I literally gasped when I turned the corner to see the dinosaurs of the T. rex exhibit at New York City’s American Museum of Natural History. It’s stunning and I learned so much about these magnificent animals. Absolutely go see it if you can! (All photos taken by me at the exhibit.)
If you want to really know me, listen to this interview. The big question for me in this lifetime is, “Does everything matter or does nothing matter?” A few months ago, I gave the most personal interview I’ve ever done. My friend, mentor, and storytelling hero, John Bucher, introduced me to Josh Chambers and Leiv Parton, hosts and producer of the podcast, How Humans Change. My interview is now live. our wide-ranging conversation includes career, science, sustainability, the health of the planet, biomimicry, dinosaurs, product development, therapy, curiosity, change, the economy and capitalism, time, technology, work, culture, implicit bias, life-changing moments, storytelling, writing, poverty, trauma, writing, my book, mental health, strength, resilience, therapy, fear, courage, my apartment building fire, how my plane got struck by lightning, and so much more. Despite these dark topics, there is a lot of light, fun, laughter, and healing in this interview. It’s the most personal interview I’ve ever given, and some of the details I reveal about my personal path and past I have never discussed publicly before now. I hope you enjoy the podcast episode and that it inspires you to live the best life you can imagine.
Yesterday, I did an interview for a podcast called How Humans Change. I spoke with hosts Josh Chambers and Leiv Parton about change, transformation, death, trauma, writing, mental health, choices, poverty, technology, career, the passage of time, therapy, science, dinosaurs, biomimicry, super powers, and how healing, while difficult, is the best motivator of all. It’s my most personal interview to-date.
Some people who hear it will be surprised, and others will have answers to some long outstanding questions that I have rarely discussed in the past. I’m making a more concerted effort to address these topics thoughtfully, authentically, and often.
It filled my heart with joy to see kids actively engaged in science and hunting for fossils at Rowan University’s Edelman Fossil Park yesterday. It is such a special place, unique in the world for the scientific history it holds. Walking through a 65 million year old time machine and physically seeing that time in layers around me is something I’m still wrapping my mind around.
An enormous thank you and congratulations to Ken Lacovara, the town of Mantua, staff, students, and volunteers who are working so hard to preserve this natural treasure. What a gift it was to spend the day there with them. I can’t wait to go back. Childhood dream of fossil hunting and being a paleontologist for a day fulfilled!
I once read that if we really want to find our purpose, we should think about what we loved to do when we were 8 years old. I’ve been thinking a lot about 8-year-old me lately, and sifting through the writing I’ve done about my childhood. I came across this piece that I wrote 5 years ago. And it floors me that it still rings so true that I might as well have written it yesterday.
“I grew up in the dirt, literally. There was (and still is) a tractor crossing sign across the street from the house where I grew up. My rural hometown fostered a childhood that involved climbing trees and making mud pies. When I was little, I was convinced that there was a dinosaur skeleton hiding under the ground in my backyard. I enlisted my sister, Weez, to help me dig and dig and dig. All we found was a small mouse skeleton, but I thought it was clearly a prehistoric mouse! Other kids wanted to be doctors, firefighters, or teachers. I wanted to be a paleontologist. I still do.
My childhood was far from idyllic, but there were some very positive things about growing up in the sticks. I got my hands dirty in the process of making things. I ate organic food because that’s really all there was, not because it was trendy. Animals were my friends and companions, as much as people. Maybe even more than people. I learned to appreciate the Earth, her majesty and her power. Weather was a way of life, and I still watch it with fascination and wonder.
An article in the New York Times last weekend talked about a movement in this fine and fair city I now call home to bring more nature into the lives of city kids not by taking them out of the city, but by bringing nature to them. Brooklyn Forest, a husband and wife startup, “takes toddlers into Prospect Park to promote learning through creative play like building teepees out of branches.” 7 students were in their first class. Now there are over 200. More people are eager to get into mud these days; I was a pioneer.
There’s something to be said for the slow life, the life we build rather than the life we buy shrink-wrapped and delivered right to our doorstep. Creation builds confidence and bolsters the imagination. It makes us self-sufficient. I’m all for it, for our children and for us. There’s a lot of beauty down there in the mud.”
The world is a magical place. At about 12:30am, I got a direct message on Twitter from a paleontologist whose work I greatly admire. (He discovered the largest dinosaur on record to-date.) He happened to be here for work and asked if I’d like to meet him at the Explorer’s Club before his evening train back to Philly. We met on Twitter in the Fall when I was tweeting about how much I loved his book, but I’ve never met him in real life. Since this is my Year of Yes, I accepted the invitation without hesitation. (And truth be told, even if this wasn’t my Year of Yes, I would have accepted!)
He has been a big supporter of my book and read it with his 10-year-old son. When I mentioned to him that I’d love to go to the Explorer’s Club because Emerson’s second book will have a scene there that will send her off on her next journey, he reached out to the head of public affairs and to their lead archivist to arrange for me to meet them during our visit today so that I would be given access to any help from them when writing my book. I. Was. Stunned.
Additionally, we talked about science education, the power of effective science communication, and dinosaurs (of course). I also learned a lot about his own personal and professional story that led him to where he is today. He is nothing short of inspirational. I honestly felt like I’ve known him for years and I could have stayed there for many hours chatting with him.
“Yes” is a powerful word. Kismet and synchronicity play a role for all of us if we stay open to possibility. Kindness and graciousness are immense gifts that cannot be measured. Twitter is an amazing tool to create connections that otherwise may never happen.
I’ve been working on my first multi-panel collage. I wanted the subject to be fitting for a larger piece.
I give you Dreadnoughtus. Discovered by Dr. Kenneth Lacovara and his team in Argentina, it is one of the largest animals to ever roam the planet. It is part of a large group of plant-eating dinosaurs known as titanosaurs.
I recently learned that dinosaurs skeletons are never found in totality and many times are reconstructed from a small handful of bones. The skeleton of Dreadnoughtus was exceptionally complete with over 70 percent of its bones represented. In life, it was 85 feet long and weighed approximately 65 tons.
Dreadnoughtus is entirely composed of the faces of other animals closely related to dinosaurs—birds (which are in actuality dinosaurs) and modern-day reptiles. The skeleton in silver paint illustrates the bones that were part of the discovery in Argentina per this schematic:
The salmon-colored sky represents the asteroid (comet) which likely caused the end of the 165-million year reign of the dinosaurs. There is still some mystery surrounding the exact cause though it is widely believed that the Chicxulub crater on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico suggests that an asteroid or comet approximately 10km wide hit the Earth, and created a series of events that led to their extinction.
Below Dreadnoughtus, I used bits of paper from a photo of the gnarled landscape of Wistman’s Wood. Packed with moss-draped boulders, ferns, grass, and lichen-covered dwarf oaks, and dense fog, it’s located in Dartmoor National Park in the U.K. It’s a landscape that inspires myth and mystery, the kind of wonder that dinosaurs inspire in so many of us.
The other items in the collage represent everything that was born into the world because of the exit of the dinosaurs. The truth is that if the dinosaurs hadn’t died out, if the asteroid or comet hadn’t hit the Earth exactly when and where it did, we likely wouldn’t be here, nor would many of the other species that exist today. Nature is opportunistic and chancy, one species loss is another’s gain. Everyone and everything we know and love came about on the backs of the dinosaurs. Our history is intricately intertwined with theirs. We owe them a great deal, as Ken explains in his book, Why Dinosaurs Matter.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a paleontologist and go on digs to find dinosaurs. For my first expedition, I took my mother’s pie plates and dug a giant hole in my backyard. I was about 7 or 8. I was convinced that our hump-shaped rock outcropping that popped about 4 feet or so out of the ground was the headstone for a dinosaur. On my expedition, I proudly found the skeleton of a mouse, but sadly there was no dinosaur. (The pie plates didn’t survive either.) Nevertheless, I was determined to become a scientist, and entered the University of Pennsylvania’s engineering school after wining prizes such as the Rensselaer Medal when I was in high school. My idea was to invent tools and technology that would make my expeditions more efficient.
Sadly, my perfect scenario of becoming a paleontologist and dinosaur hunter didn’t come to pass. (Or at least it hasn’t yet.) I didn’t do well at Penn my first semester. I went to see my physics professor to get some extra help. After a grand total of 2 minutes, he told me I had no mind for science and math generally, and especially not for physics or calculus. Sadly, I believed him. I left his office hours dejected and in tears. I walked back to my dorm with all of my dreams lying in a wake behind me, shattered to pieces. No one had ever told me I couldn’t learn something, and this ugly exchange was a devastating cut to me when I already felt extraordinarily out-of-place at Penn for many other reasons. I changed my school within the University and my major the next day.
(This story does have a happy ending: I took both calculus and physics at a local college years later just to prove to myself that the professor was wrong about me. I got a perfect score on every test. Even though he may be a genius physicist, he was entirely wrong about my mental capacity for physics and calculus.)
Though I now have a wonderful career as a writer, author, and business leader for a technology company, I have never lost my first love for science. I still regularly read scientific journals, publications, and books. One that I have I been looking forward to for months, Why Dinosaurs Matter by Dr. Kenneth Lacovara, has finally been released and it’s even more spectacular than I had hoped it would be. Laced with dry, laugh-out-loud humor and poetic prose that weaves together our history with that of the dinosaurs, this book was the indulgent dive into the world of dinosaurs that I wanted and needed. It took me back to that day in the backyard with the pie plates and the dirt and my determination to discover something magical and mysterious. It ignited in me my child-like wonder about dinosaurs and science. I’ll admit that I hugged the book when it was done. It’s a delicious tale of survival, triumph, adaptation, struggle, and eventual loss that draws me into expertly crafted novels. Except this is real. This is science, however fantastical it may seem.
The book was so good that it prompted me to Google Dr. Lacovara and see what he’s up to these days. I know him mostly from his landmark discovery of Dreadnoughtus in the early 2000s. He’s now the Dean of Rowan University’s School of Earth & Environment and Director of the Jean & Ric Edelman Fossil Park in New Jersey, just outside of Philadelphia. Believe it or not, New Jersey is the place to be in the U.S. when it comes to finding dinosaur remains. I’ve been so close to the dinosaurs my entire life. They’ve been right here beneath my feet.
The older I get, the more I realize just how full-circle life is. Rowan University’s Fossil Park will become a one-of-a-kind center for STEM education, and it will include a museum, laboratories, and learning spaces thanks to Dr. Lacovara and his dedicated team. They have a volunteer program as well as community dig days. Perhaps I’ll be able to realize a piece of that dream of digging around in the dirt after all, this time armed with tools a bit more sturdy than pie plates.