Today, I want to tell you a fable about getting out of your own way.
First, a bit about our main character: me.
I’ve always been shy, more so when I was younger. I was only comfortable one-on-one with a friend or in small groups, ideally of people I know very well. Presentations never bothered me—I could get up on a stage and give a talk, but stick me in a party where I had to conjure words and be entertaining and thoughtful and not say something utterly stupid, and I would happily melt into the wall.
That’s still the case. I go to a lot of writing conferences, and I’m the girl clutching her glass of wine and looking desperately around for someone I know who won’t disown me if I latch onto them. I’m better now, true, and I’ve worked hard to be better. But that doesn’t mean that the butterflies aren’t still there. I assure you, they are. En masse.
And calling a stranger? That’s hard stuff. And one of the reasons that the Internet is my friend. Book research without having to schedule face to face or phone interviews? Yes, please!
So that’s my personality. Now, let’s move on to our fable’s backstory.
My father grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, and he went to school with Alan Bean (high school, I believe, although it may have been elementary and middle school, too).
If you don’t know who Alan Bean is, well, you should. He was an Apollo 12 crew member and the fourth man to walk on the moon. Here’s his Wiki page (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Bean)
After he retired from NASA, he was still involved with the moon through his art. He painted absolutely stunning lunar landscapes (you can see some at www.AlanBean.com).
My father also worked at NASA for while. He always wanted to be a pilot, and tried to do so through the Navy, but his eyesight was such that he couldn’t fly jets. He ended up being a private pilot. In fact, after my parents divorced, instead of being shuttled every summer by car between his Dallas home and my home with my mom in Austin, my dad would pick me up in his single engine Bonanza (and later his twin engine Cessna). Both of which I even “flew” on occasion. As in, I held the wheel and kept the plane level. Landing, alas, was out. As it should be for a ten-year-old.
My dad’s tenure at NASA was before I was born. He worked in the Mountainview, California facility as an aeronautical engineer, and up to the time of his death, I was told that many satellites that he helped design were still in orbit. He’d left NASA for the private sector by the time Apollo 11 landed on the moon, and though I was very young, I can remember sitting on his lap to watch that historic event on television. And to this day I still have a packet from NASA that includes photos of many astronauts, some technical specs, and maps of the moon. When I was younger, I thought this was some sort of confidential information that my dad sneaked out when he left. Later, of course, I realized that it was essentially a take-away for contractors and whatnot who interacted with his division at NASA. Either way, it was cool, and it’s in a bucket of lifetime memorabilia I won’t ever part with (along with all my original Star Wars bubble gum cards, among other things).
So space stuff and astronaut stuff and flying stuff was a part of the zeitgeist of my youth. My paternal grandmother, Ebby, even used to tell me that I’d been babysat and had my diaper changed by an astronaut (who, when I later pressed her, she told me was Alan Bean).
I loved that story. I mean, who among us has had our diaper changed by an astronaut … who isn’t actually related to said astronaut?
(I later asked my dad about the babysitting/diaper thing, and that was when I learned that apparently I got my storytelling skill from Ebby. Yes, the connection to Alan Bean and my family was real. And, yes, my dad and he still kept somewhat in touch. But Alan Bean worked in Houston, and during the time I was wearing diapers, I was up in Mountainview. According to my dad, although he’d seen Bean since my birth, he didn’t think that I’d ever met the man. Still, it makes a damn good story.)
After the movie Apollo 13, Tom Hanks co-produced a wonderful documentary called From the Earth to the Moon, which I eagerly gobbled up. I was particularly interested in the episode where Bean walks on the moon, as well as the story about how he left his silver pin on the moon’s surface. The pin signified an astronaut who had completed his training but hadn’t yet walked on the moon.
By the time I saw that episode, I was already published, and it sparked what I thought would be a fabulous idea for a book or movie — what if the pin ends up back on earth? (I still think the idea would be fun; maybe someday…)
Even though I didn’t immediately dive into a creepy space horror script or book, I did think more about Bean and my dad. Maybe I should tell Bean my idea? He might get a kick out of it. If nothing else, I would love to meet him, and I live in Central Texas, just a couple of hours away from his Houston home.
But I didn’t. I didn’t push my dad to make the connection, and I didn’t reach out myself.
Years passed, and though I thought about it from time to time, I never tried to make that connection.
Then my father passed away, and in addition to missing him, I also realized that I’d lost that opportunity.
Except I hadn’t, not really. I could still try. I could still ask this man who grew up with my dad about my father and the moon and the space program.
So I finally reached out. Somewhere in all of that, I’d learned about Bean’s incredible paintings. And so I contacted him through his gallery’s email, introducing myself, referencing my dad, and telling him the crazy Ebby diaper story.
Sadly, I didn’t hear back.
Or, actually, I did. He left a voicemail that I never got. But he actually took the time to email me back, saying he thought the voicemail had gotten lost, and telling me to come see him the next time I was in Houston. I replied that I would love to.
At the time, I was unable to pop down there right then. I believe I was about to leave for a trip to Europe; it was definitely a travel conflict. But I told him I’d contact him when I got back, and I fully intended to do that.
Then that dratted shyness and hesitation kicked in. A number of times after my travels were over, I almost picked up the phone. I also almost drove to Houston, figuring I could call and just “happen” to be in town.
But I didn’t. I was nervous and feeling shy, and I was incredibly busy. I write a lot of books, have two kids and a husband, and travel a lot, and that crazy schedule allowed me to hide behind my shyness. Of course, it’s not as if I was debating this call every moment of every day. But I would remember. A movie about space. In the driveway with my youngest and her telescope during a full moon. Any number of things. And I would make a mental note to call or email the next day.
And then the next day would fill up, and so on and so on and so on …
And then, finally, I got my ass in gear. I had a specific plan to go down to Houston for a couple of reasons, and I was determined that a visit to Alan Bean would be part of that trip. I even went so far as to dig out the NASA folder to show him.
But it didn’t matter. Because as I was about to call to arrange a time, I learned that astronaut Alan Bean had passed away a few days before.
The nation lost an American hero that day. And I lost an opportunity I can never get back. The chance to meet the man who never changed my diaper. Who could have told me stories about my dad and about the moon. A man who’d not only walked on the moon but had left a relic behind. A man who painted stunning lunar landscapes and had actually been to the place shown on those canvases.
I screwed up, big time and that’s an opportunity I can never get back.
But Alan Bean taught me something, and it’s the moral of this little fable: Don’t squander opportunities. Don’t let fear steal your chances. Don’t hesitate when opportunity reaches a hand out to you.
Most of all, learn to get out of your own way and move boldly forward. If you don’t, you just might lose the moon.