I am happy to bring you another edition of, The Skeptic Next Door! This edition brings you a lovely and crafty skeptic I discovered while out stalking a.real.girl atÂ a drinking Skepchickally in San Diego. Allow me introduce the awesomeness of, Tawnya Mendonsa!
Click below to read the interview.
1. What first got you interested in the skeptical movement?
I’ve always loved the level of certainty that science can provide so it has always been a point of interest for me. A few years ago I spent all week trapped at a desk entering really tedious data, I found that I worked best listening to podcasts and audio-books. As my hours increased I had to hunt down more auditory entertainment. Searching for science related podcasts I stumbled across SGU. I appreciated that they are pretty nerdy and there was a real, live, smart girl. It spread from there like a disease.
2. When asked what a skeptic is, how do you explain it?
I’m not fond of the actual word it sounds so negative. Generally, I just tell people that I really like science, and if it goes further than that, I’ll explain skepticism. I tell them that skeptics are a group of people who like proof, lots of it. Skeptics are people who research things that affect them and the people they care about. There’s also some discussion of the scientific method and how applicable it is to just about anything outside of morality calls. I am definitely a skeptic and not a cynic.
3. What skeptical events or meet ups do you participate in?
I go to anything that happens here in San Diego, and try to help out with scheduling and venues. There are a few things I have up my sleeve for the summer here. I’d like to see a skeptic movie night. It seems like a wonderful way to bring along your non-skeptical friends and let them see that it’s not this group of people complaining. We even laugh and enjoy life! I also intend to use my neighbor’s chemistry knowledge to bust out some great group experiments. Explosions are always fun! Though that one is proving challenging to get a venue for. Occasionally I like nipping up to the OC, that’s a fun crowd!
There is this dream of making it to TAM, and if you keep an eye out in my etsy shop, I’ll be doing very specific pieces to raise funds for it. A girl can dream!
4. You are very creative and make some really fantastic skeptical and science inspired art and crafts. Could you tell us a little bit about your process and where you find your inspiration?
Various things catch my eye. Sometimes it’s a quote, and other times it’s a very nebulous idea that I refine into a piece. I am infinitely awed by the Hubble images. They make me feel so amazed at, well, everything ever. I am connected to that. My materials are, too. I wish I could explain my process, but sometimes things spend so long forming in my head before they turn into artwork that I really forget what happens up there. It’s either six months of planning, or six minutes. I am nothing if not an enigma. However long it takes, I just use my compulsions in my favor. I get the greatest joy out of doing something painfully intricate and finishing it.
I also have my own made up disease. I call it crafting A.D.D. I am forever picking up a new, entirely different medium or technique. I like to learn new things and apply them where they don’t traditionally belong. Many items I make are combinations of several different disciplines. I knit, crochet, sew, solder, paint, draw, do digital art, collage, do bookbinding, make jewelry in various forms, carve stamps, sculpt clay, umpteen other things I can’t think of right now. I’ve recently begun making my own make-up. While I’m not a fashionista, I do have a drag queen-esque love of make-up that I’m indulging in right now. The best part of that is feeling like a mad chemist, and coming out the other end with eye shadow or foundation.
There’s also a great dependence on humor. I like laughing only slightly less than I like to make someone else laugh.
5. What material or mediums you enjoy working with the most?
Paper is so versatile. I am constantly seeking out paper artists. Someone has always done something that I never even considered possible, or even thought of. There are so many things you can do with and to paper. It is fragile when it is one sheet, or you can use thousands of sheets to make durable furniture. A lot of the other mediums I enjoy relate back to paper. Stamp carving, image transferring, and painting all end up on paper in one way or another. I am a huge fan of old books! Especially outdated science books. They are kitschy and fun and do a great job reminding us all how far we’ve come, as well as how much further we can go. That fluidity of ideas in the scientific community is an endless theme for me.
6. I notice that you use a lot of Carl Sagan quotes in your work. What other notable skeptic has influenced you or inspired your art?
Sagan has played a large role lately because I read Demon Haunted World last year and it really resonated with me. Plus, he is just endlessly quotable. He had such an ability to distill complex subjects.
For those of you that recall my nerd tattoos from my very first SD skeptic meetup, Douglas Adams. His voice is a huge influence on me. Again, humor is a part. Science can be perceived as dry, and anything that combines science and humor is right up my alley. He really made me realize that questioning the things that others take for granted doesn’t make you an asshole, it just make you learn more in the end.
My uncle may not be notable, but his thirst for knowledge really rubbed off on me. My Uncle Dean may spout off more information than you ever wanted, but if he didn’t know something, he would research it half to death. He really taught me that anything I want to know is available, I just have to go get the information instead of waiting for it to come to me.
7. What visual artists have inspired you?
Salvador Dali had so much technical ability and he warped it all to his own views. I can absolutely appreciate that.
There’s also Warhol, Lichtenstein, and the whole pop art movement. That mirror on culture is great.
Lately, I am really in to Joseph Cornell. His work is almost solely little dioramas of his compulsion for collecting. He gathered various bits of trash and collected like items together. He basically just organized trash, and it is beautiful. I try to use my love of intricacy and desire for organization to my advantage, and here he made his entire life about it.
8. What are your favorite podcasts and or blogs?
I listen to a fat-lot of podcasts. This could take a minute. They’re playing when I’m working, whether it be at actual work or at home on my arts and crafts.
What I really love is taking on religion. That has me listening to Righteous Indignation, but for the more irreverent side, I like Irreligiosophy. The hosts are funny, if a tad dickish, but I appreciate that level of sass.
Radio Lab should win every audio production award ever. Honestly, that show could be about nothing but mud, and it would sound fascinating. Fortunately, it’s science so I chalk it up as a total win in audio form.
QuackCast is fun. I love that much information coming from a knowledgeable source who doesn’t take himself too seriously.
I have to say, my favorite new-ish podcast is Monster Talk. I am a firm believer in knowing both sides of the argument, and while they clearly lean to the skeptic side, they at least address the woo and talk about it with people who feel differently than they do.
9. If you could recommend one book for someone to read, what book would it be and why?
Just one? That’s not fair! I think maybe Bill Bryson’s ‘A Short History Of Nearly Everything‘. I guarantee there are many things in it you won’t know about. It’s by far the best general science primer I’ve ever read. He is funny and informative. Bryson came at this from the bottom of the science-information pool. He didn’t have in-depth knowledge of anything specific and he does a great job breaking things down and making you laugh. While it’s not strictly defined as a skeptical book, it is a good launching point for learning more about science.
10. If you could permanently remove one pseudoscience from the world what would it be and why?
While the Master Cleanse has been annoying the hell out of me lately, I had astrology brought to my attention and that annoys me more.
Seriously, why is it so hard to make a decision based on facts instead of asking some kooky old woman to consult out of date star charts and made up information? Shouldn’t you just use your brain instead? The fact that this shit ‘science’ is used to make globally effective decisions by idiots-in-charge is maddening in a way I can’t even begin to express.
And judging people based on when and where theyâ€™re born? Making character decisions based on that? Please explain how that’s different than being racist. Racism is also based on ridiculous conjecture about things that are out of someone’s personal control. I can’t help that I was born in April anymore than someone else can help that they’re Korean. It’s sickening to me that you can trust so much of your life to something that you don’t understand and has nearly zero basis in reality. The simple fact that two astrologers will give you conflicting readings is proof enough that it is total bullshit.
A BIG thank you to Tawnya for letting me chase her around with a camera and for taking the time to chat with us! And until next time, this has been another edition of, The Skeptic Next Door with your camera happy pal, Surly Amy.