Thursday, October 30, 2014

Time for a Lovely Stop

The sweet girl and I were taking a walk the other day when she came to a sudden halt on the sidewalk. "Mom, stop! Look at that!" she exclaimed.

I looked, and realized that a beautiful autumn tree, a brightly colored maple, is what had brought her to a standstill.  I stopped too, and stood there for a moment just gazing at its beauty.

She sighed. "Sometimes," she said, "you just need to make a lovely stop."

Amen to that! 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Failure is Not an Option. But It's Also a Necessity...

I didn't meant to disappear off the blog for so long, but it's been a busy few weeks. School and ministry schedules have resumed their full autumn pace, and I've been working much longer hours than usual doing web content writing. What that means is that I'm usually so tired when bedtime comes (and it seems to come later and later!) that all I want to do is fall over. More time at the computer is usually not something I relish!

I see my last post was about Apollo 13, which makes me smile. The space geekiness has continued at our house since then. I ended up reading Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger's book Apollo 13 (formerly called Lost Moon, the book on which the film was based) and passed it on to my eager 12 year old. She is about two-thirds of the way through it now. It's turned out to be a good, challenging read for her -- it's worked as supplemental science reading but also provided some good examples of various types of writing she's been analyzing and working on in her Writing With Skill curriculum in the past 1 plus years. Biographical sketches, descriptions of scientific processes, different types of history writing -- it's all there.

Since we've all been in NASA mode, I've found myself drifting back to the space shelves at the library, and I'm currently reading Gene Kranz' Failure is Not an Option. Kranz was the flight director during Apollo 13, but this book contains his memoirs from the Mercury missions onward. It's an interesting read, intelligent and fascinating, though a little less finely crafted than the Lovell/Kluger collaboration. Kluger was able to bring a journalistic sensibility to the Apollo 13 narrative that gives it a more edge-of-your-seat readability. Kranz, while a good writer, doesn't always have the ability to shape a narrative quite as smoothly, and he sometimes falls into a lot of techno-speak (though there's a helpful glossary) and flights of fond memory over fellow co-workers. Still, it's an interesting behind the scenes look at NASA's early days.

One of the things that has interested me the most in the first few chapters is what could feel like a discrepancy (but I don't think is) between his title and the reality of those early missions. "Failure is not an option..." is a line associated with Kranz; his character says it in the film. In fact, he never said those words exactly that we know of, but adopted it as the title of his book after the film because he thought it summed up NASA's approach to space flight so well. And it does, in a sense. Ultimate failure certainly never felt like an option. The hundreds and thousands of people who dedicated their time and talents to the American space program of the 1960s were good at keeping their ultimate goal in view; they were courageous and persevered, sometimes under great odds, to accomplish that goal.

On the other hand, they did sometimes fail. A lot. Especially in the early years. Sometimes they didn't know precisely what they were doing. Sometimes they knew a little of what they needed to know, but had to figure out the rest the hard way.  By failing, at least in the short term, they were able to learn what they needed to learn to go forward, little by little. Sometimes small failures lead to creativity, problem-solving, and renewed determination.