Decision Time

>> Saturday, September 6, 2014

The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world's problem.
                        -Mahatma Gandhi

I won't say I've never dabbled in politics on this blog. It's my blog. It's a reflection of what's important to me, and, sometimes, that's politics. Not ashamed of it. However, I've mostly (and will likely continue) to advise people to walk the walk they want to see others take, to be the kind of person they'd like the world to be filled with.

My position has always been that if people want peace and tolerance, want to keep the right to decide their own faiths, fates, companions and families, they need to be the people who respect those rights for others. If people want to be respected as individuals and human beings, they need to extend that respect to other human beings of every color, nationality, gender, age, sexual orientation, profession, and religion. If you want war and discrimination, well, I don't know what to say to you. Chances are you aren't reading this blog under those circumstances and you're likely of a subset of human beings already disproportionately favored. I don't have much sympathy for you if you end up burnt by those preferences (as frequently happens in the long run), but I digress.

Although my first step in making the world better is to be a better person, there are sometimes times when we can do more than that. Where we need to do more than that. In some parts of the world, sometimes there are no options other than violence or at least protest. Sometimes risking your life to help others.

Fortunately, here in America (and many other parts of the world) we have another method: Voting. And the time for us to be voting is coming up quickly. 

Now, it's not exactly a news flash that most of the US populace is pretty darn disgusted with the current leadership in Washington, either with the individuals themselves or in the inability of the people we do like in Washington to get things done. Many of us express our disgust, then shrug and say, "There's nothing we can do about it." And that, my friends, is where you're wrong. Because, though our disappointing Supreme Court of the US seems to think it's perfectly reasonable for corporations to funnel untold fortunes into elections, we the people still do the deciding. They cannot buy our votes - they can only use their money to try to sway us.

We can swallow the blasts of contrasting mud-slinging, the sensationalist media, the name calling and finger pointing, frequently paid for by people who are only concerned for their bottom line (rather than the good of the country) - and thereby ensure the politicians who will sacrifice their constituents for the good of their sponsors stay in power - or we can do our own research, ask our own questions, and vote our own consciences. Which, if everyone did that, would render those billions in screaming ads and fundraising efforts completely moot.

Think everyone in the area you live with feels differently than you do so your vote is a complete waste? It will be if you don't vote. Too often, a tiny subset of the voting public makes the decisions the rest of us have to live with. You want that to change? Get out and vote, have your friends get out and vote, have your neighbors get out and vote. Even if you don't get the result you wanted, at least everyone will be making that decision, not just a noisy minority by default.

And that's what I urge you to do.

How do I vote?

First, make sure you're eligible to vote. If you haven't tried in a while, you can check if you're registered here: Can I Vote?

On that site, you can see if you're registered or get registered, find your polling places, the ID requirements and also the opportunities for absentee and early voting for your locale. It's brilliant. It's useful, so make use of it. 

What should I be looking for in deciding who to vote for (Issues)

Once you know how to vote where you are, prepare to vote intelligently. What do I mean by that?

Ask yourself three questions: 

What's best for me?
What's best for my country?
On a number of issues, what's the right thing to do?

In some cases, answers will vary on those three questions. In those cases, I urge you to give greater weight to the right thing to do (which, if it isn't the same answer as what's best for my country, might mean you want to rethink things. If you think the good of the country requires us to do things that aren't the right thing to do, something is probably off).

One other things you must do is evaluate what's important to you, what issues mean something to you that you think are important for your country and yourself. This is another place where you need to be particularly aware to consider this intelligently - if you're motivated by anger, hatred, greed, fear or other strong emotions, I urge you to stop, calm down, think it through. There are plenty of things to hate in the world, to fear in the world, but it's in the interest of those that run elections and the media to stir them up and manipulate us with hatred/fear/anger. If you're angry or fearful, look at it as objectively as you can. You're spun up, admittedly, but is that really the most pressing issue? Is hatred or fear of some group or situation more important than other issues facing us? Is that how you want to use your precious vote? If not, leaven your priorities accordingly.

I won't tell you what to vote - everyone should decide for themselves - but I urge you to vote with your minds and hearts unclouded by drummed-up hatred and fear. Know what you believe in and why. If the reason is you hate some subgroup of people, rethink it. We're all Americans and should be looking out for each other and be humane to everyone else. Hatred keeps America from working together right now.

Here are some important issues right now (Not complete and in no particular order - just how they came to me. Feel free to add your own)

Minimum Wage
Social Services (including health care, welfare, disability, unemployment, social security, etc)
Business regulation/bank regulation
Environment and Global Climate Change
Energy Policies including Renewable energy
Equal rights for women (Pay, respect and reproductive rights)
LGBT  and  Gay Marriage Rights
Foreign Policy (which has multiple facets)
Taxation (corporate and otherwise)
Outsourcing overseas and imports
Pollution and regulation
Gun regulation
Crime and punishment
Government Accountability
Big money/lobbying and effects on elected officials
Student loans
Religious freedom (freedom to believe as you choose or free from having to believe)
Addressing disparity between highest and lowest incomes.
Decriminalization of drug possession/legalization of marijuana

Some issues will be bigger ticket items than others in your mind. Prioritze them accordingly. Some might not matter to you at all, but, once you know what matters to you and what you want to happen, you can start looking at the candidates who seem most likely to pursue those issues that matter to you in a way that you can support.

Find out objective information on candidates

I wouldn't count on the mainstream media to provide objective information and partisan sites are even less useful (no matter which party you favor). I strongly recommend getting as objective information as you can and recommend: VoteSmart 

VoteSmart seems to have fairly extensive information on national, state and local candidates form all over the country, including their voting records, their stances on key issues, endorsements and history. It's a nice place to check out your issue list vs. what the candidates say they support and, more importantly (where available) what they actually voted for. Anyone can say, for instance, that they support women's rights, but if they voted against it time and time again, you ought to be skeptical. Find out what they voted for, what they believe in, (if they're incumbent or previously have held office) what they've actually done in the past.

I also urge you to explore state and local non-partison sites if you can to augment/compare/verify what you hear from any single source, including Votesmart. I also urge you, if there's a candidate you favor, that you look for press releases, speeches and other information on that candidate, go for what they've actually said and done if you can. If your candidate, when you hear him/her speak, is obviously a dumbass, inconsistent, pandering, or condescending, you might want to keep looking. Maybe there's a better fit.

You may not get what you want. But you can make a vote for the best possible candidate to fit your needs. If we take elections back and choose politicians that serve our purposes, rather than some nameless sponsor elsewhere, we have a chance to make this country back into what it was intended to be. For and by the people.

Last note

Once the elections are over and the dust has settled, it is still incumbent upon us to stay informed on what our representatives do in our name, and that we tell them what we want them to do on our behalf. We must remain diligent or we'll be as powerless in the future as so many of us feel today


Show Don't Tell

>> Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Been a while since I wrote a post post. For those of you who still wander over here periodically, wondering if I've died yet or if this site has reverted back and is now sporting science-themed pornography, not yet. Maybe you'll get lucky next year.

I was thinking about one of the many things I learned from my second marriage. Don't get me wrong, I learned a lot from my first marriage, mostly that there's no reason to stay with someone who treats you like absolute crap. And that thoughts like "You know, if I'd committed a crime, I'd be out by now," probably mean your marriage isn't a screaming success. But years of emotional abuse left me a mess, compounded by one of the ugliest divorces ever. And I missed something crucial.

Just because someone isn't saying hateful things to you, doesn't mean they're treating you right. How someone really feels about you, what you really mean to them, is reflected in their actions, no matter what is coming out of their mouths. It took my second marriage to learn that (or, perhaps more accurately, the dissolution of my second marriage), that words of devotion when paired with actions are of disdain are worthless.

Part of me knew it before I acknowledged it consciously, that's why, when he left, I wasn't really destroyed like I always thought I would be. Part of me had clued in on the inevitabilities and built my defenses. But it was still a costly lesson and I didn't pay it alone (sorry, kids).

But I have learned it. I have caught on to it. I get it now.

It's one reason my younger children's lack of talking hasn't really been as much a trial as it could have been. I know they love me. They show me, bless them. Not that I'd be heartbroken if one or both said it to me occasionally.

I know who my friends are. They go out of their way to contact me (since I hardly run into anyone in the real world any more) and ask to hang out, with or without my kids, because they know I can't get out alone much. They call me unprovoked. They check up on me and even argue with me to let me know they care what I think and they've taken the time to think about it, too. I get their honesty, which is something I treasure.

I've spent a lot of time alone. Not technically, years-wise. I was married the first time in college and I've always had a spouse and/or a kid or two with me since. But alone in that I didn't have someone who I depended on, could depend on, to help me carry the load. In general, the dependence was the other way or, if I could depend on them, it was limited or grudging. Aspects of my base nature were usually a bone of contention or ridicule. I didn't and don't have someone, who, if all goes to hell, I can expect his/her help until I get back on my feet. I've never had it. I'm not the only one who's been there, I know, but I'm one of the few people I know that doesn't have people who will back them, take care of them, hold them when they're drowning. And that, my friends, is frightening.

(Which isn't to say I haven't had help from time to time, because I definitely have. Sue has helped in ways beyond counting and still does. My second ex' family helped me during the divorce from hell with emotional support and even safe haven. My sister was there for me emotionally. Other friends have helped as much as they could.)

But, if I dropped it all, completely lost it, there's no one to pass the ball to. That's a lot of pressure and I gotta tell you, I've been feeling the strain for a long time now. People are okay with it because they assume I'm strong. I am, indeed strong, but that doesn't mean I'm not struggling, not lost, not desperately alone. But I digress.

It's come clear to me recently how important actions are in saying how you feel. How I'm sometimes surprised or let down, if I buy into what someone tells me they feel, when it turns out that their actions say, "Meh, you weren't really that important." or "Your kids are too much hassle to deal with."

Maudlin, I know, but there's a lesson there for ME on my own behavior. I'm very much a hermit-y type of person. I don't get out much which is ironic because I like people. But it makes me determined to find a way to spend time with those people who have made a point of reminding me they want to spend time with me. Damn it, these people have lives, too, and they're making me a priority enough to call out to me and give me a chance to see them, reminding me that I matter to them. If they matter to me, I need to do the same and reach out, even before they call sometimes.

So, to Lauralee who traversed across two provinces to see me when I was in Canada, to Nancy who gives me a heads up whenever she's in Houston, to Barbara who makes an effort to spend time with me even though I'm off in la-la land, to Sue, who makes me feel treasured whenever I see her. To my children who make sure I know that, though there are others they love, no one takes my place.

Thanks. And I'll try to do better because I love you guys. I do.


So, yet another pre-order book now that Tarot Queen has been released

>> Wednesday, May 21, 2014

So, two books all the way out, Conjuring Dreams and Tarot Queen, and now another book available at bargain prices for preorder: Beast Within

Update: Now it's been released, it's still available at the bargain price of $4.99

"When a ship of youthful refugees maroons on a strange and dangerous new planet, Xander had no choice but to take charge of his shapeshifting clan, the Bete, to protect the strange foreign healer, K'Ti, from humans as well as his own suspicious clan. Among humans, shapeshifting and magic were frequently equated with evil. The lives of the Bete and K'Ti would readily be forfeit if certain fanatical factions discovered their gifts.

After Xander convinced the captain to let them be the first to set up camp outside, the healer's extensive magical skills quickly became key to survival. When K'Ti discovered the Bete's shapeshifting abilities, Xander defied his clan to let her live.

To defend themselves, and the humans, from the vicious predators like the man-sized Klixit, of the new planet, the Bete will need every skill, shred of knowledge and capability they possess. Xander will have to weigh the needs of his clan with his trust of humans, the risk from the dangers all around them, and those that lie within his fellow refugees. "

Unlike Tarot Queen, Beast Within is a SF/Fantasy Adventure YA with an ensemble cast, so it's not as racy, not quite as violent and a bit more teen friendly. But, I do think it's quite interesting for adults as well. I make a point of not dumbing down language but letting context clues expand the vocabulary.

Note also that Beast Within is the first of the Bete series. Nine Lives, the second of the series, will come next.


Another book available for pre-order!

>> Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I know what you're thinking: "I haven't even finished the first one (which was free)." True, but, if you do finish Conjuring Dreams and are jonesing for something else from my talented brain, you're in luck because you can get a deal on the next novel that takes up where the short stories stop.

Update: it's since been released and is now $4.99

This one's not free, but you can get a deal on it since you can preorder it for $2.99 - it and will go to $4.99 after it's published on May 15 (which coincidentally is my 25th anniversary as a Rocket Scientist since I started working at Johnson Space Center in May of 1989). This novel is a grown up story, but fun and hopefully thought-provoking.

Announcing Tarot Queen.

After nearly four hundred years as the Tarot Queen, Roxell might still appear young and beautiful on the outside, but inside she was bored and jaded. Reading fortunes and conjuring futures was no substitute for an adventure of her own, a life of her own. Instead, she felt a prisoner, exiled within the confines of her cottage, growing more and more contemptuous of the supplicants who came to ask for her insight. And, for four centuries, not one person had given her heart the slightest romantic flutter . . .
Until Dante stepped in and turned the life she knew upside down. Handsome, intelligent, capable, he was everything she'd ever dreamed up . . . except that a tryst with a succubus had left him a demon and therefore soulless. The cards said he was definitely her destined lover, but Tarot Queens only get one lover and she had no plan to become a demoness.

For love, she abandoned her self-imposed exile and set out with her ardent suitor on a quest to find a solution to their thorny problem. Turns out, Dante's demonic venereal disease was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to their problems and Dante's mysteries. And Roxell was going to have to depend on her wits and her magical talents far more than she'd ever envisioned when they first ventured out.

And she loved (nearly) every minute of it.

Contains some sexual situations (not erotica) and a modicum of violence.

You can preorder at Smashwords and should shortly be able to preorder from a number of distributors.

A note about Smashwords - they distribute to most of the major ebook distributors like Barnes and Noble, Sony, Kobi, Applestore, etc. But, I don't know when they'll show and there's a lag. You can preorder from Smashwords right now in all of those applicable formats. If you're struggling with how to get the downloaded Smashwords files to work with your application or device, you can get insight into how to do it here.

Naturally, no one is required to read my stuff, but, for those of you who might be interested, I wanted you to know it was out there.


My first BOOK!

>> Saturday, April 12, 2014

At long last with a self-crafted book cover, I have self-published my first e-book: Conjuring Dreams And it's FREE!

"Magic-wielders, shape-shifters, mermaids, empaths and diviners and even teddy bears and computer programmers wander through 26 stories, written into life for situations thought-provoking, compelling or absurd. It's a collection of diverse stories, from the first one written when Stephanie Barr (then Beck) was13-14 years old to the last ones finished last year. The tales show off not only Stephanie's eclectic imagination but the growth of her story telling as she taught herself to write (in the way she wanted to) through writing. So it's all fiction and totally autobiographical at the same time. "

Smashwords: Conjuring Dreams

Hopefully soon it will also be distributed at Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc. Will post links when I have them. There are, however, formats available for most if not all readers/computers already available at the Smashwords link. There's also an interview of me.

I've also put it on Amazon but they wouldn't let me do it for free so it's 99 cents: 

Amazon: Conjuring Dreams

My suggestion is to go ahead and download it for free on Smashwords since they have Kindle format there.

More books (namely novels) are coming so "stay tuned".


You Changed My Life, Part 7

>> Monday, March 31, 2014

Rather than re-explain, if you want to know what this is about, see my first post of this set.

Five more entries and bringing this to a close:

March 27 - Whoever sent me a money order for some $660 in January 2001 (2000?)

Again, this isn't a matter of not remembering a name, but never knowing it. Middle of a horrific custody-battle divorce (which sucks money out of your pocket like no one's business) and I was seriously struggling. I had some help, but it was very very hand to mouth there for quite some time. I was in debt to the lawyer already but every other specialist brought in was a new expense.

I was in despair wondering how I was going to pay for some assessment when, in an unmarked envelope postmarked from San Antonio, I found a money order made out to me for the amount ~$660, just a bit more than I was short.

I have no idea who sent it. I didn't really know anyone from San Antonio.

I don't know why they sent it.

But, for a moment there, it restarted my belief in magic/miracles/kismet. Pick your word of choice.

And, though it's been shaken a few times since, I haven't quite lost it. I really needed it back then, (the miracle, more than the money, though it was a tight race) and, whoever you are, you came through.

You bought that back for me with your anonymous gift and, whoever you are, I will always be grateful.

March 28 - Jungle Don

Again, it's not that I don't remember his real name, it's that I never knew it. Or, for that matter, his face.

But, he was one helluva kisser and got to set the standard for the rest of my life. He also made me feel just a little less of a man repellent in a school year when I felt someone had tattooed that on my forehead.

We met at a dorm party. He had previously gone to OU, but, when the swim and diving teams were disbanded, he went to a school that had one (while my two friends just rode their five year athletic scholarship to engineering degrees which was pretty smart). For some reason, OU (my alma mater) still held diving meets and he was there for one the next day.

But, somehow, because he seemed to like sarcasm and, perhap, the fact he couldn't really see me in the dark we peeled away from the crowd and we ended up necking all night in the lounge.

All night, as in within a few hours of his meet (Bad, Stephanie!). And just necking because, well, I was still pretty much not that kind of girl.

Dear sweet Jungle Don, with the very talented lips, never put any pressure on me and I had a wonderful time at his expense.

And I never saw him (I'd say again, but I never really saw him) or heard from him again. Still, it was fun for me while it lasted.

Thanks, Jungle Don. It's still a memory I treasure.

March 29 - Jim Kaufman

Jim was a singular lesson to me. He was always personable and smart, but, when I first met this individual, it was easy to confuse him with the standard NASA engineer type with an eye on politics, something I’m not. Not that I ever saw him compromise his integrity, but he seemed like the kind of guy that got along with everyone. And, truthfully, last I heard, he still was. But he was remarkable underneath.

Not just because he’s a good person, though he is. He’s been a big force behind Special Olympics for decades. He takes care of disabled cats. He is thoughtful and ever courteous. He carries a handkerchief which i find endearing for some reason.

There are several interesting stories I learned from this fellow I never saw coming. When I knew him, he’d had a kidney transplant because of an odd anomaly that also cut short his military career after they had paid his way through college in the ROTC. He had had a fiancee die some two weeks before the wedding due to a drunk driver and told me he remembered that the fine was $200 for the vehicular homicide. He remembered exactly because it was half the fine he was given himself when he began to shout at the judge for letting the driver off so easily. He also took his story door to door when the judge was up for reelection. The judge lost by a handful of votes. That was Jim.

But the moment I realized I had seriously misjudged him, had under estimated him, had fallen into a trap of confusing who he was with what he was was when he told me about his turtle saga.

See, Jim was out wandering in the “wild” around the area we live in and came up on a turtle with a cracked shell. Now, I love animals, but I think I speak for the majority in that I would have thought, “Poor turtle,” and walked on. Not Jim. Deducing that the turtle would be at risk in the wild, he took it home and, finding a turtle expert among the veterinarian choices, found out several things. First, the cracked shell was a death knell and, secondly, the turtles mate for life. No, I didn’t know that either.

Following the expert’s advice, Jim returned to the area and picked up another turtle that looked vaguely like the first to see if it was an abandoned mate. But they didn’t care for each other. So, he took that one back and found another one. This one, apparently, was willing to become a mate if they had not been so in the beginning.

My friend was telling me this story, in a very matter of fact way, after a chance comment. I expect I looked stunned. But that was not all.

Jim then worked with the turtle expert in devising a replacement shell made of fiberglass. Using fishing weights, Jim worked out the balance of the shell in the bathtub and then, in an operation I didn’t realize was possible, the vet removed the turtle’s natural cracked shell and replaced it with the artificial one. I did not realize that turtles could survive such an operation and was well able to believe a deshelled turtle is a sad looking creature. Jim then double-checked the newly installed shell’s function and balance on the turtle over several days, including more bathtub runs. And painted the fiberglass shell from its original white to more environmentally neutral camouflage. He was planning, he explained to my stunned self, to release his turtle and its mate back “into the wild” within the next few days.

Cue the song "Born Free" in my head as I imagine the turtles sprinting from the cage over an hour, hour and a half, into the local scrub.

Perhaps, there are some reading this consider this story commonplace. Well, I did not. “I can’t believe you did so much for a wild turtle.”

“Oh, no,” he decried. “Anyone would have done as much.” I often wonder, thinking back, if it were his honesty that made him so very very special indeed.

“No, Jim,” I told him. “You’re something special.”

Jim taught me what I thought I knew but hadn't really lived up to: what's on the surface is a small part of who someone is. I knew it, but I never knew it so fully as when Jim reminded me.

Thanks, Jim. It was a pleasure knowing you.

March 30 - Michael Dupalo

A list like this wouldn't probably be complete without at least one regret, one might-have-been. I won't lie; I have more than one. But this one is one that wanders across my mind a few times a year so I chose this one.

When I was in high school in Las Vegas (Eldorado High School for those interested), I was not popular. However, EHS had the advantage for me of being full of nomadic folks like me so at least I wasn't dealing with the been-best-friends-since-birth thing.

By a strange coincidence, for all 3.25 school years, Michael Dupalo was in 5 of 6 of the same classes. He was tall and, to the best of my recollection, personable and popular, but I don't notice that thing very well so I might misremember. My recollection is that he was good-looking and fairly smart, given that he was in all my advanced classes (only PE, which was segregated by gender, we didn't share).

Any way, sometime early in my sophomore year, I was cornered in class just before Advanced English began by Michael who made some sort of comment about the kissability of my lips and likely would have kissed me. ("In class?" you might be squealing. PDAs were absolutely par for the course at that school so you know)

I was 14 or 15 and never been kissed. Truthfully, no one had before made any concerted attempt. And I'll admit, I liked Michael (no crush, per se, but I liked him well enough and was plenty curious) and also wanted him to kiss me. BUT, I chickened out that moment and asked for a raincheck with every intention of redeeming it when I'd had a chance to prepare myself.

Except it never happened. He, in fact, took to avoiding me and needling me with nasty comments throughout the rest my high school life in Las Vegas. I'm used to that sort of thing so responded with sarcasm as usual, moving readily into a non-hating sparring. When I walked home from school, he would drive as close as he could manage as he flew by to give the impression he'd like to run me down. (Once he did so with a classmate who was so horrified how close he drove that she made him stop and give me a ride home.)

After I'd left to move to Oklahoma (against my will), a classmate circulated a yearbook at my old high school which garnered a pathetic number of signatures, including Michael Dupalo's that said "I haven't seen you around much this year. I'm sure you've enjoyed it as much as I have." His signature was, hands down, my favorite. I do love a sense of humor.

But I never understood the change in his attitude or the intense antipathy.

Until the only boyfriend I had in high school (the following school year) told me (when I was in college) that he (before he was my boyfriend) and another friend had taken it upon themselves to warn him away and beat him up for good measure "in my name".

So, mystery solved. Though I do still wonder.

So, thanks, Michael, for making me wonder what might have been if things had gone differently. It's entertained me for years. And, if only for entertainment value, the rain check has not expired.

Caveats on this exercise now that it comes to a close.

First, if you weren't one of the folks that got an entry, that doesn't mean you don't matter to me or that you didn't change my life. There are a surprisingly large number of valuable people in my life, especially considering my general unpopularity. But the friends and family I'm close to are valuable beyond counting and I treasure them all. But that is generally far more than an off-hand comment or single act that made a difference but a relationship and interactions over and over spanning years that have made my life far better than I would ever have expected.

Among the people of note that were underrepresented were those who befriended me during periods of time when I was virtually friendless (and they frequently had many friends who might have turned away from them as a result but stayed my friend anyway), like Josette Votipka and Lauralee Proudfoot. Nancy was like this, too.

There are family members who probably shake their heads at me a great deal for my personal weirdnesses and views far-flung from their own, but who accept me as I am anyway without any apparent hardship.

They're are the friends who make time to hang out with me or check in on me even though they have full lives of their own and I'm just one step from a shut-in since I hate travel or trying to schedule childcare so I can go out.

If I've never been popular, I have never gone friendless and those friends I have are of the very highest caliber across the board, living embodiments of the term "quality over quantity." I am honored and charmed that you find time in your lives for me, for the warmth, concern, acceptance and company you have given me. For all my lack of social skills, I hate being alone and you have made it so I don't have to be.

If I had tried to capture all of you, I'd never have done you justice and would have likely forgotten this or that essential person as I tried to recall you all on command, then felt like a damn fool when I was reminded of another dear friend.

So, thank you all. My life has been so much richer having y'all in it.

Just one more to go...

March 31 - Myself

For those who were wondering when my narcissism would reach it's pinnacle, now you know.

So, why me? What one thing have I done that makes me special, that merits me a spot on this list?

I learned.

This exercise was largely about the people over the years who changed my course, expanded my horizons or my view of what was already there. I could not be the person I am without their timely insight, care or actions.

But, that's only half the equation. Because, no matter how stellar the example (or counterexample), how profound the advice, how touching the action, if I don't LEARN from it, it's wasted. (OK, so I should have learned about not cutting Roxy's bangs).

I have to be willing to listen honestly without closing my mind or heart to what wasn't in my current view of the world. I had to be willing to question myself and what I thought the world and my part in it truly was. I had to challenge my preconceived notions and be willing to adapt them as I learned more.

And I had to be willing to change my course when it needed to be changed. All the good intentions won't do a damn thing if you don't follow through and act on what you feel is the right thing to do. But it's hard. Inertia is pretty powerful stuff, the path you know, the world you thought was real, even your own self image, it's tough to break free of that and stride out in a different way, knowing that, while some will appreciate those changes, others will be baffled or feel threatened.

I'm not trying to say I've cornered the market on open-mindedness, or a willingness to learn. Many people have it. But, since we're talking (still and at great length) about my life, I somehow felt it wouldn't be fitting if I didn't take a little credit myself.

Like the man in the video that started me on this, he might have joined in with a Star Trek group because of his admiration for Whoopie Goldberg, but he joined when it was something that scared him, and he made friends and tried and worked to become more adept socially and expand his horizons. She was the catalyst, perhaps, but he did the work and he deserves the credit for the effort.

There are plenty of people with inspiration and good examples positively strewn over their paths who walk on blithely, unaware or deliberately ignoring what doesn't fit in their world. There are plenty of people who see what they want to be and ways to get there, but who are unwilling to take the steps and risks necessary to make it so, so they wallow, bemoaning the chances everyone else has.

But I didn't and that's worth noting. I've had plenty of ugliness in the past, more than some, but far less than others. But I made the decisions on what shaped me, consciously chose to become what I am (so far), for better or worse. And I've had some real beauty and wonder in my life, much of which I never saw coming. And for that, I'm grateful. Which is why I wrote all this, why I opened up far more of myself and my past than I expected, though I don't regret it.

But I'm grateful to myself as well for learning from those experiences, good and bad, and still being someone I don't mind spending all of my time with when all is said and done.

So, yay me! Thanks for not being a dumbass.


You Changed My Life, Part 6

>> Saturday, March 29, 2014

Rather than re-explain, if you want to know what this is about, see my first post of this set.

Five more entries:

March 22 - Whoever decided to include me in layoffs for Lockheed Engineering and Science Co in mid August 1993

I don't know who it was (as opposed to just forgetting a name) and I even understand how it happened. Not saying they should have laid me off - that was actually a rather stupid move - but I can see why I *looked* unproductive and a good prospect for excising.

I worked there a bit over four years. In that time, I was given a number of projects that had been given to various engineers and even teams of engineers over the years - all with little/nothing to show for it after "years" of effort - and turned them into actual hardware. I was queen of leftover tasks but I had two problems: one was that I did them too fast. Yeah, I know how that sounds, but I've only ever had two speeds - full speed and stop. Without anyone looking over my shoulder and having fun learning tools like Autocad and C on my own, enjoying the sense of accomplishment as hardware first built before I was born was modernized and made to function as it once had, it was hard to slow myself down.

When I redid the data handling system for Chamber B (design, overseeing techs tearing out the wiring/installing new and checkout), it took me three months. When Walt asked how long to do Chamber A, I said about three months because, though there were ~3x channels, I had templates for the drawings and wasn't replacing wire end-to-end but only some of it. Walt gave me four.

It took me two, which disturbed Walt since he didn't have another task for me for another six weeks. Robotics had moved to a different department and Bobby had gone with it so not only was Bobby gone but no longer in a position to give me more to do. Layoffs were coming (though I didn't know it) and (though I didn't know this either) Walt, who was close to retirement, had volunteered to be part of it.

Which revealed my second mistake. I had accomplished a great deal, but no one really knew the extent of what I'd been doing other than Bobby and Walt - and they were gone/leaving too. And not having enough to do meant I looked (and quite rightly) idle.

Well, I was pretty scared, took some time the day after I was notified to write up my resume (first draft ten pages, but I did trim it before sending it out) and I interview well (and am very lucky) so I was out of work a total of eight days.

Naturally, the flow of my life changed drastically. There's something about being discarded and having to find one's feet again that changes one's perspective (and I feel deeply for those who have been out of work far longer than did). I have changed jobs several times since then, but always voluntarily and always moving up.

Because I also learned a few lessons. First is, if I run out of things to do, I go looking (which has other repercussions, but I digress) because an idle Stephanie is dangerous. The second is I'm not shy about reminding people as far up the chain as I can manage about what I do. When I made the list (first draft of my resume) of what I'd done over the previous four years, I said to myself "They were damn fools to get rid of me."

Which is why, though I've stepped on quite a few toes in my time and have frequently been at odds with various levels of management, I've never been laid off again. I'm a pain in the butt, but I'm worth it. And I make sure they know it.

So thanks, whoever you were. As they often say, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, though it was disguised quite well at the time. And I certainly learned from it.

March 23 - STS-107

This, and this alone, will not be a person.

As you've probably guessed, even without the influence of Bobby and Walt and a few choice others, I tend to be forthright, opinionated, challenging, pushy. I was and am.

I also tend to be overbearing when it involves someone's safety, particularly someone else's safety. No one gets hurt on my watch. You can ask anyone I worked with: if they didn't have first aid kits before I got there, they had them after I arrived if I had to pay for them myself. Technicians working my paperwork frequently had me standing in their way if I thought what they were doing was too hazardous and I'd make sure I found a safer way if I wasn't comfortable with the "normal" route. It didn't make me friends, but I didn't have to go to funerals.

After a memorable but frustrating stint at the company (some of the smartest best people I worked with, hands down the worst management) that hired me right after I was laid off from my first job, I got a job that seemed tailor-made for me: I was hired by a subcontractor on the JSC safety contract. When I was interviewed, they asked me if I could stand up in front of important people and defend an unpopular stance. I told them that, if I thought it was right, I couldn't care less who was in the room and and I always told the truth, popular or not.

Not the least ironically, I was put in that position within 18 months and came very close to losing my job over it ("I can't believe you answered the NRC's questions. Do you know who was in the room?." "I told you I would when you hired me!" "Yeah, but I didn't think you really would.") The primary thing holding them back was that the data was on my side and they couldn't find a single thing technically wrong with my data or stance, which made it hard to find a good justification. (The fact that they had sent me there, with the admonition to "Stir the pot," but sent no one to back me when I called them didn't seem to bother them in the least). That and I had shown a positive gift for sifting through statistics and spotting out the smelly stuff - as well as using my own methods for grinding out quick and dirty estimates that, hey, turned out to be pretty close on the mark, so they were going to send me to reliability where I'd use formulas to quantify risk so people could know what risks to ignore, etc. etc. NOT something I wanted to do.

[I rarely talk about my gender being a handicap but, in some ways, it was. Being stubborn, pushy, and know-it-all tends to come out more positive when applied to men: tenacious, assertive, informed. This was particularly true when I worked in safety, though the other toughest safety engineers I knew were also women. I guess we'd grown tough in adversity.]

Instead, I transferred to EVA (and all honor to my lead, Ron Cook, and my supervisors, Dennis Eads and Hayden Krueger), in seven years, they never tried to shut me up. I think they liked the excitement. And the fact we cared and people knew it (because it wasn't just me). BUT, the original problem I'd nearly gotten fired over, risk to damage on the RCC from orbital debris, had not faded from my mind. Whenever new information came in, I forwarded it to management, hoping someone was following, taking notes, noting trends, trying to do something. And, in between, I did my job, looking out for the safety of EVA crew (EVA is when they don space suits and go outside the ship).

STS-107, which had only contingency EVAs (those performed in emergencies), was my flight as EVA safety flight lead. When it was destroyed, I was devastated and angry, but mostly at myself. I had known there was something to be concerned about. True, I'd been worried about orbital debris, but the same solution for orbital debris (toughening up/instrumenting the RCC) might have saved Columbia if it had been implemented when I'd first started complaining in 1996. Maybe not, but I'd never know, never know if my being noisy might have made the difference, might have pushed the program to doing more, or at least being more aware of the danger. The smart money says it wouldn't matter what I said or how loudly I'd shouted, it would have been seen as too expensive and ungainly to be reasonably implemented. But I'd never know.

I'd never know because, even though I'd pushed it as far as I could without losing my job, I hadn't pushed it as far as I could. I'd let myself be silenced, be quieted, be sent to a corner and muzzled. For fear of my job, I'd never know if I had let seven people be killed, their families devastated by their loss.

The astronauts lost were: Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, Michael P. Anderson, Ilan Ramon, Kalpana Chawla, David M. Brown, and Laurel Clark. I must also note two others who died during recovery efforts: Jules F. Mier Jr. and Charles Krenek.

So, I swore I'd never be silenced again, never go silent if there was something worth saying, never let fear stop me from doing the right thing ever again especially when lives were on the line.

And if that meant I worked jobs where I had to ask "Do you want fries with that?" I could live with that. I haven't had to, though.

I should give at least some credit to the safety contractor I was still working with. I screamed and complained mightily to get more visibility for these issues after STS-107 and, if they weren't always encouraging, they never fired me either.

But I didn't get *heard* until I found my way to the company I work at now which is very much in keeping with my own thinking, that (no, seriously) values integrity over any single contract. In this company, we're hired to do exactly what I do best. Stay silent if all's well but dig in our heels (with data) and be noisy when things are not.

And, in the nearly ten years I've worked here, they've lived up to their reputation and I have done my best to do the same. And I haven't been shut up once.

But how I got here is another story.

I can't thank STS-107 for this lesson - I wish they had never died and it had never happened. But I'll do everything I can to keep it from happening again. I hope that's enough.

Two blog posts that touch on this who want to know more: 

Rocket Scientist: RS Classic: Remembering NASA's tragedies - Columbia Accident

Sunday Soapbox: Being a Team Player

March 24 - David Adlis

And this is the story alluded to in the previous post. So there I was, post-Columbia, heart-sick, angry, determined to be heard to make sure we learned from our mistake and we addressed concerns like orbital debris whether we wanted to or not.

I was still working and busy and still completely supported in my EVA safety role, but I was pretty much being passed from manager to manager in the safety organization on the other topics that concerned me. And it made me miserable. Made me feel helpless.

Cue my friend Barbara who suggested I interview for USA, the contractor who worked the Shuttle. I wasn't terribly excited about working on the contractor side (that made me concerned I'd have more pressure to follow the company line rather than less), but I knew I wasn't happy where I was. And it did open my mind up to the notion of looking elsewhere for work.

Cue David Adlis. David was working a company I'd never heard of, one that's key in the USAF space program impartial oversight/expertise to provide technical insight and scrutiny though the company had a relatively small spotlight at NASA. We had a meeting on EVA RCC repair, David, myself and several others, but only David and I showed up. Well, David, ex-NASA and sharp as a bag full of needles, didn't let the dearth of coworkers stop him and worked out the kind of organization that would be needed to provide assurance to the repair efforts current in work. Then asked me who would man the various positions. For most of the meeting, my line was "I don't know, I don't know, I don't know, but you could contact so-and-so and they'd know who would be handling that."

Actually, I spent the hour mostly feeling like a fool.

So, imagine my surprise when, a few days later, I get a call from David asking me if I wanted to work for his company. I told him I'd never heard of the company. Bless his heart, he didn't let that stop him.

I researched his company. They don't make hardware so they don't have conflict of interest. They are known for their integrity. They are not for profit. They are wall-to-wall experts in nearly every space bailiwick there is with their primary function to give impartial technical insight into issues, changes and concerns. It was perfect.

If only I was qualified.

I interviewed anyway, explained my history, my unwillingness to shut up on command and that I couldn't be paid to lie. I explained that the organization they were hiring me to support was the same one I was leaving (none too happily). I explained that I wasn't even much of an expert. I'm more a dabbler, taking leftovers and running with them, learning enough expertise on the fly to question the experts and (frequently) make them reexamine things, sometimes unwillingly. {Note, for the record, David wasn't the one hiring.]

Not only that, I only had a lowly bachelor's degree (LOTS of PhD's and Masters at my company), so, though I wanted the job really really badly, I wasn't desperately hopeful.

They hired me anyway. And it was there at that company, at last, my concerns and arguments (and several others that fell out of tasks I worked) were voiced to the top levels of NASA. I can't say the top levels always did what I wanted, but it wasn't because I was silent. And, that, I could live with.

Since working here, I've done a huge and diverse range of tasks, taking on the leftovers as I did working with Bobby Davis 20 years previously. I've published papers on topics that were near and dear to me (and was paid to do it). I've learned more on more topics than I ever had the chance to before and rubbed shoulders with some truly great minds. I've worked with experts who have turned ideas into experiments, sometimes within minutes. I've had and am having a great time here, which is particularly wonderful given that I'm an engineer purely by accident and always wanted to do something else for a living. But, if you are going to be an engineer anyway, this is really the best possible place to work.

If you're going to be a single engineer with two special needs children, having flexible understanding management that is willing to work with your schedules and limitations is beyond price.

David is now my boss and as capable in that role as he was in talking me into coming to his company. And, truthfully, I'll always be grateful he saw something worthwhile in me when I couldn't even see it myself and brought me here to work in the best company I've ever worked for.

So, thanks, David. I owe you, um, a few.

March 25 - Alexander Barr

Being born was enough for Stephanie Loyd, though she did many many things that changed my life. But Alex, though every bit as precious, precocious and life-altering with his birth, did something else, something that really helped me grow as a person.

Stephanie was challenging as all intelligent children are, but I could *reason* with her. She learned to speak early not just because she could but also because she knew exactly what she wanted and was smart enough to know I wouldn't figure it out unless she told me. If I didn't want her to do something whether or not I was watching, I'd explain why. If I could convince her of my position, she'd "not do it" without prompting (and tell her friends not to either). She might twist things so she could do something else, but that's the price for creative children.

Alex challenged everything I knew about parenting. He wasn't mean or difficult; he was stubborn. For years, I thought he didn't bother talking because he wasn't that picky. He'd want something, I'd guess and eventually he'd shrug and say (to himself) "Eh, close enough."

Turns out, he's not really unpicky. He likes things a particular and exact way, perhaps more than anyone I've known. He is desperately stubborn, very exact, easily frustrated, and more than a little OCD. But I didn't know that for years because Alex confounds me like no one else I have ever known.

He's smart, very smart, routinely outsmarting me, but I have absolutely no idea how his mind works. My son, for those who don't know, is autistic. He is also one of the sweetest and happiest children I have ever known (something I hear too infrequently when people speak of autistic children). And I love him to bits. There's a certain amount of restructuring that goes with autism, or at least there has been in my case, and very much living the "pick your battles" life because, if you can't outstubborn him, you will not win.

But it's just as obvious that he wants to love and be loved, that he wants to be accepted rather than tolerated, that that is key to his happiness and his hugginess (he is a touchy-feely child, sometimes too much so, especially if you're a pretty girl). His general peace of mind is that we love him as he is. That he doesn't have to be something else to be accepted.

As a scientifically minded person, I've really not bothered, in the past, with things I didn't understand. If I couldn't explain it, I tended to leave it alone. No sense worrying about it. Now I have to, and I always thought it would be the hardest thing.

Actually, no, I should be honest. I've always been very matter-of-fact with physical handicaps and abnormalities. It happens. But I've been uncomfortable around people suffering retardation and other mental disabilities, not because I thought it was catching or that those people were disgusting but, as a creature with no merits that aren't tied to my intellect, I couldn't imagine a worse fate that having a brain that failed to function properly or one that did but couldn't communicate. Trapped in a brain that didn't work: what horror! I didn't think I could handle it without pity, which isn't a healthy thing at all.

Then, along came my son, living the life I feared so much and it turns out I don't pity him at all. He's not pitiful. He's fabulous and clever, in between being frustrating and infuriating. But not pitiful, never pitiful. He is ten now and still doesn't talk but he's damn good at telling me what he wants. I know when he's frustrated, when he's angry, when he wants something specific, when he's really upset about being chastised. Just like I know when he's buttering me up, when he's lonely, when he's gleeful. He doesn't get everything he wants, but he does have a modicum of power on how his life is.

In the end, he's like every other child, who needs limits and love and attention and support and patience and punishment and forgiveness. Sometimes, he gets to do thing his ways. Sometimes I outstubborn him and he does things my way. He *wants* to make me happy if I can let him in a way he accepts. And I would never have learned all this if he'd been just like everyone else, if I could have understood him.

I'm sometimes shocked when I hear parents speak about their autistic children (no one I know personally but some I've seen on shows) discussing their child's state as a tragedy that has ruined their lives. Really? How horrible to see it that way.

Alex and his condition isn't a tragedy. Alex is, as far as I can tell, just doing his own thing, uniquely and irretrievably his own sort of self. Which I don't understand in the least. But I love him just the way he is any way.

And I would never have opened that part of my mind I didn't even know was closed if he hadn't been, well, Alex.

So, thank you, my son, for all your uniqueness. And for letting your OCD take you in the direction of cleaning up after your sister. I'm grateful for that, too.

March 26 - Roxanna Barr

Roxy, much like her brother and her sister, adds immeasurably to my life in more ways that I could possibly elucidate. Choosing one key way she's changed my life is actually challenging. But, in the end, it's kind of tied to her brother, just as she's been attached at the hip with him just about since birth.

See, Roxy has done more to help me understand (and curb Alex' less appealing characteristics) than you'd ever expect in one so small (currently six). She is tiny, until recently talked only a little bit, and was at least as stubborn as Alex. She was also a ball of incontrovertible and manipulative charm.

Even when she was a baby, Roxy could stop Alex in mid-fit, could talk to him in baby talk and get him to do what she wanted. She'd make a mess, but he's the one who'd get upset when she'd get in trouble. That's how Alex moved from being part of the chaos to trying to reign it in. She'd spill; he'd find something to mop it up (including his own clothes, curtains, whatever) in the hopes she wouldn't get in trouble.

She's still a chaos agent, but I've noticed she often specifically targets things he ENJOYS putting back in place (like my manga which Alex takes pleasure in returning in numerical order). She owns him. She hasn't figured out the lock on my bedroom door or (I think) the baby gate at the head of the stairs, but, without a word she can get Alex to open the gate and, if she feels it's important enough, he'll break into my room (he has to have a good reason - he doesn't want me to know he can do it). But if Roxy really wants it, she gets it.

When she was sick and curled up on my easy chair, I was trying to shoo Alex, who was hovering, when I realized how careful he was being, that he was snuggling her because she was precious to him.

But it's entirely mutual, because she totally gets him. Even if he's in trouble for being pushy with her, she won't stand for it, will shout someone (especially me) down for getting him upset. She knows how to manipulate him, but she knows how to manipulate FOR him, to get him what he needs when he's not successful in getting it for himself.

She also took on many of his characteristics (she's been diagnosed as autistic, as well, but I'm less convinced she genuinely can't do things rather than using the tactics her brother uses on to get his way, but we'll see) and, as something between the great bafflement of Alex and the general understanding of Stephanie, she helps ME bridge the gap.

And that's the thing I'm giving her credit for. If I don't get Alex, and I don't, she totally gets him, while totally getting me because she manipulates us both apparently without effort. (And now Tina Simmons, too). She's desperately adorable on her own, but she's also the glue that holds the rest of us together and opens my eyes into hers and Alex' world while charming the socks off me.

With the possible exception of her father, I have never been so thoroughly controlled by anyone before - only I'm delighted rather than frustrated and unhappy about it. That's how damn charming she is.

Kind of makes me wonder why I'm thanking her, but I kind of have to, don't I?



Blog Makeover by LadyJava Creations