Always Look on the Bright Side…

So, a lot of 2016 sucked and I’m sure you have seen it hashed out in numerous places. I’m not going to talk about that because I have focused enough on the negatives already.  Instead I am going to blog about the positives that happened this year.

I’ve gotten to know great people online…working with people like Mario and Shikhar on our giant Wakelet educational project was an unexpected start to the year. That project has snowballed into a number of sites I run for my favourite scientists and science communicators among others. I think I’ve progressively gotten better at setting them up and balancing the “fluffy” stuff with the hard science.

In March, Neil deGrasse Tyson came to Toronto and I sprung for VIP tickets. There is nothing quite like listening to him speak in an auditorium. His voice fills a room and you can feel it right down to your toes. And when he put the photo of Saturn on the screen and read from Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” the entire place was silent. Afterwards I got to briefly meet him and was every bit as intimidated by him as I anticipated.

Shortly after that, I got to go and see Lawrence Krauss speak live for the first time.  Although he had to share the stage with an IDer and a creationist…hearing him talk (especially from front row center) was a great experience. And I made a new friend in Melissa while standing outside in the line! I had intended to go from the event to the bus depot to head home, but there was a meet & greet afterwards that he was going to. Naturally I could not pass it up!  Here was another person that intimidated me and before I could even approach him to say anything he smiled and said, “I saw you in the front row, thanks for coming” which made me incapable of speech.  I put on a great impersonation of a puppy just listening to him talk to people in the back room. I’d be perfectly happy just to tag around and listen to him talk all the time, frankly. But I eventually had to hop a cab at the latest possibly moment to make my bus. I launched his Wakelet page in time for his birthday that same month.

When June came around, I volunteered for the first time at the World Science Festival. Though I did not have the opportunity to meet Brian Greene I did get to sit in the VIP section (a reward for working Front of House) for a fascinating panel and also got to see him bring his Einstein show “Light Falls” to the stage.  But my favourite part by far was working as Production Assistant for World Science U For a Day. Being in the room and listening to both Barry Barish and Rai Weiss talk about gravitational waves and LIGO was amazing. And being the one in the room trusted to run the timer for the lecturers, helping the director and running the mic for the Q&A was incredibly cool.

I also loved hanging out in Washington Square Park – I could people watch there all day. Religious nuts, photo shoots, musicians of all sorts and I saw a guy in a wizard hat reading tarot cards.  🙂  Plus the added bonus of a Big Gay Ice Cream right at the Christopher Street Station. Also on this trip to NYC I was able to get to the Hayden Planetarium for the “Dark Universe” show narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I had never been to a planetarium of that size and scale before and the show was incredible.

I left the festival on the Saturday to head to DC for the Reason Rally. An entire day of being confronted by religious fanatics and having the chance to listen to speakers like Bill Nye, Lawrence Krauss, David Silverman and many others. I had the chance to meet David who is the President of American Atheists, get my copy of “Fighting God” signed and let him know that the reason I ‘came out’ as an atheist was because of him. And the reason I now consider myself a firebrand atheist and an activist is also because of him. He makes too much sense to deny…and he’ll be the first one to tell you that, lol. I went to the VIP party, got to break the ice with Professor Krauss while Bree got drunk and followed Cara Santa Maria around for a while. I got ditched after that and ended up at the after party solo for the entire night but I did get to see LK break out his dance moves. Who knew he was such a party animal? (For those not in the know…Richard Feynman taught him to dance!)

Before leaving DC, I wanted to pay a little tribute to Hitch. It seemed appropriate at an event dedicated to reason. I had thought about many things – going by the Wyoming, brunch at his favourite spot, finding one of his drinking holes…but the one thing I needed to do above all others was to visit the Jefferson Memorial. Anyone who is really familiar with Hitch knows the many reasons why this place is so important, both for who it honours and for why it was important to Christopher Hitchens.  The memorial is in a beautiful spot and is inspiring to stand in. It was quite an emotional experience to say the least on many levels. Bree and I took signs that we had a the rally to have some shots taken and we topped it off by being confronted by another religious fanatic from the day before. I was not in the mood for his BS and not only shot him down but called him on his bluffing and sent him away with his tail between his legs.

Over the summer, I made the aquaintance of a young YouTuber in Oxford named Alex O’Connor aka Cosmic Skeptic. Hemant Menta (The Friendly Atheist) pointed him out and I could see how talented he was. Extremely well spoken, intelligent and with a natural charisma in front of the camera…he reminded me a little bit of Hitch. I like to support talent when it appears and Alex definitely has it so I was right there to back his Patreon when he started it and to do what I could to help promote his channel. We have talked a lot since then and I’ve gotten to know his friends Gabriel and Mattie who have a YouTube channel of their own called Swish. I even managed to make my way into one of Alex’s videos on his 2nd channel when he filmed himself and Gabe filling my tea order at the shop they work at. I have autographed bags of tea to prove it.  🙂   I’ve got them safely tucked away for when they all become incredibly famous.

Over the course of the year, I started to become more acquainted with Lawrence Krauss.  It’s so strange that not that long ago he was just this person that I admired and whose books I read … and now we talk upon occasion. So odd, the twists that life takes sometimes. In September I went to see his TIFF movie premier in Werner Herzog’s “Salt & Fire” and he was so good in it! Shortly after that he delivered a TIFF talk to kick off the Star Trek celebrations and we finally got me really meet and say more than a couple of words to each other. I made him a gift of a scrapbook full of my photography and some quotes and poetry finished off with a thank you letter to him. I told him that it was a thank you gift for never telling me to shut up on his Twitter feed. He gave me a hug (!!!) and told me it was nice to know he had someone who would stand up for him.

So, even though there was a lot of loss in 2016, there was also a lot of gain. I feel quite lucky that I have made the acquaintance of so many wonderful people this year. Everyone of them has made an impact on my life this year. Here’s to 2017 and all the possibilities that lie ahead.

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