Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Can’t Fight the Physics

Some interesting graphics popped up in my Twitter feed last week from The Meta Picture. I found these graphics… telling.

Are they my scientifically-based horoscope? Probably. Yeah… Science… Bitch? Ugh…

It started with this one:
It is so true. Everything is relative.

On Sept. 27, 1905, Albert Einstein published his paper titled: Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content? Short answer: yup. Oh, sorry. Spoiler alert.

Longer answer: This equation tells us that mass and energy are two forms of the same thing. It’s a little like H2O, which can move into steam from its solid state of ice. Capture that steam vapor and chill it, and it once again becomes ice.  Same with mass and energy. (Except, it is really nothing like water. Water is just an analogy that doesn’t hurt my already-damaged brain.)

So under certain circumstances (such as an object nearing light speed), mass can become energy, and energy can become mass.

There are some measurable consequences of approaching light speed. And they don’t all involve breaking time records of the Kessel run. They do, however, involve mass.

The faster you move, the heavier you get.

And this is why I won’t run. Science tells me running would be contrary to efforts to lose weight. If you see me running, you better run too, because something bad is hot on my heels.

Right now, I feel like my life is moving a breakneck speed. And that is feeling like a very heavy burden.  A very concentrated effort from me is needed to slow things down and take things in.  But I have to slow things down. I have to. When I go too fast, I make mistakes. My heart outdistances my brain. My emotions gain more mass than my logic.

Last week, I sat in a chair receiving IV steroids that dripped at a mind-numbingly slow rate. So I sat. And I thought. And I allowed my mind to wander and then become numb. And that was—well—kind of awesome. I just did nothing.

And I found a touch of gratitude as well. The woman sitting next to me was receiving chemotherapy in her little drips. It was simultaneously poisoning her cancer cells and her healthy cells.

I told her that I was sorry she had to go through that, that it just sucked, and that I thought she was a warrior.

And you know what she was said? She told me that she was sorry to hear about my MS. That she was going to beat her cancer and move on with life sans breast. And how she couldn’t imagine sitting in that room knowing that she would have to get infusions for the rest of her life.

And that, friends, is known as special relativity.

Aside—Jackie Cancer and MS Elys are now email buddies. And I am this close to getting her to join me for the next Red Rockettes derby session. She is just badass enough to do it, too.
The law of universal gravitation was born from the mind of the good Sir Isaac Newton. He tells us that any two bodies in the universe attract each other with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.


Don’t worry about the math. Isaac is simply pointing out that everything in the universe attracts everything else in the universe. This is what gives the universe such great power. This is the source of both beauty and chaos. Of both creation and destruction.

I just love it when science smashes headlong into philosophy. It is almost like they are being drawn together by a gravitational pull.  Oh, wait…

Newton’s law is sometimes reassuring. It lets me know that the moon will not be floating away into space. But it is sometimes infuriating. It keeps that moon exactly out of reach.  Stupid, beautiful moon.

The greater the distance, the lesser the force of attraction.

As a friend once told me: proximity matters. I think the hardest part of knowing this is the awareness of the inevitable outcome.  (See also: entropy) As something drifts away—which is an absolute in this life—it becomes harder to hold on to. The distance doesn’t have to be physical either. I have never felt so alone as the times when I sat knee to knee with someone who was drifting away.  Everything drifts. Most things drift away.
Time dilation is scary/awesome.

You have probably learned about this one in middle school. It is explained like this: Two people synchronize their watches so they keep the same time exactly. Then one person goes up into space, where she is traveling away from the earth at a high velocity. When he returns to earth, the two watches that were once synchronized are now showing two different times. The earth watch’s time is ahead of the space watch that was traveling near the speed of light.

This is also the reason that Captain Kirk never aged. Well, that and Botox.

The faster you move through space, the slower you move through time.

I guess, in a way, space and time are antonyms. The more you have of one, the less you have of the other.

Except, that isn’t really the human experience, is it? Sometimes, time goes maddeningly quickly. It happens both when you are with your kid at Disneyland (Except for the line to the Indiana Jones ride. Time stands still there.) and when you are late to an 8:30 meeting. Tempus fugit to the max.

Sometimes, I can actually control time.  The best example I have of this is when I read the last Harry Potter novel. I had been looking forward to that book being placed in my hands for such a long time that, when it finally was, I dove in with gusto. I read as fast as my brain would facilitate it. I had to know how it all ended. But, somewhere during that marathon reading session (I may or may not have taken a vacation day to read (totally did)), I looked at the stack of pages piling up on the left hand side of the book.

I was about halfway done. And it occurred to me. This was the last one. There would never be another Harry Potter book that was new to me. And I was plowing through it too quickly. I needed to slow down. To savor. So I did. I slowed down.

I controlled the pace of my time. Sometimes, we really can do that.  

We all know that space is not a constant. Time is not a constant either. One person’s hour can never be the same as another’s.
Remember that Disney movie from the late '70s called The Black Hole?  With both Roddy McDowell and Slim Pickens voicing the robots?  While lobotomizing space crew members to turn them into drones is not quite on the Disneyesque-par of shooting Bambi’s mom, it is still pretty fucked up.

But that movie was the introduction to the idea of black holes for countless kids of my generation.  I could not then—nor can I now—wrap my brain around the idea of a black hole. I get the basics, but… Where does the matter go? Where does the hole start? End?

The one thing I can understand (I think) is that black holes are much like diamonds. Black holes are forever.

The physics formula above is called the Black Hole Information Paradox. See? Even the smarty-pants scientists find black holes inherently contradictory. What this theory suggests is that physical information could permanently disappear in a black hole, allowing many physical states to devolve into the same state.

Still with me? Think of it like the California penal system. Things go in, but never come out. 

But this formula is special. It violates another commonly accepted scientific tenet: the complete information about a physical object at one point in time should determine its state at any other time. Like I have said time and again, things don’t change.

Until the black hole sucks in the object and changes everything about it. We think. Maybe. But who knows.

Maybe Stephen Hawking knows. In 1975, he and his research partner Jacob Bekenstein did some math stuff that proved black holes should slowly radiate away energy. There is quite a bit of interesting reading on this, most notably about the scientific conundrum that this created.  I’ll let you look that one up. I already have a pretty good headache. But I think everyone can get on board with this notion:

Information entering black holes is lost forever.

Maybe a black hole is like a cosmic dumping ground of bad energy. Maybe it is the great recycling center of the universe. Or maybe it is just one giant Ctrl+Alt+Del. Whatever it is, anything it grabs hold of is gone. Gone forever. I have had many things sucked into a black hole over the last year. I need to accept that I will never, never get those things back.

And that is (mostly) ok, really.

I think the key to surviving the gravitational suck of a black hole is to let go of everything it is taking in. Let it go, or be pulled in with it.

Now go watch The Legend of Hell House and Dr. Strangelove to cleanse your movie palate of that Disney monstrosity.
How’s that for an epitaph? It is carved into Ludwig Boltzmann's tombstone. 

It means "entropy is the logarithm of multiplicity." Or, in other words:

The tendency to move from order to disorder increases as time progresses.

It's a thermodynamics and statistical mechanics fact. It also seems to be a fact in my life. The disorder of my world is sometimes the only constant I can count on.

Entropy. Everything falls apart.

Wanna know something kind of interesting? In thermodynamics, entropy is categorized as a reversible process. Maybe it could be a reversible process for me? I’m not so sure. But I am willing to take on that experiment.

Maybe I can slow time down enough to get my shit in order. I need to at least try. Einstein or Boltzmann might think it’s possible.  That’s good enough for me.
This formula wins for coolest name: Coulomb's Constant.  It calculates the electromagnetism, or strength, of an object.  And this one might also be the most basic concept in this list. Quite simply:

Opposite charges attract, similar charges repel.

I won’t speak for all of you, but I know this to be absolutely true for me. I think I very naturally seek to be with people that have an opposite charge than I do.  I’m not talking about the basics or the superficial. Things like common education levels, economic background, or acceptance of global warming are important in a relationship. Those things are not the things I am talking about.

I’m talking about finding people that will fill me with energy. That will become part of my world and allow me to become a part of theirs. I need people that will help to complete my circuit, so that I can be of some purpose. That’s the kind of stuff that goes beyond whether or not you are a registered Democrat.

I mean, who the hell wants to hang out with another version of themselves? I want to learn, grow, explore. For that to happen, I need an opposite charge.  And I want to be a part of someone else’s circuitry.

OK. That loud crack you just heard was my brain. I need a nap.

For more cool Internet stuff, follow: @MetaPicture

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

'Roid Rage

MS is making me really pissed off today. As it turns out, they don’t call it Relapsing Remitting MS for nothing. And right now, I am sitting in the Intermountain Medical Center Infusion clinic, hooked into an IV that is pumping Solu-Medrol into my left arm.
Our bodies are so strange. The medicine going in my arm gives me a horrid taste in my mouth. The nurse gave me Jolly Ranchers to suck. They are supposed to help with the old-penny flavor. And they do. A little. But I am still really pissed off.

The steroids are to treat the first R of RRMS. I am having a relapse. The vision in my right eye is blurry. Cloudy. Smeary. And that cute little light is back in the corner of my vision at night. And when I say cute, I mean really fucking annoying.

I warned you I was pissed.

Then there is the pain. I’m having previously un-experienced joint pain. My GP ruled out arthritis, mostly because Advil doesn’t touch it. And it is on my right side, under the broken eye. So now I am on medication that eases the neurological pain and knocks me out at night. Then I am on medication that wakes me up in the morning so I can work.  I’m taking medication to treat the side effects of my medication. Better living through chemistry.
I am 100% sure that this latest little MS gift is stress-related. These last couple weeks, I have been experiencing intense, soul-crushing strain from all sides. Work has been crazy. Skating with a blind side is incredibly difficult for me.  (I can barely skate with both eyes working.) And there was court. I was called to testify against the man who hurt my Kidlet. I had to spend hours listening to lawyers question my parenting ability and outlining my bad choices. Pointing out my failed relationships and trying to convince me that I am an easily-swayed little girl who will go along with whatever I am told. Saying I play fast and loose with the truth.

And I had to do all that alone. From a karma perspective, I guess I probably had that coming.

I’m happy to say that I shut that shit down, Lisbeth Salander style. I refused to play that lawyer’s game. I got a bit sarcastic. I got a lot indignant. I’m not 100% sure I didn’t cuss. He told the judge I was a hostile witness. He has no idea.
Sigh. How the holy hell did I get here? To this month? To this life?

It’s been a bitch of a May. I haven’t been all that pleasant to be around. I owe a couple apologies. But it’s undeniable. Things are worse. My MS is real, as much as I like to pretend that it isn’t.

And summer is coming.

I’m sitting in this chair watching the drip-drip-drip that is being pulled by gravity into my vein. And this thought keeps running through my head:

I wish I hadn’t said anything. I wish I would have just learned to deal with a wonky eye. I am not at all sure that the treatment--meant to buy me 10 to 15 extra years of mobility--isn’t the very thing that is making me feel so shitty.
Is it really worth 10 years? The last 10 years?

I know everyone is on the clock. Life is fatal. No one gets out alive. I know that. We all have an expiration date. I’ve always known that. But when I would think about my lifespan before my diagnosis, I would picture my time left like the alarm clock on my bedside table. I knew that little clock was there, quietly ticking off the time. But it was small and unobtrusive.  Hardly noticeable. Sure, I knew the alarm would be waking me up in the morning, but why worry about that now? Worry about that in 8 hours.

My clock is much different now. It’s Big Ben. It’s the clock in Grand Central Station. It’s on Spasskaya Tower. These clocks are huge and noisy and obvious. They make their presence known. Their faces are so big that you can actually watch the minute hand sweep around the dial. You can watch that minute be spent.
These are my clocks now. And I fear my next clock may look like it was painted by Salvador Dali.

Drip, drip, drip.

I should have never mentioned it to anyone. I could have just powered through it. No one would have ever had to know.

What would be different? Would I be living somewhere else, with someone else? I wouldn’t be tied to a medical team and my family (the only support I can truly count on). What about that British guy who took me out a couple times but didn’t call again after I told him about the MS? Would he still want to go wine tasting with me?

Would I have the money to take a vacation? The energy? The desire? I just don’t know. And I hate not knowing. Not knowing is torture for me. Knowing is always better than not knowing. Always.


I have completely lost my admittedly-poor ability to hide my bad mood from my kid. He can see right though me, and he knows when I am down. But Mom, he always reminds me, if you didn’t get MS you wouldn’t be in Derby. And that’s kinda cool. It’s kinda epic.

Eff bomb. I hate it when that kid schools me.

But… I love it when he is right.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Life’s Too Short for Fake Butter, Cheese, or People

It has been all over the Internet.  Last week’s episode of Louie, titled “So Did the Fat Lady,” has struck a chord with viewers. One monologue in particular stood out, in which Vanessa (played brilliantly by Sarah Baker) explains to Louis C.K. the difficulties of a fat woman trying to date. You can see it here:

It’s hard for me to call Vanessa fat. I know how much that can hurt. But after listening to her speech, I need to call her fat. She demands that we call her fat. Because words matter. But they still can hurt.
Earthquake called me fat several times over the 2.5 years I knew him. I can call up the memory of each instance as if it has just happened. I can tell you where we were and what we were doing. Sometimes it was delivered in the form of a text message. Sometimes he would say it sitting next to me on the couch. The last time he did it, I remember fighting the tears that were stinging my eyes, trying to spill over.

Earthquake did nothing but lie to me for the entire span of our relationship. The more time that goes by, the more I keep uncovering lie after painful lie. I cannot believe a single word that came out of his mouth.

So why is it so easy to believe him when he calls me fat?

And here is the collateral damage of him calling me fat. Every time he would say something nice to me, I would always tack on “for a fat girl” in my head.

Which, I guess, is what I am. I guess I’m a fat girl.
But, "for a fat girl" didn’t start with Mr. E. It started in college.

When I was 20 years old, I worked in a record store. It was, by far, the coolest job around. Besides getting to be the envy of all other minimum-wage-earning college students, I had an endless supply of music, an employee discount, and the opportunity to meet some famous rock stars. Billy Idol is really short, in case anyone ever asks.

Anyway, there was a guy that worked there with me, and I would occasionally hang out with him, as newly-released-to-the-wild college kids are prone to do. The last time I hung out with him was after a basketball game. We were up in his room at the frat house (I know, I know… should’ve known then…) and we ended up having sex. And right in the middle of me having a very nice time, it happened.

A male voice shouted, “Fuck the fat chick.” There were several of his frat brothers outside his window, watching the whole time. And from that incident was born a neurosis that I still have.

If I was seen as fat then—when I was in the best shape of my life—what chance did I have to ever be anything else?

I guess I’m a fat girl.

That night was the first time I learned that my body would never be what was deemed socially acceptable and beautiful. And I so wanted it to be those things. Before that night, it just never occurred to me to be embarrassed, or self-conscious, or body-shamed. But from that night on, it was permanently lodged in the back of my mind.

I wonder… If people knew that something they said in a moment of no importance to them would indelibly attach to the psyche and self esteem of the person being targeted… I wonder if that would cause people to think for two seconds before they speak.

I doubt it.
I am a fat girl, but I am strong as hell. Mentally and physically. And I’ll be damned if I can’t take a hit. Under my fat, there is a shitload of muscle. And a shitload of gritty determination.

I wouldn’t give up one tenth of my strength to get rid of all of my fat.  Don’t get me wrong. I’d give up other things: a single toe (but not the cute little pinky one), the ability to install flooring, the book I have signed by Martin Luther King, Jr. (But not the one signed to me from Stephen King; I do have my priorities.)

Sometimes, I want to eat buttery popcorn in the middle of the night so I don’t have to share it with Kidlet. Sometimes, I hide the remaining Oreo for the very same reason. I do emotionally eat. I know I do. But guess what? I am starting to think that is really not the worst thing in the world. If I can find some comfort, no matter how fleeting, in a pint of pistachio gelato… I think that is ok. I need to find all the comfort I can right now.
It took me 40 years to find a place where I can go and leave all my body issues and insecurities at the door. Should I be at all surprised to learn that the place was not in a person my scar-riddled brain loved?

Anyone who has ever watched more than three romantic comedies knows that confidence is never in the place you think you will find it.

Derby girls come in all shapes and sizes. And each shapely size can play their strengths. There are not many places on earth—let alone in sports—that recognize body diversity among their players as a strength and asset. But Roller Derby does. It welcomes all. The only thing it asks of you is courage and determination. And those are things that cannot be measured on a scale.
I’m finally surrounded by a group of people who truly love me and could not care less about the size of my jeans. They know my worth cannot be measured by the number on a hanger.

In Roller Derby, my beautiful, round ass is an asset. I have been told that under no circumstances am I to lose dat ass. It is a blocker’s dream booty. And it is a jammer’s nightmare.

Friday, May 9, 2014

By the Numbers

OK, let’s start with a somewhat embarrassing admission. Sometimes, I like to park myself on the couch, eat Oreos, and watch Hoarders. It makes me feel better. Don’t judge me.

While I will not confirm nor deny that I was doing that last night (Note to self: add Oreos to shopping list. You are out.), I learned an interesting fact. There are 3 million hoarders living in the United States. That is an awfully lot of 1993 Time magazines and dead cats.
The show did get me thinking about the numbers in my own life. I found that to be an interesting exercise, if slightly depressing.

I am one of 2.3 million people in the world that have been diagnosed with MS. In the US, I am in the somewhat-exclusive MS club comprised of 400,000 members with stripped-out myelin. I think we need to get jackets. Or at least bowling shirts. Who’s with me?

Honestly, when I looked up these numbers, I was kind of expecting them to be higher. Can there really be seven times more hoarders than MS patients? Ever since my own diagnosis last year I have learned of one other person in my inner circle and at least four in my periphery that have MS. It made me think that there was an army of us, but we aren’t quite as ubiquitous as discarded pennies. It's just a really small world where someone like me can actually be 3 degrees from Kevin Bacon. (Long story for another day.) Whether we are aware of it or not, we all know at least one person that has MS.
Numbers don’t lie. This is what makes numbers infinitely better than human beings.

Sometimes, I wish the numbers did lie. But knowing is always better than not knowing. Always. I know I have touched on the financial impact of MS in previous posts. But, I think those numbers are worth revisiting.  Experts now estimate the cost of MS over a patient’s lifetime to be between $2.0 and $2.5 million dollars.

Let’s all pause for a moment and let that number sink in. That's an awful lot of zeros.

LaTroy Hawkins, this season’s go-to relief pitcher for the Colorado Rockies, signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract. He is a 41-year-old baseball player. I am a 41-year-old technical writer. It will take him one baseball season (where—let’s be honest here—he will only be throwing a couple pitches each game) to make what it will take me approximately 33 years to make.

$2,200,000 is the amount of money the NBA fined Donald Sterling. Chump change to him. A lifetime of Avonex for me.

Do you know what you can buy with $2.2 million dollars? 
  • The Victoria’s Secret fantasy bra (Aren’t they all fantasy bras really? Who wears that VS shit to the grocery store? Pinchy!)
  • Kim Kardashian’s engagement ring (It’s a known fact: the bigger the ring, the shorter the marriage. What is the over/under on this one?)
  • 2013 Bugatti Veyron (And here is the big secret on this one: it’s just an overpriced Volkswagen.)
  • A rare Chinese bowl bought for $3 from a yard sale (Did anyone see my little porcelain cereal bowl? I thought I left it over there next to the Special K box.)

To be fair, $2.2 million is only 1/900th of the amount of money spent yearly in this country on male hair restoration. So, it really isn’t much compared to some real problems. Like being bald.

As long as we are putting things into perspective, I wanted to leave you with a few other numbers:
  • 5.2 million people are currently suffering from Alzheimer's. My grandmother died from Alzheimer's. What an ugly, ugly disease. I think I prefer MS. I may end up in a wheelchair, but at least I will remember Kidlet’s name. 
  •  4.5 million Americans walk around on new joints thanks to knee replacement surgery, including my own father. Last year he could barely walk. He is off bowling in Reno this weekend.
  • 1 in 8 women (12%) have once had or are currently battling invasive breast cancer. I fortunately do not have breast cancer. I do, however, have breasts. Therefore, this number is meaningful to me. I also know several amazing women that have battled breast cancer with the courage of an Amazon. Not all of them triumphed. But each of them taught me how to fight.
  •  10-15% of newborns spend their first days in the NICU. Those are the real tough cookies. I’m lucky to know one. There is something about a tiny newborn, hooked to tubes and monitors, being placed in your arms that is so humbling. And when that little baby smiles at you, in that moment, all is well.
  • 1 in 10 children have been sexually abused. Take a moment to count how many children you know. Then do that math.

I guess my point is this: there is no one living in this world that remains immune to the health trials of life. That is both a little scary and a bit reassuring. If a major health issue doesn't find you, it will most certainly find someone you love. So, maybe, we should all try to treat one another with respect and allow someone the dignity that most of us deserve. You never know what a person is dealing with behind her game face. And the odds are that you will be dealing with something yourself someday. We should make sure that a single health issue cannot catastrophically strip a person of their savings, their support, or their choices.

You know someone that is sick. It’s just math. Plain and simple.