Tag Archives: space

Child helps journalist

Here is a story that I wrote for Columbus Alive this week.

Declan helped.

Not because he is a particularly good editor or writer at two and a half, but because he makes me think about the nature of the universe as well as its incomprehensible size — things that can come in handy when you’re writing about art. In this case, keeping up with his interest in spatial dimensions and string theory directly applied to the wonderful work and artist that I wrote about.

I consider some of the abstract concepts in galleries, community centers and museums on a fairly regular basis. In print, I try to make them less intimidating to people, to help them see the joy, intrigue and adventure inherent in considering the questions that art can raise. I don’t always succeed, but I try.

Growing up, I always considered science, especially physics, to be too large and logical for the likes of someone like me. But Declan has helped me see the joy, intrigue and adventure inherent in considering the questions that astrophysics can raise and how, much in the way that you don’t have to be a critic to appreciate art, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to appreciate the cosmos.

Life soundtrack: The Posies, “I Am the Cosmos”: Launch

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Jupiter is everywhere

This is Jupiter. A gas giant.
The fifth planet from the sun.
1,300+ earths could fit inside of it.
My son sees it everywhere.

Someone decided against these placemats at the grocery store and discarded them in the cereal aisle this past spring.
“I need Jupiter!” Declan squealed, pointing at them from the cart. He held them in awe and smushed them into his face for the rest of the shopping trip. He would not leave the store without them. Thankfully, they were on clearance for 25 cents a piece:

Marketers call this a swirly-something-or-other, but Declan calls it a Jupiter popsicle. (There are Mars and Venus popsicles in the same box, but that’s a story for another day.)
I have become very good at drawing Jupiter.
(For the record, I did not know the names of the Galilean moons until I had Declan.)

Sometimes we call this ball Neptune, because of its color.
But since it’s the biggest one we have, it’s the Jupiter of our ball solar system.

We heart Jupiter.Related post: Tiptoeing through the solar system

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Halloween costume, phase two

I kept breaking needles, and I may go get some fusing tape to secure it, but here is the cape for the Universe costume. Declan picked the fabric, which I roughly sewed to a cheapo vampire cape, then added spacey sponge stamps to the collar.

We also have some shimmery purple-green stuff that he keeps throwing over his head and calling the “fabric of space-time,” but I’m not sure what we’re going to do with it.

Phase one has since been embellished with boy-directed-mom-painted planets and pinwheels on the back, as well as stamps up and down each arm. Giga has located sparkly hair and makeup stuff, and I may make a string of glow in the dark stars for a necklace.

We’re closing in on the complete look…!

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Which of these things is not like the other?

It’s surprisingly difficult to find space-themed toys for toddlers. (Last night, Declan slept with a plastic Pluto in his hand.)

So when I poked around in the toy section of a second-hand store last week, I was thrilled to find two sealed bags of space stuff, replete with astronauts, an alien, a satellite dish and a rover, all for about $3. It struck me as a little odd, however, that the construction worker from the Village People was also included.

Life soundtrack: The Village People, The Casablanca Records Story, “Macho Man”
Village People - The Casablanca Records Story - Macho Man

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Halloween costume, phase one

We had the idea that Declan could be the Milky Way, Andromeda or the Sombrero Galaxy for Halloween. I bought glittery fabric paint, a black shirt and a bunch of space stencils to start the process, but he quickly decided that he wanted to take over and commandeered the paintbrush. I think it actually turned out better than anything I could have made. It certainly looks more like actual space than stencils would. He even has his own sense of exactly when to stop.

I suggested that it looked somewhat nebula-like, but he said no, it’s a whole bunch of galaxies and black holes.

Small thinking, mommy. Why be a galaxy when you can be the whole universe for Halloween?

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Scientific declarations at 29 months

“That’s a googoo years from now. That’s a long time.” (Attempting to quote Neil deGrasse Tyson.)

That’s Brian Greene. That’s my brudder (brother) beyond the elegant universe.”

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A couple of months ago, I entered a screenplay writing competition on a whim. They give you a genre and a topic, then you have a week to write a script of 15 pages or less. I didn’t decide to register until the very last minute. While I was looking at the competition’s web site, trying to make a decision about whether I wanted to pay the entry fee, Declan randomly pulled a book about film writing off of the shelf and brought it to me. (It was one of 300-400 books he could have grabbed from that part of the room, so it did seem oddly coincidental). Kismet! Serendipity! I was meant to do it!

Besides, the point wasn’t to try and win. It was just to write something in a format I’d never tried before and see how it went. If I was any good, maybe I’d try it for real later on, because I’m perplexed by the poor writing in a lot of movies these days. Maybe big budget films have too many editors, so by the time they get to the final copy, no one remembers what the movie was supposed to be about. I’m even starting to suspect that some big-budget films begin with a thumbnail sketch of the plot (the logline), plug in as many special effects as they can muster, and then build the script from the inside out. The result is a story that connects the way fence would, if its posts were dropped from a 30,000 feet. At minimum, they leave out the thing I need the most if I am to give a hang about a movie: character development.

I spent a little bit of time learning about screenplay formatting and reading the scripts of some movies I like. A few days later, I got my assignment. My genre: Thriller. My topic: A witness. My response: Gag! For the first six days of the seven that I had to complete the task, I didn’t write a word. The night before the script was due, I was kicking myself for throwing away entry fee money.

But then I sucked it up for a few hours, and just kept typing. I called upon the Zen writing habit that I used to be so good about nurturing in my 20s. I would open up Natalie Goldberg’s book, Writing Down the Bones, and pick her prompts to start writing and just keep my hand moving, turning off my editor and trying to find that place where writing became meditation.

I eked out a script about a pregnant vigilante in one afternoon. It was probably more suspense-like or creepy than thrilling, but I managed to finish it and turn it in before the deadline. I found out that I’m comfortable writing screenplays. And I do think that if it had a real strength, it was character development.

While I’d love to say my script magically went on to win, it didn’t. And I was even too self-conscious to participate in the discussion board critiques. But I actually came in third in my “heat,” missing the final by only one place and landing my logline in the public archives with contact information for any producer who might be interested. I’m happy with that outcome. Now, in my daydreams, someone comes along and offers me money to take that story and turn it into a feature-length script, or I come up with a new idea that helps me find an agent.

Today I watched a spider crawl into the coin slot of a parking meter, and I wondered what it would be like to live inside of a thick glass bubble that echoed with mechanical ticks and buzzes. Yesterday, Declan drew the Andromeda Galaxy on the fence out back and held a series of semi-private conversations with it. “You’re so pretty,” he told the long white smudge. Then he got into his Cozy Coupe and waved goodbye. “See you later, Andromeda.”

So maybe my celluloid dreams aren’t so unrealistic. After all, it is possible to befriend an entire galaxy, just as long as no one tells you that you can’t.

Life soundtrack: Ferraby Lionheart, Catch the Brass Ring, “Pure Imagination”
Ferraby Lionheart - Catch the Brass Ring (Bonus Track Version) - Pure Imagination

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I’m the human that was born…

“I’m the human that was boooooorn…” he says, spinning around, looking up towards the ceiling with his hand dangling over his face.

“I’m the human that was boooooorn…” he trips and falls, face-first into the carpet, then pulls himself up, sobbing.

I use mommy snuggles and kisses to coax him back into a happy state.

“Are you the human that was born?” I ask him.

“I’m the human that was born in the puzzle,” he says.

“What did you say?”

“I’m the human that was born in the puzzle.”

He smiles at me and nods, as though he’s certain I will understand exactly what that means.

Update 9/11/07: Last night he added one more (surprising) detail to this mantra: “I am the human that was born in the puzzle of modern physics.” No joke.

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Oh My Stars! Or, an ordinary woman tries to comprehend the size of the universe

I know an awful lot more about space today than I did a year ago. I suspected I had something to do with my son’s intense interest in the cosmos because I did watch an awful lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns on the DVR during the first three or four months of his life, when the better part of our days were spent nursing and napping. But I couldn’t have named the Galilean moons of Jupiter. Or told you the names of any galaxies beyond the Milky Way.

These days, if I don’t clue in to words like quasar and understand that there are far more elaborate whirlpools than the ones that we see when the bathtub drains, I miss out on a lot of things that Declan is thinking about.

I grew up with the original Star Trek. Reruns, mind you. I remember exploring strange new worlds and civilizations on my back patio in New Jersey with my mom, brother and some friends. A small curtain was our transporter, and I was always Uhuru because she was the only female character. (I had high hopes for Lieutenant Tracy, but she was offered up for slaughter as quickly as she appeared on the show.)

Somewhere between my new cosmic awareness and a few Voyager and Deep Space Nine reruns in the past year, it finally dawned on me that I have been watching in relative ignorance. I either nodded off in 6th grade science or I just haven’t paid enough attention to space news over the years. At minimum, I glazed over during technical dialogue in Star Trek too often. I was never really conscious of the fact that the whole thing takes place in our Milky Way galaxy alone, and most of it in just one quadrant of our galaxy. Of course, that is not a small area. Our sun is, after all, one of 100 billion stars in the Milky Way. If we actually do make it to a significant number of other solar systems within those 25 billion-ish stars by the 23rd or 24th centuries, we will have made some kick-ass technological leaps.

Somehow, in my childhood brain, I never really differentiated between “galaxy” and “universe” and that stuck with me through adulthood. I never contemplated the massive stretches of void between this galaxy and another. I never really thought about other galaxies, because Earth alone has generally been plenty big enough for me to try and fathom. But beyond the 100 billion neighborhood stars in our neighborhood, the Hubble telescope tells us that there are at least 100 billion other galaxies. And presumably, many of those galaxies have their own 100 billion stars, at least.

Now they have found a HUGE hole in the universe that is nearly one billion light-years across. This means, I am told, that it’s about the size of 10,000 of our Milky Way galaxies laid end-to-end. These figures are so mind-boggling to me, the theory that we are all really just Sims begin to make sense.

I find something comforting in these new, daily reminders and revelations that I’m smaller, and more insignificant than I ever imagined. For a few moments, it can turn ordinary concerns – like the 20 percent increase in my health care premium that I just got word of in the mail on Saturday – to stardust.

Life soundtrack: The Ventures, Gold, “Telstar”
The Ventures - Gold - Telstar

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