I've come to realize something in the last few days. My cancer treatment drags on, keeping me alive but not really getting me better. I continue to manage my diabetes and live with an artificial IV port in my chest. I take lots of pills and shots, get medical tests, and see doctors all the time. I can't safely travel very far.
More to the point, I hurt, and I'm tired. Many parts of my body simply don't work the way they're supposed to. Most of the time, I'm nothing close to genuinely well. I may never return to my great job. I've been like this in some form or another for more than two and a half years.
So here's what I realized. I'm a 40-year-old man whose body has become much older. I'm a youngish guy in an oldish container. There are plenty of people three decades beyond my age—including my own parents—who feel better than I do, and can do more. And the hard part (for all of us) is knowing there's a good chance they'll live longer than me too.
For the vast majority of human history, living to age 40 was an achievement in itself. Even a hundred years ago, Type 1 diabetes like I have was a death sentence too—I would have died in my early 20s, before I had a chance to marry my wonderful wife or have two great children. I'm glad I've had those chances.
If I were (for instance) 75 years old now, it would be easier to accept what cancer has done to me, and to acknowledge that living (for example) another five years would be a pretty good achievement. I'm trying to think more like that—not to be fatalistic, but to be pragmatic, to know that while I'll keep fighting, without radical new treatments or some very good luck, it's probably a losing battle. But that's not a failure.
I'm sitting on the back porch in the sun, drinking a coffee. In a few minutes I'll help my kids make some cake. It's a good life.
As we (and many fellow Vancouverites) do every year, my family visited the Pacific National Exhibition yesterday, and had a lot of fun. My kids had already been there with my parents, and we're going again next week, but that didn't stop anyone:
Despite some medication side effects, I even made it through the whole day. I no longer go on the rides myself (I've been prone to barfing from spinny rides for at least 15 years, and the cancer meds certainly don't help), but my wife and kids used their all-day ride passes to full effect.
Gnomedex 9 ended several days ago, but I needed to think about it a bit before writing my overall impressions. Each year (I've been part of five Gnomedexes now) has a different vibe, and this one was a bit hard to pin down.
It was certainly less confrontational. For whatever reason, none of the previous web-heavy-hitter attendees—Dave Winer, Steve Gillmor, Sarah Lacy, Jason Calacanis, Mark Canter, Doug Kaye, Adam Curry, et. al.—was there this time, which made for less high-level arguing (or grandstanding). And while many of the sessions were fascinating, I didn't get my mind blown the way some of last year's talks did to me.
I think, perhaps, it was not quite as inspiring, but more fun. Notes and quotes:
I was also glad to have a hug with Drew Olanoff, who was diagnosed with cancer only three months ago and has turned it into a worldwide fundraising effort already. I Blame Drew's Cancer that I didn't manage that when I found out about my cancer in 2007.
On our last night in Seattle, Air and I spent the dinner hour pounding open steamed crab legs with little wooden hammers, then had a drink and watched the Moon set behind a sailboat at our hotel. The next morning as we left the hotel driveway, we saw this:
I'd say it was worth going.
My wife Air live blogged the first day's talks here at the 9th annual Gnomedex conference, and you can also watch the live video stream on the website. I posted a bunch of photos. Here are my written impressions.
Something feels a little looser, and perhaps a bit more relaxed, about this year's meeting. There's a big turnover in attendees: more new people than usual, more women, and a lot more locals from the Seattle area. More Windows laptops than before, interestingly, and more Nikon cameras with fewer Canons. A sign of tech gadget trends generally? I'm not sure.
As always, the individual presentations roamed all over the map, and some were better than others. For example, Bad Astronomer Dr. Phil Plait's talk about skepticism was fun, but also not anything new for those of us who read his blog. However, it was also great as a perfect precursor to Christine Peterson, who invented the term open source some years ago, but is now focused on life extension, i.e. using various dietary, technological, and other methods to improve health and significantly extend the human lifespan.
As Lee LeFever quipped on Twitter, "The life extension talk is a great followup to the skepticism talk because it provides so many ideas of which to be skeptical." My thought was, her talk seemed like hard reductionist nerdery focused somewhere it may not apply very well. My perspective may be different because I have cancer; for me, life extension is just living, you know? But I also feel that not everything is an engineering problem.
There were a number of those dichotomies through the day. Some other notes I took today:
We had a great trip down to Seattle via Chuckanut Drive with kk+ and Fierce Kitty. Tonight Air and I are sleeping in the Edgewater Hotel on Seattle's Pier 67, next to the conference venue, and tonight is also the 45th anniversary of the day the Beatles stayed in this same hotel and fished out the window.
We're off to Gnomedex, the fifth year Air and I will be participating. It has to be one of the densest collections of nerds around (as my panorama from last year shows)—sort of a web society annual family reunion. Including some of the emotional blow-ups that entails.
As of today, August 19, 2009, my wife Air and I have been married 14 years. As on our wedding day, the weather was Amazing Vancouver Summer last evening, our Anniversary Eve: mid-20s Celsius, sun glinting off the water. The kind of weather which impels people to spend thousands of dollars to visit. We went to C Restaurant on False Creek, where we'd last dined exactly three years ago, just before our 11th anniversary.
You know that "in sickness and in health" thing? Don't take it lightly—we've had more than our share of that seesaw over the past decade and a half. Even yesterday, it was touch-and-go whether we'd have to cancel our reservation.
You see, I was tuckered out after moving some of the kids' furniture all afternoon, and feared the onset of the dreaded chemo-induced Jurassic Gut. But with the help of some medicine, the prospect of an excellent and relaxing meal, the sheer fabulousness of looking at my wife, and a lot of willpower and positive thinking, I not only made it downtown, but was symptom-free throughout dinner and the whole trip home. (And then everything got rolling once we returned, but I won't give you details...)
The restaurant provided some little extras for us: custom chocolate script on our dessert plate, plus post-dinner ice wine on the house. We spent a leisurely two and a half hours eating wonderful, creative seafood, and we held hands to look out across the water, making occasional snarky comments about passersby on both land and sea. When we told the waiter we were celebrating 14 years, he asked, "Did get married when you were teenagers?" That's a nice compliment, since we were both 26 back then.
Air and I have been happy and sad, content and afraid together. I'm not as strong or healthy as I used to be, and I'm greyer and far more scarred and broken. But I am proud to be her man, and I'll do my damnedest to be here for as many more anniversaries as I can.
I helped a little, but only with some of the heavy pot-lifting and slicing of bread for dipping. She did all the difficult stuff, like chopping and measuring and timing and setting the table.
I think I'm liking this trend. The mussels were damn good too.
It's now available online from London Drugs too, as well as on DVD in their stores here in Western Canada. Why not buy some copies for your friends (and enemies, for that matter)?
My wife and daughters went with my mom to see Julie and Julia the other day, and my older daughter M was inspired. Seeing the efforts of an inexperienced blogger cooking up the famous recipes of Julia Child, M has decided to put her mind to cooking, which she hasn't done much of yet. (She's eleven.)
You can follow her progress on her blog. Her first step was simple, a poached egg, and she's since moved on to chopping onions and more. When my wife, a teacher, returns to work in a few weeks, M and I plan to work on dinner together each night. Since I'm not much of a cook either, I'm sure we'll both learn something. Will we ever get to beef bourguignon? I doubt it, but you never know.
Cross-posted from Inside Home Recording...
Many people know him only for the solidbody electric guitar that bears his name—indeed, he hand-built his own solidbody electric years before that, but Gibson was uninterested in the design until rival Fender successfully sold similar concepts in the early 1950s. Still, Paul was not only a talented and prolific player (who continued a regular live gig in New York until very recently), but also a hit-making jazz and pop artist, as well as the inventor of multitrack recording and overdubbing, as well as tape delay and various phasing effects:
He was a constant tinkerer, heavily modifying even his own Les Paul guitars with customized electronics and switching, and often acting as his own producer, engineer, and tape operator. Every listener to Inside Home Recording, and every musician or recording enthusiast today, owes him a massive debt, and we'll all miss his talent and contributions.
It's partly because of the look of using a larger frame of film, partly the texture it imbues, and partly because I'm just more careful when using an expendable resource, but as I've mentioned before, I get more keeper photographs when I shoot with black and white film than when I use my digital SLR. These are from a couple of recent rolls:
I didn't have to go far to get them either—I took all these pictures either in our house, in the yard, or at my kids' school up the street, all with natural light and no flashes or reflectors. I'm certainly not regretting my purchase of that used Nikon F4 or macro lens last year.
Time to pick up another roll or two of B&W, I think. I've run out for now.
This weekend in Vancouver included the Abbotsford Airshow, the Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival, the Under the Volcano festival, and the closing ceremonies of the World Police and Fire Games (WPFG). Twice over the past few days, I've seen the Canadian Forces Snowbirds aerobatics team fly directly over my head in conjunction with some of those events. Once in Stanley Park (presumably to promote the Airshow):
And once this evening right in our front yard, when the Snowbirds flew right over our house (on the last of four passes). At first I thought it was for the Blues Fest, but I think it was really for the WPFG finale:
Both times, I could almost read the markings on the bottoms of the planes. It still amazes me that human beings, we apes from the savannah, can control flying machines traveling at hundreds of kilometres an hour in formation:
Such brains we humans have.
If you're in the Vancouver area and aren't going to VinoCamp tomorrow afternoon (Saturday the 8th), you could head out to the Blueberry Festival in Cloverdale, which features vintage cars, various activities and entertainments—and the band Heist, with whom I'll be sitting in on drums.
It's the first time in several years I've played with any band except my usual gigs in The Neurotics and HourGlass, but it's the same kind of classic hit rock 'n' roll material, so when we rehearsed on Monday I felt right at home. My old podcast co-host Paul Garay (with whom I've also made some training videos) plays keyboards with the group, and brought me in while their regular drummer is out of town.
We'll be at the Cloverdale Station Pub from noon till 5 p.m. If the weather is decent we'll be outside; if it rains (which it might), then inside. The pub is about 30 minutes east from Vancouver along Highways 1 and 15. I'll even do some singing for you.
I've lived in Vancouver all my life, and anyone who has knows about Splashdown Park, the most famous of our local waterslide parks, in Tsawwassen (and surely named after the heyday of the space race). I've driven by the place dozens of times on the way to the ferry terminal to Vancouver Island, which is a couple of minutes further down the road. Yet somehow, I'd never been to Splashdown until today.
While it's not quite the heatwave it was last week, today was sunny and warm. My wife Air said she last went as a teenager, but I suspect little has changed about the experience: I'm sure Rock 101 radio was blasting pretty much exactly the same songs (Rush, Ted Nugent, The Doors, Steppenwolf, more Rush) and the seagulls were just as marauding in the 1980s.
It was great, and different from waterslide parks I've been to in Chilliwack, Kelowna (where Alistair got a terrible sunburn a couple of decades ago), and elsewhere. I do regret never visiting the water park that sat behind Coquitlam Centre when I was a kid. It's been gone for years.
You know what's weird about Splashdown Park? The washrooms have water-saving dual flush toilets. Of all places. Is that sort of like a carbon offset?
While researchers continue to study it, no one is yet sure why music moves us—how we can be affected emotionally by timed sequences of sounds. But we are. And while I play rock drums and love me some guitar, in my life, the most affecting music has been live, vocal, and collective.
Here's what I mean. One of the most astonishing things I've ever heard was the student choir at Magee, the high school where my wife teaches. Years ago I attended one of their concerts. They are, and have long been, an excellent choir. You can get a tiny sense of it from this video, but the sound doesn't do it justice (plus, Christmas carols in August sound weird):
That's a pale simulation of the true experience, though. At that concert years ago, held in the school's old auditorium, the singing was enveloping, and overpowering, from a full-size choir onstage. I almost cried from the sound alone.
Here's another example that had me getting teary for no good reason:
Thanks to Darren for the link.
Those of us who were around in the '80s best remember Bobby McFerrin from his annoying novelty song "Don't Worry, Be Happy." But he is a powerful and innovative jazz singer, who is at his best when co-opting audiences. When he does that, when the audience sings along as a mass of voices, I lose it. I nearly cried right now as I listened to the audience come in on "Ave Maria" at the link I just posted—and again at the end:
So beautiful. There's no way I could have held it in if I had been there.
I can think of other instances: Celso Machado and the crowd I was in at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre more than 15 years ago, or a packed-full B.C. Place Stadium singing the end of U2's "40" ("How long/To sing this song...") long after the band had left the stage in 1987. You get the idea.
Whatever the reasons we evolved to love music, one of its benefits is how it joins us. When you sing with a group, or even if you're just there when one is singing well, you become part of that group in a way that's almost impossible by any other means. You could be singing "Ave Maria" with McFerrin, or chanting "Die! Die! Die!" with Metallica, but when it happens, you're all one. We're all one.
A couple of days ago, I woke up and looked at my clock radio, reading 1:22. That surprised me—I didn't think I'd slept in till well in the afternoon. But it turned out I was just at a funny angle, and couldn't read the top of the first seven-segment digital numeral. It was actually 7:22 a.m., so I went back to sleep and woke up a couple of hours later instead.
Then there was today. My current cancer medication causes somewhat unpredictable intestinal side effects. Last night included some of the worst. I was in the bathroom from midnight until just before 2 a.m., then again from 4 to 6, then up and down every half an hour or so until at least 9:30 a.m. In other words, I had perhaps three hours of sleep before morning.
So, when things had calmed down enough, I feel asleep again. Guess what time I woke up? 1:22 p.m., for real this time.