Loved Labour Lost


It’s been a year today.

I got up on the morning of 25 April 2011, and went to work at Marshall Space Flight Center for the last time. The day was spent out-processing, and shortly after lunch time, I had the surreal experience of driving out the gate without my badge, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to get back in. To be sure, after weeks of uncertainty about the future and dread, there was a bit of relief in having it be done, and, at the time, optimism over what I thought the future was going to hold, but, even so, it was one of the saddest moments of my life.

It’s been an interesting year since. When I left, I believed I was going to go back to school to get my master’s degree, and was within a week of starting that, but then changes in my personal life scuttled that plan. At that point, the real process of figuring out what the future looks like began.

Initially, I had hoped a new career would be quick coming, but eventually I realized I needed to invest in the here-and-now in the meantime.

I began working as a substitute for the Madison City Schools in October, as a tour guide and children’s programs leader for the Historic Huntsville Depot museum in November and as a sub in the Huntsville City Schools in January. Theoretically, I’m still doing all three; in reality, Madison and I haven’t called each other since Christmas break since the other two jobs keep my schedule pretty full.

And, you know, while the place I’m in right now is not anywhere I set out to be, and isn’t necessarily where I would choose to be, I’m still having fun.

Subbing has its moments. There are, to be sure, bad days, the rare days by the end of which I’m just counting the time until I can escape. (I’ve got a full post about subbing coming, so I’ll spare the explanation until then.) But there are a lot of good days, and there are transcendent moments. The times when I help kids learn something they didn’t know are good times indeed. I can’t tell you how awesome it was the day I was teaching, and one of the kids told a classmate that came in late, “Man, you missed it! We were talking about metaphors and similes!”

And the Depot — shortly before I started working there, I was having lunch with other subs in one of the Madison schools, and they were lamenting how they’d never been picked to sub on a day the kids were going on a field trip, ’cause that would be fun. And the Depot? It’s like permanent field trip. Well, almost at least. The kids’ programs days are, at least, and they’re the fun part of the field trip, without the riding around in the bus part. The other days, the tour guide days — I’ve worked as a tour guide at the Space & Rocket Center as a volunteer, and at the Depot I get paid for something I would do for free. That’s kinda cool. Plus, there’s the occasional random moment of awesomeness, like the day last week on which I followed up being filmed for a commercial by operating a forklift.

Really, if either (or both together) of those would pay the bills, I would be very content where I am. But, unfortunately, they don’t, and so the quest for real work continues. I wouldn’t have thought it would take this long, and, on some days, that can be a little frustrating. But in the meantime, I’m enjoying myself, so, ultimately, I’m blessed.

That said, if you know someone who is looking for — or needs and doesn’t know it yet — a writer or communications professional, please feel more than free to pass my name along.

Back To School


When I left my job six months ago, my plan was to go back to school.

To be honest, elementary school wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.

And, yet, nonetheless, that’s where I found myself a few weeks ago, marking my first day in first grade.

My plans of pursuing a master’s have been put on hold, the job search goes all too slowly, and money would be a nice thing to have. So for the second time in my life, I went back to grade school.

I’d worked once before as a substitute teacher, 16 years ago, ironically under not dissimilar circumstances — I’d hit a bump in the road in college and was reevaluating my future course, and, in the meantime, worked as a substitute in the Huntsville City Schools. I worked only sporadically then, but the highlight was, without question, going back to my high school alma mater, spending the day teaching, and, wonder of wonders, eating lunch in the teachers lounge. It was more than a little surreal, and far cooler to me than it probably objectively should have been.

And now I’m back. My first day back in the classroom was almost three weeks ago, an interesting day that I spent an hour or two filling in for different teachers who were in conferences, starting with first grade and moving on to fourth and sixth. I’ve been in high school one day, and in elementary the rest.

I’m enjoying it. A lot. For one thing, it feels like work, and after six months of not working, that’s a nice feeling. I worked four days in a row the second week, three of those in the same classroom, and at the end of those four days I was the most awesome kind of exhausted ever.

I’ve gotten to do some guilt-free reading during breaks and planning periods, and that’s been nice.

But the most incredible part of all are the occasions when I actually get to teach. A lot of it is babysitting while they take tests or read chapters or watch videos, but every once in a while, I’m teaching. In a fortunate twist, most of that has been language arts, and I can do that. We worked today on similes and metaphors, and, yeah, it was fun. A lot of fun.

Subbing pays quite poorly, so this is something I have to do while I have no job, and will have to give up when I get one again.

To be honest, I’ll be way more sad about the latter.

Labor of Love


For those that don’t know, I am currently looking for a new job, and would greatly appreciate any leads or help anyone might be able to offer. Most recently, I spent nine years working as a government contractor supporting NASA, writing articles for the education sections of the NASA.gov homepage. Before that, I was an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor. That said, while a writing job is likely best suited to my background, I enjoy new challenges, and would be open to other possibilities. If you have any ideas, feel free to e-mail me. Thanks!


David,
On Monday morning you gave me, my wife, and our grandson an amazing tour of the Space Museum. It was a privilege to make that tour with you. I appreciate so much the time you took to do that for us. It was by far the highlight of our trip. Thank you.

I’ve been taking a little bit of the free time that I have these days, and donating it to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

I started volunteering there five years ago, I guess, during the Skylab Restoration Project effort, and continued working with the curator for quite a while after that. Eventually, though, opportunities to be involved became more infrequent, and it probably reached a point where I wasn’t really a volunteer anymore.

So not long after I was out of work, I went by to sign up again, believing — and rightly so, it’s turned out — that it would be a great outlet for my passion for spaceflight while I’m not working. The lecture I gave there back in August was part of my volunteer efforts, and I’ve helped with some social media outreach and other projects.

Lately, though, I’ve been contributing in two ways in particular.

The more fun one — giving tours. I’d taken the tour training and had signed up to give tours one day before, but there weren’t enough people wanting them that day. I went again about a week ago, however, for Scout Day, and got to lead two large tour groups around the center, which was awesome. I went back again on a week day after that, and did a tour for a family that came through.

And I love it! Being at the Space & Rocket Center, it’s interested audiences, and it’s just incredible fun getting to share stories I love to tell with people who want to hear them!

The other one — the Education Office had some surveys from Space Camp participants in years past they needed entered into a new system, and I gave several hours doing data entry for them. Not sexy by any means, but it was an interesting experience nonetheless. I spent hours sitting in a cube working at a PC, and it made me realize how much I miss it. I want a cube of my own again. Please?

Both experiences have driven home what a great feeling it is to be engaged in something bigger than yourself, particularly something you believe in. I’m trying to make the most I can of the time that I have right now, but, honestly, I’ll be glad to be able to make those sorts of contributions again.

If you know of any leads out there, please let me know! Thanks!

I Need A Job!


20110628-033549.jpg

For those that don’t know, I have been out of work for about two months now, and would very much appreciate any leads anyone has in helping me to find a job.

Very long story very short, I had hoped to take the opportunity to go back to school to get a master’s in counseling, which has been a dream of mine for many years. Unfortunately, however, it’s turned out that isn’t in the cards right now.

So, I’m very actively looking for new employment. For those that don’t know, most of my experience has been in writing — most recently for nine years as an writer for the education sections of the NASA Web site, and before that as a newspaper editor.

That said, I’m not going to limit myself to that if anybody knows anything they think I’d be good at. I love writing, but I also love new experiences and new challenges. For a broader view of what I do, my capsule description is “I am an award-winning former NASA writer, newspaper editor and history author, with experience in graphic art, Web design, social media and classroom education. I am looking to work with an organization that believes in leveraging the power of good communication.”

If anybody has any leads or ideas, I would very much appreciate them! Thanks!

Great Moonbuggy Race 2011


This is how it’s supposed to be done:


This is how it’s more often done:


This is what happened to the team from Russia:

They did, eventually, push the buggy out of the obstacle, and pushed on to the next one before giving up.

I was amused by the fact that when they hit the obstacle and got stuck, the guy on the team launched into a flurry of Russian I didn’t understand, punctuated with a couple of words starting with F— and S— that I and the other bystanders did.

I guess English is truly the new Lingua Franca when it’s the language used when we have to pardon your French.

I thought it was really cool that Russia joined the participants this year, but I’ll admit that I still had enough nationalism to find it amusing that they struggled. I’ll admit having a passing thought along the lines of, no wonder we beat them to the moon.


These are some pictures I took:

I Had A Dream


From a Plinky prompt: “Have you ever had a recurring dream?”

 


My longest ongoing recurring dream started not long after I began my current job.

Prior to that, I worked in newspapers.

I assumed I always would.

For me, being a newspaperman wasn’t so much what I did as it was who I was. I had the proverbial ink the veins, and, all too often, the literal ink on the hands.

Leaving newspapers to come to work for NASA was a big deal. I wanted the new job, and was excited about it, but the move involved some loss of identity. It would be cool, but involved giving up a little bit of myself.

But I did it. And was glad I did.

However …

Not long after I started the new job, the dreams started.

In the dream, I realized that I had made a mistake. A terrible mistake.

I was a newspaperman. I wasn’t supposed to be working for NASA. I was supposed to be working for a newspaper.

So I went back to work for a newspaper.

In the dream, I would go back to Indianola, and resume working at the newspaper there.

That part was pretty much the same every time I had the dream.

There was a little bit of difference in the next part.

I would realize that I had made a horrible mistake. I would realize that I wanted out. I would realize that I had romanticized newspapers, and that NASA really was much better.

The difference in this part was how long it took. Sometimes I made this realization the next day after I went back to the newspaper. Other times, I didn’t last that long.

Fortunately, in the dream, almost invariably, I never, technically, quit my job at NASA. I had just gone back to the newspaper without letting anyone know.

So, thankfully, I was always able to just go back to work the next day as if I’d been sick or something the day before and pick up where I left off with no one the wiser.

The dream was a good thing for me.

Leaving newspapers really was hard. And I really did have second thoughts some times. The dream let me live out those reservations without having to actually live out those reservations. It gave me a picture of the “what if…” scenario of going back that rang pretty true.

I was happier at NASA. And my rational mind knew that. But it was good for my heart to be able to experience that as well.

Newspapers were a very important part of my life, and I’ll always have fond feelings of that part of my past.

But that doesn’t mean that the present isn’t much better.

Powered by Plinky

“My Radio Tuned to the Voice of a Star”


Heather talked to the space station Friday.

It was cool.

For those who don’t know, she’s been writing an official NASA blog for a while now.

So way back when, I suggested we should try to set up a downlink for her to talk to the International Space Station as material for her blog.

Downlinks aren’t necessarily that easy to get, but, I figured, if I could get one msyelf years ago, it wouldn’t hurt to try again for her.

Our friends from the education wing of the astronaut office at Johnson Space Center in Houston delivered, big time.

Not only did she get a downlink, she got a downlink while the space shuttle was docked with the space station.

i did my downlink back in 2004. I talked to the entire crew of the space station at the time — two people. U.S. astronaut Mike Foale, who was becoming the first American to spend a year in space, and Russian cosmonaut Sasha Kaleri.

Heather talked to eight people — the entire crew of Discovery, and both U.S. members of the space station crew.

I’m not jealous. Foale and Kaleri were both very interesting, and I had a great conversation with them. Plus, coincidentally, Sasha’s in space again right now. He talked to me on my downlink. He didn’t talk to Heather. We can tell who he likes better.

But that meant every U.S. astronaut in orbit Friday morning was participating in the downlink. The entire focus of America’s human spaceflight program for 25 minutes last week was talking to Heather. That’s kinda cool, too.

(Of course, I guess that was not only true of mine, but I was the focus of all the world’s human space complement. It seems less impressive when it’s just two people, though.)

Preparing for the downlink was a lot of fun. One of the goals of the downlink was to get student involvement, which we did, peaking with having two Marshall interns each ask a question of the astronauts.

But we also had to write several of the questions ourselves, and that was a neat opportunity. I’ve done a downlink before, we’ve both watched several other downlinks, and we’ve done astronaut interviews. We heard all the standard questions and all the standard answers, and challenged ourselves to come up with something different, to get the crews to give us something different.

I think we did a good job of coming up with questions, and I think the crew did a great job of coming up with answers.

The downlink took place in the Payload Operations Control Center at Marshall, essentially the “mission control” for space station science. If there’s something going on with vehicle or crew operations, the astronauts talk to Houston. If they’re talking about science, they’re talking to Huntsville.

It’s a cool room, with the flags of ISS participant nations on the ceiling and patches of supported missions on the wall and console stations with easily a dozen monitors. It was a great setting for the downlink, and it was an honor to be allowed in. (I did mine in a small supply room in the building I worked in. Totally not jealous about that, either.)

It was rewarding seeing the flight controllers enjoying the downlink. One said that in 11 years of watching them, this was the best she’d seen.

Heather did a great job. She was nervous beforehand, but, of course, handled it perfectly.

I suggested the downlink originally in part because I thought it would make for good blog content, but mainly because I wanted Heather to have that experience. I believe firmly in the value of doing things; I believe that hands-on experience gives you an insight and investment that you don’t get other ways.

I was glad she got this opportunity, and proud of what she did with it.

I got to help, too. I was the coordinating line. I stayed on the phone from an hour before the downlink until after it was over, communicating with the folks in Houston that were making the connection, and letting Heather know what was going on. When the downlink was extended three minutes before it was to end, I got to let her know that. (For my downlink, I had to manage both lines myself, with Houston on my cell phone on one ear and ISS on the landline on my other ear. Still not jealous.)

Going to the launch last week also enhanced the experience — Heather was talking to astronauts that she had just seen blast into space in person eight days ago.

It also meant that Caden, her five-year-old who was fascinated by the launch, was sufficiently interested to spend half an hour at 6 in the morning watching astronaut talk to his mom on television. (How many kids can say that? [On a personal note, it amused me that I now can say I have the clout to arrange for the space station to call my girlfriend. How many guys can claim that?])

Caden knew about the downlink, but wasn’t thinking about it earlier last week when he saw an airplane contrail and said, “I think that’s the space shuttle coming back to land.” I told Heather to remind him that the shuttle couldn’t come home until after they talked to her. I think he now thinks his mom has to give the shuttle permission to land. He has an interesting view of what she and I do.

Landing is scheduled for Wednesday. And they have Heather’s permission to come home.

Photos by Emmett Given of NASA Marshall Spaceflight Center.

NASA: Doing What No Else Can Do


The new social networking tool at work has a “Question of the Week” feature that invites users to share. This week’s question was “What is it about NASA that makes you proud to be a part of it?” Only a handful of people had answered when I did, and they started by talking about what they do, so I did, too. Here’s the answer I posted.


I work in education. I’m proud to, but I’m aware that I’m a very small cog in a very big machine.

My team got to be “mission” for STS-118. We were involved in a “real” payload, and when the crew visited Marshall after the mission, we were the ones invited to join them for lunch. But that was the exception. We have nothing to do with putting people into space, with exploring other worlds, with bringing crews home safely, with conducting science on the space frontier, or any of the other sexy things the agency does.

Our job is to help inspire the people who will do those things in the future.

I love my job. A lot. I’m proud to be a part of the agency. But, every once and a while, there comes a moment that reminds me just what this agency is that I’m a part of.

I hear a talk by Alan Bean. I watch a launch of the space shuttle. I talk with astronaut aboard the space station. And I’m reminded just what this agency is.

We do the things that no one else on the planet — or off, which in our case is a necessary distinction — can do. The only reason we can’t say that we do the impossible is because NASA takes those things that are impossible for anyone else and makes them possible.

Who else could have landed men on the moon? Who else could place two rovers, back to back, on the surface of Mars? Who else could deliver a crew of seven people to help construct the International Space Station? Who else could peer into the cosmos the way we have with the Hubble Space Telescope? Who else could inspire the people of America, and of the world, the way NASA has?

Who else? No one. NASA does the things no one else can do. These things must be done, and therefore we must do them.

And we do.

How could one not be proud to be part of an organization like that?

My Own True Words


know that these are my own true words
even if your approval is my sacrifice
— Rachael Sage, “Sacrifice

“I hate blogging. There. I said it.”

Obviously, there was no way I was going to ignore that status that a writer friend had posted on Facebook.

“Interesting. Why?”

Me, I love blogging.

I’m lousy at it, for any number of reasons. I write sloppily here. My posts aren’t all finely crafted jewels. I’m inconsistent about how frequently I post. I don’t do anything to increase my audience. I don’t have an overarching theme that defines the blog.

But that’s exactly why I love blogging. It’s writing, at its purest.

So I was intrigued by why Laura, a writer, would hate writing. Not only hate writing, but hate pure writing, with no obligations. After all, she writes a pretty decent blog.

The problem, she revealed, is that she writes her blog with a purpose, and the purpose isn’t to write. She writes it as “a platform for my fiction,” she explained, using the blog in hopes that it will make it easier to get a novel published. The blog is essentially another obligation, a part of building a brand in order to become a published author. It’s work.

And she’s not the only one. She cited a blog post I had also read recently by author Don Miller, “To Kill A Blog.”

Miller, the author of a million books, including the quintessential Christian Revolutionary tome “Blue Like Jazz,” had this to say:

So lately I’ve been considering killing the blog. And in a way, the idea terrifies me, because the old adage “publish or perish” is true, and in an age where people aren’t reading books, the adage might as well be “blog or perish” and soon will be “twitter or perish” and I am sure this will all be replaced with an even more brief and perhaps visual way to communicate with each other.

The writing life has changed. And my fear is the true craft is dead.

So the question is, do you publish (blog) what people will read, or hone a craft and publish hard-earned books that may never be read? I’m leaning toward the good book unread.

So here’s a question? What writers have you read this year who have no online presence? Does it honestly make a difference to you?

I wondered how much of Laura’s worry is valid concern, and how much is uncertainty caused by changing times. I’ve seen several people turn blogs into books, but it’s generally a literal transition; they write a blog, it becomes popular, and a publisher binds it so they can all make money off of it. I’m not aware of authors who publish books based on unrelated blogs, but maybe I just don’t pay enough attention to those sorts of things.

And the crossover seems to me to be even less true in fiction. I’d be hard-pressed to name any fiction authors who were known first because of their blogs. Again, maybe I’m just out of the loop, but who are the fiction bloggers turned authors?

There seem to be two major types of blogs — thematic, and personal. For a while, I kept a space blog, a place that was dedicated to news and commentary about space and space exploration. To be sure, these are the types of blogs that are more likely to turn into book deals. Now, I keep a personal blog, a place where I write what’s going on with me and what I’m thinking. Myself, I’m more likely to follow the latter type, even if they don’t get people published.

I blog because I enjoy blogging.

In the morning, I go to work, and sell words to NASA. I come home, and write words that I owe the University of Nebraska. I craft words, made to order, for other people, to make the shareholders, from my editor to the readers, happy.

My blog is for me. I own it, completely. It’s what I want to write, when I want to write it, and nothing else. It’s the blank sheet of paper that I can put anything on I want, without having to worry about whether anybody else likes it.

I write because I’m a writer. It’s what I do. I enjoy putting words together.

I’m blessed that I make money doing it. But if I didn’t, I would do something else for money, and write anyway, for the love of writing. Not for money. Not for fame. Not for being published. But for writing. When writers lose sight of that, they become craftsmen.

My advice to Laura, and to any other writers?

Write what you love. Love to write.

If you can reach a point where your main writing is what you love to write, then awesome. You’ve made it. Life doesn’t get better than that.

But for the rest of us, it doesn’t necessarily work that way. Our main writing is at least as much to please others as to please ourselves.

So find an outlet that is for you. Keep a journal. Start a second blog if you have to. If you feel like you have to write something in particular for someone else, be it to pay the bills or to get published or to get famous, then that’s fine. But NEVER stop writing for yourself. Because it’s the only thing that will keep you sane. If you don’t own any of your own words, if you don’t write any of them just for yourself, there’s nothing of yourself left in the writing.

And you’re not a writer anymore.

There’s a huge difference between Michelangelo and the guy that paints the walls of your house. As a writer, which do you want to be?

Whatever you do, never, ever stop writing for yourself. Always write something that you would still write if you knew no one would ever read it, something you would write because the very act of writing it makes you happy, fulfills the fact that somewhere deep in your soul that has nothing to do with publishing or readers or money, you are a writer.

Scrubbed Again


I’d gotten spoiled.

For a while there, I felt like I was cursed. There was the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter launch that I missed seeing live by just one day, after extending my trip to spend another morning on the causeway. There was the STS-114 landing that took place in California while I was on-site in Florida. There was the STS-121 launch that I got rained on and sunburned both, only to see it on television after finally making it back home in a rental car after the car of the friends I rode with broke down. There were those days that I spent in Florida waiting for STS-122 to not launch, costing me a unique chance to land in a plane on the shuttle runway in the process.

And then, last year, it all changed. STS-125 launched on the scheduled day (well, ignoring over a year of delays before the launch date I went down for). Ares I-X had its share of triboelectrification delays, but still was kind enough to leave the ground while I was present for it. Earlier this year, both STS-130 and -131 launched, not without snags, but without too many snags.

I was golden.

I was hoping maybe things had changed. Maybe recent changes had worked out some kinks, and the whole space launch process was smoother. After all, I couldn’t go down for STS-132 earlier this year because of my brother’s graduation, but it, also, launched in an agreeably timely fashion.

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end.

The original Monday launch date was scrubbed before we left town, but it was just pushed back to Tuesday, so we went ahead and got in the car for Florida. Tuesday turned into Thursday, and bad weather turned Thursday into Friday. Friday came, and became the end of the month.

Which, you know, is fine. It’s less frustrating to me to miss a launch by weeks, or months, than a day or two. There’s nothing worse than knowing that if you had just waited a little bit longer, you would have seen it. I spent longer in Florida on this trip than I have any other, but there was no way we were going to make it until NET Nov. 30.

We also never had to actually go out and wait on the Causeway for the scrub this time, all of the problems were kind enough to occur well in advance this time, freeing up time for other Florida activities, which I may end up writing more about later.

In fact, with the exception of a very brief trip to the Kennedy Visitors Center and a thwarted effort to see the shuttle on the pad at night, the closest I got to seeing the shuttle on this trip was the LEGO set in the picture above.

But, as I’ve said before, you know, this is the way it works. This past week was just as much a part of the spaceflight experience as my last four trips. I hate that the people I was traveling with got the bad side versus the good side of that experience, though it could have been worse; Disney was a much more agreeable place to spend a non-launch than hours at the riverside.

And, frankly, knowing that this will be the last time she’ll leave Earth, I can’t blame Discovery for not wanting the adventure to be ending.

Maybe if they’d offer her STS-135, she’ll be more agreeable.