An Astronaut’s Perspective

From the time I was in fourth grade until the time I was in eleventh grade, I had one career goal – to become an astronaut.

If you’ve been reading my work for a while, you know I never became an astronaut.  And while I loved my teaching career, I never stopped being interested in manned space exploration. So of course, I was eager to read How to Astronaut: An Insider’s Guide to Leaving Planet Earth by Terry Virts.

Mr. Virts tells the story of traveling into space, from training, to launch, to orbit, and re-entry.

The book is organized into fifty-one short chapters and includes not only one-of-a-kind observations but funny anecdotes as well.

“The space station is, in many ways, a thirteen-year-old boy’s dream. You can float around like Superman. You can eat whatever you want and your parents aren’t there to nag you. You have your own room and you close the door and nobody tells you to clean it. Best of all – no showers! For 200 days in a row!”

“It was the example of how people should work together to solve important problems, leaving petty political bickering behind. That is exactly what we did and what the space program in general has done for many decades. The vacuum of space is a harsh and unforgiving environment, and it does’t care what country you are from or what your ideology is. Unless you approach spaceflight focused only on getting the job done and working as a team, you risk dying. 

And that, my friends, is a lesson that we would do well to learn down here on our home planet.”

“I think that attitude is the key to many of our situations in life. Make the most out of your circumstances. Enjoy what you can. Learn from what you can. Suffer through what you must. And learn from it. What doesn’t kill you should make you better. If you go through life with that attitude, you will be happier and more successful than by complaining.”

“…the universe is inhospitable and cold and dark and wholly incompatible with life, with the exception of our blue planet, as far as we know. I had a new sense of thankfulness and appreciation for our home, drifting through space like a giant spaceship carrying the entirety of our species on a timeless journey. We should take care of it. There is no plan B; there is only plan A.”

And, I found it absolutely wonderful to get to the acknowledgement section at the back of the book, and find that the first people Mr. Virts chose to acknowledge were his high school English teachers! 

Enjoying Some “Alone Time”

Over the years, I’ve taken myself out to lunch. Out to coffee. Out to a movie. 

I’ve traveled a bit by myself, too. A writing retreat. An overnight “Mommy-vacation.” Day-long explorations in San Francisco – wandering through the shops in Chinatown, meandering through Golden Gate Park, eating a crepe in the Haight-Ashbury district. (My husband was in all-day trainings for work. While he sat in a hotel conference room, I took the rental car and explored the city.)

I recently read Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude by Stephanie Rosenbloom. 

Ms. Rosenbloom explored four cities – Paris, Istanbul, Florence, and New York – alone. While the book is a reflection of her experiences, it also includes statistical information and academic studies supporting the benefits of solitude and solitary pursuits.

I think sometimes people are afraid to be alone. (And let’s be honest, with so many working and learning from home, alone time is a precious thing.) 

Here are a few passages from the book I’d like to share with you:

“Alone time is an invitation, a chance to do the things you’ve longed to do. You can read, code, paint, meditate, practice a language, or go for a stroll.”

“Alone, we can plumb local markets and examine their wares closely. We can breathe in and relish the flavors in a sauce, or the coolness of a pitcher of cream. We don’t necessarily take time to do these things in the presence of company, particularly during lively conversation. A solo meal is an opportunity to go slow; to savor.”

“Even when the outcome isn’t what we hoped it would be, making the effort to experience something new can still be good for us. It can help us think of ourselves as the kind of people who are capable of taking action…”

“…it can whet our appetite for future risks. These risks need not be major. Simply getting out of our comfort zones – trying a different route to work, introducing ourselves to a new neighbor, speaking up for something we believe in – is important…”

“Each day for a week, plan and take a daily vacation by doing something that you enjoy for twenty minutes or more. The vacation can be something as simple as going for a walk around your neighborhood, or thumbing through a book on gardening. Aim to be in the moment…”

Permission Not to be “Strong Tonight”

Do you have a go-to song?

A song you listen to when you need that extra bit of encouragement? That extra motivation to keep pushing through?

I have those songs, but I also need another kind of song.

A song that gives me permission to just stop. Stop trying to be so strong. Stop trying to hold it all together. Stop trying to keep it all inside.

You can click here to be re-directed to The Mighty to read my personal essay, “The Rita Wilson Song That Helps Me Deal With My Chronic Illness.”

Readers, I’d love to know about your songs? Which songs bring you comfort? Which songs help you? Feel free to share in the comments.

Chronic Illness and an Octopus

Over the years, more and more of my writing has described different aspects of my life with a chronic illness. 

Writing about it is different than talking about it.

But that’s what I recently did.

Julie Morgenlender, editor of The Things We Don’t Say: An Anthology of Chronic Illness Truths, recently spoke with me about my experience living with a chronic illness. Among other things, we talked about invisible disabilities and illnesses, ableism, diagnoses, and octopuses!

You can watch the video on YouTube by clicking here.

Deserving of the “Good Paper”

The theme for the March issue of Sasee Magazine is “Planting the Seed.” 

Some writers might read that and think in literal terms – planting seeds, watching a garden grow, waiting for a flower to bloom.

I took that theme and went a different way. 

I wrote about my second grade teacher, Mrs. Jones. It was she who, all those years ago, “planted the seed” and helped me believe I could be a writer.

Click here to read my essay, “Deserving of the Good Paper’ ” in its entirety.

 

Tales of a Dad with Attitude

You may recognize the name “Chris Erskine” from his columns in the Los Angeles Times. While I primarily write about “books, boys, and bodies (living with an invisible disability),” Mr. Erskine writes about “the absurdities of suburban fatherhood.”

I recently finished Daditude: The Joys and Absurdities of Modern Fatherhood. This book is a collection of columns, many of which are updated with brief comments by his wife and/or children. 

If you’re a parent and live somewhere in the vicinity of Los Angeles, you’re sure to find many of these tales relatable. But readers of any background will find sentences that make you stop, sentences where you think, “Damn; that’s good writing.”

Let me share a few with you:

“I like how, when you open an old treasured book, the binding crackles like a log fire.”

“The baby is now her obsession. Frankly, I don’t understand it. Sure, his skin is like linen. His eyes as bright as a winter sunrise. But his butt is all diaper. He constantly spits up. He has no visible means of support. All in all, he’s me twenty years ago, fresh from college.”

“Like Santa, the little guy seems to see miracles that no one else sees. He spots something, and his eyes glisten like the crystal of a watch. I worry, sometimes, that he might grow up to be a writer.”

“With each new day, a fifth grader fills more of the world. He’ll add muscles between breakfast and lunch. I see him now stretched out on the couch he outgrew this afternoon, taller than he was five breaths before.”

“Her chestnut hair is thinner now, but she still has those killer cheekbones and the cutest dimple – like an apostrophe – on just one side of her smile.”

“Half Sicilian, Posh has been cooking lasagna since she was three. Her version is seven layers deep, as thick as a good quilt and built with the same care craftsmen put into a Lamborghini.”

 

How Do You Define “Consequences”?

How do you define the word “consequence?”

Do you consider it a positive or a negative?

The Readers Write topic for the February 2021 issue of the The Sun was “Consequences.”

And I’m proud to say that I achieved my first Readers Write byline with my response.

You can click here to read it and all the other Readers Write responses.

Stories About Self-Care and Balance

I am happy and proud to share that my story, “ An Unexpected Gift,” has been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: 101 Stories About Self-Care and Balance

I’m the first to admit that I’m not the best at self-care or putting myself and my needs on the top of my to-do list. 

I hope reading these stories will help you (and me) learn to regularly carve out “me time.”

A Process of Reinvention

 

The plan was for me to retire from my teaching career after twenty years, at least. Probably closer to thirty. 

To retire because I chose to. Because the time was right.

The reality was different. I retired due to a disability after a twelve-year teaching career. 

Everything changed. Not just my daily routines. But my identity.

I had to reinvent myself, in a sense. 

Recently, I finished my second read of Claire Cook’s Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention (Without Getting Lost Along the Way). The first time I read it was a year after I left teaching. 

Now I re-read it, simply for a refresher. A little burst of encouragement to help me get out of my comfort zone and try some new things. 

This week, I’d like to share just a few of the book’s gems with you.

“Life can be ridiculously tough. And when it is, we have two choices: give up or be tougher.”

“  ‘Of course you’re afraid,’ a character in my novel Time Flies says. ‘We’re all afraid. There are only two choices: afraid and boring.’ “

“If Plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters. (204 if you’re in Japan!)”

Raising “Obama Babies” and “Kamala Kids”

Ryan, almost 10 months old, applauding during President Obama’s Inauguration, January 2009

“I consider my almost-thirteen year old son to be an “Obama Baby.”

It’s all about the math. Ryan was born the year President Obama was elected as our nation’s first African-American President.”

Those words begin a personal essay that was just published on Motherwell Magazine’s Facebook page. Click here to read “Raising Obama Babies and Kamala Kids,” and please help spread the word.