Andy and Lauren’s Excellent Adventure!

On Wednesday of this week, my lady Lauren and I are taking our first road trip! We’re heading down to Florida for two weeks, and I couldn’t be more stoked! Its going to be great to kick back, max and relax for two whole weeks!

The decision to drive down was an easy one, as flying is no longer an option for me, thanks. During last years trip, I discovered that I HATE flying. I was a nervous wreck both during and after the flight down, dreading the return trip. When I discovered Lauren felt the same way, we decided to look into other means for this go round, and turns out driving is WAY cheaper than the train, so here we are!

As much as I’m looking forward to the beach and sleep, I have to say that the thing I’m most excited about is the drive. Over the last year, and especially the last few months, its felt like I’ve barely had the chance to hang out with Lauren. She’s been so busy between work and school, and I’ve been busy with work and my parents, so we haven’t had as much time to just hang like we used to. It’ll be so much fun to ride the highways with her, iPod blasting and zero responsibilities weighing us down (with the clear excepting being driving). Talking to her always helps get my head clear, and thats something I desperately need right now. I’m going to be posting updates about our adventure here as well as to Twitter/Facebook to chronicle the trip, and I’ll be affectionately referring to it as Andy and Lauren’s Excellent Adventure (Cue air guitar solo)! We may not be traveling through history kidnapping historical figures, but I’m sure it’s going to be a blast nonetheless!

It’s been over a year since we last went on vacation, and in an odd coincidence, we will be departing on June 29th, exactly one year to the day that my father had his accident. It’s crazy to think that one year ago I was in a hospital waiting room, trying to wrap my head around what had just happened to my family. That morning we all went to work like every other day, and by 10:30 am, everything changed. In the year that would follow, my mother went from patient to caretaker, Lauren finished nursing school, my sister Kate has gotten married and embarked on her masters, my now brother in law has made great strides in his film career, and my father has battled from seemingly imminent death to living a mostly normal life. He’s walking, talking [try stopping him :)], swimming, and going to a combination of both physical and cognitive therapy five days a week. he continues to confound his physicians, and they delight in watching him progress.

I’m very proud of him, as well as everyone in family for all that they’ve accomplished in the past year. That being said, when I look at my own year, I can’t help but feel a sense of stagnancy. Everyone has done so much, and I feel that I’m in largely the same position I was on that June morning. I’ve made no professional progress, and I let my frustration at that keep me from achieving anything else.  At the beginning of 2011, I made a list of attainable goals for myself and have so far achieved only one. I realize that I have been through a lot this year and I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, but going through a lot seems to be a running theme in my life, so I should not be so surprised when things happen.

It bothers me that I’ve let myself lag and become emotionally exhausted, so as of this vacation, I’m vowing to pick myself back up. I’ve referred to my goals before publicly, but I haven’t revealed them purposely. I know my history, and I have a habit of giving up. As long as I could keep these goals a secret, there would be no one to disappoint but myself. I wouldn’t have to deal with questions about them, or report progress if they didn’t exist, but no more. Even as I type this, I’m stressing out about posting them, but I have to. I have to be accountable for them, other wise they don’t exist. So here goes, my goals for 2011, as conceived in January:

1. Get my career on track
2. Both join and get into the habit of going to a Gym/working out
3. Lose the weight (approx 30 lbs) I put on over the past year
4. Move out of my parents basement (or at least be stable enough to by years end)
5. Settle finances once and for all
6. Maintain this blog as the outlet I feel it should be for my writing
7. Write publicly
8. Finishing writing and record the musical project I’ve had in my head since 2006
9. Get a big boy Doctor and stay on top of my health
10. Start a podcast

So there it is. I’m still wary about publishing this, but I NEED to follow through on these goals. I’ve had such strong creative urges lately, and I always push them aside. No more. I don’t care if no one reads my writing, likes my music, cares about my weight loss, etc. I need to do these things for me, to see myself achieve something I can be proud of. I’ve struggled with self doubt my whole life, and it keeps me from so much. Even in instances where some of these goals have been obtainable, I often drop back and let them deteriorate out of fear. No more. I’m going to use these 2 weeks in Florida to recharge my batteries, and I’m going to come back guns blazing.

During the writing of this post, there has been a quote swirling around in my head. It may seem trite, or not as inspirational to you as it is to me, but I feel it applies. It is a central theme to the film “Batman Begins”, (yes a comic book/action movie) a film I feel very connected to lately. In the film, we follow a young Bruce Wayne struggle to find an identity while feeling and sorry for himself. Since childhood, his life has been dedicated to anger towards events he could not control and people he could not change. Rather than simply looking inward to resolve his turmoil, he lashes out at the world, traveling all over the globe to fight and rage against anything he can find. Just before he sets out on his journey, a childhood friend utters the following:

“It’s not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you”.

This line ultimately helps Bruce create Batman and fight against injustice for those who cannot. Seeing as how I don’t look as good as he does in tights and a cape (who am I kidding, I’d look awesome in a cape) I won’t be fighting crime anytime soon. However, as a lazy, hopeful individual, this line inspires me to take action for myself. I’ve wanted to be better on the insdie for a long time, but I never followed through on my actions. At its core, Bruce Wayne’s story is about what one man can do with the proper focus, and I feel like that time has come for me. I know what I want, and now it’s time to get it done. Its time to create my own definition.

It is terrifying for me to admit to all of this, but thats part of the change I need. It’s going to be an adventure for me, and I’m thrilled that I do not have to do this alone. If you’ve taken the time to get this far in my post, it means that you care enough about me to see me succeed in this. If that’s the case, I look forward to making you proud of me in the coming months, as I post about each step in achieving the above. If I go a while without posting, and you are concerned, let me know! It will help keep me accountable, which is something I’ve lacked in the past.

This Wednesday is the start of something big for me, and the best part about it is that I get to have this adventure with Lauren as well. She has been a constant inspiration to me over the past 4 years, and my main motivation for wanting to be better. I hope that once I’ve gotten through all of the above a new, more successful story arch can begin in my life, and there is no one I’d rather share it with than her. I know this will be the start of a truly Excellent Adventure!

A New Hope for The Return Of The Jedi

Over the past few days I had the chance to sit down and watch some of my favorite films from the Star Wars Saga. While that may come as no surprise to those who know me, in reality, I don’t get to watch them all that often. I love the trilogies unapologetically, old and new. The reason for my recent viewing was a request from my father. Home after six months in the hospital/Kessler Center for rehabilitation, his current focus is on watching as many movies as he can. He frequents the channel Turner Classic Movies to see his childhood heroes duke it out in the old west, but his true love is Sci-Fi/fantasy. I have a collection of films I know he enjoyed before, so I’ve been lending them to him one at a time. 

He is still recuperating from a severe head trauma suffered in June of 2010, and he has lost some memory as a result of his incident. His major memories are in tact (he knows all of his family and friends, childhood memories, etc) but certain details are, lets say, misplaced. For instance, while watching EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE, during the scene where Luke, R2D2, and C3PO sit with Obi-Wan in his hut and discuss Luke’s father, my dad turned to me and through his aphasic speech asked me “Do they ever say who his father is?” I paused in this moment and measured my reply. In an instant, the following thoughts raced through my mind: “He doesn’t know Luke’s father is Darth Vader? He remembers Star Wars but lost that? He can name every creature from Lord Of The Rings, but he lost ‘Luke… I, am your father!’ Wait… What if I don’t tell him! Will he remember along the way, or will he be just as surprised as the first time he saw the trilogy? Should I spoil it?” I eventually told him and he remembered, turned his head, and stared excited back at the screen, wide-eyed and gearing up for a thrill ride that would take him back to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

The fall may have taken certain small details, but what it didn’t take from him was how these movies made him feel. He knew how much he loved the story and the journey it took him on, but forgot all of the baggage he took with him since his first viewing. All that mattered to him in that moment was Obi-Wan convincing Luke to become a Jedi Knight. He was watching the movies as if for the first time. When I watch these movies, my thoughts tend to drift to others comments about them, and I find myself defending them to no one in particular. This time, however, I let go and just enjoyed it. I watched a movie I have seen over and over again, reciting lines I can recite in my sleep, and let myself fall into the movie. I laughed out loud, rejoiced at victories, and cowered when Darth Vader entered the frame. For the first time in a long time, I truly enjoyed the experience of watching the movie. 

During the film, my thoughts drifted to the first time I saw A NEW HOPE, at a screening held in a library in Lake George, New York. I was about 5 years old then, and I got to experience all the excitement for the on a screen that was larger than me. My family was the only one that attended the event, so we got the best seats in the house. I was enchanted by the movie and how it made me feel, wrapped up in its glory. I dreamed of being fighter pilot/Jedi. I wanted to lock my S Foils into attack position. I wanted to shut down all the garbage mashers on the detention level. I kept looking over my shoulder waiting for Han and Chewie to appear behind me and tell me I was clear so I could “Blow this thing and go home”. All of these feelings and memories came over me as I looked over at my father, and I could see him feeling everything as I did. He was swept up again by the magic of this film, so much so that as the day went on, he watched all three movies that comprise the original trilogy.

As I write this now, it is the day after my dad and I fought the empire. It is Sunday morning and we are watching EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are battling Darth Maul while John Williams epic “Duel Of The Fates” makes for a perfect sound scape. I can remember back to owning a VHS copy of this movie, and watching the end of this movie over and over with my dad, talking about how cool it was. We’d watch it, talk about it, then rewind it and go all over again, and I can see those feelings he shared with me then returning to him now. These films represent a bond between us, one I thought I’d lost this summer when my dad had his accident.

I remember sitting in the waiting room in the hospital, helpless. My father was lying on a table in surgery while surgeons raced to save his life. when my family had first arrived, we were told that he had a 40% chance of even making it out of surgery, so needless to say, the next few hours were tense. There’s so much more I need him for, I can remember thinking, This cannot be it. After a seeming eternity, he was placed in the Surgical ICU in a coma, and the long process of waiting started. At this point, his doctors offered no prognosis, as any would be a guess. Day by day we were met with small victories, and I found myself on the phone with loved ones updating them on his condition. “There’s good news!” I’d say triumphantly, “His chances of survival have greatly increased!” Even as those words left my mouth, I knew they were filled with little bits of hope I and my family were clinging to. We were hopping from float to float, desperately trying to keep from drowning among the stark reality of his condition. In the weeks that followed, we were met with more conjecture, however things were looking increasingly positive. Their predictions were that he would wake up, but not for about 8 months, and after that the long process of healing could begin. Though encouraging, this news still presented an emotional obstacle. My sister and her then fiance were to be married in the coming October, and it seemed that my father would be in the hospital, possibly not even conscious, during the ceremony.

In times like these, all my family knows how to do is make plans. We’re much better off when we can anticipate things, so that’s what we set upon. While we were busy doing that, my father had other plans. slowly but surely, he began moving his limbs. at first involuntarily, but soon with purpose. Then his eyes would open and close when you were in the room, responding to voices. Small steps, but according to his team of physicians, Herculean feats. Finally he awoke for good, able to give nods yes and no. Nothing major, but enough to show us that he could understand us all. One day, on my way to work, I received a call from my mother. He had finally began talking, and he was asking for me. I raced to the hospital, and got to talk to my father for the first time in nearly 2 months. He knew us all, and it was clear that the man who raised me was still there. His speech was labored, and he mixed words up, but he was in there. He was on a ventilator and had a tracheostomy, but they were able to allow him to talk around it. We talked about how the Yankees were doing, and played him music he loved. Slowly, they weaned him off of the ventilator, a huge win. He had full usage of his limbs, and soon it was time to move him to Kessler for rehabilitation. There, he flourished, walking and exercising. He was back on solid foods, and made great strides every day. In late June, this man should have died in Hackensack Hospital, but he survived.

He should have been unconscious for 8 months, he awoke in less than 2. He should have been a vegetable, but he walked his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day in October. In late November, he had surgery to replace the parts of his skull that had to be removed during his first round of surgery, and by the second week of December, he was back home watching his favorite movies and entertaining guests. On June 22, 2010, I was told I was going to lose my father due to a tragic accident. On January 8th, 2011, we cheered loudly together for Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, C3PO, R2D2, and Obi-Wan Kenobi as they fought against Darth Vader and the rest of the Galactic Empire.

After A NEW HOPE on saturday, I went on with the rest of my day while Dad continued to watch the Trilogy. That night, as he was watching the end of RETURN OF THE JEDI, my dad called for me so we could watch the end together. Luke had helped Vader defeat Emperor Palpatine and restore balance to the force, just as he had countless times before. Tears filled his eyes as he watched father and son reunite, and he kept telling me how amazing the movies are. He’s right, they are but not because of the special effects, but because of how they make us feel. He sits in his chair, physically restricted. His movements are not what they used to be, but he’s getting there. He can’t express himself as easily as he used to, but in time, hopeful he’ll regain that fully. No matter how discouraged he feels at his current state, he can always battle Darth Maul, the Trade Federation, Storm Troopers, and Emperor Palpatine as long as there’s the will of a Jedi Knight inside of him. He has been fighting his own personal battle since June, with many victories to his credit. As I was leaving the house Saturday, I said goodbye to my father on the way out. “May The Force Be With You”, I said to him as he watched the beginning of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. “It is,” he replied. He’s right, it is. The force is strong in my family. I have that same spark and will of a Jedi Knight, like my father before me.