In recent weeks, Squish has taken a strong interest in astronomy. It's a big part of her school curriculum, but not until the second half of the year. We've encouraged her not to restrict her learning to whatever's on the docket, but to chase down anything she's interested in.
As a result, we've been watching a lot of science videos on YouTube (and one of these even contributed to solving a major plot hole in The Dark Age, the novel I'm currently working on), and carting our tabletop telescope out onto the deck to study the moon and a few barely-visible stars. When she noted that it it wasn't as dark as she'd like, I told her what I knew about the Bortle scale, which measures the darkest sites around the world.
"Me and my friend, you know what we want to do?" Squish told me. "We want to live in a really cool van, and just drive around to all the darkest places and set up our telescope on top of the van."
For just a moment, it seemed, the universe presented a single clear path to Being a Cool Dad, and I took it.
"Squish, you know that book I wrote a couple years ago?"
"Awake in the World?"
Her eyes lit up as I told her that a character in my book does exactly what she'd just described. I'd set aside a copy of the book for her, and now I gave it to her. On an early page of the novel, one of my two protagonists describes her home astronomy gear, and Squish gently asked for a telescope for her birthday. Specifically, she wants the telescope from her daddy's book: the Orion SpaceProbe Equatorial Reflector Telescope my character calls OSPERT for short.
When I wrote Awake in the World, I included an epigraph by Ann Druyan, who, among many other things, was the creative director of NASA's Voyager Interstellar Message Project—the famous golden records sent into space with Voyagers 1 and 2. To secure permission to use her words, I had the privilege of corresponding with her briefly. Receiving letters from one of my heroes made Awake a very, very special project for me.
But having a chance to be an awesome dad for a brief moment? Way, way cooler.
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