Learning from Loss

In 1976, when I was in elementary school, my teacher taught us about elections by having some of the students “run for office.” Of course, we weren’t running for any real political office, but the idea was to make campaign posters, have a debate, and let the class vote on who won. I ran for senator and thought I would be a shoe-in. Of the two people running, I was the one known to be the “smart kid.” I remember making some great posters with great slogans. In the end, I lost that election and I was devastated.

One of my friends came up and presented a hard truth to me. This friend did like me, but couldn’t vote for me because the other kid talked a lot more in the debate. I pointed out that the other kid made promises they couldn’t keep. My friend noted they actually said they would do something while it wasn’t clear I would do anything. Looking back, I realize that part of why I failed on that occasion was my own introverted personality. I wasn’t comfortable speaking to groups, so I didn’t say everything that was on my mind. More to the point, I learned to cope with the loss and move on. I didn’t get bitter. I didn’t say the other kid cheated. I knew I’d lost fair and square and I learned what I would need to do should I ever choose to run for a real elected position.

Losing is a powerful, albeit painful teacher. Whether one loses an election, a sporting event, or a competition of any sort, you can learn from the experience and do better. In fact, it’s such a great teacher that I’m hesitant to trust anyone who tries to tell me they never lost and that they succeed at absolutely everything they ever attempted. What’s more, the older they get without losing, the more I worry because I know the first real loss they face will be all the more difficult.

In the 1990s, I started reading through A. Bertram Chandler’s space opera series about John Grimes. Growing up as a Star Trek fan, I really enjoyed these books. John Grimes was a character much like Captain Kirk. As I read, I came to the novel The Big Black Mark, which is a novel about Grimes screwing up big time. He actually gets booted out of the service and has to find a new career. At that point, Grimes suddenly became a much more interesting character to me than Captain Kirk and it was precisely because he lost and had to learn from his mistakes and become better. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a Star Trek fan, but I find Grimes’s journey a bit more interesting.

I took this to heart when I wrote my Space Pirates’ Legacy series. The Pirates of Sufiro is about Ellison Firebrandt coping with losing his life of being a successful pirate. In the next book, Children of the Old Stars, his grandson makes a blunder when attempting to communicate with an alien race invading the galaxy and must start his quest all over again outside the military. I wrote these books when I was young and I hadn’t experienced as many losses as I have at this point in my life. One reason I’m revising them for new editions is that I’m better able to tap into the emotions that go with loss and moving on in new ways.

In the end, losing an election or a competition doesn’t make you a “loser.” It’s how you cope with the loss that demonstrates your true nature. I hope you’ll join Ellison Firebrandt and John Mark Ellis on their journey’s of loss and redemption. You can learn more about the Space Pirates’ Legacy series by visiting: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#pirate_legacy

Election Day

Today is election day in the United States. I hope by now you have already voted if you’re legally entitled to do so. If you haven’t voted, I hope you’re able to get out and safely cast your ballot today.

I don’t spend much time here or on other social media networks talking politics. That’s not because I don’t think elections are important. Quite the contrary, I think they’re very important and I pay careful attention to what elected officials are doing from the local to national levels. One reason I don’t discuss politics much on social media is that as an employee of the national observatory, I’m asked to assure that there’s no implication that the observatory endorses my personal beliefs. Because I do spend time on the web as something of an unofficial ambassador for the national observatory, I feel I must be especially careful.

Another reason I don’t share much about my personal political beliefs on social media is that it’s far too easy for people to lash out with a knee-jerk response the minute they see something they disagree with. I’m generally happy to discuss politics with you face to face and have a thoughtful dialog. I’m less interested in a shouting match from the relative anonymity of a keyboard and screen where no one seriously considers the other person’s point of view.

I am also somewhat reluctant to share personal political beliefs online because I have encountered situations where I have shared an opinion about a particular political issue and someone immediately assumes they understand what I believe about everything. I think this is a symptom of the lock the Democratic and Republican parties have on American democracy.

At a theoretical level, I can understand how a strict two-party system could work well. First, imagine two parties who each hold the country’s well-being first and foremost in their hearts. Each of them brings solutions to issues they care about to the table. They discuss those issues and come up with a compromise that may not be perfect and may not even satisfy everyone, but moves things forward and, at least, improves things for everyone.

The problem is that a feedback loop has arisen. As a legislator, one states a position. If everyone understands that position is an ideal that may move toward a more moderate position, things are fine. However, when people feel betrayed by compromise, they expect legislators to fight tooth and nail to get exactly what they promised and no different. The legislators are then backed into a corner and don’t feel they can compromise.

Unfortunately, I don’t see a clear path out of this feedback loop, at least in the near future. While I think it would help to have a couple more parties in the mix to put more ideas on the table, I think the ultimate issue is that people have to realize that government’s job is not to give one set of people their way all the time. Government’s job is probably best stated in the preamble to the United States Constitution: “…in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

At Kitt Peak National Observatory, we’ve just gone through annual job performance reviews. In a sense, elections are a performance review. We do not work for the president or our legislators. They work for us. As their managers, we need to keep in mind their job is not to do exactly what I tell them, or you tell them, or our neighbor down the street tells them. Their job is to do the best they can for all of us. Your job is to be a responsible manager and let them know how they’re doing by voting.

2016 Election Season

First off, a reminder. I’m at Phoenix Fan Fest this weekend. Drop by the Dark Arts Commics booths A625 and A627 to say hi to me and fellow Las Crucen Daniel Thomas.

Politics and government fascinate me. Because of that, I’m watching this year’s election in the United States closely and I definitely plan to participate by voting. Although politics and social issues do tend to appear in my fiction, I don’t write about them much in this blog. The reason has to do with the power of science fiction and fantasy. These genres allow us to step away from our daily experience and look at things afresh through a new lens. I think that new lens is most effective if the reader doesn’t have a preconceived notion of my stance on issues, so don’t worry, I’m not going to try to sell you on one candidate or another here.

history-of-the-kings-of-britain

A few weeks ago, I was honored to be asked to write a science fictional take on an Arthurian story for a forthcoming anthology called Camelot 13. I love Arthurian legend and delving into some of the oldest versions of the story, such as the version in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. Part of my fascination extends to the politics embedded in the legend. In many ways, King Arthur and President Ulysses S. Grant strike me as similar, in that both were arguably great military commanders who had less success as heads of state, in part because they were distracted by the shenanigans of those who surrounded them. This isn’t really the element of the lore I explore in my story, but the science fictional lens lets me look at characters such as Arthur, Mordred, and Guinevere without a lot of the preconceived baggage a lot of readers will bring to those characters. I’m pleased to say the story was accepted and I hope to have more details about the book soon.

Of course, during the political season it’s hard to escape people’s opinions on the candidates or even the process of democracy. One of the most compelling pieces I read was an article the related Discovery Channel host Mike Rowe’s opinions on voting. According to Rowe the only misinformation in the article is that he wrote his words in August and not as a response to the debate. I find myself agreeing with a lot of what Rowe says about the right and responsibility of voting. If you’re an American citizen, I do encourage you to go out and vote, but I ask you to perform your due diligence and research the candidates at all levels and evaluate not just their politics but their competence and whether or not they can do duties they’re being elected to perform.

One interesting thing about living in Southern New Mexico is that I’ve had the opportunity to meet some interesting politicians. As an example, I was once called in to jury duty and found myself questioned by the Doña Ana District Attorney of the day, Susanna Martinez. As it turns out, Martinez is now governor of New Mexico and, at least briefly, was bandied about as potential Vice Presidential material. Whether or not you consider Ms. Martinez a serious choice for that role, this experience reminds me that often times our local politicians are the very people who ultimately become our national politicians. Finding competent people for local offices helps to assure that we find competent people for national offices. This is part of why the research element I mentioned is so important.

One of the hallmarks of the United States is that it is a republic and not a monarchy like that of King Arthur. Presidents, congressmen, supreme court justices have power, but ultimately they answer to us. They’re not our bosses. We’re theirs. I encourage you to act like it and hold them accountable by doing your homework and then voting.