"I didn't have time to write you a short blog post, so I wrote a long one instead."
-Mark Twain, if he had lived in the 21st century
* * *
Yes. That happened.
(In case the picture doesn't make it clear, I'm referring to the fact that I got a new pair of sandals.)
JUST KIDDING; The Big News is that I got to stand next to the last police box in London (I'm also excited about the sandals, though.) It's outside Earl's Court tube station, which is on the District Line, and which I would never visit for any reason other than to visit the TARDIS. I dragged Matthew Davis (you guys know him as the New House VP) along with me, and lots of locals rolled their eyes while we took pictures of each other standing next to the box. Did you know that the TARDIS contains a whiteboard, and a phone, and a fire extinguisher? And that you can't see it, even if it's right in front of you, until you call your parents and ask them to go online and find out where it is?
The night before the Doctor Who pilgrimage, I took Matthew to see The Tempest at the Globe. I didn't lie to him -- my primary purpose was to see Colin Morgan in the flesh (he was playing Ariel, for those of you familiar with the play.) We got standing tickets and arrived early so that we were RIGHT by the stage - at one point, Merlin was literally like two feet away from me, and I was literally like two seconds from passing out with excitement. I have since been swooning periodically.
Before I move on, let me take a moment to express what a beautiful, beautiful man Colin Morgan is. Even while wearing feathers and a beak.
...anyway, now that I've given out the award for Sexiest Man Alive, here are three more (non-Colin-Morgan-related, I promise) awards from my week-long stay in London (for those of you who aren't too creeped out to continue reading, anyway):
1) Cutest Pub goes to
2) Most Repulsive Dish goes to
3) Most Awkward Moment goes to
(requisite background: Lisa was scheduled to give a topology presentation at 1:30pm, in Mr. Sinreich's classroom. I showed up at 1pm to say hi to old teachers.)
Me: *enters Mr. Sinreich's classroom, very excited to see him for the first time in months.*
Mr. Sinreich: *glances up*
Me: MR. SINREICH!!
Mr. Sinreich: ...uh, hello.
Mr. Sinreich: Are you going to be using the whiteboard?
Me: Um, what? No?
Mr. Sinreich: Oh...okay, so just the projector then.
Me: Uh, no? *SO confused*
Mr. Sinreich: Oh...okay.
Me: Umm...right. I'm going to put my bag down - I'll be back at 1:30 for the presentation.
Mr. Sinreich: Okay.
Me: I'll just take this table.
Mr. Sinreich: Okay, it's yours.
*half an hour later*
Lisa (now in the classroom): Hi Anna!
Mr. Sinreich: ANNA! I'M SORRY! I THOUGHT YOU WERE LISA! THAT'S WHY I DIDN'T JUMP UP AND GIVE YOU AN ENTHUSIASTIC GREETING!
4) Sexiest Museum Exhibit goes to
So many sexy, sexy pictures of space. Have you all seen the pictures that the Cassini spacecraft has taken of Saturn? If not, Google "Saturn Cassini." Your mind will be absolutely blown.
5) Most Precious Two Hours goes to
The two hours I spent in a classroom with Mr. P, my ex-English teacher.
It is impossible to express how much I respect this man. I took sophomore English with him ("English 10") in which we read Hamlet and a bunch of short stories. He used to stalk around the table as we discussed a passage - sometimes he'd sit on the windowsill, gazing out into the street, sometimes he'd stand by the board and scribble, sometimes he'd nod, and he always knew when to interject and when to stay silent and when to let us continue and grapple with the text ourselves. In 11th grade, I took Early Classical Thought with him: we read a bunch of Socratic dialogues, which had such a powerful influence on me that I hauled all of them with me to MIT. That was a tough class. The texts were tough. The Republic, in particular, is tough. I used to hang around after class; Mr. P would go to the board, hand me a marker, and say something like "tell me - what does Socrates mean when he says ___?" It was like he actually didn't know, and actually thought I could help him figure it out. That, I think, was the first time I ever felt like somebody's colleague.
In 12th grade, for some anniversary of Milton's death (or birth? I don't remember) Mr. P stood on a table in the English pod (our different departments are each clustered around a "pod" of computers and desks) and, book in one hand and apple in the other hand, read Paradise Lost from start to finish. He tacked a piece of paper to the wall, wrote "Apostrophe Appreciation Society" at the top, and got passers-by to sign it.
He signs every e-mail with "Onward!"
When he wrote me a letter of recommendation for college, he asked me to send him a picture of "the light you collected this summer." He was referring to the pictures of a near-earth asteroid (2002 KL6, which should ring a bell for anyone familiar with my gmail e-mail addresss...) whose orbit I calculated the summer after junior year. He and I were totally fascinated with the idea of capturing light from an object in space.
I saw him once my freshman year at MIT -- I told him about my plans to be a pediatric neurologist, and I remember that his answer to me was a sort of kindly, knowing smile and a "why?" I babbled for a bit without really knowing the answer, which made me feel nervous for weeks afterwards.
The next year, he went on sabbatical, so I didn't see him at all, which just about broke my heart. But he's back this year! I told him about my Chaucer class, and my plans to take Old English, and my somewhat abrupt u-turn from doctor to astronomer and public outreach-er, and I have never seen him smile bigger than when he said "so you want to be a teacher?" I told him about MIT's Science Writing grad program. He said that he thinks that that's a fantastic idea, and we simultaneously said that every scientist should be required to do a program like that.
I taught him about pulsars and what it means for an object to have a lot of mass. He showed me a picture of the Sombrero Galaxy, which is his favorite, and played a song that had rain in the background and French dialogue over the top (Mr. P: "How's your French?" Me: "Ummm..." Mr. P: "Great, you'll understand it.") It was about making discoveries, and it was very sad (what I understood of it, anyway.)
We spent the last 20 minutes-ish talking about science education (and education in general). We discussed it as fellow educators -- not as student and teacher. It was weird. I talked about "my kids" (my students) and the parents I'd taught, he talked about the kids at my old school, and the efforts underway to change the curriculum. I quoted some Socrates, which made him very happy.
It was refreshing to talk to someone who both knows me well, and hasn't interacted with me in about two years (the list of people with both qualifications is very short) - he could remind me of so many things about myself that I'd started to forget, because he hasn't been with me while I've been changing. I confessed my insecurities about astronomy to him - I told him about not being able to justify to myself how my research was helping society. He looked surprised, and asked some variation on "isn't it enough to be exploring and stretching mankind's attentions out into the universe?" I said that I believe that when it comes to other people, but for some reason not when it comes to myself.
At that point, there was a pause, in which Mr. P took a mental step back (and a physical lean back, in his chair.) He said, thoughtfully and pausing between words, that he could see me becoming an educator, or an engineer of science education. He said that I have a way of making people want to learn what I am talking about, and that I light up when I'm teaching.
At this point, I have zero reservations about going to astro grad school. I'm obsessed with my research project and I love pulsars and I love the astronomy research community. My plan so far has been: apply for MIT's science writing grad program (it's a one-year master's), and if I get in, defer my chosen astronomy PhD program for a year. If I don't get in, go straight to grad school. Now, I'm leaning towards taking a year off regardless of MIT's decision, and applying for an internship at NOVA / other, similar organizations.
As most of you know, I'm currently doing an internship at the NRAO in Charlottesville. Down the road from my office is a public observatory (with a gigantic, very old, very beautiful refracting telescope) that holds outreach nights. The UVA astro professor who runs the open nights criticized the NRAO for being invisible in Charlottesville, so I offered to design an NRAO exhibit for the public observatory's museum.
So, now I am apparently in charge of designing an NRAO exhibit for the public observatory's museum.
A class in documentary-making or exhibit design would be really helpful right now. Also, a bunch of grant money. Apparently a big fancy exhibit poster thing costs like $250. Commence the spamming of the MIT PSC and the UVA equivalent and everyone I've ever volunteered for at a science museum!
Sorry for the very disorganized post. Tomorrow is Lisa's graduation, so you can probably expect another emotional update from me. I will be shocked if five minutes of ceremony go by without me bursting into tears.
Love and miss you all!