Sunday, April 26, 2020

Letters from Josh
Sunday, April 26th, 2020                                                             Letter 3

Well, hey there, and hello, everyone!  Happy Sunday!  I hope this letter finds you well.  I just paused to pick up a pair of binoculars.  I love watching birds, and I’ve set up the ultimate distraction:  a bird feeder outside my window.  With a nearby dogwood tree in full bloom, it’s a beautiful sight.  However, I think the birds think the food is substandard - picky little buggers.  A female downy woodpecker just alighted on the feeder, and threw half of the seeds she selected away.  She must be like one of those celebrity TV chefs of the avian word.  “Garbage!  What is this?  You call this a sunflower seed?”  But I digress…

  I got a delightful surprise the other day when I went to check the mail.  Now, you’ve gotta understand - there’s typically four things that arrive in the plain black mailbox that says “URBAN” on the side:  1. Bills.  2. Checks to pay the bills (yay!)  3. Junk Mail.  4. Once in a while, a weird gizmo I bought off the Internet.  But, these are all rather cold and impersonal.  So, it was with great delight that I received a letter from Jean and Sam - two people who I’ve never met in person, but now we know each other through these letters.  They recently celebrated quite a milestone:  69 years of marriage!  It was such a treat to read this.  (Jean and Sam, thank you so much for writing.)  As such, I thought it would be a good idea to ask people the following:  what’s your advice for quality, lasting relationships?  I’m 34, and have never been married.  (My grandma keeps reminding me that she’d like great grandkids, and I tell her it’s her longevity plan to stick around to see it.  So far, it’s working, and I project she’ll live to approximately 137 given my skill with the ladies.)  So, what’s the secret?  (Although, perhaps the better question is: what areas are important to work hard at?)  I’ve been asking folks.  Now, I also realize this is a delicate topic.  Many of my friends who are reading this have lost spouses, and others still have endured unhappy marriages.  Both of these hardships shouldn’t be overlooked or cast aside.  Actually, I think they add quite a valuable perspective.  A mentor of mine told me once it’s good to have a friend in each decade to gain insight into what life is like from every age.  I consider myself quite fortunate to get to speak with so many folks who are more experienced than I in the things that really matter.  If you have any thoughts on relationships, be it advice on marriage, thoughts on what to avoid, or even completely unrelated topics, I’d love to hear them!  (My contact information is at the end of this letter.)  
  A thought that has been sustaining me through this difficult time is the pursuit of meaning can be the thing to strive forI heard the thought recently from a modern philosopher (Jordan Peterson) that the pursuit of happiness can often be frustrating, but the aim towards meaning via the voluntary acceptance of responsibility can be quite rewarding (and happiness can be a welcome by-product, too.)  It should be noted that in responsibility I don’t mean running for county executive, or starting a stamp collection (although both are perfectly acceptable!)  Rather, putting in extra effort to do little things to the best of my ability - carefully listen to a friend, aiming at not grumbling on Facebook, doing my daily podcast, writing you this letter and spending an extra moment to make sure it’s not garbage - these things have all enriched me much more than some new astronomy gizmo I found on the Internet.  Life is often hard under the best of circumstances, and now is not a particularly happy time.  I don’t say this to be glum - I’ve smiled and laughed a lot today - but I’d feel as plastic, fake, and gaudy as a pink flamingo perched on your lawn if I bopped through and said “hey, cheer up, everything is great!”  (Plus, you’d have every right to yell the iconic phrase so well earned by the over 50 club…”Hey, get offa my lawn!”) 

  I’ve avidly listened to stories of living through the Great Depression, WWII, and so many other hardships.  (As a matter of fact, I have a new friend who just told me stories of fighting in some of the most brutal warfare in monsoon rains…)  Anytime I hear these stories, part of me wishes that I’d have an opportunity to test my mettle, and to rise to the occasion as all of you have so many times.  In a small way, I feel this challenging time is providing me with exactly that opportunity that you all have met time and time again.  (And hey, that makes you an expert at challenge, remember that!)  While writing you all a letter whilst sipping tea and listening to a Bach record isn’t exactly trench warfare...The thought of aiming at meaning by accepting responsibility - picking up something that’s right in front of me that should be picked up, and doing something I can do - has been bringing me a new and welcome frame of mind.  And, as an added bonus, it’s pretty darn fun to jot you a few lines on a Sunday evening.  I’m really enjoying this.  I hope you are, too.  

  To close with a funny story about dating:  When I was much younger, I was planning on going out with some girl, and man was I nervous.  My family is tremendously supportive, but also has a collective wit that shows its affection with the sharpness of a razor.  EVERYONE knew about the big coffee date, and also that when I was done, I was going to the gym to work out.  Well, my future stepdad, fairly new in the picture, went way out of his way to buy two nauseatingly sappy heart balloons, drive to the gym while I was inside working out, and unbeknownst to me, tie them to my windshield wipers.  He waited in his car for an hour just to see me walk out and glare in an utterly defeated fashion at the gaudy balloons merrily waving in the wind for all the world to see.  He pointed and laughed and laughed...Still cracks me up to think of!  (Needless to say, the 15 year prank war continues to this day.)  

Take good care, and talk to you soon!  


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Lecture notes

And Beyond

The clouds rolled overhead, the stars winking between the cracks in the sky like God catching your eye and saying “I got you.”  I was sprawled out, flat on my back in the dry spring grass, driven outside from a week of stress and uncertainty. The frogs sang in the night, welcoming spring, and the telescope patiently waited for the sky to clear (just like it always does.)  It did, and to the starship I sprang, peering out into Infinity. Ah, there it was. NGC 3593, a starburst galaxy, floated into view, a ghost of a cotton ball in empty space, churning out massive numbers of new stars, yet at twenty million light years, barely visible as a flicker of a thought.  If a light year is roughly 6 trillion miles away, and this is 20 million light years away, that means it’’s...120 million trillion miles away.  Another way to look at it is: there were giant sharks swimming in an ocean above us in the Miocene age when that photon started it’s journey towards my eye.  And remember: this isn’t particularly far away. I regularly observe galaxies two, three, even six times farther away, and that’s from my front yard.  

  This ancient starlight had a healing effect on my worried mind.  For the first time in a week, I felt myself again. Packing up the scope and closing up for the night, the rumble of the trash can wheels on the driveway had a comforting effect of routine, and another thought emerged like the glimmer of the stars of the Big Dipper behind a cloudbank.  It was the marvel that here in this universe of distances unfathomable, I was able to do something that the massive engines of nuclear fission (stars) were unable to achieve - namely, to make the choice to take out the trash. It’s easy to slide into the morass of nihilism in both times of trouble or when gazing into the Abyss of the cosmos.  What does it matter? Well, this simple act does. Right choice swirls with starlight, consciousness stretching along the light years, and the constellations wheel high overhead, nothing above the treetops for a hundred thousand years.    

  It’s truly been a delight to plumb the depths of a few of the mysteries of the Infinite with you.  This series has been a pleasure. I’d like to encourage you to take the next step - start applying that consciousness to expand your gaze outwards to the heavens.  Why? I don’t know. However, there are certainties.  The marveling at the dance of the stars, the advil-sponsored ponderings of the workings of the physics of black holes, and the wide-eyed wonder that a twinkling star invokes in me...all of this has made me grateful to be part of this universe, whatever it is.  

  How might one proceed?  Why, there’s plenty of ways.  Look at the science news. Visit the websites, get your mind puzzled with the physics videos on YouTube.  If you’re so inclined, snag an inexpensive pair of binoculars and a star chart. And, when the wind comes whispering through the night trees, go catch a glimpse of the rising moon.  I think you’ll be glad that you did. I know I always am.  

Clear skies!

  • Josh

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

"And then they will fear me"

"It goes "nom nom nom?  It makes that noise?" she asked, suddenly concerned.  You could see bells going off in her head.  "Alert - Alert - Idle conversation has been breached, Level 2 - Pay Close Attention"

  I paused, partway through my impromptu show 'n tell, holding the carnivorous tropical pitcher plant aloft, (Nepenthes, for my fellow botanical nerds.)  "Oh no, it just is what I imagine it would say when it eats a bug, could it talk - but don't worry, it can't" I told the receptionist.  She laughed, apparently relieved.  (Hey, I don't blame her!)

  I take this as quite the compliment.  It seems that we all cultivate a reputation, and somehow, I'm the guy who would  bring a talking plant by the retirement community for fun.  Can't imagine what would give folks that idea...

  Just the other week, I was talking to a resident of another community, and she was grumbling to me about some of her neighbors.  Apparently, a few ladies have taken to riding the elevator for extended periods of their pajamas.  Hey, why not?

  Increasingly, I'm looking forward to being old.  Yes, Life has sadness and tragedy - but also perks with each stage.  Soon, they'll be genuinely concerned when I bring houseplants around...

What's the Godfather say in the movie?  "And then they will fear me!"  

Ha!  Keep in zany, folks, keep it zany...

Going up? 

Monday, March 9, 2020


Hey folks!

  It's been a long time.  Have you seen the moon this evening?  Go take a look - it's better than reading a blog. 

  (Quick stats:  it's the last full  moon of winter, fact courtesy of a new friend I met while observing said Luna in DC.  He doesn't think we've been there, and I do.  We've been talking anyway, in these times of us vs. them.  It's also called the Worm Moon, because our friendly neighborhood invertebrate farmers are about to start some serious tilling - all without a backbone.  Perhaps determination can look weak, but it's the consistency that gets the job done.) 

  See ya in a few!

Clear skies,