For some reason, a really early draft of a blog article I just finished was posted back in May. I finally got around to writing the actual article so it doesn’t appear in the proper date. Just in case your RSS reader didn’t show it as a new post, check it out here: Transplant Ironmen
A few weeks ago or so I flew back to the Bay Area for what to an outsider might look like a poorly planned episode of The Amazing Race. In the middle of the most intense six weeks of Ironman training, I would spend eight days in California, and so, like any irrational maniac, I would ship my bike out there to ride as much as possible. The trip included a reunion of the Stanford CS198 section leaders, a friend’s wedding, time with family, a business meeting in San Francisco, and attempting to visit way too many friends in between it all.
The big takeaway from the trip for me was about where I belong. Last year, my high school reunion taught me that while a lot of my identity is tied up in being a kid from Alaska, that I didn’t really feel a bond with “my class” although I care a lot about the friends I got to spend time with there. This time. each “event” in California reflected where I belonged and where I didn’t at each stop on the logistical nightmare of my own making.
CS198 Section Leader Reunion
In college, my job starting at the end of my sophomore year, and extending through the end of grad school, revolved around a program called CS198, where undergrads like myself served as teaching assistants (what we called section leaders) for the introductory undergraduate computer science classes. I had scheduled the trip out for a friend’s wedding and the reunion happened to be planned for the day of my arrival, so it worked out perfectly. Stanford is probably the first place in life I ever felt like I belonged. My frosh dorm was packed with people who seemed to have lived the same existence in high school, have similar obsessions, and despite being from every different background on the planet, there was a bond in the new experience and our shared interests.
The “section leading community” was a step further – here were people interested in technology, but with great communication skills, and in almost all cases, a life outside of computer science. The affinity was strong, and I spent five years in the program, eventually running the program in grad school, hiring and training new section leaders.
But I left the reunion with the same feeling that I had left my high school reunion with last year. I didn’t belong. Partially, because most people there still live in Silicon Valley, and many even live close to Stanford. Austin has been home for me for the past 15 years, and I really don’t belong in the Bay Area anymore. Whether Austin was the right place for me or whether I’ve just become accustomed to a more casual, straightforward lifestyle, I felt like an outsider. I just didn’t care about what other people cared about. Similar to my high school reunion, there were specific people who I would have loved to spend two hours with catching up about what’s really going on in their lives. But this was more of a fleeting cocktail style party, and I left wishing I had spent the time running or on my bike. The best part of the event was picking John up from working, and the drive there and back.
The next morning I woke up in John and Kathy’s guest room, where I had lived every other week during the year I was on dialysis. The comforter, the windows, the bed all were old friends. Despite that year being one of the worst in my life, this room felt safe, and felt like home, because of the haven away from all my problems that John and Kathy had created for me.
The main purpose of my trip was to see a close friend from college get married at Pebble Beach. Despite the fact that I haven’t seen Dan (the groom) or Derek (the best man) in almost two years, it felt like home. The day before I had toured Derek’s classroom where he teaches, and I can still picture seeing his name on the board, thinking how great it is that these kids get to have Derek for their teacher. They’re really lucky. The wedding was great, and in terms of the match between the bride and groom, I don’t know if I’ve ever been more excited for a couple (other than for Lisa and me). As the wedding weekend ended, I wished that somehow I could see Dan, Derek, and their families more often. Seeing Vic and meeting Elaine was simply excellent.
Sierra Mountain Rollins
My annual kidney reunion with my cousin Diane in the high Sierra Mountains of Northern California was just awesome: Hiking with Uncle Cy, getting in a couple bike rides in the high altitude, swimming in a freezing lake and drying off in the sunshine all combine for two amazing days. No cell phone reception is a great thing. We should all lose our phones for a couple of days and stay off the internet, and see how much happier we are.
I really should never have kids. While everyone says it’s different once you have your own, I just don’t even have the basic interest in kids. Once they can play sports at some level or hike or things like that, I have a means to bond, but the 0-6 years are really hard for me. I cracked up when my 10 year old second cousin said, “Hey, do you want to play badminton with me? I know you like athletic stuff.” She’d clearly been coached by her Aunt that the way to get Bryan to do something with you is roll in some outdoor activity or sport. She then used the word “athletic” about five times in the next hour, as a magic word that hypnotized me into an obedient trance.
I love seeing how happy kids make my friends – all of them seem more fulfilled than ever. But there’s a strange feeling, almost guilt-like, that I have because I don’t seem to be able to bond or feel that connection with any of their kids. One friend suggested its because all my personality traits (sarcasm, etc) don’t work in a relationship with a kid so I have to basically put on a shell of another personality in order to communicate, and so I don’t ever feel like I can relate to kids until they start to mature and get beaten down by life. Not sure I like that theory, but I can’t refute it.
In the end I guess I don’t really belong anywhere in terms of place, or in a group. I know I belong with Lisa. I feel like I belong when I wake up in the John & Kathy’s guest room, when I’m having dinner with Pete and Ayse, or as I’m sitting in Derek’s classroom, laughing with Diane, hiking with Uncle Cy, or eating Italian food with Sundeep and Stephanie. I belong on my bike, riding the California coastline solo for seven and half hours, taking in the amazing feeling of burning legs combined with an ocean wind. And I’m okay with that.