So, I finally got to see Lawrence Krauss deliver a talk live! And - I got to meet Jason from Twitter! He thanked me for letting him know about the talk. I have the best luck with meeting cool people via science events (especially the physicist in question). After so many occasions where the timing just didn't work out (and not counting that debate in March where I had to listen to all that creationist BS), it was awesome to be front and center to hear Professor Krauss talk science. And we've ... sort of met twice now. Back in March at the "afterparty" when he was done with that debate, he came into the room fairly near to where I was and was heading back to get a beer. Before I could utter a word he said, "I saw you sitting in the front row. I appreciate you coming.". Granted I was right in his line of sight and bedecked with my atheist pins but he rather floored me at that moment. I did get a signature on my copy of "A Universe From Nothing" in between him flirting, talking to friends and fielding a few dumb questions. :) Then there was the brief encounter at the Reason Rally VIP party. Very noisy and not conducive to much conversation. Plus...academics and free booze. Just sayin'. I hear things. Bree and I did get a pic though, which was among the many highlights of the day.
If you haven't yet seen the fantastic talk he gave in Toronto, you should check it out:
Trek Talks: Lawrence Krauss on Star Trek and Science
After answering as many questions as time would allow, he came out to the lobby to sign books. I made him a little gift...because I am *that* much of a nerd, lol. But really, because I appreciate just how much of his time he gives to the public and how much negativity gets dumped on him a lot of the time in return. With all of his writing articles and books, doing public lectures, appearing on TV a lot to communicate recent discoveries to the public and always being willing to respond to emails and Twitter comments...it must take serious time out of his research. And yet he does it all with such patience, charm and humour. And people find it necessary to constantly give him grief for his opinions. So, I thought a little "thank you" was in order. I spent a few weeks putting together an album of photography, quotes and some poetry with a personal note on the last page. Though a camera lens is how I view most things. Though as I've gotten older, I find less need to "hide" behind a camera to avoid becoming involved in things. But when you sort of see things as a series of individual moments, you do learn to really take in the small details. I might do a whole blog about that at some point (likely on the Wordpress site). But I am digressing here.
The benefit to having encountered the good professor a couple of times in the past (and not having made too much of a fool of myself either time, shockingly) was that I wasn't quite so nervous this time around. We had a very nice little chat. I told him the gift was for, "never telling me to shut up on your Twitter feed" and he responded with, "At least I know I'll have someone defending me when the hate mail comes in". Yeah, there are a few people who have had serious impact on my life and Professor Krauss is one of them. No way I wouldn't have the back of any of them...no matter what. Got my Star Trek book signed. And I got a little hug so if I kick off tomorrow, I'm good. (Except I wouldn't get to read his new book coming out next year, that's a problem...)
So, after I had dinner and got back to the hostel I was in a pretty good mood. Turns out that circumstances really like to balance that shit out. I quite like staying at hostels the majority of the time. Sometimes you meet really nice people who have cool stories about where they've been, why they're in the city or where they are going. Last night? Not one of those nights. It wasn't in the league of having a crazy lady who talks to herself all night (been there) but honestly, ENOUGH with the fucking plastic bags! What are you doing up there in the top bunk? Eating candy all night? Feel free to put that plastic bag over your head and stop bothering me. One of the other "roomies" came in around 1am and turned on the heater. Note: it's loud. Also, it works really well because by 3:30am when I woke up again it felt like it was 500 degrees in the room and that I could have a heart attack. It wasn't even cold last night! When it hits 0 then we can talk about turning on the heat. It's Canada. Suck it up buttercup and deal with the weather. Off that goes. By 5am, people started getting up one at a time and getting ready to leave. For over 2 hours. And the plastic bag rattling started again. Plus, I swear one girl brushed her teeth for like 20 minutes. By 6am I had given up on the prospect of sleep and by 7am I had reached my annoyance level so I packed up the last of my stuff and went for coffee. Lots of coffee.
At any rate, home now and likely not going anywhere for the most part until after the holidays. We'll see what winter brings us this year. His new book comes out in March and he's back in Toronto in June at Imagine 7 but I can't attend that due to the price of the tickets plus hotel. (That event is more than my entire week in New York for the World Science Festival costs!) Just out of my price range right now considering how slashed to the bone my hours are at work. We'll see what other events he has lined up for his book release as we get closer. And I think I'll end on that note. :)
I love getting up at 3am to get the 5am bus to the city. Aside from the getting up at 3 am part. I do like getting in at a decent time of the morning though. Checked my bags in at the hostel at around 7am, grabbed a much needed coffee then headed for my favourite breakfast spot...Sunset Grill. Leisurely meal, hopped on the streetcar for a morning of hiking around the trails in High Park with my camera. Stopped around noon by one of the ponds to refuel and read some Feynman. I picked up a copy of "The Meaning of It All" at The Strand when I was in NYC for the World Science Festival earlier this year. Very pleasant spot and got to snap pics of a family of Mallards. Spent another hour or so on trails then headed to do some errands and to check in at the hostel so that I could grab a disco nap before changing and heading out for dinner.
It's still really difficult being in Toronto since Saburah died last year. Part of me still expects her to text me to meet for coffee or lunch. She loved going to things like TIFF....strange to do them without her. Not sure that I will ever get used to it completely. It's really hard to adapt to flying solo after 15 years of concerts, movies and foodie events. Even strolling down Dundas brings back so many long conversations. But I digress.
The movie was slated for 9:30pm...I got there around 7:45pm and had to wait for the line to clear for the other TIFF movie. Chatted with some volunteers and lined up around 8pm. Seeing as there was a lot of time, I spent the time chatting with a couple more volunteers and a woman in line who was waiting for her daughter. We discussed the movie, I told them about the premise of it (since there really hadn't been a lot of talk about it, unless you actually go looking for it...because you're a tad OCD and run a webpage for someone). They weren't familiar with Lawrence Krauss so seeing that he's one of my favourite things to talk about I told them about Breakthrough Starshot and some of his other work, ASU Origins...and plugged the Wakelet page. That led us into talking about everything from Proxima to the anthropocene. That's me...geeking it up in the movie line. Luckily, I had a really interesting subject matter to expound upon! :)
Turned out that the whole cast was there, not just Professor Krauss. Even Werner Herzog...which explains why I only saw the good professor while he was onstage before the movie. He was hanging with a pretty cool crowd. The movie was amazing. Very stylized...almost like a dreamscape. Like most of his movies, it's a bit like I'd imagine it's like inside Herzog's mind. It's an eco-thriller about an impending ecological disaster and Lawrence was marvelous playing the evil genius. I was pleasantly surprised actually. There were quite a few moments of humour in the film and Lawrence got one of the first big laughs over a comment about the wheelchair. (I don't want to spoil the movie so I am not going to talk specifics.) Really holds his own in a movie with such incredible talent. His timing was impressive - especially when you consider the 16 day shooting schedule they did this on. Hopefully he won't throw us over for Hollywood after his taste of being a movie star.
And I have to put it out there...seeing him playing a bad guy and toting a gun...kinda hot. Just sayin'. (Hey, he's happily married so let me have my little nerd crush.) Veronica has an amazing section in the last half of the movie with the 2 boys. Absolutely stunning work from her on a breathtakingly barren landscape. But Prof. Krauss *owned* the last scene in the movie. It was completely and awesomely weird. Everything I could have hoped for.
Salt & Fire is a quirky, highly enjoyable movie. But you have to like lots of dialogue, lol. After it was over they did a Q&A. Prof. Krauss was asked about being in the movie and he very eloquently talked about the relationship between science and culture and how both can change the way you see the world. He went on to mention how he was honoured to participate in something as unique and special as this. Werner talked about the cast...when he got to Prof. Krauss he said that all he had to do was "turn him loose". Michael mentioned that the place that they shot the movie was the same place they stayed during the shoot and the bonding they did while they just played music and drank a lot of wine. But my favourite comment from him was when he talked about his intent for his movies....to put his arm around his audience and lead them to poetry. That says everything about this movie you could want.
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.
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 loud...to 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 now....so 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.
Granted that I have a really short attention span and I get sidetracked easily...but I am WAY overdue to post about my trip to NYC and Washington DC. So here goes...
Got to NYC around 7am, having left Orillia at 3:30 in the afternoon the day before. Dropped stuff off at the hostel, went to my favourite breakfast spot - Community Food and Juice. Then I decided to figure out where to go and get my credentials for The World Science Festival. Can I just say here that the Christopher Street subway stop could very well be the most confusing thing I've ever seen while still being an amazing subway stop? (There's a Starbucks and a Big Gay Ice Cream like, right there.) But there are also like 6 streets meeting up in the one spot...and the street that looks like it's signed to be 4th is TOTALLY NOT. For the record, it takes you way the hell out of the way. However, being that it's New York all you have to do is flag down a taxi. Finally found the building and figured out where I went wrong getting there, got my credentials for the next day and headed back uptown. Needless to say, there was a lot of coffee involved at this point whilst I headed for the one place that I hadn't made it to last trip (otherwise known as The Year of The Great Halloween Blizard)...The American Museum of Natural History. But most importantly - The Hayden Planetarium. To see Dark Universe.
Can I just LIVE in that place...with that space show above me and surrounded by The Voice of the Universe that is Neil deGrasse Tyson?!? If I lived in New York, I'd want to be there every week. Or NDT could just call me every so often and speak to me in his "director" voice. That would work for me too. At any rate, I was at the museum until I could check into the hostel. Explored several of the rooms with the animal dioramas, the Hall of the Universe (so cool), and while I was there I got the messages that Dave at work and his wife had their baby so I *had* to buy him a NASA shirt. After having dinner near the hostel, I decided I was too tired to do anything else so I headed back to the hostel with munchies, got organized for the next day and settled in to watch the Oliver Sacks event via the livestream.
Thursday morning I decided to just walk around, hit up some favourite places and take photos...areas in the northern part of Central Park, went to Union Square and after lunch I went down to check out Washington Square Park before my first volunteer shift. This could easily now be the best place in the world to people watch. What did I see there over the course of the weekend? A couple that looked like they were getting engagement photos done, a guy in a wizard hat doing tarot card readings, lots of puppies in the dog parks (including some interesting sexual displays...just sayin'), a bluegrass duo playing on some of the most unusual instruments I've seen (and considering my 10 years with the folk festival, that is really something), the greatest chalk drawing I could have imagined and a guy dressed like a 13th century monk with a lawn umbrella that had JESUS among other things written on it and a knapsack with a giant vinyl of a cross dripping blood. I may attach photos of things at the end of the post. I could just hang out in this place all the time.
My first volunteer shift was doing Front of House for Brian Greene's panel "To Unweave a Rainbow: Science and the Essence of Being Human". It was at the Skirball Center which is a gorgeous performing arts place right across from Washington Square Park. Suchan who was our coordinator was amazing...as was Julianne who manages the Skirball Center. We got the programs stuffed and organized, and then went in to the auditorium to get a little tour and assignments. So...it's really distracting to listen to someone while Brian Greene is behind you onstage. But I did my door assignment, handed out programs and surveys, then we got to sit in the VIP section during the panel so that afterwards we restrict stage access and clear the auditorium when it was done. Anything that provides me the opportunity to sit in the VIP section while someone like Brian Greene is talking...yeah, sign me up! The whole thing was a lot of fun and we had a great group of people that love or study science, including Holly who was a teacher from Australia! Geez, and I thought I'd come a long way!
Then it was straight back to the hostel for me because I had another volunteer shift first thing in the morning. I'd been excited about this one too as I had little idea what I would be doing as it was labelled "production" in my itinerary. Turns out I got to be a production assistant for World Science U For a Day. I was the only volunteer that actually got to be in the room during the lectures! I ran the timer for the scientists and the microphone for the Q&A as well as some little tasks that needed doing. Sarah was awesome amid some shall we say - challenges? Justin Khoury's talk went off pretty smoothly. Barry Barish has a massive attachment to his laser pointer and pretty much had his back to the audience and the cameras the entire time, much to Sarah and the cameraman's consternation. "I talked to him about it..." *shrug*. The drawback to that is when you want the director to let you know when there is 10 minutes left and you have your back to her the entire time, it becomes a tiny bit difficult. And then there was Ray Weiss. Who I now kind of adore. I do rather enjoy people who have a straight-forward and slightly crotchety nature, what can I say?
Sarah to cameraman: So, he's already advised me that he's going to have his back to the camera most of the time. I told him this is going up online and we need him to turn around.
Sarah: He said that it's a complicated presentation and we're just going to have to deal with it....
Not only did he have his back to the camera for most of it, he borrowed Barry Barish's laser pointer. And he *somehow* managed to kill the batteries 3 times during his presentation forcing the director to have to sneak in the camera frame repeatedly to change batteries. Twice, fairly successfully. Third time a little less so, lol. He also had my favourite moment during the morning while talking about a slide of people who were involved in LIGO. "All these people are all dead. Well, that guy there is still alive but the rest of them are dead." At which point the director put her head in her hands while I tried not to fall out of my seat from laughing. I was actually really disappointed when the morning came to an end. I was actually really having a great time but I gave instructions to the afternoon PA, went to grab lunch and headed back to the hostel to change, get organized for the really early bus the next day and then go down for the event I had been anticipating since the moment I knew it was happening -- seeing Brian Greene reprise Light Falls.Light Falls has Professor Greene narrating actors in a storyline about Einstein developing the General Theory of Relativity. It has this really cool 3D type light display where the actors are between sheets of light, reading words from letters and journals to tell the story that Brian weaves together into a narrative with his usual humour and charm. "Yes, Einstein was one of those kids that if he was alive today...would be nicknamed Einstein." It was even better and more engrossing than I had anticipated. And when Suchan saw me before the show he came right over and gave me a big hug. Such a wonderful experience all the way around, I didn't want to leave after the show was over. And I really didn't want to leave New York. But the next morning I'd be on Amtrak to Washington DC for the next big adventure which I will put in the next blog post.