Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Dobrodošli u Hrvatsku!!

Everyone has been asking about my trip to Croatia in July. It has taken me a long time to get all my thoughts down mainly because I may have an exciting opportunity related to my trip. More on that when the time is right. For now, here's the short-short version:

Go. To. Croatia.

It's friendly, safe, relaxing, delicious, stunning, and less expensive than other parts of Western Europe.

Traveling solo, which I was encouraged to do by everyone except my mother, was treated strangely over there. Sometimes it allowed me too much time to think about stuff from which I was trying to distract myself.It was especially hard when I fell off my bike. You don't appreciate how much you use your forearms until turning a key or getting dressed is excruciating.

Despite the pain and the loneliness, I loved it. Would do it again, in a heartbeat. Book your trip before it is overrun with Russians, hipsters, and other undesirable tourists.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Cold Shower, Warm Memories

While the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was intended to drum up support for research to find a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS for short, commonly known in the United States as Lou Gehrig's Disease), it has generated a host of mixed reactions.  Many have posted videos of themselves enthusiastically dumping large buckets of ice water over their heads and challenging others to do the same.  There has been a smattering who are sick of these videos clogging their Facebook and Instagram feeds. Others think charitable giving should be a private matter.  Some have even cited the disparity between donations to research organizations, which have spiked for ALSA since the challenge went viral, versus the number of deaths in the US from various ailments.  Pamela Anderson even went as far as to withhold her donation and instead challenge those conducting ALS research to halt animal testing.

I can see all sides of this scenario, although it baffles me why people would discourage any form of charitable activity or awareness building.  A few weeks ago I posted my own video, which I have since taken down because I didn't like how I looked and sounded.  My motivation to participate was not for recognition or trendfollowing but heartfelt.  

Just over six months ago, I lost someone very dear to me from ALS.  We first met at a training class for newly promoted Consultants and clicked instantly.  Yes, we were dipping quills in company ink, but our home offices were separated by the Atlantic Ocean and we were on assignments across the country from each other.  He was more than a colleague and occasional romantic interest, over time he became a good friend, confidante, and fellow funseeker.  

In September 2009 he was diagnosed, a month after the last time we were together in New York.  During the past four years I kept up with him on Facebook and Google Talk, sending pictures of travels and marathon medals.  When I knew I would be in Europe I would reach out to try to coordinate a visit, but between doctors vists, trips to Ayurvedic clinics in India, and bucket list vacations, we were not able to connect.  

The avid surfer, globetrekker, and guitar player I knew and loved became confined to a wheelchair, then lost the ability to speak, eat, and move.  Towards the end he would sleep with a ventilator and "type" with a special keyboard using his eyes.  He never lost his sense of humor.  Sometimes I wonder if he hesitated from seeing me because he wanted me to remember him before his diagnosis.  

Sadly, I did not get to see him before he left the earth.  His personality shone through at his funeral, where he asked close friends to "pimp his coffin" with photos of happier times. He had selected music as diverse as "Redemption Song", "Purple Rain", All Along the Watchtower", and "Lose Yourself to Dance".  I often found myself smiling through tears and thinking of that mischievous smile.  It blew my mind that he came to terms with his imminent mortality and was able to plan every detail of the memorial.  Now, when I hear a song that reminds me of him, or look at photos from one of our adventures, I laugh and feel a little wistful because I know his spirit is with me at that moment.

I wore a "patriotic" bikini top in my video in his honor.  Why did I do this, if not to give you lovers of the female figure something to ogle? When we first met, he asked me if American girls wear flag bikinis on spring break, to which I responded that I had never even seen one.  Sure enough, weeks later I texted him a photo of a mannequin in said bathing suit at a local boutique.   So I embarassed myself on Facebook to celebrate his thirty-eight-year life, keep the happy and playful memories alive, and tell a story of how ALS can impact not just the afflicted but also those around them.  

This is not meant to spur you to open your wallets or fill a bucket and ruin your clothes and your hair with it.  If anything, I hope you have learned a little bit more about this disease, gained a little more compassion for those who slowly and agonizingly slip away from their bodies as a result, and are inspired to reach out to your loved ones and make some happy memories of your own before it's too late. 

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Finding Common Ground: SCOTUS Hobby Lobby Decision

There's been a whole swirl about the SCOTUS Hobby Lobby decision that compelled me to put some slightly disjointed thoughts down on the keyboard. I originally posted this on Facebook and got a bajillion comments, all very well-thought out and civil.  That gave me some hope.  As stable as we are politically that controversial occurrences like these do not devolve into rioting and senseless death, we seem to have lost our mutual respect and ability to debate an issue without resorting to personal attack and bloviating.  At least, I'm sure that's what space aliens must think from watching the plethora of news discussion shows that bombard us.  For whatever reason, the ability of Americans to find common ground.  I generally steer clear from wading into the cesspool of politically charged arguments and try to avoid wearing my politics on my sleeve/Facebook wall.  My preference is to deliberately consider all sides and have an intelligent discussion rather than get into shouting matches with people who refuse to listen to a carefully considered argument.  A good friend of mine whose writing I highly regard encouraged me to publish these thoughts as an op-ed.  Without ranting or being overtly partisan, here's some food for thought for those of you on both sides of the aisle:
1. Many women are prescribed oral contraceptives for medical reasons like severe cramps, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, premenstrual dysmorphia, etc. Many of these are serious conditions that are alleviated by the pill, allowing those afflicted to improve their health and potentially prevent losing their reproductive organs and therefore their fertility. I would hope that someone who is truly Christian would not jump to a conclusion that a woman on the pill does so simply for "recreational behavior" as Sen Lee from Utah stated, and would have compassion for someone's suffering.
2. Many married people use birth control, not just singles. Face facts, being able to plan a family by more reliable means than "the rhythm method" can be beneficial for both spouses. It's one of the factors that has allowed developed nations to achieve the prosperity they currently enjoy.
3. If you don't like Hobby Lobby's business practices, vote with your wallet and your feet. It is a for-profit company. Hit it where it hurts: don't work, shop nor invest there. There are many companies out there that have different policies. That's the beauty of living in one of the largest economies in the world. Do your homework. And if you agree, you are free to patronize them. Let the free markets sort it out.
4. Hobby Lobby invests in pharma companies that produce oral contraception. So it's ok to make money off of them, but not to allow employees to make a private decision with their doctor to use them. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone....

5. The four contraceptives in question are not proven scientifically to prevent implantation and work to prevent fertilization instead. Therefore they are not technically abortifacients. There is still the potential for implantation after taking these drugs if conception has occurred.  Yes, many people (including myself) believe that a life begins at the moment of conception.  Ask anyone struggling with IVF or other infertility treatment, and they will tell you that a fertiilized egg still has a difficult journey ahead between implantation and gestation to become truly "viable" 
6. Yes, the decision is structurally correct in the spirit of the interpretation of the law.  Judge Alito states that “it seems unlikely” that publicly held “corporate giants” would make religious liberty claims. However, his majority decision has kicked open the floodgates ifor a potential deluge of claims of religious freedom and violation of the RFRA by corporations on any number of hot button issues-vaccines, domestic partnerships, blood transfusion, organ transplantation, etc. It's a slippery slope. It's potentially good business for the appellate lawyers who argue these cases, but it could lead to a huge waste in taxpayer dollars for these cases to be heard.  It also raises concerns on where a corporate body's religious liberties end and an individual employee's begin.  Will we as a society become one where only Catholics work for Catholics, evangelicals for evangelicals, etc.?  It frightens me that we may self-segregate the way some neighborhoods in cities like Mumbai have.  One of the things I am proudest of living here is that people here are free to pray (or not) in whatever way they please, and we are all jumbled together.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

FInding the Wave

> You are lost.

The past few months have felt as if I'm stuck in one of those MS-DOS-era computer games, where no matter where you go you don't get very far.  After the stress of closing, TT and I attempted to repair our relationship while painting my new place - his Christmas gift to me.  It was a nice gesture that started off great but soon devolved into our complete breakup.  I ended up scrambling to find a painter, scouring Houzz for paint color inspiration, and hiring a contractor for a two-week job that dragged out over almost three months.  It's been challenging to juggle work, renovations, eating, sleeping, and having a semblance of a life.  That plus the horrendous winter that wouldn't go away and feeling meh meant that I have not been working out as much or eating as well as I should.  It has been a struggle to motivate, even though I have registered for races and surprisingly pulled out some good numbers relative to past performance. Sometimes I imagine how well I could have done if I had hit training harder, but it is what it is. While some people struggle to get out of bed, I have found it difficult to do more than veg in front of the TV until I pass out in the evening, contact lenses desiccating against my eyeballs in the morning.  

It seems now, two weeks before I hit a milestone birthday, things are turning a corner.  Renovation is complete, furniture is arriving (and breaking and getting repaired), and the bedroom, guestroom with small bathroom, and kitchen are open for business.  Finally I have peace and quiet, besides the sound of the 1920's elevator.  In May I completed the New York Cycle Club C SIG, which was a big achievement for me.  There have been some other things going on that have been rough (not sharing), but I'm doing my best to provide others the support they need to move through it.  There are so many things for which I feel grateful, and even though it feels like something is missing without a lover and companion, I'm doing my best to make the best out of my newfound freedom and enjoy experiences.  My philosophy has been evolving, in that I'm trying to treat life like waiting for a good wave and riding it out when it hits.  

Which reminds me, I am due for another surfing lesson......

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Пусть начнутся игры

The torch has been lit in Sochi, kicking off another sixteen days of competition and nationalistic pride.  Athletes are realizing their dreams and are challenged to transcend what was assumed impossible, give their all, and rise above the rest.  It is a sad consequence of our current geopolitical state that they also must overcome living conditions less comfortable then they may be accustomed, threats of terrorist violence, and conflicting feelings on whether they should be participating.

After studying Russian language and visiting almost six years ago, I have an appreciation for their contributions to humanity's collective culture.  Besides the literature and music, one can draw much inspiration for the sheer grit and strong will it must have taken to survive all-out siege during World War II. Would I return right now?  Nope.  Putin has not warmed to me in his many years of influence or direct rule over the nation, and it baffles me why he would select a city better suited as a summer resort for a winter games site.  It seems that the billions spent manufacturing and storing snow would have been better spent improving the living conditions for the surrounding areas.  Russia was not the most traveler-friendly place on my original trip, and the crackdowns on personal freedoms seem to have made the country less welcoming.  This goes beyond the anti-homosexual propaganda law and the arrests of protestors.  Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who wrote a phenomenal editorial during his ten-year prison sentence, plainly stated that Russian society will stagnate and likely die if it fails to innovate and evolve with modern times.  Part of evolving is allowing freedom of thinking, even if the opinions are not always aligned.  Groupthink is a very dangerous and often fatal condition.

Does this mean we should disengage and not participate in the Games?  Hardly.  It's understandable not to outlay the cash for a visa, plane ticket, accommodations and sporting events.  However, I still want to watch.  The athletes representing my home as well as many other countries deserve the opportunity to set politics aside and go for gold.  We should not punish individuals for the sins of governmental bodies.  Moreover, the strategy of many nations to subtly protest - the US cadre of openly gay athletes and sports commentators, Alexei Sobelev's Pussy Riot-inspired snowboard deck, Greek athletes wearing gloves with rainbow fingers during the opening ceremony - can keep the conversation going and have more of an impact than turning off the television set.   It is my sincere hope that the gathering of people from across the globe in the spirit of sportsmanship and goodwill may nudge the Russian Federation and perhaps other nations towards more openness, tolerance for diversity, and peace.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Closing Time

After much drama, I am now the proud owner of a two-bedroom, two-bathroom pre-war apartment in Queens.  This was my second go-around in the real estate market and was markedly much more stressful than buying my studio.  Part of it could probably be attributed to the stricter rules on financing coupled with cooperative quirkiness, and some of it had to do with the incompetence and ridiculousness of some of the players involved.  Since I don't have anything nice to say about many of those involved, I will give a shout-out to my phenomenal real estate agent Zhanna.  She goes above and beyond the call of duty for her clients and has talked me off the ledge a couple of times with this transaction.  She's rented out my first apartment and is also my accountant.  I don't think I would have gotten through this without her.

Over the past weekend TT and I started renovations.  It feels very overwhelming at first, but we are doing it bit by bit.  We have been getting along really well too, so that is making the process less traumatic for me.  Definitely better than when he's tried to help me clean my room.

More details and pictures soon, I need to decompress a bit from the experience.  Email me for the new mailing address!!

This video brings back memories of last call out at the bars while at college.  Sigh, simpler times....