90,000 Miles to Me

21,072 Miles • Science Hack Day

This is going to start off with a story of me being pathetic. Rephrase that. This is a story of the internal conflict between a part of me that has been insecure and scared for a very long time, and my creative, curious, courageous Self that I am gradually getting to know better. 

The story starts back in South Dakota, when I heard Ariel Waldman speak at Neutrino Day. She talked about an event she co-founded called Science Hack Day, where people get together to build/make/create something with science in 24 hours. There have been Science Hack Days all over the globe, and no degree or certification or pre-requisite is required, other than an interest in creating and science, and it is free to the participants! 

Sign me up! (Said my Self.)

So I looked online, and the next feasible one would be in San Francisco in late October, and I just so happened to be heading out West. Skipping a long story of many travel plan changes, I kept it in mind but figured it would be too late in the season to work out.

The registration finally opened up while I was visiting my friend in Oregon, much later than I had planned on being there, and it started looking like a real possibility that I could attend. Did I mention that registration was free?

I himmed and hawed and wanted to go but was afraid of being around so many, much cooler science folk, many of whom would be credentialed scientists who are working in their fields, and, okay, I think I just connected the dots on why the whole episode about my math insecurities, which directly kept me from a career in science, blew up right then. 

Anyway, I was feeling super insecure about going (that’s the scared part of me talking), but my friend convinced me to sign up, yet I waffled on it so long that there were only two spots left when I finally bit the bullet and put my name down.

For the next several weeks, my excited self and my scared insecurities had it out over whether I would actually show up, even as I confirmed plans to visit a cousin who lives in the San Francisco area, getting worse as I was driving to San Francisco, and erupting as I pulled up to my cousin’s house the night before Hack Day, bursting into tears within two minutes of saying hello, and proceeded to sob at him and his wife for an hour and convinced myself to not even bother going. 

That was pathetic. Or a grand battle in the war for my soul. Pick your interpretation.

After I finally stopped blubbering, and my very gracious cousins didn’t accuse me of being a baby or tell me to get over it, but took me seriously and treated my reaction as if it were a completely reasonable response to a completely normal circumstance, I felt safe and loved and accepted, and actually became calmer. Not calming down, as in repressing, for show. But genuinely calm.

We talked about that, and a few unrelated things, and I got to the point where I gave myself permission not to go, and then my Self stood up and said, “but I want to go.”

And in the morning, I got up in complete darkness to drive the 40 minutes to GitHub headquarters, so as to find parking for my big van (which I now find ironic that I named Serenity) in downtown San Francisco. 

Once I got there and signed in, it felt like my Self was leading. I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone, not even to me—even though it’s only ever been me, I just didn’t know that until now. I could just have fun playing science for two days.

Various grant contributors provided all of our meals, handouts, and the space for the two day event. Thanks, guys! That made it possible for those of us with limited means to attend, which is one of the missions of Science Hack Day: to have no barriers to entry. They even have a little scholarship money set aside for those who need to pay for transportation, parking, babysitting, etc. and would otherwise not be able to go. That’s awesome! Well done, Planners! You rock!

After breakfast and some opening comments, people got up to briefly introduce various projects they were wanting to work on, so everyone who didn’t have a plan already could decide which groups to join. Then the clock started and we had 24 hours (yes, we were allowed to stay overninght) to do something. Then the groups would present whatever they came up with and awards would be handed out. 

Of the groups that introduced themselves, I was most interested in one that the originator called EmoLingo, modeled after DuoLingo, but for teaching emotional intelligence instead of languages.

I’ve been learning a lot about feelings lately, which is why it intrigued me, and I was interested in the project, but wasn’t interested in spending my fun science day on the computer. I do that too much.

Yet as several of us were standing around the idea originator to talk about it, she told us how she wanted to use short video clips from Star Trek TNG to show emotions that users would then have to identify, answer questions about, etc. as the difficulty increased.

“Oh, by the way, I have all of Star Trek: The Next Generation on my computer, right here in my backpack. On my back. Right now.”

So I agreed to help with the video clips, and they would come to me periodically and say, “Okay, we need a video clip showing anger.” And I would immediately respond, “Do you want the scene in which this happens or the one where this character says this or the one in which this other character reacts that way?” “Yes, please,” they would say. So they didn’t have to spend tons of time looking through episodes or trying to find clips online, which was quite a time saver, and I was happy to oblige them with a dozen or so clips of under a minute each.

I finally got to put my encyclopedic knowledge of Star Trek to a practical use! All those years have paid off. They named me their TNG expert.

But I really wanted to do something physical, to make or build something with my hands, yet a high percentage of the projects were computer-based, making apps and programming stuff. I was chatting with one of the organizers who explained that the types of projects vary considerably each time, sometimes leaning heavily toward the physical, sometimes the technological.

I did find and join a small group who were building a Rube Goldberg machine. That’s one of those chain reaction things where you set a ball going down a ramp and it hits a line of dominoes which knock over something which causes something else to happen which…you know what I’m talking about, right?

So we played around, trying to build the longest chain reaction we could in the time allotted, which turned out to be a not very long chain reaction. It was harder than I expected to get each stage to work, and every time we tried something, we had to set it all back up again. 

We stayed late, but not all night long. In the end we figured we put in ten hours of work for 10 seconds of action.

Here’s what we came up with:

And EmoLingo made this. I was surprised that although the clips I gave them were around a minute each, they only used a second or two of each. I had thought that they would have to be long enough to show the situation, to understand the context, in order to see that the character was angry. Yet when they stripped away all the plot elements, the emotion was still quite apparent. This was quite a lesson for me!

Over the weekend, I met some really neat people, had fun, and was a part of something sciencey. I think the biggest reason that I was able to enjoy myself was that, for the first time in years, I didn’t feel like I needed to prove that I belonged, or like my ego was riding on the outcome of any of the projects, so I wasn’t nearly as uptight as I normally would have been. 

Another big factor was that the Wilbarger Protocol of skin brushing and compressions are helping my nervous system to integrate, so I could tolerate the sounds and lights and all the goings on from all the different projects in the open floor plan layout, much better than I would have even a month ago. I also let myself take breaks and ask for what I needed and took care of myself. The whole experience was so much better!

I’m really glad I went, partially because I had fun, but mostly because I got to experience what it feels like to trust my Self. Who I am at the core, when not controlled by old wounds, insecurities, and anxieties. It felt pretty good. 

Score one for the Self.

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