I RUN WITH NIKE AND YOU SHOULD TOO

The Nike running app – now called Nike+ Run Club – has gone through several transformations since I started using it, but its core remains more or less the same: it uses GPS to track your run, keep pace, and provide statistics. Achievements came and went and came back again. Social networking features were added. But NRC’s best feature – why I stay committed to this one app – is its coaching programs.

My running ability comes in ebbs and flows. For example, after finishing a particularly grueling training last month, I arrived in Hawaii physically depleted and unadjusted to the climate. I come back to NRC’s running programs time and time again because I know it will get me back to where I want to be with running. This time, specifically, I made a six-week program with the intention of preparing for the PRT. (Spoiler: I got a 12:30 – not my best time, but one that I am deeply proud of, given the circumstances.)

There’s nothing special about me. NRC spits out a program and I do it to the best of my ability. It always, always pays off.

Here is how to make a running program on NRC, and what you might expect from it.

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Hawaii, First Impressions

Those of you who have been on the island for a while might find this funny. Maybe I will look back on this in three years and laugh, too. But here it is anyway: my first impressions of Oahu, having been here for almost three weeks.

rainbow

The beaches here are lovely, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the beauty of the terrain itself: the mountains which encircle Kaneohe Bay rake the clouds like teeth and are lush with vegetation and have some of the most intense drop-offs I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to start hiking all over.

Sometimes native islanders treat servicemembers badly.

The people I work with now are very different than the people I used to work with. Not a criticism, just an observation. They seem like a family.

The food is very, very good. I had a poke bowl for the first time today. If it was up to me, I would eat it every day.

I knew that leis looked pretty, but I had no idea how good they smelled too. I thought the air would smell better, though, like it did in Coronado. (California is fine, I guess.)

There is more of a Japanese influence here than I had anticipated, and I had anticipated a lot.

There is so much to do, all the time! I’m really excited about how many social events seem to be going on all over the island. I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of new people.

The climate is a tough adjustment, which was a surprise. The wind and heat are taking their toll on my run times. I’m doing my best to be patient with myself. It’s good enough to get through the upcoming PRT.

Air conditioning is a luxury here, despite it being 85 degrees every day. Electricity – well, everything – is very, very expensive.

I picked an apartment that is a mile walk to the beach and to one of the most beautiful and welcoming churches I’ve ever attended. My apartment is two bedrooms, which is one more than I need, but I want my friends and family to be able to stay with me and save money if they visit. One of my greatest disappointments from three years in Japan – and I still have feelings of resentment about this – is that no one did.

The library on base is very good and very underutilized.

Trying to register my car and get BAH here are two of the most administratively asinine and frustrating experiences I’ve ever had.

I’m on the “good” side of the island, according to friends closer to Pearl Harbor.

I’m still highly suspicious of how I managed to get such good orders. I’m going to do my best to make the most of these three years.

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TRANSCRIPT: Notes on an Imagined Plaque… (The Memory Palace, Episode 73)

[Listen to the original episode here.]

This is “The Memory Palace.” I’m Nate DiMeo.

Notes on an imagined plaque to be added to the statue of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, upon hearing the Memphis City Council has voted to move it and the exhumed remains of General Forrest and his wife, Mary Ann Montgomery Forrest, from their current location in a park downtown, to the nearby Elmwood Cemetery.

First, it should be big, the plaque, not necessarily because there’s so much to say, though there is so much to say, but big enough to be noticed on the side of this rather grand monument, after they move it and the bodies beneath it across town to the cemetery. And not just big for the sake of bigness; it needs to stick out as something off, something that disrupts the admirable balance of the statue, currently so tasteful, regal even. This bronze man on this bronze horse. Goatee. Square jaw. You get it. You’ve seen it before, even if you haven’t seen it before.

The statue faces north. The sculptor wanted Forrest to face south, to better catch the light, but people complained, said it would imply that the General was retreating, and he wasn’t a man who retreated. He surrendered once, but if the sculpture faced north, maybe people would forget that part, I guess.

So, anyway, the plaque has to be big enough to catch your eye when you’re checking your cell phone or walking your dog or eating a chicken Caesar salad from a plastic box on a bench, whatever people are doing there in the cemetery, and whatever they might do there in the future. Because that’s why we make these things, right? Plaques, bronze men on bronze horses: we want people in the future to remember, but first we want them to notice.

So let’s think about material for this imagined plaque. Maybe the plaque should be garish. Not intentionally ugly, but necessarily, but like titanium, maybe. A patch of frank, eerie futurism on this stayed, stately old thing. It would catch the light. It would catch the eye. In contrast to the northward-facing brown-green man on his brown-green horse. Or a grey pigeon, alit on his brown-green epaulet.

And I like that the eerie of it all, the futurism, is not at all futuristic. It’s millennial. A decade from now, it’ll be dated, literally dated. Bilbao or Disney Hall or whenever will seem so late-90s, so 2000s. And you’ll scoff. And I want that. I want this plaque to be fixed in time, to let people know when it went up, let people know what was up at the time, because that is the point here. The point of this plaque is to make sure that these future people realize that this lovely old statue wasn’t always old and wasn’t always here in this cemetery.

And, moreover, I want the reader, standing there in the shadow cast by the late, somehow still lamented, Nathan Bedford Forrest, on some future summer Sunday, to know why it wound up in a park on the other side of town in the first place. Because memorials aren’t memories. They don’t just appear upon death. A letter of surrender, signed in some farmhouse at the edge of some battlefield, doesn’t come complete with a historic marker affixed to the door.

The monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest was put in that park downtown for a reason at a specific moment in time. And, at that time, General Forrest and Mrs. Forrest were already buried in Elmwood Cemetery, the same place the city council recently voted to put them. His body and her body were originally dug up from the ground because a group of prominent Memphians thought they were better off somewhere else. That was 1905, 40 years after the war, 30 years after Forrest’s death.

They felt the city needed Nathan Bedford Forrest right then because they had seen that city fall from great heights. Memphis had been left relatively unscathed by the war but not by its outcome, not by the end of the slave trade, that had been one of the economic and cultural pillars of the city. Without the slave market selling men and women and children, without the river boats and crews and suppliers and dock workers sending them up and down the river, Memphis was hardly Memphis anymore. And then there was the Yellow Fever that had swept through the city some years before and killed so many and drove many more away, people who never returned after a mandatory evacuation.

And now it was the turn of the next century and the city was increasingly – let’s just say it, let’s just stop not saying things – increasingly black, and increasingly tense. White businesses did not like competing with black businesses, black people did not like being lynched. This move to move Forrest started not long after Ida B. Wells, a Memphian too, had started writing, rabble-rousing – boldly, bravely – against lynching, after her friend Thomas Moss was improperly imprisoned; after a fight between children over a game of marbles escalated until adults were threatening to burn down a store; and after Moss wound up being pulled from that prison and strung from a tree. And Wells was threatened so much, so often, that she moved away and the paper she had written for burned to the ground.

So wealthy, white Memphis, at the beginning of the 1900s, found all of this unpleasant. So they raised money – $33,000 – not to rebuild that newspaper office, or build a police force that would properly protect all of its citizens, but to make a monument to a man who they thought best represented the Memphis they had lost. A man who had risen from nothing, a blacksmith’s boy, who became a millionaire, and then believed so strongly in the Confederate cause that he enlisted as a private, and went on to prove himself perhaps the most brilliant military man born on American soil, even if he didn’t fight for America. Those are facts. That’s a true story. And they like what this story said about the American dream, even if it wasn’t technically American, even if Forrest’s million was made by buying and selling human beings, and selling cotton raised and picked and cleaned and packed by enslaved human beings, even if the cause for which he employed that military genius was to ensure that men like him could rise up from nothing and make a million dollars buying and selling human beings and stealing their lives and their labor.

In 1905, they held a parade at the unveiling of the new statue and made speeches to honor the northward-facing General. They said nothing of slavery. They said much about heritage and honor and chivalry. They said nothing of how Nathan Bedford Forrest had been the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, nothing of the terror it had wrought. Nothing of the assassinations or the lynchings. Nothing how it sought to undermine and overthrow the nation’s political order, the nation that they celebrated there in Memphis in 1905, when they played the “Star Spangled Banner” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” right alongside Dixie. They might not have mentioned any of it but they knew it, knew about Forrest and the Klan. They certainly had read “The Klansman” – it was flying off the shelves that year – a novel about heroic men hidden beneath bedsheets out to save white virtue from black barbarians. It was a historical romance – that’s how it billed itself – that looked back longingly to a time not long before when people were still chivalrous, who would stand up against barbarism and miscegenation and instability, and stand up for order, private property.

Who better to represent what they had lost than Nathan Bedford Forrest? They talked about his heroism in battle, though they didn’t talk about the Battle of Fort Pillow, where Forrest ordered the massacre of hundreds of American troops attempting to surrender, most of them former slaves. They talked about his faith instead, his strapping build, and about their own hopes, that future Memphians would gaze upon Nathan Bedford Forrest and be inspired. They even raised some extra cash for a skating rink so that the white children of Memphis could play nearby, in the shadow of this great man, and learn from his shining example, though the bronze wouldn’t shine for long, would brown and green as the symbol of all that was good was exposed to the light of the sun and washed by the rain.

There is debate – there is always debate – about what the Klan meant when Forrest was its Wizard, about his intentions at Fort Pillow. They say Forrest repented his sins and his crimes in his deathbed. Should that be on the plaque? Should it note his regret? I say no. May it have ruined him. May it have corroded him, like rain on bronze. May it have choked him like smoke from the crosses in homes and churches, burned by men who revered him decades and decades later. Revered him, at least in part, because some influential Memphians decided they needed to revere him in this way, in that park, in 1905.

So the plaque should be big, but it can’t be big enough to say all that. Maybe it should just say – maybe they should all say, the many, many thousands of Confederate memorials and monuments and markers, that the men who fought and died for the CSA, whatever their personal reasons, whatever was in their hearts, did so on behalf of a government formed for the express purpose of ensuring that men and women and children could be bought and sold and destroyed at will. Maybe that should be enough.

But I want people to know about those Memphians in 1905 who wanted people to remember Forrest and why, who wanted a symbol to hold up and revere, to stand for what they valued most. I want people to know that that statue stood in downtown Memphis for 110 years, and to remember that memorials aren’t memories. They have motives. They are historical; they are not history itself. I want them to know why it was moved, that in 2015, after Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, and Ethel Lance, and Susie Jackson, and Cynthia Hurd, and Myra Thompson, and Daniel Simmons Sr., and a Depayne Middleton-Doctor, were murdered in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. There were people in Memphis who were done with symbols and ready to bury Nathan Bedford Forrest for good.

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Memory Palace

I’ve often wondered if my poor memory is just a narrative I’ve told myself about something I’ve never committed much effort to improving. For the past eight weeks, I’ve been in a class that is notorious for its demand on exhaustive memorization, and it presented me with a opportunity: why not try something different than the standard flash cards and repetition?

I think I first heard about memory palaces in BBC’s Sherlock. The name makes it sound silly and, at the time, I didn’t take it very seriously, chalking it up to a quirk of the fictional character. But the idea returned to me while preparing for this class, and after watching a few instructional youtube videos, I decided to give it a try. Would using a memory palace be easier and more successful than simple rote memorization at retaining random sets of information?

The class was divided into four units. We were tested daily on all of the numbers we had received so far, culminating in the overall unit test. When we started a new unit, some previous numbers carried over, but some did not. New sets were added as well.

I “set” each unit in a place I was very familiar with. Each group of numbers represented something I was “looking” at, in my mind’s eye, in that space. Recalling the numbers meant moving through the space in my imagination and systematically focusing on each object which represented a set of numbers. Here is an example:

Three hawks circle overhead. The oldest one is the bully hawk. He comes to steal food from the critters on the deck during certain hours of the afternoon. His brothers have to scout the place out in the morning before animal control tries to capture them all.

Weird, right? But it stuck out in my memory. Even when I couldn’t remember the particular numbers attached to these ideas, I always remembered the images themselves: hawks, bully, critters, deck, animal control. The rest was just details.

This method did demand effort. Thinking up with ways to apply numbers to an imaginary physical object took a surprising amount of creativity. In fact, after we got each new set of numbers, my classmates would usually go to lunch while I stayed behind for a while. I needed quiet to concentrate, scribbling down a nonsense story to tie the numbers together. This was probably the hardest part of the whole process, but it paid off: once I had some context in my head which united seemingly random data, it stuck. After returning from lunch, I found that I remembered a lot of it even without a committed effort to studying. I filled in the blanks for a few hours and left each day with a clear picture in my head.

For the first two weeks, that was all well and good. One unit, one location. When we started the second unit, though, I had a decision to make: do I put everything all in the same place, or do I separate each unit by location? Each choice, I think, had its own benefits and limitations. I ended up going with the latter and put the new unit in a new place.

I think the memory palace method would be extremely useful for someone who is trying to memorize something that will always be in the same order: the digits in pi or a chapter of a book, like in the video above. The route through the memory location will always be the same. When I was able to systematically move through the space I had imagined, my recall was very good. It became much more challenging when I had to jump from object to object out of order as we dropped and gained numbers for each new unit. This would be like asking someone for the eighteenth digit of pi, or the fourth word in the ninth sentence of a particular chapter of a book. It’s in their brain somewhere, but it might take them a minute to maneuver around mentally to where they can retrieve that information.

Ultimately, with this method, I wanted to know three things:

  1. Would it result in a good grade?
  2. Would it require less effort to memorize and recall than rote memorization?
  3. How much of the information would I retain after two months?

On the first point, I never scored below a 98% on any test, and almost all of those errors were the result of my complacency! I was getting so confident that I was making stupid mistakes!

Second, it took some effort in creating the context, but once I had it, I had it. The hardest part was reorganizing everything in my head for each new unit, as only some known numbers were carried over to the next. More importantly, though everyone performed very well on all of the tests, I experienced substantially less stress than my classmates. As much as I would like to chalk that up to my personality, that would be really, really dishonest; everything stresses me out. I went to optional night study only once, and all it did was remind me that I did, in fact, remember everything.

Third, I can easily recite the stories for each set of numbers, even from the very beginning. I can describe each object in each location without much effort. The images really stand out. Retaining all of the details, though, requires some regular refreshing. Many of the particulars fade with time. If I had reviewed everything everyday, even for a few minutes, I think I could remember an enormous amount of information indefinitely. I feel confident about that. (The same could probably be said for other memorization techniques, though.)

In fact, this whole experiment made me feel much more positively about my memory as a whole. I could have struggled with this class but I didn’t. Finding a better method made a huge difference.

(An unexpected, possibly coincidental, side effect of cramming so much into my memory at once – or maybe because of inventing so much imagery – for the first few weeks, I had nightmares almost every night. It made me feel more curiosity than fear, but it was definitely strange.)

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CHARITY

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while. I struggled with it a lot. There is no way for me to talk about this subject and cast myself in a positive light; talking about it at all makes me hypocritical. I know. I agree with you. Ultimately, what this boils down to is trying to make myself feel better about my privilege. It’s self-indulgent and unproductive. But it’s on my mind, and tried my best to express my feelings, and I bear the responsibility of these problematic results.

No matter what I do, it never feels like the right thing. It never feels like enough.

There has never been a time in my life where my needs weren’t being met. Thanks to my parents, I’ve always had food, clothing, a place to live, healthcare, and a good education. I took them completely for granted. It was important to my parents to set me up for success in every way that they could. They both came from humble beginnings, but their parents – my very frugal grandparents, who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II – had just enough to build the foundation for my parents’ future. My parents both seized those opportunities and turned them into careers and investments, and they set a very strong example for me to follow.

I’m extremely fortunate. Even as an adult, if I were to reach out to my parents and ask for financial help, they would give me money immediately, without question, and without conditions. When I was thinking about buying my first car, I remember my mom telling me, “I couldn’t afford a car when I was your age, either. My aunt gave me the money for a down payment and called it a 0% interest family loan.” My parents understand that they are in their position today because they had a support system behind them, even a modest one, from the start.

After college, I swapped my parents for the military as a financial support system. True, the Navy employs me, but it also pays for my housing, food, healthcare, and even official travel totally separately. My paycheck is essentially my disposable income, used for leisure and whatever other bills I choose to accrue. With some planning, it was enough to pay off my student loans after four years in the Navy. Military pay isn’t going to make anyone rich, but the security of having the essentials covered is generally worth the trade-off.

I couldn’t be where I am today without the security and reliability of these financial support systems. I recognize this with an equal share of appreciation and guilt. I feel lucky, but it bothers me a lot that not everyone has had the same privilege as me. That’s why it’s important to me to give back, to do for others what was (and continues to be) done for me, now that I’m out of debt and able to do so. It is very, very hard to talk about giving away money without sounding like an asshole. The Bible isn’t everyone’s favorite source of moral guidelines, but I think it there is great wisdom in Matthew 6 on this subject:

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Sorry, God, but if other people didn’t talk about the causes they support, I would miss the opportunity to do my part. I have to find out about the needs of others from somewhere (usually podcasts, let’s be honest). So here it is: where some of my charitable money goes, where I found out about them, and why I do it – so maybe someone out there reading this will have the means and motivation to do the same.

SPONSORSHIP
I heard about Cooperative for Education from the Stuff You Should Know podcast. The idea of a direct sponsorship is very appealing; it makes you feel like your money is having an immediate impact on someone’s life. Cooperative for Education focuses on Guatemalan children, particularly girls, whose educations are often cut short by joining the work force to support their families. The student I’m sponsoring is almost done with the 10th grade, and my sponsorship ends when she graduates. Sponsorships start at $35 per month.

On a Sunday in Salt Lake City on my recent cross-country road trip, the priest at the Cathedral of the Madeleine was working directly with Unbound, which focuses on helping those in poverty attain or maintain self-sufficiency. I was moved by his passion and commitment to improving the lives of the less fortunate. Since I was already sponsoring a young person, I asked the priest if there was any need for a sponsor for an elderly person. (I had my grandma on my mind a lot, and how my mom and uncles are so devoted to her care.) There was, and now I support a woman in Bolivia.

Unbound has a ton of giving options and a wide reach. It is a good place to get started. In case it wasn’t clear, this is an explicitly Catholic organization. Sponsorships start at $36 per month.

MICRO-LENDING
I heard about Kiva also on Stuff You Should Know. I had never heard of microlending before they talked about it there. People from around the world post the amount of money they need, what they need the money for, and those loans get crowd-sourced incrementally at 0% interest. Loans are slowly paid back over time, and Kiva encourages you to reinvest the returned money in another person. This creates a charitable revolving door. A loan of $25, once repaid, could get lent out again and again to those in need.

There are many other microlending organizations out there, and I think this is a fascinating system and absolutely worth looking into.

FRIENDS
When a friend asks for donations for a fundraiser or to help someone else in need, I don’t think twice. It feels good to show support for the people who love us. Plus, it feels good to give to a “cause.” It’s a win-win for everyone.

But when someone asks for money for themselves personally, we hesitate. Our egos get in the way. It feels uncomfortable to be the benefactor of someone we actually know. We worry that the person is trying to take advantage of us or that the friendship will be plagued by resentment. We prefer to give to strangers far away; we assume they will be grateful and will never depend on us for more.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. It feels wrong to turn away loved ones when my own family has given me so much throughout my life, to the extent that I took it for granted. Because isn’t that exactly what I fear? Being taken for granted?

If we can’t depend on the people who love us, what else is there?

Not many other folks have been as fortunate as me. So much of who I am is a direct result of what I’ve been given. If I could do that for someone else, even in a small way, why wouldn’t I? Shouldn’t I?

 

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ROAD TRIP 2017

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According to the Navy, it takes seven days to drive from Pensacola to Spokane. 2500 miles across seven days, at my slow pace and having to stop and pee every hour or two, means about 6-8 hours on the road per day. Not bad. But what if I wanted to go even slower than that? What could I see along the way? This desire led to an idea: could I turn this into something fun and still get to my next school in time?

I left as soon as I was able. I took 10 extra days of leave. Here is what I did.

Trip Map

Thanks to furkot.com for the indispensable trip planning!

Day 1: Pensacola to Memphis
I left in the morning on Thursday, April 20. The schoolhouse in its entirety had been before 0600 for a vague and nonspecific chewing-out. I packed up my car and was on the road shortly after colors.

On the drive through Alabama and Mississippi, I saw more churches than I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and I was surprised by how many abandoned buildings and homes there seemed to be. With so much empty space, maybe it makes the most sense to leave them alone. Almost everyone in Mississippi seems to have a small pond on their property, too.

Memphis is more or less exactly in between Pensacola and Kansas City. The motel that I stayed at was a short walk from historic Beale Street, which was alive with tourists and students with the Grizzlies postseason game nearby.

Day 2: Memphis to Kansas City
I really, really wanted to spend time in the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, but it didn’t open until mid-morning and I had someplace to be in Kansas City that night. I stopped by the Lorraine Hotel anyway, which has been preserved in time since Dr. King’s assassination there in 1968. It was here that I remembered that some of the most important American history happened in the past several decades, not centuries.

Coffee in hand, I drove through a bit of Arkansas (lots of armadillos dead on the roadside) and northwest into Missouri, where the temperature dropped and it started to rain. I arrived in Kansas City and checked in to one of the grimiest motels I’ve ever visited, but it was only for one night, and it put everything I needed in walking distance. After dinner and a quick drink at an upbeat gay bar called Hamburger Mary’s, I went to the Uptown Theater to see Welcome to Night Vale live (“All Hail”), which was great. On the walk back into the theater from a bathroom break, I also ran into someone who had been on my ship but had since gotten out of the Navy. Small world!

Day 3: Kansas City to Denver
This day was driving the entire width of Kansas. I stopped briefly at the Combat Air Museum in Topeka just to break things up, but it was mostly a lot of driving past oil wells and windmills and rolling farmland. I got to Denver late in the evening, ate dinner, and checked in to a hostel downtown, where I would stay for a few nights.

Day 4: Denver
It is really hard to ignore the homelessness problem in Denver. It’s not that the homeless are a nuisance – they’re not – it’s that they’re everywhere, all over the city. Maybe other cities have more places for them to go, so they’re not quite so visible? I’m ignorant on this issue.

This day was a Sunday, so I went to Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. It was having major renovation work done on the facade, which was a shame, but the interior was beautiful, particularly the rose window above the organ. From there, I went to the History Colorado Center, which gives free admission to the military – thanks! My favorite aspect of this museum is the attention it gives to the more problematic parts of the state’s history, particularly the treatment of the Japanese during World War II and black people, well, always. I got a strong “let’s learn from these mistakes” vibe.

But the big attraction on this day was that Coheed and Cambria was in town on their “Neverender – GAIBSIV” tour, which is my favorite music from them. The show was fantastic. I know they – or at least Claudio – are sort of “over” that era of music, but they brought the energy all the same. I was unusually self-conscious about not having the outward appearance of the typical C&C fan, but as soon as the music came on and I could sing all the words, it didn’t matter. Plus, the folks around me on the floor were really considerate about keeping the mosh pit away from the smaller-statured people, which I appreciated. (The Dear Hunter opened for the show.)

Day 5: Rocky Mountain National Park
One of the girls staying in the hostel room was not especially considerate, so this adventure was fueled by lack of sleep and a single Voodoo donut.

It was a beautiful drive to Rocky Mountain National Park, where I was given a free National Parks annual pass for being in the military. This ended up saving me a bunch of money over the next two weeks. I’m really grateful that the NPS offers this deal.

I hiked from the Bierstadt Trailhead, which offered some really amazing views of the mountains, through to Bierstadt Lake, still covered in snow and ice. (I did not bring hiking boots to Pensacola, like a dummy, and did this hike in sneakers.) I circled around to Bear Lake and followed the road as the sky became grey and the wind picked up. Sure enough, as I rounded a turn and laid eyes on the trailhead where I had parked, it began to snow. Good and lucky timing.

Day 6: Pagosa Hot Springs to Chaco Canyon
Another night of lousy sleep at the hostel in Denver. I finished up making reservations for the rest of the trip, resolving to stay in private accommodations even if it cost more. I was on the road at 0430 and, very sleepy, drove south through the mountains in the dark. I began to notice the lovely little mountain towns along the way as the sun came up, and they reminded me of the vacations my family would go on during February school break to Mount Snow in Vermont.

Pagosa Springs was about halfway between Denver and my next destination, so it made for a perfect rest stop. I could smell the sulfur as soon as I entered the town. It was chilly and rainy, but the contrast made the hot springs more enjoyable, I think, just like using the onsen in Hokkaido in the winter. It was quiet at the resort, too, since it was the offseason, and all there was to listen to was the sound of the river rushing by.

It is over 150 miles from Pagosa to Chaco Canyon, but the last 25 miles took an hour by itself. It had rained there too, and the road into the canyon was, in better conditions, unpaved and rocky, but in these conditions was slippery as well. The drive in and out did a number on the underside of my front bumper. My car was almost completely covered in mud by the time I made it into Chaco Culture National Park.

It was raining and very windy as I located the campsite and set up my tent. Miraculously, it stayed dry on the inside, though I was drenched and shivering, my hands too cold to do a great job tying down the guy-lines. I threw some rocks on top of the stakes (which could only be set in sand) and got in my car to warm up and drive the loop around the park. Luckily, the weather cleared up briefly as I made it to some of the historical sites.

One of the most fascinating aspects of an ancestral puebloan site is the mystery of it; architectural practices of the early twentieth century allowed excavators to remove (and sell) artifacts from the site. But, the Rangers explained, once something goes missing from the site, even something apparently without significance or value, that a small piece of the ancient story go with it. It removes context that can never be replaced. For this reason (and others), there are still so many questions remaining about the people who lived in Chaco Canyon. They built tremendous structures that were able to house numbers far greater than those who lived there permanently. Was it a seasonal trading post, where inhabitants moved on to someplace else when the weather turned cold and blustery? Were they forced to abandon the canyon after a catastrophe, from famine or from enemies? There is so little evidence left behind. It made me think a lot about the sort of things we are leaving behind today, and what sort of conclusions people will draw about us a thousand years from now. The physical setting of the canyon, too, leads one to feel very small and introspective: massive cliffs ring a sprawling plains littered with sagebrush, where the wind howls in forceful, sporadic bursts. You can walk and walk and feel like you’re not going anywhere because the canyons seem simultaneously so close and so far away.

The Chacoan people did leave evidence of their understanding of astronomy, though, with their buildings’ structural alignment to solar and lunar cycles and the “sun dagger” on the Fajada Butte, which seems to have been designed to predict the equinoxes and solstices. The canyon itself maintains a gold-tier “dark sky” designation, meaning there is very little light pollution in the area and it is ideal for stargazing. That night, the rangers gave a lecture on astronomy, then we all bundled up and went out to look at the night sky. The weather had been lousy earlier but the sky was totally clear by then. The rangers, who really impressed me with their encyclopedic knowledge of astronomy, pointed out the well-known constellations to us. We used telescopes to get a good look at Jupiter and the Messier 3 star cluster. There wasn’t much to see of the Milky Way due to the season, but we could see the very edge of it. The edge of our galaxy! It was dazzling and overwhelming; in every direction, we were surrounded by stars. I thought that the night sky at sea was unbeatable, but this experience was very special.

When I returned, my tent was surrounded by hail but, mercifully, still standing intact and dry on the inside. The temperature had dropped below freezing and, between shivering and the loud snoring at the camp site next to me, I had a very, very restless night. It was my first camping experience. Despite less than ideal conditions, it went all right. Of everything I got to see and do on this trip, I think this was my favorite place.

Day 7: Chaco Canyon to Tusayan
I packed up my tent and spent a little more time among the ruins. It was still very cold and windy, but it felt good as the sun came up. There was no phone reception in the canyon and I had gone off the grid without telling my mom that I had gotten to New Mexico safely. I worried that she was worried. So I made the slow, bumpy drive out of the park and headed west for the Grand Canyon. (The original plan was to camp out there, too, but temperatures were dropping below freezing there too, so I canceled and stayed at the Holiday Inn in Tusayan instead, right outside the park.)

The first time I drove around a bend and got a glimpse of the Grand Canyon, I was hit with a wave of vertigo. Everyone knows that the Grand Canyon is big. I knew that aircraft carriers are big, too, but I couldn’t understand how big they are until I saw one in person. It was like that. It seemed inconceivably immense – as in, beyond what I could actually comprehend – and it took a while for me to get used to looking at it. I parked the car and did a short, easy hike around the rim. I wouldn’t go within several feet of the edge. Terrible mishaps kept running through my head, accompanied by the voice of Lester Holt: “US Navy sailor falls to her death in Grand Canyon while on vacation.” I watched the sun go down and cast huge shadows across the canyon below. I would be a little braver the next day.

Day 8: Grand Canyon, South Rim
After a delicious, complimentary Holiday Inn breakfast, I headed back into the park. I began with the steep but well-maintained and popularly traveled South Kaibab trail, which led down into the canyon itself. It was cold and blustery while walking in the shadow of the cliff, but as the sun climbed up higher, it became a warm and cloudless day, perfect for hiking and photos. I went as far as Cedar Ridge, stopping to rest and eat a snack, then went back up. I was expecting the return trip to be extremely arduous, since it was all upwards, but it wasn’t too bad. I still had a lot of energy when I was done.

I visited the Tusayan Ruins and museum, which had some ancient puebloan kivas as well, but these were remnants of foundations. Next, I went to the desert watchtower, where I climbed to the top and paid a quarter to get a better look at the blue-green Colorado River. From up high, the river looks like a little trickle, but the magnification revealed that it moves through the canyon pretty aggressively.

My last adventure was the Grandview trail. This one was really scary. There were several moments were I stopped and considered whether or not I ought to continue. The path was very steep and narrow with the sharpest drop-offs I’d ever seen. A wrong step and there would be nothing in between me and a long fall into the canyon below. At one point, I stopped for a break and was considering turning around and going back up when a couple edged their way passed me. The woman was holding a blanket around her shoulders and wearing sandals and seemed completely at ease. I – carrying a backpack containing two survival packs, spare clothes, and enough food and water to last 48 hours or more – was in awe. (In my defense, I had just gotten out of a survival school, and might have been in a very particular mindset.) I carried on a little longer, stopping often, worrying always, until I got to a point where I was just too scared to continue. Going up was much easier than going down; now my momentum was upward instead of downward, and I worried more about a misstep causing a chipped tooth instead of a plunge to my early death. I was exhausted by the time I got back to the top – not from the exercise, but from the fear.

Day 9: South Rim to St. George, Utah
I had planned on spending a few hours at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on my way up to Utah, but the roads in weren’t open yet. So I drove from Tusayan to Glen Canyon Dam, where I stopped for photos and to use the car wash at a nearby gas station to get the mud from Chaco Canyon off my car. (I had never used an automated car wash before and the employee there was unusually kind and patient with me. Thank you, car wash man!)

The drive in to Zion National Park from the east was unbelievable. My jaw was hanging open the entire time. The massive layers of colorful sediment rise up all around and contrast beautifully with the green trees and a cloudless blue sky (I got really lucky when it came to the weather, with a few notable exceptions). I made a brief visit to the Human History Museum, which had to close early due to the federal hiring freeze leaving rangers short-staffed (hmm). I did a short hike on the Watchman trail, which followed the Virgin River up into the bluffs overlooking the visitor center and the green, green valley beyond. From that vantage point, Zion truly looks like a desert oasis. I checked in to the Days Inn at nearby St. George, which was really nice as far as two-star accommodations go, and planned out all the hiking I wanted to do the next day. There was a lot of it.

Day 10: Zion National Park
Most people want to hike up to Angels Landing when they come to Zion, but after the Grandview experience at the Grand Canyon only two days before, I was okay with passing on the hikes with severe drop-offs. I was ready for easy trails and seeing as much as possible in one day. This day was also my mom’s birthday. It would have been super rude to die in Utah on my mom’s birthday.

The park prohibits POVs past a certain point, which is great for cutting down traffic and carbon emissions. Park shuttles run up and down the length of the canyon at frequent intervals. I don’t think I waited more than 10 minutes to hop on, even in the busiest hours. To start, I rode the shuttle to its final stop, which was an easy riverside walk. This hike is supposed to turn into the famous Narrows, where you can walk through the river to the narrowest point of the canyon. As the canyon began to close in over me and it got darker and cooler, I came to a sign that said that the Narrows were closed due to snowmelt. Huge bummer. So I walked back to the shuttle and did the Weeping Rock trail (beautiful hanging vines and water trickling down the rocks), the Kayenta trail to the Emerald Pools (not the color advertised, but the upper pool was pretty neat), then the Grotto trail, which led me back to the Lodge where I could sit and eat my lunch. Then I got back on the shuttle for Canyon Junction, where I took the Pa’rus trail along the Virgin River (you could hear the sound of running water almost the entire walk, which was very pleasant) back to the visitor center.

Zion National Park is not just a beautiful place, it is also a well-run and maintained park. It is proactive about accessibility and concerned with public education. All of the trails are well-marked and maps are easy to follow. Of all the parks I visited on my trip, this is the one I recommended most strongly to my parents as being visitor-friendly. I got the feeling that the rangers took pride in helping people learn about and enjoy their park.

On the way back to St. George, I visited a ghost town in Grafton. This led to a lot of research on my part about what constitutes a “ghost town,” exactly, since these were just some abandoned (and well preserved) nineteenth century prairie homes. It is hard for anything to seem eerie on a bright, sunny day, with cattle moo-ing happily in a nearby pasture, a man in a cowboy hat holding his children up on the fence to look at the animals, and an older man with a small wooden easel set up near one of the homes. On the drive away from Grafton, I spotted another man in a cowboy hat and boots, only this one was wearing daisy dukes with his t-shirt tucked in to the waistband. He was out walking his dog, no leash. He waved cheerfully at the cars that gave him space on the narrow unpaved road. I thought, that man is standing in his truth. Good for him.

Day 11: St. George to Salt Lake City
I did a short hike in Kolob Canyon (the Mormons renamed everything around here, it seems) in the northwestern area of Zion National Park. The Timber Creek Overlook Trail led to an outcrop that overlooked the wilderness below. It was quiet and sunny and I sat there for while, thinking about how the canyons seem permanent and eternal from my perspective but are actually products of cataclysm and the slow march of time. It was a peaceful realization that things that seem like the end of the world might one day turn into something very beautiful.

The drive north to Salt Lake City was one freeway the entire way, speed limit 80. I checked in to the hostel with some help from another guest (the place was unstaffed and everything was confusingly automated). It was Sunday, so I went to Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, which had a visiting priest whose upbeat and charitable character I admired. I ate dinner downtown and then went back to my tiny room with no window. You get what you pay for.

Day 12: Salt Lake City
I started off the day with a visit to the Family History Museum, where one of the nice elders helped me begin compiling a digital family tree. I was blown away by the amount of information freely available there. I thought that my grandparents had all been first-generation Americans, but I was wrong: my paternal grandpa emigrated from Quebec when he was a child. Doing the research was a lot of fun, but I also realized that there is just as much that I can learn from my parents anecdotally. I would really like to sit down with them one day to learn as much as I can about my grandparents’ lives.

Next, I visited the Church History Museum, which helped fill in some of my knowledge gaps about Mormonism.

I had to leave Temple Square after that to find a coffee place, where the man who was behind me in line made a big show of forgetting his wallet and asking me to cover his lunch. I did, but it wasn’t out of altruism; he had made a scene and I felt uncomfortable and wanted to end it as quickly as possible. He caught up with me as I was trying to escape and revealed that it had been some kind of hidden camera prank and offered to pay me back. But that made me feel worse, like I had been preyed upon and only narrowly passed some half-assed social experiment.

After that, I stopped by the convention center, where a very sweet and very old woman gave me a tour. She, like all of the volunteers around Temple Square, was uncommonly patient and knowledgeable. I got to hear a little bit of the huge organ as the organist was practicing. My guide showed me all of the art around the building as we went up each floor, finally leading to the roof, which had a very clever garden where each corner resembled the trees and flowers found on the mountains or plains in that direction. There was a part for wildflowers, too, that was allowed to grow freely and naturally.

Finally, I went on a tour of the Beehive House. With me in the group was one very rude man and his friend who spent the tour trying to defuse his remarks. Every other comment out of his mouth was a smart-assed criticism of the LDS church. And, sure, they have a problematic history. Which faith doesn’t? At the same time, though, he was in their space. Why was he even there if he had so many hard feelings toward the church? The women who led the tour (one was from Kanagawa!), for their part, were extremely patient and understanding and probably deal with this sort of thing a lot. I did my best to keep the conversation focused on Joseph Smith and his story, and after the tour I chatted with the women a little more. They were both so kind and enthusiastic. They gave me a Book of Mormon to keep, which hopefully I will read one day.

I did some shopping. One of the employees at LUSH was from Massachusetts (“Everyone here is so nice. I hate it!” she said about Salt Lake City). I treated myself to some chocolate-covered strawberries from Godiva. As I was leaving the downtown area, a panhandler got really angry with me after I turned him down. (There are signs all over Salt Lake City imploring visitors not to support panhandling, and underneath those signs are often old parking meters which allow someone to donate money to a charitable organization instead.) I was surprised and spooked by his aggressiveness and was ready to go back to the hostel after that.

Day 13: Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole, Wyoming
I stopped by Antelope Island State Park on my way north from Salt Lake City. I saw the Great Salt Lake and bison for the first time. On my walk back from the beach, though, I was descended upon by a plague of gnats. They swarmed around my face and followed me all the way to the car and I sped away with the windows open to get them out. After driving some distance, I stopped someplace else for photos and the gnats were on me again! I could see them in hovering clouds, like patches of TV static, along the roadside. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was awful.

I drove up to Teton Village in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The Village is a collection of hotels and stores nestled at the base of a ski mountain. It was the offseason, though, so most of the businesses were closed – and I got accommodations for pretty cheap. I liked The Hostel at Teton Village immediately upon seeing a beautiful black cat sprawled out on the check-in desk. I spent the rest of the day driving around Grand Teton National Park, seeing the Chapel of the Transfiguration and the structural remains of some early settlers. I had dinner at a busy family restaurant where it seemed like everyone knew each other’s names. That was nice.

Day 14: Grand Teton National Park
Up until this point, I had been doing pretty well hiking around on my own. None of the parks I had visited had aggressive wildlife, and my biggest concern had been not falling to my death. But Grand Teton National Park is absolutely bear country, and at the time of my visit they were just coming out of hibernation. Hikers in this area are frequently warned to not hike alone and to keep their food sealed and/or in their cars. It’s also worth mentioning that I’m scared of literally everything and bears are especially terrifying. I was eager to hike around this unbelievably beautiful park, but I was also very apprehensive about being on my own.

I started with Taggert Lake with the intention of seeing Bradley Lake first and then circling around back to the trailhead, but the way toward Bradley Lake was still covered in snow with no discernible trail markers. The Taggert Lake trail can be done in a loop as well, and after taking some photos of the thawing lake, I teamed up with a retired lawyer from San Francisco to finish the hike. We each had a moment of falling into the snow up to our waists and I think we both were glad for the company. We realized after some time that we weren’t totally certain that we were still on the trail (not well marked with snow cover), which was confirmed when a family from the Netherlands was spotted slogging towards us. They had given up trying to find the trail and were heading back to Taggert Lake. Together, the five of us went back the way we came.

Most of the area around Jenny Lake is under construction, but the northern overlook was still open, so I stopped there for some photos. The cathedral peaks nearby looked like they were shining as the ice melted in the afternoon sun. I saw a ton of elk at the Elk Preserve area and bison grazing and butting heads. I think my favorite stop on this day was one of the boat launch areas onto the Snake River, where the marshes were home to boreal chorus frogs. I really like frog sounds. The river was audible in this area, too, so the combination of frogs and river water sounds was very relaxing. I recorded it on my phone to listen to later.

Day 15: Yellowstone National Park
If I had to have one “bad” day on this whole adventure, it would have been this one. The direct road between Grand Teton and Yellowstone parks was still not open for the season, so I drove almost four hours to the western entrance instead. That was fine, but my long life of traffic crime finally caught up to me and I got pulled over for speeding on the way there. With all that’s going on nowadays involving law enforcement, it was truly a privilege that my principle emotion was shame rather than fear. The cop was nice enough but it left me feeling angry at myself all day.

The exhibits in the visitor center near Old Faithful were really well done, both fun and informative. I got to spend some time looking at them before the geyser’s next scheduled eruption. I actually got to see Old Faithful erupt twice: once from near the visitor center, and once from an overlook, totally by coincidence.

I walked around the upper geyser basin. There are so many geysers in this area alone. Old Faithful is the most popular, but there are several that were more memorable to me: the Castle Geyser, which bubbled and steamed like a pot on the stove; the Solitary Geyser, which was a placid hot spring until a pipe was installed, turning it permanently into a regularly erupting geyser even after the pipe was removed; the Spasmodic Geyser, which is a spot-on name (erupts often and from different places along the pool); the Giant Geyser, which last erupted in 2015 and, before that, 2010 (it must be great to be there by coincidence and see it erupt); and the Grotto Geyser, which looks more like a curved fountain than a cone.

All of the “hikes” in this area are along boardwalks due to the delicate and unpredictable nature of the thermal land. I walked up to Biscuit Basin to see the Sapphire Pool and the other thermal pools. They had some of the most striking and unique natural colors I’ve ever seen: the waters were a deep aquamarine ringed by minerals and algae-like bacteria of all colors (many white, but some yellow, black, copper, yellow, and teal). The Morning Glory pool was especially interesting: its coloration used to be even more vivid, but visitors throwing objects into the water clogged the natural vent below and changed the bacterial composition of the pool.

I could have spent another day in Yellowstone easily. In particular, I wanted to see the Mammoth Hot Springs in the northern part of the park, but I had spent all day by the geysers and pools. I didn’t want to make the eight-hour round-trip drive again the following day. I decided to stay in the Teton area instead.

Day 16: Grand Teton National Park
Coming back to Grand Teton National Park turned out to be a great idea. It was a warm and cloudless day. My first stop was Schwabacher Landing, which has some of the most iconic views of the Tetons with the Snake River serpentining below. Next, I went to Jackson Lake and dam, which are overlooked by Mount Moran. These were some of my favorite photos from the whole trip. I went back to Jenny Lake and got some great photos there too. Mostly, I took it easy on this day, walking on the bike path around the park and enjoying the sun and fresh mountain air. I had been going, going, going for more than two weeks by this point, and it was starting to catch up to me.

Day 17: Jackson Hole to Missoula, Montana
It is more than nine hours from Jackson Hole to Spokane. I could have done it in one day. But I had extra time, and I found a nice hostel in Missoula, so I decided to take it slow.

I’ve been using my journal to recollect daily events on this trip, and I laughed at what I wrote for this day: “I really like Jackson Hole. It seems to pride itself on its wild-wild-westernness. I picked up a coffee and a sandwich before hitting the road, and today the road hit back.” There was a shredded tire, still mostly intact, in the middle of the freeway, and, not wanting to swerve into adjacent traffic, I ran over it. It dislodged part of the plastic under my front bumper but that, thankfully, was the worst of it.

I spent the rest of the drive playing tag with these huge black stormclouds. Eventually, it caught up to me, and the rain quickly turned into hail the size of golfballs. I pulled off to the side of the highway and waited. To be truthful, I was very scared that the hail was going to damage my windshield; it was hitting my car so hard and loud. It lasted only ten minutes or so, and my car held up.

I checked in to the Shady Spruce hostel in downtown Missoula, which was a really nice repurposed home. It was my favorite of all the places I stayed.

I got my hair cut and ate dinner and walked around the downtown area. Missoula is definitely a college town, but also family-friendly. Everyone was uncommonly polite. I spent less than 18 hours there, but it left a positive impression on me.

Day 18: Missoula to Spokane
For the first time in more than two weeks, I woke up and put on a uniform. I went to church at St. Francis Xavier, which was just a short walk from the hostel. The priest there was enthusiastic and funny and joyful, and the congregation was genuinely kind. I really enjoyed the Mass there. After that, I was on the road for the last time.

It was a beautiful, rainy drive through the mountains. I would have enjoyed being a passenger on this leg of the trip so I could spend more time looking at the mountains rising through the mist and less time looking at the road. I stopped for lunch, then arrived at my ultimate destination, Fairchild Air Force Base, around 2PM on May 7, where I would spend the afternoon wandering around, trying to find where to check in. (No command quarterdecks in the Air Force. Even the instructors in my school admitted that their branch is “military-light.”)

In total, I put 4,875 miles on my car. I drove through 15 states. I saw six national parks and six new cities. I saw two live shows. I went camping for the first time! It was also my first experience with driving more than a few hours on my own. It was a very exciting 18 days, but the way I knew it was a great trip was when I was ready to go back to doing the Navy thing again at the end of it.

I hope the rest of the year brings even more adventures!

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ADVICE TO MY YOUNGER SELF

In April 2007 – ten years ago – I was getting ready to graduate from high school and start college. What an exciting time! I had so much ahead of me and I didn’t even realize it. I knew I was on the cusp of something huge and important, but it was all obscured in a fog, and the unknown can be scary.

When I felt insecure as a teenager, I would imagine talking to an older, cooler version of myself, someone who had been there and done that and came out on the other side. It sounds silly but it gave me a lot of hope.

Well, here I am: “Older and not at all wiser,” my Chief from the ship told me once on my birthday. Ten years of life and learning definitely provide a wider perspective, and although I still have a long way to go, here is some advice that I would give to 18-year-old me. (I like to imagine future-me rolling up to younger-me on light-up heelys, wearing shutter shades and drinking a smoothie – because those things are both Indisputably Cool and also Relatable to 2007.)


(In lieu of a meaningful coming-of-age song, please enjoy my unironic favorite jam of 2007.)

It’s okay to do stuff alone. You feel very ashamed about your love of solitude. You will feel judged and weird. You will put yourself out there out of obligation when you’d rather be rolling solo. It’s normal to feel that way; extroverts tend to dictate the rules of the social sphere. You’re going to deal with that insecurity for a long time. But doing things by yourself is so important to who you are fundamentally that you will stop caring what other people think. Your favorite person to spend time with will always, always be yourself.

Making new friends is hard. Your first year at college is going to be the loneliest of your life. But you will make new friends, some of them best friends, and your love for your high school friends will only increase as you get older.

Appreciate your family. Right now, you’re relieved to be away from them, but that novelty will wear off. It won’t be long before you only see them once a year, and it won’t be a guarantee. You’ll think about them every day.

Get help. You’re going to experience depression without understanding what it is that you’re going through. You could talk to someone, or get more sleep, or manage stress, but you won’t do any of these things, and as a result you will spend more than a year not feeling anything at all. You will remember this period of your life in as an empty grey haze. As it turns out, you can’t “cure” depression, but you can minimize its interference in your life so much that it is barely there at all. It gets better with practice.

No one else is to blame for your feelings but you. It’s not anyone else’s responsibility to take away your sadness. It’s not fair to put that expectation on them. Learn to find happiness from within yourself – easier said than done, I know, but once you figure it out, no one can take it away from you. Take care of yourself so that others don’t have to.

Walk away from things that make you unhappy. So much of your life right now is comprised of first experiences, and you worry that each one will also be the last. It won’t. Life is full of new and interesting surprises, but you have to be open to them.

You’re still going to struggle with body issues, even after you lose weight. These struggles get easier with age, and even as your body weight fluctuates up and down, you will learn to love yourself for reasons apart from your appearance.

Stop telling yourself that you’re not as smart as your friends. Everyone is smart in their own ways. You’re going to learn some very hard lessons by categorizing people as “smart” or “stupid.” Figure out what you’re good at and maximize it in your life. Pay attention to how the people around you excel at different things, too.

Get comfortable with failure. Once you get out of school, you’re going to fail a lot. It gets less uncomfortable each time. It makes you more resilient and, most importantly, it makes it easier to…

Take risks. They usually pay off, sometimes in ways you don’t expect, and when they don’t, the fallout is rarely severe enough to alter your trajectory.

Listen to your parents. It won’t be long before you call them for advice before you make any big decision. They’ve done it all before. It makes them happy to help you. They are unbelievably smart and resourceful.

Stop thinking about settling down. The world is full of interesting and wonderful and terrible people. Get to know more of them. You’re going to limit your opportunities by trying to align someone else’s priorities with your own – and you’re not going to meet someone who will do the same for you for a long, long time.

Treat people better. Happiness is not a zero-sum game. Treating someone with kindness makes both of you happy. Be good to people even – especially – when they don’t deserve it; it says more about your character than theirs. In a culture that equates offensiveness with authenticity, being nice will be a radical act.

I can’t wait to see what 38-year-old me has to say, ten years from now!

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#TRYPOD

During March, NPR and others are encouraging podcast enthusiasts to share their favorite content. Last year, I asked for recommendations, and my friends provided. Now I am almost always listening to a podcast: while I’m getting ready in the morning, working out or out for a walk, doing housework, driving. I use the default podcast app on my iPhone, but there are many more out there for all types of platforms.

Here are my top ten favorites, in no particular order. If you give one a listen and like it, I’d love to hear what you think!

The Sporkful (WNYC)
It should surprise no one that I like a show about food. I love food. But this is not a highbrow foodie program – it’s about the foods that we all know and love. These episodes are short and usually full of laughter. My favorite episodes are the arguments that seem insane on the surface (is cereal a soup? is a taco a sandwich?), but end up making you reconsider some of your etymological assumptions. I learned a lot, too, about the struggles of people with food sensitivities and particular religious diets through this show.

Judge John Hodgman (MaxFun)
I wish I had thought of this idea first. John Hodgman listens to disputes between people – such as, recently, “I want to convert our master bedroom into a dedicated virtual reality space, but my wife is not down” – and, after listening to arguments from both sides, decides on the issue. One of my favorite aspects of this show is the inversion of drama. Ordinarily, in court shows, we come to see people at their worst. The “litigants” in JJH present their issues not only humorously and with affection for the person they’re arguing with, but they also allow the listeners a peek into their personalities and individual lives as well. It is always charming and uplifting.

My Brother, My Brother and Me (MaxFun)
I discovered those McElroy boys through Monster Factory, a youtube show where Griffin and Justin abuse video game character creation mechanics to make hilarious and disturbing creations, all of whom they refer to lovingly as their children. This kind of joyful positivity is infectious, and it led to me finding more and more of their content (so much content).

In MBMBaM, the boys take questions from listeners and Yahoo Answers and try to give advice. Spoiler alert: it’s mostly jokes and goofs, but on the rare occasion that actual advice is given, it is always heartfelt and sincere. The best part about MBMBaM is that, in their pursuit of inclusivity, the brothers are outrageously enthusiastic about everything, and it is this aspect of their comedy that sets them apart.

I could fill this post entirely with McElroy brother content. They are prolific. It was hard to put only one of their shows here, especially since I’ve just caught up on The Adventure Zone – a DnD podcast they do with their dad – and I can’t believe how invested I’ve become in this story. It is so good. But MBMBaM was the first, and I think it’s the McElroys at their best. And now it’s a TV show! Truly, if you could use a laugh, put on anything by the McElroy brothers and your day will be a little brighter.

Reply All (Gimlet)
Even with my lousy memory, Reply All has the least forgettable content. Maybe it’s because I encounter the general themes of the show – the internet and technology – so routinely. But the stories they tell are so engaging and relatable – especially for my generation, where so much of our culture originates and spreads through the internet. Example: a few months ago, there was an episode in which Alex and PJ took calls from anyone for 48 consecutive hours. For a show that is usually very upbeat and humorous, it was rawer than I was prepared for. I think about it often. I think about Reply All content in general pretty often.

Crimetown (Gimlet)

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My Nana and Papa in Silver Lake on their wedding day – early 1950s

My dad grew up in Providence. When I came home on leave last year, he drove me around his old neighborhood, dropping names and connections that didn’t mean a whole lot to me. Shortly after that, Crimetown came out, an investigation on Rhode Island’s mob past. As I listen, the names and places that my dad told me about come rushing back. This show isn’t just RI’s past; it’s my dad’s past, too, growing up in a place where organized crime was part of the neighborhood. He loves this show.

Even if it didn’t hit so close to home, I would still listen to Crimetown. It is journalism that feels intimate and alive. I suspect they will do other cities in future seasons, and maybe it will make those cities feel close to home, too.

Planet Money (NPR)
Planet Money is my favorite “short and sweet” weekly podcast. It presents economics in current events in a way that makes me actually care. It is funny and playful. The episodes are also usually the perfect length to listen to while I get ready in the morning, and I always feel like I learned something after I’ve finished listening.

Radiolab Presents: More Perfect (WNYC)
Radiolab – the original podcast – is very good, but More Perfect is great. It only ran for a few episodes, but they were all totally engrossing. More Perfect discusses the history and events surrounding some of the most interesting decisions of the Supreme Court. If there was any one podcast that I desperately want to return to life, it’s this one. It packs a lot of fascinating insights into only a few episodes.

99% Invisible (PRX)
99PI discusses aspects of design and history that are hidden in plain sight. I found one of my new favorite blogs (McMansion Hell) through 99PI. I learn something new every time I listen; more importantly, I learn something new in a way that makes me perceive and interact with the world a little differently than before. Roman Mars also has one of the most soothing voices I’ve ever heard, which makes learning even more of a pleasant experience.

Welcome to Night Vale (Night Vale Presents)
Welcome to Night Vale is the strange show about a fictional desert town that reignited my love of podcasts. It comes off a little heavy-handed in the weirdness sometimes, but the world of Night Vale stays consistent and believable because, I think, it creates an atmosphere where not only is anything possible, but also nothing is surprising. It is thirty minutes, twice a month, which allow me to think past my expectations of “normal” and wonder, “What if?”

The Night Vale folks have a few other weird-fiction shows: Alice Isn’t Dead (a truck driver searching for her missing wife becomes involved in a surreal plot), The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air) (the janitor of the Eiffel Tower tries to get involved in the radio show being broadcast there), and Within the Wires (the narrator of instructional audio tapes subtly coerces the listener to escape from an institution). 

Snap Judgment (WNYC)
Whereas other weekly themed storytelling podcast like The Moth engages with its rawness – one person, on a stage, sharing a story – Snap Judgment excels in composition, mixing music with personal narrative. I have never listened to an episode of Snap Judgment that wasn’t totally engrossing. Better yet, Snap is focusing increasingly on stories that don’t always reach the mainstream – stories from people with diverse backgrounds and struggles. They are usually from individual experience, sometimes from fiction, but they’re always true.

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ANOTHER BROKEN BONE

Whenever I go home on leave, I have to figure out how to tell my family and friends what I’ve been up to. This process is worthy of a post in and of itself, but when I went home for Christmas last year, I told everyone that the training was hard but the worst was over and soon I would move on to the next thing! Smooth sailing!

Then I went back to Pensacola and, three days in to the next phase of training, I broke my foot.

It was mostly my pride that was injured. We had to jump off of a platform and crumple up on the landing to simulate a parachute fall. Sounds straightforward enough – until you’re standing on top of that platform and suddenly a mere four feet to the ground looks very very high and they want you to jump off backwards. So I was nervous and I did it wrong – clearly, since the whole purpose of the exercise was to prevent injury in the event that we would have to do this for real. I knew something was wrong immediately, laying there in the gravel, but it didn’t hurt, exactly. It just felt not quite right. So I did it five or six more times until I got it right. Then I did it again with a zipline. Then the Marines pulled us over the grass and dirt so we could practice escaping from a parachute that was getting dragged! All in all, good fun. Then, after switching boots for sneakers, I tried to jog into formation – and couldn’t. Putting pressure on my foot was increasingly difficult and, soon, painful. An x-ray showed two broken bones. My foot got so swollen that socks left deep indents. When they handed me crutches, I wanted to die of shame.

I hopped around on crutches for a month, then spent another three weeks in a walking boot. Crutches were exhausting beyond what I might have imagined, but there was no joy in the chore; it wasn’t the same as being able to walk and run and swim and lift weights. I spent a lot of time sitting and a lot of time being sad.

Not everything was a bummer, though. Here are some of the positive aspects of being off my feet for a while.

  1. I didn’t lose my orders! They told me I would, but I didn’t, and it was a good lesson in the uselessness of worrying. I could have spared myself a few days of misery if I had postponed an emotional reaction until I had a definite answer.
  2. I broke my left foot. I could still drive with my right. I ended up buying a car during my extended stay in Pensacola, and it proved to be indispensable for getting around and staying entertained.
  3. My healthcare is free. Not only am I going to make a full recovery without surgery, but my x-rays and doctor visits and physical therapy won’t saddle me with a decade of debt! Thanks, Uncle Sam!
  4. I learned firsthand the daily accessibility struggles for people with actual disabilities. When you’re on crutches, something as simple as opening a door – something you wouldn’t think twice about when you’ve got two functional hands and feet – is a huge challenge. Getting in and out of a car on one foot. Stairs. Bathing. Cooking. Carrying anything – forget it! The palms of my hands developed blisters, which broke and bled painfully with friction; I still have the callouses. It is hard to express in words the feelings of dread and frustration I felt when arriving back at my building late at night and finding the parking lot totally full – of having to park in another lot and crutch a long distance slowly, painfully in the dark. It is a testament to my tremendous ignorance and lack of basic empathy that I didn’t understand or appreciate these small but pervasive struggles that people with disabilities have to surmount every single day. I have a newfound sense of awe for their capacity to adapt and overcome.
  5. Friends and strangers alike jumped at opportunities to make my life a little easier. People were nicer to me while I was on crutches than at any other time in my life. They carried things for me, opened doors for me, brought me food and coffee, got up to hand me my crutches so I wouldn’t have to hop around to get them – one breakfast restaurant even kept a particular seat at the counter open for me on Sunday mornings with a chair nearby to prop my foot up. How cool is that? Even the passing comments cheered me up. One woman whispered to me confidentially when our paths crossed in the mall parking lot, “Your shoes don’t match.” I had to stop and lean heavily into my crutches because I was laughing so hard. Good, nice, thoughtful, generous people – you are my sunshine!

Today makes eight weeks since my injury, and I managed to run for a short time with only minor discomfort! I am very optimistic that I can build my strength with each new day and, slowly and carefully, get back to where I was before. Breaking a bone is tough, and there were many days that felt dark and hopeless, but when I look back on the experience, I will remember only the positive parts and lessons learned.

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2016

Better late than never!

It was a rough year for a lot of people for a lot of reasons. When it was time to look back, though, it was easier for me to remember the positive stuff. It’s probably good to leave the negative things in the past anyway.

Here are some bright spots from the dumpster fire that was The Year of Our Lord 2016:

  • Started a bullet journal to use as an external brain (made it easy to compile this list)
  • Visited Sapporo for the snow festival. Used the onsen while it was snowing!
  • Visited Osaka, Manila, Singapore, Colombo, Mumbai, Goa, Phuket, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Yokohama on the ship’s spring patrol
  • Visited the distillery for my favorite adult beverage (Yamazaki)
  • Visited New Zealand surreptitiously (sorry)
  • Skydived from 12,000 ft over Lake Wanaka
  • Skiied on The Remarkables in Queenstown
  • Climbed Mt Fuji
  • Paid off my student loans
  • Made PO1
  • Reenlisted (sorry again)
  • Got my first NAM
  • Got my first buzz cut
  • Got my first tattoo
  • Saw Tegan and Sara live in Tokyo
  • Saw Mitski live in Providence
  • Saw The Orbiting Human Circus live in Providence
  • Hamilton happened
  • The election cycle finally ended
  • New albums from David Bowie, Tegan and Sara, Beyonce, Mitski, Lady Gaga, and Utada Hikaru
  • Went to work for another division on the ship (X-3)
  • Left the ship and Japan for good lmao bye af
  • Took 75 total days of leave throughout the year and no one stopped me?
  • Navy dissolved the rating system, then brought it back right before Christmas
  • Former CTT became MCPON
  • Read some stuff
  • Went to Block Island (for the first time) with my favorites for New Years Eve!

Things I’d like to do in 2017:

  • Write more
  • Finish this air crew pipeline and get to Hawaii please
  • Maybe not break any more bones?
  • Keep reading them books
  • Cut back on swearing
  • Keep ’em guessing