All posts by TZT

Mom. She-hack. Armchair astronomer. Buddhist.

Mean girl, reconsidered

She was my mean girl in high school.

I dreaded going to school. I dreaded the classes we had together.

I was sure it was her that scrawled the word “bitch” on my locker or my notebook that one day in French class, that she convinced one of her friends to do it. I remember the whispers, the loud mocking laughs paired with sharp glances my direction. There was a boy we had in common. And I had just switched back to public from private school, which automatically branded me elitist.

She and I made dramatic gestures to turn ourselves into friends in front of teachers and counselors, or at least make ourselves into non-enemies, but they didn’t seem to last. There was weirdness, and fundamental mistrust. She, like so many things about high school, made me restless and anxious to leave. So I did. I made my junior year into my junior/senior year so I could be far from proms and football games and mean girls and graffiti before I turned 17.

The other day, Facebook sent me some message that one guy or another wanted me to confirm that we were classmates on some application or other. I clicked there and looked around and suddenly there she was, the same big eyes, the same perfect makeup, the same smooth hair.

For some reason her profile is public, so naturally, I look. I wonder who she has become, if I could learn something that would make her more or less horrible in my memory, if we share anything. She is single, I see. There are a lot of pictures of her alone or with pets. There she is at our reunion, which I’d never dream of attending, photographed with a couple of other women that I hope to never see again. And then there are pictures of her with family. Of her radiant and pregnant. Of her pained and in labor.

And then one of her with severely bloodshot eyes, her face smeared with tears. She is holding a tiny, swaddled, lifeless baby. She looks throttled by grief. Or shock. Or something I can barely begin to know how to understand.

“Don’t be sad,” the caption of the picture says. “We loved her very much.” There are no comments or condolences, no words of encouragement beneath it. Just those words. Her own.

I feel it in the pit of my stomach – how brave this is, putting that experience of motherhood, that grief, right out there where high school bitches can run into it haphazardly. It answers questions. It keeps out the riff-raff. It shares something horrible and intimate and defining.

I wonder if I was a mean girl, too. If we were mean to each other. Did I steal her boyfriend? Not according to him, but he was a teenage boy, and I was in that private school at the time, so maybe I don’t know. Did she know how cruel her actions felt? Maybe she did. Maybe she didn’t. Did I do anything cruel? I don’t remember. I might not have had the social currency that she did, but I know I was hurting in that environment, so probably.

I don’t live with mean girl scars on the surface of my life the way they do in the movies. There are moments when they suddenly swell and pulse, but I don’t long to show up at reunions with high hair and fashion gear, claiming that I invented the Post-it note. High school wasn’t always a social joy, but I’ve had lots of social joy since then.

I wish she could remain my two-dimensional high school mean girl. I could go on with my reunion-less life, letting her be one of the caricatures from my teenage years that I haven’t seen since. I wish that grief-smacked expression never had to cross her face. I wish I could look at her Facebook photos and see her daughter alive, twirling in the sunlight. I’d buy her big, stinky red permanent markers and offer up my locker, my car or my teenaged forehead for 100 bitch stamps to change things for her if I could.

I wish. I wish. I wish.

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Cookie lookers

When I was a teenage girl in the 1980s, teachers, local news producers and general do-gooders were keen on showing my kind what a woman entrepreneur looked like. I remember at least two times when I was pulled into an assembly hall of some sort where someone brought Cheryl Krueger before us. I remember her feathery blond hair and red blazer with power-lady shoulder pads as she would grip the podium with one hand, big index cards in the other and tell us what it was like to be the woman who turned her grandma’s cookie recipes into wildly expanding financial success.

One of my dearest high school friends had a part-time job at a Cheryl’s Cookies the summer that my brother and I had a car accident and his hand was badly injured. He was waylaid on our couch for weeks. She stopped by nearly every night with new video rentals and however many cookies destined for the garbage bin that she could rescue. She was one of the champions of my universe that summer, and the cookies added to that comfort.

Cheryl sold the company this year, so it was interesting to be invited to an event last week to see what this Columbus institution looks like under new management. Witnessing mountains of cookie dough move along conveyor belts and frosting machines splurting out buttercream elicited oohs and aahs and squeals of “how Willy Wonka!” And it was. There are clearly nice people working there who care about cookies and frosting and how things taste. They taught us how to do some cookie decorating, which I have never done before in my life, so that was actually kind of fun, as it was just to be among some of my fellow bloggers.

Thankfully, the lunch they served us was healthy and light, because we all went home with more wrapped cookies and brownies as well as more cookies and brownies with frosting for decorating than we could possibly eat. When I got home, my son and I squirted a bunch of frosting on the ones they gave us for decorating, then sent them off to be enjoyed at an AA meeting. My friend Rachel won a year’s supply.

I’ve usually gone to such events as a reporter, so I’m well acquainted with many of the ways that companies vie for attention. The position of a blogger – especially a mother who blogs – is decidedly different. I’ve never been to BlogHer and experienced the notorious swag insanity, so this was new for me. There’s an air about this kind of event that makes you feel like Tuffy Ryan’s mom in “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” or a contestant on the before-my-time TV show Queen for a Day… like this is another strange chapter in American history when corporations and moms are at the roller skating party together again, trying to figure out who should be asking who to hold hands on the moonlight skate.

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I gave birth to the whole universe

I decided to make up a bedtime story last night, choose-your-own adventure style.

Me: “Once upon a time, there was a boy named… Antonio or Declan?”

Declan: “Declan!”

Me: “This boy Declan grew up to become a… paleontologist or astronaut? Which should he be?”

Declan: “A paleontologist goes around looking for dinosaur bones and putting them back together to make, like, T-Rex.”

Me: “True. So is that what you’d like to be? Or an astronaut?”

Declan: “I don’t want to be those. I want to be something I want to be.”

Me: “Like what?”

Declan: “Space.”

Me: “Space? Like… all of space? The universe?”

Declan: “Yes. Space.”

Me: “Uh… okay… Once upon a time there was a little boy named Declan who was actually all of space. He was as big as everything and expanded a lot while stars and galaxies and planets formed inside of him. He watched the Earth as it started to form, and people started to evolve…”

Declan: “I couldn’t do that. Everybody knows that space doesn’t have eyes. It can’t watch anything. It just is. It’s everywhere.”

Me: “Uh… okay. One day he yawned, and 14 stars and 732 planets were sucked into his mouth.”

Declan: “No. Only a black hole could do that.”

Me: “Well if you were all of space and you yawned, wouldn’t that be like a really big black hole?”

Declan: “Maybe. But space doesn’t have a mouth. It doesn’t have any kind of face.”

Me: “Well what would you do if you were space, then?”

Declan: “Nothing. Just be.”

Me: “Okay. Where would those stars and planets go if you yawned? What would space’s stomach be like?”

Declan: “Maybe nowhere. Maybe another dimension. They would be spaghettified. We just don’t know where they would go.”

Me: “Okay. So maybe they would go into space’s stomach! So… Declan, who was all of space was just hanging out, just being everywhere and expanding while the stars formed…”

Declan: “And the stars made people.”

Me: “Okay. The stars made people on Earth…”

Declan: “Now say that mommy and daddy and Declan were born on Earth.”

Me: “Mommy and daddy, who lived on Earth, decided to have a baby, and Declan, who was actually all of space…? Was born?”

Declan: “That’s right.”

Me: “Okay, so, mommy and daddy had a baby who was actually all of space, but they didn’t know that, and he tried to tell them all about the universe.”

Declan: “Babies can’t talk.”

Me: “No, but he tried. He said “ooo” and “da” and “thpppphhh” but they didn’t start to understand until he learned to say words.”

Declan: “Then he taught you about the universe. That’s what you say. You didn’t know about it until I was born. You didn’t even know that after Pluto there was Eris and Ceres until I watched shows and told you.”

Me: “And read books. That’s true. So… Declan came along and learned to talk and started to teach everybody about space and the universe.”

Declan: Nods.

Me: “And then a giant sea lion — bigger than anything, bigger than all of space — that was made out of happiness came along and swallowed the enormous Declan and everything in the universe, including everyone on Earth, became very peaceful and happy because it was very cozy in the sea lion’s stomach.”

Declan: “No!” (Laughing)

Me: “Why not? Sometimes scientists talk about our universe actually being a small part of something even bigger.”

Declan: “Okay.”

Me: “Phew. The end.”

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Fairy dust

“Here mommy, let me put some of this on you,” my boy says to me.

He rubs glitter into my collarbone like a salve.

“Now make a wish,” he instructs me. “It will take 24 hours for it to start doing its work, right after my wishes start working. So… what is your wish?”

“I want my family to be happy and healthy,” I tell him.

He wished for wormholes to form though the earth.

He’d really like it if it didn’t take a whole three hours to get to his cousins’ farm. Lately, he’s been angling to see Disney World too.

If you happen to be secretly working on a space-time continuum-ripping transportation system, Large Hadron Collider, please make Columbus a decent hub, would you?

He keeps checking his tin full of fairy dust as though it is a science experiment. It has magical components like teeny tiny sea shells and sprigs of brightly colored fabric fibers.

I’m not allowed to hide it, he told me, although I’m not sure why I would.

He also wished for all good dreams to come true.

“Not the tornado ones.”

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The Great Interview Experiment

Neil of Citizen of the Month has created the ultimate mixer for bloggers. By dropping a line into the busy comment section of his blog, dozens of us made a promise to interview one person and be interviewed by another, whoever that person may be.

I got some surprising and fun questions from the completely divine Princess of the Universe, whose diaries reflective and funny and worth your time to visit.

Meanwhile, I explored the archives and links over at wenchwire in order to learn all that I could about dk, or wench. She puts out her perspectives in short missives, digestible rants and extremely cool pictures of spaghetti squash jack-o-lanterns. An inspiring woman, fellow communicator and seeker, here are the words she gave me. Enjoy.

Q: Going through your archives, I find that you started your blog in 2006 as “a real-ease from my corporate tongue in cheek,” “a work in progress” and “a rant forest,” among other things. In these 3 years, has blogging served the purpose you expected it to? How has it surprised you?

A: You know I don’t think I have ever revisited my reasons for blogging. Definitely it is a real-ease from my workaday paradigm which is quite static, formal and not creative at all. I can generally let my hair down and my fingers dance along the keys without too much worry. After going back and taking a look there doesn’t appear to be as much ranting as I thought there would be, but that is also influenced by the fact that some coworkers and family members have since happened along. I try and stick to the anonymous and the “powers that be” in those particular cases.

I’m not really happy about my recent bloglessness – a lot of chaff there. Lots of twisty turny happenings in the nondigital life have been taking up my time. It surprises me that I feel guilty about that.

Q: You talk about recasting the word “wench” in a positive light. What is the mental image that you wish people would conjure when they heard it?

A: Wench is never a single image. It is an understanding that an independent woman is and can be many things at many different times. It’s like a superfast slide show that ends with the current evocation of that woman at that time. Never less than a man, subject to her own honour code, capable of looking after herself while still enjoying the sharing of life through relationships.

Q; I gather that you make at least part of your living writing (as I do). What are some of the other ways (apart from blogging) that you’ve tried to break away from the conventions of your work?

A: I do some journaling off line with old fashioned paper and pen. It’s a different flow and a fair bit more personal than what’s available for public consumption. I’ve been working on some poetry and some character ideas for a novella perhaps. It will probably end up being a few short stories. I’ve been expanding my foundation of literature lately as well, new authours and subject matter, We are all works in progress.

Q: Is there a relationship between writing and wellness/spirituality for you?

A: Writing is a means to speak to myself, helps tap me on the shoulder when I’m slipping off my path. Often it’s when I proof what I’ve written that I realize there are things bothering me that I’m not consciously aware of – or that I am once again purposefully deluding myself about. So yes, it definitely assists in balancing my mental health at the very least;)

Q: What should people who have never been to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan know about Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan?

A: Moose Jaw: Has a wonderful mineral spa – and underground tunnels dating back from Prohibition and the days of Al Capone. A fair chunk of the proscribed hooch was shipped from Canada. Once the tunnels were found, they gussied ’em up all purty like and additions continue, and made a wonderful little tour out of it all. A nice way to spend an afternoon.

Q: What else should we know about wench?

A: As for more about me – I’m 48 yet always 8 years old with the wonder an 8 year old has for all things new and the curiosity to enjoy change. And I am ecstatic about my 1st out of country vacation ever – Jamaica in January. Whoo hoo!

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Carnival of Space #129

Welcome to the 129th Carnival of Space!

I’m thrilled to have another opportunity to host this great showcase of space-related blog posts.

For those of you that are visiting Tiny Mantras for the first time, I’m a freelance writer and mother to a fanatical four-year-old astronomer. His interest in space has been unyielding for as long as he’s been able to talk. Therefore, I spend a lot of time reading astronomy blogs to try and become more scientifically literate, as well as riding imaginary space elevators out to Proxima Centauri and other stars in search of exoplanets. And smoothing flour and cocoa powder in a large bin so my son can throw rocks in it and make craters. Or making special trips to Big Lots to buy a bright yellow bucket for a $1 so he can keep his pretend meteor collection safe. You get the idea.

For my regular readers, I hope you’ll dig in here and learn something new about our universe. We’re entering the final weeks of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA), so hurry up and get your Galileo on.

Speaking of IYA, the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-Ray Observatory and Spitzer Space Telescope decided to honor it by combining their significant forces to create a stunning image of the core of our Milky Way galaxy. You can read more about it, find links to the image and plenty of additional info at the Chandra X-Ray Observatory blog, as well as at Dynamics of Cats.

Alan Boyle of MSNBC’s Cosmic Log calls it Triple delight in the Milky Way, with this description: “NASA has blended three views of our home galaxy’s turbulent core to produce a picture filled with scientifically significant snap, crackle and pop. And the deeper you go into the image, the more you learn.”

Boyle also sends Marvelous view … and a mystery: “Europe’s Rosetta spacecraft is making its final flyby past Earth on its way to an asteroid and a comet – a close encounter that should yield beautiful pictures of our home planet, and perhaps the answer to a cosmic mystery as well.”

If you’re preparing to do some holiday shopping for the younger set, Emily Ladkawalla of The Planetary Society Blog has reviews of several space-themed books for young children.

Mang’s Bat Page has a review of the National Geographic Backyard Guide to the Night Sky.

Nicole of One Astronomer’s Noise improvised an astronomy lesson with a group of elementary school kids by becoming a mythical creature in Unicorns and Starry Nights.

In hopes of reaching a wider community, The Lunar and Planetary Institute is putting images on flickr. First up: planetary size comparisons, such as Mars’ massive volcano Olympus Mons against the state of Wyoming, or Earth against Neptune’s great dark spot.

Next Big Future looks at the details and implications of the 100 kilograms of water ice found in the plume of the LCross crater impact.

Ian Musgrave of Astroblog has a guide to observing the Leonid meteor shower.

collectSpace gives us the scoop on a contest that NASA is holding for past and present space program workers to design a patch that will mark the end of the space shuttle era.

Weird Warp contemplates what it would be like to Take an Asteroid to the Stars and Arrive in Second Place.

Centauri Dreams sends the two-part report on the Project Icarus starship symposium, which was recently held in London: Part I & Part II. (Project Icarus is a joint effort between the British Interplanetary Society and the Tau Zero Foundation to update the classic Project Daedalus starship study of the 1970s.)

“Variable star junkie” Mike Simonsen of Simostronomy talks about documenting UGZs, weeding out impostors and other goals of The Z CamPaign.

Ian O’Neill of and Discovery News considers the possibility of tiny, man-made black holes.

Cheap Astronomy delivers part 2 of its Greenhouse Earth podcast.

Colony Worlds
n> lets us know that Off World Colonies Will Have Organ Labs (But No Organ Donors).

Kentucky Space shipped a couple of space systems recently to NASA: “one destined from Wallops and a suborbital launch to test some hardware that will be used on our orbital craft, KySat-1, and the second, a Nanorack/Cubelab combination, destined for Marshall and a Shuttle launch to the ISS. The innovative Nanoracks and Cubelab platform dramatically lowers the cost to organizations wanting to do microgravity research on the station. We’re very excited. In short, it was a great weekend and the team celebrated with an open house on the campus of the University of Kentucky.”

And lastly, Alice of Alice’s Astro Info provides an in-depth, spoilerific review of the apocalyptic, virtually science-free Hollywood disaster-thon, 2012.

If you’re interested in perusing past carnivals or submitting to one in the future, visit Universe Today for details.

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Construct your own narrative

For the past several months, I’ve been helping my mother out with a family project. We’ve been going through scads of old, deteriorating photographs, scanning them and identifying faces. Apparently, members of every branch of my family were armed with a camera from the moment they first one became commercially available.

Then I found this group of seven pictures in one pack, along with negatives that tell me they were taken in exactly this order:

What does it mean? What’s the story here?

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A Gigantic, Happy Halloween

Do you know where in the universe you might find this?
400 years ago, Galileo concluded that it was orbiting this:
And with that, humanity took a giant step toward the realization that Earth isn’t the center of the universe.

We’ve had a full week of being Jupiter. At parties. Out trick-or-treating. At school. At Perkins Observatory. Sometimes with Europa-esque cracked-ocean face paint, but mostly without. He even won honorable mention for his costume at our neighborhood party last weekend. We thought about festooning his cheeks with volcanoes à la Io, but with all of this Halloweening, Declan has mostly told me “I feel like being just Jupiter today.”

Although, in moments, Venus, Pluto and Neptune’s moon Triton have monopolized his attention, he has loved Jupiter for more than half of his four-year-old life.

Meanwhile, I’ve been a little stunned to discover how alien the biggest planet in our solar system is to most adults. We would have had a much easier time with instant recognition if he’d wanted to be Saturn or Earth. I thought the extra big great red spot would be a good clue, but even the people who squealed about what a great idea it was for a kid to be Jupiter didn’t know much about its features.

He did school more than one grown-up as he trick-or-treated (including me). He let them know that all of the other planets in the solar system could fit inside of his. He told me that when you entered his atmosphere, it would smell like rotten eggs, which I surely did not know.

Mostly, though, he just shrieked with joy, heralding each new piece of candy that he got (with the exception of the person who gave him after dinner mints). This was the view of him and his mouse partner in candy mooching that we had for 99 percent of beggar’s night on Thursday:

Last night, when we went to Perkins Observatory, he was well appreciated. and he got to stand up in front of the crowd to help illustrate Jupiter’s features before stealing a quick look at his giant self in the telescope. It was a perfect celebration of both Halloween and the International Year of Astronomy (which we didn’t get to observe with the rest of the world last weekend due to rainy weather.)

This could be our last space-themed Halloween costume. Last year he was the solar system. The year before that, he simply wanted to be “space” (Phase I and II.) When we chatted about it last night, one of the astronomers noted that he seems to be getting smaller each Halloween. At this rate, he’s could be Eros or Eris next year.

Declan has told me that he wants to be some scary stabby person next year, I think because he’s mostly mild-mannered and would like to try being scary on for size. We’ll see what interests and fears another year brings. But Jupiter will live in a chest full of dress-ups, alongside his NASA uniform, space helmet, Star Trek: TNG captain’s uniform, and the shimmery capes and fabrics that take him on daily journeys to places no preschooler has gone before.

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Wild things

There’s this strange, displaced, unsettled feeling that can creep around you when you grow up with divorced parents. Places that you are supposed to call home don’t always feel like they are yours. You’re more likely to have people closely entangled in your life that haven’t been invested in you all along… people who didn’t know you when you were tiny and squishy and so clearly emanating the glow of endless possibilities. Even if they love you, they’re as likely to fear as understand you when you act crazy or angry or pained or restless. They are less likely to know how to muster compassion for the complicated business of acting like a child.

I’m not nostalgic for this childhood feeling, but I was nonetheless grateful to see it reflected on the screen of a movie theater on a Friday afternoon. I don’t remember seeing it there before. The dissonant parts of my childhood were probably pretty different from those of Maurice Sendak, Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze, but the tone they were able to evoke was strikingly familiar to me, in a lovely yet menacing way.

We took Declan, and frankly, the stark joy, disappointment, warmth and anger in Max’s home life at the beginning of the film was far more agitating to him than the land of the clomping, reckless, emotionally conflicted wild things. He laughed the most hysterically and showed the most fear in the first 15 minutes. He was worried that Max wouldn’t return to his mother, so, to him, the ending was especially happy. I imagine that his response, and who he relates to the most in the film, is likely to change as he gets older.

There’s been a ton of discussion in every form of media about whether or not this movie is really for kids. I get tired of hearing people make that judgment, because honestly, I think it depends on the kid, what he or she likes and is able to process. (Not to mention the fact that many things that are made “for kids” by adults prove to be unwatchable, so I’m not sure why critics feel so obligated to bother with that flawed measuring stick. A lot of the greatest kids’ films I’ve seen appealed to adults as well.)

I can tell you, though, that Declan and I have had several great conversations about the movie and the intense emotions presented in it all weekend. We’ve talked about what’s scary to him and what’s scary to me. We’ve even talked about how and why a book can be so different from a movie, which opens a new and fabulous vista for our discussions about stories and art.

I’ll leave the nitpicky criticism about the filmmaking and its relative artfulness up to better-equipped people.

I simply loved this movie because of what it moved me to remember and the rich moments on new emotional terrain that it has given me to explore with my kid.


If you want a clinical blow-by-blow description of the potentially upsetting parts of almost any current movie including this one, Kids-In-Mind movie ratings are extremely helpful.

For more to chew on, visit Scott Mendelson of Huffington Post’s review, which I feel is quite on-point, and Stephanie Zacherek of Salon’s review, which isn’t.

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