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Every discussion at The Long Conversation begins with the same question: What are you optimistic about? It’s a leading question, one meant to tilt the talk to the brighter side of things. And yet, subjects run the gamut. Extinction, over population and women’s suffrage pop up more organically than one would imagine. That’s one of the core strengths of The Long Conversation. It’s not an optimism factory, churning out motivational speeches by the minute. There’s an honesty to the chats taking place. People don’t skirt the hardships, but they don’t luxuriate in them either. Sadness, like happiness, can be a luxury. The well curated list of speakers here are too smart to fall into either of those traps.

And those speakers really do run the gamut. I didn’t know how much I wanted to hear Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden interview Cheech Marin (of Cheech & Chong obviously) until it happened. I didn’t know how badly I wanted volcanologist Dr. Liz Cottrell to interview Dr. Carla Hayden until it happened. Maybe the moral of this story is that Dr. Carla Hayden should be the only person in the world with a talk show (she was certainly one of the more electric interviewers / subjects), but regardless, the minds coming together throughout the day (and well into the night) are what make The Long Conversation worth your time. It’s like a TED Talk with double the intimacy. It’s hard to hate it even if you try.

D.C. is the only real city I’ve ever lived in, so I couldn’t be more biased. I love so many things about living here: the people, the food, the sunsets, the buildings, my walk home, my local bar. Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about, but it feels like these kind of magically nerdy (and very free) events only happen here. Where else can you watch an opera star chat casually with a museum director? And where else do these kind of events sell out? I sat on the floor while I listened to a supercomputer theorist, because there were no more chairs (or bean bags, why were there bean bags?). Smaller versions of The Long Conversation happen all over D.C. almost every night. Sometimes these events are bad or lame or dishonest, but if you love to learn, if you love to listen… There isn’t a better place to be then here.

The Long Conversation goes until 10 p.m. at the Smithsonian Arts Industries building. Watch the livestream and come back to BYT next Monday for photos from the evening session.