Friday, April 17, 2009

Don't Tell Me You Can't

I don't talk about the day job much, and I'm not going to start now, but for the next few minutes you need to know this: A substantial fraction of my career has been spent in roles designed to dealing with situations that begin: "We may have a problem here..."

Thirty-nine years ago today, Apollo 13 ended its mission by splashing down into the Pacific Ocean. If you've somehow avoided the movie for the last 15 years, this was a moon mission on which an oxygen tank exploded, and a series of improbable improvisations were employed to deliver the three astronauts home against incredible odds. It's one of those movies I'll stop to watch whenever it's on, and one I frequently throw into the DVD player. The story is a perennial reminder that just about anything is possible if you just "Work the problem". It's a tale I feel a particular kinship with. Because I'm an engineer, because it appeals to my problem-management-professional resume, and because I'm a poet.

Hmm? How's that?

The premise - assessing, deciding to, then doing - applies when there is no problem, too. If you have the tools and the desire, you can. Two areas where defeatism irks me greatly are poetry and music. Too often I hear people talk about how they "can't understand" poetry. Or when I produce my accordion, how they "could never" learn an instrument "at this age". Ugh. I had the good fortune one year to play alongside a 73-year-old man who had been playing the accordion for all of 2 years when he joined our accordion orchestra. He wasn't the most natural talent in the room, and he wasn't be best musician. But he was good - certainly good enough to hang with the rest of us amateurs - and he had by far the most joy in his playing.

Maybe it's not a direct analogy to writing poetry, but maybe it is. Maybe the energy that we B- poets bring to the band serves a purpose, feeds the soloists, keeps the literary tune lively, danceable, entertaining. One thing I'm sure we bring is a bit of knowledge, a bit of appreciation and a bit of dedication to the craft. Desire. An amateur's analysis, but a wealth of reading to inform our writing.

I don't know. Maybe it's a thin analogy, and maybe I'm too worked up about wanting to give accordion lessons again. But I see it this way: You can choose not to go the moon. You can choose not to get home. But if you want to do both, you may need help, but with that help will get you there and back.

PS: Three guesses who my hero in the movie version of Apollo 13 is. Hint: There's not even a close second.

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