Jessica Williams, jazz pianist, composer


Currents + | -

I am an Astronaut


What do you do in a tough spot? What do you need to make happen?

If you don't get out of bed, nothing will happen.

Once you're up, even if you would just love to bury your head in the sand and sail away on your own morbid thoughts, stay up.

Do the tasks. Make the bed. Take whatever med you might need. Go to the bathroom. Comb your hair (if you have any). Brush your teeth (if you have any). Make the coffee. Sit down at a table and light a candle. Think.

You've got an imagination. What would Buzz Aldrin do? What would Sally Ride do? Think like you think an astronaut might be trained to think. You might google on-line training courses or get real by going to NASAnew window itself.

I recently watched a fine movie starring Matt Damon, called Martianoff-site. He's stranded, the only man on Mars, and he finally says, after much deliberation, "I'm not going to die." And that's the point of the movie.

At some point, everything will go south all at once. All your plans will come to naught. It will happen. Sooner or later. You either lay down and die, or you get up and do the work.

You think, "I'm going to live through this." And in thinking that, you create hope. Hope is life. Living takes courage. And courage means you're scared to death but you face your fear.

You Never Stop Fighting to Make it Home.

And if there's no desire whatsoever to even think like an astronaut, try to understand — all hominids, all mammals and reptiles, all creatures great and small, share one common instinct. Survive at any cost. But really good astronauts never leave other people behind. So you're torn up about what to do. Other people are involved. You're not just a hominid! You're YOU.

You're full of adrenalin — calm down. Breathe. Open a window. Look at the birds. Or the bushes. Or whatever is easiest on your eyes. Hang a picture of old Aunt Ethel if that gets you through. A picture of Ghandi. A cross. MLK. I'm into lighting a Saint Jude candle. Whatever it takes to relax and go inward.

This is not a survivalist manual. It's about how to face huge challenges and do it with as much of a smile as you can manage, because darn-it, this will be one heck of a story to tell your friends if you live through this.

They might even admire you more. If you're married your husband or wife will love you just a little bit more. If you're alone, YOU yourself will be a ten-times better friend to yourself. You'll like what you see in the mirror, and you'll know what fear and courage are about.

Otherwise, stay in bed. You don't have the right stuff.

And that's the reality here. There are no prayers or chants or magic bullets that pull you up. It's your own self that pulls you up (or down, if that's your preference, because lots of people will not change, no matter what).

I call it will over fate. You might be destined to do something. It's your own Path and you have to walk it. Your Path may be to achieve some goal. And you failed to reach that goal. We learn from failure.

Ask first, "If I had not set upon this Path, what would be different in this world?"

You might find that your Path has actually changed the world for the better.

Think globally, not locally. If where you need to be is not where you are, you'll have to get to the place you need to be. It may be an horrendous task. Are you up for it?

There are many ways to climb mountains.

But many people will be left behind. Not everyone can be an astronaut!

It takes the right stuff.


I can hear it. "Jessica now thinks she's an astronaut".

Laugh, ye of little faith. And I do mean little faith, because these people only really understand very few things:

  1. More Money
  2. More Fame
  3. More Adulation or Attention
  4. More Fun
  5. More Sex

And number 6 would be MORE everything that makes them feel good.

(Is this why I can't find a skirt with pockets? Because you need MORE?)

Most people don't THINK about how their actions reverberate through the planetary web of life. I'm talking about people that are so wrapped up in making money, or climbing social ladders, or being a part of a club or a group or a faction or a cause . . . so wrapped up that they can't think past their own experience. That's dangerous, because life drops bombs on people like that. They are going along having party after party and one day BOOM, things change, and they're lost in their own stew.

"So-and-so did what?" becomes "How did this happen to me?"

I'm just a few short steps away from being 70 years old. I've been around the world quite a few times, metaphorically and physically. We Americans may think we know what Japan is like but until you're in Japan struggling to thank someone (Arigatōgozaimashita) and taking their massive and super-impressive bullet-trains across terrains so gorgeously different that you think you're on another planet, until you are "boots-on-the-ground" in Tokyo or Sapporo and get to meet the peoples of the regions and prefectures of the place, you can't have a clue.

When I left Japan, I was changed by having been there. And this is true of every country I have either lived in or played piano in.

It took all of my courage to do these things. I was not ready for a lot of what I created with my dreams. I was not ready for such success or such welcoming respect. It all changed me.

And when I died in that last back surgery, I really changed some more.

If you die and then come back here, it will change you.

Unless you're already dead . . . then, it probably wouldn't do a thing for you.

And the thing that is always there for me is belief in myself, even when I'm fried, kaput, dead tired. I'm on a Path, and it requires maintenance, revision, planning, and thinking. I make a plan but always have a plan B. And I go so far as to have plan C and D and E. After that, I let chaos take its course. And it usually comes out way better than any plan I could have come up with.

Plus I believe in miracles. So I have faith.

When I speak of faith, I mean something spiritual. A ritual of some kind. Rituals help me. Totems help me. And prayer helps me. But really, you can believe in black holes, like Stephen Hawking, who is one brave and mysterious man with a brain the size of Cuba, who says that the proof of God may be found at the site of the Big Bang, in that huge black hole we call The Singularity.

A healthy respect for every belief system and every other person on Earth is a prerequisite for freedom and success. Any belief system that separates us based on color or difference is bound to fail, because we are one species, human. Only one race of people here.

The human race.

We are not alone. We all step in it. Trouble. We make trouble. What are we going to do about it? That's the question.

Personally, it helps me to know that I am not the only dim-wit in the world. I can be as dim-witted as anyone else. I make big mistakes. I pay for them. But I LEARN from them. Or I try to. I did some stupid, dumb, strange, and totally inexplicable things during my half-century as a jazz musician. I needed to change. I was going to die young. I needed to realize that being dead and famous was going to be less fun than I had thought when I was a little kid.

Now, I'll settle for alive and unknown.

So welcome to the Jessica Williams Astronaut Training Institute.

My teachers told me:

"You'll either grow up to be a farmer or an astronaut".

I was tested for astronaut training in 4th grade, way back in 1958, and I passed. No one else in my class did. They gave me boxes with mirrors in them that made my right hand move like my left and vice-versa. It was all terribly confusing to the other kids in my class. But I was fascinated. I learned to move my "left hand" forward instead of backwards, so I learned to go against "instinct" and use my mind, to THINK.

And I likewise used instinct when logic deserted me. Born astronaut.

I passed the astronaut test! in 1958!

Now, at 68, I'll settle for farmer and pianist.

My Path is fulfilled, and the future creates new Paths opening before me. I have some big fears to face (money woes, no piano, pain, and now losing my teeth and getting choppers made by the State of Washington. Ah, bless the clerical workers in the State of Washington. They are so patient with me. And bless the dentists that help the underpaid!

I suspect that, after that ordeal is over, I will know just a little more about facing my fear, dealing with problems, and having faith. I'm going to be one praying fool.

But I will also use my mind, and THINK, because that's my job as an astronaut.


So if the bozos get a list, so do we. Here's what we are about:

  1. We aspire to be better human beings, to change and grow and become more than we were before.
  2. If we fail a thousand times, we go for a thousand and one.
  3. We learn from our mistakes and we make and change plans based on current conditions.
  4. We make backup plans so that when our plans fizzle, we're not finished off.
  5. If we're alive, there's still a way up, still a way out.
  6. Movement is life. Prolonged stasis is very dangerous.
  7. There's more than one answer to every problem.
  8. Go towards strength, never towards weakness.
  9. We need the right tools for the jobs we face. No half-way fixit jobs. All the way or don't bother.
  10. Sometimes everything 'goes south'. We do not panic. We stoically address the situation and make revisions.
  11. We may die. We will eventually. But for now, we FACE our FEAR.
  12. We stay anchored with humor. Laughter is our friend.
  13. Pain is our watchdog and we can take it, but we must address our pain asap.
  14. It really helps to have a partner watching your back. You will always watch theirs.
  15. Never leave anyone behind.
  16. Never have a friend you would not be willing to die for.
  17. Dogs and cats are smarter than us in some ways and good to have around for morale.
  18. It's easier if you have faith in something bigger than yourself.
  19. If you're doing what you love, it's okay to die. But at least die trying.
  20. Don't judge others. Their lives are their own business.
  21. Don't judge yourself yet. It's not over.
  22. During these times, stay alert. No substance abuse. No pot. No booze. No crutches.
  23. Don't lie. Ever. About anything. Except if the truth will hurt a person. Then be sensitive and compassionate.
  24. Not everyone is a hero or heroine. Just make the cut!
  25. Why don't you send me more for this list?

-JW Apr 17 2016



one race


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