Penn Jillette: Thank You


If you have followed my story, you know that I was, at one point, a true believer. I was a Usui and Karuna Reiki master, a crystal healer, a hypnotherapist, an herbalist-in-training and I thought I was psychic. Yeah, I was a (self-described) dyed-in-the-wool Woo Goddess. And then a few things happened that I talked about way back in the beginning of this blog. Thanks to the influences of James Randi, George Hrab and Penn Jillette, I discovered critical thinking and skepticism as a movement.

George and Randi have been deeply cherished friends of mine for a couple years now. This past weekend I finally got to meet and speak with my other skeptical hero, Penn Jillette. He threw a private party at TAM 9 and I was fortunate enough to be able to go.  That party and (most of) what happened afterward are moments I will cherish for the rest of my life.

I’m afraid I wasn’t precisely at my best, however and I learned something unpleasant about myself. I would like to chalk it up to fear, but terrified, or not, there was no reason for me to be as impolite as I was. I am embarrassed at my conduct. What follows is an explanation and apology.

After Penn’s fantastic concert that he and the No God Band put on, he was kind enough to hang around for quite a while talking to people, taking pictures and signing autographs. I realize now that he was positively exhausted and his voice was nearly shot. I made the mistake of expecting him to notice me because I kept trying to put myself in his path. And I have bright pink hair so I’m pretty hard to miss. I was so self-absorbed and wrapped up in my own emotions that I thought that would be enough. So I tried that tactic several times.

When it didn’t work and he didn’t speak to me but turned his attention else where after glancing my direction a few times, I got really frustrated and upset. Unfortunately that’s when I got rude and I REALLY hope he didn’t hear when I said out loud “How can he miss me? I have bright pink hair!”. Penn, if you ever do read this and you DID hear me, I’m VERY sorry. There was no reason for me to behave so badly.

It had taken me all evening to work up the courage to try to approach you. I actually tried several times to get up the courage to speak with you. Even as I sit here typing this, I’m tearing up the way I did that night. Your influence on my life has been immeasurable. You call Randi your hero, so I hope you can understand that you are one of mine.

What I learned about myself is that I can be pretty self-absorbed and me-centric. It’s not something I like about myself, especially when it leads me to act the way I did that night. Hero worship can be damaging in the respect that it led me to act the way I did because I had certain expectations. I expected Penn to pay attention to me because (and how the hell HE would know this, I have NO idea. At least not NOW) I am such a tremendous admirer. That expectation led me to be frustrated and rude.

I suspect that happens to other fanboys and fangirls. we have these expectations built up in our minds that our heroes should, for whatever reason, pay attention to us. When they don’t live up to our expectations, we make the mistake of blaming them rather than accepting that perhaps our expectations are unreasonable. Or we’re being socially awkward. I recognize now that as tired as Penn was, he was simply waiting for others to approach him first.

On the upside (with the help of my moral support), I was finally able to tell Penn just how much his influence has impacted my life. And I cried. He was so very kind, and for that, I am exceedingly grateful and always will be.

And so, thank you Penn, for all your work in skepticism. You helped change my life. Because of your influence I am no longer suffering from the woo-based self-delusion of being psychic. Because of your influence, I was able to finally let go of a belief in a divine being. Because of your influence, I am helping others find their way to skepticism.

Thank you.

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1 Comment

  1. latsot said,

    July 19, 2011 at 10:06 am

    Maria, I too have a shameful story, also from TAM but this time TAM London.

    The festivities were over and my wife was eating dinner with me in the hotel restaurant before our flight when she noticed that Randi was sitting by himself, also eating dinner. She suggested we ask if he wanted to join us. I thought about how he’d been hounded all week and that he probably just wanted to chill out and be left alone and in the end we decided not to ask him to join us.

    Later, we thought that was probably the wrong decision. He’s perfectly capable of telling people if he wants to be left alone for a bit and we (mostly me) made assumptions about him that we probably shouldn’t have.

    I really wanted to speak to Randi, but I didn’t want to impose on him and so made the assumption that he wouldn’t want to turn us down if he was too tired or couldn’t be bothered. How presumptuous!

    So I apologise to Randi if he had a dull time in that not-very-good hotel restaurant. I know he’d have brightened our mealtime and he might have been pleased to learn how much we’d enjoyed the conference. Next time I’ll trust his ability to decide what he wants instead of trying to decide for him.

    Is this any better than what so many people do in assuming celebrities are just like them and want to be friends? It might even be a bit worse.

    Sorry, Randi.


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