The Universe, According to My Husband



Give me a sec to catch up on my notes.  Earth = round thing?

      All partnerships bring with them a hidden debt that you do not know you will be paying out, day after day, for all the years of your union. You may discover that your sweetie doesn’t know the location of the laundry hamper if you gave her a GPS device and a light shove. You may wake one day to the surprise of a partner’s burnt offering (called breakfast) wafting prettily into the vents of the smoke detectors. You may find, as my husband did, an annoying habit right under your quivering ears— like my peccadillo of playing albums on repeat for hours while I am working.  Hours and hours and hours of someone yowling about something in 4/4 time.       The debt I pay for marrying the man I chose is the size of the universe. And it’s getting bigger every day. My debt expands as fast as the seasonal planetary mysteries, in series form, on Netflix or Hulu, from Discovery Channel, PBS, and the BBC.  What an exciting time to be alive! For my husband! And, to a much lesser extent, me!       Two astronauts check mobility of different types of Apollo space suits  

Look, I get we're testing these space suits. But if they ask us to do the dance to Y-M-C-A! I am so outta here.

      I did not know when I married The Husband that his hobby was studying the universe.  And I did not know that would include having to listen to and/or watch in passing a sleek-packaged array of programs about every element of the science of the universe. But I now know I do not understand the following:  astronomy, astrometry, astrophysics, astronautics, astrochemistry, aerospace engineering, spectroscopy, cosmography, cosmology, and basic geography. I already knew that I do not understand math beyond basic fractions and percentages, and even then I do sums in pencil with my tongue sticking out slightly to help me focus. Still, a second pass at my backwards math often shows a mistake.  And most of the time, I still have to look up the formula for percentages, except for tipping a standard 15-20%, and that is because I was a terrible waitress and learned, over time, what under-tipping was. My dyscalculia makes the universe, and my husband’s cadastre of television shows, terrifying and confusing and unreal.       My husband’s experience could not be more opposite. He basks in the pure physical pleasure of the clicking channel changer as he surveys in our Netflix/Hulu queue with the hands-on-hip satisfactory gaze of a landowner examining his holdings. We do our best by each other.  He tries to watch his shows during a time when I’m doing something in another room.   I try not to play albums on repeat in his presence.  Each of us values the sanity of the other one, and that does help things. And, like Virginia Woolf, I do have a room of my own.  An office.  With a lock.  And enormous headphones that pipe albums, on repeat, from my iPod.  If you are a writer and you plan to marry, factor in this square footage and you’ll be a happier pair.       Pioneer 4  

At first glance, I would assume this is a festive fondue warmer. It is not. This is NASA's Pioneer 4.

      Do not think for a single second that The Husband has excluded me from his survey of the universe and all its known holdings.  He tries to explain the whosits and the whatsits, his voice dropping to a lull, his hand moving with a pencil on a piece of scrap, as he talks me through a basic description of dark matter.  His earnestness is heartbreaking. On an unexpected day, these thoughts he is trying to pass to me will coagulate into a brief, thick bubble of an idea. As soon as I try to catch hold of The Husband’s idea of the universe, even a part, I find in its place a mental image of Steamboat Willie dancing boopety-boop with his knees while he pilots his churning boat past a winking benevolent moon.  There’s calliope music in this scenario, and that is somewhat comforting. The fact is The Husband and I will never have a true conversation about the politics involved with the interloping gravity of Jupiter to Venus, as it correlates to the shift of the length of summers in the Sahara and the consequential effect on the monsoon season. (I read Discovery Magazine, which to my brain is like reading People en Español in that I get the basic concepts, but the subtleties are devoid of context. Yet the pictures are so pretty!) The Husband and I will also never thrash out what I do know about the universe, or at least its literary equivalent. I am clutching my stomach, while laughing and rolling around my desk in my squeaky chair, as I consider the irony of the next bit I’m about to tell you. Give me a moment here to collect myself. Okay.  I’m fine now. No… wait.  I need to wipe the laughter tears with a Kleenex so that I might see what I’m writing.       BeyondFantasyFictionMar54  

I would read this. And probably understand it. Probably.

      Here’s the deal:  I read science fiction.   Not hard science fiction.  Don’t give me that much credit. I read soft science fiction, including most of the Hugo Award winners, and a lot of the Nebula prize recipients.  My home library stacks feature a section for sci-fi, and it may surprise you to know I own a few early editions of what are considered the classics of the form. (It surprises me.  Those early editions were happy accidents.) The Husband does not like science fiction.  Don’t be too angry with him.  He doesn’t read novels, generally, or fiction at all.  He’s too busy reading about the universe. And, as there’s plenty of it, I expect that’s what he’s going to be reading until the day when we both have to switch to the large-print editions of whatever holographic spirit world that books will inhabit in the not-so-distant future of hovercraft library bookmobiles circled by barking dogs in jetpacks.       While he’s parsing the universe, my mind strings gossamer threads out of Madeleine L’Engle’s idea of the tesseract and the singing of mitochondria; knits together Frank Herbert’s twin mapping of planetary ecology to the stability of governmental bodies; embroiders upon Bradbury’s sense of the fullness of mutual otherness that occurs as one species relates to another species. At night, while the real stars pale under the gauze of thin clouds, I read and reread these stories to myself, year after year and try to keep content with the universe that I know, an innerspace of literature: infinite, dark, and warm. As I read, I can hear theoretical physicist Michio Kaku on the television in the living room laying out the basic mathematics of making an elevator that goes from the surface of the earth to the International Space Station.  The Husband is watching his stories.  He is content.      

Untitled (man and woman with man in the moon)


Bluebird, when you said you'd fly me to the moon, I thought you meant, you know, with NASA , not a cardboard cutout. Lame.

      Our misunderstanding of one another’s view of the universe is the real debt we pay to each other, nodding gently at the missed passes of everyday conversation. He would prefer to converse with me about the shows he watches.  I would love to discuss the then-revolutionary ideas proposed by Herbert about the relationship of healthy planetary ecology to the balance of governmental power. Neither conversation will ever happen.  We might as well ask Duchess Monkey and Ilsa von Dogovitch if they feel strongly either way about the political ramifications of the recent experiments using the Large Hadron Collider in Berne, Switzerland. Meanwhile, I asked The Husband last week if there was a book he thought I could read that might help me understand the show he’s currently watching, Discovery Channel’s “How the Universe Is Made.” He suggested I look around for a pop-up book.  We both laughed.  He went back to listening to Astronaut Stanley Love reveal how interplanetary gravity works, sotto voce, American-style. I closed my eyes and I heard the voice of Douglas Adams in my ear, unspooling a story, as sure as the lifespan of a star, as brilliant and as fine.  Adams could, and does, explain the universe in a language I understand:      
    Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is.  I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.
      I sag back on the couch and listen to my brain recite Adams word for word.  Soon, Zaphod Beeblebrox will make his first appearance.  Now, there’s a man I could talk to, I think.  At least one of his heads might listen to what I have to say and respond with words I’d understand.  The other head, of course, will be busy reading the interplanetary edition of People en Español.

      Méliès, viaggio nella luna (1902) 06      

About Courtenay Bluebird

Courtenay Bluebird is the creator of Bluebird Blvd. and The Bluebird B-Side. She is a published writer, career journalist, and professional photographer who likes books and sweets. She laughs loudly and sincerely both in public and in private.
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  1. So I take it that when he asks you a question about the universe and your answer is “42”, he doesn’t get it.

    • Yes. Oh my, yes. He would not understand 42, unless we’re ordering take-in from a restaurant.

      In the converse, I had to ask him last night whether that thing was called Hadron Super Collider or Large Hadron Collider. Also, I misspelled “Hadron.” : )

    • That’s okay … we would never have known if you misspelled “Hadron” because we quickly skipped over those parts … when you started throwing all that hardcore mumbo-jumbo scientific talk out there, my eyes kind of glazed over and quickly advanced to search for more recognizable forms of our language. Thankfully, before too long I found sentences like “the pictures are so pretty!” and “those early additions were happy accidents”, otherwise, I would still be scanning for little words that don’t sound like “spectroscopy” … (isn’t that an annual screening test that men have to get to make sure their, uhhhhmm, scientific parts are healthy?).

      Seriously, though, I have to give you major props for inserting a generous dose of scientifica into your story in order to keep it real. Excellent work on that research and background work! Now pardon me while I go look at the pretty pictures again.


      Ohmaigah, I totally do the same thing. When it gets to the language I don’t understand, my first instinct is to bolt right through it.

      Thank you for appreciating the accuracy of this piece. It was quite the job to do my fact checking. Here was the hardest part– you know the astrophysicist I mentioned? I couldn’t find him listed anywhere. It’s as if the Discovery Channel wants to keep all of their TV interview sources a secret. I finally had to put this ridiculous string into Google:

      “Japanese-American Scientist Elevator Space Station”

      And what do you know? His name finally popped up. Twenty minutes of searching and it came down to that string. Weird, right? 🙂

  2. In a nutshell, this essay pretty much covers exactly what happens. You totally nailed it. 🙂

  3. Ah, photons! I don’t know if you’re a wave or a particle, but you go down *smoooooth*.

  4. Yo mama so massive she has her own event horizon.

    • Even though I don’t understand this one, The Husband will, and if I’m lucky, he’ll try to explain this to me. And if I’m very lucky, I may see Steamboat Willie in my head very soon. 🙂

    • Suddenly realizing the huge number of “Futurama” jokes you don’t – and won’t ever – get. That show is so hardcore it even has its own mathematical theorum, invented by writer Ken Keeler, who holds a PhD in applied mathematics: (

    • Although I knew this in a broad-spaced context, it was brought home to roost last week in my non-math head when I tried to look up a translation of one the binary jokes from an early episode. It was “The Honking” (Season 2, Episode 18).

      All the answers I found were also in untranslated binary. Whatever it was, everyone was cracking up! 🙂

  5. You are a fantastic writer! Great post, very witty and easy to follow (unlike your husband’s science references haha). Interesting how you can know someone so well, and understand them so little haha

    • As I was working on this piece, I had the creeping suspicion that this happens in so many situations between so many well-meaning people. And when I started seeing how universal this problem is, I had to put down my revising pen, so that I could laugh for about five minutes. (And thanks for the compliment on my writing!)

      I have this theory that for every language and every dialect there are many versions in between that are a personal shorthand. So, my latest theory is that when I’m conversing with someone and wires get crossed in an amusing or confusing way, I try to step back, take a pause, and remember that I am the ambassador for myself. (Or in some cases, the Ambassador of Bluebirdistan!) 🙂

      I’m so thrilled you think I’m a fantastic writer! Thank you so very much!

  6. LMAO! I do understand! I have an ex like your husband and I well don’t really find much interest in how everything works, I’d rather dream and read of other worlds only real because someone made them real! Goodluck! and thank you for a wonderful laugh! 🙂

    • I’m so glad we share this trait! And I’m especially thrilled this made you laugh today!

      The biggest thing to come out of writing this essay is that I’m amazed at how the brain works and how it does not work, on such an individual basis. (For instance, you love Sci-fi, but wouldn’t be interested in the least about the mechanics of the subject. I can respect that!)

      The second biggest thing is that I’m happy I can laugh about what I cannot learn and still feel happy for those who can learn and love a subject I do not understand! 🙂

    • However, I do want to add that if someone tries to force you to like something you do not like and don’t care to understand– and I’ve been there, in random social-type situations– that is not okay. I’m so glad you know who you are and what you like, and don’t give a door hinge about what anyone thinks, especially your ex. That has got to be a freeing feeling!

  7. If he gives you any grief about it, just point out how many actual scientific advances were predicted or even inspired by sci-fi writers!

    • Here’s what’s funny– The Husband thinks so much of my brain that he’s really and truly puzzled I can’t understand what he’s talking about. Even worse, everyone we know remarks on how well he explains difficult concepts in an easy-to-digest way.

      That said, I do bring up the sci-fi/science connection, when I catch it or understand it, which he finds interesting. He just can’t bring himself to read novels or fiction or any of it. He’s tried. So, I give him bonus points for trying.

      What I’m REALLY glad about, though, is that you brought up something important– sometimes it’s easy to forget how big the contribution of sci-fi writers really is– in every area of scientific study.

      I’m glad we’re talking about this! Very, very cool! 🙂

  8. I tell my man he is not allowed to explain space to me no matter how much it fascinates him. I Want to leave some magic in my world, keeping at least one place I can still look at and feel a childs wonder. Im with you all the way. This post is a lot like me and mine. I want to feel bad for my guy considering how many times I can play the song La’more on full blast as I work. But its just such a cool song, who couldnt like it? Have you ever seen a picture of the eye of god nebula? Its just about the coolest and freakiest picture from space ever!!

    • I think you might find this interesting, ZM! Snopes, my favorite fact-finding site, has this information about the “Eye of God” nebula. I love that nebula. So beautiful.

      Here are some things I don’t want explained— I don’t like to know the names of the voice actors when I’m watching an animated movie. I am perfectly okay with the mystery of math, and trying to explain it to me is equivalent to explaining science to me, which means that I don’t understand a single word. You might as well tell the dogs. They’ll have better answers, anyway.

      As for the song repetition, we have a detente. And I have big, over-the-ear headphones. It helps, really, it does. 🙂

  9. Is “the H” the originator of “Poor Richard’s Almanac?.”

  10. I still think he should look into that pop-up book thingie.

  11. I’m lucky that I exist on both sides of your conundrum comfortably.

    I’m a Marine Geology Major, and I love great Science Fiction (Robert Heinlein was on my paper route when I was a kid). For your husband space, the planets and the universe represent destinations, problem solving, and the full exotic powers of physics. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin would love your husband because he sounds like the kind of guy who would ask him about the physics of orbital rendezvous, and then listen to that entire explanation ( and have follow up questions).
    You look up at the night sky and think about the beings living on the invisible planets that circle many of those stars, and then you wonder who they are, and play out their stories in your imagination. For you the universe is a place of endless stories. You’d ask Buzz if he saw Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” or if he had a favorite scifi movie or story.

    I don’t know if you and your husband have ever been to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, but even if you have you should go again. That is where your worlds cross paths. All of the machines that have sent people into space are there in all of their extraordinary glory. It is where Science Fiction meets Science Fact, and the common factor is PEOPLE. There are stories there which link fiction with the fantastic realities of space exploration. Many of the people at NASA were inspired to do the things they do by Science Fiction.

    One of my summer customers at the toy store was a lady named Nancy, and she was the head of NASA’s Mars program in the 1990s. Her husband was an engineer who designed exotic fuels for propulsion. She had the gift (from working with Congress) of explaining huge concepts in a way that everyone could understand them. Astronaut Alan Sheppard lived in Pebble Beach, and I got to meet him a couple of times, and a few Space Shuttle astronauts used to shop in the store while they studied at the Naval Postgraduate School. All of them are wonderful people, and all of them have amazing stories.

    I look at it this way, we would have gone to the moon, and into space anyway, but the fact is that Jules Vern got us there faster. Some kid read “From The Earth to the Moon” and thought “what if?”. That kid pushed himself through all of those science and math classes, and pushed the ball forward for the next kid. That kid had probably watched Flash Gordon, and after WWII that kid found himself at NASA or Star City in Russia. So in the end Science Fiction is the engine that pushes science fact forward.

Hey there, cupcake! How are ya?