We Are All Made Out of Stars
Looking for the Comet
A rare comet is set to pass by the earth, which hasn’t been seen since the Stone Age, over 50,000 years ago. Comet ZTF will be at its brightest on Feb 1 or 2, but if you have clear skies, you may be able to catch a glimpse of it this week with the naked eye, or, of course, with binoculars. This particular comet will have a green glow. If you are in New England, it will appear at shortly after dusk and before the dawn, low on the horizon to the Northwest.
Why is it green?
The Washington Post tells us:
It is believed that C2, or diatomic carbon (picture two carbon atoms bonded together), is present in the head of the comet. When excited by incoming solar radiation, it emits photons (packets of light) at wavelengths we see to be green.
There are already a ton of people who have seen the comet. If you head to Twitter (loathe as I am to send anyone there these days) and just do a search, you’ll be able to see many of the amazing photos astronomers and enthusiasts have taken.
I’m really hoping for a clear night at some point this upcoming week, so I can check it out, although I suspect we might need to get out of the city to see it.
In my novel, THE CHEF’S SECRET, the book opens with the death of the famous Renaissance chef, Bartolomeo Scappi. The day he is buried a comet appears in the sky and burns closer and brighter as the book progresses, and it blinks out as the book concludes. This star was the Great Comet of 1577, visible all over the world for 74 days from the 13th of November 1577 to the 26th of January 1578.
By the Renaissance, there were a number of people who had a sense of what comets were, but the general populace likely found it somewhat terrifying or at least a holy sign—punishment coming for mankind or perhaps a mystical manifestation of a deity shining its light upon us all.
When I was researching the novel, I was beyond delighted to realize Scappi would have seen this comet during the last months of his life. I had to include it. But for the purpose of my story, I subverted the dates (but I did mention this in the author’s notes!) and had the comet first appear on April 13, 1577. That’s the beauty of fiction, after all—a little twist on the truth. I thought it a fitting bookend for my story, marking two events very deeply entwined. Scappi’s light leaving the world, and the other…well, you’ll have to read it to find out.
My North Star(s)
I’ve always had a thing for stars, and nearly 20 years ago, when I was getting my Masters in Critical & Creative Thinking, they took on a new meaning for me. I was in a problem-solving class and stuck with the same group for an entire semester on a project. One of the women in the group hated me from the first moment we met and did everything to make my life as miserable as possible, bullying and belittling my every idea. She was one of the meanest people I had dealt with since high school when the popular kids made fun of my new wave hair. Except this woman was easily old enough to be my mother, and maybe almost my grandmother. My male partners in the group were uncomfortable with her behavior but they were also introverts and didn’t want her ire aimed at them. I would leave class crying almost every time. Standing up to her only made her meaner. Mid-semester, I tried to talk to the professor about it, but she told me it’s a problem-solving class, and that’s a problem you need to figure out. I resorted to not speaking and agreeing with anything she wanted to do (which seemed to make her madder). Basically, the group sucked.
But I also realized I was paying a lot of money for the sucky group. Instead, I drew stars all over my notebook. They became a sort of talisman for me, a protective glimmer of the light at the end of my semester-long tunnel. During one of my many star doodling sessions while the woman, whose name I no longer recall, was ranting, I decided to take what I was learning and find other ways (outside of the group) to apply my knowledge. It led me on the path of developing my thesis on creative exercises for writers in medias res, and helping them get unstuck from their own bookish problems. That, in turn, led me to decide to teach, which gave me gigs teaching undergrad and grad level courses at UMass Boston, Mass Art, Boston University, Harvard Extension, and Grub Street, and to the job I have now, as a social media professor literally teaching hundreds of thousands of learners around the globe (how cool is that?). And teaching led me on the path to writing novels. Our group grade for the sucky class was a B- (the one class that kept me from reaching Valedictorian), but that class turned out to be the best thing for my future.
It seems so funny to thank a bunch of little ink stars for setting me in that direction, but they gave me resilience in the face of an extreme challenge. They anchored me but also lit my way.
We Really Are Made of Stars!
So yes, it is the title of a Moby song, which I love, but…
it turns out our bodies consist of the elements that came from the earliest stars, back in the Big Bang. I love the idea of this, that we are both old and young, connected by something deeper and older than ourselves. Also, I forgot how many weird celebs are in that video!
Carl Sagan was fond of telling us about our composition made in the stars. In his groundbreaking 1980 Cosmos book, he said:
"The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff."
So when you look up at that comet this week, you can say hello to a starry ancient kin of sorts!
What’s bringing me joy this week:
Mymind: As an author and generally curious person, I save a ton of digital information, and much of it is visual. And the best tool I’ve found to manage this visual information is mymind. I can save inspiring or interesting videos, quotes, articles, .gifs, or memes and easily find them by scrolling or searching for keywords. I love being able to rediscover things quickly. It’s a paid service, but in my mind (see what I did there, ha!) it’s totally worth it.
Philomena Cunk: I somehow never came across this brilliant comedian until recently, and now I’ve watched all that I can from her. Philomena is a character played by British actress, Diane Morgan, who does mockumentaries in the most deadpan way. Smart, irreverent, and absolutely hilarious. How the people she interviews manage to keep a straight face, I have no clue. Here’s a link to more Philomena Cunk.
Poetry in Your Inbox: One of my goals this year is to get back to reading more poetry. I used to read poetry all the time, and I wrote and published a fair amount of poetry, even scoring a Pushcart nomination at one point. But writing novels consumed me and for some reason, I stopped reading many poems, and I want to change that. An easy way to make sure I get a regular poetic infusion is through the Poetry Foundation’s Poem of the Day. You can sign up for the newsletter to have a little jewel of words deposited into your inbox every day.
Congrats 🎉🎉to Debbie Russo and Sharon Berger, the winners of last week’s book giveaway of Kris Waldherr’s UNNATURAL CREATURES and Henriette Lazaridis’ TERRA NOVA! I’ll be doing more book giveaways in the future, so stay tuned.