Teacher In Space

Teacher In Space: One Teacher’s Orbit around the Lunacy of Lyme Disease.

Katherine Stasia Kinlin, 2018. (self-published, available on Amazon)

It is said that our bodies cannot retain a memory of pain. It’s a survival technique, and I am thankful for it. I have a hard time imagining constant, chronic pain. I’ve been fortunate to have only those days where a bad ‘flu lays me low: when the world contracts into the room, the bed, my struggle to breathe, and all other thoughts and sense of self is pushed aside. It’s a wonderful feeling to come out of that again and regain life. It sounds condescending to say that I don’t know how people in constant, lifelong pain manage to cope. Whatever the phrase is I am grasping for, you know the feeling. It’s not pity, or admiration, or bravery, it’s something else.

I also don’t think I could write about that kind of constant pain for more than a few chapters – I don’t have that writing ability. Katie Kinlin can. The pain of one person could be written badly. Self-indulgently. Repetitively. This book isn’t. I was drawn into her world – one where all normality dropped away, and each moment became a struggle to make it to the next room, to move, to exist.

And in the middle of that pain, during a respite granted by finally finding a helpful medication… she started a career as a space educator at the Kennedy Space Center.

I’m not sure how many people know how many museums and cultural institutions operate. No matter how distinguished and venerable the venues are, the people who interact with visitors the most are often the lowest-paid, entry-level employees given basic training and then, like a combat soldier, thrust onto the front line to engage the public. And you wouldn’t believe the kinds of things the general public ask, or what little kids think they can do when the parents aren’t watching. Or maybe you would.

 It generally works because these employees – almost always at the beginning of their careers – are hungry for success. They research information on their own time, build up expertise and educate thousands of people every week, even when the senior staff notice them only as “that noise coming from those kids.” It can be thankless work, although some institutions do wonderful training and fully integrate these staff into their institutions. Kinlin does an insightful job of describing the disorientation that comes with working evening shifts and day shifts on a when-needed basis, and the frequently bizarre juxtaposition of working next to some of humankind’s greatest and costliest engineering achievements yet using hands-on items with the kids that could have been rescued from a recycle bin. She evidently loves her subject, loves being at the heart of the space center, and it sustains her through some dispiriting times.

There are books I have picked up in the past because they are space program-themed, but I have been drawn into the other aspects of them. Memoirs by Sy Liebergot and Scott Carpenter come to mind – scrappy childhoods so intense I remember thinking, I don’t care if this person ends up in the space program, this is a hell of a read already. Similarly, I picked this book up for the space theme, but feel like I have been given a window into an unimaginably brutal experience. Being self-published makes it even better in many ways – this is a direct-from-the-gut tale that didn’t need the edges smoothed out by a well-meaning editor.

Is it cliché for me to say it may be easier to launch a space rocket than it is to navigate the American health care system? Or to maintain consistent relationships at a very young age in the middle of fighting a debilitating disease? Probably. But it feels true, reading this account. I truly have no clue how I would manage in the situations Kinlin describes. To have to find space in life for illness but not to allow it to define you - and then to take that drive further. To take it to the point where you are almost grateful for life-altering setbacks as you feel you’ve become a better person because of them. That’s an alien place for me, and I’m glad this book could widen my understanding.