So an Astrophysicist and a Writer walk into a Movie Theater…Nerd Night with Neil deGrasse Tyson

Last night I got to check something new off of my bucket list: watch Neil deGrasse Tyson lecture live! For any of you belonging to the race of the nebula-searching, battle-bot watching, Bill Nye adoring geekdom- you are probably bouncing in your seat as you read this, filled with anticipatory excitement. Those of you who don’t get your kicks with astrophysics are probably hearing crickets right now and are tempted to click on to the next writer’s post. but here is why you shouldn’t: you will find the most rewarding of lessons in the most unexpected places. The spark that ignites your destiny could be hidden in the words written on this page- or maybe not. The only way to know: dive in, my friends.

Like I said: I’m a bit of a nerd, and, in spite of the career direction I chose, I have always had a soft spot for the sciences. Why else would I have paid a pretty penny to sit in a hot theater with a few hundred other people and listen to a lecture given by an astrophysicist on a Monday night? And, whats more: I had a phenominal time. Nerdy science humor, the man I have watched give countless speeches on YouTube, who narrated the Cosmos series (and guest starred on the Big Bang Theory), who can take a seemingly dry subject and tease it just enough so that even the novice is hanging off of every word. Shoot- he has even graced the pages of comic books! This is why I found myself in that auditorium, this is why I loved every minute of it, and this is why I’m writing about it right now.

The subject: An astrophysicist goes to the movies- what the movies got right and got wrong. From The Breakfast Club to super bowl beer commercials all the way to The Martian and Gravity. I laughed the entire time, and (gasp) I was learning as we went. Movies and science? Oh heck yes, I am on board, let’s get this train moving.

Now, I could go on and on about all of the different things that I learned, but lets face it- the entertainment value I can spin on this wont be nearly as spectacular. Instead, I’m going to flip this into something we could all learn from. You see, there was an underlying theme to his anecdotes: know your work. As a writer, my research is vitally important to all of my projects. Even through my fiction I delve deeply into the different facets of my subject matters. Vampire story? No problem- lets peruse the history of their myths. Zombies? How about a neuroscience book that explains the causes of the ‘symptoms’ the undead are faced with. Future dystopian society? Perhaps a few papers on political and scientific developments projected in the next century- yes, that ought to do the trick. I could make an exhaustive list here, but you get the point.

emilysquotes-com-facts-distort-intelligent-mark-twain

I am a bit ashamed to admit that I had never heard this quote until last night. But the moment Neil deGrasse Tyson quoted it, I could practically feel the electricity shooting through my brain to illuminate that lightbulb above my head. You see, the true mark of an artist is in the distorted truths. There is nothing more challenging than working within the parameters of the truth and finding a solution to your problems anyway.

Let’s take an example that was mentioned in the lecture. In the movie Gravity (this is not a major spoiler, but I warn you to proceed at your own risk if you still want to watch the movie). In the movie there is a scene where Sandra Bullock and George Cloony are out in space with a tether between the two of them. Sandra Bullock is about to run out of oxygen, but she wants to pull Goerge Cloony in. But he knows what the risks are, and in a sweepingly chivalrous gesture, he lets go of the tether and drifts out into space, effectively killing himself and forcing her to go back to the ship because she has no hope of getting him back.

gravityflyingposterarttethertsr04a

From a creative and elemental standpoint: this is pure theatrical gold. But here’s the problem. In space there is no gravity, in zero G’s there are no opposing forces pulling them in different directions, no chaotic swinging of bodies. Out in space all she would have to do to reel him back in- gently tug on the tether and he would slowly float back to her, no harm, no foul. And if he decided to let go of the tether- it would simply just sit there, floating right in front of him because there are no forces pulling it in any particular direction.

So, I ask you, what is the greater challenge for a writer? To take the easy way out and wreak havoc in space? Or find another possible way to separate your two characters? As artists, aren’t we always looking for the next greatest challenge? (Side note: the rest of that movie is surprisingly accurate. In fact, the theory of one satellite going down and taking out dozens of others is a big enough fear that NASA has an entire office dedicated to the problem). (Side-side note: if you are looking for some good inspirations for a sci-fi story or art piece, do a search online about the ‘orbiting junk’ around the earth. There is a map that shows all of the satellites and other debris circling our world, and it is astounding. There are even potential issues of accessibility in our future- want to go to Mars? Well good luck dodging all of the ‘trash’ we have littering the orbital field of our planet).

There is one other unavoidable risk you run when you choose to ignore the ‘rules’ of your world: alienation. Your readers (or viewers, as the case may be, depending on your chosen art form) come to your work with their own set of life experiences and knowledge. This cannot be ignored. For example, I work in the legal field, and when I am reading legal dramas or crime novels- I can give a fair amount of leeway for creative license. But sometimes the errors, intentional or not, become so glaring that they distract me from the real work. At times I have even gone so far as to put a book down because the inaccuracies were so blindingly brutal, I just couldn’t handle it anymore.

You see, my friends, we have so many potential fountains of knowledge at our disposal in our world now that we have no reason to ignore the facts. Take the time to learn something new- your craft and your audience will thank you for the extra effort. It is the difference between a mediocre work and something timeless. Respect the art. What do you have to lose? At the very least, you will avoid any potential factual call-outs on twitter from those who could have answered your questions all along.

 

Embrace Your Inner Geek Day

Happy Embrace Your Inner Geek Day! ‘Is that a real thing?’ you are probably asking yourself. The answer is yes, it has been one of those fun little ‘holidays’ for the past ten years now. See, look at that- the more you read, the more you’ll know. Now you can drop some knowledge on the people you run into this beautiful day (well, I hope it’s beautiful where you are, my friends). Personally, I stopped shoving my inner geek back into her shiny display box years ago- she is now fully embraced everyday, but I don’t see anything wrong with celebrating her existence right this moment. In fact, given recent nerdism events, it seems like the perfect time to start waving that freak flag high in the air.

It appears to me that in the past few years, being a geek has become a bit more mainstream. All of a sudden people want to hear about the vintage comic books I read, though they do tend to lose interest when I explain the differences between the ‘true’ origins and the Marvel movie origins. Everyone knows my hobbit ‘second breakfast’ reference, and they no longer blink at me in confusion when I mention the Misty Mountains. I am not the only one who can tell you without a second thought what Alohamora means, or inform you about what you would get if you were to add powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood (it created a sleeping potion known as the Draught of Living Death, courtesy of the illustrious Professor Snape). And I know that I am not the only one who’s heart raises in hope when I hear an owl hooting. Perhaps they are finally here to deliver my acceptance letter to Hogwarts- granted, it would be about fifteen years too late, but we all know how the post system can be. And besides, by now they probably have some form of adult education program, right? I am not ready to let that dream die just yet.

gandalf-better-be-at-my-door-when-im-50

I have learned that it doesn’t have to be something unpopular or traditionally ‘nerdy’ to morph a well adjusted person into a geek. I know plenty of people who can geek out over sports, food, cars, etc. Geeking out about something has more to do with the excitement and the passion that you put into a subject, as opposed to what the subject is itself. Does it really matter if the thing that you love is popular or not? No- who cares, as long as it brings you joy. So why do we constantly feel the need to bash the things that people love?

I’m going to take a few minutes to discuss the new nerdism that is sweeping the nation and leaving people a bit confused in the process. Pokémon Go. Now, I will admit, I play- so my opinions will be a bit skewed, but hear me out- especially those of you who haven’t figured out what the big hype is. Full disclosure- I am a grown adult. I am 27 years old, I have a good job with full benefits and a retirement plan. I also spend the vast majority of my free time chasing that elusive dream of becoming a published author. If you come across me in my daily life, there is a ninety-five percent chance that you will find me working in one form or another. I am forever chasing a set goal, always running down the path of self-improvement. I love my to-do lists, I have an odd fascination with categorizing my productive time and list out my accomplishments vs unmet goals. To put it bluntly, I spend plently of my time as a perfectly boring adult. And I think that is the problem with most of us.

We get so bogged down in depressing news stories about the state of the world, our daily trials and tribulations, the mind-numbing chores and activities- and we forget how much fun there is to have in life. We age ourselves before the world can do it for us. I know how to maintain the balance between being a productive adult and letting my hair down to have fun; I can focus on my job when it’s time to work, I still meet all of my writing goals and deadlines, and my household chores are done in a timely manner. And yes, I can still find a few minutes during my daily dog-walking time to chase down a Charmander. As long as my version of fun doesn’t hurt anyone or cause some form of property damage- who cares what form it takes? At least I know not to take myself too seriously all the time. Life is supposed to have adventure, you might as well embrace it.

You see, Pokémon is something that I grew up with, it’s something that brings back good family memories of cramming into our old Ford F-250 with my parents and three siblings as we drove out into the mountains to hike or play in the snow. On the trips my sister, brothers and I all had our Gameboys out- Pokémon and Mario made up the majority of my game time (and don’t worry- I grew up in the last generation to enjoy the great outdoors, so I wasn’t lacking in sunshine fun either). So here I am, a grown adult with the opportunity to bring to life a childhood dream- of course I’m going to love the idea. It is reminiscent of a simpler time in my life, back when there was still magic and my biggest problem was my sister stealing my favorite Barbie doll. I miss when those were my problems, and I still believed that I could do anything I set my mind to- even end world hunger.

The only thing that has suffered since I started playing a few days ago: my TV/internet time. It’s easy to wind down at the end of the day with a good show or perusing the internet and social media. Now that time is filled with long walks, good friends, and excited four-legged companions. In the past day and a half I have walked roughly 30,000 steps, most of those were with my German Shepard who was unbelievably thrilled with the adventures of our trots through town. I talked to multiple strangers, hanging out with a few for about 20 minutes or so- this in itself is huge for someone with the social anxiety that normally sends me running in the opposite direction when my cheeks burning in shame. But think about it- there is a built in conversation starter and something to do when you aren’t sure what to say next- it’s a great way to branch out and meet other people without the usual pressures of typical daily interactions. I discovered four new statues I have never noticed before at a park I have been to about a dozen times. I went to a ‘concert in the park event’ during the lunch hour with my dog- another thing I typically avoid (large crowds are not on my list of favorites). I discovered a park a few blocks from my house that has a beautiful scenic walking trail and took my dog on an little adventure. We met up with a friend and let our two dogs try to socialize for the first time while we walked around town (both of our little fur babies are leery of strange pups). All of this activity because of one silly game I can download on my phone. Tell me, does that really sound like such a bad thing? (Below are a few of my discoveries, all thanks to Pokémon Go)

There is enough negativity in the world, so when people find something that they enjoy- why don’t we just celebrate that rare gift? We could all use some common ground, and if it happens to be standing in the park throwing virtual balls at a fake Squirtle- so be it. We spend too much time divided, we don’t need to continue drawing more lines in the sand.

So today I ask you to embrace the geek- whatever your hobbies may be, indulge yourself. Go back and re-read Harry Potter again, figure out how to make a litter box that looks like a Hobbit-hole, play Iron Man vs. the Hulk with your niece, put together a model airplane, wax the car, catch the Pikachu you’ve been tracking for the past three days, bake a dozen cupcakes and use candy to decorate them as monsters. Whatever it is that you love, go out there and do it. Be safe and enjoy. We only have one life to live, and the only way to feel young is to remember that you don’t have to be old just because the world tells you to. Take time to enjoy this crazy world that we live in because some days there is precious little to celebrate. So when we find a happiness, let’s embrace it, nurture it, and stop trying to stamp it out of one another. This world could use a little bit more kindness, don’t you think?

aae885b52c4919232f878a2e1c8b10d2