Friday, April 13, 2018

Admirable (Part Three)


(image modified from here)
I love numbers, and have been a math nerd since ... forever, I guess. I remember in first grade, we had an exercise where we had to write the numbers from 1 - 100 in columns on a page of paper. This happened daily over a period of several days. By about the third day, bored with the exercise, instead of writing ... 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 etc down the column in order like I "should," I inverted it and wrote  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 ...., and then went back and filled in 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2 2 2 ... in front of the digits. I had independently, at age 6, figured out the basic pattern behind how counting with place value works. (The alternative is something like Roman numerals, where 10, 100, 1000 each has a different symbol, X, C, M, etc). I went home that day and excitedly told my engineer father about my discovery. Luckily, he figured out what I was trying to say and what it meant about his (literally!) certified genius child, because I didn't have the vocabulary to really explain my discovery.

And math was always there, no matter what else was happening in my life. Among my favourite toys when I was a kid were math-related games and puzzles. Danish mathematician, writer, and WWII resistance figure Piet Hein was one of my heroes.  Because it was the 1960's, I was one of only 2 girls in my advanced math class of 28 in high school, and made the math honor society in college; then, on to a math-heavy science career where I was seriously the young hot shot in my 20's.

In the 1970's I remember offering to help my then-boyfriend with a math class he was taking. This, apparently, was a dreadful threat to his masculinity. Not only did he not want my help, he actually broke up with me and told me it was because he couldn't handle me being better at math than he was!!! (We'll call him IPB, "Insecure Previous Boyfriend.") was devastated at the time, and confused, but ultimately it was all for the good, because a few years later I was in grad school in Colorado where I met Dan.

And then just a year or so later, Dan and I found ourselves taking an engineering course together. You know where this is going, don't you? Because, yep, I was doing better in the class than he was. Previous experience warned me that if I offered to help him, the relationship would be over. But I did, and it wasn't, and unlike the competitive reaction that IPB had, Dan's response was basically, "Well, it's good that someone on Team Us has a solid grasp of this stuff!" (It's not like he was a slacker, either; he ended the semester with a good solid B.)

I vacillated for a long time about even writing this post, because, well, to find it admirable, to praise someone for simply acting like a decent human when confronted with not being "the best" at something (gender expectations notwithstanding!) seems to be setting the bar distressingly low. But people I admire, ordinary heroes, don't have to be the ones doing monumental things admired the world over. They just have to be doing things that I consider admirable. And gracefully accepting reality while trying to improve, is one of those things I admire.

Just because this seems to be a great place to park it, here's a picture of Dan from about that time in our lives. We're in the Four Corners area of the southwest, and if you look closely, he's pointing at his wedding ring.


= = = =

There are follow-ons to the stories of both Dan and IPB with regards to math. In Dan's case, after the brain surgery and recovery, it turned out that he had pretty much lost the ability to do simple mathematical operations without a calculator. Dan used to be able to balance the checkbook in his head; post-surgery, that was frustratingly out of reach. "But," friend Cathy pointed out, "neither can 95% of the population! You started out with excess capacity." Higher math now would be just physically almost impossible given the location of the scar tissue, according to a neurologist we spoke with a couple of years later. He wasn't unsympathetic, but he pointed out that realistically, Dan was well within the realm of being able to function well in everyday life, which was no small thing considering that death is one of the more common outcomes of this type of cancer.  Still, for an engineer to lose the ability to do math is similar to a surgeon developing a tremor in his hands; the door to that particular career is pretty well shut. Admirable was acknowledging this without bitterness, re-learning as much as he could, and moving on to have a fun life anyway. Just, a different life than the one he'd envisioned before.

Oh, and IPB? He caught up with me about 10 years after we split, and we had a totally non-creepy lunch meeting. He told me that in many ways he realized too late that I was the one that got away.
He had finally married -- someone who looked like me, and was a math whiz and engineer like me. I think that meeting was his way of apology for having been a jerk, back when we were both so young.

(Note: In a weird coincidence, another blog I follow posted encouraging you to think about the heroes in your life, on exactly the same day that I first drafted the  post about Kristine, the first of three planned posts about people I consider admirable.)

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Admirable (Part Two)


What would it take you to go from this ... (photo credit)

... to this? (photo credit)
 Here's another story of a friend who I find admirable. I find her admirable in many ways, but especially this one, the way she's making a sacrifice in service to a greater good. (Lots of details changed here to protect the innocent.)

"M" moved to Key West more than 10 years ago. She likes its quirky laid-back lifestyle, bright colors, and warm sunny climate. She met her husband there, and now they have a house and two kids together. They've got a good circle of friends there, and both have good jobs with fishing charters for tourists. Life was really pretty cool.

Then one of their kids started having problems. Not life-threatening problems, but significant, the kind of problems that might not launch this child to their most successful life. M is a very dedicated parent and pretty smart, so she looked around for solutions. And it turned out that, after research, the only two possible places in the country that could help M's kid were Cheyenne, and Chicago. Both of which are as culturally different from Key West as I could imagine. Cities, with none of that laid-back quirky vibe. And both have snow. M hasn't seen ice outside of a drink glass in many years. Both M and her husband would have to quit their jobs and sell their house, and they'd have to stay in the northland pretty much until the kids were out of high school. It's not like Cheyenne has much of a fishing fleet, either, so it wouldn't just be quitting these particular jobs, they'd be losing any opportunities to continue working in the whole industry.

Tough decision, but M is pragmatic. Last time I talked to her, she was sorting and packing. They'd already given notice at their jobs and were planning to move during the summer; at least they'd have some time to explore their new surroundings before before the school year -- and snow! -- began. Unlike my previous "Admirable" post, this one doesn't end in rainbows and happy hikers and zesty "I love my life" photos. At least not yet, and maybe not until the younger kid turns 18 and graduates. M's payoff is a little farther away. And that's exactly why I find her being willing to make this major uprooting and change so admirable.


(Note: In a weird coincidence, another blog I follow posted encouraging you to think about the heroes in your life, on exactly the same day that I first drafted the previous post about Kristine, the first of three planned posts about people I consider admirable.)

Friday, April 6, 2018

Admirable (Part One)

Embracing the awesome, and well-earned, adventure

Ironic that this post immediately follows the one about the spa-cum-ordinary-land-based-shower, but sometimes thoughts just happen when they happen. I must be subconsciously pondering the topic of physical comfort, because this is the flip side of the coin. Discomfort ... in service to a greater goal.

When we were on the Galeon, I'd sometimes get in conversations with visitors about the details of life aboard. Most people would look at me with a bit of wonder, and say, "Oh, I could never do what you do." The most common reason they'd give was a tendency to seasickness. I've only be seriously seasick once, and it was because I was hung over, so it was my own fault. But the experience gave me a lot of insight, and if I were prone to seasickness, I would never have moved aboard either.  Once past the seasickness conversation, people's reasons varied. Older women in particular (not always, but common enough to be a trend) would often announce that they would be unwilling to handle close quarters, lack of privacy, being away from their grandkids, and the comforts of home.

I explain that it's kind of a package deal. Physical comfort is nice, but ... overrated. Okay, I like being comfortable and wouldn't voluntarily be uncomfortable for the heck of it, but I'm quite willing to be uncomfortable if that's the price I pay for an astounding adventure, like spending a summer on a traveling tall ship. It wasn't the first time we traded comfort for experiences. When we lived in Colorado, we went backpacking one October to listen to the elk bugling. Not because I like being cold and sleeping on the hard ground, but because we wanted to see and hear this phenomenon for ourselves. (Turn your computer sound up when you check out the above YouTube video, it's remarkable. National Geographic also has an interesting video about it.) It was every bit as amazing as we expected, and being stiff and sore the next several days, from the long hike and bad sleeping, was a price we were happy to have paid.



But our willingness to endure discomfort as the price of the admission ticket for adventure pales in comparison to that of my friend Kristine. She's really one of my heroes, and her latest undertaking has inspired me. She was the bartender at our local pub, and she had a dream of backpacking around the world. Of course, money was going to be an issue, but this girl gives new meaning to the word "determination." In service to her dream, she was willing to do anything that was ethical. (Not necessarily legal; sadly, those two words are not synonymous.) She pinched every penny she had. Up to the point of deciding to live in her truck for 14 months, voluntarily homeless, to save rent money. She wrote about the decision in her blog, and one evening she told us stories of couch surfing with friends or sleeping behind the bar after close when it was too cold to stay in the truck. She posted lovely sunrise photos from the parking garage (how does one tend bar until closing time at 2 AM and still wake up in time for sunrise?) She made healthy meals from the sandwiches they served at the bar -- however repetitive and boring after a while, she used her employee discount to save money. A lot of her clothing came from thrift stores. And then she took seven months off, packed a single rucksack and a sturdy pair of boots, and planned an itinerary that included lots of buses and hostels, and would literally take her around the world, from Florida to California to New Zealand and Australia (so far), and fills my Facebook feed with spectacular photos including the ones I've included, in what she now calls her "signature pose," celebrating life to the fullest possible. She's got a YouTube channel ("Rucksack Rambler") and a blog that I'm sincerely anxious to see her update, but right now she's too busy having adventures to write about them. Admirable.



(Note: In a weird coincidence, another blog I follow posted encouraging you to think about the heroes in your life, on exactly the same day that I first drafted this post about Kristine, the first of a few planned posts about people I consider admirable.)