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Close Encounters with Science: Picks

Phase One by Renate Pohl

In a past life I was a scientist. I died, and woke up an artist.

If the first phase of dealing with grief is denial, I passed through it the moment I signed up for the Robotics Workshop at International Space University. I was the only artist in attendance at the summer program, which consisted mostly of budding aerospace engineers and highly-achieving wannabe astronauts from 34 countries. We were sweating it out on Florida’s broiling Space Coast for love and international cooperation.

It wasn’t the expected environment for a theatre designer from Newfoundland, but my torrid past with space science had brought me there. In 1999 I flirted with the astrophysics program at the University of Toronto, deciding that astronomy would be my backup career to the stage. It was a brief affair.  I froze on the first big physics exam, scribbling an apologetic poem about Newton on the graph paper before pushing it away like the photograph of a relinquished lover.

For the next decade, I tried to reject quantum thoughts, busying myself with design work. When Bob McDonald whispered “subatomic particles” on the radio, I carefully kept in check the twang of longing in my chest, turning my attention to a particularly needy blob of hot glue.  I packed science away in a neat little floral memory box that I constructed myself.  The heady spin of neutron stars, the luscious curve of fractals, and my Carl Sagan novels all went in, tied up in a space-blue ribbon.  I was an artist, and had no business pretending to be a scientist, I told myself with pressed lips as I tugged the knot tighter.

“Let’s take a vacation,” I suggested to my boyfriend. “I really want to go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.”  He paused for a sliver of a moment before answering in his usual quicksilver way. “Isn’t NASA in Orlando? We could go there too.”  My heart began beating madly. “Sure,” I said casually.

Overlooking Launch Pad 39B at The Kennedy Space Center, my socks were knocked off all over again. “I’m coming back to you,” I swore to the Saturn V rocket motor. “I don’t know how, but I will.”

Renate Pohl is from St. John's, NL.

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