Apr. 20th, 2017 08:02 am
randy_byers: (Default)
I'm just back from spending a week and a half with my family in Desert Hot Springs in Coachella Valley. When my bad health news hit, my mom and sister conspired to bring me down to Mom and Dad's winter home to spend some time in the sun being pampered. So LaVelle came to Seattle, and we drove south from here on I-5, picking up my brother in Corvallis along the way. The trip down was two days in which LaVelle and Lonnie did all the driving. I was theoretically capaable, but I honestly didn't feel like it, especially with a stick shift, which is something I'm no longer used to.

It was great to hang out with my parents and siblings, who once again rallied around me in a time of distress, and then my sister-in-law made a surprise visit, so the old gang (circa 1983) was back together again. The surprise was one of the many things that we had a good laugh about -- in this case that LaVelle and I were so oblivious to all the hints and near-revelations along the way. Our family is big on teasing, and this kind of thing gets spun around through teasing a dozen which ways. For example, why didn't we ask "What the hell?" when Lonnie said he was going off to meet somebody that none of us knew.

The laughter and self-mockery was good medicine, but I suppose in my current state of mind I couldn't help but be touched by two of the health crises happening while we were down there. One was my parents' friend, Russell, who suffered a terrible stroke around the time we arrived, which left him paralyzed and unable to swallow. His wife, Letha, stopped by toward the end of our stay, and she was barely holding it together. We had dinner guests that night, my parents' Canadian friends, Merv and Lorraine, and I could see that the stoic Merv, who is having health problem of his own, was barely holding back the tears.

Th other health crisis arrived with the couple from Manitoba who has just bought my aunt and uncle's house in the park, which is right next door to my parents. We had heard that the husband was having health issues, but by the time they arrived he'd had surgery that revealed a tumor on a blood vessel that the doctors thought could take him at any moment. His poor wife was completely distraught, because she was away from their medical system, away from home, and her phone didn't work in the US, so she had no phone if an emergency struck. She asked my mom if it was okay if she came and pounded on our door in the middle of the night. Of course it was. They had bought the vacation home before they knew the severity of the husband's problem, and now they were going to have to turn around and sell it immediately. The least of their worries, I'm sure.

Anyway, those two crisis certainly put my own crisis in perspective. Between that and the fun expeditions to look for the superbloom (a week past its prime, alas), ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, and eat date shakes, I was feeling quite a bit better about my own predicament, at least until we started heading north. We took three days on the way back, taking Highway 395 up the East side of California for a change of view, and with our parents in tow as they migrated north to their summer home in Portland. This time I was able to help with the driving. (Another bit of teasing: because Lonnie had kept forgetting the clutch when he drove LaVelle's car and thus killed the engine quite impressively a number of times, I was always able to remember to use the clutch. Thanks, Lonnie!) The first day I drove I started to feel teary because it used to be something I did without thinking, but now I was hyperaware of what I was doing -- and thus hyperaware of the self-confidence that I had lost. I also felt completely decrepit getting into and out of car. When we got into Oregon, I started feeling teary because I wouldn't have the security blanket of my family around for much longer. Both Mom and LaVelle told me I was always welcome in Oregon if I needed a dose of family love.

LaVelle and I drove on to Seattle, and she stuck around to visit the oncologist with me yesterday. This was the first visit since the bad news that the cancer had returned, and I wanted another pair of ears with me to hear about what was next. It was a bit of an anti-climax on that front, because the main topic of conversation was about whether it was a good idea for me to go to Micronesia for three weeks in May with Lonnie and his family. We went around and around on the topic, discussing the question of how dangerous it was to leave the cancer untreated for three weeks. Dr. Taylor thought that the cancer had returned as soon as I stopped taking Temodar, and maybe that's why she came up with the idea of sending microdoses of Temodar with me on the trip (too small to debilitate me, but enough to combat the cancer). We're still working out the details of that idea, but I confess I felt relieved that she had thought of a treatment plan that would work while I was traveling. Knock wood.

When I get back from Micronesia, they'll do another MRI, and then we'll talk about the future. For now, however, the other interesting little thing that came out of the discussion was when LaVelle wondered whether my hoarse voice, which started as soon as we hit the road, was a byproduct of Avastin. Dr Taylor said yes, Avastin attacks blood vessels in the cancer, and sometime it attacks one in the vocal chords by mistake, with the result that your voice gets hoarse. Mystery solved, and it's not an answer I even considered. Once again, my family came through for me.

So, all my love to all my family. I feel completely vulnerable and uncertain about my future right now, and I can't begin to say how much their love and support helps me feel more safe and secure, whatever tomorrow may bring. I'm happy the Micronesia trip is going to happen, after it had started to look shaky. Next up on the travel front, however, is heading to Woodland Hills, CA for Corflu the weekend after next.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
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Basalt layers in Crooked River Canyon

From 1992 to 1996, there was a nightclub in downtown Seattle called, in full, And the Weathered Wall, the Purity Remains, but which was called The Weathered Wall by anyone who didn't want to sound like a pompous ass. The full name was painted on one of the walls of the club, and I thought it was attributed to one of the Romantic poets, but Google isn't helping me with that vague memory. In any event, I always loved the short name, and it was one of my favorite clubs in its brief existence, where I saw bands such as 7 Year Bitch, The Gits, Wayne Horvitz and Pigpen, Vexed, and Imij. They also had a DJ dance night called something like the Lemon Lounge, which was I believe my introduction to acid jazz. Lots of good memories.

None of this has anything to do with what I'm about to write about, which is my recent trip to Crooked River Ranch with my family, except for the theme of memory and the metaphor of the weathered wall. My family's house at CRR is on the rim of the Crooked River Canyon, which is cut through layers and layers basalt resulting from centuries of lava flows that happened thousands of years ago. Nothing like geology to make you feel like a blip in both spatial and temporal scheme of things. The basalt formations, including the walls of the canyon, are one of the most striking features of the area. They are weathered, just as are all the members of my family, excluding the youngest, my great niece Celine, who is still pretty fresh to the world at five willful years old.

We celebrated three milestones while I was there: my brother's impending retirement from Hewlett-Packard, where he has worked for over thirty years (his special dinner was crab louie); my impending retirement from the University of Washington, where I worked for 27 years (my special dinner was T-bone steaks --a favorite cut when I was a child); and my niece's 40th birthday (crepes for breakfast and home made chocolate chip mint ice dream after dinner). My niece was born pretty near the bicentennial birthday of the USA, so I guess we were also celebrating the country's 240th birthday. All of these milestones have a theme of aging in common, although mine has an added subtext of illness, of course. Age and illness are both part of the human weathering process. It's also interesting that both my sister and brother worked in one place for at least 30 years (for my sister it was the Salem School District in Oregon), and I would have made it if it hadn't been for those pesky cancer cells. Something in our family (or at least the three kids, because it wasn't true of our father) ran toward sticking in one job for as long as possible. Why was that?

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The log house

We've been taking vacations at Crooked River since my dad joined the sales team out there in the early '70s to supplement his teaching income during the summers. The Crooked River Ranch was developed by a businessman from Seattle, and one of the interesting things about it is that, unlike most resorts in the Central Oregon area near Bend, such as Sun River and Black Butte, it was aimed at working class customers. So it's a lower rent kind of place, with lots of trailers and double-wides on the lots, and businesses cluttering the benchland in the middle of the picturesque canyon, making the adjective questionable. (The canyon was halfway filled with lava at one point, then the river cut a smaller canyon into that fresh basalt, so there's two levels to the canyon.) My parents' log house is by no means low rent, and there are a lot of nice places around too, but the overriding impression when you drive around the ranch is not of wealth.

In any event, we have a lot of history out there, and a lot of good memories. It was great to spend an extended time with my family, being pampered by all of them. My family has always been close, but in the aftermath of my diagnosis, they've formed a protective circle around me that I find difficult to describe. LaVelle even drove up to Seattle and learned how to apply transducer arrays, and then drove me all the way (six hours) to CRR via Highway 97 (one of my favorite drives) so that we could bring the Optune along. Lonnie drove me home. My illness was the source of much conversation, of course. Little Celine kept telling me she was sorry I had bumped my head. I guess the transducer arrays looked like bandages to her.

But it's not always so easy to talk about my illness. When my brother got together with a couple of old college buddies to celebrate his retirement, we picked up Tom on the way to the pub, and when he got in the car, he started in on a non-stop barrage of very aggressive, foul-mouthed story telling about another friend of theirs. I know Tom is a motormouth and a great bullshitter, but he was so intense that my initial reaction was, "Will he never shut up?!!!" Lonnie and I talked about it later, and we agreed that he probably just didn't know what to say to me about what I've been going through. Later, after we met up with Steve, Tom seemed to calm down, and he and I even talked about my treatment a bit. I showed off the transducer arrays briefly.

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Tom, Lonnie, Steve, and Me at Three Creek Brewing in Sisters

I have to admit that the evening of the retirment party for me, I also got teary-eyed when I was thinking about it earlier in the day, because this is certainly not how I would have chosen to retire. It almost felt like a celebration of the cancer in some weird way, but that was just my perverse mood, I suspect. My sister also picked up a plastic skeleton to use for a Halloween decoration, and I became morbidly obsessed with the skeleton. I tend to be pretty sanguine about my fate from day to day, but clearly there's some anxiety percolating away in the inner depths. Maybe because the protectiveness of my family brings out a feeling of vulnerability, I came away from the vacation feeling more torn up than I generally do in my day-to-day life in Seattle, where I feel safe in my routines, as disrupted as they've been by treatment.

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Mr Bones and I share a morbid moment with my new tie-dyed t-shirt

At one point talk turned to my recent writing, and my niece, I think it was, suggested that I should write a memoir. This is appealing to me, because, narcissist that I am, my favorite thing to write about is myself, but at the same time it seems to me that my life has been so unremarkable and unextraordinary and aimless, there's not much there to interest anyone but those closest to me. Still, I want to focus on my writing as much as possible, and there's a lot of material in this LiveJournal, for example, that I could exploit for the purpose of a memoir, so I'll give the idea further thought. The only other idea I've had is to return to "Little Dog Talk," which is a story I conceived based on my experiences on Yap as a child and as an adult and also based on some of the stories I've heard about Yapese magic and mythology. I wrote a version of it under a different title many years ago and even workshopped it at a Taste of Clarion workshop at Potlatch (where Ursula Le Guin administered a chastening critique), and I've been rewriting it in my head ever since.

Although I felt like I slept a whole hell of a lot during the eight days I was down there, I did get in four hikes, including two down to the river, which involved steep inclines that were a bit of a challenge to my knackered stamina. Well worth it, however, to sit and listen to the river seeking its level and to enjoy the cool air and vibrant greenery. More worryingly, I've recently developed symptoms in my left shoulder that feel very similar indeed to what turned out to be rotator cuff tendinitis in my right shoulder a couple of years ago. I probably should have it checked out, although the idea of doing physical therapy while I'm still undergoing chemo is daunting. Something to talk to the oncologists about, I suppose. My next consultation is tomorrow.

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Mom and LaVelle baste the quilt, while my niece and great niece play underneath (LaVelle and a lot of my female cousins could remember being the girls playing under the quilt years ago)

Of course this is all me, me, me, and I haven't gotten into any stories about Celine or about the quilt that my Mom is making for her and was working on the whole time we were out there. There's nothing about my dad's improved health or the health problems my mom's been having. Nothing about my niece's new commercial photography gig with a clothing company in Portland. Nothing about the ongoing sagas of my nephews' attempts to reach the next stage of adulthood, most of which aren't really my stories to share anyway. But should they go into a memoir? One of my challenges would be how to handle the stories that would potentially embarrass me or others. Of course, those stories are in many ways the most fascinating stories of all. Am I up to the challenge of finding a way to tell them with sensitivity and compassion?

I return to Seattle feeling more unsure of myself than when I left, which is a little irritating, because it makes me feel young and immature. I'd prefer to be more of a weathered wall myself, shaped by what I've been through but able to withstand the forces buffeting me. Maybe now's the time to embrace the sign I saw at Seattle Coffee Company today: Vulnerability Is Your Superpower.

2016-08-27 Basalt layers.jpg
The weathered wall
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
As many of you will know, I just returned from a fifteen-day road trip in British Columbia and Alberta with an old girlfriend. I'm not going to use her real name here. If you know who it is, then you know; if you don't, you don't need to know -- and neither does Google. I'm going to call her Hortensia in this piece, because that's a pseudonym I used for her over twenty years ago in a fanzine covering difficult and intimate matters, as this piece also will. Please beware that some of this material is extremely personal and may be more than you want to know about me or her. Still, I will make every effort to be discreet about things that she wouldn't want me to talk about in a public forum, because it really isn't my place to tell her story.

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The view from Nanaimo on Vancouver Island

Suffice it to say that the trip didn't go well, or at least was fraught and difficult, with plenty of good stuff mixed in too. First of all, I don't think Hortensia was prepared for how beat down by the chemo I am right now, and she admitted as much at the end. She was frustrated by and impatient with my lack of spark and my inability to retain information such as directions. We spent much of our time together squabbling and bickering like an old married couple, sparring over my mental slowness and her incredulous putdowns of my failures of comprehension. To say that the romance had long since drained out of our relationship is an understatement. It was already gone by 2009, but the old married couple description is meant to indicate that we are still plenty close in a lot of ways. You have to be close to someone to really get on their nerves, right?

Worse than that, however, was the clash of what I'll call religious beliefs. Hortensia has in recent years developed a fascination for certain shamanic practices and what I think of as a New Age approach to life and health. She hadn't gone as far down that road in 2005, when I decided not to marry her after having agreed to in the first flush of our love affair in 2003, but the difference in religious/philosophical outlook was one of the reasons I came to believe (and she agreed at the time) that we weren't compatible. Now she's *really* into it, and from the moment we checked into the airport hotel where we had a more romantic stay in 2003, she started explaining it to me in great detail. Part of it was that she had just been to the Amazonian jungle in Peru and participated in some ayahuasca ceremonies there, and she was eager to share the powerful experience she'd just had.

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Hortensia had brought back Peruvian textiles depicting the ayahuasca plant and visions inspired by it

I've thought at times in the aftermath of this trip together that she was more interested in her healing process (she's trying to overcome trauma from her childhood) than in my health crisis, but I think it's more accurate to say that she rejects Western medicine and wants me to too. She believes that the shamanic practices she's following are superior to Western medicine, and she has in fact teased me that if Western medicine didn't cure my cancer, she'd drag me to the Peruvian jungle to try a different way. Well, by the end of the trip she was acknowledging that I would never let her do that. It spoke to the distance that had grown between us in the meantime.

I hesitate to get into an specifics about our disagreement, because I don't want to characterize her beliefs inaccurately or unfairly. To focus on the thing that probably set me off the worst, however, it seemed to me that she was saying that diseases such as cancer are caused by internal conflicts that we haven't been able to resolve. Thus curing the disease requires us to resolve those internal conflicts. To me this is blaming the victim. I mean, it's one thing to say that a smoker brings on their own lung cancer, but it's another thing to say that someone brings on their own breast or brain cancer. To me, it's even worse to say that it's up to the cancer victim to heal themselves by "resolving the conflict." I'll stop there, because there were other things Hortensia said that seemed outright bonkers to me, and I'm not ready to go there yet.

She told me that it was okay for me to dismiss her beliefs as "hippy bullshit," but it's my impression that I said things along those lines that really hurt her feelings. That's why religion, like politics, is such a dangerous topic to discuss. After all, she is pursuing these beliefs in order to deal with long-standing and devastating emotional pain that, among other things, she tried to self-medicate with heroin when she was in her 20s. By calling her beliefs into question -- by outright rejecting some of them as bonkers -- I was challenging the self-healing process that is bringing her so much relief right now. She is genuinely excited about the progress she's making, and I'm genuinely happy to see it, because I know how much she's been hurting all these years.

Which brings up another thing: Making up for lost time. She spent so many years lost to the world that she is trying to jam as much life and experience as possible into the time she has left. From my perspective it seems a bit manic, but I can also understand what's driving her. The agenda for this trip was largely focused on her connections and her needs, and in the past, when I've been less needy myself, this has been a recipe for grand adventures and new connections for me. It was still the case this time around.

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Hortensia (wearing, it should be noted, my Oregon hoodie), Will, and Lorna on Gabriola Island

We spent the first week driving around Vancouver Island in a rented mini-RV visiting old friends Hortensia had made when she was living there while her mom died of breast cancer in 2009. We spent a night with her mom's friends Alan and Carol, which was a bit difficult because Alan is now as deaf as a post and Carol is starting to lose her short term memory. Then it was off to visit Lorna and Will on Gabriola Island in the Georgia Strait, which was a complete blast, because both of them are total sweethearts and were very responsive to my situation. Will invited me to come back and sail with him on his trimaran whenever I want. Lorna was very maternal and pampered me to the max. Unfortunately this was also where my emotional reaction to Hortensia really spun out of control, and I got so angry that I couldn't sleep one night. As I sat in back of the RV spinning through my 3AM despair, I considered returning to Seattle. However, the whole desperate flight-impulse made me flash back to 1980 when I first visited Hortensia in Vancouver, had sex for the first time in my life, panicked, and fled back to Oregon, leaving her feeling abandoned and distraught. I swore that I wouldn't do that to her a second time, come what may.

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Hortensia repairs the sweat lodge

Fortunately this resolution calmed me down for our next stop, which was on the Cowichan reservation in Duncan. We stayed on the property of a medicine man who goes by the English name Fred. At Hortensia's request on my behalf, Fred had invited us to participate in a sweat lodge. I had never done one before, and here's what I wrote about the experience on Facebook:

'Did half a sweat lodge yesterday, lasting two rounds out of four. It was my first sweat lodge, and I had no idea what to expect, although I wasn't encouraged by Hortensia's reply to my question about what to wear: "Well, you're basically being boiled." [NB: After she read my post, she protested that she hadn't actually said that.] So it was incredibly hot and smoky, and it was so dark you couldn't see anything but the glowing rocks. I closed my eyes and felt claustrophobic and tried not to panic. Fred sat me by the door in case I needed to bail out early. The cool thing about that is that because I was one of the last people going in, Fred gave me the job of using cedar boughs to brush off the "grandfathers" -- the hot rocks -- before they were sent into the lodge. So even though my anxious state of mind meant I felt a little outside the ceremony, I still felt like I played my part. I enjoyed listening to the chanting and Fred's various incantations and speeches, and maybe I would have got more into it if I'd joined in the chanting. Afterward I chatted with a few of the participants, particularly the French-Canadian guy (Sylvain?) who had tended the fire, and that was a lot of fun, listening to the jokes and laughter and stories. He told me that one of the women who had participated was a former national Member of Parliament representing a district on the island. So it was an interesting experience, but I think I prefer to take my religious ecstasy served in the great outdoors of the rain forest, the reef, or the ocean beach.'

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The sporty red car

After we left Fred's place, we left Vancouver Island, traded in the mini-RV for a sporty subcompact, and headed for Alberta, where I'd never been before despite the fact that my father was born there. This stage of the trip was all about visiting Hortensia's family. (She grew up in Edmonton after ten years in Melbourne, where she was born.) In fact, when she contacted me after my GBM diagnosis, she told me she'd already been thinking of visiting Canada this year to see Aunt Helen, because Helen's husband, Roland, had just died. We stayed at Helen's log house in the Canadian Rockies near Mount Robson, and it was gorgeous and peaceful up there, as it had been at Lorna's place on Gabriola Island. I'd met Helen (and Roland) at Hortensia's mom's memorial in 2009. Helen was another very maternal person who pampered me shamelessly, although she also put us to work staining spindles for a balcony that had rotted and needed to be reconstructed. After that, we headed to Edmonton, where I finally met Hortensia's big brother, Lyall, who was great. Wonderful sense of humor and sense of centeredness. He's married to a Thai woman and is a Buddhist. We also visited Hortensia's niece, Elizabeth, who had just moved back from Toronto with her four year old son, Dash. I'd met Elizabeth before, but not Dash, and Hortensia hadn't met Dash either. Hortensia and Lyall had dinner that evening with their cousin Wendy (Helen's daughter), but by that time I was completely wiped out physically and emotionally, and I begged off.

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Helen and Hortensia

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The spindles we stained

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Elizabeth, Dash, and Hortensia

Hortensia was intent on pulling the family together. Elizabeth hadn't visited Lyall, Helen, or Wendy yet (only having moved back from Toronto a couple of months ago), and Hortensia exhorted her to introduce Dash to all of them. The family connections have obviously become more important to her, and the deaths of her mom and uncle, not to mention my cancer, have only impressed on her that the living connections can disappear before you know it. As with the shamanic healing practices for her PTSD, the focus on family connections are all about making up for lost time -- specifically that period when her drug addiction meant she lost contact with her family as well.

So the second week was physically trying because of the long drives involved. By the final day of the trip I was basically numb from exhaustion. It was also, perhaps pathetically, emotionally trying because it was all about Hortensia and not about me. I've really wrestled with this, because I would like to think I'm not such a complete narcissist. On the one hand, I think it was a good reminder that it's not all about me and that other people are dealing with serious problems too. I was also happy to see Hortensia becoming so family-minded, which I think is a very good thing. And again, the fact that she is feeling so much relief from her long-abiding trauma is incredibly good news. It was probably good for me to have the attention shifted elsewhere for a couple of weeks, just to break me out of whatever emotional ruts I may have fallen into. However, it's hard to deny that my immediate reaction to the stresses and strains of the trip, including not always being the center of attention, was to become a cranky, petulant, emotionally volatile pain in the ass. I was definitely on my worst behavior, which only added to my feeling that the whole trip had been a failure and a mistake.

With a few days to recover and gain some perspective through venting to friends and family, I'd have to say that a lot of this is an overreaction. However, the estrangement between me and Hortensia seems real, and maybe it was about fricking time. There's another side to all this that leaves me feeling horribly ashamed and pathetic: My need to cling to my old girlfriends so that I can feel that I haven't been a complete loser at the game of love. Well, I can only imagine Hortensia laughing her ass off at that. The reality is, my emotional neediness aside, whatever distance has grown between us doesn't amount to a hill of beans when you consider the strong connection we've established over the years. As she assured me at the Vancouver International Airport just before we parted, I will always be a major part of her life, and despite whatever grievances I now have, she will always be my first lover and the woman I came closest to marrying many years later. But I suppose we're both feeling more relieved than ever that we avoided the marriage trap. Who knows how much we'd be getting on each other's nerves if we really *were* an old married couple.

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Old friends

ADDENDUM: I showed this to Hortensia before I published it, to make sure I hadn't crossed any lines. Here are a few of her comments, which I offer as a counterpoint to my complaints:

I certainly come off as inconsiderate and self absorbed. I'm sorry that is your biggest impression. I guess that after Lorna's I was pretty unsure how to relate to you and went a bit into action mode. My coping mechanism.

Actually, I was expecting it to be worse. I'm sorry you felt I didn't really connect to your situation. I didn't know how to connect when you reacted so negatively to me.

I'm sorry if you felt I put you down for not remembering stuff. I didn't mean to, and I need to look at that behaviour.

You didn't mention the bear and the elk, and, remember, the long driving in the Rockies was so you could see them. Alone, I would have flown to Edmonton and rented a car there to go to Helen's!

Many thanks to Hortensia for her graciousness in the face of my grievances.

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The view of the Canadian Rockies from Aunt Helen's
randy_byers: (yap)
Well, kids, between work and FIAWOL hobbies life has been a bit of a grind lately. Nothing traumatic, mind you, but stressful. So it was with great pleasure that I flew the frenetic coop for Maui on June 13th.

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Mountain clouds on Maui

Why Maui? )
randy_byers: (roadtrip)
I think I said after my last trip to the Olympic Peninsula that it was likely I'd now start doing some of the same hikes and activities that I'd already done, because in fact I'd already done pretty much everything I could think of doing out there. This trip proved that out to a certain extent, but the theme became doing the same things except going one step further. In some cases that further step revealed even *further* steps I can explore in the future. I also discovered some new areas I want to explore. I was okay with the prospect of repeating steps I'd taken before, because as Eno says, repetition is a form of change, but maybe there are new tricks for this old dog to learn after all.

Further steps below the cut )
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
The year is drawing to a close, and I am succumbing to the urge to look back. The calendar year is an arbitrary unit for contemplation, but it's also a handy way to parse things into intelligible chunks. As such, 2014 doesn't seems very remarkable in any way, but maybe I'm just in a jaded mood.

In many ways the highlight of the year was the trip I took to Europe in August. It's hard to overstate what an acre lot of fun that was. The first part of the trip, in which my sister and I treated Mom to a visit to Amsterdam and ancestral lands in eastern France was definitely one none of us will ever forget. My sister's French friend, Kelly, opened up doors to our past that we probably wouldn't even have noticed if we'd been on our own. Then for me it was onward to London for beer tourism and the mighty Worldcon, which was almost fannish overload. Well, no, it was definitely fannish overload. There's a part of me that doesn't enjoy overseas travel as much as I once did, but it's hard to remember why while I'm in the middle of it having so much damned fun.

Other than that I traveled to San Jose for Potlatch in February and had a splendid time there with exotic foreign visitors (the Fishlifters) and various other well-memorized faces. This was followed by another of my retreats to Astoria and the Olympic Peninsula, which have rapidly become one of my very favorite things in the whole wide world ever. The other relatively long trip was the drive to Southern California with my parents in November, and I once again really enjoyed the scenic drive along the Sierra Nevadas on Highway 395. Other than that there were several trips to Oregon to visit the family, including the big pig roast family birthday party at my brother's place in July and another family birthday party at Waldport on the coast. Now that my parents' Oregon abode is back in Portland, I've really been enjoying taking the train from Seattle. It's a lot more relaxing than driving or flying.

A lot less satisfying in some ways was my year in writing and publishing. We only got out one issue of Chunga, and that was way back in January. We had been getting out two issues a year recently, so this felt like a step backward. I also felt like I didn't do much writing for other fanzines. I had pieces published in John Purcell's Askance and Pete Young's Big Sky (thanks, guys!), but the more major piece I wrote about 30 years living in Seattle was rejected by the fanzine that solicited it. Even worse, I had to agree that it wasn't a very good piece and thus not worth submitting elsewhere, and this failure has had me contemplating my navel a bit. Have I gotten stagnant? Do I have anything left to say? Why do I want to write? Sometimes I think I just write from reflex now, but then again, maybe that's the best reason to write. I just don't want to get rote, right?

The bulk of my writing was on the internet. I still feel very ambivalent about my (mostly) film blog, Dreamland Cafe, but it does give me a reason to write, even if I'm not sure of the reason why I write. Do I really have anything to say about film? Wouldn't I be better off to just write about science fiction, where I have twice as many decades of experience and knowledge to back up my analysis? Perhaps the most striking thing to me about the blog is that the two most popular articles in the past year have been one I wrote in 2013 about slavery stories, which keeps getting found by people using search terms like "plantation sex stories," and the piece I wrote in February about the French film The Ring Finger. Considering the fetishistic sexual interest that seems to be driving the readers of the slavery post, it's hard not to assume that people are searching for the piece about The Ring Finger looking for nude screencaps of Olga Kurylenko or to contemplate the sadomasochistic bent of the film. Nonetheless, that's probably the best thing I wrote for the Dreamland Cafe last year.

Meanwhile, my LiveJournal plugs along as a repository for trip reports, convention reports, book reports, and memorials to dead friends. I think I'm still writing some good things here, although since I outed my true identity it feels as though I'm writing less personal stuff. Not sure if that's actually true. Is this post personal?

The biggest surprise development this year came on the job front. After years of stasis partly caused by reduced budgets in the aftermath of the Great Recession, we were finally given the funds to hire two new reporting positions. Since I'm a "super SME" for student data, it will be my responsibility to train these two new people in the mysteries of student data, which means a lot more work is being put on my plate. What is perhaps most surprising is that one of the key figures behind the allocation of funds for these positions also pushed heavily to give me a significant raise commensurate with my new responsibilities (and my old ones too). That's all still being negotiated, but the tea leaf readings are positive. What I take away from this is that after 25 years of working here, I have developed some powerful allies. I still worry about what's going to happen when one of my biggest long-term allies and mentors retires next year, but it's encouraging to know that I'll still have people who might be able to help me if I need it.

Finally, there's my health. Three years after getting a wake up call about growing insulin resistance, which caused me to make fairly significant dietary and life style changes, I developed a nagging pain in my right shoulder that was diagnosed as rotator cuff tendinitis. This put me on a course of stretches and exercises that have increased my upper body strength. Between the recent weight loss, eating better, getting more cardio, and now putting on some muscle in my shoulders, I'm feeling unexpectedly fit. At the same time, at age 54 my body is definitely showing its age, and while I may have built up my shoulder muscles, I'm losing muscle mass elsewhere. Part of me wonders whether the tendinitis, which is caused by impingement, was the result of losing muscle mass that had previously been keeping the impinging bones at bay. In any event, I'm feeling pretty damned good physically right now, but the slow slide is in progress.

Well, no doubt I could natter on some more about various projects and plans and desires, but I won't. I've been feeling slightly blue today, but I think it's just a random existential mood. I remember when I broke up with Sharee back in 2005 I felt that I'd probably reached the pinnacle of what I was going to accomplish in life and it would be all downhill from there. Two years later I'd somehow finagled my way onto some Hugo-winning coattails. The thing I ask myself more and more these days is how can I help younger people face their challenges in the way that I was helped as a young man. My goal for a long time has been not to be a burden on anyone else, even if I'm not strong enough to carry anyone else's burden. But can I do more? Can I help to lift other people up? I really don't know, but it's been on my mind.

And on that note I wish you bottoms up for the new year.
randy_byers: (roadtrip)
Three weeks ago I was planning one of my trips to the Olympic Peninsula, where I love to immerse myself in the natural beauty of ocean, beach, rain forest, and mountain. Then on Thursday the 6th, just three days before I was going to head for Astoria on the first leg of that trip, I found myself at work trying to decipher an old database while being bombarded by text messages from my family. Gradually it penetrated my distracted brain that my mom and dad needed somebody to help them drive to their winter home in Southern California and that neither my sister or brother were in a position to do that.

"I've got next week off," I texted. "I can drive to California, if that's what's needed."

The next day at 5:30pm I was on a train to Portland, having cancelled all my reservations in Astoria and La Push. Twelve hours later we were in my parents' Prius heading down Interstate 5. I was suffering a bit of whiplash, but it was all in a good cause.

On the road again )
randy_byers: (cap)

Loncon 3 was my eighth World Science Fiction Convention, and by this time they are beginning to seem a bit familiar. A bit been-there-done-that. Of course this could have something to do with the fact that in my first 25 years of going to conventions, I made it to only three Worldcons, while in the past nine years I've been to five. Maybe I need to go less frequently if I want to maintain the thrill. Familiarity breeds contempt, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and 3/25ths is clearly greater than 5/9ths. Then again, my two absolute favorite Worldcons were 2005 and 2009, which were both part of the recent burst, but the fun of those two was the result of purely personal factors that really had little to do with the conventions themselves.

I guess part of what I'm trying to say up front here is that I anticipated that a London Worldcon would be something pretty special, because of the location in one of the world's great cities, and while from an objective or empirical viewpoint it *was* something pretty special (c.f. over ten thousand total members, which is the most ever for a Worldcon), my personal experience of it was comparable to, say, the Reno Worldcon in 2011, which was the last Worldcon I'd been to. I had a good time, but I really didn't have anything resembling desperate fun. Well, maybe I came pretty close to desperate fun a time or two. Let's see how the story unfolds.

Desperately seeking fun ... )
randy_byers: (beer)
[For previous episodes of the trip see Amsterdam and Lorraine Region, France.]

In the planning stages of this trip I always had a few days set aside between France and the Worldcon for drinking beer. What I had a hard time making up my mind about was whether to drink beer in Belgium or in London. I went back and forth on this question for a very long time before I finally was persuaded by two things: 1) the tales of London's exploding, evolving microbrewery scene that I was hearing from Jim de Liscard, and 2) the prospect of saving some money by staying at the Fishlifter's house, instead of spending more money on European hotels at the height of the tourist season. Plus it was a chance to be reunited with the old Croydon gang with whom I'd gotten acquainted on my 2010 visit before Novacon. What's not to love?

Beer, beer, smofs, and beer ... )
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
[For the previous episode, see Amsterdam.]

Most of my traveling around Europe over the years has been via train, so the idea of a roadtrip by car was something of a novelty. I can't actually remember how we arrived at this plan, but it was probably because we wanted to have a car in France so that we would have more flexibility in our exploration of various little villages in Lorraine. In any event, Kelly had arranged to rent a car in Amsterdam, and because she would be driving through unfamiliar territory, she also got a GPS navigation device. Our drive would take us through four countries in one day, which was going to be record for at least the three Americans in the expedition.

Ancestral haunts ... )
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
A couple of years ago my sister suggested that we take Mom to the Lorraine region of France for her 80th birthday in 2013. A number of our Mennonite forebears hailed from this area, and we thought Mom would enjoy another visit to the ancestral homeland, which she had been to once before. Because I was already planning to go to London for the 2014 World Science Fiction Convention, we all agreed that we would combine the trips, which would still get us over there before Mom turned 81. Eventually Mom said she'd like to spend a couple of days in Amsterdam as well so she could see the Van Gogh Museum and the Rembrandts in the Rijksmuseum. Thus it was that on August 3 the three of us met in the Amsterdam airport, because I flew over on a separate flight from theirs. We were about to discover a vibrant but peaceful city that was the perfect place to acclimatize ourselves to the new time zone.

Refuge in a Refugee City ... )
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
I'm slowly checking things off the long To Do List in preparation for the big trip. Next Saturday I'm flying to Amsterdam, where I'll meet my sister and mom. We'll spend a couple of days in Amsterdam, then with the help of a friend of my sister's who's acting as our guide and sherpa, we're driving to eastern France, just outside of Nancy. This is an ancestral homeland, and we've been there once before, although I don't think my sister was with us that time. Not that I feel a particular sense of connection with the area myself, but Mom does, and we're taking her there for her 80th birthday.

We'll spend a few days wandering around the French countryside, then I'm taking the Eurostar to London while the rest of them head to Switzerland (which is another ancestral, i.e. Mennonite, homeland). I'll be staying chez Fishlifter for three nights, exploring cutting edge London pubs with the Reverend Jim and Pingopark. Then, of course, it's off to the Docklands for the crawling chaos that is Worldcon. This looks to be a huge one, too. Because it's in fricking London! Woohoo!

I return to Seattle on Monday the 18th.

I'm getting excited. I'll be even more excited once I've whittled this List down to size.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
1980 in the Leaning Tower of Pisa

June 18, 1980: Night Train Fever. A name spoken into the void. The tilting tower of Pisa. VILION LASTELF -- The Story that Became A Name; The Name That Became A Story.

My mind is a grab bag, a sad slag, a golliwag.

The climb to the top of the Bell Tower (Campanile) of PIsa is interesting. On the stairs moving up the tilting side, it feels almost as if one is climbing down against gravity. Very odd. The view at the top is quite beautiful. Most of the buildings in (clean, quiet) Pisa have red roofs (rooves?) The wall of the old city is very much intact and winds through the new buildings like the shed skin of an ancient reptile. Nearby is a stadium, similar to the ruined amphitheaters of Pompeii. All is well. The sky is spotted with clouds of the cotton ball variety.

Last night's train ride was probably the strangest that we've encountered. We knew beforehand that it would be fairly crowded, so I was prepared to be depressed. When the train arrived, we rushed into the first second class car in sight -- it was full. So we got off, and I was thinking the whole time that the train would pull out as we walked to the next car and we would be chasing it with our heavy luggage because we wanted to get out of Naples. We got on another car; it was a sleeper. We moved down the aisle to the next car; it was a sleeper too. The conductor in that car shooed us back to the other. Lonnie decided to go exercise his first class capabilities. I was angry. The conductor in the other sleeper shooed us on. I was really angry, not because of the conductor, but because things were rather a mess. Here we were dragging our luggage through narrow passages, crushing people who didn't move, not finding any rooms, being shooed on by conductors, sleepy and knowing there were six hours to go. We found a car to stand in. Lonnie came back because he couldn't find a first class seat. Of course, the conductor found seats for Mom, LaVelle and me in this car, and I got the most comfortable situation (as it turned out). I still only got about four hours of sleep.

In the half light of the compartment I thought: I speak a name into the empty darkness and it grows. But where did I get the name and why does it grow?
randy_byers: (roadtrip)
20131112_01_James Island and Foam
A foamy taste of things to come

Well, I visited the Olympic Peninsula once again, but this time I approached it in a more roundabout way than usual. I'm going to bomb this report with photos, so let's drop them behind a cut, what?

The long and winding (coastal) road ... )
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
Also sprach Zarathustra

I'm back from a week in Central Oregon with my family. Pretty much all the immediate family was there, at least for part of the time. My niece had to go back to Portland to work two days on Monday and Tuesday, but she returned. My eldest nephew was there from Thursday through Saturday, and the youngest was there from Friday through Sunday. Even my niece's ex-husband showed up for one day (while my niece was in Portland) to spend time with his daughter, my great niece.

Yadda yadda photo photo ... )
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
James Beach at Dawn

'Instead of explaining, he put his finger on something that emanates from the visible only to return to the invisibility of language.' (Siegfried Gohr, Magritte: Attempting the Impossible)

I had originally intended to spend these past two weeks in the UK and Belgium, but I canceled that trip when I learned that I needed to get my blood glucose under control by the end of November. So instead I only took one week off and made my third trip to the Quileute Oceanside Resort in less than a year. The second trip was a huge bust because I immediately caught a cold and returned home after two miserable nights. This time I had another marvelous time, just like the first time.

More words and photos ... )


Nov. 12th, 2012 08:27 am
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
I'm on vacation! I'm heading to the Olympic Peninsula for five days! Internet exposure will be minimal until it isn't, but you could always text if you really miss me. Ciao for now, y'all.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
Okay, here are a few things about my vacation in Central Oregon.

1. Eight days of never sitting at a desk staring at a computer screen.

2. My mom had her glucose meter with her, and I took fasting glucose readings three times. The readings ranged from 102 to 118. The reading I got in late May was 134. The healthy range is considered 80 to 100. So I've improved my situation, but I'm still not in the healthy range. My mom thinks that if I can stay in this lower range, they won't put me on Metformin. 135 seems to be the point at which you are considered diabetic, IIRC.

3. I did a lot of hiking, partly driven by the desire for cardio. I saw a lot of beautiful sights on my hikes. One of the things I love about going to Central Oregon is that it's such a different world for me. Finally got to Newberry Caldera, which is an ancient and enormous volcano. The obsidian field is amazing, and I will try to post a photo later.

4. I was suffering from something like anxiety attacks in the week or two before my vacation. I'm still not sure what that was all about, but Getting Away From It All was just what the doctor ordered. It took three days to relax, but it felt wonderful to let go of all that stress.

5. My great niece is one and a half, and she's entered the "handful" stage. Partly it was because her mom and dad headed back east for a friend's wedding, leaving her with my sister. There was definitely some separation anxiety going on. And as irritating as her bad temper could be, it was mostly just kind of heartbreaking and humbling to see her vulnerability. My sister is infinitely patient with her grandchild.

6. Didn't see my nephews at all, since they were working and/or (in the case of the eldest) spending time with a girlfriend who had been away for the summer. The times they are a-changin'. For much of the time, we were almost back to the old family configuration of just my parents and my siblings.

7. Moderate drinking, for the win. The times they are a-changin'.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
I'm back from a week with my family in Central Oregon. I hope to post some photos once I've gone through them to see whether any are worth posting. Meanwhile, I don't even know who won the Hugos yet!
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
Since I posted here earlier about my intention to go to Novacon again this year, I feel I should post here now that I've canceled my plans. It's because I need to get my blood sugar under control in the next six months, if possible, which I suppose is obvious enough. Anyway, that's about it. Sorry I'll be missing the Brum scrum, but I hope to catch up with y'all another time, perhaps in London in 2014.

Oh, I guess I could also mention that I have a Novacon membership, if anyone is looking for one.


randy_byers: (Default)

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