Tuesday, March 20, 2012

In Love with Alan Alda

One of my dearest and oldest friends is Alan Alda.

Alan Alda, My Friend

Of course he doesn't know that, but don't we all feel that way about him? I grew up watching M*A*S*H. I just know he's a great guy. I saw him eating lunch a couple of years ago in one of my neighborhood restaurants, like a regular person, so that alone proves it. I went to a staged reading of a play he wrote about Marie Curie. The play, Radiance, had a lot going for it, most of all his passion for the subject, which he talks about here, in an essay for the Huffington Post called "In Love with Marie."  The essay is worth reading not only for the subject matter but also because it is how so many of us non-fiction writers feel about the people (and subjects) we are writing about.

I am not alone in Alda love. I know this. My friend Rebecca used to drag her mother to the inferior Chinese restaurant in their neighborhood because Alan Alda ate there. His photo was in the window. Of course she did. What are so-so cold sesame noodles compared to Alan Hawkeye Alda?  And I adore great cold sesame noodles.

I would like to say to Alan, as William Thacker's sister, Honey, says to movie star Anna Scott in Notting Hill, "I genuinely believe and have believed for some time now that we can be best friends. What do YOU think?"

(I also believe that I could be best friends with Julia Roberts, but maybe that's because I've watched Notting Hill 1,424 times.)

Also, as long as I'm off on a tangent, my favorite M*A*S*H episode was the heartbreaking one with Blythe Danner called "The More I See You." (I looked it up. Tried to embed video. Couldn't find any. Had to order it from Netflix. This blog post is taking many, many, many  pomodoros.)

Where was I? Yes, Alan Alda. Here's the latest reason to be smitten with him. He is the cofounder of The Center for Communicating Science at Stonybrook. And he has recently issued THE FLAME CHALLENGE.

Here's Alan explaining it in SCIENCE Magazine:

"I WAS 11 AND I WAS CURIOUS. I HAD BEEN THINKING FOR DAYS ABOUT THE FLAME AT THE END of a candle. Finally, I took the problem to my teacher. “What’s a flame?” I asked her. “What’s going on in there?” There was a slight pause and she said, “It’s oxidation.” She didn’t seem to think there was much else to say. Deflated, I knew there had to be more to the mystery of a flame than just giving the mystery another name. That was a discouraging moment for me personally, but decades later I see the failure to communicate science with clarity as far more serious for society. We feel the disconnect all around us, from a common misimpression that evolution is the theory that we’re descended from monkeys, to the worry that physicists in Geneva might suck the universe into a teacup—or something uncomfortably smaller...."

Alan goes on with his argument and ends with the Flame Challenge,  a contest to find the best explanation of a flame. "Tell it to me like I'm eleven!" For all the details go back here.

Teachers can get students involved. Writers can enter. Scientists can enter.

I think my friend Alan has come up with a great way to talk about flames. But more importantly he has fanned the flames of interest in how best to communicate science, not only to children, but to everyone.

How can you not love the guy? (It was my husband who first alerted me to the Flame Challenge. So he's not jealous. I swear.)


Clara Gillow Clark said...

So I always knew that Alan Alda was smart and funny and lovable, but the flame challenge proves that he's up there with my hero, Einstein, and the theory of everything.

I remember being told as a child that I asked to many questions, and finally along comes Alan Alda.

Elvira Woodruff said...

When I learned that Alan Alda would be speaking at Chautaqua as part of their writer's Series I was so disappointed. Alan Alda, really? While I loved him in Mash I couldn't help thinking, Why couldn't they get a real writer rather than just another actor/ celeb...
I reluctantly bought his memoir on audio to listen to on the car ride up to Chautaqua. For the next hour my husband, Joe, and I were nodding our heads, near tears, smiling, and laughing. Because guess what? Alan Alda can write! And once there we also learned that not only can he speak to a group of people there to hear writers, but he was probably one of the most entertaining and interesting speakers that Chautaqua has ever had. He's got such a quick and lively mind to go along with that great comic timing. Needless to say he got a standing ovation. And the first to stand up was me!
So yes, Deb, your blog is right on. Alan Alda, what's not to love?

Vicki Cobb said...

Thanks for this alert, Deborah. I, like Alan Alda, have made Marie Curie my hero in a biography I wrote for DK Books. But the best thing is about your post is that I found out about the contest on "What is a Flame?" It just so happened that I addressed that very question with five hands-on experiments in a book I wrote in 1985 called Chemically Active! So I retyped the excerpt and sent it in. We shall see what happens.......