ASK JUNE: The Penitent Nitpicker and the Rosemary Thief

Dear June, In most ways I am a good mother, wife, and friend, but I realize that I am a bit critical and nitpicky. Even when I make an effort not to, I find myself suggesting that my (adult) daughter’s hair needs combing, or that my husband should stop starting every sentence with “So,” or that my weight-loss buddy should do more lifting and less swimming if she wants to see results. I really am working on keeping my mouth shut. But I fail often. How can I stop myself from giving so much advice? —Critical in Carolina Dear C in C, Funny question to ask an advice columnist! And, indeed, I may be the wrong person to ask because I have been told that I share your problem. But, then again, I may be just the right person if you want the empathy that comes from having walked down … chop! chop! read more!

ASK JUNE: The Cruelest Month and the Most Horrible Roommate

Dear June,

So many people I know get depressed in the winter. Some of them take medicine, and some use special lamps to mimic sunlight. Although I do not especially like being cold, or walking home in the dark, winter has never really bothered me. But for the last few years I have been feeling sad and restless and wondering what it all means and so on as soon as winter ends and spring comes around. I get all full of longing and I keep asking myself why, with the world so beautiful—I have a fellowship at a place where the birds twitter and the fruit trees blossom and the air is fragrant, the whole bit—I feel so antsy and blue. What do you think? Is it really true what they say about April being the cruelest month?

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NOCTURNAL, a poem by Jo-Ella Sarich, Featured on Life As Activism

When she arrived, the sun turned black
lead-rugged upon my ragged eyes
that marked the breast-pump’s watchful click.

But as she lay upon my chest
each night, the transcendental glow
the phosphor clock, the bobbing head
bred warmth beneath the surface rust.

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ASK JUNE: Two Students, Good and Bad

The problem is that I just got into my dream school, with great financial aid. My boyfriend was accepted at some good colleges, but none of them are within 500 miles of my dream school. The other problem is that I am not even sure I want to stay with Allston. I still love him, I guess, but there are lots of days when I would just as soon not see him. I get bored and then I feel guilty. What should I do? The world seems like such a mean dishonest place. Most men treat women like pieces of meat. And here I am with a kind, smart, respectful boy I know I can trust, and part of me just wants to leave him and break all my promises and go off to Massachusetts.

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DIARY ENTRY, by Arden Sawyer, Featured on Life As Activism

The year is 2017, and it is still young. Yet already it has managed to make me very concerned about how it will turn out as it grows older.

At present, I’m staying with my aunt Rebecca in her house in San Francisco, California, under the wing of her charity. The back of the drought has been broken by a glut of rain. Every night Rebecca watches the news. She watches the news of her own will and choosing, and I am simply there for it, experiencing its noise and light because I am in the same room while it plays. Rebecca is an American, by her own identification, and lives in America. I am simply here in it, situated physically in this spot on the earth, borrowing space in other people’s lives.

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ASK JUNE: The Cold-Hearted Writers Group and the Soft-Hearted Dog Daughter

I am in a writers’ workshop—some fiction, mostly poets—with a total membership of twelve, nine or ten of whom usually show up for our biweekly meetings. We have been meeting, with just a few changes in membership as people come to town, or leave town, or lose interest, for almost ten years now. One of our members, a founding member actually, has been creating problems for us because she almost always monopolizes the conversation. Ivy, as I will call her, is a wonderful poet and a good critic, but she loves to be the one who speaks first and she is forever interrupting people.

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THE RETURNS, a poem by Jenny Montgomery, Featured on Life As Activism

I’m a prairie mongrel, not a signal
I’m a tethered satellite, never floating away
I’m Florida, I’m underperforming
I’m drinking refined,
not eating my white valley
I’m neck and neck
I’m not anymore
I’m a cliché, not a rishi
I’m the boy crying, I forgive him
I’m a raving bitch
not the interpreter screaming, I love you

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HOW WE SPEAK TO ONE ANOTHER: AN ESSAY DAILY READER, edited by Ander Monson & Craig Reinbold, reviewed by David Grandouiller

How We Speak to One Another, which came out this month, is a book of essays on essays, on the Essay—that sprawling mountain of a form, reaching its roots into every fallow field. The reader sinks in to find Ander Monson digging his way: “I’d thought of my own essaying as mine work, a kind of solo exploration down here in the dark. But then one time I was chipping at a hunk of rock, watching my tool spark, and suddenly it broke through a wall and ran into another tunnel.” The tunnel is John D’Agata’s. This kind of encounter, told in one of Monson’s quirky conceits, is representative of the rest of the anthology. These essays are excavations in what the Catholic monk and writer Thomas Merton called (in his last address, just two hours before his death) the “interdependence of all living [and dying] beings.”

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MEGAPHONING, a poem by Blaize Dicus, Featured on Life As Activism

…The rivers evaporate, fill the sky with water, then fall again to soak the soil. Trees grow,
pines cedars, sturdy. A system designed to give what is needed; a system that burns
when poisoned….

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TWO FLASH PIECES by Marc Harshman

He walks under an onyx set of moons whose one good eye blinks like the cherry top called to that last moment in his old life. Yesterday, the warden warned the leaky faucet would not be tolerated, and so it became the last domino to topple, and how true they all fell.  Now he draws on his jeans under the mirror of clouds.  It was time to reset his watch, as well, the cheap Timex from Aunt Alice, set it to a more auspicious hour—perhaps Twelfth Night off Dame Street in a drawing room where they were dancing in quadrilles and pansy skirts.  Or to an hour of privacy where the fairy tale poet still searches vodka in the closed garage that tilts to Africa. 

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FOR THE LIFE OF YOU by Brandon Timm

The high-pitched animal cries of your boy come hurtling to you drunk at the breakfast table from the backyard and until you finally hear “Dad! Dad! Dad!” it’s only by that terminal “Dad!” when anything registers—those cries and yelps and weight of the sliding glass door as you wrench it open into the sharp February bluster that spreads against your arms and face, snow falling in the crushed heels of the shoes slid on like slippers before crossing your uneven deck. There he is, your boy, standing on a cheap, green-plastic, piece-of-shit chair holding his puppy’s leash untethered in a red glove.

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TWO POEMS by Marcia Roberts

along the pathway through live oak
and cedar trees ant trails lead
to dead cicadas and worms

I look for lichen-covered twigs
and a piece of prickly pear
to dry and paint on canvas

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Cici squints at Agatha’s toes, bunched together like an Indy 500 pile-up of smashed, shiny speed-racers. “And that’s why you wear socks in bed,” she says, leaning against the short kitchen counter as she points a slice of toast dripping with butter and honey at her wife’s feet. “It’s good you’re getting them looked at.”

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SNAKE by Nadia Laher

She found it under her bedside table curled like a sleeping black snake. She stared at it for a second, then grabbed it and ran back down the stairs, thinking maybe this would save them. But when she flung open the door he was already gone, and then it was just her squinting into the bright sunlight, holding an old belt in her hands like a sad wish.

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THE SONGS OF MY YOUTH by Nancy Hightower

Facebook has had one of those circulating memes, the ones that ask you to make lists that somehow make you feel nostalgic for a life you’re not sure you ever really had. The latest: list ten albums that influenced you as a teenager. Then: list ten albums that influenced you before you were a teenager. I do not make a list. Instead, I read your list, the choices that betrayed your rebellion or geekiness or prescient cool factor. I want to make my own list, but your list is better. I want to make my own list, but my throat catches as I hum songs I once took great pains to forget, songs that betray a disjointed yet emotionally accurate soundtrack.

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There was something about my smile the other kids didn’t like. Maybe it was the fear in it, the false bravado. Who knows what sets the wolf-pack off?

These days, I sit in my castle without really caring what anyone else thinks. I drink lattes in the morning, expensive scotches late into the evening. Sometimes there’s a needle to thread. I have a family and friends who like to drink with me.

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LETTER TO A POET by Jeanne Walker

Midnight ticks in a quiet lab around
one sleepy dork who, suddenly sits up,
hearing two black holes larger
than Manhattan as they merge to one
unimaginably extreme black nothing

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Black skin tastes better when
the wheat has already been
threshed; just a kiss. I watched her “paint
her face” from the field through the
window. Death bruises like a
tornado; the land is new. We had

only just arrived when the
tornado came and tore everything
up. Watch the eye sweep him up into

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ESCAMBIA by Donald Ryan

We pulled off at the fruit stand halfway between the hospital and the funeral home.

“The peaches are in season,” Father said to Mother in the passenger seat.

“It was just like he was sleeping,” my aunt said to herself in the back, her eyes never leaving the rear window.

With the exception of my aunt, we got out of the car. Mother leaned on the passenger door. Father examined the stacks of wicker baskets piled on the makeshift plywood table.

“How much for a bundle?”

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I flick brother’s ear;
say you could hide something
in here. Stonefruit maybe,

or the yolks we collect
from Narragansett. Our skin
yellow-like, hair both brush

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That afternoon at home, I am straddling my little brother, his arms pinned under the strength of my thighs, and I am spitting in his face while he screams. I let the spit drip slowly from my mouth onto his face, a long string of it, so he can see it coming. My mom sees it coming too and pulls me off him, sending me to my room. I get talked at for an hour by her and then another hour by my dad. You’re almost five years older than he is, they say. Someday, he’s going to be bigger than you, they say. What will you do then?

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—Time to step up to the plate, Jimbo.

—What’s for supper?

—You’re on deck, right? We all are. We each have to take our turn at bat.

—Them things carry rabies.

—Take our hacks and swing for the fences. Knock the cover off the ball. Go yard.

—I gotta tell you, Dwight, I ain’t entirely sure I—

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ON HOLD: by Elizabeth Morton

I can hold
my breath
for three minutes flat
in the superstore aisle
between woks
and waffle-irons
screaming catchphrases
in my head or
buying pillows
at the counter

like it’s underwater
wrong chemicals
in my lungs and
the jukebox

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When I first showed up the halo of my silhouette
dissolved like a jolly rancher

I began to put my mouth on every darkling
tried to eat away as much of it as I thought I could

After a couple of missing molars
I smeared my hand across my face

In a state of self-devour
I wore my bloodied ghost like a surgeon’s mask

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Margo is eight years old and she doesn’t care about the New Mexican heat, or the drought, or that it is dry and her lips are cracked and her skin is slick with sweat. Her hair sticks to her forehead and neck in thick, twine-like clumps. Her father smells like he always does: motor oil and cigarettes.

Her mother brings home a dog when she’s supposed to bring home milk. The black fluffball almost looks like a porcupine; it runs around the living room and chases around shards of gravel her father tosses, the ones gathered from the driveway. He sits on the couch. Margo sits next to him, silently wishing her father lets them keep the dog, certain he was too obstinate to let it be so.

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Leafing out, the trees blur in green mist,
celandine poppies bright fingerprints
at their feet. The persistent creek has hollowed dips,
roundels, arches into the limestone floor.
Waterleaf, twinleaf, spring beauties wander beside
blueeyed Mary, larkspur.
The trout lilies are mostly gone,
Jacobs-ladder has not yet arrived,
seersucker sedge returning, green fists
knocking along the slopes.

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FLORIDA MAN by Tyler Gillespie

And that spring a man beat his
94-year-old grandma
then ran off with her jewelry
and SUV. Judge set bail
at $77,000, said man cannot
ever contact her (in critical
condition). Week earlier
I had moved home, back in with
my own grandma. At 29,
hadn’t lived in Florida
for nearly six years. I heard
of this senior attack on
the six o’clock news.

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TIGER-BOY by C. Wade Bentley

I remember when the doctor first told me

the red-with-yellow-frosting sores on my legs

were something called impetigo, all I heard

was tiger, and I thought maybe I was morphing

into a tiger or that I would soon have tiger

superpowers or, at the very least, that I shared

the same awesome disease that tigers get. So

you’ll understand my disappointment when after

two weeks of my mother dabbing at scabs

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CARTOGRAPHY by Emily Paige Wilson

Morning makes itself bluer by the minute. Colder, too, as the temperature falls. In my friend’s apartment, we sit in her breakfast nook while the bay window lets in light. Steam rises from white plates, broccoli omelets and the scent of garlic and salt. My friend lists places in the tourist district we’ll visit today, leads me to an expansive map stretched across a wall. The Czech Republic’s outline etched in black. All the country’s borders linked and locked by land; the Vltava a thin, persistent reminder of thirst twisting through. She points to Malá Strana, the John Lennon Wall where people paint a layered collage of lyrics on brick.

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UNFINISHED by Peter Grandbois

If I opened my eyes
from this pretended sleep,
I wouldn’t be salting
the driveway before dawn,
though the snow stopped
and the air’s no longer freezing.
The trees would speak their silent
part. Swallows would arc
through the brightening sky.
And we would not be as we are.

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FUTURE ECOLOGIES by Madeleine Wattenbarger

Today’s look: be merciful
I gently suggest

that you check the earth on which you stand—
Ye are actually pretty rich

My friends, we have a job
Step aside Mother Earth

Vote or the dark happens
If it still happens, is this foreshadowing?

Do presidential candidates cry when traveling?
Politics is unfit for love

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A DIFFICULT WOMAN by Taylor Kobran

Well it should come as no shock to you, I’m sure, that on more than one occasion, I have been told I am a difficult woman.

If you’d been around longer, you would have found pretty quick that that’d be the truth, honey. You would have been embarrassed of me, like your little brothers, but maybe a little proud too, because us girls have to stick together.

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ALARM by Sandra Shaw Homer

When it became clear my grandmother could no longer live alone, I was the one who took the initiative to find a place for her, and I wanted it to be near me. She refused to go to the only facility in Albany, where she lived, because there was a patient there she intensely disliked, and she loathed the idea of going to Florida, near her two sons, so we found a “life-care” facility in a pretty, rural area outside Philadelphia. My sister, also nearby, handles our grandmother’s affairs while I visit and occasionally deal with the staff. This division of labor falls to each of us naturally, and I’m happy with my share.

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And then he won and we kept drinking about it, what else to do but keep drinking about it, and no one knew whether to stay or not, it was worse too because the alcohol wasn’t doing anything, and all I wanted was to be with Jean, but she was somewhere else, with someone else, so I had to go home alone, but first I bought groceries at the place that stays open all night, discount tuna salad, spelt bagels, cream cheese, and then walked south, not quite trusting the reality, a nameless void ahead of me, and my apartment was dead, it was dead quiet, and I hadn’t done dishes earlier which is the most depressing thing, and I unpacked my groceries, and put a bagel in the toaster, and then had to clean a knife to smear on the cream cheese

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DARK, DARKER by Jeevika Verma

dark, darker

when I frown
into this mirror
a depth takes
my forehead

inside there is a little white man

sitting straight
working hard
flipping through
pages used unused

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TRUE SALT by Elizabeth Schmidt

Today I walk past boys and their mothers. I’m parallel to them as they disobey traffic laws and take risks. I remember my mother telling me to ‘look both ways’ while I watch their heads remain constant and straight. This boy has a clear path, it’s safe even if he takes some risks. I’m eating a croissant and it’s burnt. If you burn a croissant even just a little bit it tastes salty. My boy left the taste of salt on my tongue and I guess he is a man. I’ve known the taste of true salt longer than I’d like to admit. I’ve known the taste longer than I’ll say. I watch boys defy the law, the written law and the laws of physics. I have seen their bodies suspend and twist in ways my body will never move. I feel inflexible. Sometimes when I bleed my leg goes numb, just one, but the leg is variable.

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someone else’s car / a big dude dragging me up a flight of stairs / seeing my brother / we’re in his dorm / I don’t acknowledge him, because of the amethyst in the corner / loving its purple color / trying to eat it but failing because it’s a stone/ barricading myself in his dorm room/ the big dude breaks down the door / drags me out / kiss him on the cheek/ slaps me in response / hours later / I’m on my knees / my mouth dry

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SELF CHECK by Danielle Dreger

March in Seattle roared like a lion, that is if a lion sneezed pink cherry blossoms and pelted your face with ice pellets the size of golf balls. It wasn’t global warming, it was spring. At least it felt like spring.

Merrin had watched the Groundhog discover his shadow on television last month, so she was pretty certain that spring had sprung as she dashed from her car into the safe haven of Safeway in the middle of an unexpected hail storm. The damn cat had shredded her last roll of toilet paper and she was in dire need of a Diet Coke. Merrin’s plan had been to give up Diet Coke for Lent, but that had lasted exactly twenty-seven minutes. She could have given up something else, but she didn’t have the heart or the willpower.

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The taxi had finally arrived. The driver watched Eulália Dias as she descended from her front porch one heavy step at a time. He got out of the cab to open the back door for her, smiled an apology for being late, and asked where she was headed.

“I go to St. Helen’s Church on Dundas, you know where it is? But I need to sit in the front seat because of my legs. Please, you have to hurry. I’m going to be late for my granddaughter’s First Communion.”

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WOOD LOT IN APRIL by Michele Leavitt

I lose the trail, or it eludes
me. Led astray, the bent-down saplings
keep their flex, may even rise.

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TWO POEMS by Flower Conroy

A door you thought locked,
not. How riddles work.
Sometimes the truth’s warped

I mean wrapped in humor,
& often the simplest unnerves
the hurt the most. I relapsed.

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He’s in his bed, crying. Except for the blond tresses of the moonlight billowing through the open window, darkness reigns—in the corners, on the bookshelves, and in his heart. His pillow is soaked, heavy with tears spilling down the sides of his bed, covering the floor, slipping beneath the door out into the hall, into the street, a veritable deluge.

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ANATOMY LESSON by Christine Hennessey

Jessica unzipped the frog’s belly with a pair of sharp scissors. As its skin slipped away, revealing the jewels buried inside—heart, lungs, kidney, stomach—she tried to ignore the uneasy feeling in her own stomach, her heart’s reluctant sprint.

When her biology teacher announced they would be dissecting frogs at the end of the year, Jessica protested the practice along with a few other girls. Her teacher, however, was not moved.

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SALVAGE by Ajay Patri

The old man woke up when the five fifteen train thundered past his one-room house. The walls trembled and dust dislodged from the wooden roof and rained down on him. His bones rattled for a while after the train had given a final desolate hoot and moved on in its journey.

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BARYCENTER by Sydney Tammarine

Last night I found you huddled in the corner of our bedroom, wide awake and shaking. This was similar but not identical to that time one year ago when I broke down the bathroom door with a hammer to find you curled in a C-shape on the tile, the way you perhaps had slept in your mother’s womb. Both times, you said you were sorry. You had lain surrounded by the glass of a shattered fifth of Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, and 27 acetaminophen 500mg/diphenhydramine-hydrochloride 25mg pills, which I scooped into the sink to count and subtract from the number on the packaging (100) to estimate the intake (73, or 36500 mg, with an error margin of 5-10 pills that I might have missed laying under your still, silenced body). It’s not the diphenhydramine-hydrochloride that will kill you. It’s the acetaminophen, and it’s slow. I didn’t know that part until later.

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MORE by Youssef Helmi

I live in the middle of a really small pool in the middle of a really big room below a really circular hole in the really high ceiling. When the sun shines through the hole, the animals come and watch. When the moon shines, they go away. I don’t know where they come from, but, every morning when I wake up, they’re there. I’m not sure if they’re the same ones every day. They’re animals; they all look the same to me.

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NOVEMBER 2016, a poem by Lynn Levin, Featured on Life As Activism

This November blew
down to the just-reaped
fields a hectic
of leaves.
More golden leaves
than fevered leaves
but the fevered
claimed the land
in the way
that we call fair.

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ASK JUNE: The Excoriated Ex and the Tragical Uglificationment of Language

Dear June,

You know what makes me mad? People who say “diminishment.” What’s wrong with good old “diminution?” And now I am seeing “abolishment,” too, for God’s sake. What is the matter with people?

I know this seems like a small thing. Okay, it is a small thing. But language can make a big difference: look at that dairy farm that would have saved $10 million dollars if they had used the Oxford comma!

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WINDOW SEAT, a poem by Molly McGinnis, Featured on Life As Activism

On my flight back to Washington at 4 am
in air marbled by night and snow
I leaned against the oval glass and saw
tiny bodies of light pushing slowly
down the mountain roads, each sphere
its own life full of sideways winds.

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LOVE, ISH, a middle grades novel by Karen Rivers, reviewed by Christine M. Hopkins

Twelve-year-old Mischa Love—or Ish—wants to be among the first colonists on Mars more than anything, and has applied to a program in Iceland offering this chance (and been rejected) nearly 50 times. She knows pretty much everything there is to know about Mars. When it comes to science, her convictions are strong. “Global warming is a real thing,” she tells us with unwavering certainty. “You can pretend it’s not, but that’s just dumb. It’s science.”

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