This week, the CHS Crow met a barista-guitarist with a flair for flamenco; a retired library administrator with side gigs in theater, writing and political activism who says she and her friend Daniel Nicoletta, the Harvey Milk photographer, might be too polite to tell each other they ‘look old’; and an astronomer and NASA Sagan Fellow who describes and discovers previously-unknown planets. These three neighbors shared some poignant stories and hopeful thoughts, and taught the Crow a new thing or two about good music, LGBT and other histories, not-our-star-revolving planets, and life. For real though.
Age: 21 Day job: Barista Extracurriculars: Guitar Hometown: Monroe, Wash. Has lived on Hill: “About eight months.” Came here: ‘To start life over again in the city.’
What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you?
Almost losing my sister, I would say. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she when 10, and she could have fallen in to a coma and lost her vision, because her pancreas pretty much died on her. I would say she’s the closest person to me, easily, and anything happening to her is the scariest thing that could happen.
Is she older than you?
No, she’s just 18-months younger. We’re basically twin brother and sister.
What’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to you?
Being born, that’s the obvious one. I guess it’s one of the greatest things, even though my mom wasn’t really up to doing the whole raising part of me — was pretty much like, ‘Whatever,’ when I hit three, four. But at least I was born. At least I have a step-mom and a loving father and I have friends, and I like being myself and I feel comfortable in my skin.
Second greatest thing, I would say, is starting to play guitar, and having music be part of life, having that as something that is a part of me and is within me and will always be there regardless of whatever I am. I will always love music and play music. That’s just a passion. That’s what my soul projects — what I try for it to project — is just music, and happiness and love, and that part of human emotion.
What brought you to Capitol Hill?
It’s my favorite place in the entire region. These couple square blocks are the best region in a couple-thousand square miles, I would say.
High praise. … What do you like about it?
Mainly the people. I like just being up on the Hill, too. You can be any one here, I think. You can be black, you can be white, you can be Latino, you can gay, you can be straight. You can be any one. Any beliefs you have, any ideologies you can have, you can be any one, for the most part. I love the open-mindedness of this place.
… who do you want to be?
I just want to be free, honestly. … I mean, I don’t necessarily know who I want to be, but I just want to be happy and free and alive.
Age: “75, going on 76” Retired from: San Francisco Public Library – Main Library, endowment administration; some publishing on the East Coast Extracurriculars: Theater, writing, political activism Hometown: San Francisco Has lived on the Hill: “For about five years.” Moved here: “To be closer to family” — a son and a daughter who live near the city.
Seattle or San Francisco?
San Francisco because my friends are there, and Seattle because I have family. Which, when one gets ancient, which I’m getting to be, it’s good to be close to family, haha. But, I’ve always left my heart in San Francisco.
Tell me about your involvement in the arts.
I wrote one play that was produced years ago, and I worked in theater at different companies on the East Coast and San Francisco, and wrote performance pieces and worked with the stage managers. I was the stage manager when they had the first traveling national show raising funds for AIDS, and Nell Carter was there.
Do you still write?
I do, yes. Not as much as I should.
And what about your political activism?
I worked in politics in San Francisco, always progressive. I worked on a couple of mayor’s campaigns, and so forth and so on. My love has always been progressive politics.
Did you happen to know Harvey Milk? Were you a part of that at all?
I didn’t know Harvey, but Danny Nicoletta, who was his photographer, is a good friend. And of course during the AIDS years, Cleve Jones started [the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt]. And, oh, I’m having a blank — the guy who designed the Rainbow Flag. I can see him. Great big queen from the South, who sewed beautiful gowns. [Gilbert Baker was born in Chunute, Kan., in 1951]. But, golly, I didn’t know Harvey. But Danny and I are still friends, actually. When I flew down last time, I saw him on the street, and we looked at each other, and I thought, we were both too polite not to say, ‘You’re looking old!’
Tom Ammiano, who was the gay supervisor, I worked on his campaign. Just a lot of politics. But I mainly worked on rent issues.
Do your kids who live around here have kids of their own?
My son has four daughters, and my daughter has one son, and my oldest granddaughter, who’s 28 — 29 now — had twin boys last year, so I have two great-grandsons.
Do you spend a lot of time with them?
I spend some time, but I’m more the thinking grandma.
Age: 29 Day job: Sagan Fellow working at the University of Washington Astronomy Department Hometown: Bay Area Moved From: Cambridge, Mass., via Wallingford Has lived in Seattle: “A year and a half.” Has lived on the Hill: “Since September.”
What has been the greatest moment of your life?
Probably the day that I defended my PhD. Going to graduate school, I didn’t survive it with my mental health in tact. It was really hard, and the day I defended was the culmination of five years of effort that were extremely trying. So on that day, I had prepared myself — both emotionally, intellectually — to be in a room with these Harvard professors and answer any questions they might have. I had to prepare myself to do this. I had to wait outside the room while they decided whether I was worthy of receiving the PhD, and then they invited me back in to tell me, “Congratulations, Dr. Ballard.” And I started to cry — when they were shaking my hand — I was crying.
I saw my friend in the hallway and I said, ‘I passed, I passed! I can’t believe it I passed!’ She hugged me, but the most joyful moment was telling my family. They were waiting in the parking lot, outside the Center for Astrophysics, which was where I was a gradate student. My father actually lifted me up in the air, he hugged me so hard. My whole family kind of embraced. … It was a distilled joy.
What has been the scariest moment of your life?
It was related to when I was a student and I was traveling in Europe. It was my first time traveling abroad, and I was alone, so it was — I guess trying to find a place to sleep that night and stuff. That’s really scary. I was afraid. So I guess I would count that. In the grand scheme of things, it’s actually not that frightening.
… how old where you?
I was 20. But this is an incredible story of privilege. The most scared I ever was was when I was traveling? But it’s the truth, I was really afraid. I felt very alone and vulnerable.
Can you say more about your area of interest for your research, exoplanets?
You and I, when we were born, all we knew were the planets around our solar system. And in 1995 we found planets orbiting another star. And, basically between that period and 2009, we thought that maybe exoplanets were rare — which is to say, worlds orbiting other stars other than the sun. And now we know, actually, because of a single NASA mission, which is the one I focus a lot of my energy and attention on, that almost every star has a planet, if not multiple planets. So my count is four — I’ve ‘found,’ I’m kind of the parent of, four worlds. I describe them, and publish them, and I’m on number four. So my parents call them their “grandplanets.”
You said your current fellowship finishes in a year-and-half. What then?
I apply for other jobs. You can imagine that jobs for astronomers aren’t thick on the ground. So I’ll apply for professor jobs, and also post-doc jobs. Actually, the hardest leap, and the leap when the most women are lost from the science pipeline, is from post-doc to assistant professor. So this is the leap, I’ve got to really get my momentum, and try to make the jump.
Previously on CHS Crow: