One Day In September


I never saw the twin towers.
 
On the day they fell, I was working in Indianola, Mississippi as News Editor of The Enterprise-Tocsin newspaper. I’d been to upstate New York, but had never been to the city.
 
My managing editor woke me up that morning with a phone call. (In those days, we worked well into the night and often started late in the morning.) The call made no sense to my groggy mind. Something about two separate planes hitting the World Trade Center. I heard something about unrelated incidents. I was picturing Cessnas or something. Certainly a bizarre coincidence, but I didn’t understand why he was calling me.
 
He told me to come to the office. I did. I understood then. We watched the towers fall.
 
The Enterprise-Tocsin is a weekly newspaper in a small town in the Mississippi Delta. To this day, it’s a great example of community journalism. The content is entirely local; there are no wire stories in The E-T.
 
I wasn’t sure what we were supposed to do. Generally speaking, The E-T focused its attention fully within the borders of Sunflower County, Mississippi, and ignored anything beyond the county lines.
 
This was far far beyond our county lines.
 
This was not a thing we could ignore.
 
We would use no wire stories, but we would cover the events of that day. We began working on a local reaction story, capturing how these events had affected our community.
 
But, very quickly, we learned that it was a local story.
 
By the end of the day, I was on the phone with a young man from Indianola who had been there that morning. He was freshly out of college, at his first day on his new job at Morgan Stanley.
 
Hours before I talked to him, he had been making his way down stairs. Not long after, his new workplace collapsed into rubble.
 
I learned something that day about what “local’ means. Regardless of what city you’re in, what county you’re in, there are times local is far bigger than that.
 
There are days the entire country is local.
 
There are days the entire planet is local.
 
The anniversary this year is slightly different for me.
 
I never saw the twin towers, but I have stood where they stood.
 
Rebecca and I went to New York City two months ago; the first time for me.
 
We visited the pools that fill the two iconic squares that mark the boundaries of where the towers once stood. We visited the memorial; heard, saw and experienced the story of what happened there that day.
 
It was real for me in a way I’d never understood before.
 
But, this, too, was real:
 
We stayed in a hotel a short distance from the site.
 
Our window was filled by One World Trade Center.
 
We took the elevator to the top. We looked out over the city.
 
It’s a beautiful building.
 
I never saw the twin towers.
 
I’ve seen the World Trade Center.
 
My experience of that day 17 years ago was defined by connection. By the realization that the world is much smaller than I realized. That distant events are much closer than I knew. No man is an island, nor is any county in Mississippi.
 
My experience this year is informed by what I saw in July.
 
Devastation is not defeat. So long as we endure, hope endures. So long as hope endures, there is resilience.
 
We fall.
 
We rise.

Sk8er Thunder – The Compelling Evidence That “Thunder” and “Sk8er Boi” Are the Same Story


In this divided and contentious time, there are few things on which we can all agree, but I’d like to propose an item on which we should be able to find consensus:

It should be national head canon that Imagine Dragons’ Thunder is the same guy as Avril Lavigne’s Sk8erBoi.

It’s worth noting that Dan Reynolds is 31 and Lavigne is 33. While there’s no reason to believe they knew each other, they’re coming along in the same zeitgeist.

But let’s take a look at the textual evidence, shall we?

Fact One: “He was a boy, she was a girl.”

Can I make it any more obvious?

Fact Two: Aforementioned boy is a rebel.

Lavigne describes him as “a punk” and a misfit.

Thunder tells us he’s a a young gun with a quick fuse, not a “yes sir,” not a follower.

Fact Three: The other kids at school don’t get him.

“All of her friends
Stuck up their nose
They had a problem with his baggy clothes”

“Kids were laughing in my classes
While I was scheming for the masses
Who do you think you are?
Dreaming ’bout being a big star”

Fact Three And A Half:

One of the particular insults hurled at the guy in Thunder by his classmates is that he’s “always riding in the back seat.”

Which seems odd until you realize he’s in the back seat BECAUSE HE DOESN’T HAVE A CAR, thus all the skateboarding!

(I could pretty much declare QED and drop the mic there, but we’re not done.)

Fact Four: The boy goes on to become a star, she’s just a fan.

“they’ve all got tickets to see his show
She tags along
Stands in the crowd”

“Now I’m smiling from the stage while
You were clapping in the nose bleeds”

You might note that the narratives diverge with the absence of the girl character from Sk8er Boi, but the text justifies this.

While the girl is still hung up on “the man that she turned down,”* the guy has moved on with his life, thus to him she’s just one of the many other kids in his classes.

And with that, I rest my case.

Thank you for your consideration, and let the healing begin.

*It’s worth pointing out also that Sk8er Boi is technically a meta-narrative, not actually from the point of view of that girl, but projection from the guy’s current significant other onto that girl, so it can’t be treated as wholly accurate.

My wife’s brain has not had any activity in about five years. Which is awesome.


My wife’s brain has not had any activity in about five years. Which is awesome.

I’ll admit that, when we started dating, I didn’t really know what Multiple Sclerosis meant. I barely knew what it was, but had no clue why it was “Multiple Sclerosis.” For those like me, “sclerosis” is an abnormal hardening of tissue, basically scar tissue. Multiple, obviously, just means more than one. Traditionally, if you have one bit of abnormally hard tissue in your nervous system, that’s bad, but that’s all it is. You get a second one – boom, that’s MS. (Today, they’re quicker to consider the possibility of MS even at the first sighting.)

The sclerosis are referred to as lesions, and the formation of new lesions is referred to as activity. So MS is about the only situation where it’s good to say there’s no activity in someone’s brain.

Rebecca had an MRI Monday, and the results came back – no new activity since the last MRI, and none for almost five years.

I share this because a friend contacted me earlier today to ask about her experience; his doctor suspects he may have MS. I share this to say there is hope. I share this because not that many years ago, five years without activity would have been a miracle. I share this to say that the war against MS is being fought, and it is being won. I share to say, keep fighting.

Ode to Opportunity


A poem for the Mars rover Opportunity, still silent in the midst of a planet-wide dust storm on the Red Planet.Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 10.27.21 AM.png

One of My Favorite Quotes From This Whole Space Business Thing


A couple of days ago I came across one of my favorite quotes from this whole space business thing. In my head, someday I’m going to write a self-help book based about applying spaceflight principles to personal life, and if that ever happens (spoiler alert: it’s not) this quote will be in there.

Seven years ago yesterday I was in Titusville, Florida, for the last launch of the space shuttle. There was, obviously, a lot of anticipation for the launch, and a lot of attention being paid to the fact that the weather was not looking like it was going to comply.

During a press briefing a couple of days out, Mike Moses, chair of the Mission Management Team, was asked if NASA would still proceed with preparations for the scheduled launch, given that, at the time of the briefing, there was only a 30 percent chance of acceptable weather. (And double that two days later.)

Moses responded, and I love this: “I know of only one way to make it a 100% no-go forecast, and that is not to put propellant into the tank.”

They did, in fact, put propellant in the tank. The weather, did, in fact, cooperate.

And Atlantis did, in fact, launch.

You can never guarantee success. But you can always guarantee failure.

Review: “Hope of Nations” by John Dickerson


If there’s one thing many modern Christians do well, it’s despair for the state of the world. Either the modern age is the end times, or it certainly should be. 

John Dickerson’s “Hope of Nations: Standing Strong in a Post-Truth, Post-Christian World” is a handy guide for that mentality, which is both everything that’s right and everything that’s wrong with the book.

The premise of the book is this: Modern society is abandoning capital-T Truth, which seems to pendulum between being the belief that there are some things that are more than just opinions no more valid than other opinions, and being God. This new “anything goes, everything’s equal” mentality is leading to a worldwide cultural decline and societal collapse.

At its best, the book has practical advice for living as a Christian in that world, both in terms of how to recognize “Post-Truth” fallacies, and in terms of how to live in such a way as to make the world a better place. How does Christianity prove its relevance and merit in a world decreasingly likely to accept “because it’s true” as a compelling argument? “We should not be outloved,” Dickerson challenges in an example of the strongest parts of this book. 

Unfortunately, such points are scattered sparsely throughout the book, and, most often, buried toward the end. How this is received will depend on the reader. At one end of the spectrum, the book seems unlikely to make much impact on a non-Christian; it’s “preach to the choir” approach seems more likely to alienate than convince a reader not already in Dickerson’s doctrinal camp. To the reader of a similar mindset, however, that choir-preaching could be a welcome pep-rally, a reinforcement that things really are as bad as they thought, and that those they were inclined to blame really are at fault. 

For myself, I would have preferred more meat and less pep rally. I found myself wanting to give up on the book after multiple recountings of the same anecdote about just how depraved those folks in San Francisco are, and disappointed when I finally reached a chapter challenging Christians wanted to make a difference to be “Known for Doing Good in a Post-Church Era” that the pages it spent exhorting the reader to “do good” never got around to positing what might be recognized as “good” things for a Christian to do in today’s society.

The meat of the book is good, but your enjoyment of the book as a whole will entirely depend on whether you find getting there a slog or a celebration.

“I’m Going to Paint the Moon for You” Godspeed, Alan Bean


“And what you didn’t see

I’ll let you see through me

I’m going to paint the moon for you”

Captain Alan Bean passed away today. He was a Navy test pilot, an astronaut who served as lunar module pilot of Apollo 12 and as commander of Skylab II, and a painter unlike any other.

He was a great man, and a man who was greater for not appreciating how great he was. I don’t know that I’ve met any who have accomplished more, nor any more driven to better themselves.

History will remember him as the fourth man on the moon, or, more commonly, will remember forgetting him as the fourth man on the moon. The band Hefner many years ago released a song title “Alan Bean,” which while generally a beautiful tribute, contains the line “Everyone will forget soon/ the fourth man on the moon.” In a Twitter war between Wendy’s and Hardee’s a couple of years ago, Wendy’s claimed nobody cared if you were first to do something – “Tell us the fourth person to walk on the moon without googling it.”

Remember Alan Bean.

Twelve human beings have walked on the moon. Someday there will be more; a someday that is both soon and not soon enough. I am proud to be part of a team working to put them there. 

Alan Bean is the embodiment of why I believe that is important.

Right now there are two rovers driving on Mars, among other robots surveilling the planet. They are our vanguard on the Red Planet; they are our proxy scientists, our proxy explorers. They do the things we need to be doing on Mars, and they do it well.

Soon, much sooner than there are humans, there will be new robots on the surface of the moon. They, too, will conduct science and exploration on our behalf on the rocky regolith of our nearest celestial neighbor.

Some believe they should suffice. Some believe that we should spare the cost and risk of sending humans to other worlds in light of the able accomplishments of our mechanical surrogates.

They are, with all respect, wrong. Part of the reason is that as capable as these robots are, a human being is more capable still, and, more importantly, better able to improvise, to respond in real-time to his or her surroundings.

For me, however, that argument is wrong because of Alan Bean.

I had the opportunity to meet Alan Bean. I saw him in person multiple times, but the moments that will stay with me always are the ones I spent with Alan and my Homesteading Space co-author Owen Garriott at Bean’s Houston home.

Alan Bean was an amazing man, and it was incredible to sit with him and hear him tell stories. We were there to talk Skylab, and his Skylab stories were captivating. And even though it’s not what we were there to discuss, the moon was mentioned more than once. 

It was an unforgettable experience to be there with him and Owen, two men who had shared decades before an experience unlike any other, to see them not as heroes in the spotlight, but as two friends who had known each other far longer than I’d been alive. I hope to have friends like that when I’m that age.

We sat in his kitchen, adjoining his studio, surrounded by in-progress paintings. His skill with a paintbrush was impressive in its own merit, but almost shocking in the context of who it was painting – it seemed somehow unlikely – and certainly unfair –  for a man of unparalleled left-brain accomplishment to  be a right-brain virtuoso as well.

Owen asked when he was finally going to paint Skylab. We tried to get him to time a Skylab painting for the release of the book. Every time we asked, it was always just over the horizon. It’s a painting I would have loved to have seen, and one we now never will.

Being a fan of history, his studio area for one reason made me debate whether I was annoyed. There, hanging from his walls, were presentations of patches he had flown to and worn on the moon. Or, more accurately, of portions of patches, gradually stripped apart thread by thread til only half-artifacts remained.

Bean went out of his way to help us. He shared his stories, he reviewed what we’d written to make sure it was accurate. In one of the conversations, he mentioned that he’d kept a diary while on Skylab, something not even Owen had known before. “Would you like to use it in your book?” … Yes. Yes, we would. As if any other answer to that were possible.

It was a fun challenge transcribing the diary; when I first saw it, I didn’t immediately recognize it was English writing. Bean seems to have a very distinctive autograph, but, the reality is, he doesn’t sign his name, he just writes it normally. It’s his normal writing that’s distinctive, to the point of appearing almost heiroglyphic to the untrained observer.

I’m proud we were able to do that; to share such an important historic document, to make it available to the public, to preserve it for future generations.

To make sure no one will forget soon the fourth man on the moon.

One of my most prized possessions is an early draft of Homesteading Space with Bean’s handwritten edits in it. A man who walked on the moon took the time to read something I’d helped write, and in his own hand marked it up to make it better. My answer to the icebreaker “if you’re house were on fire, what item would you save” is easy.

I’ll never meet the Curiosity rover. I’ll never eat cookies in Opportunity’s kitchen. I’ll never hear InSight’s stories of being on another world.

But, even if I could, they couldn’t tell me what it was like. They provide us with endless valuable data, but they can’t shared what it is to experience it, what it means to be the only ones on a distant orb.

Alan Bean did.

I was blessed to have that that personal experience, to have met the man, talked with him, spent time with him, eaten spaghetti with him, to get some slightest vicarious sense of what it was like, how it felt.

Twelve men walked on the moon. Eight have already left this Earth again. Four – Buzz Aldrin, Dave Scott, Charlie Duke and Jack Schmitt – remain. The dark day will come when none are left. The youngest of them were born in 1935. If it takes another decade to return to the moon, they would be 92. It’s possible this planet will never again be without moonwalkers. It’s possible it will. If so, when there is no one left who can tell what it was like to be there, the best we will have are those who heard and carry their stories; a somber burden.

Not everyone will get to meet a moonwalker. Not everyone will have that experience. Alan Bean knew that, and that knowledge drove so much of his life after his return to Earth.

He realized that he had in combination two things no other human being combined – the experience of what it was to walk on the moon, and the ability to capture it visually. And so he did.

For the rest of his life, he painted. He painted the moon, but in a way that was less driven by photographic truth than by emotional truth; he wanted to paint not what the moon looked like, but what the moon felt like.

To make that connection more visceral, he put something of the moon in his paintings. He took his moon boots and pressed them into the fresh paint, giving it texture. Those half-stripped-apart patches I mentioned? Taken apart thread by thread so that he could place those strands, with whatever slight particles of moon dust they contained, in his original paintings, embedding the actual moon in his paintings of it.

““And what you didn’t see

I’ll let you see through me”

He brought the moon home, and he spent his life sharing it.

Someday men and women will walk on the moon again. It’s not impossible it will be people I know before they leave, and it’s a goal to talk to them when they get back. But when they do, they’ll tour the world, and they’ll tell their stories. They’ll share their experiences.

And Alan Bean is why I believe that’s vital.

Godspeed, Commander.