Problem solved. I’m sorry about that.
[Laughs] Do you live in Chicago?
I live in a suburb just outside, Oak Park.
So what do you? Is this your full-time occupation, doing Rookie?
I mean, I’m 16 and I go to high school, but yeah, I mostly work on Rookie.
Is there an economic reality to it?
[Laughs] Unfortunately, yes!
There are so many different economies in the world. What we think of as money is just one of many. There are all these different kinds of rewards.
What have you found to be most rewarding about your work?
It’s just, like, inexplicably rewarding on all fronts. I think ultimately the payment comes from watching people experience the museum. It’s wonderful to go in and kind of discreetly be in the space with people as they experience the museum. That’s the primary reward.
Have there been any particularly memorable reactions?
An infinite number. I mean, yesterday I was up in the space-dog room [a room full of painted portraits of all the dogs who have ever been to outer space] and we just, as of this weekend, started to run in our theater a film that we made over the last couple of weeks. A few of us at the museum went to Central Asia, to Turkmenistan, to Pakistan, and very wonderful places quite far away, and shot a film, which we cut together far more quickly than normal. I was out lighting the lamp under Laika, and a middle-aged woman came out [of the theater] and said, “Sir, I just wanted to say that that film spoke to me in a way that I absolutely needed to hear right now.” And you could tell it had an important effect, it communicated in some way something—and you could see this in her eyes—something that she really needed to hear. There was something in there that had true meaning for her, and I think that kind of thing is just exactly what you do all the work for.
How often do people recognize you, as you’re trying to discreetly roam around? Did that change after the book?
The book didn’t have that much of an effect. We actually didn’t love the book. We love the writer, Ren Weschler—he’s a wonderful human being and he’s gotten to be a really good friend, and whenever he’s in Los Angeles he stays in the adjoined trailer. He first wrote about the museum for a magazine article, in Harper’s, and we thought, This’ll be gone in a month. This too shall pass. And then a month or two later he phoned me and said, “Wonderful news—we’ve got a book deal!” And my thought was, What do you mean, “we”? [Laughs] There were certain things about his approach to our work that we felt were limiting, rather than expanding. But that was a long time ago, a decade ago or more. And it’s been fine—it’s just one in a great many events that have happened in our history. And not so many people actually read the book. We see about 25,000 people a year here, and I think five percent or three percent of them have ever heard of the book. So it didn’t really change things so much.
I was also curious about the display of Ricky Jay’s decaying dice. Of all the things you could get from a magician to show in a museum, why did you choose decaying dice?
I think that’s a good example, in a way, of the kind of material that appeals to us. We had always wanted to have a gem and mineral hall, like, you know, they have at the Field Museum that glorious gem and mineral hall—or the Museum of Natural History in New York. But we would probably never be able to collect enough in the way of gems and minerals to be truly significant. But then somehow this little hall [where all the dice are displayed], with the way that it’s lit, looks just like a gem and mineral hall. We love that. So that’s one level on which the dice are appealing to us. Another level is that there’s a metaphorical overtone. Dice imply luck, so that exhibit is sometimes called “Rotten Luck,” because, you know, decaying dice—there’s kind of a play on words there. Many of those dice are loaded dice that con artists use to gain wealth unfairly, and there’s something about that that appealed to us, too. And then there’s the poetry of the decaying aspect of the dice, and decaying luck—because all things pass, and knowing that and holding that in mind, which is hard for people of the age that you’re mostly talking to, ’cause when you’re at that age everything seems to be in front of you, and possibilities seem limitless. But I think it’s also really important for people, even at that age, to understand that none of this is forever—which is maybe part of what happened to me when I was that age.
In a strange way I think that’s a very comforting thought. Probably because just daily interactions give me so much embarrassment.
Yeah, and anxiety. To have that longer view, where you understand that all of this is impermanent, can be comforting. Liberating, actually. Anecdotes are great, so I’ll tell you an anecdote. Just last night I was listening to the music of a person named Gurdjieff—do you know who he is?
Gurdjieff was a philosopher at the turn of the century through the mid-20th century. Well, he was primarily a philosopher, but I recently learned that he also wrote music. Someone gave us a recording of some beautiful harmonium music that he wrote, and we’ve been listening to that. And that got me to go back and read about him—I had read about him before, but I wanted to refresh my memory. And—I wish I could find this quote and read it to you—he was saying essentially the same thing, that one of the most important things that he could offer was…wait, I found it. This is what he wants people to know: “Every one of those unfortunates during the process of existence should constantly sense and be cognizant of the inevitability of his own death as well as of the death of everyone upon whom his eyes or attention rests.” So he’s saying the same thing, which is the same as saying “memento mori”—you know, “remember death.” There’s really a lot to that. To hold death close to you at all times is the thing that can give meaning to life. How did we get started talking about this? [Laughs]
I don’t know, but it’s great. Oh, we were talking about the dice.
Exactly. And things going away.