Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mansion Hopping

I’m moving after living in a south Arlington, VA, apartment for three years. I recorded a video sharing why I’ll miss it, which you can view below. Besides the features in the video, I will miss the relatively inexpensive rent, giant weight room in the basement, and fellow tenants who talk to themselves. I’ll especially miss the Peruvian chicken eateries at every nearby intersection, now my go-to when I eat out.

From January through April I’ll live for free at my aunt and uncle’s beautiful northwest D.C. home while they’re away. I’ll live eight metro stops from work and 1,000 feet from the nearest embassy. My responsibilities will include sending them their mail and watering a plant if the maid or gardener tells me to. My aunt knows that is asking a lot and won’t overwhelm me with additional tasks.

I am the prototypical house sitter: clean and responsible. That got me thinking, Maybe my aunt has friends who need house sitters over the long summer? I’m not tied down by possessions (which are in storage). I’m not high-maintenance (see video below). And I can perform all house tasks so long as they don’t involve feeding reptiles and are less than three. I could temporarily live in several luxurious DC houses—I could mansion hop!

Hooooolz asked if such a temporary residence would bother me. “Don’t you want to feel like you’re settled?” she said.

I didn’t get what she meant until this week. Most of my possessions were moved last Saturday, and I’ve been living in my apartment with basically a sleeping bag and beach chair until year’s end. I do not need things: in fact, I was thrilled to donate many items. But I did feel stuck in time, unable to progress until I reached my less homeless-like state.

Aunt Flojo and Uncle Joker’s house will be an adventure and help me decide if I like temporary and DC living. In the meantime, I will grieve for my former residence…

Leia Mais…

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Measure It

“Love, it’s a motherfucker, huh?” – Old School

TinyAppetite is determined to lose body fat by exercising an hour a day and barely eating. She does not have any tool to measure her gains, and instead relies on her appearance. That was my method early this year when I was embarrassed by my figure. TinyAppetite’s view of herself is also likely distorted.

Children work towards measurable goals: they are graded on schoolwork, try out for tiered teams (varsity and JV), and socialize in groups judged by popularity. How did adults become goalless, content just getting through the workday or workweek, and unwilling to measure changes in strength, fat or life?

TinyAppetite should not, however, become like me…

2012 goal: gain muscle
Once I maxed out my gym’s leg extension machine, I switched to the squat. That was one of four exercises I focused on exclusively, tracking every repetition. I used to describe my job function as “making spreadsheets,” but maybe that should describe my life function.
tracking quadriceps extension weight-training results on Excel
Leg extension exercise, measured in repetitions

2012 goal: maintain minimal body fat
By one perspective I did and will always reach this goal. But I don’t accept average; I shoot for the 98th percentile and unfortunately this goal clashes with the previous one (you have to eat to gain muscle). The system I devised failed me and after seven months off-diet I had jumped from 6% to 10% body fat. Considering I nearly purchased a $500 ultrasound device to measure my body fat, of course I make this into a spreadsheet.
tracking body fat percentage on Microsoft Excel chart
Body fat percentage, measured in millimeters pinched using body fat calipers

2012 goal: date Olivia Wilde or someone similar
Like I say for my stories, they can’t all be winners. But my seeming failure to reach this goal taught me about fluidity. I may not be dating my Olivia Wilde, but life is about making connections. No matter the trends we can see from spreadsheets that track health metrics, human feelings don’t abide by predictable functions. Emotions rise and fall like waves, and the two currents must be within a range of one another to create an avalanche.

I made a lasting connection unless I “turn into a total psychopath,” as she stated. If finding my Olivia Wilde is a fluid process, then so is attaining a goal. Sometimes moving forward requires taking a step back; getting up requires falling down. Maybe it takes patience—after all, I’ve noticed that things tend to work out in life let’s say 80% of the time.

Other things must be fluid, too. My on-diet and off-diet have converged. Why should I only allow myself to eat a cracker during a Cheat Lunch? In 2013 crackers are acceptable anytime (before 6:00 p.m. and in moderation as long as each is fewer than 20 calories).

Money is not fixed, reliant solely on salary—there are always ways to increase the difference between inflow and expenses. Mistakes and harsh words can be undone. Failure in one undertaking can be overshadowed by success in another. Severing a connection with one person can lead to a blossoming link with another.

Here’s to a fluid 2013…so long as I stay within 80% of 8.5% body fat!

Leia Mais…

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Quasi Sports Car

When I was fifteen I learned to drive on a 1986 beige Ford Taurus station wagon, the same car JD drove and called The Beige Banshee. Despite it “smoking” several times when JD drove it, the Banshee was good to me until it would stall when coming to a complete stop.

My parents were done pouring money into it and decided to purchase me a new car. When my dad called local dealerships one Chevy salesman said, “If you can drive the Taurus here then we’ll give you $300 for trade-in.” My dad got the Taurus there by maintaining some pressure on the accelerator the whole way.

Thanks to a dedicated career in acquisition and a GM MasterCard, my dad negotiated for a 1999 Chevrolet Cavalier coupe with 89 miles for under $10,000. I had the option for a different model with automatic locks and windows, but I opted for manual because I liked the rollers. The car came with a cassette player, air conditioning, and little else. But I wasn’t even sixteen and had my own brand new car.

One of the first of my friends with a car, I drove them everywhere: to school, weekend hangouts, Blockbuster, late afternoon fast food, Best Buy. But the journey, not the destination, was always the most fun. Topping at 85 down Hoadly Road (45 mph limit) or 100 down Prince William Parkway (55 mph limit) listening to my CD-of-the-week, we discussed girls and my instinct to spot police cars, with the windows rolled down. I wanted to name my Cavalier “Car Sweet Ass” and Big Easy insisted on “Give Me Fuck.”

The following year all my classmates recognized Car Sweet Ass. It sat in the closest spot in the first row of the student lot, facing a disabled parking sign. I was on crutches recovering from cancer surgery.

Most former classmates would be surprised that I still drive the same car, which is over 13 years old. Though, it isn’t as sweet. It has needed a new alternator, air conditioning compressor, and tires. It shakes when it reaches 75 mph and sometimes when idling. It makes funny noises.

The 12-disc CD changer my parents had bought as a birthday gift broke years ago, and more recently the radio stopped receiving frequencies for every station except ESPN Radio. I listened to music by plugging my mp3 player into the cassette deck through an adapter. But the cassette player spit out the tape half the time, so I often settled on ESPN Radio. Because my one station was sports, I was able to hold off on buying a new unit for months.

mp3 player connected to car stereo through tape cassette deck

In October I purchased a CD player with an auxiliary input. I joked that my car would now die on me. The next week Hurricane Sandy hit.

1999 Chevrolet Cavalier coupe receives new windshield due to Hurricane SandyShattered back windshield from Hurricane Sandy Stranded in Chicago as an internally displaced refugee, my apartment building manager called the morning after the storm reached Northern Virginia. My car’s back windshield had shattered. Wind forced the pummeling rain inside leaving the interior saturated and molding and the trunk flooded with four inches.

The car’s value varied from $800 to $2,000, and I was sure the cost to replace the windshield and restore the interior would exceed that. I drove Car Sweet Ass to the collision center and waited for an insurance estimate. At the least, I got to drive an Infiniti G37 rental for up to 20 days. Allstate could take its time.

The total bill to insurance came to $1,700 and either I was in good hands or Allstate needs to update its Blue Book. Transitioning from a luxury speed sedan back to Car Sweet Ass was retching. I could move my seat 2 ways instead of 20, had to push 10 times the force on the accelerator pedal as the G37 and roll my windows. But there’s a reason I learned to roll the passenger window down in less than two seconds while stretching across the car at high speeds.

I can nick my car without feeling bad. I can veer towards another driver hesitant to let me into his lane, knowing he’ll make room for a perceived crazy driver in a valueless car. My first car isn’t yet smoking, is still taking me to destinations at less than 75 mph, and Giving Me a Fucking bang for my (parents’) buck.

Leia Mais…

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Lovers: My December Cancer Peeps

The Cancer Calendar has had a great four-year run—Girls of Cancer, Dudes of Cancer, Passed Away Resulting from Cancer, and finally my personal Cancer People stories. This will be the final addition to the Calendar unless I suddenly have a change of heart (I'm only referring to the Cancer Calendar stories and not to the whole blog, which will continue on forever!). Enjoy.

“Daryl” and “Scooter”

I exited the small plane in Grand Junction, CO, after a connecting flight from Denver. I was supposed to meet my First Descents rock-climbing group to depart to our lodge in Moab, Utah, but I was starving and thought I had some free time first. I grabbed a sandwich and coffee at Subway.

One of the camp directors, Scooter, called and left a voicemail. Sweet onion chicken teriyaki took priority and he would have to wait. Then my mom called and left a voicemail. Then my mom texted. Then Scooter left another message.

I engulfed the sandwich and called my mom. Scooter had called her (she was listed as an emergency contact) saying the whole group was waiting for me and worried I had missed the flight. I refilled my coffee and rushed to baggage claim.

There they all were, standing around and waiting, fortunately not upset. Scooter was dressed in a giant blond afro wig and Daryl, the other camp director, dressed in his permanent smile. Since the trip participants were, unknowingly to me, all on the same flight, Daryl had asked if anyone saw me on the plane. “He’s 28 years old, likely white, and a cancer survivor.” Nobody raised his or her hand. Hooooolz later said she saw an oblivious guy near the front and thought it was me. Sounds about right.

The trip lasted five days and included “Camp Mom,” “Camp Dad,” one nurse, one First Descents headquarter program coordinator, one chef (and another who later joined for fun), climbing instructors, and two camp directors. Scooter was volunteering and taking a week off work where he was a hydraulic engineer. I think Daryl was a First Descents employee and one of its founders, and all the others were volunteers, but the jovial spirit for those paid and unpaid was the same.

Daryl and Scooter were helpful to a fault. They accommodated everyone’s skill and exhaustion level. When the group continued climbing two hours after we were supposed to have stopped, Daryl accepted that our chef (also his wife) might not be thrilled. They drove us everywhere, sometimes taking multiple trips if some had to leave early.

During our long hike, Scooter—who was built to haul—asked to carry my backpack for me. I declined and pushed forward through the sandy and rocky terrain. Thirty minutes later he asked again. I declined. Fifteen minutes later I thought of my then-new mantra— Justify Nothing, meaning never feel the need to justify cancer and its effects. For the sake of my hip I asked for help. “Scooter, actually would you mind carrying my bag? And my climbing harness and helmet?”

“No problem, Hippy.” He threw it on his shoulders which were already loaded with his and two other peoples’ bags and trudged along.

Daryl was also carved from a life of climbing, kayaking and surfing. I watched him belay Camp Dad, a big dude himself, on a vertical route with almost no holds, keeping the rope tight enough to support him with almost no give.

Their goofiness was even more evident. Scooter’s girlfriend recently gave birth to their son, and Scooter claimed his name was Danger. We are all certain Danger’s mother had a different name in mind, but equally certain Scooter is secretively teaching his son to respond to that one.

Daryl is a modern-day hippie with an unending supply of silly comments. Daryl once told Tink a dull joke that was only funny because of his smile and delivery, and then said, “Bad humor is all I’m good for…that, and love. Love always comes first.”

Daryl and Scooter have seen many survivors enter their camps, and several of them have passed away. Despite that, they’re the first to provide support when one of the campers mentions that her health status has declined; the first to congratulate her when things are stable or improving; the first to offer their love.

At First Descents I attained self-discovery, gained a hobby, made lifelong friends and a new nickname. But my greatest takeaway is to try and offer love, which is now who I am, and I feel whole because of it.

Some time after my trip a friend told me, after several drinks, that one of the saddest things in life is when you can't be with the person you want. I nodded.

We just have to keep offering bad humor and love, I thought.
First Descents group leaders Daryl and Scooter

Leia Mais…

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Caffeinated and I chatted for hours over wine and coffee about many topics, including writing. She was working on a graduate school paper, and I had published my first work 20 years earlier. “You should get it framed,” she said.

“It was a terrible poem about washing dishes,” I said. “And I didn’t even know how to wash dishes or use a dishwasher until I was 25.”

Washing dishes is not fun.
I always try to say that I am done.
But it’s not so easy to say that you see.
It really isn’t easy to have time to drink my tea.
Washing dishes is not a fun job.
I always have to put my hand on the ugly, greasy, slob.
I have to throw the powdered cleanser on with the soap.
I want to get finished, but I don’t have much hope.
You can actually kind of say that it can be a rough time.
It’s gross, it’s sick, it’s really something like slime.
If you’ve been listening to me then you shall know,
Washing dishes is worse than raking leaves with your big toe.

Although Caffeinated and I weren’t fit for more dates, we kept in touch. When I later showed up in her Gchat list she clicked on my Google profile and discovered I’ve written about more than dishwashing. “How could you not mention that you published a book?!” she said.

“Sometimes it’s nice to communicate with people who haven’t, or know that they can, read all about me.”

framed cancer memoir, Twice: How I Became a Cancer Slaying Super Man Before I Turned 21
I had already framed a copy of Twice from each print run. But “Washing Dishes” led to embarrassment equal to the pride Twice commanded and I preferred the book my poem was in stay hidden on my bookshelf. Then curiosity took me, and I opened Anthology of Poetry by Young Americans and read the editor’s note. “…Children are natural poets. Poetry is play with language and language is still so new to them that it is a perfect fit. This poetry is filled with their ticklish energy and unrestrained concern. It is the best medium for young writers to express themselves…We would like to extend a special thanks to all the poets who participated and are expecting great things from them in the future.”

My first published literary work soon joined its successors.
framed Anthology of Poetry by Young Americans book


Despite feeling like a fake, I often described myself as a writer at happy hours because that was more interesting than my profession. Finally this past August I felt like a real writer. And now I get paid for it.

Weeks ago I started a new job as a writer/editor, branching away from consulting and down a new career path at nearly 29 years old. I am no longer hoping or pretending I’m doing the right thing at work. Despite me scoring 100 points higher in math than language on the SAT, I feel confident in my creative-destruction skills required for my new profession, and that my new job fits me.

Just don’t ask me about i.e. vs. e.g., lay vs. laid, I vs. me, etc.

Leia Mais…