The Alder Grove

"In my sleep thought that I was standing in an alder grove of the straightest and fairest trees which the heart of man could think of or imagine."

The Long Overdue Post: the wrap-up

The day after The Reason Rally and meeting my science icon for the first time (the Toronto debate did not count as "meeting", lol). I had hoped originally to do some sightseeing in DC but time was *really* tight with packing in so many events. And Bill Nye the Science Guy was hosting StarTalk Live! at AwesomeCon....can't say no to some Science Guy action. Had I some extra cash lying around for the trip, I would have loved to get some VIP tickets and meet him but sadly, not to be. So we hung out at the comic book nerdfest (not my thing but definitely Bree's). I took some pics in the spirit of the event but I wasn't in my element until I found an aisle of MY PEOPLE!!! Headed by a table from The Planetary Society and other such science geeks. StarTalk was amazing, really happy to see David Grinspoon on the panel (but let's face it, I was hoping for certain scientists who happened to be in town, heh).

The one thing that was most important to me on this weekend of science and skepticism was to do something, even just to take a moment, to remember the one person sadly missing from an event like this. Everyone felt his absence....Hitch.

Christopher Hitchens was one of the most important authors of our time. Journalist, author, raconteur, contrarian, Trotsky-ite...the adjectives could go on and on. He was handsome, charming, passionate, and fearless. He had a recall for everything he's read and a command of language that was breathtaking. Plus he was gifted with a beautiful speaking voice and a wit so sharp it could cut you in half...when he wasn't using it to tell you filthy jokes. He could write at a pace that would stun you...and drink so much you would wonder how it didn't stun him. A tireless advocate for reason and atheism (or anti-theism), he influenced everyone who ever heard him speak or read his words. And we lost him before any of us were ready for him to go. Four years on there is still an empty hole in everyone's life where Hitch used to be.

We had bandied around many ideas on how to take a moment to remember him, many we simply did not have time for. But there was one that I would not be swayed from. One place that was the most important place for me to be that day...the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. Jefferson and he both shared a birthday. And anyone who is familiar with Christopher's work knows how much he admired Jefferson, having written a book about him. It's also the place he was sworn in as a U.S. citizen.

The Jefferson Memorial is fairly complex to get to actually, but it's in an absolutely gorgeous location on the Potomac. It has shady paths winding around it and just a stunning view of the rest of DC. I had to take a moment to myself just to have a few quiet moments and just remember Christopher Hitchens and what he had meant to me. How I would likely not be standing in this spot at all had he not been this part of my life. Wish I had been presented with the opportunity to meet him. But those of us he influenced strive every day to live up to the example that he set and even though he is gone, we try to make him proud of the legacy he left. After a while, we took some photos and called an Uber because it was insanely humid, I was running lowish on time as Sunday night I had to leave for the loooooong bus ride back across the border. While there and wearing our atheist pride out in the open for all to see, we were confronted by yet ANOTHER Christian crackpot from the rally. And buddy, you picked the wrong time, place and frame of mind to push you idiotic ideas on me. I was ready to throw down with this guy and at the end he figured he'd won as we had to get our ride. I told him I'd be more than happy to pick this up via email. He agreed and said he had all *sorts* of evidence that he could send me. Then he realized I was serious and suddenly he had to get to work...

BOOM...don't mess with me. I do not bluff.

So, after a weekend of very little sleeping and the kind of humidity that makes people have heart attacks...I got on my bus to go home with a miserable summer cold. Pretty much one of the worst bus trips of my life, made worse by having to leave such a fun and completely inspiring weekend.

The Long Overdue Post part 2

It was up early to make my way over to the Amtrak station Saturday morning to head to DC for The Reason Rally and meet up with Bree. Grabbed a cab and met her at the hostel where I dropped off my stuff in a locker for the day and she introduced me to some people from the hostel that were joining us. First priority, find coffee. Then we made our way over to the rally site. Before we even started up the sidewalk, we got stopped by the first of Ray Comfort's people. Ken and Bree got into a spirited "discussion" with the guy who gave us all Ray's book (which is hilarious) while the rest of us were a tiny bit impatient to get over to the rally site. We got stopped over and over and over by the seeming hundreds of Christians there to "minister" to all of us poor lost atheists. We got handed pamphlets and yelled at by preachers with bullhorns, told we were going to hell repeatedly (that's always a favourite), people stepping out in front of us or following us around with their Bibles...we engaged a few of the more interesting ones but after a while it ceases to be amusing and gets really tiresome. It just felt like they were EVERYWHERE. You know, we don't hang out at their churches and shove Richard Dawkins books at them and harass them about evolution. How is this behavior considered acceptable at an event where people just want to come and hang out with people they can relate to?

It likely took us an hour or so to make our way through all the crazy and to the rally site. We worked out where to sit - personally I would have been happier sitting in the main crowd where we could see the main stage but I was outvoted as people wanted to sit in the shade so I caved to the peer pressure and we sat over by one of the side screens instead. I would have been fine with the discomfort of the sun and the heat in order to be more a part of the experience. The most important things for me to see in the speeches were David Silverman and Lawrence Krauss - two people who have made such a massive impact on my life, which I will talk about shortly. We went to see the vendor tent for a bit, got some lunch and I managed to convince them to get closer to the stage for those two speeches as I wanted to be an actual part of the main group when Silverman spoke. Both of their speeches were every bit as powerful and inspirational as I had thought they would be. People in our group were less familiar with David than I was...but man, he can win people over in a hurry.

I'm going to pause a moment here to say that if it weren't for David Silverman, I don't know that I would actively call myself an atheist. Out actual people. But I would never have gotten there at all without Lawrence Krauss. Both of them literally changed my life. So, I'm going to take a sidetrip here and talk a bit about what the rally meant to me, in addition to a bit about the rally itself.

I'm pretty sure that I've posted before about the near-death experience I had when I was 19 where I nearly drowned in a boating accident. That was what lead me to being pagan because it was the thing that I found that at the time matched how I felt. It was all about reverence for the natural world and it tapped into my roots, my love of history and personal genealogy. My ancestry is deeply rooted in Britain, Scotland and Ireland and I've always felt this draw to the history of the Celts. Though I've never felt that any deity was an actual PERSON, (at the time, more of an energy or spirit that lives in everything) I did keep to the Wheel of the Year and the solstices. Especially Imbolc, as the day is sacred to Briget (the Celtic goddess of fire, poetry and inspiration) and Samhain. Yes, I even read tarot cards (and yes I still have them...useful for meditating. Honest.) I'm getting off topic but I want you to know where I'm coming from. I guess relearning the love I used to have for science and the stars reignited with Neil deGrasse Tyson rebooting Cosmos but NDT was just my "gateway scientist". The first time I heard Lawrence Krauss speak, I was hooked. And through his Origins project, he opened up this world of science that I can't believe I didn't know really existed. I had never been introduced to science like this before. Science was that thing they force you to take in school that the only memories you have of it later is the stuff you did to try and avoid going to science class. Just a bunch of what seems like meaningless facts and assigned reading from boring textbooks. And yet, I remember a time that I used to love looking at the stars, even though I never owned a telescope. I'd put the big zoom lens on my camera and put the tripod out to look at Earthshine and tell people about it who walked past. I lost that somewhere along the way....but Professor Krauss and others gradually brought that back with all this other stuff I had never heard before.

My path to atheism started with Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens God is Not Great. It had been a feeling that I'd had all my life really, I'd never believed in a god the whole time I was in the Baptist church. Everyone talked about a "personal relationship with God" but I never once experienced that. It was just what you did on Sunday. I volunteered in the Sunday school and memorized all the Bible verses...but it was just a thing to do. It never meant anything to me. Eventually I stopped going even though it got me "looks" from some of the members of my family. But it was one of those things that you didn't talk about. When I first bought The God Delusion, it felt a little like I was sneaking porn into the house. Yes, I'd like a bag. Did anyone SEE me buy it? Should I put it on the bookshelf where people might actually notice it?? It was a little less shocking somehow by the time I bought Hitch's book. It started me to thinking and questioning but the doors didn't blow off for me until Lawrence Krauss entered my life and that was the end of that. However, it was David Silverman that gave me the courage to actually say it out loud. I didn't have much choice after hearing him speak really. He's got this annoying tendency to be all clear and well-spoken...and right. Well, fuck. ;-) So now here I am, having twitter fights with theists on a regular basis and just generally being an outspoken atheist. And I blame that entirely on David Silverman...and I'm sure he's very happy with himself, lol. This was the first time I had ever been in a crowd of atheists. It was an amazing experience as I live in a heavily Presbyterian area and it's difficult to not have many people at all that I have anything in common with.

Back on track I got to meet Silverman briefly at the rally, he signed my book and I told him...yes, you did your little number on me and made me come out as an atheist this year. I know he loves being right, lol. We left early-ish because I still had to get my bags from the locker downstairs and check in at the hostel, have dinner and we had to get freshened up and changed for the VIP cocktail party.

Before the trip, I had become the digital curator for Lawrence Krauss on the Wakelet site. A group of us are profiling scientists and collecting their work onto a site where everything is easy to find. I got tapped due to my personal Wakelet where I had an extensive amount of stuff on both Professor Krauss and Christopher Hitchens. So I set out profiling both of them for the Ultimate Collections Project and finished LK's just in time for his birthday shortly before the rally. I tracked down an email and tried not to gush as I told him the effect he'd had on my life and this was the best way I had at hand to pay a little bit of tribute to him as a thank you. And he was sweet enough to email me back telling me that he loved it. So, I went to the VIP event in this kind of weird headspace. How often do you actually get to meet the people who have had that kind of impact on you? Not a lot of talking time to be had as he's always really popular but I did get my picture taken with him and Bree. That in and of itself is a big thing. I don't get my picture taken...hardly ever. I prefer being behind the camera, not in front of it. There's a certain feeling of safely, being behind the camera. It sort of separates you from the event, it's a bit like having a shield. I also hate pictures of myself frankly. it takes a LOT to get me in front of a camera. (It takes a fair bit just to get me to a party, let's be honest.) But I really wanted to mark this weekend and meeting him more than I wanted to hide in my normal, antisocial shell.

After the VIP event there was an afterparty and I wanted to dance. Didn't happen as I got ditched and hung out at the afterparty totally by myself. I had a very expensive drink and went out on the dance floor anyway thinking that eventually Bree would join me but it never happened. I didn't want to *leave* because she was tipsy but eventually I got bored of hanging out alone. I was kind of pissy the rest of the night and then she got irritated. But this is the exact reason that I don't go to parties. I don't feel at all comfortable in these kinds of situations and I pretty much always get ditched by whoever I go with. I don't do "small talk" but if I have someone to dance with, it's all good. Otherwise, I get moderately anxious and depressed. My social anxiety only rears it's head under certain situations and then I just have to deal with it. I don't always handle it well.

I'm going to end this one here as the post is longer than I expected. Next post will be AwesomeCon and Christoper Hitchens.