Herein lies an example of the speed of life. It’s rocket speed. (Yup. I’m punning. Pashaw.)
I met and interviewed Chris Hadfield face-to-face on the morning of October 18th, 2014. At the time, on the day, I was riveted, inspired, terrified and thrilled. At the time, on the day, I was determined to go home, transcribe the interview and write a post while I could still feel his energy mingling with mine.
Needless to say, if I had been hired by a magazine or newspaper to write the article, it would have been done way long ago. But, I have the honour, and therefore, the freedom to write it and post it on my blog…which means it competes for time with everything else going on in my life. Apparently, there’s a lot going on in my life. The truth is, even now, when I listen to his voice, I can very much still feel his energy. I’m grateful for that.
The thing about it is that the what we talked about was not time sensitive, and so even though my fingertips and heart are swathed in guilt for taking so long to get this post complete, I know how good it will feel when it’s finally all typed up and out into the interworld (world of the internet). Our conversation can be heard (or read) anytime, and it will still be relevant, and hopefully, entertaining and inspiring.
I’m not certain Chris will remember me…even though I want to believe in my heart that I asked him at least one question that made a mark on his memory. It’s important to me when I interview people that I ask them good, deep, meaningful questions that haven’t been asked before. That’s not easy to do when you’re interviewing someone who is famous and who has been interviewed more times than I’ve taken a shower.
I still remember how nervous yet prepared I was to meet him. I still remember the feeling of his hand in mine – the firm grip, the eye contact, the mustache…and that uncanny resemblance he has to my dad (rest in peace, dad) which made me want to hug him for about five minutes and hold his hand while we talked (neither of which I actually did).
To set the scene, the interview took place at The Capitol Theatre (Windsor, ON) at 9:10am in the small café-like room off the bar. The people in the room were his personal assistant, her mother, his photographer and the *amazing* gal who works at The Windsor Symphony Orchestra who made this dream come true (high-give Miss Shelley!). We sat at a small, round table, Chris’ books and my books intermingling in front of us (heck ya I gave him a copy of I Am That Woman!). I used my phone to record our conversation and he was patient and helpful when the record app was a bit loopy after we first began. He made sure we got lots of photos taken, and he was even more patient when I asked if his photographer would use my camera to take a photo.
Like the last interview I did with him over the phone, we had about twenty minutes to talk. Time does the weird thing it always does when you’re relegated to a short piece of it to do something life-changing – it felt both short and fast at the same time!
The day and night before I had prepared a list of questions (way more than what we could fit into twenty minutes, but better more than less, right?). I had watched Chris do media interviews, interact with kids live and on-line. I watched his performance with the orchestra the night before, and this all helped me prepare some questions based on what I saw and experienced as he performed. Also, one of the bits of advice he so graciously gives is that being prepared is of utmost importance – whether you’re about to take off to space in a rocket or step on a stage to perform a song, and everything in between.
I felt the usual elephants in my tummy before the interview. And I felt a little intimidated…even though I promised myself I wouldn’t feel that way.
I was able to ask him a question the previous day while I was at a small press conference with him andMaestro Robert Franz (conductor of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra). I asked him how he deals with being nervous (because I’m always nervous!). His response was predictably Hadfieldian – he said he doesn’t get nervous because he’s always prepared. And if you’re prepared, and you know you’re not putting yourself into any kind of harm that will kill or hurt you, there’s really no reason to be nervous.
Well, my mind knows that’s logical, but my heart and body don’t comply. Even though I was as prepared as I could be to interview him, and even though I knew there was a high probability that I would come to no harm whilst interviewing him, I was still nervous. And, I gotta believe that there’s gotta be a bit of adrenaline pumping through his veins before he gets up on stage, and definitely when he takes to the cockpit of a rocket ship – in that instance, there is a very high chance of extremely life-threatening things happening to him. I digress.
Back to the interview. Oh, I should mention that I did think about what I would wear. For all you fashionistas out there, this bit’s for you. I do what I always do when I’m nervous and about to do something that makes me feel like throwing up – I dress in what makes me feel confident and comfortable. The trick to doing this is to not take too much time thinking about what you wear or how you do your hair or make-up. Follow your usual patterns in these departments. I didn’t have to dress up because this wasn’t a fancy shindig. So I wore what made me feel comfortable with my body and therefore made me feel as confident as I could feel given the nerve-wracking situation. So there’s that.
Ok. Really back to the interview.
I arrived as he was finishing up another interview. I snooped a bit then hung out with my friend and we chatted until it was my turn.
I asked Chris if he wanted to take a little break, take a sip of his coffee/tea before we started…but he was ready to go.
V: Alright. I’m just gonna record via this.
(He leans the phone upright for me.)
C: That okay like that?
V: So I have a tonne of questions, and I know we don’t have a tonne of time but as I was going through my questions –
C: Is this noise background noise gonna bug you? This is just for print right? So background noise doesn’t matter?
C: Okay, go ahead. No problem.
V: I was taking notes during the concert, so I thought I’d ask you questions via how the concert went last night.
V: So, first of all, it was amazing.
C: It was great. It was fun. I learned a lot. I made some obviously made a few miscue just getting things started.
V: It was great though. I liked those parts.
C: It doesn’t bother me at all. But, you know, Robert’s a very experienced conductor and he helped make sure everything worked. I’ve fronted bands for a long time. The beauty of live music is you make it work, right? Sometimes you’ll create something different that you weren’t expecting. I was very happy with how it went.
V: And I liked how he (Robert), I’ve never seen a conductor that turned around and looked at the audience so much, which was a riot. It was so interactive.
C: (Looks at my phone) The screen went blank but it’s still recording, right?
V: (I touch the screen and see that it’s still recording. Phew.) I believe so.Yup. We’re good. What were you doing backstage when they were doing the opening number from 2011 a Space Odyssey, which I believe is by Richard Strauss.
C: Yeah, [Sprach Zarathustra], which is one of the Strauss’. And of course, it was what was chosen by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C Clark for A Space Odyssey, but it’s a wonderful, evocative piece of music. There’s some music you can’t hear just for what it is, you hear from what it represents. Anthems, of course, are that way but music that’s personally important to you. So when I hear that music it sets a tone of mind. So I was backstage listening, and they gave me a little dressing room but you can crank up the volume in the dressing room, you know they have a little speaker, so you can turn the sound down and practice on your own down there which I did a little bit just to make sure I had the starts of the songs square in my head but then some of them I just cranked up and listened. And plus I wanted to hear what he said.
V: He’s very funny.
C: Yeah he’s very funny and engaging. His mind goes so fast and so I was listening and taking note. And he’s also very experienced. I mean, he didn’t just study music and composing, he studied how to lead, how to involve, how to use gestures to be truly affective. He studied with a theatrical coach in Boston who’s now in his 90s, who was a dance teacher originally.
V: Wow! Mentors.
C: Yeah, mentors. So it was really fun to be back stage thinking about how it was going to go and what my pat of it was, but listening to the skill of all those people in the orchestra. And the orchestra is from all around the world. There’s Russians, and Ukranians and Polish people in there, and I only met a handful. Orchestra’s are a microcosm of talent.
V: I always wanted to write a book about an orchestra. I will.
C: Lots of stories.
V: I think they’re fascinating.
At this point, I pause my questioning to point out that he has something on his cheek. It’s a little black dot that I’d been trying not to stare since I sat down with him. And it was really hard to do that. All the while, my heart rate is increasing because I’m trying to decide if I should tell him about the black speck on his cheek! I thought though, if it were me, I would want someone to tell me. Especially if I was getting my photo taken as often as he was!
V: You have something on your cheek.
He starts wiping.
V: It’s right there…
I point my finger at his cheek.
V: There, you got it!
C: Great. Thanks, I appreciate it.
V: No problem. I have to say that I cried one, two, three, four (I’m looking at my notes from the concert and counting the times I cried)…I cried at least four times…
C: Oh really!
V: Because I was so taken back. Although my son will say I cry at everything so…I guess that’s just who I am.
C: (Laughs) How old’s your son?
V: He’s eight. His name is Jett. He’s gonna come see the show later.
C: Nice. Nice.
V: But yeah, so it was really emotional for me. When I go see the symphony I cry anyway. The music is so…
C: When I play…
V: …Directly related to…
C: When I play ‘Caroline’ it just breaks my heart. Every time. Every time I’ve ever sung that song and I’ve sung it hundreds of times.
V: Well when we get to there…I have questions…
C: I understand. Go ahead. Start it over!
V: No, it’s okay!
C: But I’m glad. Music should be emotional. It’s not robotic.
V: I know.
C: It oughta be emotional.
V: That’s why I listen to it. I didn’t expect you to sing ‘O Canada’, but it makes sense.
C: Well, we just thought of that yesterday afternoon.
V: It’s great! And you were talking earlier about how you had to sing ‘O Canada’ in front of the stadium, well everybody sings ‘O Canada’!
V: It’s great!
C: What’s funny is we didn’t practice it at all. I didn’t know how it was gonna start. I didn’t know what key it was gonna be in. But it worked out fine.
C: He said it’s the key we always choose that everybody sings it in. So I thought well it must work, and it worked out fine.
V: It’s so funny, at the school, they have all these different renditions of ‘O Canada’. They have, like, a rap version, a country version. It’s hilarious!
C: Oh, that’s funny. That’s funny.
And then someone calls on my phone! It kicks the recording app out and my phone starts vibrating like mad. I can feel my cheeks burn with embarrassment and frustration. But, of course, Chris is patient and we re-set up the app and continue on.
V: There we go.
C: Are we recording?
C: Okay. We’ll just keep checking it. We’re not trusting you! (the machine, not me!)
V: Did you get emotional when you were singing these? [the songs during the concert]
C: Oh yeah. Yeah, they all mean stuff to me.
V: So you do a lot of swallowing to keep the tears down?
C: Sometimes. You have to choke back however it is that you choke back.
V: Did that happen after the ‘Space Lullaby’?
C: ‘Space Lullaby’. Well, actually, Space Lullaby is really joyful for me. It is. It is the mental imagery of me sort of floating in and out vertically of their life, and the delicate love of it is, um, is what that song really evokes in me. So it makes me feel really close to my daughter and son.
V: Do you guys, when you get together, sing together?
C: With my brothers and sisters a lot. Two of my kids they’re just not particularly musical. They like music but they don’t sing. Evan is and he writes music and I sing with him and he plays ukulele and guitar. So with Evan, yah, but with my brothers and sisters very much. And my wife, she doesn’t sing either. My dad’s not musical at all but my mom is, and so when my brother and I get together we hardly even talk to each other, we sit down and go ‘hey, look at this!’ and ‘hey that’s really cool!’, ‘oh by the way, last week I did this!’ ‘oh okay, hey look what I did here!’. That’s all we ever do.
V: When did you first pick up a guitar?
C: I grew up on a farm. I lived in Sarnia until I was about 8 or 9, and then my dad got hired by Air Canada so we moved closer to Toronto. We bought a farm in between Milton and Oakville.
C: And he [dad] didn’t have much money so he got all his implements at auctions, so we went to auctions a lot. And they became, you know, why would you buy something new when you it for a lot cheaper, so auctions were the answer. And one day at a farm auction my brother and I were standing there. I was about 10 and he was about 12, and a guitar got held up.
V: Laugh out loud.
C: And my brother and I are going ‘we could rock stars!’
V: Yes! Let’s do it!
C: We should learn to play guitar! There’s on right there! So we’re like, ah! Ah! (raises his hand). We bid five bucks, and nobody else bid, so we got this guitar for five bucks, and then we’re thinking, man, did we get taken? We might have been able to get it for two bucks! So we bought this guitar for five bucks, and that guitar was worth about two bucks, actually. But it was a good guitar to start with.
V: So you shared it?
C: Oh yeah, back and forth.
V: And you’d just practice with each other each day.
C: We taught ourselves how to play, and then once we learned enough on that guitar, and realized that we’re not going to throw it away right away, then we saved our farm hand money and went a bought a nice…well, at the time, a very expensive guitar for $250 bucks, a Yamaha FG180 that I still have, that I took all over the world with me. It’s climbed mountains with it. It’s been everywhere. It’s got a nice bass sound, and I have a cottage near where my parents have a cottage, and that’s my cottage guitar, so when I play with my brother that’s normally the one [I use]. That’s the guitar I really learned on, and I’ve had a lot of guitars since. But, yeah, my brother and I taught each other how to play guitar. He learned banjo originally and then…
V: Does he sing too?
C: Oh yeah. He and I did the Canada Day [In Canada. Please stop reading and watch this video!] song. He’s done three CDs and has his own music website. Really creative guy, interesting guy. He writes far more than I do, but he’s an airline pilot he’s got a lot of time off.
V: So like your dad, he flies?
C: That was a dig at my brother. (Laughs.)
V: Laughing…I’m gonna keep this in here. Dig at your brother.
C: Dig at my brother Dave. Uh, my dad was an airline pilot as well and so is my brother’s son. And both my brother’s are pilots.
V: So it’s kind of in the blood. The flying part at least.
C: Yeah. And I just flew something different.
V: Little bit higher.
C: Little bit faster.
V: Did you do anything at the intermission? Were you busy taking pictures? Did you just relax?
C: Actually, after every break I went back and wrote notes.
V: Oh okay. For today’s show? (He pulls out a piece of paper from the inside pocket of his blazer.)
C: Just what I did wrong, what I did right, what to remember, and I wrote these notes on here and thought about it. Thought, okay, well I need to get that cue right and think about that. And I took pictures with the musicians, and just got myself ready for what was next.
V: I’m sure it went by really quickly.
V: When did you meet William Shatner? I saw the photo of you guys up there [on the screen during the show] which everybody chuckled at.
C: When I was in orbit, the Canadian Space Agency was terrific. They were brave, much more nimble ‘cause they’re a small organization than say NASA which is big and very traditional, and they helped me out a lot with a lot of things. They made all the videos, you know, the educational stuff, and they had a big event every week. But my son handled majority of the social media. And it wasn’t any great big master plan, it was like a month before a launch, I said, ‘hey, I’m not sure how I’m gonna be able to tweet from station. I don’t really know, if I can’t, can I just send you stuff and you tweet it for me?’. And he’s, like, sure. That was our plan. But it turned out I could tweet from station but he’d just finished his MBA so we sort of co-opted him to work, and then he worked 15 hours a day, seven days a week, the whole time I was in orbit. So it was very much Evan’s help that allowed all of that to happen.
V: Where was he when he was doing that on earth?
C: He was at his little apartment in Germany. He started out, actually, my family, right after I launched before Christmas they went to Israel, so it started out in a hotel room in Tel Aviv that he started do all that from, and then he carried on from his apartment in Germany through the whole flight. And I think ‘The Nature of Things’ came over and did a thing called ‘The Man Who Tweeted Earth’ and interviewed him in that apartment so you can see he and his wife in little tiny apartment over there. Anyway, Evan was pivotal in all of the social media, tweeting and linking side of what was happening…but I lost the thread of your question.
V: (Thinking…me too!) It was just…William Shatner.
C: Oh yeah! So at one point Evan was watching who was responding and William Shatner tweeted back saying ‘Are you really sending tweets from outer space?’ And Evan said, ‘you gotta just, here look!’ ‘cause I was busy, I didn’t notice most of the stuff, and so I just sent a funny note back down saying ‘Yes, Captain. Standard orbit. We’re detecting signs of life on the surface.’ You know, kinda funny. So that kicked it off, and then the space agency set up a link and I talked to him.
V: I heard about that.
C: Yeah, it was really nice. You know, he didn’t want to talk about old tv shows at all. He wanted to talk about the future, what’s going on. He’s a really interesting guy. I spent a day with him in the Spring, and what a hard-working guy. He works every day all day. He’s 83, I think.
V: No kidding?!
C: And he does philanthropic things, raising money all the time, but he’s just an absolute work-aholic. He works all the time, works really hard. He’s got a lot of things done. He’s such an interested character of a guy, not an easy character, but I think age has eased it quite a bit, and he’s got a lovely wife and the two of them are involved in a lot of different things. He’s a really interesting fellow so it was nice to get to know him and then we did an evening [event]. I gave a talk and he was part of the talk. That picture, I think as [taken] after.
V: So you’ve met a load of interesting people.
C: yeah, I get to meet everybody
V: Is there anybody you haven’t met yet who you would like to meet?
C: Well, yeah, but I don’t have any sort of list.
V: Right, you’re not checking it off.
C: Mostly I just wanna kinda meet everybody, you know? Something I learned a long time ago is every single person knows something you don’t. Everybody. You talk to a three-year-old, they know stuff you don’t know.
V: Oh yeah. Mind-blowing things.
C: They see the world in a way that you’ll learn from. I met Desmond Tutu recently, and it’s like, well he’s interesting. You know, he’s a very influential figure because of the choices he’s made in his life but he’s another guy doing his best. We were just sitting next to each other on an airplane. It’s not like it changed my life to meet him. He’s a lovely man to meet. He’s been an example to my self and a lot of people so I sorta feel like that about everybody. It’s nice. And often when you get to know somebody you maybe modify yourself very slightly. You realize, oh, they’re making a better choice than I am…man, that’s a good habit pattern. So that’s a good thing. I try and learn from everybody.
V: And we’re always learning from you, which is fantastic. Um, the ‘Space Oddity’, Bowie’s song, he’s never been to space, right?
C: (Laughing) No!
V: So for someone who’s never been to space, when you read and hear the lyrics and sing the song, what do you think of his story?
C: Well, he wrote that in ’68, before we’d been to the moon. We’d really hardly been anywhere yet. Only a tiny handful of people had flown, and ‘Space Odyssey’ (2001) had just come out so obviously he was parodying the name of odyssey with oddity…he was young, you know, he was just a kid writing that song but he’d been performing long enough to recognize that, especially idolized performance, is an incredibly lonely existence. You can’t have a normal life. And in fact, you don’t want to because people don’t expect you to. They want you to have a very different life, which, unless you’re wealthy enough to build a life that has walls around it, than it’s a lonely thing. So that song is a lot about just the loneliness of being someone famous. Like ‘Rocketman’. ‘Rocketman’ has nothing to do with space flight. ‘Rocketman’ is about the incredible loneliness of being a very talented, gay, very famous person who lives in the public eye. That’s what that song is about. It’s not about flying spaceships and, what’s funny is flying spaceships is not lonely at all! It’s not sad or lonely, it’s joyful and connected so it’s just kind of odd. However, the song [Space Oddity] itself, the sense of being in space, the soaring nature and high sustain of the preciousness of it and the privilege of it – he got that right – intuitively right. And that is just artistry. He just somehow recognized it, and I think it brought that song around to a whole new relevance. Not just because it was funny to look at or something, but to actually…the song picked up a feeling of place by being in that location. Maybe if you wrote a hymn in the basement of a car factory but you had this great idea for a hymn, and you wrote this hymn, and it’s a very nice hymn, but then to someday play that hymn in Westminster Cathedral with everybody singing – it would be the same song, but there would be a whole new relevance as a result. And I think ‘Oddity’ is, by no means that big an example, but it’s the same sort of idea of taking that vision and idea and playing it in the reality of the place he was just imagining. That gave it a new significance, and it worked out fine and lots of people apparently agree.
V: (At this point, I’m worried about the time…I look at the clock.) Umm..
C: Keep going. Go fast!
V: Okay! Do you like Harry Chapin?
C: Oh yeah. I know lots of Harry Chapin.
V: During the show my husband whispered to me ‘This feels very Harry Chapin to me’. I’m like, ‘Yeah, me too.’
C: I wish he’d had a different producer, actually, because his songs were so beautifully completed, such lovely ideas and he had such a talent, sorta like Stan Rogers, a talent for taking a story, finding just the right words and a memorable melody, and putting it together. And both of them unfortunately, died too young. But, yeah, Harry Chapin was one of the big influences growing up.
V: We noticed that. And when I met my husband I was 19, and I didn’t know anything about music, well…outside of pop, which is totally fine, and Madonna was everything for me, and when I met my husband, he’s like, you gotta listen to these guys, and Harry Chapin was one of them.
C: I saw Harry Chapin perform twice. He was terrific.
V: So, the ‘Canada Song’ was a riot. It was actually the first time that I heard it. (Laugh guiltily.)
C: Oh really? ‘Cause have you seen –
V: Apparently I live under a rock.
C: Have you seen it online?
V: No I haven’t yet.
C: Oh yeah. Go see it online. Watch it. It’s been seen 1 and a half million times. It’s used by our embassies now to show what Canada’s like. It was funny, when I started singing it, I realized, wow the majority of people in here haven’t heard this song, which surprised because one out of whatever it is, 15 or 20 people in Canada, have seen it.
V: I know. You got the bum audience for it!
C: No, not at all. I was thinking playing, ‘oh, well I need to have this song go a little more theatrical and evident while I’m singing it because there’s not touchstone of familiarity to it.
V: Right. That’s funny. It was great. Really funny and real.
C: It’s a cute tune.
V: Ok. Wow, I have a lot of questions! But I’m gonna do this one. I wanna talk about instinct and intuition. So, when you’re 9, you have this feeling that you want to walk on the moon. Be an astronaut. Figure out how to get there. And then you picked up a guitar with your brother, and you had that instinct –
C: At almost the same time…same stage of life…
V: Yeah, so it seems like you had that inner trust and intuition with yourself since you were really young. But your work is also very methodical and, you’re working backwards from the danger and ‘how do I not die’, here’s all the ways…
V: When you were up there and you were speaking you were talking about love and it’s very emotional and very heartfelt and from the soul…and you use the word soul. I had this one teacher in English class who said ‘you can’t writer a poem and use the word soul’…and it was a huge block for so long for me! Now I use it and speak it all the time for me…
V: So when I hear people use I just get so excited.
C: Ah, that’s funny!
V: Anyway, that’s just a little aside…
C: Sounds like a pet peeve on that person’s part…
V: No, you know, that person taught me so much, so it’s good.
C: Oh, ok.
V: Yeah, he taught me how to grow some balls and disagree.
V: So I guess my question is, how do you find the balance between the methodical-prepare-yourself-practice-your-guitar and also the intuitive feelings of making choices?
V: Does that make sense, that question?
C: Yeah, uh…
V: (More silence) Or do you not even…
C: No, I’m just thinking…The choices that I make are not limits that I’m putting on myself they are instead…(more silence)…Maybe it’s like, you’re a knight, you know 700 years ago, and you’re going into battle…
C: You don’t want to go into battle naked.
C: Where your odds are terrible. In fact, Richard the third, they found out he had his helmet off.
C: They did forensic work on his body, and they found out he was off his horse with his helmet off when he was killed…
C: Because he was probably hot or he couldn’t see or his visor was down, so he took his helmet off, so, you don’t want to go into battle naked, obviously. So then the question is how much armour do you need? And if you put too much armour on, you can swing your arm or bend or see, but if you have none, you know, you’re defenseless. So much of my life is deciding what is the battle going to be and how much armour do I need? So that I can really win, so that I can the benefit out of this thing. And I am not, I mean, I know how to play some stuff on guitar, but I have played with so many guitarists who are so much better than I am, and I will never get that way, and I will never have the skill or the inclination. But I’m not worried about it because that’s not the battle I’m fighting.
C: I ‘member talking to a guy once, who brushed his teeth in the morning, and then after every single meal, every time he ever ate anything, he brushed his teeth again. And I was like, why are you brushing your teeth? He said ‘well, you know it makes my teeth nice and bright and white’. It was kina puzzling to me. It’s like why do you want your teeth to be bright and white, ‘cause I assume it looks nicer so that other people will find you attractive so…but if you’re always in the bathroom brushing your teeth, you’re never gonna actually meet anybody. So there’s some sort of defining line there –
C: Where you need to recognize that ‘I have enough armour on’ to now face the battle that is important to me. And it has to be flexible and well-enough constructed that it’s gonna support you. And that’s how I approach everything. There was a commercial that was out recently. There was this guy and he always wanted to surf this big wave. So he goes out and he crashes because he has no idea what he’s doing. That commercial sort of disgusts me. It’s like…
V: he didn’t learn…
C: He got nothing out of the experience because he didn’t do the work at the start necessary to allow him to even appreciate the experience he wanted to have. He missed the whole thing. And the commercial’s sort of rueful, as if, ‘oh well, you know”, but, it’s like, it could have been great for you, but you didn’t put on any of the armour in advance so therefore you lost where you could have won. And it was totally up to you. So I try not to be that person, crashed by the wave because I never spent any time thinking about the skills that I needed or the type of board that I need. That’s a lot of metaphor but that’s the core answer to your question.
V: And so, your choices are wrapped up in both your intuition and how you feel about it, and being very aware of what these choices are and what the consequences of these choices are going to be as much as you can.
C: Sure. I listened to Peter, Paul and Mary and The Kingston Trio as a kid. The Kingston Trio you should listen to. And I went, ‘Wow that’s beautiful. How do you do that? I want to be able to do that, and then started leaning G and C and D and A minor and E minor and then listening to melody, and then when my brother was singing melody, [I thought] ‘how do I sing harmony? What’s a harmony note?’ Learning those things. And then, the key then is what do you do? Then you have to commit to playing in public. Music at home in your learning alone with yourself is irrelevant. You commit to playing in public. One song. Commit to playing one song, and learn that song backwards and forward and nail it. You’ll get up there and you’ll make a mess of it, but then you’ll do it again. Do it again. Until you can play that song in public with your brother in two-part harmony really well. And then go, you know what? We need a second song.
C: And then learn a second song. Then I was inspired by something. I did all the work in advance. I developed and I trained and I worked at it until I had the skill that makes me feel really good about coming closer to my dreams. Flying a space shuttle, commanding a space ship and playing with the symphony, they’re all the same.
Silence. I know my time is up.
C: Did you get enough stuff for your article?
V: Oh yeah.
And just like that, our short talk is over. We remain together for a few more minutes as he signs books and we take more photos. He has to leave promptly to go do something else. We shake hands and say goodbye. I wish him a great performance and thank him for talking with me. I spend a few minutes chatting with his assistant and her mother, offering them ideas for yummy restaurants to go to for lunch and telling them about how great Windsor is. It was all very we’ve-been-friends-for-years.
I was revved up after the interview. I felt like Chris and I had a great start to what could have been a day-long talk. I definitely wanted to hang out more. Keep asking him questions. I felt (feel) like he’s someone I could talk to and learn from. Like, I’d want to be at the campfire at his cottage one night to be a part of the music and storytelling. And that I would have my own music (okay, poetry) and storytelling to throw over the flames. And we’d all have a grand ole time.
Imagine how terrifying it was for me when I got to my car and checked my phone to make sure I had the interview and IT WASN’T THERE.
Yeah. I’ll hit you with that one more time. IT. WASN’T. THERE.
I knew it recorded! I saw the lines moving and the time passing. But when I pressed play…it went back to zeroes and there was nothing. No interview. I screamed in my car. I grabbed my bag, found a piece of paper and a pen and proceeded to write down everything I could remember of our conversation…which was really, very broken pieces because I wasn’t thinking I had to memorize any of it! I was deeply invested in the conversation and doing what you do in that situation – listen and absorb on a soul-level. Needless to say, I wrote out what I could. I breathed deeply and promised myself to not panic any more than I’d just done. I would still have plenty to write about. It just wouldn’t be a verbatim interview. BREATHE.
I told my hubby what happened upon my return. I sucked in my tears, and I told him I didn’t want to talk about it. I would let the interview sit in my body and brain for the rest of the day and night…and I’d deal with the writing in the morning.
The next morning, awaking with that pit of despair in my belly, my hubby asked to see my phone. He touched the screen. Then touched it again. And then I heard my voice. And Chris’s voice. HE’D FOUND THE INTERVIEW!! Or did whatever magic he did…okay, it wasn’t magic. Apparently, I just needed to stop the interview so I could name it –and then it would show up! (CUSSSSSSSSS!) But it was there the whole time!
I started screaming and jumping on the bed and kissing my hubby in thanks. GAHHHHH.
I had the interview. I could write it verbatim. Even if it took me half a darn year.
Upon reflection, the experience was dramatic and invigorating for me. I felt grateful to have been able to meet Chris Hadfield. To have been able to watch and experience him speak and perform. Reading his books is a trip on its own, but to meet him in the flesh and passion…it was really an honour. And even though I have the instinct (perhaps because he’s famous…perhaps because he’s been to space…perhaps because he looks like my dad) to put him up on a pedestal and feel like he’s ‘up there’ and I’m ‘down here’ – the whole experience was a lesson in humanity.
Chris will knock himself off any pedestal you try to put him on. In that way, he feels prophetic to me. Chris will help you be prepared and help you be the best you can be so your interaction with him gets you what you’re hoping for. In that way, he feels like a life-coach to me. And even though he speaks and writes on beauty, humanity and equality and respect (each other/the planet)…I believe in my heart that going to space…that doing something that epic…it changes your chemistry. It changes your energy. It changes your ability to make choices. It puts everything you do, think, feel into a perspective that few people have. I think that’s why he feels… how can put it…like an entity…a spiritual force. And it’s mesmerizing…and sometimes frustrating. I’ll be very honest, I kinda wanted him to drop his chin to his chest and be, like,gah…I’m so damn tired! I just wanna swear and sleep…Ha! It’s not that he wasn’t passionate or emotional because he was. Very much so…but he was just so damn smart and collected. And…dressed in armour.
I suppose the writer in me always wants to break through everyone’s armour and get to the skin and bones. Get to the heart and soul of a person or experience. I feel like I was just starting to get there and our time ran out. But then again…interaction on that level shifts into a type of relating that takes time and dedication. That’s what friendship and partnership is built on.
Maybe in the end, I feel like I’d like to be Chris Hadfield’s friend. I’d love it if he came over with his wife and dogs, and we ate shawarma and banana bread…then we all danced in the kitchen and I showed him my ‘Landing On The Moon’ and my ‘Zipping Up My Space Suit’ dance moves…and I could be the one to show him that he totally can dance…because he’s so certain he can’t. Or at least, he’s so certain he’s not the best at it.
Of course, I want him to remember me. Because I’ll remember him. And the way I felt nervous yet confident…aware yet inquisitive…and like I’d experienced a human…a special human in a way that changed me a little. Like some of his stardust mingled with mine. And he would know stardust. I’m pretty sure he brought a whole whackload of it back with him from space. And it’s helping us…like a magnet…connecting us together with his wisdom.