Space is Big

Day 65: Friday

Good morning Zak,

So the other day I went to a percussion ensemble concert.  In between each piece they had what you call a “science slam.”  Have you ever heard of this?  Don’t worry, it’s not what it sounds like.

A “science slam” is actually just a spicer name for something you may already be familiar with: a science lecture.  They turned out the lights, and a guy got up and talked about how big space is.  At the end he even threw in a bit of New Age-y philosophy.  I think that’s the part where we were supposed to be slammed.  You know, so that it would make sense.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the universe.  I mean it’s a pretty cool place and everything.  It’s just, once you’ve seen enough of these things, they start to get to you.  It seems like they always tell you basically the same facts.  We zoom through space at however many million light-years per second, and then we look at impressive giant balls of gas.  Now, on Earth, I’m used to people being embarrassed about their giant balls of gas—somehow in space it’s considered majestic.

But you never see anything new at one of these presentation.  Space pretty much looks all exactly the same.  There are stars, clouds of dust, debris… Why isn’t there anything unique or interesting in space?  Like why isn’t there a bouncy castle?  Or a secret space library?  Or literally anything that looks at all different from anything else?  I mean for all their grandiose claims, these presentations actually make the universe feel pretty monotonous… and small.

I made my own space presentation several years ago.  Enjoy…

No, I don’t apologize.

Until tomorrow,



Day 59: Thursday

Good morning Zak,

Cell phones are dangerous.  The other day, I was checking my email on my phone while heading back to my apartment, and I walked right into a parallel universe.  That’s the problem.  You feel like you can do it.  You can multitask.  I mean, this morning I was able to sing a song while taking a shower at the same time.  Why should this be any different?

Until tomorrow,


Twisting an Arm

Day 53: Wednesday

Good morning Zak,

There once was a little frog named Josephine.  She had a pet human named Robby.  Every morning, she let little Robby out to play and do his business.  Robby’s favorite toy was a sack of paper.  He took this with him when he went out, wearing his red and blue hat with the yellow helicopter propeller on top.  Josephine spent most of the day playing twister.  In the evening, Robby came back in and Josephine fed him.  He was always naughty at meal time because he didn’t keep his food in his can.  It would end up in Josephine’s room.  She ate it so it wouldn’t go to waste.

One day Robby came home, and his face was bright red.

“You’ll never guess what happened today, Josephine!”

Josephine couldn’t guess.

“Freddy payed me five dollars, and I kissed Gracie on the lips!  It was so funny!”

Josephine couldn’t believe it.

“I told Freddy it was gross, and he couldn’t make me do it.  But then he gave me five dollars, and I thought it was funny, so I did it anyway because I thought it was funny.”

Josephine looked at him.


Until tomorrow,



Day 47: Tuesday

Good morning Zak,

So a while back I posted this word-cloud representing the frequencies of individual words in the love poetry of Cino da Pistoia.


My point in posting this was to illustrate Pistoia’s great obsession with death.  Morte is one of the most common words in his poems.  But Pistoia is by no means alone in this.  Many love poets have a similar morbid fixation.  The tendency can be traced all the way back to the beginning of love itself.

Love began around 1100 A.D.  Before that, it wasn’t really a thing.  Seriously.  I mean there was such a thing as friendship or erotic passion or fondness or charity… But “romantic love”?  The notion of some kind of noble or ennobling passion for which one should make great sacrifices—that more or less began in Languedoc around the turn of the second millennium.

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
-Love Story

Could someone please tell me what on earth that line is supposed to mean?

Anyway, for as long as love has existed, the sentiment has almost always been accompanied by a sort of psychotic preoccupation with death.  Even the troubadours—the first true “love poets” in the modern sense—were like this: if Freud were somehow able to transcend the threshold of time and sit one of these guys down for a free word-association test, no doubt the pairing between the words amors and mortz would be as natural as it is automatic.

“And Rudel knew that she who embraced him was the countess.  And immediately he regained his sense of hearing and smelling, and he praised God that He had sustained his life until he had seen her.  And then he died in her arms.”

The association remains deeply engrained in our subconscious even today:

“To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
to let it go.”

-Mary Oliver, from “In Blackwater Woods”

So that’s weird, isn’t it?

Anyway, Zak, you raise a good question:

“If we love others in part because there is potential to become beautiful and they are not yet there, how and when do we engage them in change?”

So basically, if we take poets seriously when they say that love is supposed to be some kind of transformative experience, how does that transformation actually work in practice?

The internet is full of opinions.  I don’t offer you an answer here because I don’t have one.  All I can say is that the collective wisdom of Western poets throughout history tells us that love is a kind of death.  Some people like to call it a petite mort.  However petite or not this poetical death really is, the concept creates something of a paradox: poetical death is also the (pro)creative impetus of new human life.

It’s not at all strange that romantic love suddenly became the central topic driving most Western literature after the middle ages.  Really, the sentiment embodies everything our society ever wanted out of a story.  Writing a good story is about having a vision and being willing to suffer for it.  Pursuing life, even at the cost of death.  That’s what the heroes in every epic have done since the dawn of man.  It’s also likely what we humans will continue to do for as long as this crazy little adventure of ours keeps us turning the pages.

Well, we’ll also continue to do other things… we’ll probably also keep pooping.

Until tomorrow,


Preaching to the Choir

Day 32: Monday

Good morning Zak,

So I did end up joining the choir. I’ve attended two rehearsals and sung at one mass.  The choir members are hilarious.  They’re all adults, some of them quite elderly, but they act like little children.  At one of the rehearsals someone mentioned that the priest had complained of chatting going on in the choir pews during the homily.  This meant that yesterday, instead of just chatting during mass, they also told each other to be quiet in between conversations.

Hope flies across the city of Milan:


An astronomical projectile, a traditional symbol of holiday magic and apocalyptic peril

Anyway, today’s post is not a letter but a poem.

Until tomorrow,



Day 29: Thursday

Good morning Zak,

When I was in high school, I had a philosophy teacher who asked the class one time to close our eyes and imagine somewhere we would like to be if we could be anywhere in the world.  When we opened our eyes he asked if the place anyone had imagined was room 312 YC high school.  I was the only one who raised their hand.  Maybe I was over thinking things, but if I really wanted to be somewhere else, wouldn’t I just get up and leave?

Zak, I know Thursday is a work day for you.  Maybe this letter comes to you over your lunch break.  In fact, I’m willing to bet a strong majority of our readers join us here on Thily Fin from cramped little office spaces.  Zak, I know you love your job, but many people don’t.  My question to those who don’t like being at work is this: why don’t you just leave?

Another one of those moments when I picture my future employer coming across this blog of ours…

I enjoy going to classes at the music conservatory here in Milan Italy.  Most of my composition classes here begin with the Maestro asking me a question: hai lavorato, “have you worked?”  This is a very routine way that we begin.  I answer him with a si and then hand him whatever I’ve written that week.  But our conservatory is the kind of place where other answers would probably be equally acceptable.  I get the feeling that I could come in one day: “have you worked?” “No, I didn’t work this week.  I just sat in the park and listened to the sounds of the people walking by.”

Leaving your work would be an administrative decision that you make about the infrastructure of your life.  We don’t make those kind of decisions on a daily basis.  Most of life is about finding beauty in the mundanity of a fairly regular routine.  Of course, the option to change that routine is always available.

My Maestro tells me he once had a student who would visit other eras.  She’d come in: “have you worked?” “No, I couldn’t work this week, I was in the Middle Ages.”  The student was supposed to write three minuets, but week by week she would show up with nothing.  Finally my Maestro told her, “spend this week in the eighteenth century, and you’ll write me three perfect minuets.”  And according to the Maestro that’s exactly what happened.

Some decisions are made for us.  The other night I decided to go to a performance of the Mozart Coronation Mass at the little parish down the street.  This was another one of those times when bad music was better than good music.  I’ve never heard the Coronation Mass quite like that before, but I doubt if I’ve ever felt quite that much spirit in a room either.  Everyone was beaming afterword, including this one lady:

“do you go to our church?”

“who me?”

“do you like to sing?”


“will you sing in our choir?”


“you don’t have time?  Oh you must come sing with us.  Here I’ll show you where we have rehearsals.”  She brought me around the back of the Church, and told me to come there the next day at 9 in the evening.

She was just beaming.  If that old lady were a piece of music, she’d be written in F sharp major—a sharp for each ridiculous impulse that pops into her head.  “And now this is where you find out I really have a screw loose.  Every time I pass this statue of our Lord and savior I give him a nice little greeting.  ‘Good evening Lord.’” She shook hands with the statue.  “It’s just that he has his hands spread out like that, and I don’t know…

“This way you make some connections.  Life in the city is, can be very cold sometimes, and…” She looked at my jacket zipper.  “You’re freezing!  Button up.  Life in the city is very cold, all the people walk around with their noses in the air.  This way you can make some nice friends.”

Until tomorrow,