Thinks

Good Providence

Every once in a while, Rhode Island gets the props it deserves.

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Image from amazon.com. PS – my grandparents’ old house is in this movie!

I’m a proud Rhode Islander – I know how to pronounce Usquepaug, Woonsocket, Cowesett, and Chepachet.  Del’s, fresh seafood from the docks, clamcakes, and parking at The Wall mean summer.  Narragansett Beach – never Misquamicut – is my shelter from the storm, and I drink iced coffee year round.

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Image from coverwhiz.com

Seth MacFarlane and Family Guy helped put us on the map, but we get a lot of flack, us Rhode Islanders.  Yes, we’re a small state with enough quirks to fill Texas.  Yes, we think a 30-minute drive is a day trip.  Yes, we are aware that you can drive from north to south in 45 minutes; you don’t need to remind us.

So it always makes me happy when someone else – anyone – notices how great Rhode Island is.  The You Know You’re From RI When lists have been circulating the internet for years.  BuzzFeed took notice in this November 2013 post.  And most recently, it’s GQ.  Check out GQ’s take on Buddy Cianci’s renaissance city. 

Providence is a wonderful city, and I’m happy to call it the capital of my homestate.  If you haven’t visited, you should, and if you have, go get an iced coffee (no matter what the temperature is outside) and sink back into the nostalgia.

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Life is a Highway, Part 8: Word Crimes

So….I might be a bit of a stickler about grammar.  This song might have been written for me.

IMG_20150109_092833….ok so I might be a bit more than a stickler.  The conversation above is one that bothers me immensely: less vs. fewer.  (But I still love the person in question – she rarely makes that mistake, anyway.)  I correct it so often, I do it without thinking.  And when it popped up in a recent Game of Thrones episode, I received a flurry of texts and IMs.

I realize that not everyone is as passionate about this as I am.  Maybe it’s because I read so much.  Maybe it’s because I think words are incredibly powerful – especially when they are constructed with impeccable syntax.  Or maybe it’s because I have nothing better with which to fill my time?  Either way, poor grammar is a pet peeve of mine, and it bothers me most when I see it in signs for public consumption.

On this road trip, on the 2459 miles driven, I saw enough of it to drive me batty.  Much of it was contained to what I can only assume were low-wage workers with no fucks given.  But seriously.  Grammar abusers are EVERYWHERE.

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Ignorance breeds ignorance, and believe you me.  There’s more than enough to go around.  But I also realized that there are still a few strong grammar vigilantes left in the world.  Those of us still fighting the Good Fight.  Those that immediately say “fewer” without thinking, when someone around us says “less.”  The accidental proofreader, that edits documents and make corrective notes in the margins without being asked.  The silent educator, that take it upon himself to correct public signs anonymously.

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Here’s to you, my fellow grammar buddies.  You know the importance of an Oxford comma, the dire consequences of improper diction, and the delicate constructs of using a semicolon.  Grammar buddies, I salute you.

Life is a Highway, Part 7: Everything’s Coming Up Roses

Or, you know.  Pine cones and cacti are almost like roses.

My best friend in the whole world (read her blog here!) used to say I hated nature.  I am not entirely sure where she got that idea…It’s true that my ideal jungle is made of concrete, and I’m (literally) allergic to most things that become lovely in spring, but that doesn’t mean I hate nature!

Especially not after this trip.  There was so much to take in, so much flora and fauna.  It would be grey and white, and you’d see green.  Or it would be red and orange, and you’d see a burst of blue or white.  It was a welcome surprise, and it was always beautiful.

And then I got to thinking.  These plants, they are struggling to survive against the elements – freezing snow or burning sun.  Trees sprout, and they’re forced to twist and bend with the winds and the sun to stay alive.  And even though they aren’t straight and tall, they’re still growing.  Those desert flowers have limited resources, they are scorched from the sun and suffer through torrential downpours and gale force winds, and yet, they still bloom.

And so I thought: If they can do it, if they can survive against the odds, so can I.  Bring it on, Mother Nature.

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You Play Ball Like A Girl!

This is one of the best movies in the world.  And this is one of the funniest scenes from the movie (it’s in close contention to when Squints kisses Wendy Peffercorn).  But it got me thinking – when did “girl” become the king of insults?

I’m a girl.  I’m a little girl.  I’m petite and I love sky-high shoes, bags, and sparkly things.  But I also race cars, like beer and sports, and have been known to swear like a sailor.  Even the subjects in school that interested me were more math/science based.  I have fairly thick skin – which means that after a decade of spending my weekends with dirty old men, I am very calloused to the sexist jokes, being hit on, and none of it bothers me.  I laugh it off.  One of my favorite instructors even yelled, “Stop driving like a girl!”  And I laughed and hit cones.  And when I finally got fast, I was “boy-fast.”  So it’s not really a surprise to me when people (read: men) use “like a girl” as an insult.  I just never paid much attention to it.

I realize this commercial had been out long before the Super Bowl, but as I live under a pop culture rock, I hadn’t seen it till then.  I was floored.  There’s so much talk about equality, feminism, independence, empowering women – and then there’s the “like a girl” insult.  I never realized how regressive it was until I actually watched the commercial.  It hadn’t dawned on me just how detrimental this phrase, “like a girl,” could be to the next generation of females.

I think the most positive takeaway from this commercial is that the younger generation, when questioned at the end doesn’t do anything “prissy” or “sissy.”  They just do.  I’ve always just done, and I encourage any of the younger girls that have expressed interest in racing, or stereotypically masculine fields, to follow suit.  I hope one day soon, it won’t be a fallback insult.  But until then, when we’re told we do something “like a girl,” perhaps we should respond with “Thank you.”  Girls are pretty awesome, you know.

Damn the Torpedoes

You know, sometimes, I don’t know why,
But this old town just seems so hopeless.
I ain’t really sure, but it seems I remember the good times
Were just a little bit more in focus.

Normally, for my last post (or first post) of the year, I’d post the song Long December by the Counting Crows, and then recap the year’s events, and my resolutions for the coming twelve months.  This year, I decided to do something different.  I suppose I didn’t have resolutions per se, and I am not entirely sure I need to recap the whole year – in fact, I think if I did, I might want to go drink myself into oblivion and eat a whole cake.

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If I have to eat a cake, it might as well be this one….

 

If you just read this blog, you might think 2014 was a year full of fun – travel, books, racing, oh my!  I went to Madrid, Boston, New York City, Dallas.  I raced all over the country.  I read over twenty books.  I made new friends, visited old ones, and strengthened my relationships, despite hundreds of miles and oceans between us.

It looks like I had a great 2014.  But in reality, it was a really, really tough year.  I almost lost my mom – twice – to GI diseases.  The last bits of my marriage crumbled and ended in a very sad and difficult divorce that took eleven of the twelve months.  I couldn’t eat or sleep (still can’t sleep – working on the eating bit).  Work became so much more frustrating, and seemingly dead end, that I drove home in tears at least a few times a month.  Grad school screwed me over, I was not able to begin my Masters program, and I missed the races I had been looking forward to the most.  I was hospitalized for a week, and then admitted again for two days two months later for an emergency procedure (following the most excruciating diet I’ve ever been on), due to my own GI issues, which continue to plague me and are still of unknown origin.

This is the better graph - other 30-day periods are far worse.

This is the better graph – other 30-day periods are far worse.

I’d like to say, “Yes, I definitely learned something from all my trials and tribulations this year.  Yes, I am a stronger, smarter, and an overall better person from all of this.  Yes, I am viewing the year, despite all the hardship, as something put there so I can learn.”  And while all of that may be true, I also want to say, “Fuck you, 2014.”  Sure, I learned things.  I learned who is truly in my support network, and sadly, who is not (and sometimes, those people surprise you, and it really fucking hurts).  I learned about love, and loss, and what I really need from a relationship and from myself.  I learned that what you don’t say speaks far louder than what you do.  But looking back on the year, despite the lessons being important, I find myself asking, “Was it worth it?” Hmmmm……

Photo by Geoff Yen

Photo by Geoff Yen

I wholeheartedly believe that things happen for a reason, and I believe that the experiences you have and the choices you make shape who you are.  Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”  But come on, 2014 – why did you have to be such a jerk?  I’m pretty sure I could have learned those lessons, made those choices, and been just as tormented health-wise without all the backstabbing, lying, stress, and missed hours of sleep.  I mean, come on 2014.  You sort of sucked.  And just when I thought I’d be seeing you out, that I’d seen the last of you, you rewarded me with an trip to the emergency room at 3 am on December 31.  Really?!

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I suppose that for the coming twelve months, I have lofty goals and ambitions, just like I always do.  I have the “read more, eat healthier, exercise more” things to fulfill, but I suppose there are other things I’d not thought about.  I’ve made changes to myself over the last year, that have bitten me in the ass, but have overall ended up better than worse.  I speak up and don’t let things bother me or fester for long.  I am trying to give more people a bigger benefit of the doubt, and taking them for who they are, instead of who I’d like them to be.  I also am trying to let things go and be more positive.  They aren’t easy things to do, but I figure I’ve got a long hard road ahead of me.  What’s a few more boulders in my path?

And who knows what will happen?  Maybe I’ll find a new job, maybe I’ll move to a new city, or find a new love.  Maybe I’ll even buy a new car.  The only thing I know  is that this year has to be better.

 

On Love, Life, and Racing

The Fast and the Furious.  2001.   This is one of my favorite movies of all time.  But…I hate to say it…Vin, you’re a bit off.  Winning is great – and everything is WAY more fun when you win.  But sometimes, it’s not the winning part that makes it worthwhile.

You see, I race cars.  I’m good at it – really good.  It’s taken me years to become so.  I win a lot – sometimes by an inch, and sometimes by a mile (figuratively).  My racing is far less fast and furious – it’s technical and controlled, and more like downhill skiing than anything else.  It’s not a wheel-to-wheel race; it’s timed, and the fastest time wins.  If you hit a cone, they add 2 seconds to your final time.  I struggled with developing my skills for many years, but in mid-2012, something clicked and I haven’t looked back. I’m not a National Champion, but I’m at a level where they’ve made me an instructor, so I can teach the new kids all my bad habits 😉

I drive around cones arranged in a predetermined course layout in a parking lot or airfield.  Sometimes we have a drag-racing start, and sometimes we don’t.  It sounds simple, but there’s so much more to it.  There are sweepers, and slaloms, and blind corners, and giant turns with both increasing and/or decreasing radii.  There’s looking ahead to where you want to go (which is sometimes behind you), there’s planning your line (do you make arcs? Is it point-and-shoot?), and there’s knowing when you’ve got to grow some balls, get out of your comfort zone, and take that risk, because the reward will be great.

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The 2013 Solo National Championships East Course Map. You get to walk the course before driving, so you have an idea of where it goes, but you really don’t know what happens until you’re behind the wheel – much like life.  You might think you know how you’d handle things, or what they’re going to be like, but you never really know till you’re in that situation.

When I am instructing, the first thing I try to teach my students is to separate your inputs.  Make sure that when you are braking, accelerating, or turning, you’re doing one at a time (and do your accelerating and braking in a straight line).  After they’ve mastered that, I teach them to think about blending inputs – but to be cognizant of the fact that you can only ask the car to do 100% – in any combination.  You can do 44% turning and 56% acceleration, or 28% braking and 72% turning, but you can’t ask for more.  If you do, you’ll spin (see the end of my YouTube video), get off line, hit cones, scrub speed, break something…in any case, it most likely will not be your fastest run.

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Not my fastest (overturning and braking at the same time, with no ABS), but I suppose it made for a cool photo!

The more I’ve raced, the more I’ve realized that principle of blending inputs is more applicable to life than one would initially think.  Any given person has career, family, friends, hobbies, a relationship…that’s a lot of directions in which to be pulled.  And you can’t dedicate more than 100% of your time, effort, attention – your life, basically – to any combination of them.  There are some people that have to dedicate 100% to work sometimes.  Or 100% to family.  I was nearly 100% hobby for a while.  And that’s okay.  The remaining components of one’s life just have to wait.

I have always believed relationships are 100/100, not 50/50.  Each person gives 100% – of what they are able.  Love is a series of percentages of input.  Sometimes it’s 100%, sometimes it’s 50%, sometimes it’s 2%.  If someone is at 90% work and 8% family and 2% relationship, that 2% is 100% of what he can dedicate to the relationship at the moment, and that is all that anyone could ever ask for.

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Of course, 2% forever might not be ideal, but that’s the other beauty of racing and life.  If you’re turning at 100%, and there’s nothing left for anything else, it’s difficult, and frustrating, and very much not what you want to be doing at that moment.  Believe me.  To have your hands and arms crossed up, fighting the car to make sure you’re still turning while losing speed….it’s no fun.  I also tend to hold my breath and forget to blink when I’m at nearly 100% of an input, so that’s also not great.

One of my favorite instructors taught me that while entering a corner, I need to find my exit – the moment when I’ll be able to reduce steering and increase acceleration.  Even if I can’t see it upon entry, or even halfway through the corner, I need to trust and have faith that the exit is there.  And then when I find it, I need to recognize it, unwind the wheel, take a breath, and get back on the gas.

Of course, this is easier said than done…”ask any racer, any real racer.”  We all just want to hit the gas and go!  Go fast!  Faster!  We want to win!  We want to do it all, have it all!  But the truly skilled drivers know that sometimes they can’t, and the go-fast-pedal has to wait.  These drivers are also the ones with the most faith – in the car, in the course, and in themselves – especially when they can’t see the end of the turn.  It might take a lot of seat time, but they inherently know that eventually they’ll see the exit.  And when they do, they can unwind the wheel, roll on the accelerator, and they will be able to breathe and keep going.

Vin Diesel, I very much disagree with your statement.  It might be great, and make it more fun, but it’s not all about winning.  It’s about how you get there, how you win, and how you balance your inputs.  Sure, life is a series of connecting, never-ending sweepers, and it can be hard work to traverse them sometimes.  But it’s that constant adjustment and the faith that there’s an exit that helps us keep going forward.  When things get tough, when you get crossed up and start losing speed, when you’re at 100% with one thing, it’s so important to remember that you’ll always eventually unwind the wheel, and when you do, you’ll be able to breathe again and hit the gas.

 

Paying It Forward

I usually write my end-of-year posts with the Counting Crows song, Long December.  But really, I don’t think I can wait that long.  It’s been a long, LONG November.

This is one of those philosophical posts based around limited anecdotal evidence.  But bear with me, because just sometimes, good things happen to good people, and it sort of renews my faith.

Three things have happened to me over the past few weeks, despite my general melancholy and forlorn disposition, that made me realize that things are looking up.

1)  The director of the pharmacy brings in bagels occasionally.  I happen to like the cream cheese (seriously, shocker – I dislike dairy for what it does to me).  I asked where it was from.  A few days later, he came in with a big bag and four containers of it.

2)  The pricing of a medication changed – originally Zyrtec was $8, and when I went down a few weeks ago, it was $11.  I brought down $10.50 – I was intending to pay for medicine, and then buy overpriced hummus and pretzels.  The lady at the counter pulled out a dollar, and covered me and I almost cried.

3)  I wanted to go racing.  Someone I am good friends with offered me his never-been-raced daily driver as a ride.  Of course, there were caveats (don’t spin, don’t hit cones – both of which I did on my first run), but someone handed me his brand new $25,000 car with $4,000 worth of upgrades without the blink of an eye.

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It helped me to realize that I still have friends, people still love and trust me, and that being a good and honest person is far more important than being “famous” and “popular.”  It also helped me to realize that kindness happens when you least expect it, and to always be paying it forward.

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