I’m writing a children’s book about the First Spaceman!

A few weeks back, 12 April to be precise, I was riding back on the N.E. Regional train from teaching my classes at Drexel University and had a great idea for a childrens’s book. I’ve worked with the Yuri’s Night organization, which honors the first human space flight by Yuri Gagarin on 12 April 1961, by promoting celebration parties around the world. I began to wonder what good children’s books there were about Yuri and his magnificent flight. Searching the Web, I found nothing. This most important of human adventures was not something very small children would learn about.

I decided I needed to tell the story of Yuri’s flight, to show the excitment of space travel for children still new to their home planet. So, I sat down the next day and wrote about 15 three line pages, and another five the next day. I asked my wonderful wife, Tara, to edit it and give me feedback; shared that version with a few other trusted collegues; and by Tuesday had finished my third, and for now, final draft.

The title is Yuri: The First Spaceman, and I’m writing it for the 2–4 year old age range.

I’m conceiving it as a 40 page book with illustrations that cover both pages.

But how to illustrate it? I thought of doing it myself. Here’s a simple cover with no figures that I started:

Yuri-cover-demo

I’m still looking at maybe getting someone with a bit more depth to their illustration style. In the meantime, I’ve found a potential publisher, and I’m looking at doing a kick-starter campaign.

More news in the next few weeks!

Once more around the sun: Thoughts on the completion of my 50th solar orbiting

Today is my 50th birthday.

That is, since leaving my mother’s womb, I have orbited our local star approximatly 50 times.

That’s not a record or even particularly spectacular, but we are facinated with mulitples of 5 and 10, so 50 is a natural milestone at which time to reflect back on the past. Since 100 is still an unlikley age to attain before shuffling off this mortal coal, 50 is likely the biggest milestone I’ll reach.

So, I’m looking back, reflecting, taking this stuff in. Take this photograph for example. When it came across my Facebook transom the a few weeks back (I only check Facebook every few weeks) bringing me back to a person I was something like forty-two years ago.

Jason Circa 1975: GDS Lower School 2nd Grade. I'm the doofus standing on the right.
Jason Circa 1975: GDS Lower School 2nd Grade. I’m the doofus standing on the right.

That’s me at the hight of the Star Trek TV excitement—when the show was huge in synidacation—but a year or two before Star Wars would reinvent geekdom entirely. I’m not sure what path I would have followed had Star Wars not happened. I remember that I was not a particularly happy child. I didn’t like myself a lot. If I was 8 today, I would probably be on mdication for ADD, ADHD, and a few other things.

But now I’m 50. I like myself a lot better than I did back then. I like myself a lot better than I did just a few years ago. But I’m still working on liking myself better every day. This is part accepting who I am and part improving who I am.

At 50, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I can survive. I can survive setbacks, failures, disappointment, rejection, brain tumors, and heartbreak. This is not to say that I have had to suffer the worst the universe has to throw at me, but what I have been through hasen’t killed me. That’s because of the other important lesson I’ve learned is to be kind. Kindness is a strength. It means looking for the positives. It keeps self-destructive anger and rage at bay.

And I still have so much more to learn!

The discovery I came to this week is that I need to listen to my own feelings on how people are treating me. There are people who just don’t think much of me, and I can generally sense that. They don’t think much of my ability or talent. They are pleasant enough, but put me off. Delay correspondence. Criticize without clarity. I used to think I just need to redouble my efforts; be more persistent; try to accomodate them; Listen more carefully to their feedback.

What I’ve come to realize just this week is that it’s not all about me. Often people just don’t want to work with me, and there is no point in trying to change that. Some people may not “get” me or what I’m trying to do, but that doesn’t make it my job to change everything for them. The upshot is that, if you are not excited about what I’m working on, I don’t have room for you in my projects. That’s just a waste of both of our time.

Instead, it’s the people whose ideas I find exciting and who find my ideas exciting who I will cultivate.

This may seem obvious to many, but is hard won knowledge for me. At 50, I’m ready to put it to good use. Now onto the next 50.

DON’T “do unto others”. Just be kind

Far be it from me, a mere mortal, to question the teachings of a messiah and son of god, but something has always struck me as fundamentally flawed with the golden rule.

Several verses in the Christian report of Jesus of Nazareth claim he said something along the lines of Mathew 7:12:

In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

This is commonly paraphrased as The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

I think the assumption we make when we read this is that how I want to be treated is how others want to be treated. There’s a huge problem here, and I hope I’m not the first to notice it: some people don’t want to be treated the way I want to be treated.

Putting aside the masochists and other perverts who want to be actively abused, if you don’t think a behavior is appropriate, then you have no problem persecuting that behavior. For example, if you are homophobic, even if you follow “the golden rule,” then you don’t see any problem with hating homosexuals, because if you were gay, you would hate yourself. On the flip side, there’s a lot of behavior that we might want from others, that they would find abhorrent. For example, Harvey Weinstein would have probably really liked for any of the Woman he harassed and attacked to masterbate or shower in front of him. He was just doing unto them as he would want done unto himself.

As I approach my half–centenary, I have placed a lot of effort into studying my own short comings as a person, and I admit to many. I realized that treating other people the way I want to be treated is amazingly narcissistic. It’s not about me. How I want to be treated may be nothing like how others might want to be treated.

So, after careful consideration, talking to my amazingly empathic partner, and watching a lot of Doctor Who, I realized that the answer was right in front of me all the time: Just be kind. That’s it. Just kind.

Kindness means recognizing the needs of the people around me and trying to meet their needs, not forcing my needs upon them. I fail at this constantly, but, again, IT’S NOT ABOUT ME. I have to keep trying, keep thinking about the people around me, think about how I can show them kindness.

This is utopia thinking, I know. It’s completely unrealistic and might even be against human nature. But it is the very definition of what we call humanitarian. It means that in order to understand why homosexuality is not a crime to be persecuted DOES NOT require that I personally know anyone who is gay and empathize with them, it simply means that I be kind to everyone.

But be warned, although the answer is obvious, the solution is difficult. Kindness is not something that is as easy as all that. Being kind for most of us takes a lot of effort to put aside our own needs, biases, and pre-conceptions. It means that we have to not just put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes, but it means letting down our guard, listening to them, and stepping outside our own perceptions.

There is, of course, a limit to this. I need to preserve myself, and not do things to others that I don’t want done to me. However, I’m finding the rewards for kindness are great. I am calmer, less anxious, and I like me more. So, this winter solstice time, when the shadows are longest, I invite you to start practicing kindness to others and see how they treat you back.

Pax Vobiscum

You can resolve to live your life with integrity. Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn