I spoke at Morehead State University last week for about 3,000 people. That’s the most people I have ever spoken for! I have done a lot of speaking engagements, but this was actually the first I have done since my divorce I think. (I’ll check with Fancy Assistant Brandon.) I have missed speaking and this was a great first talk after a break of almost a year.
Morehead State is in Kentucky, but I stayed in Cincinnati since that’s where the only direct flight to Los Angeles was. My talk focused on academia and the choices I made to become an actress, the choices I made to become a neuroscientist, and the choices I made that led me back to the world of acting.
A few neat things happened on this trip.
1. It was freezing. Like, literally. I flew in to weather of about 20 degrees. The first inhalation I took as I deplaned shocked my lungs. It was beautiful, though, the Midwest winter. There had been snow a few days before, and a nasty spell of weather apparently. When I landed, the sun was setting and the light was coming through bare trees onto a lovely layer of snow which is actually frozen water that fell from the Heavens. It’s kind of amazing if you think about it: precipitation falls from the sky like that and it stays on the ground! It’s really neat, I think. Anyway, I know if I grew up here or had to live here I would probably hate it, but I don’t know. Maybe not. I actually like the cold. And I like bundling up. And I like the way the world looks cold. So I loved that part of my trip.
2. I jogged in the cold. I started running when I separated from my ex over a year ago and it has sustained me in powerful ways, physically and mentally. (I now have new runner’s muscles in my legs which is something I kind of always envied in runners.) I had a strong desire to run in the cold on this trip and I did. I was told to make sure my chest was warm and to cover my face and I did those things and it was amazing (shout out to the dispenser of that advice).
Here’s my outfit: I wore running leggings that ended at the knee and a running skirt (yes, I even run in a skirt), and I wore pajama pants over that and hiking socks with running shoes. On the top, I wore an undershirt, t-shirt, synthetic turtleneck sweater, and a hoodie. I wore a compression glove on my right hand and wool gloves that my mom knit for my dad in 1970 (I don’t buy wool but these are a family heirloom I still use!), and a Carhartt beanie. I wrapped my Israeli army scarf around my face and put on Neko Case’s last album on my iPod. Done.
Not only was it good to run because I love to run, but it felt so good to do something new and challenging that I could easily have not done. Weather be darned. Obstacles be darned. I did it. It felt good in so many ways. And yes, my scarf got all slobbery from my panting and slobbering as I ran but who cares. It was awesome.
3. The Jewish fellowship. Truth be told, Kentucky is not a very Jewish-heavy state. But that’s fine with me; I speak and go a lot of places where the Jewish population is far less than the 2% that Jewish people are in the United States. But the neat thing about being Jewish is when we find Jews in unexpected places, it feels like finding family.
A few people came up to me at the Meet & Greet Reception I did at Morehead who identified themselves as Jewish (I guessed in all cases, actually!) and it made me feel like I had family there. It’s strange if you’re not Jewish or not oriented Jewishly that way, but it’s a very interesting ethnic and cultural identity that follows you everywhere and feels so comforting. And I won’t embarrass the most interesting person who came up to me all night, but suffice it to say, I was reminded on this trip of the incredible journey of the Jewish people and it really touched me.
4. I like to talk. I’m an extroverted introvert, and speaking and socializing and being “on” is very hard for me even though it’s part of my job. But I love sharing my story. I love talking about how a love of science and math make me feel a part of the universe in ways nothing else can, and I love reminding people that just because I am on TV, it doesn’t mean I know more about anything in the world, or am more special, or better than anyone else. I like making people laugh. And I like touching people. Very much.
I was asked by a student as the final question in the Q&A what my advice is that I’d like to share with everyone. It’s such a hard question, because there are so many situations I can speak to from experience, but I am not a rabbi or priest or politician or leader of any sort. So I shared this story which I have shared here before from the Talmud:
Carry two pieces of paper in your pockets. One should read, For my sake the world was created. The other should read, I am but dust and ashes.
This tension between feeling like you are an active part of the Creation of something divine and beautiful and acknowledging how tiny and insignificant you are in the Creation of that divine beauty is one of the greatest lessons my rabbi taught me in my time at UCLA Hillel. That combination of inspiration and humility is the driving force in my life.
It’s what gets me out of my bed, onto the streets of Cincinnati in 24 degree weather, into a stadium of thousands of people when I am just one small introvert with no authority on anything but myself and my struggle, and it’s what puts me on airplanes to and fro, forever rushing and returning to you.
Glad to be home.