and I quote

november 2013

click for permalink November 17, 2013

Have you ever put off doing something — or been thwarted in your attempts to do something — for so long that, by the time you actually manage to get the thing done, it's been so long you feel like the statute of limitations has run out and you're newly justified in feeling a great sense of accomplishment? Even if by the time you get around to it, you're the only person who even knows much less cares about the thing anymore? Well, it's a good thing for me that astrology is cyclical because I've been meaning to get this posted online since 2006 and after a certain point, its declining relevance will actually rebound and start to ascend (parabolically, is it?).

So back in 2006 I wrote an article called Heavy Water about the Saturn-Neptune opposition of that year, which I was invited to present at the Astrology Toronto, Inc. conference (my first and so far only conference). I was all prepared to say no (after all I am a writer, not a public speaker and wouldn't even begin to know how to give a presentation...) but Mr. Pink very quickly put a stop to that line of thinking (I didn't even get to the "wouldn't begin to know" part). I did explain to the organizers that I was very nervous, however, and they assured me it was a "friendly" environment, even going so far as to say that it would be fine if I wanted to just show up and read my article aloud, which made it pretty hard to say no. The funny thing, for me, was that about a week before the conference, the organizer asked if I needed anything set up in the room ahead of time — props like a white board or giant pad of scratch paper — and to make sure she could accommodate any A/V requirements I had...

A/V requirements?? I thought. Oh jesus... What had I been thinking? Of course I needed something for them to look at. But what kind of visuals was I supposed to have? I hadn't even considered it, but I knew if I didn't come up with something they would be watching me the whole time, sitting there in front of a room full of strangers trying not to stumble over my own overly long, alliterative sentences.

Instead of asking the organizer what other presenters were doing or what kind of visuals were expected, I immediately went completely overboard and spent the entire week before the conference cataloging images and giving myself a crash-course in advanced PowerPoint; learning all about transitions and animations, dividing my entire article into slides of one or two paragraphs each, and illustrating every historical and contemporary event with the most dramatic pictures I could find. Every one of the images was set on a timer to fade in, fade out, disappear or dissolve into the next one automatically. I practiced speaking along with the slides so I could time the image effects to take roughly the same amount of time it took me to read my notes, so I wouldn't have to cue the animations, just advance each slide. (It never occurred to me that the audience might want to stop and ask questions in the middle, but more on that in a moment.)

So I travelled to Toronto for the weekend and the first thing I noticed was that mine was the only presentation scheduled without any competing events. Most of the talks took place in one room while another took place elsewhere in the hotel so the attendees would have to choose which one to attend. For reasons that elude me to this day, mine was the sole exception. Perhaps it was this scheduling oddity, combined with a fairly typical case of public speaking anxiety and what was for me an unusually extreme case of jetlag, but the last straw that really threw me off was the fact that Toronto, despite being a truly sprawling metropolis, unlike the geographically compact Vancouver, suffers from a shocking dearth of Starbucks outposts. I suppose I could have settled for whatever was on offer at the hotel bar or taken a chance on one of the many independent (and let's face it, probably superior) coffee shops along the way, but I was feeling homesick and unlike myself so I decided that I needed one thing that was familiar, god damn it, and it might as well be the bitter, burnt-tasting imperialist Americano and six whole wheat packets of cane sugar that I never went a day without. But to find this I ended up having to walk damn near a mile from the hotel, at which point I ran the risk of leaving myself very little time to prepare (pace, panic and change my clothes six times) before my presentation.

But it all worked out — I mean despite the fact that I was a nervous wreck, chose an outfit that seemed like a good idea (creative, colorful, including things I made myself) but which ended up being totally wrong and uncomfortable and a lesson in less is more, and also despite the fact that I sped through my reading of the slides and looked like I was about to flee the room every time someone asked me a question (and I wish I was just being self-effacing here, but I've seen photos from the event and I looked positively petrified — I can only hope my slides were visually dramatic enough to distract from the look of sheer terror on my face). Maybe it was this, or perhaps it was just that the conference organizer was a very perceptive woman who knew how many planets I have in Virgo, which prompted her to stand up after my second or third slide, and the second or third question from the audience, to ask if everyone could please hold their questions until the very end. When the presentation was over and the questions had died down, she immediately whisked me off to the bar across the street to buy me a drink or three, for which I will be eternally grateful.

Anyway, I always wanted to turn that presentation into a video since it lent itself so well to a self-contained narrative after all the automation I'd done, but at the time I was between computers, trying to get the bare essentials installed on an old iMac. After two or three frustrating attempts, I finally gave up trying to find a decent (and free) "PowerPoint to video" conversion program. Years later, I eventually managed to convert all my "speakers notes" to sound files with Text Aloud and embedded them into each slide, manually editing the timings so they would advance exactly when the narration ended, but I still didn't have any way to automatically convert the PowerPoint file to a video. Then last year I bought a new laptop which of course came with Windows 7 (I know, but remember we were talking about 2006 when this project started?) and, as you may or may not know, PowerPoint 2010 comes with the option to save in WMV format... just like that! So voila — here it is, seven years later — or we could just say I'm putting this out early in anticipation of the next Saturn-Neptune square coming in 2014-2016! Oh and last thing: it's "Paul" one of AT&T's best text-to-speech voices narrating, not me — but honestly, his delivery is way more dynamic than mine was on that day back in 2006. Enjoy...

Heavy Water: The Saturn-Neptune Cycle in Astrology