Okay, I know I warned you that it would be all peaceful, calm photos from here on out, but when we learned that yesterday might be our last day of good weather before we returned to Houston, we decided we needed to get up and out and make the most of it.
So, what do you do when you're in Galveston on a misty, overcast day with three energetic kids?
You go to the Pleasure Pier, of course.
Yesterday, at SXSW, the venue where I spoke had a DJ on the sidewalk. These Girl Scouts who attended my panel couldn't help themselves: they busted a move right then and there.
And if that's not a textbook definition of "light," I don't know what is.
Some of my earliest childhood memories include watching launches of the Apollo spacecrafts. My dad, a PhD engineer, was enthralled by the space program, and so once his job moved our family to Houston for a couple of years in the late 60s-early 70s, he made sure to watch every televised launch. I remember sitting with my dad in our living room, watching our old black-and-white television, while he tried to explain what was happening in a way that a 4-year-old could understand. I might not have gotten everything he was saying, but I certainly understood that whatever was happening was exciting.
As a result, I'm a huge space geek. I love everything related to the space program. I'm enthralled by NASA documentaries. The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 are two of my favourite movies (to say nothing of Contact.) And I get unreasonably excited when there's space-related news -- see, for example, my out-of-control reaction to the news that a probe landed on a comet late last year:
And so needless to say, when I was recently invited to attend and assist a workshop at NASA as a guest of the workshop provider, I was only too thrilled to say yes.
Now, having lived in Houston for many years, I've visited the Johnson Space Center many times (most recently when the Space Shuttle Endeavour did its final flyby in 2012). So, while I am always in awe when I'm on the JSC campus, the mere fact that NASA is here in Houston isn't anything that surprises me anymore. But this past Friday, as Mike, the workshop leader (who'd flown in from out-of-state), and I made our way to the conference room where the seminar was to be held, we passed the Mission Control building, and I startled when he did a double-take.
"Hang on," he said, "Is that the Mission Control building? Like Houston-we-have-a-problem Mission Control?"
"The very one," I said. "You can even take tours to see it."
"Oh man," he breathed, "I wish I had time to go."
We went into the conference room, and there were already a few early attendees quietly working. While Mike started setting up, I had an idea.
I turned to a woman who was sitting near the window. "Excuse me," I said. "Do you know who I could contact about maybe tagging along on one of the public tours that goes to Mission Control, perhaps during lunch today? My friend Mike has never seen Mission Control, and I know he'd love to see it."
She smiled, "Sure," she said. "Let me see what I can do."
Turns out that the team she manages actually works in Mission Control -- and with blinding ease, she managed to get us passes to have a private tour of Mission Control during our lunch break.
And then I died dead, the end.
Kidding. There was no way I was dying without taking a few pictures first.
So, friends, Mission Control:
The photo above is the original Mission Control, the "one-small-step" one, the one that you would've seen in The Right Stuff, the one you definitely saw in Apollo 13. This is the 1960s in all its glory, baby -- how awesome are those avocado green consoles?! Notice also how analog everything is -- and when you consider that your smart phone has more computing power than any one of those consoles, and yet they landed people on the moon using them, and well ... you start to wonder if maybe witchcraft was involved.
At least I do. I'm just saying.
Ah, but that was then, my friends. This is now ...
This is the actual, honest-to-goodness, real-life, as-it-is-right-now Mission Control. Currently, all the folks you see behind those slick, state-of-the-art consoles are busy watching the International Space Station -- the map on the screen in the middle shows the position of the ISS (which, at the time, was somewhere over Washington DC, or thereabouts). While we were standing in the room, they were talking with one of the Russian astronauts, just as if they were across town on a speakerphone somewhere, instead of out in space. And it wasn't just the screens that were gleaming -- even the signs -- CAPSCOM, EVA, FLIGHT DIRECTOR ...
... they all glow, all Star-Wars-Star-Trek-Battlestar-Galactica-like. Awesome.
But, wait, there's more. Check this out:
This is the Mission Control that is currently under construction for Orion, NASA's new exploration space craft -- the next generation of the Space Shuttle, but this one is slated for deep space. Trips to Mars, that sort of thing. The control room you see above actually represents the future of space travel.
I can't wait to see it when it's done.
I'm so grateful for the folks at NASA who gave us this awesome tour -- it has reaffirmed that my passion for the space program hasn't diminished; in fact, it might even be more ardent. I just believe that its mission -- to explore what's out there -- is one of the few missions behind which the entire planet can unite.
NASA's work is one of hope. And that's certainly something I'll always get behind.
Oh, friends, I'm a wily one.
Last week, while I was interviewing my friend Paul, he revealed that his wife Cheryl, she of the gorgeous, completely hand-made Stash bags, had scheduled a photo shoot for their latest products. As a result, she was buried in preparations.
"You know," I said, as innocently as I could, "if she needs any help -- someone to run errands, bring bagels, whatever -- I'm happy to do what I can."
"Huh," he said. "I'll let her know!"
So he did, and she contacted me. "I'd love your help," she said. "And you can take behind-the-scenes shots, if you'd like!"
So yesterday, I trekked over to the incredible studio of local photographer Debora Smail, and made like a fly on the wall as I watched them work.
Man, it was so awesome: unlike the way I work, which is pretty much a solitary affair -- I shoot by myself, and then I go off and process my work -- yesterday I watched an entire team work together to create an image. Debora was there, of course, an amazing talent and consummate professional, with her camera hooked up to a huge screen, so that every time she took a shot, it was immediately viewable by everyone in the room. Cheryl was there, naturally, ensuring that the shots captured the spirit of her work and her business. There was a hair stylist, a clothes stylist and a make-up artist, all incredibly focused, doing their art. The models were amazing -- warm, friendly people who stopped everything and Turned It On when the camera lens was trained on them. There were photo assistants, and styling assistants and ...
... me, doing whatever Cheryl asked me to do between taking my photographs, and trying like hell not to get in the way.
Man, it was such a rush being around them, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Cheryl, for allowing me to tag along; also to Debora, for enduring me in her studio while she worked. Yesterday was a beautiful reminder that there is very little I love more than being around creative people while they do their thing.
(Incidentally, Stash's new designs will be available Spring 2015.)
The news coming out of Nigeria during the last 2 weeks has seriously got me down. (If you are unaware of what I'm talking about, you could certainly be forgiven: the press has done an abysmal job of making the stories high priority. But if you want to know more, you can read this and this as an overview, although fair warning -- the stories are seriously grim.) It has been 8 months since Boko Haram kidnapped schoolgirls from a boarding school (most of whom are still missing), and nothing seems to be slowing them down. Nothing. If anything, it's getting worse.
In an attempt to keep those who have been affected in my thoughts, this morning I bought a calla lily plant -- callas are indigenous to Nigeria. It's a silly little gesture, but honestly, I don't know what else to do. I'll be tweeting to various news organizations asking them to pay more attention to the story, so that it stays in the consciousness of the public (and I hope you do too), but news organizations and world leaders seem unperturbed.
Even though I self-identify as Trinidadian, and therefore West Indian, I know that my background is, in large part, West African (thanks to a DNA test; however, admittedly I have no clue which country/countries in West Africa). In fact, many years ago I visited Nigeria, and was stunned at how similar it is to Trinidad, from the food, and clothing and definitely the music. It was familiar. But that aside, and even more importantly, if there's one thing that global travel has taught me, it's that we -- all of us, no matter what part of the world we're from, no matter what cultures and nationalities course through our veins -- are connected. We are brothers and sisters. And so all the news lately -- of interracial and intercultural and interreligious conflict, of national publications mocking the oppressed, of state officers killing children, of guerrillas hurting women and the young, of homicidal maniacs gunning down innocents and terrorizing neighbourhoods -- enough. Just enough.
Today, Naija ni mi -- I am Nigeria. I am keeping the good people of Nigeria in my thoughts, and praying for peace.
My friend Jenny Lawson, who writes the hilariously funny and frequently profane blog The Bloggess, is currently working on her second book. Her first hilariously funny and frequently profane book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, debuted at number one on the New York Times Bestseller list, so it's safe to say that Jenny knows a thing or two about writing a book that people want to buy. Nonetheless, like most authors I presume, Jenny has her moments when she's not sure whether her words are hitting the mark; in these instances, she runs a tiny "focus group."
In that vein, this weekend Jenny invited a few of her friends up to San Antonio to hang out at her favourite hotel, The Menger, considered the most haunted hotel in Texas, so she could read us excerpts from the draft of her book. The Menger is pretty special: according to legend, this historic hotel has up to 32 permanent guests of the spectral variety; for the record, none of them made an appearance for us.
(That said, this weekend the hotel was the venue for the annual convention of the Single Action Shooting Society, an organization for which it is apparently a rule that its members wear the period dress of the Old West when they get together. So between the jangling spurs and hoop skirts and, God help me, union suits that were roaming the halls, it certainly felt like we were seeing ghosts.)
After I was done touring the site, I wandered back to the hotel, and into the small estate jewelry store that they have on site. This little store felt almost like an art gallery, and I couldn't help but notice this epic Native American piece:
Those pointy bits on that necklace? Bear claws. I can only imagine how completely indomitable one would feel wearing that necklace. Unfortunately, I didn't have a spare $1,500 lying around, or that bad boy would've been mine. (In hindsight, it's probably best that I'm poor -- I would fear for Marcus, Alex or anyone in my vicinity when I was wearing it, such would be my considerable attitude.)
For the next few hours, Jenny read us excerpts from her book, judging how we reacted, and listening to what resonated with us. She says that we helped her a lot, but frankly, I think we were the ones who got the better end of the deal. This new book of hers is good.
But the best part was just catching up with these sweet friends.
I just finally downloaded the photographs I took in Canada onto the hard drive of my desktop computer at home, and pulled this one up on screen for the first time. I'm not sure which part I love the best: the snow boulder that Marcus is hurling at me that appears to be bigger than his head, or Marcus' homicidal expression, or the fact that Alex is off in the corner, appearing to say to herself, "This will not end well."
Ladies and gentlemen, my family.
See you on Monday, friends.