Monday, April 10, 2017

Hell In Every Religion

If anyone wonders where I developed some public speaking skills, it's because I was a preacher briefly in a previous life (that's a long story). But I do have a degree in religion and have read the texts of all the biggest world religions (The Torah, New Testament, Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, Dao de Jing, the Analects of Confucius, the Book of Mormon etc). I've also studied the various rituals at sacred services of each one. I've never done it locally but when traveling out and about I've actually participated in basically every one of the major religious rituals like Mass at Notre Dame and and the Vatican, Yoga as part of worship in India, Salah in India etc). I've done this somewhere between the life philosophy of don't knock it till you try it; you don't have to try it, just don't knock if if you don't (if you think a guy who picks up hitchhikers, where this blog derives the name doesn't also allow fervent people who want to share their faith into my home, well you've read me wrong). But mostly because in the ways in which humanity finds the sacred and the devout I want to try to understand what has left us looking to and beyond the stars and deep within ourselves, a dance no one I've ever met has fully mastered. Someone who has traveled with me a few times who would argue that it's more respectful to observe than to participate if you're not a full believer once gave me a tongue in cheek hard time and said what are you doing? With a nod and wink, I responded with 'I'm just covering my bases man.' They responded smiling and said, 'no you're going to hell in every religion.'

This is a week that is a big deal in the religion I'm most closely associated with, something I say neither too loud in here or anywhere in my life mostly because I don't want to embarrass any person whose faith rhymes with mine with my inadequate representation (I presume any Deity can handle it). But it's been an interesting couple of weeks and as I have shared them with some people, a few have handled it with the only ways we often handle that which we can't help. Some do it with a good hug, with a stiff drink, with a conversation with an offer of prayer. I've never prayed to 'beat cancer,' something that somehow usually refers to surviving it so I join people in all but the last one and tell them they're on their own if they want to do that since I assume if Someone is running the universe I hope They have some clue as to what they are doing. 

There have been some things going wrong with the system in the last few months. Nothing dramatic by my book but then again I've walked out of ambulances, put off brain surgery to run a marathon so maybe I don't do medical stuff with enough flair. Last year I only had 3 cancer appointments (or 6 depending on how you measure it, tests then results in my book is a single appointment). I was hoping 2017 would go as well. This year something is draining the system and so we did the typical bloodwork plus some extra tests (not all results are in yet). I had to do a urine test which led to an ultrasound (Kiana was not amused at my pregnancy jokes). I'm on a waiting list to see if organs are affected/swollen by the medication I'm on and we're trying some steroids which I'm not a fan of. I'm on a waiting list for a few more tests once the full results of these are in. It's not likely that cancer is growing just being on drugs for 6 years, pushing the system the way I do, aging or perhaps the combination of it all has been tough (the only possibility that it could be a direct brain cancer effect according to the doctor was if the tumor was growing on a certain section and pushing on some part of the brain that I can't remember and couldn't spell if I did).

The tests actually started before I went to the Final Four. It was actually a couple of days after I had spoken to the premed students for the 5th year in a row. This year two different professors had invited me to encourage students to do the Lonhorn Run 5k/10k. The speeches went well though I forgot one joke in the first one and the professor said that since they had a competition between them that if he lost he was blaming it on my missing joke. 

Bloodwork has varied with results always having been in the normal range even if some things had shown to be on the acceptable low or high end. The last MRI also shows some millimeters of growth on the brain tumor but the one thing that has been absolutely consistent for 3 years is that my resting heart has been 42, the answer to the question of life, the universe and everything. If nothing else, I dare dream this means my heart has arrived and stayed in the right place. 

The results actually came moments before the game started and if anyone wonders why I got more steals, finally made a shot, dove for the ball a few times, it's because the results required more tests and intense physical approach is how I deal with medical stress (I may also be a bit competitive). It's also why I hugged some of the people that had gotten there with a little more conviction. But a guy who still confesses those things more here than to anyone in person, I only told one person on the trip and even my girlfriend it took me a few days to say it aloud... but believe it or not both of those things are progress for me. We'll see where the tests go but there were some other events between the bloodwork and the final results and the impending tests.

Elaine's father came to visit on the 1st weekend we were both home since we started living together.
Call that a coincidence but I call that being a good dad no matter how much he may have objected to being called sir or Mr. Chung. He's also a long distance runner and while he's been running marathons since the year Elaine was born, he just ran his fastest one and qualified for Boston for the 1st time last month. We started the weekend with a good meal together where when the check came there was a contest as to who could grab it first. I'll leave that question not answered here but let's just also add that it was an even score by the time the weekend ended. Actually that was part of my favorite time in the weekend that we actually did this whole conversation thing the entire meal. It may say something about the age of our souls in there that while they are both engineers, I was the first of the 3 to get a smart phone a little over 5 years ago, Elaine only got it a couple of years ago and her dad still doesn't have one. We were just chatting and liking each other in person. 

It was fun to have 3 runners together on a University Campus all doing the 10k. I was definitely hurting right from the start and I'd forgotten my iPod so my usual music distraction/focus wasn't there. While I still beat most of the university students, I was not the first non student to finish and I knew that about half way. I kept trying to find a kick but it wasn't quite coming but with about a quarter mile to go, a student who was wrapping up the 5k (both had the same finish) said hey you came to class, finish strong. That made sure that I did. The finish line got even more meaningful when a college girl came up and said she had told her mom about me and about the races I had done together with my parents and my daughter. She had just finished the 5k and was going back to finish with her mom. While I've had some wins and some relatively close times, I haven't hit a single PR since I turned 36 and wondered a few times if it was time to call these races and speaking bits a good memory but a part of the past if that's where my credibility lied. Moments like that with those students make me think it's not quite time yet to hang up the shoes. Elaine would come in second female over all and 1st non student. The fact that she has PR'ed in the last couple of races she's done with me I had blown off since she's 25. But her dad is still doing it in his 60's, I mean at 29... so yeah its definitely not time to quit.

But none of the 3 of us were sit around type of people and we joined an urban scavenger hunt that afternoon that benefitted Wonders and Worries, an organization that helped me and Kiana be able to talk about cancer and it's side effects far better than I had done on my own even if it took me much too long to get around to doing it. It was a 4 hour scavenger hunt but before we got the clues I didn't know if it was one where it was who got it done first or one where it was impossible to get it all done and who did the most; it was the latter. This is why I sometimes struggle with the concept of eternal life and frankly prefer a more limited life; I'm a fan of choice and life certainly echoes that there are limits to that. If there weren't, would we value things as much? If death and time had no barriers, I think for many, most of us, perhaps I'm just speaking for myself would lose the urgency. I will never be grateful for cancer or it's lessons--I base my life philosophy on learn from other people's mistakes, you don't have enough time to make them all on your own--but I do think an awareness of the limits of time that come with being clued into our own mortality instead of in denial of it, I think that's good for us. 

So we set out to do strategy, 3 Boston Qualifiers figuring out clues all over town with history, with fun, with pop culture. I loved her dad's spirit not shy of eating an all condiments sandwich, or cleaning a strangers car window or learning to dap in front of the Texas Capitol. Elaine was ready to serenade a stranger; I hugged one. We ran all over town and 4 hours later we were nowhere dear done with the possibilities in there but we had a ridiculously good time. (If you're wondering how to see it just look up hashtag #wvush71 on instagram and twitter to see our adventures. If you want confirmation of just how competitive I am, we got rear ended in the middle of the contest and I said to Elaine okay you handle uploading while I deal with trading information). The combination of legs, brains, creativity and willingness stacked up well enough so that we took 1st place in the Inaugural Wonders and Worried Scavenger Hunt! 

I don't know what will happen with upcoming medical appointments or the MRI in less than 2 months. I hope her dad liked our adventures as much as I did. In one of my religious studies classes everyone had to write an essay that if given full choice which religion's heaven they would rather go to and which hell they would go to if they weren't going in the right direction. There were many answers, some incredibly creative. I certainly am not trying to convince anyone that my views on the universe are the only option which can save anyone. But I do believe what someone said before the civil war, what MLK quoted and what President Obama said as he headed out of office that the arc the universe bends toward justice. I do think the universe in the end is just but I hope and believe it gets there by Grace. For me, for most (all?) of us grace is harder but more necessary on the receiving end. My favorite portrait of someone who gets to see heaven and hell and what they see in hell is an abundance of delicious and nutritous food at a table but everyone is starving because the only way to reach it is with giant spoons and no one has elbows that bend and they all look miserable. When the same person sees heaven, the circumstances are exactly the same except that the people are happy and well fed because they're kind enough to feed each other. I'm not sure what the after life holds or like Queen says, I even dare of living forever. But tonight, after I get Kiana gets home from school, seems like a good night to cook and share a meal together. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


March Madness has a special place along my cancer journey. It was during selection Sunday in 2011 that I was recovering after brain surgery at Duke and if there's anywhere that college basketball has an impact it's with the Blue Devils. The excitement of hoping to repeat from the 2010 championship was there and for me it was a welcome distraction from the actual pain of cancer. There was a joy in watching people jump and shoot and dribble when I was struggling to walk for very long. Duke didn't repeat that year but without fail I have filled out at least one bracket with them every year since then, something that worked out well in 2015.

But last year Infiniti started a challenge where you could refill your brackets after every round and for every correct pick they would donate a dollar to the American Cancer Society. The games were in Houston and 14 of us got to be part of the two inaugural teams of Hardwood Heroes, designed for young adult cancer survivors. This year they moved to Phoenix and they chose 7 new local players and 7 of us were picked to return. For those of us returning, as one of the other survivors said we couldn't be more grateful to have this once in a lifetime opportunity--twice.

We arrived once again to work on drills, passing ones, shooting ones. There were short interviews and the photos to remember it all by. But all in all, it was what I see as the the meaning of life that kept coming out, the ability to connect not because of cancer but beyond it. It had disrupted our humanity but we were here to disrupt it back. There were stories of people who had gotten cancer as an infant with massive surgeries at a time they have no memory of because they were so young. Scars that had been huge as a child to where they were still visible but stretched. There were people who had lost the ability to have children of their own because cancer had come to them when they were children who weren't thinking far enough ahead of things like fertility preservation. There were 3 teammates who had lost a limb and it didn't stop them from going down the court, taking great shots, playing hard defense and in one of their cases Devon and I went diving to the floor for a ball... he beat me to it and won the possession.

There were teammates who had dealt with it more than once, reoccurrences, some too close each other and some years apart.. I've never been through that and as I listened to the stories it was tough to decide which one was easier to absorb. Some of us whose cancer was not fully removable who had to deal with it as a day to day aspect of life. The intensity that cancer had to deal with each of us showed on the court with no matter how far either team was ahead or behind, no one blinked on the intensity of their dribbling, passing, shooting, defense. We got to play two 12 minute halves and anyone watching saw the intensity that we had for life displayed up and down that court.

The theme for this year's fundraiser was Unbustable since you got to make new picks after every round. But like a March Madness bracket that doesn't mean you picked the wrong or right ones, it just means you got a round by round perspective. This seemed to echo many of the players life approach, cancer had made us rethink our picks. Sometimes that meant doubling down all the way to the end but often it made changing it due to unexpected upsets. There were people who had chosen to spend their careers in non profits for people with some of the issues that had come out of their cancer experiences, helping cancer organization and amputee organizations. There were others who were encouraged they had made the right choice and made it again.

What makes a bracket unbustable is not getting anything wrong... something that no one I know has ever completely mastered. What made my teammates unbustable is the ability to take the unexpected failure of something within our own systems, sometimes because of genetics or randomness and choose to reset, to take the unexpected and pick again with new options, with new information. It is perhaps fitting that we got to do it in Phoenix, a city with a name from a creature which rises it's own ashes. As people shared stories about what chemo, surgeries, radiation had left them without but the hope that got us through it, it was clear to me that we all rose up from those treatments and hospital beds with serious fortitude.

Infiniti got fans who were there for the games to take free throw shots and get money donated for
every one within 60 second. The highest person had made 16 and one of our own teammates, Lexi, made 13 within that time. Last year, Infiniti donated over $700k to the American Cancer Society through people's picks and they will do so again from the picks and these shots. There were of course formal thank you's from us to them and from the CBS broadcasters about this effort. But Infiniti makes cars that have safety features that save people's lives; undoubtedly they hear from many of those people but there are plenty who they never hear from. The good they do there will be echoed by what this donation will do. And there they have will hear from many people, myself included of how grateful we are for this chance of life. It's my sincere desire that the program can't go on forever because somewhere they were part of the road map that eliminated cancer altogether, that there will be somewhere in the future where cancer is so irrelevant because good donations led to proper research that helped cancer be part of all of humanity's collective memory, not just the Hardwood Heroes personal memories. Perhaps this game, that donation, those connections will extend to infinity and beyond.

We enjoyed watching the games each day but after both nights of spectatorship, some of us survivors also braved the desert heat to climb up mountains since none of us are built for sitting around. Out in Arizona, there is no way to completely escape the heat but we'd been through tougher or as June Cash might have put it, if you meet with darkness and strife, the sunny side we also may view. A local Livestrong leader was kind enough to join us and give us water for the way. There were places where each of us had to take it at different paces but we regularly waited for each other and certainly joined up at the peak. In a complete fortuitous coincide we had all worn our #unbustable shirts. As we took in the views from the top of camelback, it disproved the idea that it has to be lonely at the top.

Cancer messed with all of the Hardwood Heroes physical system individually. By extension it messed with our friends, families systems financially, mentally and emotionally. But we're still going; we're not anywhere near done. Those donations haven't even been formally given so the way we're busting cancer back nowhere near being finished. I dream when it's all said and done, somewhere it's actually cancer that's all said and done and that's for whom the road ends completely. But until that day, the spirit that Blue Ridge Sports, Infiniti and the American Cancer Society share, I hope that spirit continues. And if you watched the Hardwood Heroes on the court, cancer didn't end us. In fact when people thought we might have been busted, those shining moments on the court showed we were just getting started.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Wonder by Wonder

'A man grows most tired while standing still' -Chinese proverb

I've never had a bucket list. Don't get me wrong; I have a list of things I want to do while I am alive but it's much like my daily to do list that I write out each morning. It is a rare day that I accomplish it all because I like to reach high, what many have called over reaching. So on my life list it is long and ridiculous that most people don't think it's possible to get it done in a lifetime... I am not one of those people though it's not something I would wager much money on.

But I am sitting here, adjusting from switching night to day and then back in 8 days time and it's messing with my sleep. Kiana just got back from her first world wonder and my last and final one, the Great Wall of China. Maybe it's the time change and a restless night, maybe it's the surrealism but somewhere I am wondering if someone should just pinch me, maybe with chopsticks.

It actually came together ridiculously easily, using up the frequent flyer miles from the last few years to get there for under $100 a ticket. I had good company, Troy an executor of my will who I've been friends with over a decade, a guy who was there at the hospital shortly after my daughter was born, a guy who was there at the hospital shortly after the seizure before we even knew I had a tumor. There was my girlfriend, Elaine, appropriately enough a Chinese girl in the first time I've ever visited a country where I had no clue of the language nor had enough base to translate it (reading and writing 5 languages has helped in other countries) in our last trip together before she moves in. And there was Kiana, my 10 year old daughter getting to use a passport over a decade earlier than I had to cross to the other side of the world. My grandparents and parents were bold for  crossing a river to give us potential for a better future. Looks like so far, there's at least one measurable area where we keep echoing each other's boldness but perhaps the echo is one of those that gets louder not just fades into a whisper.

We didn't start at the Great Wall or Beijing in fact. We started at Shanghai running along the most modern city in the country. Jet lag/time change whatever you want to call it led to a 3 am run not too long after arrival while everyone else slept. Like most of my Facebook pictures which don't describe what's being shown with any great context or history, there was something about taking in the city just on its own, knowing that even though you were getting more details later, often beauty and structure can stand on its own merits, gorgeous even without quite adequate light. The Leon in me noticed there were often Lion statues.

When the official tours happened later I would get a little more context. I actually had noticed that they often came in similar pairs but there was an interesting difference, one was standing on a ball and the other had their paw over a cub. I would learn from our tour guide that this was a depiction of a lion family in the Chinese mind. The male lion was holding the ball as a way to show dominion and supremacy. The one holding the cub was the
female representing her raising the cub and thus the nurturing side of the culture. For over 6 years now, I've had a medical restriction keeping me from playing soccer. Like the marathon I would finish my last league before quitting (went out as co-ed champions). All this time I thought it was because my doctors were trying to be careful with head contact because of the seizures. Halfway around the world and over half a decade later, I realized that while it wasn't in a cookie, the universe had been kind enough to let me know my fortune was to let much of my supremacy go and that the strength of my legs and arms was to nurture that cub.

A few other pieces of the puzzle called my life came
together.  I was walking around with my bag that has 8 #8 bibs on it. Father's day was originally celebrated in China on 8/8 because it can be shortened to 'ba ba' which appropriately enough sounds like the informal word for father, an equivalent of daddy. It's things like this almost make me believe my life is scripted. But here I was on my way to my 8th world wonder and Kiana's first one in a country that highlighted the number 8 previously as father's day. It also sounds similar to fortune or luck and honestly the first day much less the rest of just trying to capture a bit of the way Kiana sees the world, or the other side of it, there may be people who are more fortunate or lucky than me, but I don't know or have heard of any of them.

We caught some of the magnificent culture and history but we also caught just some of the local things. We ate at places where we were the only foreigners. We took late night walks, played games in parks the the locals were playing. I was proud of the fact that I got exercise almost everyday, including a stair workout with Kiana overlooking a river. Yep I was proud of all that and then I saw a 70 year old doing things I couldn't even do when I was a teenager. Kiana jumped on the monkey bars after seeing that and made the other adults on the trip feel almost as inadequate.

Kiana had been given her own international camera to take pictures from her height, her perspective, the things she valued. If a picture is worth a thousand words, she was definitely the most chatty out of everyone in the group. There were different things that stuck out to each of us, some of the best memories ones you couldn't take pictures of or pictures don't do it justice. Some of the deserts and meals, a picture or video can't replicate the unique smell, the different taste, the atmosphere at large or small details. Some of the art at the museums you weren't allowed to have cameras in or at the kung fu show that Kiana was mesmerized when those guys moved with expert timing as fast as lightning.

Due to taking in 3 cities (Shanghai, Xian, Beijing) there was a lot of traveling by foot, plane, train, bike, boat and automobile (Kiana actually loved her first real train ride, an overnight one at that). But of course the moment of going up to the Great Wall, the excuse for the trip was a highlight. We tried foods neither of us had ever had but the moment that we were most nervous was the ski lift heading up there. I honestly wondered why the Great Wall had to be built at all there since it was such a steep mountain that I thought it would have been deterrent enough.

But once you got on that Wall, you realized that the deterrent was the steepness, one purposely built with uneven footing to keep horses from being able to be used on it and for ordinary men to struggle on it. When we got to the very top, our tour guide suggested we go to the left from the lift, that about 90% of customers did that because it was an easier walk. That's all it took for the people I love to choose to go to the right, the path less traveled by. As we headed down what was very steep stairs and ridges, we realized that whatever goes down must come up and if you're struggling with stairs on the way down... It was on our last full day there so we knew that the next day there was going to be plenty of sitting besides I remembered the Chinese proverb I started with here, a man grows most tired by sitting still. Now I've ran to, around or on every single world wonder I've ever been to. So has Kiana :).

We saw lots of different places where people throw coins in to make a prayer or a wish or a hope. Mostly our change in coins was given to people who needed it far more than we will. A couple of those moments just like a couple of the foods she 'got' to try intimidated Kiana but I wanted her to take in the full experience, reminded of what Stevenson said that there are no foreign lands, it is the traveler only who is foreign. There was however one blatant exception to the coin usage, among the wishing well there was one where it was supposed that if you threw it in the center you were gong to have a long life. I've divided my life into Part I, pre cancer and Part II, post cancer. It was on the second shot that the coin landed dead center.  I'm not superstitious but I am a little bit stitious so... here's hoping.

Actually one of the most impressive things we saw was in a Lama Temple a gigantic statute of Maitreya Buddha carved from a single pice of White Sandalwood. Now the Maitreya Buddha is considered the 'future Buddha' and in most artistic depictions he is depicted as sitting, I suppose it's a way of showing he's abiding his time. It warmed my heart to see that the biggest one I've ever seen was portrayed as standing and I dared dream that whoever carved it knew the future of dharma and karma are for those who are standing and ready to go.

For a few years now, to close friends, I've said that I could use a few days that were the opposite of 'Cheers.' I wanted to go to a place where no one knew my name and couldn't care less I came. In a country of over a billion people, I wasn't a cancer guy, just a tourist with a great friend, a great girlfriend, a great daughter. It was a 'wonder-ful' reprieve where I got to be 'cancer' free for a few days, with people who would know me and love me with or without the disease and who I hope we will be part of each other's lives no matter how many years any of us have left. The only reminders were pills I take twice a day, the Livestrong band I choose to constantly wear and the little things I saw where I made connections, great memories made in China. It was a good Sabbatical but the timing of a Sabbatical is after work. I believe it's to reflect on the work, to reconnect with Who and what got you here and to prepare for things that lie ahead. Of course our idea of rest was to be moving all day but I hope Kiana learned a lesson I lived by for a while, forgot for a bit and took me a few years to get back to. Yes, the official World Wonders are part of the past but the number of things I still dream of is ones I couldn't get to in all of a lifetime but I'm going to keep dreaming, not accepting that reality, going to bed with the same dream, the same that I had on the flight home from China after a phenomenal trip, perhaps one that was somewhere in my subconscious even during some dark days and nights of the last few years. Is is the thought that keeps me going, keeps me standing and moving, breathing, writing, living 'what a wonderful thought it is that some of the best days of our lives haven't happened yet."

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Life With A View

'From a vantage point high both the mountain and I
Found a world bigger than ourselves
I choose life with a view, give me life with a view
Now that I know otherwise, I choose life with a view' 
-Mike Mennard

With a couple of days, 6 years ago I was waking up from brain surgery. 5 years ago, 1 year to that date, I was once again waking up in an ambulance with a Grand Mal seizure a few days after my first marathon. However between the two I took a trip out to California, to Sonoma and Napa. 4 years and 4 days ago I was winning a marathon in Beaumont TX. For anyone, much less a guy who spends a lot of time essentially keeping an online public journal, I don't spend much time looking back. There are things like why the universe lines up sometimes from being born on 8/8/80 to how it doesn't make sense, how a guy whose never called in sick all of a sudden has two years of medical appointments without a single break from a brain cancer that has no known dietary, genetic, lifestyle or environmental components. But I still hold that there are a few things that if I think about too much, I'll lose the little I have left of my mind but if I don't think about at all, I might well lose my soul.

The last month has been one of those reflective months. Perhaps because I've been helping a friend train for an ironman and long bike rides give you time to think, perhaps because somethings have been so incredibly organically connected that I wonder how it's possible. I joke that some of the realities like World Series, NBA Finals, Super Bowl come back and presidential direction polling have all had unseen before things happens maybe the universe trying to simply realign probability somewhere (If you're unhappy with the results of any of those, of course I'm joking. If you're happy, hey you're welcome). 

Kiana was 3 when it started but is now 10. She hadn’t started school yet and now is running towards middle school. If I look forward 6 years, she’ll be old enough for a driver’s permit. Both of those distances in time seem so far away and yet far too imminently close. The Austin marathon came again and unlike it being the one where I put off brain surgery for and qualified for Boston, or the two that I won the cancer survivor division, I was just part of the people that helped put it together. In complete frankness, there was a calm reassurance in being behind the scenes rather than on the course. That might have been because the weather was so tough that very few people had a good race. Yogi Berra may have well said it best that it’s not the heat, it’s the humility. I just did the 5k during the lull between the start and the half marathoners finisher where despite winning my age group I got seriously sweaty.  

I returned to Sonoma the weekend afterwards, just like I had after my first marathon after surgery. Carrie, someone who was a stranger at the time and is now an angelic friend in my book, was kind enough to provide a place that the view out the window reminds why I always say that Northern California is where God lives and you get a little closer to his view. I lived in that state for 5 years during college and an internship, some formative years (or at least those that as adults we are able to self recognize as formative). I hadn't been there in too long when the brain cancer journey started but it was part of the goodbye tour where I went and saw old friends and college professors and said 'I don't know if the guy going in is the same one going but this one loves you guys.' With rare exceptions I'm still in contact the people I saw on that trip. I went out there and saw some of them again. It was the most gorgeous the area has ever looked and perfect weather the entire time I was out there. But a couple of things like some roads being closed off or some serious damage from the floods after years worth of droughts puts in perspective that sometimes beautiful growth comes from unexpected messes. The fact that in both of the departments that I majored in there was exactly one professor left, both near retirement reminded me that change is life's constant. They both got serious hugs from me. Going to a waterfall I loved in college and seeing that before it was a little more of a technical hike and now it essentially had a carved trail just kept putting things in perspective. I still climbed it in a way that was less than safe and the Bond girl got a few pictures while I didn't realize it and she said she was glad to see me so happy. I was glad to show her some key points of life part I. I went out to that waterfall when I was happy or worried, either way I 'd always walk out more happy than I walked in because as Jimi Hendrix sang my worried seemed so very small out there. 

But the point of the trip was to be part of Huck Cancer, an ultimate tournament raising money for Livestrong. I don't play much anymore but I actually played fairly well that day. The tournament was originally in honor of but now in memory of Eric, an ultimate player who got and died of brain cancer. I spoke about what Livestrong had done briefly for me but couldn't help but thank the ultimate community because of the way it lends itself. I used to travel to play for it like I do for races now and then. Two ultimate players would open homes in Duke for me to stay at during trips there, one I had met in a traveling event, we'd never even lived in the same towns. Other ultimate players flew out to Austin or to Duke from Chicago, California. The ultimate community itself threw a hat tournament to help with my medical bills in Austin and in Toronto, another to raise money for Livestrong in Houston and once I was recovered enough I organized one also to raise money for Livestrong. Ultimate is a game, one I still play once in a while, I'm in fact the head ref of the local professional team. But more importantly it's a community, and to get to play near my college, for Livestrong, while addressing that community, life has been incredibly kind. Of course it was the 8th edition that I made my first appearance at. 

Back when I was learning to bike, it was also for a fundraiser out in California to support the Texas 4000, a group of 70 something students who bike from Austin to Alaska. I was training for a 100 mile ride back then... Talk about putting it in perspective. It would end up being a necessary skill due to seizures and the bike becoming my car. Yet somehow this year's crew was having a community speaker series for the first time and they were kind enough to invite me. I told the stories that have gotten repeated a few times but they actually wanted a longer q&a because a few had heard me speak before. I gotta tell you between the presentation they gave before I spoke and the questions they had afterwards, if those college students are the near future of where we're going with cancer, there are some sharp intelligent sensitive caring minds tackling it. They're going to be giving presentations all along the way there and I think both them and whoever hears them will be better for it. I'll be riding along their start out of town in the Atlas Ride. I never quite get why I get invited to speak so much but wonder, dream that it's not so much because I can put emphasis on the right words but because I once in a while manage to translate my feelings into words. 

But while I'm in for the ride, I returned to Beaumont the day after I spoke As a few people might have heard, I won a marathon pushing a stroller out there. Without exception, I've returned every year at least once to Beaumont, twice more than once. This was my 4th time at Gusher. When I went out there it was just a road race. Now they have incorporated a 40k bike time trial, a roughneck (a fitness challenge essentially). I couldn't figure out which one to do so me and the Bond girl signed up for all 3. I took 2nd in the half marathon. I had never done a cycling time trial and it was downhill with a tailwind one way and uphill with a headwind the other way... Well let's just say I was dead last among the men in my category and out of the 78 people doing my distance of either gender, I only got beat by 67 of them... I fared about the same in the roughneck though I did win one category, the tire flip. Perhaps because it's in Spartans but more than likely because I have one in my actual backyard. But far more importantly, I saw the people there who had let me into the race, the announcer who had ben there. Some of these guys had been out to the Austin Marathon and I'd had dinner. I am so glad we've kept some of the connection points from this community.  The Bond girl got 4th and a PR on the half but struggled more on the other two. Still, I'm glad that she can handle that singing up for things that show you've got areas to improve on doesn't have to be a drag that you skip out on trying for. 

So 6 years removed from brain surgery, almost 6 and 4 month since the brain cancer journey started. It's no coincidence that while I've gotten to go many places (heading to China next week) that the places I've visited the most are West Texas where my family is, Beaumont, and California where the friends who feel like family are. Many cancer survivors and boy do I understand why, when treatment is done or when it's past enough, they let it be part of the past, something not to look back on. I understand that, I don't celebrate my birthday always joking that I was born, I've gotten over it. But the truth is even while I emphasize my birthday (8/8/80) in many ways I don't remember it and consciously speaking, I didn't learn anything from it. But for me brain cancer, the surgery, that marathon, that 'goodbye' tour even with a damaged memory helped me learn a lot. That was the gestation and birth of Life Part II. As I told the UT kids at my speech last Thursday in response to a question (this was one where the room got awkwardly quiet but I diffused it with a joke), the median survival rate for people without surgery is 4 years, for people with surgery is 7 years. I'm getting close enough to where I dare dream I may end up being above average. But no matter whether or not that's true, there will come a day when I die because we all die. Dr. Seuss day just passed by and this year Kiana decided to wear thneed from the Lorax. In there the Lorax warns about out thneeds and trends and how we use our resources. He acknowledges that inevitable mortality that belongs to us all in a way I appreciate, 'A tree fall the way it leans, be careful which way you lean.' I appreciate the views that my life is giving me and feel like they reflect the right lean. As I have raised Kiana, I've watched her fall while learning to walk, while learning to ride a bicycle, on obstacle courses. The beauty of life is that until one last time you get to keep rising from falls and I hope I keep appreciating all the views. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Fly like a bumble bee

Ever since I officially entered a relationship with Elaine on Facebook, I've gotten many in person and online questions of how I got a girlfriend. So since I'm such a private person I thought I'd write the story down. She doesn't remember it going quite the same way I did but of course that means she's wrong...

I've spent a whole lot of time and effort into being single. That's not entirely correct of course because there were people I went out with, some people would call that going on dates, others would call that dating, I fervently denied to anyone including and above all to myself. A messy end to a 10 year marriage left me gun shy. If there are places where my humor coping mechanism got me to avoid questions... that was it. People asked me if I was afraid of commitment so I'd wise crack with a simple answer, "No I'm not afraid of commitment, I'm just committed to being single." I'm not sure that I can make an argument why those girls were bad fits for me or good fits, possibility just was closed off and probably like anyone I've ever been attracted to, they could easily do better.

But anyone who knows me knows I'm not afraid of commitment, I'm afraid of breaking commitment. My divorce decree states that I'm against my divorce but that I respect people's right to walk away... It's a question of whether I'm stubborn, a man of my word, or just trying to always show my endurance that I stick with my commitments but I'd rather the motive be debated without the result ever falling into that.

How I ended up on a relationship on Facebook is actually a pretty simple story... in an age where many, myself included share probably a little too much on social media (I mean if so many of my friends care about my traffic situation or outfit every single day, we all probably need a bigger focus). But recently for no grand reason at all, like today on no particularly special date, I made a video of pictures Elaine and I had shared for the over a year we'd spent sharing adventure. Like sending someone flowers because it's Tuesday or accidentally wearing matching t-shirts, it was a moment that danced between being organic and being conscious and being affectionate... I'm too manly to be that sappy in person. Because she's more intelligent/introverted and doesn't share so much on social media (the girl bought a new car recently for crying out loud and told a few friends and her parents compared to me who you know thinks a car has cool license plates and wants Facebook likes over it), she heckled me asked when I was going to put that video up on Facebook and I joked that I would do so right after she put is on a relationship on it. That was over chat and a few minutes later, she had put us up and since this was unfamiliar territory for either of us we were not quite ready for the reaction it got... (I did put the video up on Facebook by the way but because of copyright music purposes it got taken down 30 seconds after I put it up).

But I digress, the question wasn't how it ended up social media but rather how I ended up getting a girlfriend. So back in April of 2015 when she and I were both dating other people I asked her to be my vice president as I started running for President of the Austin Runner's Club. She didn't quite understand why I'd be asking her, a 23 year old hardware engineer who had no event background to be 2nd in command and the race director for a club that was older than both of us. She accepted and we set on the adventure of taking the club to rhyme with the past while accommodating for the future.  I would save her a spot at the Boston marathon bus and we'd sit pre-race and just chat. She'd hit her PR and made a joke about me in her race report which the coach would respond to that I was just trying to get myself on her radar. I was so hurt that he would disrespect me that way that it got me to make a couple of jokes out of it. She got a PR but I've still not received a thank you note that it was because she was bored enough on the bus to be able to sleep right before the race.

A couple of months later she would be turning 24 and invited a few of us to do a trail race to celebrate. It was a night trail race and with no spatial orientation, uneven footing, I was hesitant but I signed up just because if you celebrate your birthday by doing a race, how do you not say yes. It was my first trail race but I would sign up for the 10k with a few others while most were doing the 30k.  Somehow the universe was kind enough to where I would win my first trail race. A while later, she came in and it was the first time ever she won a race taking the women's 30k title. I gave her medal and her trophy at the finish line because I'm a big fan of handing out happiness.

It was a series of races but I was at that time only doing the first one. She went back out to the second and between the two both of us had actually stopped dating other people. But at the second one someone who barely knew her came up and asked where her boyfriend was and she said, 'we broke up' but wondered how they knew about it to begin with since they'd never met him or had a conversation. At the 3rd race, where I was absent, someone came up and asked her where her husband was and when she replied she wasn't married she got the response that they thought the guy who handed her the medal and trophy was her husband. She laughed it off and would share the story with me and we'd chuckle together.

Two curious things had kept happening during that time because of our working together. The first was that she would watch the way I interacted with people more, in speeches, in one-on-one. She correctly diagnosed that I was somehow irreverent and reverent, that I'd sit there and make fun of people in a way while being completely serious, that I had a bluntness I hoped was effective even if uncouth. She said that the way I got along in the world was like watching a bumble bee fly; it didn't make sense that something could stay afloat so counterintuitively (even while were friends she was already calling me out for being fat). We were moving to tweaking some things at the Austin Runner's Club with some strong support and some opposition, minor but vocal for messing with somethings that had stood for longer than either of was old (and I have 11 years on her). It was and is still primarily working though it's ruffled some feather but somehow the bumble bee's wings are still there and I'm still hoping to get some things to bloom.

But the second thing was that while we were getting work done was often after workouts, chatting at one or the other's cars because there are conversations that are better in person than workout over long emails (or blogs for that matter). People kept asking if we were dating and we kept saying no because we weren't. It certainly wasn't on my radar because even with silly Jr High relationships and up (I didn't start any earlier than that) I had never sought to turn a friendship into a relationship other than friendship. Those type of relationships I was hitting on the girl on day one. In my book, if you didn't notice that immediate 'chemistry,' well they have a word for people who don't have type of chemistry, it's called friendship. We'd blow them off and get back to work talk.

At the very last race of the trail series, I would return with Kiana for her first 10k, her (and mine) first night race, her first trail race, her first time camping. We would get it done and we sat up by the camp fire till late making s'mores and not too late into the night, Elaine would come in and also win that race, another night 30k. After getting to bed, I woke up and Elaine was sitting outside the tents unable to go to sleep and we started chatting. Because our friends were camped all around us, I suggested we move a little further away not to wake anyone up and we sat and chatted as the sun was rising over a lake. My friend Chris came over and sat with us for a while and he would say, 'this is why everyone thinks you're dating.' A few moments after he walked away she turns to me to said in what I read as sarcasm, 'we should just go on a date and tell everyone it didn't work out so they stop bugging us.' I responded with a sarcasm of my own of 'oh are you asking me out' and she made it clear it would only be one date.

We'd go to a Russian restaurant she picked out that she'd never been to but had heard of; I was impressed she would do an adventure to a brand new place. I'd pick where we went and it was an improv festival because at that time and in college she had done improv; she was impressed I had thought of finding something so specific she was into. (By the way in case you're wondering when we saw the reaction that being in a relationship was getting to we couldn't figure out what date to set it to and it was decided to that first show).

Just by virtue of busy-ness and single parenthood and travel, our second date would not be for almost 2 months near the end of October when the James Bond movie came out. In my social media oversharing approach, and because  this was the first time I was going to a Bond movie with a girl, I asked if this made her a bond girl on my Facebook status... and boy did I get lectured and reminded of what happens to most of the Bond girls. Somehow in Specter it works out that Bond's female companion Swann are still together at the end of the film. To this day, I still call her the Bond girl and I'm thankful for the different ways we've bonded... I own the song from Sam Smith there, Writing's on the Wall

I've been here before
But always hit the floor
I've spent a lifetime running
And I always get away
But with you I'm feeling something
That makes me want to stay

Perhaps there was something to be said for the song that headlined that movie.

I was heading to Brazil to head to Christmas that year to finally use my passport. I had invited a few friends and the Bond girl but somehow she was the only one available out of the ones who said they might be able to and if anyone thinks I wasn't like oh boy, all pressure with a girl you've only dated a short time to be taking her on both of your first international trip in a long long time... but it was a 'wonder'ful trip and seeing the statue of the Christ was nice too.

It would continue well. Despite all the races I've been fortunate enough to win, she was part of the weekend where I'd get my first breaking the tape moment at the Lucky Trail Marathon series. We'd win the half marathon relay together both wearing ARC shorts that might as well have said, do these make my butt look fast. People kept saying we looked good together but I think it was just the average of the two.

We kept working well together with ARC and each other and actually in all of those interactions there was never a backing each other up just because. There were times where we have disagreed and voted and both won and lost against what the other one was thinking. Some of those arguments ended with stating 'thank you for your opinion' when the tone really did have something else that ended in k and followed by you implied. Her retort to my humor was to say that the entire point of working with her was a 'long con.' The best wit I could reply was I'm a fan of being constructive, that's what con is short for there, right?

But despite races together, besides each other, where we were behind the scenes, I still had never to her, to me or to anyone called her my girlfriend. I'd made enough progress to where I'd at least acknowledge that I was dating her. What the distinction is between those is so clear that obviously I don't need to spell it out cause everyone knows (or I have no clue and can't possibly imagine being that creative). But last year when I got to be part of Coaches Vs Cancer at March Madness' Final Four, my teammates, some of the media as they interacted with her, Mike, a friend from Livestrong who was there, all without exception called me out on the fact that I wouldn't call her my girlfriend. I'm not a ceremonial guy which is why I've skipped the podium when placing and winning at races, I wanted to skip graduation even though he was the first in his family to get a degree. Because I'm not ceremonial or obviously official somehow since I was acknowledging or in my book getting a real girlfriend for the first time since high school, I actually sat her down and asked all cheesy like if she would be my girlfriend. She said yes and we celebrated with ice cream and donuts for dinner followed by wine then bourbon. That after all is what it means to be an adult. 

Pick any aspect of our relationship before or since then and it's by no means conventional. This was the first relationship that grew out of friendship from me that came from working together and me doing an event I was afraid of. There are aspects of it like her sharing a story once about her grandmother's dementia that made me think she had the capacity to understand some of my approach to cancer but there's been moments where she's been there with me at the Livestrong challenge, at the Brain Power5k, at the UT medical school cancer institute kick off where she's seen and shared how comfortably uncomfortable I am being an advocate. I've joked in complete serious that she's the first girl to make it past 2 MRI' but at the last one she said she should actually come to the next one and the results. There was something really spicy in whatever we were eating that day. There's been times where she's had emotional days for various where I've been sympathetic and ones where I've shown zero sympathy because I say that there's a reason tears and anger are built into the system like pain during running, it almost always just shows your threshold but there's times its an indicator to stop or slow down and other times it's exactly how you build strength and one should avoid the avoidance not the pain. The imbalance of the fact that I come with so much baggage is something I'm not quite sure why she embraces but I am actually reconciled by a moment long before most people thought we were dating where at a house warming party a friend's roommate thought we must be together because of the way her and Kiana played games together since 'there was no way she'd spend time with or get along so well with my kid if we weren't together.'

A few months ago, literally a few months ago if how slowly I move towards relationship isn't evident, a conversation began about moving in together. For people who are old fashioned and traditional like say, my church members, my family and oh... me, this really is a step that should be reserved for marriage. We had conversations with friends and family about it and decided to move forward and she's moving in of all days on April 1st. There's been method decisions like she and Kiana went for their first run together ever recently (Kiana said she talks about more fun stuff than me). They are both children of immigrants (by the way because I have 11 years on her, there's been some heckling from long standing friend, 'well at least she's closer to your age than Kiana's' or 'oh so you never want to have a girlfriend than you find a cute 25 year old IBM engineer and suddenly you're open to a serious relationship.'). For Chinese New Year, they cooked together. There is an arguable defense that this step should be reserved for marriage and that this is a life of sin and well, I'm not going to argue much but just restated what I said to a church friend I thank God for this here life of sin. 

I've started preparing for her moving in. I'm a pragmatic guy so that original just meant cleaning out the closet and garage, than it turned into building the closet to have more shelves and hanging space. The closet now has a barn door cause apparently my girlfriend is a hipster (she picked it out). That made me realize the hall closets needed some work which required new door knobs which should match others... This girl and I have been to 3 world wonders, to some great races but moving in we just realized that details matter even if almost no one is ever going to see them. I almost entitled this entry cleaning out my closet actually because of this but they weren't dirty, they just needed more room. I've done things like that in real life that were awkward but the right thing to do like tell Kiana, tell Kiana's mother and introduce Elaine and Kiana's mother officially. There is beauty in practically. The bumble bee's flight perhaps never quite makes sense but it's work amongst the flowers that makes life grow in a healthy direction.

You know I don't know what's next with us... never mind I do. We did both of our 1st race in 2017, I ran my first 8 mile run and she was out doing 16. We've won  3 relay races since then and we've both won other races and had other PR's since this all started. But somehow after the wine, cheese and chocolate celebration of us deciding to join places, it was the first joint race that night trail race, for both of us in a place and distance neither of us had ever run before.  

She's moving in on April 1st but it's not a fool's errand. Between now and then we are headed to California where I went to college where I'll help with Huck Cancer. We are headed to Beaumont where I won the marathon and we're both doing the half marathon, a cycling time trial and a weight event. Elaine, Kiana and I are doing our first trip together to my last World Wonder and Kiana's first one, the Great Wall of China. Without exception on each of those trips we're all going to places one of the parties have been too but sometimes isn't a good relationship taking on new things together and other time getting acquainted with each other's previous  life?

Just to not mess with karma to celebrate it I also took her to the same place we went on that first date, the Paramount Theater. But I also dreamed forward and we have medical appointments, social and races on each other's calendars as far down as October, well past the next MRI. I honestly don't quite know how this work, Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn't be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn't know it so it goes on flying anyway. So we will too... if you've gotten this far in reading about it you're probably much too nosy or like me a hopeful romantic... If that's the case and you want to watch the video that got all this moving on social media and this blog, check our our video here. So yeah I have a girlfriend and this bee has fallen under her spell but what do you know, it's up that I fell... 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Anything but grey

This is the story of my life  And I write it everydayI know it isn't black and white And it's anything but greyI know that no I'm not alright, but I feel ok causeAnything can, everything can happen That's the story of my life-Bon Jovi

I'm five days away from achieving my first month away in my own bed since I won a marathon almost 4 years though I've yet to go a full month without a competition... July is the next month where that's even possible right now. The last 6.5 years can and have proved predictably unpredictable or is it unpredictably predictable... Wait isn't that a contradiction in terms?

But I keep going in a story that I'm not ready for but know not quit till the finish line and life keeps being kind enough to keep moving the finish line. There's some guilt in that... I've seen friends in the communities that were so supportive when this cancer journey started that have gotten cancer and passed away. So I do what I can with my conscious and am helping out with 3 different fundraising things currently never quite knowing whether that's passing hope forward or assuaging guilt back (the one anyone can actively donate to online is here.) 

There are some highlights that I think are wonderful because I am a sentimental man. Kiana repeated as one of the kids that passes on to regionals in the science fair. Last year she did a project on a 'gerbil brain' which would not only win the 3rd grade, it would go on and win at regionals which is several school districts. It was about spatial orientation and memory... one which I don't have and one which is damaged. 

This year she made her project about 'Does color affect Memory,' testing how language (another damaged section of my brain) and memory. She tested how people read against different colors and contrast whether they remembered it wrong. I've never asked whether her projects has anything to do with the cognition tests she sees me practice (nor would I as what 10 year old self recognizes their own psychology that well which by the way how did a decade turn by so fast?!?).  But I am intrigued by it. Both years by the way, part of her hypothesis was wrong but as she describes the testing and the results she does not make excuses for her hypothesis not having panned out, she explains why she thought it was what it was and what it wasn't. Part of the value of the project is how well they deliver it to the judges and if she did 1/2 the job she does in practicing with me, I'd certainly pick her to be the winner every time (though I may be biased). I've long joked that if all this brain cancer stuff leads her to be a neuro surgeon it would be worth it but it turns out that as grateful as I am for mine, I saw him briefly a few times. My neuropsychologist is who I'm a gigantic fan of and perhaps fixing the engine is one thing but it turns out that perhaps figuring out how it ticks when it's an engine that's trying to understand itself might be the more complicated science. Kiana regularly states science is her favorite subject and it keeps shows. I went into brain surgery wearing a t-shirt that was a gift of someone slicing up a rocket combining the memes of 'it's not rocket surgery' and 'it's not brain surgery." I wish I had the creative design to make one for Kiana that somehow demonstrated that what she's doing well... it is brain science! I was there when they were announcing the awards and my heart doesn't pound like that before races, MRI's, or even brain surgery. We celebrated afterwards with a special meal and sparkling cider because you know that's how you train kids early. 

But the script continues to write itself in this story. I actually had no races for January but then Spectrum Trail races announced an 8 mile race. I'd never done an 8 mile race in my life and they had never put one on. There was also a 16 mile option and a marathon one. I loved what the race director said about how they didn't try to put on a 10k or a half as part of it because with the way the trail went (it was around a lake) that would have been a lot more forced and they just went with the way it naturally flowed. When I heard all that, how could the kid born 8/8/80 not take that race? But speaking of forced, I might have traded for Bib #8 after packet pick up successfully. The dance between choice, chance and circumstance is a rhythm with some choreographed moves. I had told the James Bond girl who was doing the 16 miler that maybe I'd pull off an 8 minute per mile pace. On a road I could control that but on a technical trail after a muddy week, if it happened, it would happen as organically as my birth not my bib. 

I went out running as hard as I could on my second Spectrum trail race thinking I had a solid lead till the turn around point where a little too focused on my watch I took a slip and realized I only had a 20 second lead which isn't much in a regular race midway and certainly not so on a trail race. The pace at that time was 8:14 but I would never look at my watch again, that's how I had fallen and slipped on a rock so it was time to just gun for the win. I sped up but not enough to get to an 8 minute pace average but I kid you not won my first race of 2017 and only 8 mile race ever with an 8:08 pace. I went back and ran the James Bond Girl in who would win the 16 miler. We've had some joint victories and some individual victories but it was a nice moment to have our first individual joint victory. (For those of you who want more details on my first real girlfriend since high school well that deserves it's own proper entry and will get one but if a Facebook relationship status didn't make it clear, someone else's Facebook status certainly did.) If anyone whose read this blog thinks the single dad who put off brain surgery to run a marathon and then won one pushing a stroller is having anything near conventional approach to a relationship you haven't been reading this blog very well but be assured, while it's not typical in many ways, it is a good one. I am not sure what was more heart warming about that race, that it was a double win, that it was in unknown terrain, that it was on my number of miles with my number at my number's pace but hey having to choose between which of the many good things makes it great is the kind of problem you can sign me up for any day.

But high on that list of both Kiana's winning project and us winning a race is that it was an organic event. For Kiana who knows what prompted her to do that but hearing her talk about it you could tell she was honestly asking a question, honestly acknowledging the assumptions that were correct and incorrect and finishing it all with conclusions but just as if not more importantly with just as much curiosity. For me, it was a trail race at a place I'd never been, a place where you often can't see even to the next turn, much less around it but there was still flowers and trees and rocks and a lake, a dangerous beauty that you took in both to enjoy it and to stay on your feet. 

I'm not done figuring out the dance between planning and improvising, avoiding hubris but dreaming and pursuing success. There won't be a day where I'm not reminded that the grey matter between my ears is still damaged but it's not so damaged that it can't take in a spectrum of  so many colors that alone is a victory. And those colors for me and for Kiana and for those we love create affectionate memories. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

One question haunts and hurts too much, too much to mention,
Was I really seeking good or just seeking attention?
Is that all good deeds are when looked at with an ice cold eye?
If that's all good deeds are maybe that's the reason why
No good deed goes unpunished
       -from the musical Wicked

I ran recently in the coldest day Austin has had in over 6 years. It reminded me of a story my mother tells me about when she used to work in a shop in her adolescence. As she was headed out she didn't want her hands exposed and had forgotten gloves so she tucked her purse under her jacket in the back room and started to brave for the cold with her hands in her pockets when her boss wondered why there was something swelling unnaturally from her jacket. There had been previously shoplifting by employees so he approached her disappointed and presuming that would be the case once more. Once she showed him that it was just her purse and that she hadn't stolen anything, he apologized but he also gave her a piece of life advice, "Don't do anything good that appears bad or anything bad that appears good." I'd tell you how I got to hear that story but that's a bit embarrassing even for me but we'll leave it at that it had something to do with something that happened during my own adolescence. 

It's a story that's been flowing through my mind for a few reasons but one of them is that recently the James Bond girl went to see Wicked and got me to listening to the album again(she by the way in the age of social media is apparently now officially in my life since off a dare it's now on Facebook).  I saw the show the better part of a decade ago in London and was intrigued by the revisiting what happened in tale of The Wizard of Oz. It reminded me of the African proverb that until the Lion gets its own historian, we will only hear the perspective of the hunter. But despite usually deferring to the Lion in stories, in the Wizard of Oz, it's always the scarecrow that I relate to, the one missing the brain. Somehow I got fortunate enough to know that in neither version is he one of the bad guys but in Wicked, he's the one who develops more depth after his brain has been damaged. Listening to it on the long drive from west Texas home when my favorite dance partner, Kiana  made the drive happier by saying I was the complete opposite of the Scarecrow character lyrics singing dancing through life

But the way we view history and remember it matters. It is in fact why I do keep this blog, because a guy with a damaged memory wants to remember and well, in completely frankness, if I or Kiana have to hear the story down the line, I want it to be mine, the lion not the hunter's version. As I've said many times about this blog or the stories I tell, is this story true? No, it's just what I remember. But there are little tidbits that until someone points them out to you about your own story you're like huh? Like in Wicked, they talk about Dorothy's ruby slippers and say 'taking shoes from a dead woman's feet, seriously who does that?!?'

So it has been interesting to hear stories about and from my life and ancestry over the holidays and wonder about what I didn't know, how much I don't and won't know. My father was retelling the story of how he and my mother get together. He's not a guy who I share any genes with but he's my father. I don't recall this but apparently at age 6 I pointed at him when he had just started dating my mother and said that guy is going to be my dad in front of a crowd (even then I was very shy). But he's been in my life for literally 3 decades and it took an ESPN piece before I internally recognized that I'd known my father most of my life. But I wrote about that August 2015 and it would be the better part of 16 months before I'd say it as clearly as I said it on Christmas eve 2016, and the first time I honestly ever said while looking in his eyes that there wasn't a single day in my entire childhood that I felt an ounce of treatment difference between how kind he was to me and my little brother, his one and only biological son. There wasn't a moment where he hadn't lived up to 'recognizing' me as his own (no name was on my birth certificate so he just added his, no adoption was necessary). It wasn't until then that my last name was Leon but maybe that was when the mane finally showed up on my face. I've talked about some of the difficulties of my childhood on occasion but as I listened to his stories from sleeping in a place with fleas to why he may be such a good father, his own dad was incredibly absent for much of his childhood, I realized his childhood made mine look like a cakewalk. The conversations led to us strong, silent manly hispanic types having had a bit too much jalapeƱos or something because we had watery eyes.

During the Christmas visit, we went to a few places but everyone else was riding in a minivan or a higher vehicle so my grandfather rode with me in 'normal' car. It was the most one on one time we'd ever gotten. The man whose been married for over 60 years gave me some life advice and told me what he thought of my dating life. There were moments when he told stories about 'my grandfather' used to say, a phrase I use except it's still in the present context. Somehow while I'd met my great grandfather it was similar to Kiana my only memories are of him in the much later stages in life. My grandfather had a grandfather who used to say witty things... it was something interesting to absorb. There were times in my childhood were there were 4 generations present in the same room and I am glad Kiana had the same privilege. 

Each of us is a 1st generation immigrant with my grandfather and father having gone back and forth for more of their youth/young adulthood. This a move at times criticized and at times praised for being there and not being there for their families simultaneously. However, my father did it illegally or undocumented whichever jargon you prefer. My grandfather did it entirely on an invitational program where the US government utilized migrant workers for farmers. He did things in Minnesota and Texas and California... I heard stories I never knew I never knew. I came over at 8 and learned English and went to college on an academic scholarship in Napa Valley. I resented when I was 18 and 19 being asked which winery I worked at and how good my English was since it was clear they were assuming I picked grapes. But then I should have been an grateful for the opportunities that came from each generation of my family deciding that the next one was more important. Not my grandfather nor my father nor myself brought drugs or crimes, none of us rapists so I trust that means that we are some of the good people and now we are all American citizens. So while we all did it in different ways and while I've had a few different guiding lights on the specifics of parenting, I think the moon that lit the path of me being a good father came directly from reflecting bigger lights in my own family even if it took me decades to notice and acknowledge it. 

I've messed with Hispanic gender roles some in being the primary caretaker of a child. It may tell you that they still exist in my head because I've spent a few days volunteering at Kiana's school as a 'cafeteria lady' even if the title is officially 'lunch room monitor.' I wondered if Kiana would be embarrassed by it since I recall at least one of my school friends being embarrassed that their mom worked in the cafeteria but then again that was junior high. My own mother is a school cafeteria manager and I've certainly never been embarrassed. In fact one of the jokes over Christmas was about our childhood when my mom used to make tamales etc and I'd actually sell them door to door. Now my little brother works for Nike in the catering section of their headquarters. I joked that my mom had either worked in food service or not had a 'regular job' and now my little brother works in food service and I don't have a regular job. So maybe I'm not the only one of the Leon's messing with gender roles.

But it's been interesting because I feel like I've learned more about society in a few days in November and January of volunteering at the cafeteria than in other ways I've helped out at schools (formal teacher, chess coach, math tutor, library helper). Small children who want help getting their food open who I say they have to do it themselves or at least try (huge success rate). But someone said that was their parent's job to do things like open the milk... we barely drink in our household and certainly not from cartons that are opened daily so not sure how that would work. Another person said that was making them feel less dependent of adults (is saying to pre-k kids, see you don't need me to be able to eat your food a bad thing?). Still, I'm proud of many things in life but on that list was that I volunteered in November and when I went back last week there were several children who said look I now open it by myself. There are simple things I have to do like wear an apron and hand out napkins, forks and spoons, give the bathroom pass out but somehow too many of the kids are used to demanding those things instead of asking for them so when they do that 'NAPKIN!' tone I simply hold my hand to my ear and say I think you're missing a few words and sometimes they get it or sometimes with redirections from their friends it becomes 'May I please...?' There was one kid who said I had to do what he said since I was just a volunteer... anyone want to guess if he got a napkin? It may be slightly less efficient but I hope they learn the lesson someone taught me in high school that 'if someone is nice to you but not nice to the waitstaff, they are not a nice person.' However, my favorite moment during all this has been that the kids who had proper manners to begin with was they wanted to ask my name. Someone said I was Kiana's dad and for an hour or two I became "Mr. Kiana's dad." I became a big fan because while I've had names, nicknames and titles my entire life but Kiana's dad was the only one where they all converged.

Oddly enough I almost wasn't able to hang in this position because AISD has a policy of someone not being able to help if they've ever, ever, been fired from a position. I had honestly answered that I had been fired from being a probation officer with a brief explanation. Back when that happened I'd been given both at the time and after the fact the opportunity to resign at the moment I was fired and in the post firing negotiations. While I understood the game, I didn't care for formalities which felt dishonest so I took the firing. Yet here, more than 4 years after the fact, I renegotiated with my previous employer to be able to not have been fired in order to be able to go help out as a 'cafeteria lady.' I was amused that wanting to be honest a few years ago at the end of a job and a few weeks on an application was fixed by negotiating to less than honesty.

It's been little things mentioned here which is where the lyrics of wicked stood out to me which this blog started with. My father and grandfather talking about the slack for being there or not being there when they were out of the country working (both while at home and abroad they got both accusations). Me trying to help out at school requiring me to fix honesty on paper, me trying to help kids need adults less getting me reprimanded by adults. Me finally acknowledging a relationship that's been true for a while gets me both attention and some reprimands about how I always knew the George Clooney days and ways were temporary (I didn't). Sometimes I think I have confused goodness with conformity, a way to get attention for doing the things you're just supposed to do. When I was first teaching Kiana to throw a frisbee at age 3 or so, when she'd dropped it I'd respond with 'ahh' or 'it's okay' but when she caught it I'd just have her throw it back. She started dropping it more so I switched it around and then she was more excited to catch it. But that didn't seem right either so I just left the disc in her room and we'd throw when she wanted to. She still likes doing it, I hope, because it was something inherently fun, inherently good.

Now next month, I'm headed to San Francisco for an Ultimate Tournament that raises money for Livestrong. While I hope you donate here, going to play my favorite sport in my favorite city while raising money for an organization I love is not much of a sacrifice. I've done it for Marathons and bike rides and Spartans but doing good things while doing good things should be commended but probably on the same level as if I raised money flossing, sometimes a little awkward, sometimes feels invasive but really it's good for you and keeps your smile better which gets better smiles in response.

I live a rather public life. I've spent the last few years even more publicly hoping that while I've settled all financial debts that somewhere I balance the karma debts of how many people have been helpful with life, with the cancer journey, with the emotions. Every time near the end of the year when I do something nice, I joke that 'I have to do one nice thing a year and I was running out of time.'  I've turned the joke around this year and said 'I have to do one nice thing a year and I want to just get it over with in January and then I can be mean for the rest of the year.' That's the way it is but it's my hope, my goal that some of the good things I do are things that really never get commended or shared on social media but are done simply because life is good and I want to share it.