what I did at space camp

I am working on not thinking about what is happening in Gaza for a little while because if I think about it I stop functioning so why don't I tell you about space camp.

In Wyoming the sky is huge, bigger than you thought a sky could be. Every morning I woke up at six--yes, really, I did this--and ran out into the fields around Laramie, and sometimes I saw people walking their dogs and they waved to me and I waved back, but mostly I didn't see anyone at all. During the day I went to space class and learned about quasars and stars and orbital mechanics, and how to read a spectrograph, and how to find exoplanets, and why it is silly to write a story about aliens from another galaxy when there are so many stars and so many planets in this one. On Thursday we studied neutron stars while the ground invasion began, and to tell you the truth I don't remember much about neutron stars. We ate all our meals in the college cafeteria, where they had the New York Times for free, and I read the paper in the mornings while I drank my cafeteria coffee and ate my steam table eggs, but by Saturday reading the paper made me want to throw up and so I tried not to read the paper anymore.

I made friends at space camp even though no one was as excited about the three-dollar whiskeys of Laramie, Wyoming as I was, and we went for a hike in the mountains and looked at rocks and flowers and things I had forgotten about, like trees, and we drove up to the top of a different mountain and visited a real telescope, an actual astronomers' telescope, and I got to take pictures of a star and look at its spectrograph and talk to the nice young lady astronomer, and in a lot of places my phone didn't work and so I couldn't look at the news anyway. At space camp I said that I liked astrology and Armageddon and there were long silences after I said both those things but come on, if you are watching Armageddon for the science that's a problem I can't help you with. The instructors were nice to me despite these failings. And I spent most of the second half of the week trying to reconcile talking about things that are so big and so far away with living in a world where--well, you know. Texting my friends during class Is your heart breaking right now because my heart is coming the fuck out of my body in pieces and How are we supposed to do normal things when this is happening. My friends texting back I don't know I don't know I don't know. How can anyone talk about anything else? How can I? We do.

The Hubble Deep Field is a picture of a tiny piece of the sky--a really, really tiny piece, a literal pinpoint in a part of the sky where before we never saw anything at all. There are ten thousand galaxies in that speck, ten thousand galaxies so far away from us that what we see is their image as they were at the beginning of everything. That made me cry, too, and I wasn't sure at that point what I was crying about but what else do you do but keep going. It was cloudy a lot when I was in Laramie, big lightning storms that you could see coming from hundreds of miles away, but on our last night the sky was clear and the stars were bright, and I looked up and there across all of it was the faint pale smear of the Milky Way, and I tried to think of the last time I'd seen it and I couldn't remember. Guess what? That made me cry some more.

Now I am home and back to my real life, and the cat was very happy to see me and did not even pretend to be snotty to punish me for my long absence, and some moments it feels like the world is ending and other moments I am okay. I don't know how we live with it. I thought maybe in writing this down I would come up with an answer. One thing I learned last week is that blue stars are hottest and red stars are cooler, and so sometimes the way we talk about looking at things is exactly the wrong way to talk about them as they really are. I am glad to be home but already I miss the dark.

If you want to go to space camp yourself it's called the Launchpad Astronomy Workshop and it's amazing. Dirty Wings came out while I was there and you can buy it here and you can buy the audiobook, which is narrated by one of my oldest friends, here. I wrote about why I wrote it here. I am telling myself it's okay to take a break from the news for a while so I'm going to tell you to take a break if you need one, too. If you live somewhere you can see the stars tell them I said hi.