I organized a scientific workshop in Paris in June 2008 on Saturn’s rings. It was one year after I had moved to the University of Central Florida, and I had seven business trips scheduled that summer as I worked to establish myself in my new position as an Assistant Professor of Physics. The meeting was kind of a big deal for me.
I had a non-stop flight from Orlando to Frankfurt where I had a couple of hours to make my connection to Paris. My practice, at the time, was to take an Ambien sleeping pill on Eastbound trans-Atlantic flights. Ambien is rapidly metabolized, so they would usually get me 3-4 hours of sleep on the flight without leaving me hungover when the plane landed. On this particular flight, however, I woke up after only an hour or two violently sick to my stomach. There’s nothing quite like the realization that you have to be bowing down at the porcelain throne 38,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean heading away from home. On my second trip to the airplane lavatory I awoke to find myself on the floor of the plane with a pair of concerned flight attendants leaning over me and hypothesizing that I was drunk. My quick rush into the lavatory to puke may not have helped my case that I was sick but sober. After an ambulance ride from the plane to the airport infirmary, the most painful IV insertion I’ve ever had, and a later connecting flight to Paris, I made it to my meeting sporting only a few odd facial cuts from my fall and a perhaps somewhat worse-than-normal case of jetlag.
It was a rough trip, but the next day the meeting was off and running. That night the local organizers had arranged for a group dinner at a nice restaurant. There, my colleague Mark Showalter told me that I should watch a video on the internet. Not wanting to spoil anything about the experience, he just told me to search for “where the hell is matt” and watch.
Back in my tiny, dark hotel room that night I watched Matt Harding and Melissa Nixon’s wonderful 2008 Dancing video. (All his videos are available on his website.) Like many others, I found myself deeply and inexplicably moved. I am grateful to Mark for not telling me anything about the videos. They should be seen without preconception. If you have somehow not seen any of Matt’s videos, I recommend watching the 2006, 2008, and 2012 videos in that order on his website. His blog (also at that site) and his book about the making of the first two videos, are a great read.
I have downloaded and watched the 2008 and 2012 videos many times, and I know I will watch them many more. The songs for both are excellent. The music is both soulful and exuberant. I am, somehow, ridiculously, reassured about the human race each time I watch them. They make me want to hug someone. My attempts to share the love with others have had less than stellar outcomes. People I’ve shown the videos to, despite my prior admonitions to keep quiet and just enjoy the 5 minutes, nevertheless usually seem only superficially involved. They laugh at some of the funnier clips and comment on some of the more exotic locations, but only rarely do they seem to be affected by the totality of the video. I conclude that my presence is the problem. Not that it’s me in particular. I think any intermediary or third party may be enough to keep inhibitions high enough to prevent the childlike emotional reaction I have to these videos. So if you have not seen them, or even if you have, watch them alone, when you have a few minutes to spare. Individually, each video is a miniature masterpiece. The three together form an internet viral trilogy that not only spans the world, but somehow, in under 15 minutes, tells a more compelling story about human growth and relationships than most of what we see in theaters.