Houston, We Have a Problem! (On the Necessities of Invention)

I’m back!!! Generating at a new current of electricity online under the banner of KyraOcity’s WattShop (Converting Wishbones to Backbones).  These are my power lines.


I was on a training call tonight and got a fresh insight into the expression “necessity is the mother of invention.” Setting immediate deadlines that agitate your sense of urgency can be self-imposed. And perhaps they should be, cuz too often I don’t like when others set deadlines for me. So this is a countdown of sorts.

The video from National Geographic above tells the story of the necessity of invention during the Apollo 13 mission. Let me paraphrase a blog I found while googling the expression.

On the Apollo 13 mission, mission control at the Houston Space Center had a problem at hand after an explosion on-board the vessel forced them to save on electricity and oxygen. The engineers discovered that the astronauts could make it back to earth but they would not have enough air to survive the time needed to return. So the countdown began.

On the ground back in Houston, engineers copied all the parts that they knew where available in the space station and within an extremely short time span managed to invent a new gadgets that could clean CO2 out of the air so that they could survive. I love this story and thank the blogger Sonja Chirico Indrebø for her inspiration.

(The Students in the Room)

The real inspiration came from my own life and the students in my classrooms. Yesterday was a challenging one for me as I realized my own interests in talking about my teaching style (a bit of navel-gazing and egocentrism) were limiting the learning needs for instruction in my courses. My internal mission control was screaming, “Kyra, we have a problem!” I’d been feeling the impact of it, like free falling and sensing I was losing oxygen. I hit rock bottom Thursday night.

After making myself self feel “guilt,” “shame,” and “powerlessness” which led to wasting most of the next morning Wednesday suffering, it was a welcome change at the end of that day to be in a conversation on my training call (unrelated to teaching) that dealt with confronting what we ordinary people don’t ordinarily confront with actual study and urgent invention. We don’t usually analyze the parts we have and reinvent but honey, now I see a light.

After wallowing in feelings about what went wrong, I was behaving as if things were not urgent, like with the Apollo 13 mission. What if I were to act as if they are urgent? What if I, with cooperation from my students, can engineer “some existing parts” to “invent new gagdets” in my instruction right now. I had started to mollify myself into thinking it’ll take two weeks.

Yes, anything lasting takes time but the invention must be quick when things are in danger of falling apart. Sometimes you must demonstrate the change to yourself quickly before anything else.

Being ambitious about your work means having the courage to study and invent that which is urgently needed–in this case, instructing vs. professing–as if the clock is ticking:  10, 9, 8, 7, 6…


In my first class on Thurday, the students in my political sociology course had a conversation about feelings of “guilt,” “shame” and “powerlessness” that surfaced as they read a graphic novel as critique of capitalism by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco called Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (2011).

The first chapter “Days of Siege” tells a story of extreme poverty, racism, alcoholism, and exploitation on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, which is one of the poorest places in the United States of what was once Native America.

In a moment of inspiration and curiosity, I posed a question to my 36 students:

What if those three things–“guilt,” “shame” and feeling “powerless” in the face of changing our own habits, much less changing society’s problems, are the very things stopping us from realizing we can make a difference?

As part of a radical orientation to micro-sociologies, I have asked 36 students to study their own habits and their various social ecologies in this election season. They expressed interests in changing procrastinating, overeating, not getting enough sleep, eating poorly, snoozing, doing for everyone else, exercise, scoring high on the GMATs, and more. Sometimes in changing those individual habits which are far less challenging than changing society’s problems, we face those very same challenges–guilt, shame and powerlessness–that stop us from being in action and realizing the difference we can make  at a local and global level.

Tolstoy once wrote “Everybody wants to change the world. No one wants to change themself.”

That’s a great place to return to in my class instruction, but for now I have other work of my own to do–nose to the grind stone, creative, urgent and necessary work to get my feet back down on earth of being an instructor (not a professor).

“Kyra, we have a problem!”

Once you declare a problem, it’s urgent to get into action or procrastination and powerlessness are what lives in our brains (neuroscience and research on willpower are a testament to this). In those moments you don’t act on the problems of real life, the truths we face, feel and resist confronting, we miss opportunity to be creative and invent.

So all I guess I can say now is Ride, Sally Ride!! Ride!  Sally, Ride!!

It’s a serendipitous little riddle. If you know anything about my scholarly book on black girls’ musical games and the history of female astronauts, it’ll make sense. So, put your hands on your hips and let your backbone slip! I’ll keep ya posted on my demonstrations of progress. For now, signing off with

5, 4, 3, 2, 1…blastoff!


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