Things you wish you hadn’t done, and what they can teach you.

I think that all of us have times we look back on and think “How the Hell could I have been stupid enough to do that!”. I recently had an opportunity to be reminded of one of those instances in my own past.

This is a bit of a complicated tale, and it begins over twenty years ago. It started with something that still holds my interest, space, and how I found I not only could write, but that I enjoyed writing. But it moved beyond that quickly, and even now I look back in amazement that I could have been the fool I was then.

You see, like many of my interests, I thought it would be A Good Idea if I tried to share my interest in space with others. Back then, in the late 1980’s, the Web wasn’t around and blogs like this weren’t even fantasy. If you wanted to get your words out, then, you did it the old fashioned way: you printed them. So I started writing a small newsletter about space and, on my own dime, I published and distributed it. I started small, a few copies that literally were typed on an old-fashioned type writer ( a Remington that weighed enough to anchor a small boat) before being xeroxed for distribution. The places I put the newsletter up, like the local library and the science building at the local university, were intended to get the most attention from those who were most likely to be interested. Then someone contacted me and asked if they could get a copy for themselves….then another person did the same thing. Then someone who was working on a similar effort asked if they could get a copy and possibly use some of what I’d written in their newsletter. Eventually I was mailing out a couple dozen copies, plus putting them up in the usual places (and a few more I’d found since I started). It was fun, and I had a blast because I was writer, reporter, editor, and everything else, so I didn’t have anyone looking over my shoulder to tell me what I could write about or anything.

As with the biblical story of Eden, though, all was not perfect in Paradise.

After I’d been writing for a while, I heard of a group that sounded like it might be interested in the same things I was. It called itself the National Space Society, or NSS for short, and one of the groups that had asked if they could borrow content off of me was one of it’s “chapters”. Eventually, I was in contact with several of these chapters, smallish groups scattered around the country, and they were using my material. Then one day I heard that one of the Apollo astronauts would be appearing near me, at a gathering organized by another chapter of the NSS, so I decided to call and see what details I could find out about the meeting and if I could go. The person I contacted was happy to tell me where the meeting was, and much to my surprise, when I arrived, I was met by someone from the sponsoring group and conducted to the front row. After the speech, even more to my surprise, I was asked to stick around and meet the astronaut who had spoken. I also met several other people who were involved in the NSS, and that is when I got an even bigger surprise: I was asked if I, who was at that point not even a member, would like to attend one of the meetings they occasionally had of their leadership. Looking back, some part of my should I think have known that something was not right, but I agreed and a few weeks later, attended the meeting.

The meeting itself should have been enough to convince me to avoid the group like the plague. Idiotic, ideologically-driven “plans” were put forward, each one seemingly more insane than the last one. But interspersed in all that damn-foolishness was a fair amount of praise for my efforts, and also many requests for me to supply more copies of my newsletter to even more chapter publications. So rather than listen to my head, which was screaming at me that I should run like hell for the door, I listened to my ego, which found all the flattery gratifying after working with almost no acknowledgment. So I started supplying the NSS with my writings, and I started going to more meetings, and I even joined it (the most-damned-fool thing I did of them all!). I stayed in for several years, being invited to more and more important gatherings, and at every one, seeing even more insane and just plain fucking stupid ideas floating around and believed like they were gospel. I did meet a few other folks who thought as I did, but the majority of the membership was as far off the Right end of the political spectrum as you could get and still be this side of an insane asylum.

At first, I let myself believe I could effect the policy, the thinking, of the NSS. As time passed, though, it became obvious to me that I would never be anything more to the NSS than a potentially very effective mouthpiece, someone who could write and speak about space with conviction. As my doubts grew, other events in my life conspired to bring me to the point where I had to make a choice: I could either dither around and wait for the NSS to decide to listen to someone who didn’t need to be fitted for a tinfoil hat, or I could make a break and walk away. So I left.

All of this came back to me recently when I opened a Facebook account. I’d opened the account to stay in touch with a woman I know, but I also knew some of the people I’d once liked in the NSS were there too. So, like a fool, I contacted a few of them. Time changes us all, they say, but what I found in those people I’d once thought of as reasonable was more amazing that I’d ever expected. It was like stepping into a time warp, the same insane “Everything that’s wrong in the world is because of The Evil Big Government!” attitude prevailed, if anything, even stronger than I’d remembered it. If that weren’t bad enough, now I’ve got a fool who seems to think he can “prove” his ideas are the only right one, which is a lot of shit I really do not need to have to wade through each time I log on there.

The moral of the story: sometimes your original conclusions were the right one, sometimes you’re better off remembering the bad and ignoring the good, and most important of all, avoid right-wing nut crews like the NSS!


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