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.