Jan 24, 2010 | Munich, Germany
Jan 24, 2010

A German girl at the bar tonight said she thought I was shy, but she had just returned from a retreat in the mountains of India where she was learning about duality and unity, and how they are actually inseparable, like a coin that has two sides precisely because it is a coin. Then she was telling me about the essence of a person, and how it is separate from age, accomplishments, lectures, and looks, and is instead something deeper that exists throughout time, but which most people don't see, because it is so well-hidden under layers of labels, and how sometimes even if you can see it you don't, because it can be so intense to really see another person. So when she said she thought I was shy, I figured she was probably on to something.

My dinner neighbor was Dimitar Sasselov, a Harvard astrophysicist studying the origins of life. Apparently his group is about to make a big announcement, but he could not tell me what it was. Instead he was telling me about how life at the molecular level is the only thing in the universe that never dies, constantly reconstituting itself into new organisms and dodging death. I said it reminded me of how Ben Franklin said, "When you're finished changing, you're finished," and Dimitar said that was a pretty good summary of the universe, which made me happy.

The guest of honor was Reinhold Messner, the Italian mountaineer who is often called the greatest climber of all time. With his high cheekbones built like Himalayan ridge lines, his heroic eyes glinting in the candlelight, and his shaggy mane of gray hair nudging into the microphone, he regaled us with stories of climbing Mount Everest with no oxygen (twice) and schlepping across Antarctica on skis, all of which caused the German socialites in the audience to sigh and to swoon as they picked at their salad. I was glad to see the world still has explorers like Reinhold Messner, who can stun a crowd purely with stories of their own bravado. It was infinitely more enjoyable than listening to a Siberian Tiger catalogue its eaten mountain goats, but similar in many ways.

When I was talking to the girl who said she thought I was shy, another guy came up and said he thought I was honest. But then I was thinking about being on stage in front of 1,000 Germans, talking about my relationships, my Mom, and my insecurities, and trying to think how I could do that, be shy, and be honest all at the same time, even though I was pretty sure each of those things was true on its own. But then stages are made for performing, and when you're performing you're never completely yourself, so I guess that explains the dilemma even if it doesn't solve it.