Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Of course Rilke wrote his "Letters to a Young Poet," which is pretty great, and multiple writers have followed with their versions of a "Letter to a Young Writer." THIS is my favorite, but maybe because that's because reading it makes me feel like I'm chatting with Dick Bausch and that instantly improves my mood.

Anyway. I've noticed that I spend a lot of time answering my students' questions (both in my office and over email) about their struggles with writing, what they should do with themselves, and what it means to be a writer in various ways. My answers to these questions are not more awesome than anyone else's (see again Bausch), but I have put a lot of thought into them and some of this knowledge is hard-won. So in that spirit, I've decided to start copying here, with any identifying details removed of course, the advice that I give students over email. Some of them will be about process ("What should I do when I'm stuck?" type questions), some will be about craft and genre, some will be about publication, some will be about making a writer's life.

This first entry in the series falls into the last category. It's from a student a week away from graduating who was getting anxious when people kept asking him, "Now, what do you plan to do with a degree in English?" He found he didn't have an answer and was wondering if all he was qualified to do now was to go to graduate school and eventually teach. He ended his email to me with this question:

What can I do with an English degree if I don't want to be a professor?

That's a great question, and it's one that's based on sort of a misleading idea of what it means to declare a major. Some forces within the university have a way of emphasizing this decision as though you are choosing a path for your life in a significant way, choosing what sort of person to become and what sort of work might be available to you. In reality this isn't what you're doing at all--when you declared English as your major, you were only choosing one department to take 8-10 classes in, at the same time you were taking a lot more classes in a lot of other departments.

My students are always a little scandalized to hear what I'm about to say to you, but I swear it's true: As you go on in life, no one cares all that much what you majored in as an undergraduate. Obviously there are exceptions--you can't be an engineer without an engineering degree, a nurse without a nursing degree, etc., but within the sorts of jobs you might possibly be interested in, things are a lot looser than they seem. For instance, I am an English professor but my undergraduate major was anthropology. I have never been questioned about this or even looked askance at--not when I applied to graduate schools, not when I applied for teaching positions. If my undergraduate major ever comes up in casual conversation around the department, no one freaks out or demands that I leave. They assume that I acquired the expertise I have in other ways than declaring that major back when I was 18, and they are right, I did. (I've also had colleagues and professors in English departments whose undergraduate majors were history, women's studies, American studies, physics, and probably lots more I never heard about).

It works the other way, too: English majors have and will become doctors, engineers, politicians, CEOs, astronauts, and any other non-English-y job you can think of, and in getting those positions it only seems to have helped them that they know about something other than just science, engineering, business, etc. Everyone always acts surprised when studies come out saying that business employers would rather hire English major than business majors for their entry-level jobs, but you can imagine why this would be. English majors are trained in analyzing complex texts and communicating clearly in writing, and these skills are more important to these employers than whatever it is that business majors learn (I haven't the faintest clue).

And it's actually really great that you don't want to be a professor, because that is a job that is sort of disappearing. There are already way too many PhDs without teaching jobs who had to make mid-career changes and do something else, or who are teaching but are underemployed as adjuncts. (I just read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the growing number of PhDs teaching full-time at colleges and universities who qualify for food stamps and other public assistance). I would be sad and anxious for you if you said that all you really want to be when you grow up is an English professor, because that's about as solid a plan as winning the lottery. But if you want to be something other than an English professor, well, absolutely nothing will stop you, least of all the fact that you were an English major.

Hope that helps,
Professor Dean

Monday, March 12, 2012

So is it just me, or is it super-depressing that these are the only women to have been on the moon?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Norman's Tropics

He found himself going for a walk along the grass. Between the grandstand and the lagoon was a field about the size of a Little League baseball park and the photographers had all set themselves up at the edge of the water, their cameras with telephoto lenses set on tripods so that they looked from behind like a whole command of Army surveyors taking a lesson in their instrument. And the object on which they were focused, Apollo-Saturn, looked gray and indistinct across the air waves of heat shimmering off the lagoon.

To the right of the photographers was a small grove of pure jungle. Recollections of his platoon on a jungle trail, hacking with machetes entered his head. A hash of recollections. He had thought he would be concentrating on the activities at the Launch Pad, the Control Center, in the Command Module, he had expected to be picturing the vitals of the rocket, and the entrance of the fuels into it, but he was merely out of sorts with a headache, and waiting for the time to pass.
—Norman Mailer, at the launch of Apollo 11, from Of a Fire on the Moon

I have been struck by this description of the jungle just at the edge of the press viewing area, and now I have seen it for myself (and snapped a picture of it with my phone, as you can see).

One of the things I enjoyed most about getting press credentials for the last launch was getting to explore the press site itself. I realized today that I forgot to step out onto the patio of the CBS building, from which Walter Cronkite sat for many hours keeping Americans apprised of the progress of various missions, and that the CBS building will probably now be torn down, and then I was really sad. It seems there is no end to the fresh little tragedies at the end of American spaceflight.

Monday, July 11, 2011

You Remind Me of Me

This is the title of a book that has nothing to do with spaceflight. But I kept thinking of this phrase the two days I was in Florida to witness the historic last launch of the space shuttle. As always, my visit was fascinating in terms of the space-related wonders I witnessed, and even more gratifying in terms of the people I met there and the deep connections between people and the space program.

As I made my way around the Space Coast Friday and Saturday, both at the actual launch and at events around it, I kept seeing people who looked weirdly familiar to me. Did I go to grad school with that guy? Was that woman in dorm at college? Is that the friend of a friend? I kept finding myself squinting into people's faces, trying to make a connection that was never there. (Okay, in one case it turned out I was squinting at Seth Green, who looked so familiar because I recently watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer in its entirety, and in another it turned out to be John Oliver of BOTH The Daily Show and Community. So... that was awesome).

But generally, my TV watching could not account for the strange sense that everyone was someone I already kind of knew. After I while I realized what it was. I had something important in common with just about every person there. We may be different ages, genders, and ethnic backgrounds, and we may come at this interest from entirely different directions, but we all care enough about the space shuttle to want to be there to say goodbye.

This time I got press credentials and so was able to see the launch from the press site for the first time, which was a significantly different experience from seeing it from other vantage points. Part of the press site experience included getting to know the #NASATweetup people-- a lucky bunch of 150 so-and-so's chosen by NASA "at random" to get unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to the Kennedy Space Center and the launch. One of those people chosen "at random" was my friend Stu, and by being sort of vaguely at his elbow I was able to sneak into the #NASATweetup tent (I refuse to call this structure the "Twent," as some of them insisted upon doing). The Tweety People (as I, in turn, annoyed everyone by insisting upon calling them) were simply a solid group of individuals-- smart, friendly and funny, space fans to the core, and honestly exactly the 150 people I would have chosen had NASA asked me to choose 150 people "at random." I'm lucky to have met as many of them as I did.

I will write in more detail about the launch itself, and the exciting saga of how I lost my press badge and got it back thanks to a standup character from the electricians' union-- but for now I will leave you with an image Stu took of me with my mouth hanging open like an idiot.

Godspeed Atlantis!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I'm officially a Huffington Post Blogger!

Check it out.

Friday, June 03, 2011

The Space Coast

One thing I will miss when the space shuttles are retired is traveling to the Space Coast for the launches. I've made a total of 6 trips to Brevard County in recent years (3 of them in 2011 alone) and I've gotten to know the area in a strange way-- by writing in the voice of a child who grew up there and knew the terrain like her own skin. Those of you who know the places where *I* grew up know how much I had to fake details like the palmetto trees in the back yard, unrelenting hot weather, lurking alligators, and the background rhythm of shuttle launches and returns.

Since writing the book, I've come across a lot of stuff I wish I'd been able to fit into the book, like the awesome memorabilia at so many restaurants. I've come up with a working theory: the worse the restaurant, the better the space memorabilia and vice versa. A shack that sells beer in cans and deep-fried marine life will be coated inside with signed crew photos, old blaze-orange NASA passes for long-ago launches, and random bits of NASA propaganda. A white tablecloth restaurant with a nice wine list will have nothing at all.

Also, there are beaches. (As gorgeous as this beach looks, it was covered in dead jellyfish, so... don't get too jealous).

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

One could assume that the possible presence of high winds, slow turns, and upgrades would be the reason the crawler travels at less than its full speed, travels rather at turtle speed, half a mile an hour, but since the sight of the open skyscraper and the rocket in nine-armed embrace clanking along the Cape Kennedy moors at a rate somewhat less than one foot a second is a sight no man has ever seen before he has seen it, it is indeed a moment in the symbolic pageantry of legend perhaps not unequal to that hour when Birnam Wood came to Dunsinane: perhaps the exquisite sense of caution in Rocco Petrone which is reflected in the speed of half a mile an hour, instead of the possible rush through at twice that rate is due to some secret pleasure taken in the magnified luxury of treating all the workers at the Space Center to the pleasure of watching their mighty moonship edge along the horizon from morning to dusk, or even more spectacularly at night, with lanterns in the rigging, like a ghost galleon of the Carribean! The beginning of the trip to the moon was as slow as the fall of the fullest flake of snow.
Norman Mailer, Of A Fire on the Moon

On May 31, 2011 I got to witness Atlantis rolling out to the launch pad along with the workers at the Space Center. It was, in fact, a magnified luxury to watch the mighty [moon]ship edge along spectacularly at night. (Norman Mailer, no one can write about space more bombastically than you.)

Look closely: there are people on the crawler.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be President

The first man on the moon, the last man on the moon, and Jim Lovell, who missed his chance to step on the moon on Apollo 13 (think Tom Hanks), get together for some Obama-blaming on the anniversary of the "before this decade is out" speech.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Happy Before This Decade Is Out Day!

As you know, 2011 is a big year for space anniversaries. We celebrated Yuri Gagarin's first flight on April 12 and then a few weeks later Alan Shepard's first flight on May 5. Imagine being Kennedy in the few weeks between May 5 and 25 (keeping in mind he had only been inaugurated in January). He spent those weeks conferring with scientists, the Pentagon, and let's face it probably the CIA. Then on the 25th JFK came out with his daring charge to the nation. Seriously, watch it, it's only a few minutes.

My favorite part of this speech, of course, is the part where he says we're going to the moon. But I am also totally amazed by his humility toward the end where he goes off the page. He admits that "I came to this conclusion with some reluctance," and then closes with this:

You must decide yourselves, as I have decided. And I am confident that whether you finally decide in the way I have decided or not, that your judgment, as my judgment, was reached in the best interest of our country.

That guy was a class act.

Now just for fun, put on your best Hyannis Port accent and sing along: "we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy but because they are hard!"

(Still not quite sure what "the other things" are.)

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Dawn at Kennedy Space Center

The next-to-last space shuttle launch was Monday (if I was a real English professor I'd use the word "penultimate") and scholars, I was there.

When I went to my first space shuttle launch, STS-102 in March 2001, I was all like, Well, that's it, I've seen a shuttle launch! I was writing a book in which the characters go to many shuttle launches, and I needed to see one to know what it was like. Having crossed that off my list, I never thought I'd make a point of seeing another one again.

But then the program was canceled, and I wanted to write about the end of American human spaceflight. I felt like I should see the last few launches in order to write about it. My second launch was ten years after my first, three months ago, STS-133 in February 2011, and I was surprised by how different it was from 102. 102 was a night launch and 133 was day; I was at a different vantage point, the weather was different, 102 was pre-Columbia and 133 was post-, and the overall spectacle, sound, and experience were totally different.

As of Monday, I've seen three launches, and I'm starting to understand why some people who live in central Florida make it a point to go to every single one. Each one is a little different from the others, they each have a different story behind them and put on a different performance. Realizing this of course makes me incredibly sad that there is only one more to go for all time. And of course I plan to be there no matter what it takes.

This time I had a WAY better vantage point than I ever have, and better than almost anyone else. I mean not to be braggy, but I was closer than the press site, even closer (by a smidgen) than the astronaut's families, where President Obama was for the first attempt. This is all thanks to my friend Omar and his father Frank, both of whom work at the Cape, and they were generous enough to invite me along on their Extra Special Access badges. Here is a great video that Omar shot:

Godspeed Endeavour!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Happy Space History Day!

On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human being in space. Yuri was awesome and there's pretty much no way around that.

On April 12, 1981, the first space shuttle launched.

Today is April 12, 2011. It's been exactly thirty years since the start of the shuttle era and exactly 50 years since the start of the era of human spaceflight. Is it a bit of a bummer that we celebrate Space History Day (yes I made that up) preparing to say goodbye to the remaining space shuttles? Yeah it is.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Discovery's last flight

Scholars, I'm still knee deep in work on my hugely long essay about the end of the space shuttle era, and as some publications are twitchy about publishing work that has appeared on the internet, I'm not going to take any chances and risk writing some transcendent sentences here that I will then be unable to use in the essay.

For now, suffice it to say: I was at the launch of STS-133, I met some kooky people there, and I'm really glad I went. From the west end of the 528 causeway, it looked something like this. (It gets a little cut off because Blogger and YouTube are not playing nicely together, but you can kind of get the idea).

From a much better vantage point across from the Vehicle Assembly Building, from my friend Omar who works at the Kennedy Space Center, it looked more like this.

Stay tuned!

Friday, January 28, 2011

I'm afraid I don't have anything new for the Challenger anniversary this year, as I'm frantically writing a new piece on the end of the space shuttle era and preparing to go to Florida for the last launch of Discovery. (People keep asking me, when I mention I'm going to a shuttle launch, "Oh, cool! Where?" I try not to sound sarcastic when I answer, "Um, Florida. Have you ever heard of Cape Canaveral?" (The Kennedy Space Center is not actually at Cape Canaveral, but that's what they call it in the movies, and it has a pleasing alliteration.) My point is, space shuttles have only ever been launched from one place).

Anyway. In lieu of a Challenger anniversary post of my own, I want to direct you to a wonderful review of The Time It Takes to Fall by Catherine Howard over at Catherine, Caffeinated. She is the author of a memoir about living in Orlando for a while a a child as a visitor from Ireland-- must have been an odd experience, and I can't wait to read the book. She also has rather addictive blog about writing. She knows a lot about self-publishing in the era of e-books, which is a topic that a lot of people talk about without knowing nearly as much as Catherine seems to. You should check it out.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Last Rockets

This is the first of what is sure to be a series of articles noting a series of "lasts" for the shuttle program. This one hits especially close to home for me, because the Solid Rocket Boosters were at the center of the plot of The Time It Takes to Fall (both literally and figuratively), and the journey they take by railway to get to Florida is one of those randomly beautiful facts that novelists could never make up and can only be grateful for. In Dolores's words, from the epilogue:

I still think about that O-ring. I’ve learned that it was manufactured in 1985 in Brigham City, Utah, cleaned off like a newborn, inspected and measured and inspected again before being packed and shipped to Florida. That O-ring made an American journey by railway, across deserts and mountains, across the width of the American South to arrive at the coast of central Florida on October 11, 1985, at the marshy wildlife refuge, the improbable spaceport. There it waited to be unloaded into the Vehicle Assembly Building, unpacked and reinspected and remeasured and reinspected again, by my father.

Never again will a Solid Rocket Booster make that journey. Unless, of course, the retirement of the space shuttle is extended for a few more years...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Long Hard Slog

For those of you who don't read the Fiction Writer's Review:

1.You really ought to be reading the Fiction Writers Review. It's full of good stuff.

2. Like my recent piece.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Time It Takes to Blog recycle-o-matic

I recently discovered that the literary blog Metaxu Cafe has gone out of business. This makes me sad because I liked it. For instance, a regular feature was a recently-published writer discussing a "classic" that had influenced his or her writing. Great idea, right? Will someone else please pick that up?

Anyway, I was asked to write one of these around the time my book came out, and now that the site is gone, I will have to put it on my blog or it will not exist on the internet at all. It will be like it never even happened.

Margaret Lazarus Dean on Lolita

I first read Lolita when I was a teenager, much closer to Lolita’s age than Humbert’s. When I picked it up, all I knew was that Lolita was a dirty book, that it was a salacious account of a nasty old man’s lust for a young girl, a defense of his indefensible behavior. (Like many people of my generation, I got the false impression that Humbert was old from the song “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” by the Police: “Just like the old man in that famous book by Nab-uh-koff.”) So what I found was a revelation. Humbert is not old, and his behavior is never excused. The subject matter is treated with a complexity and a decency I had not been led to expect. The portrait of Lolita that seeps through Humbert’s narrative is nuanced and sympathetic, even as he objectifies her—we are left with an indelible image of her monkey toes, her sunny curls, her slangy speech, her harsh high voice. And, of course, the language: Humbert is pompous and showoffy, but within and around that excess Nabokov gives him a caustic precision I adored. Most surprising: Nabokov’s treatment of pedophilia was funny, not in a slapstick way but in a tragically revealing way. So my experience of this novel was an experience of being surprised continuously and variously— maybe the ideal literary experience.

For anyone, to read Lolita is to be forced to look at a pubescent girl through a series of distorting lenses: she is reduced and amplified by Humbert’s lust for her, but also humanized by his developing tenderness, all of which is muddied by the haze of his recollection and by his knowledge that he will lose her. All this is refracted through the additional lens of the manuscript’s fictional editor, John Ray, Jr., Ph.D, who seems to feel a disturbing empathy for Humbert’s predilection for young girls. A reader might legitimately ask: is the book’s main character Humbert Humbert, or is it this series of frames and ciphers? We might assume that Lolita is a book about a man tormented by a girl-object; having so recently been such a girl-object, I felt certain the book was about the girl.

Lolita has very little power in this story, ruled completely as she is by people who do not love her—first her mother, then Humbert, then Quilty. Lolita reaches a certain age—nearly thirteen—and discovers a new power over men. Should it be any surprise that she starts having sex, or even that she initiates sexual contact with Humbert? Many readers feel that because it is Lolita who crawls toward Humbert in The Enchanted Hunters hotel bed that early morning, everything that follows is her doing, that Humbert is in fact a victim of sorts, as Lolita’s act robs him of his last shred of self-control. In the dictionary, a “Lolita” is not a victim of sexual abuse, but a sexually aggressive young girl. Anything that happens to her, it would follow, is her own fault.

But Lolita is not a sexual predator; she is a child, with a child’s need for attention and a child’s propensity toward selfishness and sweetness and goofiness, and one of the hallmarks of Nabokov’s genius is that we can see her as a child, even through this series of distorting lenses. No one has ever read my novel and said it was reminiscent of Lolita (nor would I expect anyone to), but my book is infected by that book, as if by a blood disease. My protagonist is a thirteen-year-old girl named Dolores, and her precocious sexuality is an expression of a gene planted by Dolores Haze, her ghostly great-aunt. My Dolores chooses to initiate sex with an older partner—hers is eighteen, less shocking that Humbert’s thirty-eight, but still quite illegal. Of course, the scene feels significantly different told from the point of view of the girl rather than the man: we can understand her motives and can only wonder at his, rather than the other way around. The novel does not spend a great deal of time on this sexual relationship—readers can expect to learn much more about the space shuttle program of the 1980s than about Dolores’s sexuality—yet I have heard from more readers about this scene than any other. I think the scene disturbs readers because, while Dolores does pay certain costs for having sex with an adult, she is not irrevocably changed by it as Lolita is. Seeing the scene from the girl’s point of view, we can see that she is not a predator, but a child with few other choices available to her. Yet it’s hard for some readers to see Dolores make this choice and get away with it. This is the form our prudishness takes now: a book containing such a scene will no longer be banned as pornography, but we want to see the girl punished for her choice. Like Lolita, Dolores is a child who has discovered this one power, this one loophole, but Dolores is spared the stigma of being a “Lolita,” a girl reduced to the barest outlines of her body. Fifty years after the publication of Lolita, with younger and younger girls sexualized more and more, you would think this scene would have lost the power to shock. I’m still not sure whether this reaction is shock at the audacity of a girl using her sexuality to claim power over a man, or shock that her circumstances offer this as the only source of power she has.

Reading Lolita for the fiftieth time, I’m still moved by the fact that Lolita wants only the things we are all supposed to want, like love and autonomy. One could argue that the choice she makes in that hotel she makes out of a desperate hope of achieving these. One could argue that she eventually succeeds.

Monday, February 15, 2010

No Moon

For as long as I've been reading about the history of NASA, it's fascinated me that there seems to be little correlation between a person's political ideology along the conservative-liberal spectrum and their feelings about publicly-funded manned spaceflight. This "publicly-funded" piece is key, by the way, as some people think that spaceflight is great as long as their taxes don't go to support it. One blog commenter I came across recently called Constellation "the socialized moon project" to differentiate it, I suppose, from a capitalist moon project. (Note to venture capitalists: moon travel is probably not a great investment).

So it's been interesting to watch, in the past couple of weeks, the space enthusiasts of the internet try to express their feelings over Obama's decision to ax the moon project in political terms. A lot of the people most upset about this decision, understandably, are NASA employees, who tend to skew (for multivalent reasons) conservative. Well, you can imagine: Obama plus cutting Constellation equals full-on Glenn Beck style rage. But as much emotional sense as it might make to rage against the guy who just axed your job and everything you've ever worked on, raging against Obama as a liberal doesn't hold much water. Not only because conservatives are supposed to like privatizing things, but also because this entire thing-- the whole send a man to the moon and bring him back safely before the decade is out thing-- was introduced by Kennedy, generally not embraced as a role model by conservatives.

A couple of people have asked whether I was sad about this decision, and I have to admit that I'm not. First of all, we have to acknowledge that part of this decision involve increasing NASA's budget quite a bit, a detail that often gets set aside in the Obama Bashing. Also because I never believed we would really be going to the moon any time soon in the first place. What Bush created when he called for Constellation was what politicians call an "unfunded mandate." He took credit for the idea and the excitement and left the money for future presidents to beg. Obama calculated that he can't spend the political capital to make Constellation happen, and he's right.

It cheered me slightly to see that Buzz Aldrin feels the same way I do (thanks @Irving Flashman for bringing this to my attention), and it cheers me all the more because I happen to know that Buzz watches a lot of Fox News and doesn't think much of Obama. That he would call this Obama's "JFK moment" means a lot, especially from someone who cares so deeply about getting to Mars.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Challenger Day

Twenty-four years later...

Challenger day has snuck up on us once again, and this one seems especially significant because this is, presumably, the last Challenger anniversary on which we can still look forward to more shuttle missions. The space shuttles are slated to be retired from service, one by one, as they complete the last five missions over the coming year, with the last mission to launch no later than September.

When I try to imagine what the Challenger crew would say to this, a few things jump to mind:
1) "You're still flying those birds? They're 18-26 years old, y'all!" (Columbia would be the oldest, at 29, if it hadn't broken up on re-entry in 2003.)

2) "What do you have lined up to fly next? A super cool new space ship, right? I mean after all, it's 2010..."

By the way, is it weird that I am imagining dialogue with people I never met who have been dead since I was 13? Not really, because I think sometimes the dead can help keep us honest about what we do next. These seven people believed in the promise and coolness of spaceflight so much that they were willing to risk their lives for it— I wouldn't want to have to explain to them that we haven't decided to get out of the spaceflight game so much as we've just sort of let it peter out without any clear decision-making or fanfare. That's lame, right? If we decide it's not worth the money any more, fine (well, not fine, know what I mean)—but we should take responsibility for making that decision. If we want to do something else now, something cheaper (and let's remember that the entire driving force behind the space shuttle system in the first place was its cheapness) that's fine too, but we should be honest about that too.

Also, NASA seems to be selling off some space stuff and I'm trying to figure out how to raise some quick cash.

Friday, November 20, 2009

15 Things I learned when I spent a day with Buzz Aldrin.

1. Everybody wants a piece of Buzz Aldrin. People want to touch him, shake his hand, have their picture taken shaking his hand, get their picture taken clapping him on the shoulder, and generally make physical contact with him as much as they can—and get photographic evidence that they have done so, if at all possible.

2. Everybody wants to tell Buzz Aldrin where they were and what they were doing while he was walking on the moon. These stories are almost uniformly uninteresting, as stories about watching TV tend to be.

3. Buzz Aldrin nods and smiles politely at these stories. Telling one of these stories, a person will start to realize how idiotic he sounds, telling Buzz about where he was watching TV one day in July of 1969. Buzz Aldrin is so patient with these stories it’s easy to forget that he has been listening to them FOR FORTY YEARS.

4. It's not as common as you might think that someone actually challenges Buzz Aldrin in person about whether the moon landings were faked. I saw Buzz Aldrin meet about 350 people and witnessed zero confrontations. (I know— I was disappointed too.)

5. Every time a suspected lunar hoax conspiricist approaches Buzz (and by "suspected lunar hoax conspiricist" I mean a white man, 25-45 years old, with poor hygiene and/or fashion sense), everyone becomes quiet and listens carefully until the man starts to tell Buzz where he was and what he was doing while Buzz walked on the moon.

6. The things people ask Buzz Aldrin to sign are many and varied. Old yellowing newspapers from 1969 with Buzz’s picture, various Apollo-era souvenir books, a moon-shaped nightlight, a couple of garments, zero body parts. (It’s just not that kind of party, I guess.)

7. When a suspected lunar hoax conspiricist approaches Buzz Aldrin holding nothing in his hands but a hunting jacket, draped entirely over his arm and covering his hand and any possible firearms he may be carrying, everyone will freeze watchfully but no one will throw herself in front of Buzz Aldrin or attempt tackle the man.

8. I was thinking I really should throw myself in front of Buzz Aldrin if the suspected lunar hoax conspiricist got any closer. I mean, how cool would it be to save Buzz Aldrin’s life? But I didn’t, and neither did anyone else, and the guy would have had a clear shot at him. As it turned out, the guy wanted Buzz to sign his hunting jacket because he didn’t have a copy of the book. Buzz declined to do so.

9. Some children are genuinely excited to meet Buzz Aldrin, and this is quite dear to observe. But some children don't really understand why they should be excited to meet Buzz Aldrin, and become shy and confused, and when that happens, there is a tendency to for people to try to get the child excited by saying to him or her, "You know Buzz Lightyear? Well, this is the REAL Buzz!"

10. I wouldn’t have guessed it, but it turns out that I am one of these people. I heard myself say “This is the real Buzz!” to children several times.

11. Buzz Aldrin's Twitter name is "The Real Buzz."

12. Buzz Aldrin will be happy to sign a Buzz Lightyear action figure for you. He even carries a permanent marker that writes nicely on the plastic.

13. After I introduced Buzz Aldrin at his reading, as I walked off the stage, he said to the crowd, “Now that’s a special lady.” This is a moment that I expect to see flash before my eyes in any future near-death experience.

14. Buzz Aldrin's business card identifies him as “astronaut” and “rocket scientist.” I am thinking of having those titles put on my business card too, even though in my case they would be lies.

15. When Buzz Aldrin recommends a book (as he did mine at the beginning of his talk) a number of people will dutifully buy it. God bless you, Buzz Aldrin.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Watch this space! (get it?)

I met Buzz Aldrin. More to come.