I just got back from a trip I used to make more regularly - to New York City, home of one of my alma maters and the place I lived for a chunk of the 1990s.
This time I also went to Connecticut (I went to Connecticut last time I visited New York as well, back in November, but I didn’t write about it for some reason) to see some friends that I’ve made through gaming: the “Fantastic” family, Josh Look, Bernie Frick, Jeff Luce, Michael Fralish, Peter “Tootsie” Putnam, Al and Shellie Rose, and Zev “Z-man” Schlesinger.
A lot happened. Many games got played, many beers and bottles of liquor and cups of coffee got drunk, many good times were had. Josh Look killed six or seven banshees with his car. Strangely, though, as I sat down and decided what to write about regarding last week’s excursion, I came up with the following three things. These aren’t game session accounts, or tales of drunken bawdiness, or even shout outs to people I met and will only see when I head up north again. But these are the things I’ve been thinking about now that I’m home.
New York’s Lack of Color
Isn’t New York supposed to be one of the most fashionable cities in the world? If so, then what’s with the decades old INSISTENCE on wearing black from head to toe? Did I wear that much black when I lived there?
It’s been many, many years since I lived in New York City, and recently quite a length of time passed between visits. At the same time, I’ve added color to my wardrobe - specifically different shades of blue, gray, and green, which are colors that look good on me (as does black). When I got out of my cab near Times Square last Wednesday, wearing my subdued but definitely blue sweater, my blue jeans, and my light blue shirt, I must have stood out. Around me was a sea of black, punctuated only occasionally by people who dared wear something else. Sure, their cuts and fabrics and weaves were fashionable and modern. But everything was black. And unlike every other time I visited New York, and unlike the years I lived there, I noticed. In other towns across our great nation, they say again and again that X and Y are the “new black.” Apparently, no one told New York.
Now, I like New York as a city much more than I like Atlanta, but now I have to say that at least Atlanta has people dressed in all the colors of the rainbow. And I rather like the variety.
The Cigarette Generation
We were sitting on the couch in Matt Loter’s mom’s house on Thursday when Matt made an off-handed comment. I’ll paraphrase: “Man, the generation before us - everybody smoked. Now, even though people smoke, it’s NOTHING like they did before.” For some reason, that struck me.
He’s right, you know. When I think about how many people I know who smoked when I was a kid, it’s overwhelming. No one thought anything of it, even when it came out about how bad smoking was for you. People just shrugged and said, “Quitting smoking is more difficult than the crap I’m going to go through because I smoke, so fuck it.”
Really! That’s what they said! More or less.
I see my generation as the one that did the most quitting. I never smoked, but I had a lot of peers who did. MOST of them don’t any more, and the ones who still do really are saying “Fuck it.” But I’d be willing to lay hard money on the probability that if they have kids, they will ACTIVELY discourage their kids from taking up the habit. Way I see it, it’s only a matter of time before cigarette smoking becomes a novelty pastime. The rules are finally in place to control it, and even people who smoke admit that the drawbacks are steadily outweighing the benefits. (And what are the benefits, anyway? The euphoria? The perception of coolness?)
When you get a bunch of us together over alcohol and games, smack talk will occur. I am a proud talker of much smack, and that includes pointing out the foibles in someone’s gaming skill (ask my friend Jay Elgin about his math). This past week, much smack talk occurred, and we laughed good-naturedly at it. BUT, as Josh and I were tooling around post-gaming on both Friday and Saturday, we were laughing even more - without resorting to insulting anyone. What we were laughing at was just a silly bunch of non sequiturs and absurdist observations, but they had us giggling like little boys looking at their first girlie magazine.
Now, by insult, I mean latching onto something genuine about a person - something about the way he looks, or acts - and milking it for its humor. Insult humor can be funny, but I think it takes a special way of doing it to make it funny. Otherwise, it’s just… insulting.
There are people who are funny - they have comedic timing, a way of saying things, a certain something in their voice - which makes you smile when they tell you a story, or makes you laugh at yourself when they do even a shitty imitation of you. When those people make a joke, you laugh.
But let’s face it, there are also people who simply aren’t funny. When they tell you a “funny” story, you usually get bored after the second sentence. When they make a comment, you CAN help breaking into a smile. And when they employ insult humor, they really only succeed in insulting their subject.
I think it comes partially from the delivery, sure. But I think a big part of it comes from WHY the person is attempting humor in the first place. I’d be pulling your leg, or outright lying, if I told you there was not a narcissistic motive behind anybody who tries to make a joke. We ALL like it when people laugh at us (as long as we’re trying to make them laugh at us). But if you think belittling someone, and failing to respect that person at the same time, will lead to comedic success, well… you’re really no better than those kids who poked fun of the fat kid in fourth grade.
But if you actually like and respect the person you’re making fun of, it somehow comes across differently. You don’t come off as one-upping them. You don’t come off as a bully. The object of your ridicule may actually feel affection coming from you, and not derision. THAT’S when you know you’re doing it right.
Oh, and people laugh, too.
Even so, there are people - I could name THREE right now off the top of my head - who are WAY sensitive. As good-natured as your ribbing might be, they’re gonna take offense. Also, you have to be careful. If there’s a subject someone is sensitive about - her weight, his hairline, his height, the fact that she’s 40 and single - then it’s best to learn early what that subject is, and to avoid it. Find something else.
And if you come across an overly sensitive person, avoid THEM.
I don’t mean avoid making fun of them. I mean avoid them altogether.
Fuck those people.
So, yeah. That’s what I came away with. Insults, cigarettes, and the color black.
Next time I go up, I think maybe I’ll come back and write about chimneys, salt and pepper shakers, and whether or not farting in elevators makes a good occupation.
… when you’re bored, and listening to random 80s songs on Spotify, and reading analytical psychology excerpts for no reason.
Early last year I wrote a piece titled “Why I’m Cool With the End of the World.” Back then I was ready - things were routine, I was treading water with everything in my life - basically, an apocalypse would have shaken things up and made things interesting again. Why the hell not.
The things I was cool with still hold true - except Obama DID win, and I am a little interested in how his second term rolls out, especially since he’s finally showing a little backbone against Boehnhead and the Republican House.
Truth is, though, in these final hours I’m not so sure about it all. You see, 2013 looks very promising for me, and it’d be a fucking shame if we blinked out of existence just as I was hitting my stride and getting off this Godforsaken plateau I’ve been on.
For your edification (and end of the world enjoyment) here’s a quick pictorial of some of the things I might miss out on if Planet Nibiru is for real:
These three stacks are novels. Over the last 12 years, I’ve written all three of them. The one on the left has moments of brilliance, but needs a major rewrite that I’m not sure I can give it. It was my first - call it an exercise in learning how to write a book. The middle one, The Survivor of San Guillermo, is going to get published in 2013. And the one on the right - The Talented Boys - is better than either of the other two.
Twelve years, I’m finally getting a book published. End of the world. Fuck.
This is an intricate, yet highly enjoyable and immersive board game I designed, which is based on a millions-dollar intellectual property that I can’t disclose until the property rights owner agrees to license it. If it gets licensed I’ll be ecstatic, because the IP is one I love, that my friends love, and that I believe is worthy of as much respect as Star Wars and Lord of The Rings. Even if we don’t get the license, I can adapt the game to a different IP and still have a great and highly publishable game.
Unless the world ends.
This is the back of my house. About five years ago, I added a new sun room to the back, with a little help from my dad. It was a project several years in the making, because I had to work on it in the nooks and crannies between doing all the other things I do. But it’s a great room - and it adds thousands of dollars of value to my home, as well as several hundred square feet. I’m almost finished with it, and then Aida (my wife) and I can start seriously looking into selling our house and upgrading to something even bigger. I’ll probably have it done by spring, weather permitting.
Finally, there’s these two little ones. As sure as I am that they’d get a free trip to Heaven should the apocalypse prove real, and thus avoid the horrors of teenage-dom and adulthood, it’d be a travesty of Earth-shattering proportions. I’ve invested most of my heart and a lot of effort in making certain these two are happy and wholesome. Having that job cut off before I finished it MIGHT piss me off more than all the other stuff combined.
So yeah. I take back what I said earlier this year. The end of the world can wait.
People asked for some pictures from this year’s Dragon*Con, and I aim to please. I won’t comment on them - but you feel free to say something below via the comments link. BTW, you can click on the image for a slightly larger version, if it pleases you.
It’s Friday and I think I have all of the Con Crud out of me. I’ve also had time to organize my thoughts regarding this year’s Dragon*Con. I also didn’t sleep ’til noon today.
All of that is to say I’m ready to tell you the highlights of Will Kenyon’s Dragon*Con 2012.
1) THE CROWDS. I was having breakfast with two good friends (and partners in crime at the Con) Wednesday, when one of them - Eddie - asked if my concerns about the noise and chaos had been justified. I’d expressed some trepidation, you see, about how prohibitive the massive crowds were to getting around, and how the constant noise level could make even a social animal like me look for silence and solitude. Here’s my wishy-washy answer, and little factoid for you: Yes, the crowds got on my nerves. But no, not as badly as I anticipated and not as much as last year. You see, this year the Con and the host hotels were much more strict about letting people without badges or hotel room keys into the hotels themselves.
That means there was likely more than 10,000 potential onlookers - people who wandered in off the streets to goggle at the costumes - who were NOT in the walkways, nor crowding the bars, nor taking photo ops in the middle of high traffic areas.
And you could feel the difference. Sure it was still an adventure to cross from the Hilton to the other side of the Marriott Marquis. But you could do it, and in decent enough time, too. (As a side note, the elevator wait times were down, too - less party crashers hitting buttons for every floor.)
My friend Jay, who works for the Hilton, seems to think there were probably less incidents which required a visit from the police, because the “football” crowd couldn’t come in. Of course, this reflects poorly, but I think accurately, on a certain type of football fan. (I’m sure you’re not that kind of person, dear reader who happens to like American football.)
2. THE DECATUR BOOK FESTIVAL. This is not to say that the crowds didn’t get to me. Au contraire. On Saturday morning in particular I had to fight them, and I almost gave up and just went back to the gaming pit. You see, I had decided to go to the Decatur Book Festival that morning to visit my friend Jason Snape and to hear my friend Collin Kelley read. I’d neglected to take into consideration the parade, however. So it was that I found myself a salmon swimming upstream - one guy trying to get AWAY from Dragon*Con while literally THOUSANDS of people were converging ON IT. Add to that the problems MARTA was having (don’t get me started on MARTA tonight)….
I got to Decatur an hour and a half later - sweaty, hot, and irritable. I was too late for Collin’s reading, so I just hung out with Snape until I was less sweaty and irritable. And until I thought the parade crowds had dispersed back to the suburbs. Then I headed back.
3. GAMES. All in all, I played a lot less games than I usually do. My trip to Decatur took up over half of Saturday, and being tour guide for my friend Eric Sasson took a chunk out of Sunday. And being an old man now, I only stayed up until 3 a.m. one time. ONE TIME.
Unbelievable, I know.
4) PICTURES. People have requested pictures from me, because Dragon*Con IS an opportunity to see some pretty amazing and amusing costumes. Unfortunately, I’m not much of a picture taker, and after 14 straight years of going to the Con, I’m rarely amazed - not because the costumes aren’t still amazing, but that I’m jaded. So I don’t take many pics. My friends DO, however, and I’m in the process of combing their Facebook pages for the best ones. I’ll compile them, resize them and post them as a gallery in the next couple of days. So look for them. As a teaser, there’s one at the top of this post… Avengers Assemble!
Yep. It’s that time of the year again, when tens of thousands of people descend on downtown Atlanta and indulge themselves in a celebration of things that most people looked down on when I was growing up: comic books, superheroes, science fiction, fantasy, RPGs, cosplay, and games. This is my element, folks, and I love it. Dragon*Con marks the beginning of my favorite time of year - the months of September through November - and I can’t think of a better way to ring it in.
Admittedly though, after last year I was a little bit ambivalent about Dragon*Con this year.
Until this morning when I sat down to write this little tribute to it….
You see, last year I had a little trouble with Dragon*Con - something that, unless they were blowing smoke up my ass, other people also had a problem with. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was simply the AMOUNT of people who are showing up to my favorite party. The number is nearing 100,000, and last year I could feel it. Every time I went to go find food or drink that was better than the foil-wrapped burgers and hot dogs the Hilton provided, the path was blocked by literally thousands of people. Many of them were the “face of Dragon*Con” - the costumed cavorters who spend the day giving photo ops, and spend the night drinking flavored vodka out of plastic cups.
I’m thankful for those people in a way, because they have contributed significantly to the pop culture legitimacy our particular subculture can now claim. But when I’m trying to go pee, the last thing I want is to have to push my way through a cadre of Starhip Troopers posing with styrofoam Poke-creatures. They need to get the fuck out of my way.
Also, there’s the noise. I am not an introvert by any stretch of the imagination, and I LOVE crowds. But days and days of shouting to be heard gets old. And I get hoarse. And I don’t like having to say HUH so much.
So yeah. Ambivalence.
But this weekend, as the number of hours until Dragon*Con begins (it begins for me the minute my best buddy Jay Elgin’s plane lands at the airport tomorrow night and only escalates from there) slipped into single digits, I started getting really, really, really, really excited. And I realized as I started writing this that the reason I’m excited is not because of all the gaming and partying and people-watching I’m about to engage in. It’s because of all the people I’m going to be seeing and hanging out with. For instance, I haven’t seen Jay in almost a year. And there’s others - I’m not gonna list any other than Jay because the list is looooong and I don’t want to leave out anyone - but they’re coming, and I’ll see them, and it’ll be like we just saw each other yesterday. (And yeah, Jeff and Ken, I know we did just see each other yesterday.)
If you’re coming to Dragon*Con, come see me. I’ll be the one with no costume other than a big, fat grin.
My friends Rob and Elizabeth and I were chatting last Friday, and our conversation turned to a bit of merchandise that another friend of ours sells in his shop. Elizabeth and I had bought a couple of his items, and we were reading the “back matter” on the… well, the back. It was amusing, as it was supposed to be - and then I got to the glaring grammar/spelling error toward the bottom of the copy. My gut reaction - as it always is when I see stuff like this - was, “Sumbitch didn’t edit this enough. Sumbitch.” Then I thought, “Oh no,” because this is a product that our friend is likely to sell A LOT of, and to have a glaring error in the copy on the back is kind of embarrassing. Or at least it is in my mind.
Yeah, I know. I’m a Grammar Nazi - I get called that all the time. And yeah, I know - ninety percent of the people who see this thing won’t notice the error, and ninety percent who do notice the error won’t care. I know.
Still, I believe that if you are going to put forth a public face, or create a publicly consumed product like this, that you ought to put forth the best face or product you possibly can. Our friend can be somewhat excused because proper grammar isn’t really necessary to sell his product. But I see this sort of thing happening all over the place nowadays - I even see bad grammar in books by authors who are vastly more published than I am. And I’m not talking about just bad writing. I’m talking bad grammar. The absolute inability to put forth something comprehensible. There are LOTS of so-called writers who simply aren’t able to put together a decent story, but I still consider them writers because they can, at least, put together a reasonable sentence. And then there are those who call themselves writers who… can’t.
Now, don’t get me wrong - our friend’s error wasn’t that bad. It was the simple misuse of a homonym which is fairly commonly misused. Still, I think he could have and should have avoided the error.
Which brings me to the real point of this post. How could he have avoided the error?
It’s actually quite easy. He could have asked me to take a look at the copy before it went to press. I’m here. He knows what I do for a living. We’re friends. He could have asked, and I would have said yes, and his error would not now exist. Also, I might have tweaked a couple of the sentences in the copy and made the whole thing just a tad better. It was pretty good, and pretty funny, so I couldn’t have helped it that much. But better? Yes. Indeed.
Also, I probably wouldn’t have charged him, per se. You see, I have clients that I charge - people I don’t really know who give me the cold hard cash to edit or write their copy. I believe, however, that among friends a sort of barter system can work out - kind of a limited form of communism, wherein I do something for you and you do something in return for me. I have friends who are lawyers, computer geeks, designers, clothing and jewelry makers, artists, musicians, electricians, carpenters, lawn care maintenance guys, bartenders, chefs, chemists, and more. I have friends who sell things I love - beer, games, travel, books.
Already, I’ve tapped into a few of my friends’ skills and talents, and I’ve been very happy with the things they’ve done for me. Now I want to offer to return the favor - or to initiate a reciprocal relationship with a friend who needs me.
And don’t just assume you can do what I do. This may sound like a bit of hubris, but I’ve seen the results of people thinking they too can write well enough to get by, and I’m embarrassed for them. I don’t claim to be able rebuild a car engine or create a topnotch investment portfolio, so neither should you claim to be able to create a good marketing brochure or advertorial.
Basically, I think that if we paid better attention to what each of us did, and communicated more, we could probably work out any number of trades. Consider this, my friends, my offer to give you my writing and editing services in exchange for whatever we can work out. And of course, if all you can offer me is the cold hard cash, I’ll take that.
You don’t ever have to have something less than (nearly) perfect go out your door, at least wordly wise. Because I’m right here.
My friend Kym reminded me the other day of something that happened to me during the summer of 1983, when I was still young and (more) naive. I’ve told the story a few times with the intent of portraying for people what it was like to grow up a geek boy on a backwater farm, or as part of a run-down of my past physical injuries. The context today will be different… but, first: the story in brief.
My dad had a couple of bulls he was raising for slaughter. One - the older, larger one - was named Napoleon (the other, incidentally, had the less inspired name of Roscoe). You may recall that 1983 was the year George Lucas released The Return of the Jedi, and if you know me, you know how much that impacted my summer and my upcoming teenage years.
My dad also had this peculiar device called a “hog prod”, which was essentially a metal cylinder with a plastic grip on one end and two prongs on the other. A bunch of D batteries in the cylinder gave it its power, and the prongs gave it its purpose. All you had to do was jab the prongs into a pig, and Ned Beatty’s worst nightmares came true.
It also looked remarkably like a small light saber.
Well, one day the week after I saw Jedi, I climbed the tall fence that held Napoleon and Roscoe. I was reenacting that scene in the movie where Luke went berserk and swung at his dad again and again until he was sweaty and Vader had lost a hand. For some reason, I chose Napoleon as my avatar for Vader - I walked up to the bull without fear, said a few lines from the movie, and gave him the point of my “light saber.”
There’s a reason they call it a HOG prod and not a CATTLE prod. All I did was piss Napoleon off, and since he’d never seen Return of the Jedi, he didn’t know he was supposed to cow before me (pun intended), and help me destroy the Emperor. Nope. Instead, that fucker charged me. He caught me in my ribcage with his small but still formidable horns and tossed me a few feet backwards, flat on my back on the ground. Then he put his head/horns against the bottoms of my feet and pushed me along the ground for about 10 feet, apparently in an effort to reenact that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indy drags himself under the Nazi truck. Which was bullshit (no pun actually intended here), because I’m pretty sure Napoleon hadn’t seen Raiders either.
After pushing me along, Napoleon backed off, ran around in a wide circle for another pass at me, and then stopped, confused, because I wasn’t there anymore. While he was circling back around, I’d jumped to my feet, crossed the 30 feet back to the fence, VAULTED said fence (which was seven or eight feet high), and run halfway back to my house, where my mom would access my injuries and conclude that I’d probably cracked a rib (which hurts, BTW), and maybe broken a toe (which doesn’t hurt quite as bad).
So, here’s the thing. As a young boy, I was for several months after that absolutely TERRIFIED of Napoleon. And he knew it. Whenever I went to do my farm chores near his pen, he’d come up to the fence and bellow at me. A few times, he’d rear up, and I was sure he was going to leap the fence and come chase me down. I had nightmares wherein Napoleon escaped his pen and was on the fucking porch of my house, waiting for me to come out.
Still (and here’s the context of my story for today - aren’t you LUCKY), if you asked me if I regretted prodding a bull with a hog prod, or if I regretted reenacting a fantasy story in a less than fantastical setting, I’d tell you no. If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it. I’d even accept the nightmares and the broken bones - and here’s why.
1) It makes for a great story. Kym heard it when I was in grad school at NYU, and he remembered it. You’re hearing it now, almost 30 years after the fact - and I bet you chuckled. I’ve told the story quite a few times, mostly successfully. We as humans make mistakes, and it is those mistakes which make us stronger individuals and give us stories to tell. I mean, how good would Snow White’s story have been if she hadn’t eaten that apple? Jonah’s if he’d done what God told him to do in the first place? Tony Montana’s if he’d shown restraint and a lack of hubris? Hell, Walter White’s if he hadn’t felt so loyal to Jessie?
2) The nightmares gave me insight into the power and nature of nightmares, which makes me a better horror writer.
3) Regardless of how scared I was of Napoleon, I still had to do my chores. Facing him EVERY DAY after he charged me made me face my fears - heart racing and pissing myself be damned. In later years, that made me more fearless - more CAREFUL, mind you, but more fearless. It gave me the ability to do this.
4) Ultimately, we ate Napoleon. This in and of itself gave me a sense of justice and vindication. Fuck you, Napoleon - you charge at me, no matter how stupid I was being, and I WILL EAT YOU.
A little over a month ago, I came up with the idea to have guest posts every once in a while here at WillKenyon.com (Here’s where I put forth my plan.) I didn’t know if it was going to be a good idea at the time, but after a couple of guests, I’m thinking that it was. That it is.
Caleb Wynn is a good friend of mine who happens to have cystic fibrosis. We don’t talk about it much, and when you don’t talk about it much, you don’t realize how much something like that is affecting your friend. When I invited people to submit to my site, Caleb gave me the following little essay about his condition and a little girl he once knew…
Perhaps due to luck, perhaps due to fate, and completely due to genetics, I was born with Cystic Fibrosis, a chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. The average life expectancy of a Cystic Fibrosis patient is 40, give or take a few years, depending on severity. My case is a moderate one. I have problems with both my lungs and my digestive system, but none of my issues are extreme so far. Because of the nature of my disease, normal day-to-day routines often leave me out of breath, tired, and weak. Also, I become depressed and cynical, especially when I think about how I’m living with a chronic, terminal disease. I think that when you are born with or develop a terminal disease, it’s easy to pity yourself and prey on the sympathies of others. It’s incredibly easy to maintain a grim perspective on life, and that’s just what I did until I was thirteen.
When I was five, my doctor recommended to my parents that I see a psychiatrist to assess my mental well being, so they made an appointment and we went, thinking nothing of it. When we got to the psychiatrist’s office, she gave me some basic psychological tests to complete. One was to draw a picture of anything I wanted. After about ten minutes, I handed her a colored drawing.
“What is it?” she asked.
“It’s a sad pine tree,” I replied.
Worried, the doctor told my parents what I had drawn and offered some suggestions. To this day, my mother jokingly tells me that she should have paid attention to the doctor and foreseen what I’d be like in the following years.
Sometimes I had to go to Egleston Children’s Hospital on the Emory campus in Atlanta, where I’d stay on floor 4C, the area for Cystic Fibrosis patients. The halls on floor 4C had walls painted purple, with green stripes running down the center, and with a thick, white handrail running the length of the wall. The floors were tiled with slick white, speckled tile that allowed for loud and fast rides down the hallways on squeaky-wheeled IV poles. The rooms themselves had the same color scheme as the hall, except that the floor tiles were colored. The rooms were small - just big enough for a bed, a nightstand, drawers mounted in the walls for clothing, and a little couch. The bathroom had tiled floors and walls, and some of them had drawings from former patients on them. The two windows in the room I usually occupied looked into the hallway and out toward the side of the hospital. They were useless for receiving natural light. Being trapped in a room like that for two weeks at a time often drained any brightness from my personality. But on a particular trip I made when I was thirteen, things turned out to be different.
During my various stays in the hospital, I have met a number of people who opened my eyes to the world around me. The most significant of these was four-year old Abigail.
Abigail had severe liver failure as well as some heart problems, and was on the list for transplants. She had a fairly large scar that ran vertically up her stomach to her chest, and the funny thing about our first encounter was her willingness to compare scars. I showed her the scar I had gotten from stomach surgeries that runs horizontally across my abdomen. Abigail found this to be especially funny, and enjoyed talking about our matching (well, opposite) scars. As for her other physical features, she had short, curly blonde hair and light blue eyes, and she stood at about four feet tall.
When Abigail was two her parents had brought her to Egleston and left her so that they wouldn’t have to bear the so-called burdens of her condition. The worst part was that her parents would visit her on her birthday, but never any time other than that. This must have caused a lot of confusion for her because at night, when I would wander the halls while I couldn’t sleep, I would hear her sad and unanswered calls for her parents. Hearing Abigail’s muffled cries forced me to contemplate my own situation. It was then that I came to the realization that this young girl was caught in a web that was far worse than the tangled mess I perceived myself to be in. I didn’t understand then and still don’t understand how any parent could just leave a child to die at a hospital.
I still remember the first day I met Abigail. I was walking by the playroom on floor 4C during my rather routine stay, and I saw her there, playing with Legos and dolls and wearing a face of complete and utter boredom. She looked up at me as I passed, and asked, “Do you want to play with me?” Since I was also completely bored after spending a week in a hospital room, I decided to say yes, and went in to spend some time with her. Aside from a low, round table and the toys scattered around the carpeted floor, the playroom looked exactly like any other room on the floor. It was even as small as the other rooms.
As we began to play together, her bored and indifferent face quickly turned into a big, bright smile, and for days afterward, every time I walked by the playroom, I would hear a voice ask, “Do you want to play?” I always did, and playing with Abigail erased the monotony of my time at Egleston that year.
A year later I went back to floor 4C after having surgery to remove part of my colon, and I had the opportunity to see Abigail again. She was in even worse condition than the year before, and still hadn’t received her transplants, but she was still so happy to see me, and I still hold her joy dearly in my memory.
Seven months later I returned to floor 4C and found out that she’d never received her transplants, and had finally passed away.
That a young girl of five, with problems far worse than my own, could wake up, ignore the cluster of IVs she was connected to, and ask me to play with her was truly eye opening. How could anyone one deny the request of such a trooper? I sure couldn’t.
It was absolutely amazing to me that Abigail could be so happy in spite of her condition, while I was always so morose.
Every time I saw Abigail, she was ecstatic, yet I struggled to find that mood within myself. This puzzled me. I wondered why I felt the way I did and came to the realization that I needed to stop thinking long-term and begin thinking short-term. The question became, if a child can live day to day, why can’t I?
I still haven’t found the answer that I’m looking for, but I’m closer than before. I still have good and bad days and I’m not always the most cheerful person to be around, but the same could be said for Abigail, or any other human being for that matter. But by shifting my focus from the very broad and future-based to day-to-day, and by appreciating the life I do have, and not the life I wish I had, I have made myself a happier person and given myself a more fruitful existence. And I know that my current, more positive outlook on life with a terminal illness can be attributed to my time spent with a five-year-old girl who exemplified maintaining a bright outlook in the midst of turmoil.
Realizing that I only get out of life what I put into it has been a great help in the adjustment of my attitude from negative to positive. Additionally, understanding and coming to terms with the fact that death is inevitable, while a grim thought to be sure, is in my opinion key to obtaining and maintaining a child-like attitude in life. Children like Abigail don’t dwell on the inevitability of death and are, for the most part, happy. So would I not be better off in adopting this train of thought as well…?
A lot of people wanted to know how the Warrior Dash went on Saturday, so I figured I’d let you know.
First, a quick rundown of my schedule that day: I TRIED to go to bed early that Friday, and mostly succeeded. I was in bed by 9:30, but a combination of coughing (I was a the tail end of a cold which is way gone now) and the fact that I was getting to the climax of Koji Suzuki’s Ring meant that I only succeeded at going to sleep by about 11.
I got my ass up at 5 a.m. the next day - Saturday - took a quick shower to wake up, then hopped in the car and drove the hour and a half to Clayton, GA, where I parked and strolled up the hill to meet my friends and do the Dash.
Running with me that day was Jeff Jarvis, the guy who told me about this adventure, plus my friends via Jeff - Jimmy Liang and Luis Uribe. Our “wave” started at 9:30 - early, but when they explained WHY they liked to do it early, it made sense. If you go early on, the trail is less muddied, and so’s the inside of the shuttle bus, should you need to shuttle back down the hill to your car. Mmmm - muddy shuttle bus - just like the inside of someone’s colon.
See? Makes sense to go early.
As we stood around waiting for our wave to start, I vowed silently to myself that no matter what, I’d try to keep up with Luis, who’s training to join the FBI next year. I figured if I could hang with him, that meant I’d make good time and I’d have a buddy to help me with some of the surprises in store for us.
As it was, I DID hang with Luis, although I think several times he hung back a little to let me keep up with him. We left Jimmy and Jeff behind in a crowd and didn’t see them until they finished a few minutes behind us.
For the most part, the race was fine. I’d been running three miles several times a week for several weeks, so the running didn’t phase me at all. What GOT me, ultimately, was a couple of the obstacles. The climbing? No big deal. I just wasn’t expecting quite so much SWIMMING. In 50 degree water. After running a mile. More or less fully clothed. Cold water in such circumstances makes your heart race, folks. It’s tough.
Still, the only time I got a little scared about whether I could finish was when I made a miscalculation regarding one of the watery obstacles. At one point we had to jump off a pier into a pond, then swim across to a pontoon thing in the middle. We then had to pull ourselves onto the pontoon, cross it (it was really slick and you had to take it easy crossing it), then jump back into the water and finish crossing the pond.
I watched several people plunge into the water ahead of me, and saw that none of them went under. So I figured the water was maybe five feet deep, and I jumped in thinking I’d just touch bottom, then bob my way across to the pontoon.
Fucking water was waaay more than five feet deep, and I went under without a good breath. Now, I’m a good swimmer, so I recovered, but when I got back up I was winded and a little shocked by the deepness and coldness of the water. I swam over to the pontoon and tried to pull myself up onto it, and… couldn’t.
Other people were trying to get by me, so I backed off of the pontoon, treading water and trying to gather myself. I thought about swimming around, but I didn’t want to be a pussy. I thought about swimming UNDER it, but then wondered if maybe there was a net. Finally, I felt better, so I tried at last to do the obstacle the way I was supposed to - and this time I was able to get up and over it. I had to pause though, after I got to shore. After a minute or two, though, I was ready, and I started running again.
In the end, I finished the 3+ miles in 42 minutes, 15 seconds. I was 419th out of 851 males in my age category - so I was in the top half. Also, I finished 2646th over all, out of 6186 participants. So yeah, top half all around. And I mostly kept up with Luis. Oh, and I jumped over the fire at the end without setting myself alight - something my son Eli was very scared of happening.
Finally, I managed to raise over $400 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. As a St. Jude Warrior, I got access to a shower facility after the race, which meant I wouldn’t muddy up my car. Yay!
Let me close by sending a shout out/thank you to all the people who donated to St. Jude for me: Chase Bass, Keri Bulloch, Chris Hartley, Linda and Vahe Najarian, Charlie Nealey, John Porter, Jerry and Allison Rhodes, Joe Shorter, and Caleb Wynn. You guys rule.