Gardening In Babylon


Sitting here at the beginning of 2013, it’s easy to imagine that I’ll most remember the year 2012 for how it ended, coming home in the last month to Marshall Space Flight Center after a year and a half away.

But, notable ending aside, 2012, by mass, was a chapter in my life about evolution, about answering a question the previous year had posed about who I am.

For the longest time, if you’d asked me to describe myself, somewhere pretty high on the list would be the fact that I’m a writer. Heck, I think that was my entire Twitter bio at one point. And for at least 15 years, it had been true — since college, I’d spent six years writing for newspapers and nine years writing for NASA education.

And then, one day, I’m not a writer anymore. At least, not in the sense of someone who writes things. No one was paying me to write, and I wasn’t even writing on here with any sort of regularity.

So if I don’t write, it’s hard to argue I’m a writer. What am I then?

I started working on the answer late the year before, but 2012 was the year that it really began to coalesce.

I started working at the Depot toward the end of 2011, but I expanded what I was doing there last year, doing more field trip programs for kids, and starting to give tours for adults. It was through that I ended up being “discovered” and doing the Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll this fall.

I also continued substitute teaching from the year before, doing more of it and in more places than the year before. Some days were great, some were not so great. The great days, as a rule, tended to be the ones where I got to do more actual teaching, instead of babysitting.

My work with Cottage Senior Living included some writing, but also let me revisit my design and graphics skills I’d not used professionally in a long time.

I did begin writing again. I wrote a blog for the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. I wrote articles for Mud & Magnolias magazine. I finished another draft of a book. And now I’m writing at my new job.

Then there’s the more random factors, like selling Pampered Chef and starting Comic Science Improv from the ashes of Face2Face.

And putting it all together, it becomes a story about, well, putting it all together.

Last year, more than any other, I took my foundation as a writer, and built on it, using pieces old and new. I’m a communicator. I can do that with writing, but I can also do it through design or speaking or graphics or acting. They stopped being separate things, and became parts of one thing.

And that one thing is telling a story. I told a lot of stories last year, about the Huntsville Depot, about The Commons, about the Space Launch System, about Christmas lights in Mississippi, about dead Alabama governors, about the space shuttle, about quality kitchen shears.

I was a writer. And one day I wasn’t.

Last year was about becoming something else. It’s a story about becoming a storyteller.

Another Year Over, And A New One Just Begun

It’s hard to explain exactly how I felt, a mile in the air, at the moment I stopped falling toward the Earth at 176 feet per second.

When the parachute deployed and our descent slowed dramatically, the first thought to go through my head was, “OK, now I feel safe.”

But the thing is, there had not been a moment, leaving the plane or during the mile of freefall that I didn’t feel safe. I knew the chute would deploy; I knew I would be OK.

However, it was still a nice feeling when it did.

Welcome to my 2011.

That mile has been this year — a year when everything fell apart, sending me plummeting down at terminal velocity.

This, then, is faith: that while I’ll be glad when the parachute finally deploys, there’s never been a moment that I haven’t felt safe.

I can’t imagine what it would have been like to fall out of that plane without the parachute. But with the parachute, it was fun.

It would be easy to view this past year through the former filter; months of unchecked descent. But that’s the beauty of having the parachute — if there’s one thing I’ve learned working with NASA, it’s that in the right context, freefall can be kinda awesome.

When I look back on this year, there’s no question that the things I lost will stand out in my memory. But so will many many other things:

— I saw the last space shuttle launch ever in person.
— I went skydiving, twice.
— I experienced a long-standing goal of going to a Paul Simon concert, finishing my concert bucket list.
— Even if it’s still tied up in publishing limbo, I finished the manuscript of my (apparently cursed) second book.
— I fired an AK-47.
— I gave a lecture in the very cool Davidson Center theater at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.
— I went backpacking for the first time, and camped in sub-freezing conditions.
— I discovered that I have better and more awesome friends than I ever realized.
— I got to see the number-one team in the country beat my Ole Miss Rebels.
— I went (kinda) to Space Camp.

And all of that has been during “the worst months of my life.” Not bad, really.

I’m blessed. Beyond measure.

And while I would have preferred to have bill-paying employment, this season has given me the chance to do things I wouldn’t have or couldn’t otherwise.

I enjoy substitute teaching. I have loved working at the Depot. If I could make a living doing either, I would in a heartbeat. I’m looking forward to delving further into the world of Pampered Chef. I’ve made money lecturing and selling books and taking pictures and acting and teaching and freelance writing. And along the way, I’ve met some great people. There’s a lot to look forward to in 2012.

For years now, I’ve worn some variety of cross necklace. But in the last couple of months, I’ve substituted it occasionally for a souvenir of my first skydiving outing — a closing hook used on a parachute rig. I felt a little guilty at first replacing the cross with it, but realized that, ultimately, if a symbol of being willing to step out of an airplane without fear isn’t representative of what faith in God is all about, I don’t know what is.

Welcome to 2012. Enjoy the fall. I’ll see you on the ground.