I haven’t been inspired to post lately, and I even broke my nine-month streak of blogging at least once a week. But a thoughtful “comic” from The Oatmeal resonated in many ways. I put “comic” in quotation marks because it’s not actually comedy. It’s a tribute to a hero who’s not even really known for his heroism, and a reminder that we’re all a little better if we help rather than hinder.
So, this 23-year-old guy works at Google and lives in a truck in the parking lot. Because Google is a ridiculous company like so many in the over-priced Bay Area, their employees get three free meals a day at work. They also have gyms and showers and laundry and bikes and all sorts of things that ordinary people have to buy (musical instruments, games, etc).
I can’t blame this guy (who’s been getting a ton of publicity). Instead of paying rent, he’s going to pay off all $22,000 of his student loans in just 10 months. AND he doesn’t have to deal with traffic, which is a big perk all on its own. Plus, he doesn’t have chores like scrubbing a shower and vacuuming.
But he’s also giving up some things. He can’t kick back on his couch with a book and a summer evening breeze drifting in the windows. And, as he put it: “I will most certainly be “That Guy”. No amount of planning or forethought excuses the fact that I’m the psychopath living in a van in the parking lot.”
Would you do it? I don’t think I could, because I really like windows and space. But I admit I did briefly ponder the idea of putting my stuff in storage and living in my work parking lot, which is one mile from the gym (showers are required). Either way, it’s fascinating — partly because he’s a solid writer and seems to have enough common sense. Bonus: You can actually start at the beginning of his blog via this link, which I would love as a feature on more blogs)
To say I’ve been struggling is an understatement. Death and destruction have taken tolls on me, and a lot of uncertainties continue to wreak havoc. I’ve had a lot of low points in the last two months.
But despite everything that continues to suck joy out of my life, my internal optimist is really trying to surface. That little voice has been telling me to look at races, to look to the future, to look ahead to a time when everything is not crashing down on me. Maybe Grandpa’s positive thinking is reaching through other-worldly barriers to me.
This morning, I was supposed to be running the Marine Corps Marathon. It was to be my comeback after many (many) months of IT band pain and the subsequent decision to stop running and make myself get used to life without it. I did kind of get used to it, and bicycling filled some of the gap. But I had a lot of unfinished business and unmet goals in running, which haunted me to the point that I decided to try again. In August, I ran my first race in 20 months and was on track to get just enough training in to finish the marathon 10 weeks later. I was not going to run MCM for time. In fact, I was pondering the idea of stopping for photos, something I don’t do in marathons (except for the grand piano at Big Sur).
Everything came to a sudden halt when I broke my thumb. I had surgery two weeks later, at the same time my grandfather’s Parkinson’s suddenly got worse.
Now, both of those events continue to have trickle-down effects. The juggling of cross-continent family schedules will continue (seriously; my family is spread out between six hours of time zones). Meanwhile, I am out of shape. I can’t bike, I can’t go to Body Pump or lift weights, I can’t hold an elliptical handlebar, and after two miles of running I have to stop for air and to try calming my thumb’s swelling.
But here’s the thing: I have no leg pain when I run.
And here’s another thing I hadn’t quite realized until I had to cancel the marathon: I am happier if I have a race on the calendar. [I actually do have two scheduled for next summer, but one isn’t until August and the other was a cheap enough deal that I won’t mind too much if I have to cancel.]
And here is yet another thing: I kind of want to run a race for Grandpa. If I could have run MCM today, I can almost guarantee you that I would have started sobbing. Grandpa served in the Army in WWII, and it would have been moving to see all those Marines.
So, despite all the uncertainty about my family and my thumb and my lack of fitness and my life in general, I’ve been looking at spring races — marathons, not half-marathons.
This morning, as I shuffled through 3.4 measly miles with two stops to try getting blood flowing away from my thumb, I made a third stop to take photos of fall leaves that are finally arriving.
Then I came home, looked up a race date, and put it in my countdown app. I don’t know if I can get in shape in time, if I can justify using money from savings for it, and if my unknown schedule will allow it. But if I can, it will be for Grandpa the eternal optimist.
What do you do when you see a photo of a loved one and start crying because of the sadness in her eyes?
When you cannot hop on a plane and go give her a hug?
When you’re scared because your easy-going surgeon is worried about you and threatened more surgery?
When you hear about your grandfather’s ashes being scattered?
When you wonder if you’ll ever have have full use of your thumb again?
When a broken molar is the least of your worries?
When you want to go visit all of your family but cannot?
When you curse the fact that it’s 2015 and you’re nowhere closer to your loved ones?
I truly do not know how many deaths I wrote about during my 10 years as a journalist. I covered crime and courts for nearly all of that time, as well as breaking news including car wrecks, fires and deaths of local citizens. People were shot, stabbed, poisoned and run over. People overdosed, crashed, took their own lives and drowned. People died of cancer, “old age” and incurable diseases.
I was that person talking to sobbing family members at crime scenes and car wrecks. I was the one looking through phone books, searching the internet and court records for relatives, then knocking on strangers’ doors. I was the one blasted by the public for intruding in the lives of those who were grieving.
The thing is, people almost always wanted to talk. They were desperate to tell me about their loved ones, and they begged me to write about fond memories. They showed me childhood photos, they recalled jokes, they told of scholastic and professional achievements. After I had left, they often phoned the numbers on my business card, wanting to tell me one more anecdote. They invited me to funerals, and some even contacted me on an anniversary of their loved one’s death, anxious to keep memories alive. One friend of a domestic violence victim sent me Christmas cards for years. A few found me on Facebook years later.
Even in the midst of gruesome, terrible scenes, I liked the work. I liked recording history, which included the details surrounding the death as well as the people involved. I liked being able to tell others’ stories.
But what happens when it’s my own family?
Until Wednesday, October 14, 2015, I never had to ask that question.
The answer is that I don’t have words. I don’t know how to sum up the life of a man born into an impoverished immigrant family, who went off to fight in WWII, earned a degree at Rutgers and became such a successful businessman that an Iowa town once dedicated an entire day to him. I don’t know how to tell about how he retired but then started a new career. How he made exquisite jewelry as a hobby but then began selling it, how he grew fruit for fun but then had so much that he had to give it away. How he designed and built his last home because he wanted the views to be just right. How he watched “Jeopardy!” every day and was so pleased when he knew the answers. And there were his legendary puns — a trait he passed down to my mother and which sometimes comes through in me.
It’s no wonder grieving families usually talked to me, the badge-wearing, notepad-carrying journalist who was at their door: They wanted someone to write about their loved one, but they didn’t have the words to do it themselves.
Now I am the wordless one.
Me, in September 2003:
“The Cubs just won their first post-season road game for the first time since 1945. I thought I was cheering for the underdogs and I thought I didn’t watch baseball. Well, ‘my team’ is still winning, and I just intermittently watched two innings of baseball. The sky must be falling.”
I remember that time, in my upstairs apartment that had no air conditioning. I sat on my free (used) couch and watched my 19-inch TV with rabbit ear antennae that I had to regularly adjust to reduce some of the static.
I had no knowledge of baseball, but a couple internet friends caught my attention with their sports chatter. The statistics intrigued me, as did the Chicago Cubs’ underdog status. I’d always been picked last in sports games in school, so I liked the idea of rooting for the worst team in baseball. Just three years earlier, I’d expanded my family, and they all lived in Chicago and rooted for the Cubs, so why shouldn’t I add the Cubs, too?
Me, the next week, in October 2003:
“Five days ago, I wrote about how I was taking an interest in baseball. I’m getting worse: I watched part of yesterday’s Chicago vs. Atlanta game and a large part of today’s game. I actually talked to the TV, cheered a few times and then really cheered at the end, when the Cubs won their first postseason round in 95 years.
My sister is appalled that I’m getting into baseball. Many other people are laughing at me or are simply bewildered (as am I). I think I’ll blame it on Jon.
Oh, and the next Cubs game is Tuesday, against the Florida Marlins.”
After the Cubs lost that season, my interest ebbed and flowed. Later that month, though, when the Yankees and Red Sox were playing, they got into a brawl. And I loved quoting this news story:
“NEW YORK (AP) – Boston Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez should have been arrested for throwing 72-year-old Yankees coach Don Zimmer to the ground during Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Sunday.
“If that happened in New York we would have arrested the perpetrator,” Bloomberg said. “Nobody should throw a 70-year-old man to the ground, period. You start doing that, pretty soon you’re going to throw a 61-year-old man to the ground, and I have a big vested interest in that.”
About five or so years later, I went with friends to a San Francisco Giants game. It was my first professional sports game of any kind — and we had a suite. I was amazed. Then we went to an Oakland A’s game, where we also had a suite as well as a few seats close enough to see the blades of grass, and we took turns sitting in them.
A couple years later, in 2010, I moved to the Bay Area to work for a company that has season tickets to Giants games. I made friends who were Giants fans, some of whom took me under their wings and explained more of the game to me.
Some fans were snooty, looking at me as a bandwagon fan because the team was doing well that season, and because I also rooted for the Cubs. But you have to start somewhere, and I take the firm stand that it’s all just a fun game (played by people who make a ridiculous amount of money).
When the Giants won the World Series, it was inspiring to see their true, honest elation. Then came the 2012 World Series win. And the 2014 win, in which I got to attend two post-season games and cheered until I was almost hoarse.
Now it’s 2015. The Giants had a lot of injuries this year, but they still beat most odds. The joke is that they “only” win the World Series in even-numbered years.
I don’t keep up with All Of The Sports the way some of my friends do. But I was interested when, after the end of another season last year, the Cubs began making big changes, including hiring a new manager and signing a lot of players. Having watched the Giants a lot, I believe true teamwork is key. You don’t get to the major leagues unless you’re a good player, so it’s not like anybody in the MLB is swinging a bat on my level. Everyone out there is talented, but one man’s talent does not win a World Series. Winning requires teamwork, so you know where everyone is on the field, you trust they’ll be there, and you work together for the one goal of winning. If someone gets hurt, the season isn’t ruined — because it takes a whole team to win or lose. That’s one reason I really like the Giants: They’re a team in sickness and in health.
The Cubs are playing with a lot of new team members, all the way up to the manager, and they’ve even started a massive overhaul of Wrigley Field. I believe this season has been crucial, because it’s their best chance to gel as a team. I said last spring that I didn’t know if the Cubs would be ready yet to go all the way this year, that it would depend on how well they could learn to work together and truly trust each other. Well, they finished the regular season with the third best record in baseball (but still had to go to the wildcard game because their division is very talented/tough).
Last night, the Cubs did exactly what the Giants did last year: They shut out the Pittsburgh Pirates for the wildcard win — in Pittsburgh. (I kind of feel sorry for Pittsburgh: Two shutouts in two consecutive years with home field advantage has to be rough.)
I finished the book “Dead Wake” by Erik Larson today. As with his first book “Devil in the White City,” I sat there for a minute and thought, “Wow.” His research is incredibly impressive, and he weaves everything together in a magical, captivating way.
Larson’s work is my kind of writing: Gather lots of research, gather a bit more, and then piece it all together like a puzzle. In college, history classes relieved me, because I could write my way through them rather than guessing at arbitrary multiple choice questions on exams. Term papers were dreaded by many of my classmates, but I truly enjoyed finding the material and then watching it meld together. I liked footnotes and bibliographies, also unlike my classmates, because they were a way to give credit where it was due.
When I wound up in journalism, it’s no wonder that I found it easy. By nature, I’m curious and I like people, so I was being paid to be myself, and then to put everything together in writing. I could tell factual stories, and it was usually effortless. On election days, I was always tasked with going out and talking to people near the polls, because I could get them to talk. Then I would gather all my quotes, and the quotes my colleagues had also managed to collect. I’d piece together the puzzle, adding in numbers and outcomes as polls closed and results began rolling in. I don’t like politics, but this I could do — combine the solid, opinion-free poll numbers with people from all walks of life.
I haven’t written much of anything beyond this little blog in five years now. When I was a little girl, and then a teenager, and then a young adult, I never imagined I would reach this age and have no book with my name on the spine. But if I ever reach that one and only lifelong goal of mine, I like to think it would be a poor imitation of Erik Larson’s work style.
And, hey, he apparently likes the cream part of Oreos, too.
Eighteen months ago, an a Friday afternoon in March while driving to a memorial service for a 19-year-old girl, I noticed how brown everything seemed for a spring day. I took this photo:
Since that memorial service, some things have changed and some things have not. Sometimes things remind me of her death and of her parents, and I’ve written a couple blog posts when the mood has struck. Sometimes I’ve had a random urge to text one of her parents for no particular reason, but I’ve worried that it might be a bad time — would I give them a reminder of the sadness at a moment they had managed to smile?
While on vacation last month, I woke up to a dream about her dad. I don’t remember the dream, but the fact that I remembered any part of a dream was rare and I told Deb, my friend/host, a bit about the family’s loss and how it was strange to have such a random dream for no apparent reason. “It sounds like you have some unfinished business there,” Deb said.
Today marks the 21st birthday of that young woman. She should be alive to celebrate it. Instead, I am sitting here, thinking of her parents’ faces on that March day. I still don’t know what my unfinished business is, but there is one thing I can do: To pay for unexpected medical bills, I recently got money out of a college fund I never needed to use. It more than covered my bills, so the rest will be used for airfare to see ailing family. But I am also writing a check to the Kara Adams Memorial Fund, and putting it in the mail to Lodi High School. It’s not much, but it’s a little bit that can make a young student’s future brighter.
On my drive back home from that memorial 18 months ago, I noticed that the light had changed, and the hills no longer looked brown. I took this photo:
Sometimes light can bring a new perspective to the world around you. Sometimes a smile or a kind word can make things seem beautiful again. That’s what Kara’s family wants today — for people to make a gesture of grace to brighten someone else’s day. You never know when it will make all the difference in the world.
So, I have my first-ever cast.
After surgery, I had a partial cast that was plaster on one side and lots of soft padding on the other side, to account for swelling. And, boy, was there swelling. My fingers were sausages for about five days. But pain was minimal: I stopped the Norco (Vicodin/Tylenol) the next day because it was keeping me awake, making me foggy, and messing up my digestive system. Yes, it kept me awake; I’m also a weirdo who usually experiences the opposite sleep effect of cold medicine (which is one reason I don’t take the stuff).
Last Thursday, I had my post-operative appointment where they removed all the bandaging and I got to bend my wrist for the first time in a week. I’ll post a photo of the 12 stitches at the end of this post, so prepare your appetite. Now I have this terrible, horrible, painful cast for eight days. My outer wrist bone has become an innocent victim: It sticks out, so the hard cast squishes it 24/7, and I feel it every waking moment. I could have gone in today and had it replaced, but I really didn’t want to deal with hours of post-casting thumb pain, more time off work, and traffic — especially since I’m four days into this cast and will get a new one in another four days.
I’m currently debating the color of the new cast, though I’m thinking of buying decorative duct tape to put around the next cast so it stops catching on my clothes. It’s 2015, and casts are still this terrible?? Why???
Anyway, here is a list of things that are impossible to do if your left thumb is completely immobilized and encased in plaster:
- Bike outside.
- Floss. Those plastic “flosser” things snap instantly on rear molars if your teeth are crowded.
- Play the piano.
- Use a regular can opener.
- Pull open a door while holding a cup of coffee, or any unsealed container.
- Paint the fingernails on your other hand.
- Turn a mattress that also has a bed skirt under it. Remaking the bed is also a challenge, though it’s not on this list because I can use my foot to prop up the mattress while I valiantly attempt one-handed hospital corners with my “good” hand that is still not 100%.
- Alt-tab on a PC. It’s not the same if you have to use two hands to do it (but thankfully, I already use my other thumb on the spacebar so I’m not relearning THAT).
- Lift anything heavy, whether it’s a case of water at work or weights at the gym.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts/sweaters, unless they have buttons and wide cuffs.
- Scrub a potato. (I’m working on this one, though.)
- Fully shave your other armpit.
- Swim. (Yes, that’s my latest excuse against swimming. I’ll find more once this hand debacle is behind me.)
- And, last but NOT LEAST: Take a normal shower that does not involve plastic and waterproof tape.
And now for the post-op stitches photo. I’ll type a couple lines in case you want to stop scrolling. (Mom, this means you.)
I swear, it’s not bad.
Michaela said it looked like Frankenstein, which I’ll take as a compliment.
It’s really not bad at all.
It could be worse: My friend Matt was rear-ended by a car while on his bike the other day, and he has to worry about scaring customers at work with his injuries. (Yes, a car rear-ended him. In broad daylight. After he had signaled to turn, but the car decided to pass him. On a solid center line. So many WTF questions for that driver.)
Reminder: Always wear a helmet.
Okay, enough typing. Mom, if you’re still reading, here comes the photo.
Also, there are a couple Sharpie marks left. Don’t worry; those aren’t permanent.