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  • I spent the last two days at an executive off-site meeting out in Solomon's Island, Maryland. Agency leadership convened out there to create our vision for our agency for the next 5 - 20 years - it was actually the beginning of the process of developing our next 5 year strategic plan, but we're on the cusp of some major changes right now that require envisioning the next 20 years, so we were shooting high in our visioning. Me, I was shooting for the moon.

    I was one of the few there who remembered the last time agency leadership assembled in this same place - in fact, in the same hotel/conference center - 21 years ago, which resulted in major changes that we are still feeling reverberations of, today. The Under Secretary was on the same page as me, and was remembering that time as well. We were both GS-12's back then.

    I was thinking about the cajones it took President Kennedy to pronounce his intent to see a man land on the moon before the 60's were over - in 1961, when Russia was still kicking our ass in the space race. I brought it up, when leadership was hesitant to make a claim in our strategic plan that we would accomplish something we've been struggling to accomplish for years, now. I said, "The only reason we ever landed a man on the moon, and brought him (them) home safely, was that President Kennedy boldly claimed that we would - when there was no reason to believe that we could. We need to be bold here, on this issue, and claim it!"

    I was kind of left flapping out there on that bold branch all by myself - but, I stood tall out there, and feared not falling. Sometimes, you just have to be the one to stand up - I've done it before, and I have fallen, and I'll do it again, risking another fall. That's just who I am. My days of shrinking from challenges are behind me. When I am moved to go big, I'm going big. I have nothing to lose here, folks. Life is too goddamned short to shrink from it. Stand up! It's much more invigorating!

    Overall, aside from being a little frustrated at a more conservative plan than I envisioned, I had to admit that the resulting draft wasn't a bad start. I'll have more opportunities to try to influence a bolder approach, and more opportunities to fall flat on my face. What the hell - when you've already broken your nose three times, you don't worry so much about such things. Bring it!
  • I've been thinking lately about one of my favorite movies from the last twenty years, one that's set in my old hometown of Pittsburgh - "Wonder Boys", with Michael Douglas, Katie Holmes, Frances McDormand, Tobey Maguire and Robert Downy, Jr. While the movie apparently was a flop at the box office - twice! - I say there's no accounting for taste in the American public. I thought the movie was fabulous! That's one I would watch twenty times, it was so good. Douglas plays a college creative writing professor, Grady Tripp, who has had one award-winning book published, but is stuck finding an appropriate ending for his second book - as the draft manuscript has grown to 2500 pages, and he's been writing it for years.

    Among my favorite scenes in the madcap movie - one of many - is when Katie Holmes' character (Hannah Greene), who plays one of Tripp's students, who has a real crush on him but nothing ever happens between them (thank you!), comes across his 2500 page manuscript, and after reading through it, says, "Grady, you know how in class you're always telling us that writers make choices? And even though you're book is really beautiful, I mean, amazingly beautiful, it's... it's at times... it's... very detailed. You know, with the genealogies of everyone's horses, and the dental records, and so on. And... I could be wrong, but it sort of reads in places like you didn't make any choices. At all." (The photo above is from another favorite scene - when his entire manuscript, his only copy of it all, blows away into the Monongahela River - that's Downey, playing his publishing agent, trying in vain to catch the pages.)

    So, this line has been haunting me lately. I think, this morning, I finally got the message that it's been trying to tell me. It might be time. I might just be getting tired enough of writing new stories every day, or sometimes rewriting old stories, in new ways, every day - after 1480 stories written and posted here over three years, it might just be time to start looking at them, pulling together the ones that should be pulled together, and making some choices, here. Or, maybe it's just time to give it a rest.

    I don't know - maybe I'm just tired. Maybe tomorrow, I 'll wake up, laugh it off, and go back to my regularly scheduled storytelling. Who knows? Anything could happen. But, I'm feeling decisive. I just don't know what it is I need to decide. When I figure it out, I'll let you know - or not. Depending on how the spirit moves me.

    Maybe I'll just hitch a ride on the next rocket to the moon! Why not? Oh...they're not going there anymore, you say?

    Why not? Let me be clear, right here, and right now - before my 60's are through, I will land safely on the moon, and return to earth.

    There - I've staked my claim!
  • Speaking of choices - you know, this story was supposed to be about who I ran into, today. Now that we've gotten moon travel out of the way, let me make a choice to get back to the original intent of this story. So, while I was down in Solomon's Island last night, contemplating going to the moon, a Cowbirder jumped over my moon reverie, and said, in an email, "Hey, man, I'm in town, moving statues of big trains in motion around a ballpark, wanna get down and chill tomorrow?" (That's not what he actually said, but that's the gist of it). I said, "Maybe!" Yes, I was feeling so very decisive, at the moment.

    On my way home from the island, Andy called me up and invited me to come by the ballpark to see his handiwork - I was going right by there anyway, so I finally made a choice, and said, "Yes. See you soon."

    After a close call with a cop (almost got busted making an illegal turn, which it turned out Andy's crew had had the same problems with, earlier), I drove onto a sidewalk, and right up towards the home plate entrance of Nationals Park, my hometown team's place of business, and there were the three statues that used to be all the way on the other side of the ballpark, back on the concourse just inside the Center Field entrance. I was going to be, possibly, the first general public person to see them up close and personal in their new location, where Andy had spent the last couple days overseeing the moving and setting them up in their new spot.

    That's me and Andy posing in front of the statue of the Big Train - Walter Johnson - still renowned as one of the hardest throwing pitchers in major league baseball history. He pitched for the old Washington Nationals (Senators) a hundred years ago, and still lives on here, in the minds of many baseball fans, and in the embodiment of this really cool statue, depicting him in the motion of slinging a pitch to the plate. We had a marvelous visit, talking baseball, Roberto Clemente, the Nationals, the Cubs, the Giants, Wrigley Field, Negro Leagues, cowbird, coaching, cowbirders, life, death, storytelling, friendship, work, play, writing, and much, much more. It was a real kick, and a hell of a good time, finally meeting this friend of long-Cowbird-standing.

    I love this place. Don't worry, Megan - I ain't going anywhere. With the possible exception of the moon. But, I have nine years and eight months to make that happen! Until then, I'll be around - in one form or another! That's my choice, and I'm going to keep making it, as long as I still have something to say about it!
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