Episode 19: All About the Disruption of Narrative Causality

Content notes: Discussions of racism [2:20-8:30] and stalking [8:30-14:00]

Janet and Loaf listen to letters about living inside the ramifications of genetic engineering, and how to measure your compatibility with someone who was in a time loop when you met. Also, Officer Nassif is back to weigh in on the time travel shenanigans, including a time capsule letter that's turns out to be more personal then expected.

Announcer: This is IFM 2

Computer Voice: You’re listening to a program on IFM 2 Subspace Radio. The time is now half past irrelevant. Coming up next is Solutions to Problems.

Theme Song plays

Loaf: Greetings, gentle listeners! My name is Loaf, this is my cohost Janet.

Janet: Hello!

Loaf: And welcome to another episode of Solutions to Problems, where we take things in your life that are not good and try to make them not not good.

Janet: If a thing in your life is not good, please e-mail us at problemsrequiringsolutions@gmail.com, or compose an instrumental electric cello piece that evokes the mood and emotion behind your question, so that we can sigh and empathize with your pain and suffering without having to do much more than sigh about it. Actually, can someone really do this? That sounds really cool. I would love a custom electric cello piece for our show. I was totally joking about sighing. We would like, definitely answer that question to the best of our combined abilities. We’d answer the dolphin sh-[dolphin noise bleep] out of that.

Loaf: Music really is the universal language. Except when one is trying to convey complex technical concepts, when it mostly fails as a language.

Janet: Yeah, maybe do the cello piece with your e-mail. Wow, this was the fastest intro we’ve done in a while. Because there was like only one tangent! Well, two, now, including this one. I just, feel so efficient in my warm, dry, human body with its limited number of limbs. My own, beloved, simple limbs.

Loaf: You can have those limbs, Janet, and I do not begrudge you them. Let’s hear our first letter, shall we?

[The phone rings]

Dear Alien advice purveyors:

My planet has been at war for centuries. It is home to two sentient races which have never learned to get on peacefully. My parents were among those who wanted to change that. They believed hybrid children might help the two species find common ground and facilitate discussion. Since they were of separate species, they were not able to procreate, so they turned to genetic engineering to produce hybrid offspring. They trained us all in diplomacy and mediation from a young age before revealing us to the world.

Ugh. It was a terribly thought out experiment, and it did not go well at all. We have not succeeded at all in helping the two sides find common ground, except insofar as they both hate us. Most of my brothers and sisters hate everyone on this world, hate our parents for creating us, and due to the deep-seated racial hatred most of us hate ourselves and each other as well.

I know this is outside the scope that you usually deal with, but we have found listening to your program has brought us solace, and we thought we might as well see if you have any advice for living in a world that doesn't want you.


Not at Peace with this

Janet: Wow. I feel for you letter writer. Being *abandoned* by someone who helped *create you* must be terrible.

Loaf: Janet…

Janet: REALLY,  just horrible, I’m sure. I don’t know why you’re.. Looking? I think? At me like that Loaf! I’m just expressing empathy for our letter writer, which I have been told I should do more because I need to consider other people’s feelings on issues and not just center my own experiences and I am TRYING, MR. XORFUS. Anyway, for our letter writers. You’re right that this is a much heavier problem than we typically deal with. I think it’s going to be important for you to remember that none of what has happened is your fault. As many coming of age movies teach human children, you are not obligated to live up to the dreams and expectations of your parents, and in your case especially it’s ridiculous of them to place that burden on you.

Loaf: Yes, it certainly is frustrating when society places expectations on you and forces you to follow them. Especially when your friends and coworkers who are from a completely different culture think they understand what’s going on when truthfully they do not. But I digress. I do think you have a lot that you and your siblings need to let go of if you want to be happy.

Janet: This whole thing is just such a bummer. Like, do you hate yourselves because of what you are, or because you feel like you’ve failed? It’s devastating to spend your whole life building up to something only to find out you’re really bad at it. People go through minor versions of this all the time, like your college major actually didn’t prepare you at all for the career you thought you were going into, and you get your first job and you actually just hate it and it’s horrible. If you weren’t spending your whole life trying to fix other people’s problems, what would you be doing? I mean, that sort of sounds like my job, but we just like, hang out in a studio and eat snacks and then we get to go home and buy things. It’s pretty relaxed compared to like, really tense intraplanetary diplomacy. Anyway, are there things you can do outside your work that make you happy?

Loaf: The other thing about traveling, which is something to consider even if you’re not travelling, is something that Janet and I had the opportunity to experience first-hand last week, which is that the galaxy has an astonishingly wide variety of physical forms in it. And believe it or not, there is someone who finds each of these forms beautiful. So even if everyone on your planet finds you gross, which by the way I find unlikely, planets are huge, there’s whole species who probably find all of your qualities appealing. Even if you never visit these worlds, it might help your self-esteem to know that they exist.

Janet: It’s almost impossible to live in a society that’s actively out to get you.Do you have any resources on your planet just to keep you guys sane?

Loaf: I wonder how many of them there are? The letter-writer says their parents were “among those” who did this - was that ten people? Fifty? A hundred?

Janet: It’s definitely a big difference if there are five of you trying to stop a very long war versus like two hundred.

Loaf: I wish we had more helpful advice to give you, but as we’ve established previously, we’re not really diplomats. SO our advice needs to be more focused on making sure you take care of yourselves, making sure you know that just because no one on your planet seems to value you doesn’t mean you have no value, and making sure you know that you’re not responsible for your whole species.

Janet: What an apt summary, Loaf. I feel like I should try to say something funny now, but mostly this is just very sad.

Loaf: Is there anything else we can say to these young people? Or is it time to move on?

Janet: Maybe that, sometimes, there’s nothing you can do to stop people from hating you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, or how capable, they’re always going to hate you for the one thing you don’t have the power to change. And it’s horrible. All we can do is live in spite of them.

Loaf: Let’s see if our next problem is something a little easier to address, shall we?

[The phone rings]

Dear Loaf and Janet:

I met this girl at a party a few weeks ago and she is wonderful. She seems to really get me. Like, she knows everything about me, but I don’t know anything about her. So a few days ago she let slip to me that she was trapped in a time loop and actually lived that party where she met me 197 times. I, of course, only remember the final loop where she escaped. She says that’s how she knows so much about me. I should be comforted, but instead I feel even more creeped out. I like her a lot, but I’m kind of afraid she’s just projecting the version of herself she knows I’ll like based on numerous conversations with me in different timelines. Or the whole time loop thing is a lie and she’s just been stalking me through the hypernet. Am I just being paranoid? Or should I trust her?


Out of the Loop

Janet: Everyone, this is a great opportunity to remember EGGPLANT for when you find yourself in a time loop situation. Remember EGGPLANT, listeners. Now, recently I’ve seen a few people promoting ZUCCHINI as an alternate method, and while it works for some people, it’s really easy to get stuck on the curdle step, so I think EGGPLANT is the way to go for casual and first-time time travelers. Ameliorating is much easier than curdling to get right on that first try.

Loaf: They’re in a timeloop Janet. Why does it matter if they get it right on the first try? Speaking of casual time travelers, do we want to see if Agent Nassif can join us for this one?

Janet: Well, he’s a professional time traveler, which is very different from a casual time traveler. They have these like little.. Buttony.. things that can disrupt the time loop for them which is, like, very cool, and I’m sure very useful. But you know, let’s get him on the line! He does have a contract to carry out, after all.

[The phone rings]

Nassif: Hello?

Loaf: Officer Nassif! It’s your favorite radio show! What version of you do we have the pleasure of speaking to today?

Nassif: How would I answer that? I mean, what frame of reference should I use?

Janet: Maybe just tell us the last time you talked to us?

Nassif: Okay, that makes sense. It was when you called me to ask a question about a person who had met a woman when she was stuck in a time loop, and now she knew way more about him than he knew about her.

Janet: Ahhh, so this is really awkward, but we are calling to ask you that question right now!

Nassif: I thought the beginning of this call sounded familiar. Dammit. I gave a really detailed and nuanced answer before.

Loaf: Perhaps you can give it again?

Nassif: If I give it again I’ll have to keep giving it forever.

Janet: Don’t you have a little button you can press?

Nassif: I did, but a pterodactyl grabbed my emergency pack, so I’m stuck using vegetable methodology like everyone else. I suppose I’ll have to curdle.

Janet: Wow, that’s really unfortunate for you, but since you’re here, you might as well listen to our slightly different version of this event, now that you’ve slightly altered the timeline. So, for the letter writer, is there anything she knows that she couldn’t have found on the hypernet? If there was some particularly intimate secret that you would only tell an attractive female of your species in the low darkness of a winding down party in the early hours of morning, then that would help confirm the time loop version of events.

Loaf: That would be good advice, but most things are either on the hypernet or can be extrapolated from things on the hypernet by sophisticated software.

Nassif: This is true. Almost anything about a person can be found if you know where to look.

Janet: Well, bummer. I guess I knew that, although it’s surprising sometimes what people don’t know about! Like, Officer Nassif doesn’t know about this thing that I’m-  I mean relationships, probably. He doesn’t know anything about relationships.

Nassif: Excuse me, Ms. Clark, not that it’s any of your business but I was/ will be considered quite the Romeo in my day.

Janet: Okay. I don’t believe you, but that’s fine. I don’t need to. For our letter writer, on some level you just have to decide to believe her or not to believe her about the time loop thing. Has she done anything else that seems off? Does she lie about little things that really don’t matter? Anything kinda shady going on? If she seems, other than her stalker level of knowledge about you, pretty upstanding, then I would say you’re being paranoid. But if there are other red flags, maybe I would step back from this relationship.

Loaf: Also it might be a good idea to check to see if she’s a replicant. You know, just in case. Especially if you have a job where you have access to sensitive information.

Janet: I mean that’s always something to be aware of. You just never know.

Loaf: Before we get to our final letter, let’s have a message from our sponsor. Today’s sponsor is Hyperevolution™. Do you you want to see what your species will be like in a few million years? Do you want all the benefits of evolution without all that pesky natural selection? Don’t have a superpowered human adolescent to do it for you? With Hyperevolution™, you can be everything the future of your species is meant to be, right now.

Janet: Umm.. that’s not how evolution works, right? Like, if its an individual doing it it's just a mutation.

Loaf: Hyperevolution™ is just another well branded standard mutation service, Janet, but one it is our job to advertise.

Janet: Oh, okay, that makes sense. So it’s not wrong, it’s just MARKETING.

Loaf: Precisely. So, see what nature would be doing if it wasn’t so slow and lazy. Get Hyperevolved™ today!

Janet: Use the offer code IFM2RADIO for 20% off your first additional limb.

Nassif: Actually, I have a letter for your show that I was asked to deliver. I’ve been meaning to send it to you folks for awhile. Let me transmit it to you on Hertzos frequency 56.8.

Loaf: We did have a third letter planned out, but we can save it for our next episode, sure. Time is non-linear and complicated anyway.


Dear Solutions To Problems,

My name is Ellora, and I'm using this letter as a time capsule for my love life. I'm a Mach II Human, and I'm 15 years old today. My first question: how reckless should I be in giving away my heart to my first love? He says he'll be a time agent in the future, and I just love his smooth baritone voice, and the intense devotion he has for his schoolwork.


Hi! It's ten years later and I'm 25. A lot of things have happened. I've dabbled in polyamory, non-monogamy, body-swapping, and a small AI infatuation. My question today is: Even though dating and intimacy can be a lot of fun, is there a long tail to any of this? Sometimes I feel like I will just be messing around and experimenting with my relationships ad infinitum. How do I know when to settle down?


Hi, it's Ellora again. It's been 20 years and I'm now 45. I saw the time agent again--we even got to spend the weekend inside a time clock on Bermuda 6. Ironically, he never has enough *time* to spend with me. Yet everytime we hang out, I'm reminded of how much I’m in love with him. All my friends say this is a sign that I'm doomed. So, that is my question. Is love doom? Am I destined to feel this unrequited vulnerability every single day until I die?


Hey, it's me, I know it's weird to be leaving a message from what some may call the afterlife, but I wanted to give you folks some closure. Besides, I am currently in that weird limbo state where my heart has stopped, but I still have brain activity connected to the hypernet for the next 15 minutes. Anyhow, I passed away with a lower rate of nihilism in my blood than the average Mach II human. I truly believed that the time agent and I were in love. I left this time capsule in his care, asking him to deliver it back in time, back to the moment I started recording this. Thanks for your understanding. My younger self is really looking forward to hearing the solutions to all these problems.

Yours, warmly,


Janet: Um, so did you listen to this first, Officer Nassif, or like, did you just blindly follow her instructions?

Loaf: More importantly, did you give this to us last time you went through the time loop?

Nassif: Last loop the pterodactyl took my flash drive, too. So no.

Janet: I’m getting more and more confused about your current chronology, but? Whatever. Nothing matters. And you didn’t answer my question.

Nassif: … No, I didn’t listen to it.

Janet: Also, like, if she’s 15 now, how are you dating her in the present? That’s so inappropriate. Or did you mess up and deliver this to the wrong time? Loaf, 15 is like, basically still a grub for humans. You know, large eyes? Full of hope.

Nassif: I was given this time capsule by my first girlfriend when I was a teenager, with instructions to give it to “Loaf and Janet”. Of course I had no idea who those were. You’ll recall when we first met you hadn’t started using the name “Loaf” yet- or maybe you won’t recall, that may have been a different timeline. Anyway your show didn’t even exist then. And I forgot. And then I remembered. So I’ve delivered it now. Fifteen years late is better than never.

Janet: This show in this particular iteration has only existed for like, I dunno, two years? How did she know about it 15 years ago?

Nassif: Sorry, she gave it to me fifteen years of subjective time ago. Remember that internship I did in my own future?

Loaf: …right. So, Agent Nassif, are you effectively asking us for advice about your own love life? Except its preordained to some extent, isn’t it?

Janet: Only if we care about paradoxes, which, psh, we shouldn’t. Some Romeo you turned out to be. Also: Is there like even a question here, really? Like, I’m all about the disruption of narrative causality- I would even probably define my hobbies as ‘disruption of narrative causality,’ but I’m not sure what we’re supposed to be doing here.

Loaf: The only question I heard in the letter was in the middle, rather than at the end where we expect to see one. “Is there a long tail to any of this?” Now, I can recommend several species with long tails and perhaps she might enjoy dating a member of one of them, but I’m not sure that’s actually what she meant to ask.

Personally, I think whether you ever settle down into a long-term relationship is really up to you. Your species or culture might have specific norms that feel binding as to when you have to hit certain milestones, but ultimately you have to make your own decisions about whether you need to follow those norms and hit those milestones.

Janet: Also, like, it’s definitely cheating to live your whole life and THEN ask for advice on what you should’ve done when you already have one set of data. You’re supposed to panic, searching through possibilities like an endless ocean of waveforms until you panic them into collapsing into the sub-optimum possibility you chose, because, obviously, all possibilities are sub-optimum as we never have the information we need to make the best decision, or maybe we’re never the people capable of making the best decision, and anyway I think about this all the time.

Nassif: I’m not sure why you invite me on the show when you clearly have strong opinions about time travel. As I’ve said in the future and/or the past, depending on your frame of reference, it’s difficult to be in love as a time agent. Trying to be a part of a stable relationship when your life is constantly unstable makes things impossible.

Janet: [sighs] What exactly is your motive here? Is it like, “oh if I bring a dumb letter on the show they’ll stop calling me?” Because, no, your contract states we get you for a little bit longer and, personally, I think you’re hilarious. Isn’t he hilarious, Loaf? There needs to be a certain amount of dissidence of opinions on an advice show, otherwise it’s just one person lecturing about their opinions, and thats, like, just a podcast. And, as we know, everyone is always wrong, so we might as well give people OPTIONS. What was I saying? Right, if you wanted to date this girl, you should just have or you should go ahead and do it? Like, every relationship is doomed if you think about it. You either break up or die.

Loaf: And you have the advantage of knowing at least the general shape of the relationship from having heard the time capsule. In a sense, life as a time agent is actually more stable than it is for those of us with no foreknowledge of events at all.

Nassif: Actually, this time capsule only represents a possible future. Nothing is preordained for me either. The difference is you know at least your past is stable, at least from your own frame of reference. With us it’s all a toss-up in both directions.

Loaf: Hmm... I hadn’t really thought about it that way.

Janet: You really shouldn’t assume things about the relative stability of someone’s past. So rude. You have no idea what I’m… not doing, right now. Anyway, the whole point of time travel is - I guess, actually, there’s a lot of points? Like, historians, or trying to fix perceived wrongs, or like, adventures with a series of attractive young women, whatever, anyway, the point of intrapersonal time travel is really a kind of hyper real sense of agency. If your past is suboptimal, you have the power to make changes, etcetera, so I think you just have commitment issues, Officer Nassif. Can I call you Armin?

Nassif: [sighs] No.

Janet: Oh. Your argument also implies that most people actually have unstable pasts because of like, time travel shenanigans they aren’t aware of, they just don’t remember it. I mean, also, you could just, not be a time agent. Officer.

Loaf: It does seem strange to say we’re running up against time while discussing the mutability of time as a concept, but “Wait, wait don’t teleport me” is waiting on us to use the studio, and its likely they’ll teleport us out rather than wait too long.

Janet: I’m ignoring that because we are in the middle of some like, real emotional catharsis maybe. Who knows? Also, I think I can wrap this up succinctly.

Loaf: There are many adjectives I associate you with, Janet, but “succinct” has never been one.

Nassif: We are most certainly not in the middle of emotional catharsis. You can’t just tell someone not to follow their life’s ambitions, Ms. Clarke.

Janet: I mean, look, guy, person, not Armin since I’m not allowed to use your first name or whatever, even though, like, aren’t we friends?

Nassif: No.

Janet: We hang out outside of work!

Nassif: No, we don’t. Coming in for interrogations doesn’t count.

Janet: I brought snacks last time! Whatever. Anyway, you should just go for it. Life is too short, even relatively, to not pursue a relationship that apparently you on and off pursue for most of your life? Actually, I’m not sure we can change the timeline of this letter. Maybe in encouraging you to pursue this relationship we really only encourage you to pursue a few scattered weekends since, ultimately, your true love is your work. Tragic! Okay, I’m done now. We can end the show.

Loaf: Good luck getting out of your time loop, Officer Nassif.

Nassif: Actually it just curdled.

Janet: Ooh, that’s the emotional distress! It’s such a helpful catalyst for curdling! Rethink your life, Officer.

Nassif: … Right. Talk to you later, or, hopefully, in the past so it’s already happened to me.

Loaf: Goodbye, gentle listeners!

Solutions to Problems was created by and features the voices of Austin Hendricks and Nathan Comstock. It is produced and musically scored by Michael F. Gill. Season two was written by Austin, Nathan and Michael. Our theme is by Thomas Dwyer. The voice of Officer Nassif is Rami Abdel-Ghani. This episode’s letters were read by Sarah Irwin, Kris Kim, and Alessandra Levy. There’s more information about us at stppodcast.com where you can find full transcripts of every episode as well as links to support us via PayPal or Radio public. We’ll be back in two weeks with more Solutions to Problems!

Janet: What’s with the color-coded spreadsheet marked “Nassif”? Wait, are you trying to track his timeline relative to ours?

Loaf: Maybe.

Janet: Oh, that’s so fun. You have a few things out of order. Also, I had no idea that’s how you type until just now? I have never seen you use a computer. Like, I really did not think that those were your fingers.