A is for Astronaut

She’d always wanted to be an astronaut, ever since she discovered that plastic helmet in her grandparent’s attic. It had a green visor that turned the world a magical, alien color when she put it on her head. It was so much more than wearing tinted sunglasses. Everywhere she looked was altered. There was no “normal” sneaking in her peripheral vision. That was covered with the helmet. Sounds were different too – more muffled, more distant. It made her feel safer, more peaceful, more powerful to wear it.

She was born in a time before there were words for what she was. “Gifted” they knew for sure, but there was more. She was sensitive, perhaps overly so. Now she would say it was a gift to feel in an unfeeling world, but then she thought it a challenge, if not a curse. It was hard to keep friends. She made them like anyone else. It was easy in the jumble that was public school. People became friends easily, often for no other reason than survival. They joined up out of some instinct that said it was dangerous to go alone into that minefield of strange rules and stranger adults. Best to connect with others who are equally lost or oppressed. This is why cliques formed after all. Once the obvious groups were created by hobby or skill, what was often left were the oddballs, the misfits, the loners. They connected as a way of self-protection, an unspoken union with no dues or representatives

She’d fit in these groups for about a month or so, just long enough for her or them to quietly decide that there wasn’t a fit after all and one side or the other would quit spending time with each other. Thankfully this was before the era of social media, or as she thought of it now, anti-social media.

She was 50 now – far past the age of recruits to astronaut school. She was in good shape and probably could have endured the training, but it wasn’t even an option. Or so she thought. She looked it up. There were no age restrictions. The oldest so far was 46. She’d been telling herself “no” without even asking the question. She just assumed it wasn’t possible, so for her, it wasn’t. Maybe deep down her former friends knew this about her – knew her lonely fear of failure, her feckless worry. Perhaps they were afraid of catching her secret disease of failing before she even began.

But she was a different person now. There had been growth on her part. It was a blend of self-help books and counseling that finally pushed her over the edge of her fear. It was like she’d been forever standing at the cliffside, afraid of falling to her death – all the while not realizing she had wings.

How could birds know they were birds after all? Their wings were behind them. Their mothers appeared as if by magic. How could they know they too had that same magic, waiting to be revealed?

Perhaps her fair-weather friends had done her a favor after all, without even realizing it. By quietly abandoning her, she’d learned to value her own company. She’d learned how to be her own friend and how to take care of things herself. These turned out to be valuable traits in an astronaut.

Because now that is exactly what she was determined to become. She applied to the program, confident and beaming. She saved up her money and quit her job so she could commit all her energy to this. There was no backing out. There was no Plan B. It was A for Astronaut all the way. The moon (at least) or bust. No glass ceiling for her – she was going to smash through it with her rocketship.

The program had changed a lot since she had first looked into it. Every few years she’d read about astronauts or space and think of it as a loss love, or perhaps a lost dream. Now it was far less physically demanding and far more mental and emotional – and perhaps even spiritual. Now they didn’t have to endure many G-Forces, being spun about in centrifuges to ensure they could survive the ordeal of acceleration and reentry. No, being an astronaut was a lot easier since the invention of the Hop. Just strap the Hop onto your wrist, set the dials, and away you went. Within a matter of the blink of an eye you were there instead of here. Scientist’s weren’t sure how it worked, but they’d said the same about prescription drugs for years and that never stopped them. All they knew was that they got the results they were looking for.

All she was looking for was a chance, so they gave it to her. Training now was about how to interact with aliens on other planets. Of course, they weren’t “aliens” while on their home planet. She was. She was the odd one out, the anomaly when she was there. She was the one who had to adapt well enough to observe them and be able to return home in one piece. You never knew what might happen. Just judging how earth people treated their alien visitors, she knew anything was possible, so it was important to be as nonthreatening as possible.

It wasn’t possible to assume that the environment would be hospitable. She’d have to wear a spacesuit to protect against air that wasn’t of the right balance of gases for human, or ultraviolet rays that were too harsh, or gravity that was too high or too low. The spaceship had to become the spacesuit – able to provide a protective shell around the person to make it possible to explore in safety.

The government had long ago given up the idea of a space program, so it was handled by other private investors. They were generally in the tourist trade or in real estate, looking for a place for humans to go when they got bored.

So now she was testing out the suit in New York City. It wasn’t New New York – that was in Proxima Centauri 4, of course. But she had to practice somewhere, and you couldn’t get more alien than a big city that was populated with all sorts of people. So she’d Hop to New York or Nashville, or Mumbai or Mongolia, walking around and trying to interact with people. Part of it was getting used to being stared at and not reacting.

The suits had built-in translators, thankfully, but that only went so far. She had to understand the meaning beneath the words – the true message that was being conveyed. That would prove to be the most useful trait of any astronaut, and that was the one skill that couldn’t be taught. But it was hard to test for too. You couldn’t just ask someone if they could get along with anyone. Of course they’d say yes. It had to be proven, time and again, through various experiments, like what she was doing now.

Long ago, the space program gave precedence to ex-military for their astronauts. These days, they discovered that ex-retail was the best way to go. Those people had to know how to be diplomatic at all times, and how to keep the peace without a weapon. Not true with military folk, who were used to solving problems with their weapons instead of their words. Peaceful coexistence was the goal – not colonizing. They learned long ago that it was best to work and live together with a variety of beings. Too much homogeneity led to stagnation, an endless loop that would spiral back in on itself eventually, strangling ideas.

Memory postcard 3, Me the astronaut

This is what happens when I remember a picture but I can’t find it. I put things together in a way that remind me of it.

me1

One of my favorite pictures of me as a child was me standing on my grandparent’s porch wearing a plastic astronaut helmet. I’m not sure why that was part of the toy collection. It was larger than my head by far, and had a green visor that could open up. So I could see the world with a green tint, or not.

I can’t find that picture, but I can find this one. It was from around the same time.

I considered making an astronaut helmet for me in this picture – watercolor paper and pencils, green acetate – but then I realized if I did that, my face would be obscured. There is enough of that in the other two memory postcards.

Here is a closer picture of me.

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Then I added the “Women in space” stamp. I’ve used a photocopy of it for another project, but here I’m using the real thing. I love her smile.

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Here are the fortunes.

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I included things to remind me of my childhood and also point towards the future. What instructions would I like to give my former self and my future self?

…message…
My aunt mockingly calls hearing from God – at least when my Dad (her brother) did it – getting “Messages”. I think that she mocks it because she has never heard from God.

…lost penny…
My Mom was big on shiny pennies. She’d give me them for good luck. I’d almost forgotten that. It also reminds me of the parable of the lost coin – how God will go out of the way to find it. We are the lost coins, and we are precious to God.

…Never be less than your dreams…

Seems like a good message for then, now, and future me. My dreams are something to aspire to. And, they are like the mustard seed – from small things can grow big things. I just have to remember that Jesus tells us we have that energy inside us. If God gives us the desire to do something, we can do it. It isn’t just a fantasy – it is the seed of a reality. We have to give it energy to make it grow, and trust the process.

Collage, not painting

          I finally figured something out.  I don’t have to paint fine details.  I can do collage.  I can draw what I want separately, using watercolor pencils on watercolor paper.  Then I cut it out and glue it to the painting.  This is such a relief.

          One of my problems is that my ideas far outstretch my abilities.  I’m not very good at painting yet.  I’m trying, but it is going to take a while.  Meanwhile all these ideas keep coming that would work best using painting.

          I have taken only one art class, and that was in high school.  I don’t really know what I’m doing.  I feel like a feral child, wanting to communicate but I don’t have a language.  So I’m making it up as I go.

          One of my fears with painting is there is no “undo” button.  If I make a mistake, it is hard to fix.  It isn’t like working digitally.  Plus, it doesn’t work well with my schedule.  If I only have 20 minutes to work on art, there isn’t really enough time to paint and clean up.

          I have a space painting I was working on.  I’d created the black background earlier.  Just remembering to paint the background first was a big deal.  I thought I was going to paint planets and stars on it.  In the meantime, I started sorting stamps and fortune cookie messages, and came across an old packet of just space stamps.  They are pretty awesome, and I thought I should use them here.  But since they are so rare and I’m so unsure of my abilities, I went ahead and color copied them.

          Yes, I wrote a whole blog post about not doing that.  Yes, I did it.  Whatever makes the art happen counts.  I used funny scrap-booking scissors to cut the edges.  It is more interesting than a plain square cut, and it sort-of gives the impression that it is a stamp.  I looked for scrap-booking scissors that cut like stamp edges, but I didn’t find them.  I had these, and I used them.

          I really liked one stamp of a lady astronaut.   I plan on mixing in other stamps and calling this piece something like “Can’t we all get along / In Space” and having Space be the place where women and men are finally equal and respected.

          The stamp is a bit disembodied though.  I didn’t want just her head floating around.  So I wanted to paint a body for her, but again I felt like I would mess it up.   Then I had a flash.  Draw it separately using watercolor pencils and cut it out.   I put the stamp on the paper for scale and drew around it.  It worked great.

space1

I’ve been using watercolor pencils for a year now, so I’m comfortable with them.  I pulled out an older piece that I don’t really like and tested the fixatives on it.   I used decoupage glue on one section, and matte medium on another.  From that I learned what will work best and how to apply it.  I also used some of the matte medium on a color copied stamp to see if it would affect it.  I know it works great on real stamps, but this is different.  So I put it together and I can’t be more pleased.

          I don’t really know why I didn’t think of this sooner.  Matisse did something like this in his later years.  He cut out construction paper and glued it together.  Eric Carle does this – he paints big pieces of paper and cuts them out.  This isn’t quite the same, but in a way it is.

          I am also working on a painting with inuksuit – the Inuit rock sculptures.   They aren’t just sculptures – they provide direction and tell something about the area.  One will indicate a good place to hunt.  One will indicate a beautiful thing to look at in the distance.  One will mark an initiation area.  Each different shape has meaning, and is often the only way to navigate in a snowy land.

          Here is a picture of one that indicates a direction to travel. It reminds me of a Japanese torii gate.

 

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I was going to draw the whole thing with this new technique and then I had another idea. Draw the stones separately, and assemble them.

rock1

Sure, I’ll work on getting better at painting using brushes. That is the only way to get in any detail. But in the meantime, I’m glad I’ve discovered this.