Gardening In Babylon


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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.

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!

Things I’m Going to Do When The Book Is Done


The plan now is that Heather and I will ship the manuscript of our book to the publisher on Friday, either finished or very close to it. And when that happens, we get our lives back. And that will be nice.

Things I’m going to do when the book is done:

• Read. For pleasure. For long periods of time at a sitting. Without feeling guilty. One time, months ago, Heather and I went together to a coffee shop and each read our own books. That was fun.

• Watch movies. That picture at the top of this post? Those are Blu-Rays I’ve bought and haven’t even opened yet. We’re going to watch some.  The nice thing will be that, compared to the last few weeks, we could put the boys to bed and watch an entire movie before I left and it still be an early evening, relatively speaking.

• Play a video game. I blogged back in August about the fact that I’d bought Dragon Quest IX. I still haven’t opened it either. I don’t play a whole lot of video or computer games. It’s kind of waste of time. But that’s exactly why I want to do it. I like the idea of having time to waste.

• Lose weight. I’m going to start exercising more. I promise. I mean it. Of course, just not being sedentary working on the book and engaging in bad eating habits will help, but I wrote about that this morning.

• Walk. Which kinda ties in to the exercise thing, but I miss walking for pleasure. I miss hiking for pleasure. I look forward to that.

• Sleep. I’m getting to old for the hours we’ve been keeping lately.

• Do something fun with Heather and the boys. Maybe multiple somethings. We’ve worked really hard not to neglect them, working in a bowling outing here or a trip to Toys R Us there. But we’ll have to do something that’s not constrained to the hour or so we can spare.

• Go on a date with Heather. You know, the whole babysitter, dinner, theater sort of thing. I can say this with some certainty because I know Valentine’s is coming up, and I know plans are being made.

• Clean the house. Gotta be done at this point, as much of a shame as it would be to do away with the impressive archeological record of the time I’ve worked on the book that’s been developing in my home.

• Get more serious about my devotional and prayer time. Heck, as long as this list is turning into belated New Year’s resolutions, I might as well put that on there.

• Work on some writing or creative projects with no deadlines. Things that serve solely to make me happy. I don’t want to completely lose the momentum I’ve developed, but I’ll be very glad to take the pressure off me.

Wouldn’t that be nice? I’ll have to keep that in my head the next couple of days, huh?

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.