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September 13th, 2011

About that interview...

It’s been a month since the Worldcon in Reno, and I never did write much about it here I had a great time, but oddly I spent less time with old friends than I expected (thank heavens for lunch and dinner -- that's when I could be sure to meet up with old friends), and more meeting new people. 

One of the new folks I met whom I would have liked to spend more time with -- except that he was already in very high demand -- was Paul Cornell. I ran into him first in the hallway chatting withpapersky and then in the Green Room before our joint program. He described the interview itself on his blog at paulcornell.com,:

I'm interviewing Brother Guy, popularly known as 'the Vatican astronomer' (though he's one of several) on a panel. Earlier, he met me in the Green Room, and got me to sign Xtinct andDark X-Men (so yes, there are now copies of those in the Vatican). He impresses me hugely. He's clearly a media pro, with finely-tuned stories that make the audience laugh. He makes much of his ironic intellectual freedom as the only astronomer in the world not limited by the quest for funding...

...I try to push him to reveal his own religious experience. He expertly deflects me. I have no right to go further. But I do wonder if he thinks that might scare a following (in this mostly atheistic community) who write 'we love you' beside his name on the schedule. Like I think it might scare my readers. I rather hoped he might have a typically cool way around that. But you can't have everything.

I come off that panel feeling I had a religious experience right there. Something about my fraught conception of self, about the opposites contained in me and all these people around me, about the conflict and the needing and the big emotion, is much calmer. Brother Guy, while being his own media creation, is also, obviously, one, real, person. Himself. More than anyone else I've ever met. Bill, in the audience, declares it 'the best panel I've ever seen'.

Of course, my memory (now very faded) of that interview is slightly different. Being interviewed by Paul, one of the rising stars in Fandom, was only slightly less terrifying than being interviewed on live TV by Stephen Colbert. And so at first I found myself doing exactly the same thing I did on Colbert -- rather than responding to his questions, I launched into some well-worn stories, sure-fired crowd pleasers, to hide my nervousness. (That’s what he meant by being a “media pro” I guess.)

Why was I nervous? Because, like Colbert, Cornell knows too much… he is too close to my own background and beliefs, and thus knows the scary weak parts and the uncertainties and the struggles we all endure, trying to live in and make sense of this world which is neither magical nor materialistic but somehow, sometimes, both and more… that’s what he meant by “trying to push [me] to reveal [my] own religious experience.” Damned good questions; wish I had the answers. 

So, having run out of glib jokes, all I could do was show my own scared uncertainty. I didn’t know what else to do. I guess that’s what made me look, finally, like a “real person.” (Or was that also just a clever show, on a deeper level? Wish I were that clever… or maybe, I am glad that I am not.)

As for it feeling like a religious experience (! -- how can I possibly live up to that?) all I can say is that there are times that I hear stuff coming out of my mouth and I wonder, “where did that come from?” ...and then, a minute later, “what was that again? Could you repeat that so I can writie it down? I think I missed it…"

I also wish that I could have been sharp enough to ask Paul some good questions, in return.

And I still don’t know what to make of the little red heart next to my name on the VooDoo board!

Xena in the UK?

A cross cultural question for my UK friends...

Next week I am giving a talk about Pluto at a high school in the north of England. My usual "Pluto" talk (I have been giving a variant of this talk for about five years now, ever since the 2006 IAU decision) ends with a bit of humor... the discoverer of the first real rival to Pluto, Mike Brown, originally gave the body he discovered the nickname "Xena" after the character in the TV show of the same name. When he was invited to propose a real name, he chose Eris, the goddess of discord. But for the little moon of Eris he chose Dysnomia, which is noted as the goddess of "lawlessness" -- appropriate as a companion to Eris, of course, but also a tribute to Lucy Lawless, the actress who played Xena.

My questions: 1. Does the reference to the TV show Xena make any sense outside of the US? I have no idea how far and wide that show was aired. (I don't think I ever saw it myself, to be honest.)

2. Would British high school students nowadays, five years later, get the joke? Is that show likely to be on their radar at all?



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