Went observing for the first time ever on Friday. It’s winter, so we got started at 6, astronomical twilight was in by 7, and we were up until 6 in the morning.

Being locked in a cold dome on a mountain with a senior observer was maybe a bit intimidating at first, but shared sleep deprivation breaks down social barriers like nothing else.

The accidents that create a writer: Q&A with Keith Cartwright

Keith Cartwright has written over ten thousand stories, which include work for Country Music Television, Professional Bull Riders, and the Tennessean.

How has your day been?

I did two out of the three interviews scheduled.

Were the interviews for your graduate journalism classes?

No; for the Tennessean, the daily newspaper in Nashville. One was with an author. Then I did an interview with a songwriter that I’ll profile, but it’s not really about songwriting. He took a song that he wrote about ten years ago, which inspired him to write a book.

How did you get your start as a journalist?

Totally by accident. I was riding my bike and saw a stack of papers with a rubber band around them. I don’t know why, I stopped my bike.

It was a weekly entertainment paper that wrote about bands that played throughout northeast Wisconsin. I thought: I want to be someone who writes about these people, but I wasn’t qualified to write. When I called the weekly paper, I made up a name. The girl I was talking to said: “Great, we are really short of writers. Can you send a resume and three clips?”

I was so naive and ignorant that I wasn’t ever sure what she meant by “clip.”

Uh-oh. How did you learn what a clip was?

I dialed the daily newspaper in my hometown. Some lady at the news desk answered – and again, I made up a story about working on a school project defining media terms, and needed to define “clip”.

But you didn’t have clips to give the entertainment paper, because you hadn’t written anything. How did you get her the clips?

I really wanted to write about these bands. There was a community college two cities away, and they had a student newspaper. They had an arts and entertainment section. I typed up a short little story, drove to the school and handed them the paper.

Did they catch you writing for their paper without studying there?

One day, the phone rang, and it was the editor. He realized that I didn’t go to the school. I played totally stupid, because I really didn’t care. I had my three clips that I sent to the other deal. The entertainment paper hired me to write about music in the Fox Valley area in Wisconsin.

When did you know you wanted to write?

By freshman year in high school, I knew that I could write, but I wasn’t sure what I could do with it publicly. Where I grew up, it really wasn’t about that creative part. My buddies would talk about the football and the basketball. I missed out on the creative.

Did anyone specific inspire you to step on the creative path?

My freshman-year English teacher told me that I should be a journalist. But, later, it turned out that every year, she would pick a student and develop an inappropriate relationship with that student. She ended up getting convicted and sent to prison.

That must be a difficult thing to learn about a person who made a big impact on your life.

I was very surprised that she would have done that.It would be embarrassing to say: “Well, this freshman English teacher inspired me to be a writer. Now, she’s at the Taycheedah Women’s Correctional Facility.”

You drew the lucky card.

It’s a conflicting thought that this person positively influenced the rest of my life. I became a storyteller. There’s dozens of other boys – she messed with their head in a negative way, having sexually abused them. I was the only one that drew the full stick.

Do you think you would have discovered your talent another way?

I would hope.  But if I’m ever becoming a teacher, I’m not becoming an English teacher.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Our cells kill themselves on the regular, and it’s a good thing

Do you want to live a long life? I know that I do. There are so many movies to watch, so many planets to explore. To live a long, uninterrupted life in a healthy body, we need good tissue, obviously. Don’t have to look long for things that destroy our tissue: infections, wounds, cosmic rays, bad dish soap. But to keep our bodies alive and fresh, the majority of our cells actually kill themselves from within, daily. Most of the time, cell death is not a bad thing; it’s a necessary component of survival.

Like the tapes in Mission:Impossible, cells have self-destruction programs, which they use to clear the way for the future cell generations. Apoptosis is the usual method of tissue self-destruction. It’s also been studied the most. A failure of apoptosis can have a deleterious effect on our bodies. Without enough of it, what’s otherwise normal cell growth can become cancer. Autoimmune disease can develop – think celiac, lupus, type I diabetes. All are unfortunate, tragic outcomes.

There are, however, non-apoptosis means of cell suicide. Scientists are researching these, and their findings can have implications for the treatment of cancer and autoimmune diseases. One alternative method, called necroptosis, resembles the mechanisms of cell death triggered by external events, like wounds. Necroptosis and apoptosis are deeply intertwined. In fact, an enzyme that triggers apoptosis can also trigger necroptosis. Nevertheless, some potent viruses can turn off apoptosis, and necroptosis then acts as a back-up generator, chugging along to destroy its cell despite everything.

Autophagy is the next interesting cell suicide method. Here, a second membrane grows inside the cell’s original membrane, which then withers away. The cell recycles its innards, reincarnating multiple times with the same physical materials. This path to cell death is particularly active in starvation conditions. In a way, this self-destruction acts as self-preservation.

When cells self-destroy, does method matter? Yes. While apoptosis can be anti-inflammatory, necroptosis and other processes are inflammatory. Non-apoptotic cell deaths lack a mechanism that tells surrounding tissue to eat old cell debris, which is a necessary process called phagocytosis. Too little phagocytosis can have unfortunate consequences, pus being a mild example.

Scientists have yet to identify a way to monitor which cell death process is taking place within a live organism at any particular moment. Apoptosis is still crucial, but its alternatives burst with potential benefits for the future of medicine.

Source: Tait SW, Ichim G, Green DR. Die another way–non-apoptotic mechanisms of cell death. J Cell Sci. 2014;127(Pt 10):2135-44.

The Pentagon next to Peace River

We crossed the Peace River. Arcadia had a small red brick building. “Florida Department of Transportation.” I thought: what a momentous institution; what a mundane house with its lonely pick-up truck in its parking lot. I would be miserable not to have proper acknowledgement of my status as an employee of power.

Then, I saw a small old bridge over Peace River. The bridge was gray and covered in black smears – sure signs of architectural age and unrequested isolation from humanity. It was made of that most mundane building material – concrete – and yet, its structure included three arches. This was a bridge no boat would ever go under, for how narrow Peace River was and how little space the arches left between them. It was a decorative, albeit unsightly, construction. despite everything, it had innate potential for pleasing the onlooker’s eye.

The dirt that had accumulated on the bridge’s surface showed no intervention of the sanitary forces of government-mandated maintenance or corporate homogeneity. The bridge was  autonomous; free fom the hegemony of people it had never met.

The brick Department of Transportation, perhaps, did not desire anything grander either. After all, were it to possess the facilities of the Pentagon, well, then it  would become the Pentagon. And who wants a burden like that when one lives on the Peace River.


Heard someone say eight times loudly at the clinic today: “Are you freezing your embryos again?” Made me wonder if someone was joking (not very funny considering the environment,) or just being a really good friend who doesn’t understand patient privacy.

We, in the waiting room, were almost indifferent at first. Then, we exchanged telepathic communications, and the voice in the brainwaves of the woman who sat next to me sounded like a man who has returned from hunting wild pig in Northern California. Primordial, and scared because of how modern everything around her was.

Singing off pitch at work


A fellow entry-level worker (we’re the proletariat of advertising) walks into an open production room next to me, on the 10th floor. He wears an iPod earphone – and two seconds later, I hear muted but distinctly off-pitch crooning coming from the production room.

I look over to a designer who I know loves music; I’m hoping that he will look back and share my excitement about the flawed singing-along. But Chris is wearing earphones of his own. I am alone in this robotic world of enjoyment, musical ecstasy repressed under the sound of printers.

Yet, some articulation (like my colleague’s, who has left the production room and is now singing at his desk) gets out. That articulation, slow but sharp, is the rebellion that we all live for.

BFA (the band) played at Mercury Lounge last night.


My friend Michael and I, college seniors and of course a little tired of life, stood amid other young, hip listeners that looked like they appreciated Broken Bells and Crystal Castles and maybe PJ Harvey sometimes. The crowd chanted “Toddlers, Toddlers” because the Toddlers from North Carolina had just finished playing. We wondered whether Michael’s Sierra Nevada and my glass of vodka were worth our commute to downtown Manhattan on a Sunday night – neither of us were huge fans of the Lower East Side.

Then BFA came on, and it was hot in the room. I took off my jacket. We knew the guitarists and the singer were suffering under blue lights on the stage, but we bobbed our heads and swung our hips from side to side.

“This is really good,” Michael said. “Thanks for taking me here.”

You’re welcome, I told him – and yes; it was good. The guitar line was captivating. The vocals sent out the energy we needed to get through our night; the vocals paid our bills. I was grateful that the lead singer had unmistakable passion – he admitted his enthusiasm, even. Yet there was no scratching at my ears. BFA’s music had a velvety edge, and I wanted to dance.

Two songs into the act, the lead singer told us to leave if we had come to “get mellow,” to leave after the next song. I thought: slow song is coming, all right. An instrument made a short appearance; singer said the word “eighties” like he was stretching it out to dry. The next word was “night,” and then I knew that these guys had talent. They put together all five of their instruments, with the voice, into one moment, and I felt goose bumps everywhere scattering around Mercury Lounge like a pearl necklace broken on the UWS.

Forget my glass of vodka and the scorching blue lights of the Mercury Lounge. I hope these guys have their songs played atop a tower of ice. Given the right audience and the support they deserve, they would melt it all down with their drive to create.