August, 2010

Aug 10

Two Days in August

As I’ve been writing lately, my grandmother Gigi died a couple of weeks ago – I’m on a plane home now from her memorial service, which we held this weekend on St Simons Island, GA – she and the rest of Mom’s family moved there in 1962 or 63, and she lived in the house that they built ever since.

It was a nice service, and nice weekend with my family – a group that I love and admire so much. Everyone who spoke about Gigi talked about her sense of humor, and her sharp tongue. And when the church pastor, during the homily for your funeral, mentions how sharp your sense of humor is, well, that’s something distinctive. (He quoted Jack as saying, “She could bury you with a single word.”) Makes me smile to think of that – and I guess I know that I myself come by that particular character trait honestly.

And of course, books and Gigi reading them to kids, were featured prominently.

There were probably a couple hundred people there, from the island, from Brunswick, from Jacksonville and beyond. I think we had the service that she wanted. (And in fact, I know that we did, as she left extremely detailed instructions regarding, well, pretty much all the details. Also characteristic of her.)

And while only my brother David and I will really feel this, it’ll always be hard to think of this weekend without thinking about another day in August in south Georgia when we buried my dad’s father (Grandee is what we called him) 15 years ago.

The two experiences were incredibly different from each other – just as different as the two families are, really. Quitman, where Grandee lived most of his life and where my dad grew up, is a tiny, tiny town about 60 miles north of Tallahassee – and what I remember the most from those days was the funeral procession through the town, with the police at the intersections with their hats over their hearts, and then how impossibly light he was in the coffin was when we laid him to rest.

Gigi’s service was very different, though – she was cremated a couple of weeks ago, and before the larger church service we had a very small gathering of just the family and the pastor to put her ashes in the memorial garden of the church. No body, no pall bearers like at Grandee’s funeral, just us, with my uncles and brother putting her ashes into the garden. It was a good remembrance, and honored who she was.

What connects the two events most viscerally for me, other than the obvious relationship, is that I think I’ll always remember how hot and humid it was both times – a characteristic Georgia heat that makes you sweat almost immediately when you step outside – and all of us in our ties and dresses and nice clothes.

Anyway, two completely different experiences, different families, separated by 15 years. But for my brother and me, these two August days will always be connected by the heat of the Georgia summer, and of remembering and honoring our grandparents.

Aug 10


As of this week, I’m 8 weeks past my shoulder surgery, and doing great. As I’ve posted before, rehab started 4 weeks ago, and I can’t believe how much better my shoulder has gotten in that time. The first week of physical therapy was really tough, but since then, it’s gotten better nearly every day.

This week we’re starting resistance training, so having my shoulder be more active in lifting and in normal use. As a result, it’s feeling a little sore, but I’m able to do planks again, and can see that I’ll be able to do dips, pushups, rows, pullups before too long.

The last 2 months have been tough in a lot of ways related to my shoulder — much more painful than the dislocations themselves — but so far I’m really happy I made the decision to go with surgery as quickly as I could, and couldn’t really be happier with my surgeon (Colin Eakin at PAMF) and physical therapist (Paula Chan in Mountain View), plus my trainer (Ben Kenyon).

Aug 10

The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin

I really liked this book a lot. The author decided to go through a year’s worth of month-long experiments to try to be happier. To adjust her behavior in big and small ways to see if they made her feel happier day-to-day. And they did.

There’s a lot in this book, and I’m going to want to go back to it to think about the concrete actions I can take in my own life. I think it illustrates, more than anything else, a couple of ideas. First, act the way you want to feel — that will tend to reinforce. Second, being mindful and focusing on the things that are important, you can always make a difference.

I think some will view this as a bit of a hokey self-help type of book, but I didn’t read it at all like that. It’s an essay on mindfulness & intentionality, and making your life the way you want it, instead of just sliding along.

Aug 10

Cheating Death, by Sanjay Gupta

I liked this book by Sanjay, but didn’t love it. Interesting medical survey of the ways we think about death, work to prevent it. Lots of stories of surprises to doctors, of courses of therapy that are significantly more effective than the accepted conventions, etc.

Aug 10


As followers of my tweets know, I was really excited to see Rush in concert this week at Shoreline. Naturally, since the band is over 30 years old now, a bunch of people around work had no idea who they are. (And I got a bunch of questions like “You’re going to see Rush Limbaugh?? Why??”)

Anyway, the truth is, Rush is about my favorite band ever, and I could listen to them pretty much all day long, every day. They’re the only band I can listen to and sing along to, while reading a book about something completely different. The lyrics of their twenty-odd albums are that deep in my brain.

I think we all tend to be musical products of the years we were in high school, and more than any other bands, Rush and R.E.M. were the definitive ones for me. R.E.M., of course, were the guys you wanted to be as cool as — they were hip, were talking about things that didn’t really make sense to a teenager (or R.E.M. themselves, apparently, as Stipe later said he mostly made up the words because they sounded good).

Rush was different, though. They wrote music about things that mostly misfit males of my generation cared about. They struggled through Ayn Rand, wrote music about The Lord of the Rings, about science fiction. They worked through a lot of what then seemed like important existential questions, but now seem a little embarrassing to have struggled through in the first place. But in the middle 80s mostly what they wrote about was what it felt like being out of the mainstream — really, they sang about what it meant to be a nerd, and the things that nerds went through as they figured out how to become functioning parts of society.

I always felt like they were writing for me and people like me, and it really struck a chord. I loved the music, too — they wrote some of the most complex music of the times (ever?), with lots of moving time signatures, lots of unusual arrangements where the bass led, things like that. A lot of people have always been critical of the band for being a little too perfect, a little too soulless — in pursuit of technical perfection rather than connecting at an emotional level. (To make this article even nerdier than it already is (!), the claim is that they’re sort of the rock band equivalent of the font Helvetica — a little too perfect to have much character.)

But I never felt like that. I just loved the music, loved the lyrics, and as uncool as it is now to like a prog rock back, I still really love listening to them. (Other bands of the era like Yes haven’t held up nearly as well for me.)

Watching the recent documentary on them (Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage — highly recommended) was a bit of a revelation for me — it tells the story of these 3 guys from Toronto (Alex & Geddy & John Rutsey, with Neil coming along after the first album) who were nerds themselves growing up, who never really fit in either. [Yes, I know this fact is/was obvious to even the most casual of outside observers. It took me a little while to deconstruct my own feelings, I guess.] And the doc was great in that it had other rockers — from Pantera, the Smashing Pumpkins, others — who were clearly also outsiders and nerds, and admired what the trio from Toronto had done.

Anyway, it’s way past being cool to like Rush, if it ever really was, but they and their music still means a lot to me. Really glad to get to see them in concert again, after a few years, and hope to get another chance. (For the record, they sounded really terrific Monday. I think that if Geddy’s voice can hold up, they should be around for a few more tours, and I like their new material as much as anything they’ve done in probably 20 years.)