Fortitudine vincimus

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Stumbling around the useful mistakes


In the not-so-distant past, I found myself sitting alone on a rug in my living room, wondering if I would ever be more than the culmination of all my previous mistakes. In that place of darkness, the good things we do seem so dim, and I could not seem to add my good things up to a number high enough to overcome all the things that were trapping me there. 

People tried to tell me I was a decent person. That I had intelligence and worth. They didn't know how hard it is to pull those images into your mind when all the doors are closed. That's not to say those reminders are unimportant - sometimes they're the only bright part of a day, for however long the darkness allows them to last on the front of the stage. But during a long journey through therapy, finding the right medication for me, and unlikely mentors, I came to realize something. As important as the shiny bits are, and they are important, they couldn't truly exist and shine until I answered my original question.  

Am I a culmination of all my previous mistakes? 

I could call each mistake a stumble and that would be mostly accurate. I get no joy in causing pain, either to myself or others, but the stumbles still make divots; some make holes. None of them are invisible or able to be completely erased. The most important thing I learned about them, however, is that a stumble forward is still forward, and a stumble back means I'm still standing

You can't stumble if you're already lost. Stumbling means movement is still happening, even if it's slow and painful. 

Sometimes we learn something simple from a mistake, like not to stick our hands on a hot tray. Sometimes the mistake is redemptive, allowing us to move past something that does not belong, that hurts us. The only truly useless mistake is the one from which we learn nothing. 

Of course it isn't easy. Few things of any worth are. I live with a constant rumble of terror in the back of my mind that I'll end up in that hole again. It's a deep hole, with a bottom that can't be seen, with ridges dotting the sides all the way down. Thankfully I've always landed on one of those ridges, because no matter how deep they are, I was always able to catch one. It may have torn my hands or broken bones, I may have landed at times by dumb luck alone, but being alive is evidence I never dropped all the way down. 

Am I a culmination of all my previous mistakes? 


But I'm also the culmination of everything I've learned from them, and all the things I'm still learning. 

I've done some very self-destructive things in my life, even if I didn't know it at the time. Things others find confusing, because how did I not know I was hurting myself? Humans have a capacity to be very foolish. We go out of our way at times to do seemingly stupid things. I can forgive myself, though. I can forgive the people who hurt me as well, even though they will never see me in their lives again. Not so much for their sake, but for mine. 

I'm still here. Some things broke me, I can't deny that. For a long time my favorite photo was a random picture someone took of a vending machine with a sign that said, "The light inside has broken but I still work." It spoke to me. I still love it. Do I want to stay there, though? Do I want to be the culmination of all my previous mistakes alone, or use them for all they're worth? I made them - they're mine to use in any way I see fit, right? 

For any of you who know the hole as well as I do, and might be sitting on the rug debating your worth to the world, I can't promise it will be simple. I can't promise it will be a short ride. But give it a chance. If you are not where you want to be, figure out where that place is and go there. Don't worry about whether or not you'll make it to the perfect spot; just move. Not every step will bring a gain you can immediately see, but it will bring you something. 

The world is always moving. The only way to move forward is to move. Stumble. Run. Slide. Whatever it takes, because even a stumble is motion. And the only truly useless mistake is the one from which we learn nothing. 

I'm not the only one out here, climbing and sometimes rampaging through the muck, and neither are you. You are not alone. 

Let's move.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Book Recommendation: Endurance by Alfred Lansing

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage is the type of book you read when, 1. You've realized you need to work on personal discipline, and 2. You're open to stories of survival against all odds.

Endurance is the story of Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic voyage in 1914. Imagine setting sail for Antarctica in a single ship, determined to reach uncharted territory, facing known and unknown dangers, without phones, high power radios, or promise of success. Now imagine your ship gets lodged in the ice and you have to make sure your crew survives to see civilization again. This is what Shackleton and his crew faced when their rightly-named ship, The Endurance, halted in the ice for the final time.

Alfred Lansing tells the story in such a way that it's easy to read quickly, not realizing how many pages have been read until a new chapter reminds you. As a work of nonfiction, it's engaging and fascinating. As a work to inspire your own sense of responsibility and dedication, it's refreshing.

I highly recommend adding it to your collection and really taking in the lessons Shackleton and his crew can teach.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Solace of "On Growing"

"It's okay to fall down; there is much to be learned from the ground."

Bekah Kelso's "On Growing" is one of my favorite songs. The entire thing was written on the theme, from the lyrics to the steadily expanding soundtrack that ends in an inspiring, bombastic reveal. If you're looking for something to pull you out of bed in the morning, I'd recommend giving it a try.

Find out more about Bekah Kelso

Monday, June 15, 2020

Is discipline better than motivation?

In early 2019, a friend informed me that I lacked discipline. I argued I did not lack discipline; I lacked motivation. She sent me a South Park meme in which the karate instructor says, "Cartman-San! You rack disciprine!" Cartman replies, as can be expected, "Nuh uh, I do not rack disciprine!" But he did, and, as it turned out, so did I.

The more I thought about it, the clearer it became. If I waited until I became motivated, I would never get anything done. Motivation, as great as it feels to have it, really is a false god. It's an ideal way to get something half done. It's discipline that pushes you through the other half. In my case, in the deepest of my dark holes, it was the only thing that could get me moving at all. I was the only person who could make that happen.

The solace in "Surrender"

Now and then I come across a song that knocks me over in a positive way. In this case, the video is also a powerful statement. The song is called "Surrender" by MALINDA, and is a story of post traumatic stress disorder in sound and motion.

I can't fully describe how much I love this song. It's almost as if it came out of my own brain - including how said brain has, at times, thrashed about in a fashion similar to the dancing in the video. It will be an important signpost in my journey for life.

If you haven't seen it, you can check it out below, or you can buy the CD.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Just learn to see…


“Just learn to code.”

There aren’t many modern phrases that annoy me quite like that one. It’s usually a comment casually tossed at someone who works in a declining industry, by a candidate for office whose business is almost guaranteed to never decline. It isn’t always meant to be condescending, but it almost always is. Not only for the worker with a genuine question about what comes next, but also for people who already know to code, whose job is treated like something anyone with basic motor skills can do.

Meanwhile, the worker is still about to lose their income, purpose, and, in some cases, a family legacy that goes back generations. And dismissing them with, “just learn to code,” doesn’t do anything to answer the question. Especially if there are no coding classes within 150 miles or it isn’t right for that particular person (I certainly don’t have the aptitude for it).

Some jobs are going to disappear. Few are unaware of this. There might not always be an easy answer, but there is an easy place to start.


We could all benefit from thinking about the jobs we don’t do. Those jobs still have to be done, temporarily or permanently. As the saying goes, “Never trust anyone who is rude to a waiter.” If everyone moved to coding, there would be more coders than jobs and society would collapse due to vacancies in practically every part of daily life. If you like to code, you go for it. You deserve more than to be treated like your passion is the place the desperate go to survive. Thank you for what you do.

We shouldn’t consider a single job as a catch-all for everyone we don’t immediately know how to help. It doesn’t work that way. As long as we look at the people around us as invisible cogs, we can’t know them. As long as we give credence to the (false) meme that vocational schools are where you go if you’re a failure in college, instead of a training ground for necessary skills, we’re going to keep undercutting essential jobs, good jobs, done by good people. And as long as we throw out tired lines like, “Just learn to code,” we’ll keep forgetting that first, we really need to learn to see…people.

So thank you, to you, for whatever you do. And thanks to all of you who make society function and quite often get ridiculed for it. Whether you work on cars, in the sewers, on the restaurant floor, cleaning hotel rooms, maintaining the roads, keeping the wiring from burning the house down, or the thousands of other jobs we need someone to do, thank you. Whether you’ve found your career or are making your way through the middle passage, thank you.

Don’t ever let someone tell you that you and your hard work don’t matter.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The truth about vanishing


This isn’t your typical status update, but it will explain why there have been no updates lately. I’m hoping it will not only give some insight into what I’m doing, but if you’re going through something similar, I hope you’ll understand you’re not alone.

My brother dealt with a variety of health problems from birth, when he was resuscitated twice, and needed assistance with daily life. Thankfully we had a local organization that could do that, so I could focus on hanging out with him, helping him through our mother’s death, and acting as his protector and advocate. Many of my major adult decisions were altered based on my lifelong mission, given to me by our mother, to be there for him.

On a Tuesday in February, he didn’t wake up.

I’m told what I’m facing is called “complicated grief”. Not only have we lost other family members in the last couple of years, and not only did I lose my dog of 11 years just weeks ago, but my relationship with my brother was very interwoven with my regular thought process. I don’t really know how to make major decisions without considering how they will impact him. So my brain metaphorically shut down, partly in self defense, and partly because it really doesn’t know what to do now. And because I like to make plans and decisions, I’m not doing my best when it comes to adjusting to this new life.

I will. Eventually. People do it all the time. At the moment it takes most of my capacity to do a good job at work, which leaves next to nothing for writing or anything like it once I’m home.

All of my works-in-progress remain. I simply don’t have the energy to handle them right now. I appreciate the patience. If you are going through something like this, I send you my very best. We will do this together.

Below is a thread I posted to Twitter that wraps up my feelings fairly well. I hope to be back on my game soon, but I’m in no position to promise for now.

“If he was here, my brother would be trying to talk me into a trip to Cowboys Stadium. But he’s not, because just over a month ago, he didn’t wake up. You learn a lot about grief in those small moments of realization. Like…

Even if your brother’s health indicated he wouldn’t live a long life, death is always brand new. It doesn’t matter how much you try to prepare, when it happens it is still a surprise.

You can feel great one moment and realize the next that you have been staring at the hotel room wall for the past hour. Grief is not linear. It sweeps along paths that don’t always seem to connect.

There’s missing your cousins who didn’t outlive you, there’s missing your mother who was taken by ALS, there’s missing lost friends, and there’s missing your special needs brother, and none are the same. Grief is liquid and fills each cup differently.

It puts you under the covers, reminds you what matters, makes you hate the air, reminds you to breathe. Grief is a monster who cuts you while he makes you appreciate that there are still days to grow. Both terrible and intrinsic to life.

Most importantly, the grief didn’t make the bad thing happen. It is the result. So don’t hate yourself for grieving. It’s just one of the hardest parts of the beauty of being human.”

Stand above,

Christy Summerland

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Let her Fly: On Challenger and the Rise of the Dream


I hadn’t been born when Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space. I was too young to get a feel for Svetlana Savitskaya, or the first American woman in space, Sally Ride.

By January of 1986 I was six years old and could comprehend news stories and articles about the upcoming launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. When I saw a photo of Judy Resnik, taken on her first shuttle flight in 1984, I thought she was the coolest person alive. She had long, curly hair that stuck out in all directions in the reduced gravity of space, and had this air about her that made tiny me very happy.

When she died on Challenger on January 28, 1986, I didn’t know right away. My Catholic school was not watching the launch, and no one told me when I got home. I saw an article in the newspaper at my grandmother’s house instead. I wasn’t really sure what it all meant at that point, except for my grandmother’s explanation that the astronauts had “gone to heaven.”

All I knew was that I wanted to go to space, and Judith Resnik was the reason why.

I held on to that for quite some time. When Shannon Lucid made her second shuttle flight in 1989, I was much more capable of understanding the requirements. I was going to become an engineer, just like Judith Resnik. And to make myself even more appealing, I was going to become a pilot and join the Air Force. All on a direct forward trajectory to becoming an Astronaut Candidate.

Obviously, none of those things ever happened. I am not the shining example of what happens when a kid has a dream. Between an impressive lack of self-confidence and constant reminders that I needed to focus myself on ensuring a job that would pay my bills above all other things (and becoming an astronaut or a musician was not only not the way to do that, but an impossible goal to begin with), I never made it. And I never had another dream. I decided I liked designing, so I did it, because it would pay the bills. It wasn’t something I fantasized about while I sat outside under the stars. I started writing because I enjoy it, but there’s a reason I like to write about space. Writing about space is the closest I will get to going there.

Why bring it up, then? Because somewhere, there is a little girl who wants to go to space. Maybe she doesn’t know Judith Resnik, but has photos of Laurel Clark, Mae Jemison, Ellen Ochoa, Barbara Morgan, or Kalpana Chawla on her walls. Maybe she wants to be a pilot, an engineer, or a physicist.

For the love of all that’s good in the world, don’t tell her she can’t do it. Maybe she’ll be the type that takes that kind of block in stride and jumps over it, but she might be the type who runs head first into those blocks and fades a little with each hit, like I was. Teach her that she can be more than her surroundings, or her family’s past, or her looks, weight or any other arbitrary definition. Teach her that critical thinking is necessary, and it will help her think through the problems that come her way. Encourage her love of science, and don’t blow her off when she excitedly points to Polaris in the night sky. Teach her that the only things that bind her potential are within her own mind, and they can all be conquered.

The next Judith Resnik, Sally Ride, Kathryn Sullivan, Anna Fisher, Margaret Seddon, Bonnie Dunbar, Mary Cleave, Liu Yang or Samantha Cristoforetti might just be sitting in your living room. Let her fly.