan’s original “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage,” subtitled “A Spacetime Odyssey,” had been on my schedule ever since I read an article about Seth MacFarlane producing it all the way back in some previous year like 2011 or maybe even 2010 (it feels like a few years ago). As soon as commercials for the new show started airing, my parents and I agreed we were all going to watch it together, no matter what.

As I watched, I found myself elated and literally (yes, literally) jumping out of my seat in excitement. I couldn’t stop saying “I’m loving this!” throughout the broadcast, nor could my parents. We only quieted down for fear we’d miss something. Lo-and-behold, this new “Cosmos” hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, has reignited a passion for science that I’ve not felt in many years. The chances are almost infinitesimally low that it’ll change my mind and convince me to ever become a professional scientist, but I definitely have a warm place in my heart for science that–while never having gone away–was inflamed tonight.

Dr. Tyson made science seem so obvious and so wonderfully magnificent at the same time. I think Dr. Sagan would be proud.

I can’t wait to keep watching it every week. I highly recommend it. And science. Thank you, Seth MacFarlane, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and all the other people involved in creating this brilliant, new, exciting, educational, network television show.


P.S. And, I guess if you can do it, math is probably not bad to learn as a helpful tool to use for a greater understanding of science. But I wouldn’t know anything about that.

Rebecca Returns Victorious, A Bizarro Trivia Night, and The FIVE Basic Tastes?!
Thursday November 29th 2012, 11:48 am
Filed under: Family, Friends, Knowledge Junkie, Liberty!

This Tuesday, our trivia team was bursting with knowledge. Perhaps this was due to our special ringer, recently-returned-home victorious Field Dictator Director of northern New Hampshire for the Obama campaign, my sister Rebecca! I’m exceptionally proud of her and all the hard work she did to get the President re-elected. So maybe I’m just a little biased–the whole trivia team was really on the ball. Plus we had Rebecca! So it was both.

After the first six rounds, we were kicking some ass. Lots of ass, in fact. We had three perfect rounds in a row. We were in first place, with a decent lead over our nearest challenger. Honestly, this is very unusual for us. Normally, after six rounds, we’re doing okay or just fine, but we really tend to pull ahead in the seventh and final round. Even in championship tournaments, we always rule as kings and queens over good ol’ Round Seven.

This week, however, the monarchy fell. We bombed Round Seven. We racked up a bunch of negative points and knocked ourselves out of the money. It was a really weird, bizarro trivia night.

The question that really did us in (and which continues to haunt me) was, “To which basic taste group does MSG belong?” The question’s grammatical correctness was almost certainly not as beautifully as that… but I suppose that’s really beside the point. Anyway, I answered that MSG was “salty,” with which my team agreed, hands down.

The real answer was “umami.” I did not know that this was even a thing. But it is. For some reason, something about the word “umami” doesn’t really seem to fit in with the words “sour,” “sweet,” “bitter,” and “salty.” It turns out that “umami” is a Japanese word that means “savory.” It also turns out that we already have a word for that in English. I mean, if it just means “savory,” why not use the English word for “savory” (“savory”) instead of the Japanese word for “savory?”

Also, what exactly is savory? I’d say it’s something that makes me go, “Mmmm… this tastes good.” Surely, though, each individual person must have different things that make them say, “Mmmm,” right? So it would seem very hard to be scientifically objective about this taste category. Bitter I know–I’m always bitter.

It turns out this is just another one of those things they’re teaching kids in elementary school these days that’s way different from what we learned in elementary school. Five tastes! Five oceans! Eight planets! What is happening to our education system?! And more importantly, do you know any fifth graders who might want to join my trivia team?


Trivia, Perspective, and My Most Hated Of All Organs
Sunday August 05th 2012, 2:42 pm
Filed under: Denver, Friends, Health (Not Cancer), Knowledge Junkie, Leukemia

YEAH SURE, it was great that, on Tuesday, I participated in trivia, despite being absolutely overwhelmingly exhausted (more on this later). And anyway, it’s a responsibility I owe to my teammates! Well… no, it’s probably not, and none of them would ever hold me to anything like that. But I do enjoy (and sort of rely on) playing every week to bust up the ongoing tedium of getting well.

YEAH SURE, it was great that, on Tuesday, our team achieved its highest trivia score ever, even if you choose not to count all those bonus points from that round with all those bonus points. We had great team unity, in which everyone contributed, which is always the best. Well… except, of course, when one teammate has a particularly unfortunate off night, which the rest of us don’t seem to notice. A night in which one person continually contributes just absolutely, incredibly incorrect answers and the others, highlighting not only our propensity to never give up on our teammates, but also some occasional bad decision making, support those very, very bad answers. It’s safe to say we’ve all been that incessantly wrong, yet unwittingly convincing person on more than a few nights who begs, “please don’t listen to me anymore,” only to have the team respond, “no, no–that sounds right!”

YEAH SURE, it was great that, on Tuesday, after a well fought comeback from third place and a very competitive finale, we finished in a very respectable second place, a mere point behind our most vile nemeses/best buddies, the REDS!. Yeah, the very same despicable/honorable team that used to be known simply as the “REDS.” Make no mistake, though, even with the addition of an exclamation point to the end of their simple-seeming teamname, they’re still the same old terrible, horrible, nice, and friendly jerks/class acts they’ve always been. We’ve placed ahead of them plenty of times, but to be honest (implying, perhaps, that I may normally be dishonest?), they’re just more consistant than we are.

HOWEVER, there was one deeply disturbing act I haven’t been able to move past. Something I don’t know that I will ever be able to let go. There was a question that, for whatever unimportant reason, we answered incorrectly. That’s fine, it happens all the time. But this particular wrong answer was different from all others. Ever. In the whole world, in the entire history of people answering obscure questions so they can feel smugly superior to all of their friends (I imagine there was that one smarty pants caveman amongst all our cave dwelling ancestors who must have felt particularly smug, as relatively everything was obscure back then)(also, no one liked him). This answer doesn’t bother me because of some poorly worded question or because of any hard feelings or because of an accidental oversight or anything like that. No, this wrong answer, in itself, will always haunt me.

The round’s topic was “anatomy and the human body.” For the protection of our team pride, I won’t go into the exact details of the question. Suffice it to say, we were supposed to name a specific organ. Without completely processing the wrong answer through my sensory organs, without taking much note of why the answer might be wrong in my thinking organ, and without raising any sort of protest about the answer with my bellyaching organs, I let it slip past me. My most hated of all organs. That dastardly concocter of hormones like insulin and glucagon. That unseemly pusher of digestive enzymes like amylase and lipase. That cowardly, backstabbing “when the tough gets going, I’ll digest myself and destroy all these other important organs while I’m at it” organ. That’s right, the pancreas!

GRAAAAARGH! I HATE THE PANCREAS!!! Or mine, at least. I don’t really have anything specific against yours. Your pancreas might be perfectly lovely, for all I know. Based on personal experience, I highly doubt that it is, but hey, who knows? I apologize if I’ve offended you or your pancreas. Just know that they are all great deceivers, every last one of them, and cannot not be trusted. Talk about a bellyache.

It’s not that I’ve had any new pancreatic problems about which I’ve not written over the past year. In fact, my pancreas seems to have given up its old, villainous ways. Notice I qualified (and italicised) that statement, because I will never stop suspecting my pancreas of plotting against me. I must remain ever vigilant with that thing still hanging around, secreting its merry heart out in there.

Even though its last attack on me was over three years ago and even though its worst, most bile vile, heinous act of attempted murder was well over four years ago, the effects of what it did are still very much a part of my life. Not only physically, in the form of my Dalíesque insides, but also in what has been clear for years now: had my pancreas not hemorrhaged, my life would not be ruled by “getting better.” But it is, and so it goes. Each individual problem spawned from my hemorrhagic pancreatitis in early 2008–from re-learning once and then re-learning again how to walk, to spending years getting off certain medications–has been, or in many cases, is still being addressed.

I’ve come to some kind of terms with that. Which is good, because for a long time, I was at total and complete odds with that entirely unchangeable fact. I wasted a lot of energy trying to fight something that I really couldn’t get around.

For many years into chemo, I pictured my life pre-cancer as a single, taught red string connected snugly and cleanly from one end of my life to the other. When cancer and its many complications came along, that red string was unceremoniously cut somewhere between its begining and its end, leaving both sides to drift slowly apart, slowly downward. I pictured these difficult years as an entirely different length of chord–something rougher, less whole, like a length of naturally scratchy twine. One day, I would finally find both of the now dangling ends of that original fine, red string. But, try as I might, I could not reconnect the two parts of the red string, as it had been exactly the right size to stretch from one end of my life to the other. The two cut ends would touch, but there would be no extra length with which to tie them back together.

And so I would knot the beginning of the length of twine to the end of the first stretch of red string, and I would knot the end of the length of twine to the beginning of the other stretch of red string. Thus, I would bridge the original, beautiful red string together with this crude yarn. My “real life,” that red string, and my “cancer/chemo/recovery life” away from it, the coarse twine, entirely different, entirely separate.

But there is no twine; it’s all the same red string. It was around April that I stopped thinking of the years I’ve been spending here as my life on “pause,” or some sort of alternate reality I had been fighting my way back from, trying to escape back to my life. This difficult patch is just as much a part of my life as any other part has been. It’s just been something I was forced into, instead of something I chose or to which I was complicit. Understanding this has made a huge change in my life.

I don’t mean to suggest that I’ve been able to look at these years as happy or good (although there have been a few positives). Given the option, I never, ever would have chosen this path. It sucks. It’s crappy. Cancer imposed itself upon my life and I hate it for doing so. It caused so much damage and it took so much from me, including over half of what should have been my most formative years, my twenties.

But fighting against it, rather than accepting it, serves only to create more misery. I had limited myself in so many ways, because I thought only in terms of “getting back to my life.” I withheld things, relationships, feelings from my life, telling myself there would be plenty of time for those when I got back to my life. Having since realized there is not a life to get back to, rather, that this is my life, I’ve been able to indulge in thoughts and feelings and experiences I had fully pushed away.

Again, I don’t mean to imply that everything is sunshine and roses now. I’m way, way past being ready to be done with all of this. And it’s hard finding out, what feels like every time I complete some part of this process of getting well, that there’s another whole component I didn’t realize was there, but that I must now take on. And as good as I’ve felt at some points over the past year, as much ground as I continue to gain, as wonderful the progress I’ve made has been, I’m still not well, goddamn it.

There was a day in May, right around my one year anniversary off chemo, when I woke up and felt like myself again. I felt like a human being. I’d heard from survivors and doctors that a day like that would eventually come around. Every time I heard that, I thought bullshit, to myself, there’s no possible way I’ll go to bed one night and wake up the next morning feeling how I used to feel. It’s a very long process. And while it is a long process, that fact, for whatever reason, did not stop there from being that day I woke up and felt like myself–my pre-cancer self–again. It was glorious. I went out and did all sorts of things I hadn’t done in years. It lasted for days, but it did eventually wane away. There have been many days since then that I’ve felt like I remember feeling before all of this began. And each one has been a gift.

There have been a lot of days since then, though, that I’ve been discouraged. As I’m still not well, I’ve had bad days. I’ve had lots of them. And, maybe, the fact that I’ve tasted what it’s like to feel so much better has made it all that much easier to get discouraged. I’m not fighting the process–I need to get well. I need to do this now. I don’t have any question in my head about that. But I can’t help wondering when all this will be over, I can’t help worrying when I don’t feel well that it’s going to be that much longer. I never stop moving towards the finish line–sometimes sprinting, sometimes crawling–but I still don’t know where the finish line is.

Up top, I mentioned that I’ve been overwhelmingly exhausted. It’s discouraging. It feels like watching a bad repeat for the umpteenth time, just because nothing else is on and there’s nothing else to do. My sleep was bad, and I understood why I was tired. But then my sleep got better, and I’ve continued to feel not only exhausted and discouraged, but powerless and confused. I’m going with the tide, I’m not fighting against it, but when will I hit land?

It’s not all bad. It’s very important that I say that. But it is hard. Like I said, I never would’ve chosen this, I was pushed into this. I’ve learned a lot about myself and how I view the world. I’ve gained amazing perspective that I know I would not have otherwise been able to, maybe not even over the course of a lifetime. I love what I’ve gained. But I don’t want to be so overwhelmingly tired that I have to cancel plans, that I have to throw myself into bed between doctor’s appointments, that doing the things I want to be doing puts me out of commission for weeks.

This exhaustion has played a huge part in my lack of writing. I began writing this entry on Tuesday night, and am now finishing it on Sunday afternoon. This exhaustion has kept me from what I want to be doing. But, despite it, I’m still moving towards that finish line. I may be crawling right now, but I know I’ll be back on my feet, sprinting again soon.


A Week In Lengthy Brief Summary, part one
Tuesday August 09th 2011, 11:59 pm
Filed under: Denver, Family, Friends, Health (Not Cancer), Knowledge Junkie, Liberty!, Me, Myself, and Reid

I don’t feel well today. In fact, I have not felt well since last Wednesday. I’ve been kicked around by debilitating headaches and nausea. Also, since last Sunday, I’ve been more sleepy than I’ve been in a couple of months. From the beginning of July through the end of it, my health was going up a steep incline like it was an expert climber, which it is not. I was shocked each and every day because of how much better I was finally feeling. Each day was a milestone of noticeable improvement since finishing chemo. Hell, I even got sick for a day here or there in July, but I didn’t mind it because it was just a day here or there, and being sick for just one day hadn’t happened to me in years–it was actually a good feeling!

Last Monday, when I was very sleepy, I tried to write a blog entry, and I fell asleep in the middle of writing it. On Tuesday, I set out to complete what I’d written about Monday and then write about Tuesday. I fell asleep again. One Wednesday, I set out to finish Monday and Tuesday and write about Wednesday. This went on until yesterday. I have a 5001 word mega-blog entry (or small book) that’s still not done. It’s pretty absurd.

I may publish some parts out of that behemoth in the future, but for now, here’s a (relatively) quick run-down of the past week:

Monday (August 1) was a 5. I went to the Rockies game as a guest of the Reimans. David had to break into my house to roust me because I was asleep when his family came by to pick me up. And when they left. And when he returned in a different car by himself. Due to this, I did not scold, rag on, or punch him for rooting for the other team, the Phillies. I had a great time.

Tuesday was a 4. My mom and I played trivia at The DTC Tavern with the Reimans. We had to split into two teams because of the new rules. The TVs where the questions should have been did not work. Many of the regular teams weren’t there, and even our regular waitress, of whom we’re very fond, told us the new rules were drying up her tips. It was both fun and painful. As a general rule, I normally prefer my fun without any pain mixed in. In the end, we made out like bandits (trivia bandits) because David, Becca, Mom, and I came in first and won $60 towards our bill, and the others came in second and won $40 off their bill. Since we were there as one group and paid as one group, we got $100 off our bill. If we had played as one team, we would have won less money… good work, The Tavern!

Wednesday was a 3. My folks went to Vail. I stayed behind, with a plan for joining them the next day. I decided I’d take advantage of my free Wednesday and “get stuff done!” This did not work out well. I couldn’t hold my eyes open, so I slept some, then I started feeling lousy, so I laid down on the sofa and tried to watch some TV. I was depressed that I’d not gone up to Vail, hadn’t gotten anything done, and felt physically unable to do anything. A late visit from Reiman saved the day from being a 2.

Thursday was a 3. On Wednesday, my cousin Adam, his pregnant wife Amy, and their jewel-of-everyone’s eye daughter, Noa, drove from the mountain, near Las Vegas, on top of which they’ve lived for two years, to Vail. Adam was headed down to Denver on Thursday for the last part of an applications process to become a firefighter in Denver (so as to move the family back here): an interview with the West Metro Fire Department. On previous trips to Denver, he’d passed the written test with flying colors and aced the physical test. The plan for the day was that he would kick ass at his interview, swing by and pick me up, and we’d go join everyone in Vail.

Instead, everyone left Vail and came to our house. I told my parents I wasn’t feeling well, and they decided they weren’t comfortable leaving me alone. I protested and was whole-heartedly against them coming home, but I do appreciate the reasons they made the decisions they did. Also, I couldn’t really be mad, because this gave an opportunity to spend some time with my wonderful cousins! Their arrival saved this day from being a 2.

Friday was a 4. I slept a lot. When I wasn’t sleeping, I talked to Adam and Amy and talked and played with Noa. She and I get along very well, which might say something about her maturity at age three, or my lack of maturity at age 28. I find that it’s fun just to be around her. Everything familiar to me is new and wondrous to her. And “why?” is asked of almost everything I say. There’s also the added bonus of not being her parent, so there’s very little she can find to disagree with me about.

Saturday was a 4. Largely the same as Friday: I slept a lot, played with Noa, and got to spend more time with Adam and Amy. I really wish I had been feeling well during their visit. I love having them around. I’ve often stated how lucky I am to have such a great immediate family, but I am also very lucky to have grown up with so many great cousins, as well. Not to mention my cousins we’ve gained through marriage, Amy and Ivan, who both seem like natural, obvious parts of our family. We’re family, we’re friends, and I find we’re all quite happy to be around one another.

Sunday was a 4. Again, I slept most of the day. Those family members from my mom’s side of the family that were in town came to a hot dog dinner at our house. The stand-out moment of the weekend for me occurred while when the family was seated at the table, everyone was having their own conversation, and Noa turned to me and asked, “Rrrrreeeeid, why doesn’t she have a boyfriend?” as she pointed in the general direction of a female family member at the table.

“Because she hasn’t found the right boy to be her boyfriend yet,” I replied.

“Why?” she asked.

“You don’t want just any boy, and the right one can be very hard to find.”

Noa crinkled her nose and thought about this. I’m not entirely sure this was a satisfactory answer for her, but she moved on anyway, to what was surely a better and more pertinent question, “Do you have a boyfriend?” she asked me.

The table went silent. Heads turned. It was great.

“No, I don’t,” I shrugged.

“Do boys not have boyfriends?”

I loved this question. I loved answering this question. I loved the hesitation apparent in some of the throats at the table. “Some boys have boyfriends.”

“Oh. Why don’t you?” she asked innocently.

“Because I want a girlfriend.”

“Hmmm.” She furrowed her brow and looked away from me as she considered that. She quickly moved on, “Why don’t you have a girlfriend?”

It went on like this for some time. It was great.

* * *

All right. I think that’s it. While I intended to include Monday and Tuesday in this summary, I am in a lot of pain and, hey, I can always do those another day. Or not. I’m off to feel better. I gots me some things to do.


A Totally Sweet Look At The Protagonist’s Name in Rumpelstiltskin. Awesome!
Wednesday February 09th 2011, 1:25 am
Filed under: Knowledge Junkie, Who Knows?, Word Nerd

A few days ago, I asked what the protagonist’s name is in the classic fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin. Thanks for all your answers! This wasn’t a trick question, however, I think there is some valid reasoning behind two different answers. The answers come down to who the protagonist is in the tale.

1) “She doesn’t have a name,” referring to the Miller’s daughter who becomes the Queen is correct. So is “The Miller’s daughter.” The Miller’s daughter is the main character of the story and is most often regarded as the protagonist of the story. In short, she is put in a bad position by her father, she makes deals with Rumpelstiltskin, she becomes the Queen and she overcomes a legal dispute with Rumpelstiltskin. If Disney ever makes a Rumpelstiltskin movie, she will get a name like Mabel or Gertrude or Sharon and she will sing songs and we will empathize with her.

2) I would like to offer up an alternative answer. Put aside all of your childhood memories and preconceived notions about the story and the characters of Rumpelstiltskin. Once you’ve safely stowed all of those notions and memories, read the following brief refresher on the story that I have prodivded:

-A Miller flat out lies to people, saying that his daughter Mildred can spin straw into gold.

-Mildred cannot spin straw into gold. This is a ridiculous claim and is clearly untrue.

-Nevertheless, the incredibly stupid King believes this to be true and locks young Mildred in a tower.

-The King orders Mildred to spin straw into gold or she’ll be executed, while her lying s.o.b. father can presumably just go on with his life as a liar whose lies got his daughter killed.

-Millie, who has no idea how to transmute matter, is visited by Rumpelstiltskin, who is some sort of short impish demon alchemist who’s always wanted to be a father, but due a genetic disposition, cannot procreate.

-Rumpelstiltskin enters into a contract with Mildred to save her life by spinning straw into gold in exchange for her necklace.

-The King, who likes shiny objects, is absolutely thrilled with all this stringy gold, but he’s also a greedy bastard and tells Mildred to spin more gold or else he’ll kill her.

-Rumpelstiltskin returns. Millie and he enter into a new contract in which he will save her life again in exchange for her ring.

-The King is so elated to have more strands of gold that he tells Milford he’s going to kill her if she doesn’t make more.

-Once again, Rumpelstiltskin saves the day. He and Milbert enter into their final agreement, in which he will save the her life a third time in exchange for her firstborn child. This may seem like a steep price, but keep in mind the following: he will have literally saved Milbot’s life three times from the bloodthirsty king; he has thus far only asked for a necklace and a ring; he’s always really wanted to be a dad; and most importantly, Milktoast entered into this agreement, fully understanding what she agreed to.

-The King, who is in a state of euphoria at the sight of all his new gold guitar strings, decides he’ll marry the fair and beautiful Maid Millman, whom he was threatening with death mere hours earlier. He is unaware that his new queen is a big fat liar and that their relationship is built on a foundation of lies.

-The Queen has a baby whom she loves. The King also has some fondness for the young lad despite not being able to throw him in a tower, demand something unreasonable of him and then kill him. This seems to be the King’s favorite activity.

-Rumpelstiltskin, dressed to the nines, strolls into the castle, beaming because he’ll finally get to be a daddy, and politely asks the Queen for his compensation for saving her life that third time.

-The Queen wants to break her contract with Rumpelstiltskin, who is heartbroken at the thought of not being able to adopt this child.

-While it would be well within his legal rights to take custoday of the baby and raise him as his own, Rumpelstiltskin offers the Queen a way out of the contract. All she has to do is guess his name.

-The Queen overhears Rumpelstiltskin talking to himself about how wonderful and fulfilling it will be to play catch with Rumpelstiltskin Jr and to go fishing with Rumpelstiltskin Jr and to pay for Rumpelstiltskin Jr’s college education with all the things he’s turned into gold. From this, the Queen surmises that her hero’s name must be Rumpelstiltskin Sr or Rumpelstiltskin the First or something. On her third guess, she finally guesses plain old suffixless Rumpelstiltskin.

-With a heavy heart, the grief-stricken Rumpelstiltskin withdraws his claim to the baby, his chance at parenthood destroyed for ever and ever. He is so sad that he flies away in a cooking ladle which he crashes into a mountain. THE END.

A protagonist doesn’t have to be the narrator or main character of a story. The protagonist can be someone we, as readers, get to know through other characters. These characters give us many different insights into the protagonist, but they also each have their own biases, opinions and perceptions, which can either help or hinder our understanding of the protagonist. A protagonist doesn’t have to be a hero, or even a good person at all. A protagonist must be someone we empathize with and someone we want to see succeed.

Based on these points and on the summery of the story above, I submit to you that the tragic protagonist’s name in Rumpelstiltskin is, in fact, Rumpelstiltskin. Take it or leave it!

Happily ever after,


Tweet: What The Stiltskin Is That Name?
Sunday February 06th 2011, 12:03 am
Filed under: Knowledge Junkie, Tweet Tweet, Word Nerd

Nothing new. So here’s a question: what is the protagonist’s name in “Rumpelstiltskin?” Not a description, job or family relation–the name.

Geek Bowl V: The 17th Vice President, Captain Cold, Mal Reynold’s Ship, Toy Story 3 & Ernest P. Worrel
Sunday January 30th 2011, 1:58 am
Filed under: Denver, Friends, Knowledge Junkie, Leukemia, Music, Sodapopcornculture

This evening I had the honor of competing on a team with five brilliant friends in the largest pub quiz event in America: Geek Bowl V. There were between 130 to 150 teams competing in the Fillmore Auditorium tonight for several thousand dollars in prize money. The annual Geek Bowls are produced by Geeks Who Drink, a national pub quiz organization founded in Denver. Geeks Who Drink holds pub quizzes every day of the week at different bars around the country. These pub quizzes are much harder than the weekly trivia we play at The Tavern. Check out these sample questions to get a taste of what a regular Geeks Who Drink quiz is like. The questions are hard and there are eight rounds of ’em.

Our team tonight was put together by one of my bestest buddies in the whole world, David Reiman, who phlew in from Philly to compete in the tournament. The other not Reid members of our team were David’s siblings Becca and Alex and their respective sweethearts, Dan (who flew in from New York) and Shayna. Becca and I are on the same team, along with our parents, that regularly competes at The Tavern. Shayna and Alex sometimes play on our team, too. Our team name for the Geek Bowl was “Four Out Of Six Teachers Can’t Be Wrong,” in reference to all three Reimans and Shayna being teachers or working towards becoming teachers. It turns out that a team with four teachers can, in fact, be wrong.

We didn’t win but we didn’t come in last place, either. My personal favorite round was the music round. Parts of different songs were played by a live mariachi band, who played mariachi arrangements of current and past popular songs. For each song, we had to 1) identify the song being played, and 2) identify someone associated with the song in some way. For example, “What is this song and who popularized it in 1958?” and “What is this song and what actress sang it in a 1965 movie?” It was neat hearing mariachi versions of songs like “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” “My Way,” and “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps.”

I think there were 80 questions to be answered (some rounds had two part questions). Just as each of us on the team answered questions wrong and fought against what turned out to be correct answers, we also each answered many questions correctly. Sometimes confidently, and sometimes because we needed an answer in the next three seconds. Although I assisted with several correct answers and answered some questions correctly with less than full confidence, there are a few specific questions I am really pleased to have answered. Here are four of them, three of which I attribute answering correctly to friends:

1. The 17th Vice President of the United States, Schuyler Colfax, was the Vice President to which President?
Ulysses S. Grant, our 18th President! The presidential history geek (me) came through. Haha!

2. Leonard Snart, also known as Captain Cold, is a villain in what superhero’s rogue’s gallery?
The Flash! I attribute this knowledge to Amy and Jason. While in college, Jason’s enthusiasm for comics led Amy and me to return to comic books years after we had both misguidedly abandoned them in our youth. One of Amy’s favorite comics became The Flash. She taught me all about The Flash, his rogues gallery, and The Speed Force.

3. In one round, we had to identify ships in pictures we were shown. There were boats like The Minnow, The Flying Dutchman and The Titanic. And then, there was this ship that Alex and I were both able to identify right away:


It’s Serenity from the unjustly far too short TV series Firefly. My knowledge of this is entirely thanks to Amy, who introduced me to Joss Whedon and his many excellent TV shows and movies.

4. In Toy Story 3, which actor from the previous Toy Story movies was replaced by Blake Clark?
I knew instantly who this was, but I couldn’t remember his name. He played Slinky Dog! He died before the movie was made! Most importantly, he played Ernest in the Ernest movies! This information was met with blank stares from my teammates. Even as a barrage of questions kept coming at us, I closed my eyes and my thoughts went straight to Matt Gallo. Matt Gallo did not introduce me to Ernest, nor does he remind me of Ernest, but somewhere in the far reaches of my mind, a vague memory emerged of Matt and I having a serious discussion about Ernest P. Worrel years ago. And there it was: Jim Varney! Matt, you inspired me somehow. Hell if I know how. Maybe it was through The Force–it was that kind of event. Thanks any which way.

When I woke up this morning, I was still feeling really crappy from Wednesday’s chemo. I decided to forgo spending time with David, who’s only in town for today and tomorrow, and instead slept all day in hopes that I’d feel up to doing more than just filling a chair. This plan worked well: I felt extremely okay until the end of seventh round, when we were subjected to a quizmaster talent show. At that point, my brain realized that it was no longer needed for answering questions and it began shutting down parts of my body accordingly. I’m back to feeling chemo crappy, but I had a great time tonight and don’t regret being a part of Geek Bowl V even a little bit. I’m hopeful that I will be feeling well enough to hang out with David tomorrow.

For that to happen, I need to go to bed right… nnnnnoooowhours ago.


Now playing: The Beatles – I’m So Tired
via FoxyTunes

Breaking In My New “Knowledge Junkie” Blog Category: We’re Going To Mars!
Saturday January 22nd 2011, 1:02 am
Filed under: Knowledge Junkie, NYC

I was writing a long entry about how I used to want to be a scientist when I grew up, but I’m not feeling up to writing much more, so that entry will have to wait for another day. The methotrexate I took Wednesday night hit me hard last night and I’ve been feeling progressively worse ever since.

Due to feeling so lousy, I slept a lot and I watched a lot of TV today. My mom and I watched a recent episode of The Daily Show featuring frequent guest Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and the director of The Hayden Planetarium in New York City. The Hayden Planetarium is one of my all-time favorite things in NYC, and Neil deGrasse Tyson is my sole all-time favorite astrophysicist. He’s very enthusiastic about science and about explaining it in a very understandable way for laypeople like me. He’s a funny guy and one of my favorite recurring guests on The Daily Show. Also, I met him once because he lives right by Pace.

Anyhow, Tyson was promoting the new season of his show NOVA scienceNOW. This season is dedicated to “asking the big questions.” All the episodes sound very interesting (e.g. “Can We Live Forever?”), but the first episode of the season, “Can We Make It To Mars?,” really caught my attention. I’ve always been very interested in new discoveries in space, whether they’re about water on Jupiter’s moon Europa or about how the universe was formed. Anything about space, really. Since I was not going to get up from the couch anyway, I watched “Can We Make It To Mars?” on demand. It was awesome.

The episode is all about the amazing new things, from plasma engines to new formfitting space suits, that scientists and engineers are inventing for eventual manned expeditions to Mars. Experts are creating ways to deal with the dangers of such a long mission, such as new shielding to protect a space ship from tiny meteoroids that could rip through anything we’ve previously sent into space. Chemist chefs are working on creating the food explorers to Mars will eat, food that is as lightweight as possible but has to stay good for up to five years. There’s even artificial gravity that works just like in 2001: A Space Odyssey! The coolest thing is that all of this stuff is happening right now–these aren’t far off into the future ideas. It was really good and I highly recommend it to anyone who has any interest in the cosmos! Watch the entire episode online for free at PBS’s website.


Now playing: Red Hot Chili Peppers – Stadium Arcadium
via FoxyTunes