I Happen to Like New York

In the past week, I have taken two trips for work: The first trip was to rural southwest Kansas, which involved hours of driving through country where the only views were desolate plains and herds of cattle.

The second trip was to New York City — my first trip ever to the city — and I definitely wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Since I’ve traveled quite a bit in my life, it’s hard for some people to believe that it took me so long to get to New York. The truth is, I just never really had a compelling reason to go and it wasn’t enough of a priority to take a vacation there.

I also have a bit of an internal conflict over the city.

As a lifelong Chicagoan, our status as the Second City is both a badge of honor and a point of contention. We’re not as prideful as New Yorkers, so we’re fine with being #2, but that’s only because we secretly know that we’re better than them. I’ve often heard New York described as a bigger, dirtier, less-friendly Chicago. Why would I want to spend time there?

As a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, I will never forgive the Miracle Mets for 1969 and the only recently avenged heartache they caused every older Cub fan in my life. Also, the Yankees. That’s all I have to say about that.

On the other hand, as a movie buff and connaisseur of pop culture, I have to admit that New York City has an undeniable mystique about it. A town that has inspired or been the setting for so many great TV shows, movies and songs can’t be all bad. The New York City-themed montages in Elf alone are enough to make me curious.

Now that I’ve spent my first day in New York, I have to begrudgingly admit that — while nothing would ever get me to say that it’s better than Chicago — it’s a really awesome city. I get the hype now.

As my plane descended over the city, I felt myself getting chills as I first saw the Statue of Liberty — even though it looked incredibly tiny from the plane window. With great-grandparents who immigrated to the United States via Ellis Island in the early 20th century, I couldn’t help but think about the experience of them and everyone else welcomed to this country by Lady Liberty. It feels cliche just writing that sentence, but it’s honestly how I felt.

I was a bit taken aback by the enormity of the city from the air, and once again after I landed and Uber’d through it. The complex geography of Manhattan Island and all the waterways and bridges is somewhat astounding from a civil engineering perspective. I knew that NYC was bigger than Chicago, but I didn’t realize just how much bigger until I was looking at it from above.

As a member of the 9/11 generation — I was about to start college in 2001 — seeing the city’s skyline and all the surrounding buildings instantly transported me back to that horrific day. That was the first time in my life that I really paid any close attention to New York outside of sports or pop culture references. I’m staying in a hotel mere blocks from where the World Trade Center stood, so all the coverage of 9/11 and its aftermath that I consumed at the time and afterward has come flooding back to me, restoring the kinship or intimacy with the city that I (and many others) felt so keenly after 9/11.

As I walked around this evening, I found myself imagining what these streets, shops and buildings looked like on the day of the attack and thought about how many people’s lives were disrupted in the moment and ultimately changed forever. I’ve been watching The Looming Tower, too, so that probably has something to do with all of the sad post-9/11 reflections. As I looked at the beautiful new tower in the World Trade Center complex, I marveled at all the work that has gone into rejuvenating and rebuilding this part of the city. It’s really incredible.

On a more upbeat note, my first move once I got into the city was to meet up with a former Northwestern student whom I taught a few years ago and who now works in the NBC Page program. This meant that I got to engage with my other New York-centric obsession — late night TV.

On a private tour, I was able to see the studios where Jack Paar and Johnny Carson originated The Tonight Show and where Jimmy Fallon currently plies his trade. I also saw Seth Meyers’ stomping grounds, as well as the old studio where David Letterman and Conan O’Brien once roamed and Megyn Kelly now hosts a later hour of The Today Show.

Best of all, I was able to peek in on the set of Saturday Night Live, as they prepped for the evening’s dress rehearsal and live broadcast. Guest host and living SNL legend Bill Hader was rehearsing a sketch with cast member Cecily Strong, while crew members finished painting a set and others set up the scenery for the cold open. Later, I saw Hader blocking out his movements for the monologue and how he would shift into the first sketch.

As a fan of SNL from the first time I was allowed to watch the show, this was a bucket list level pilgrimage for me. Just like when I finally attended a taping of the Bozo Show in Chicago as a child, it was extraordinary to see how much smaller in scale everything is than the wide angle TV camera lens makes it appear. The iconic center stage where the guest hosts make their grand entrance and deliver their opening monologue looks more like a comedy club stage than a professional theater. The musical guest’s stage is similarly tiny. In person, everything about the SNL production seems more intimate than epic.

The tight geography of the studio makes it so that the audience has a decidedly bad view of most of the show’s proceedings. I kind of assumed that the sets were all moved to the front of the stage one-by-one for each sketch, but they are far too large and complex for that, so they stay put in a few designated stage areas. One of the stages — where the infamous Cowbell sketch was performed — is positioned in such a way that it is completely obscured from the studio audience. The performers literally have their back to the audience. Another of the stages is reserved for “messy” sketches that involve water or fake blood or anything else that requires extra preparation and cleanup. Peering into the studio, it was incredible to be reminded of just how many people’s jobs revolve around putting on a comedy show every week. All that hard work probably makes the sketches that bomb even more painful for the cast and crew.

I saw a few of the current cast members wandering through the halls and could just feel the history and electricity of the place, as the show was set to go on this evening. It was extra intriguing to watch the live broadcast tonight, as I had seen a lot of the sets and watched some of the preparations without knowing exactly what they were for or what would happen. All in all, it was a fantastic experience.

After my tour, I perused the NBC Studio Store and decided to just wander the area around 30 Rock a bit. I happened upon the ice rink from Elf, Radio City Music Hall, the Nintendo store, and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral — on Saint Patrick’s Day no less!

I’m excited for the opportunity to explore more of the city over the next two days and see a few of the more traditional tourist attractions. It’s only been a day, but I definitely heart New York a lot more than I thought I would!

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Childhood nostalgia live on stage with ‘Animaniacs in Concert’

I spent the past Saturday night watching two middle-aged men get onstage and do cartoon voices and sing songs for two hours.

Out of context, this might sound like a complete waste of time and money, but for me it ended up being one of the most rewarding evenings of entertainment I’ve experienced in a long time.

That’s because the men on the stage were both responsible — each in their own way — for providing me with hours and hours of joy throughout my childhood and also significantly shaping my sense of humor.

In a small theater with about 100 others, the minimalist stage was set with a pull-down movie screen and a keyboard with a bench. That was it. Two men emerged with headset microphones and proceeded to perform songs, tell stories and answer questions from the audience of adoring fans.

The man behind the keyboard was Randy Rogel, a writer and musician who evolved from crafting dramatic episodes of Batman: The Animated Series to penning the majority of the clever, catchy and side-splitting songs from the cartoon series Animaniacs. Joining him onstage was Rob Paulsen, a man whose vocal stylings reverberated through my TV set and etched their way into my psyche as Yakko Warner on Animaniacs and a host of other cartoon characters over the years.

In this relatively intimate setting, these men were able to immediately transport the audience back to those weekday afternoons watching the Warner Brothers and their sister Dot escape their water tower to create mayhem. Every time Rob Paulsen opened his mouth and Yakko’s voice came out, I was startled by the reemergence of the character before my eyes, er, ears. As a nerdy pre-teen watching the show in the 90s, I was completely enthralled. Paulsen’s Yakko stood out to me in particular as the model of quick-witted humor to which I aspired. I wanted so badly to be the smart aleck with a one-liner comeback for every situation, although I think the only real resemblance I had was the high-waisted pants.

As Randy Rogel told stories about the songs he wrote for the show, I thought back to the Animaniacs soundtrack cassette that my brothers and I played so frequently that I still know every orchestra hit and vocal inflection on every single one of the songs. Rogel and Paulsen also did an impressive live performance of “I’m Mad,” a song that was released as a short that played before the theatrical release of the 1994 animated film Thumbelina. My brothers and I, who had absolutely zero interest in Thumbelina, dutifully attended a showing just so we could see the Animaniacs short, but we got there too late and missed half of it! We sat through Thumbelina and waited for the next showing so we could catch the full four-minute song. That’s real devotion. I’m happy to report that more than 25 years later, Paulsen — who voices both Yakko and Dr. Scratch ‘n Sniff in the song — can still hit every note. And that’s even after a recent successful battle with stage III throat cancer! He’s a living legend.

As Paulsen and Rogel gleefully plied their musical craft onstage, I couldn’t help but look around at everyone else in the theater and see that the diverse group all had stupid smiles on their faces as they were equally transported back in time. In the front row, a guy a few years older than me had brought his three kids to see the show — the live action version of forcing your kids to watch DVDs of your childhood shows — but the kids were smiling as much as everyone else.

There is a timeless and innocent quality to Animaniacs, even though it was a subversive kids’ TV show that had tons of humor meant for adults supplementing the falling anvils that appealed to its youngest viewers. Although some of the references are decidedly dated (“while Bill Clinton plays the sax”), the absurdist humor, one-liners and general irreverence never gets old. So often when I revisit shows I loved in my youth, I get that warm and fuzzy sentimental feeling mixed with a realistic downer dose of “Why did I like this? It’s kind of terrible.” Not so with Animaniacs. I watched an episode when I got home from the event and laughed like it was 1994 again.

The show maintains its appeal because the humor was universal but not one size fits all. Even as you were enjoying the show on some level as a small child, you could grow into the ever deeper and funnier levels of the show’s humor as you matured. It was just plain clever.

The show spawned unforgettable characters and a host of catch phrases, but perhaps its greatest distinguishing feature was its original songs. The music and lyrics conceived by Randy Rogel are nothing short of genius. Aside from the most-remembered ditty in which Yakko recites the nations of the world (which Rogel revealed was the first song he wrote for the show as an audition for the chance to join the writing staff), there are dozens of songs that are brilliant in their comedic lyrical escapades. The songs are so good that they frequently stood on their own as segments of the show.

To this day, these songs continue to pop into my head at random times — and they’re always welcome.

It was wonderful to see that both Rogel and Paulsen are down-to-earth, decent human beings who love what they do and truly appreciate the support of the show’s fans. Someone asked Paulsen the inevitable question of “What’s the bluest thing you’ve ever said as one of your characters?” and Paulsen’s response surprised and impressed me. He basically said that he considers himself a steward of the characters he portrays and would never compromise their integrity for a cheap laugh or an extra buck. He told a story of recently being asked to sacrifice Yakko to the parodying wolves of Robot Chicken and turning them down, even though he was flattered by the offer. He said the characters mean too much to the fans — including a new generation of children — and he wouldn’t want someone to be disappointed by hearing something inappropriately bawdy coming out of Yakko’s mouth. That’s an incredibly refreshing sentiment in 2017.

It also gives me some reassurance that if the Animaniacs ever did make a comeback — Rogel and Paulsen could neither confirm nor deny any rumors, but they offered a glimmer of hope— the creators and talent involved would remain true to the original spirit of the show and not try to reinvent them or add an edge to get some press or ratings. (I’m looking at you, Muppets.)

If you are a fan of the show, I highly recommend that you be alert for an opportunity to see this show in one of its iterations. Paulsen said that sometimes it’s just the two of them with a piano and other times it has been staged with a full orchestra and the involvement of all three voice actors for Yakko, Wakko and Dot. I am incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to witness a live reincarnation of one of the essential shows of my childhood.

The Ramblings of a Joyful Cubs Fan

How do you start writing the blog post you always daydreamed about writing? The same way you live through that one experience you always daydreamed about experiencing. You just do it.

There’s no preparing for long-awaited moments of profound joy. The long wait actually seems to make you less likely to be prepared for them. It gives you more time to rehearse the moment in your mind and think about how you might react—or how you think you should react. But no regimen of mental gymnastics will ever prepare you for the actual experience of that moment’s arrival.

I should know. I’ve experienced two moments of profound joy in the last three months. Actually, within /exactly/ the last three months. On August 2, my daughter Madeline was born into this world after a nine-month wait. On November 2, the Chicago Cubs became the World Series champions after a 108-year wait.

I’m not equating the birth of my daughter to something as trivial as a sports title, I’m simply suggesting that maybe this Cubs championship isn’t as trivial as other athletic feats tend to be. There’s no denying the pool of profound joy into which the Second City has been willfully and unapologetically drowning itself since Bryzzo recorded the final out last night. We are witnesses to history—banishing our disbelief and blinking back tears.

But about those tears.

I knew I was going to cry when my daughter was born. As I age, my tear ducts have evidently weakened to such a point that I will weep openly at the dumbest, overly sentimental things. Throughout the pregnancy, I would become overwhelmed just thinking about the moment of her birth and the waterworks would begin. That was me tearing up in the back of the pregnancy class when they showed the birth videos.

Similarly, I assumed that my years of suffering at the hands of the Boys in Blue—and the thought of being alive to see them win it all when so many Cubs fans had lived and died empty-handed—would result in some sentiment pouring out of my eyes.

But in both cases, I was wrong. The excitement of these moments made any emotions beyond unbridled joy and relief almost impossible to express. When my daughter was born, I was just marveling at her as my wife held her to her chest. I didn’t even think to take photos…and I never forget to take photos. In the waning moments of last night’s Cubs game, I turned my phone’s video camera on before history unfolded so that it could be preserved and relived by the next branches of my Cubs fan family tree.

But again there were no tears. The rollercoaster of Game 7—heck, the entire series—had destroyed my mental image of how this moment would look and feel. When the game was horrifically tied up again, visions of Bartman and aborted countdowns to glory were running through my mind. So this is how it ends. The Cubs always find a way.

Maybe it’s because it was All Soul’s Day or maybe it was just a near death experience, but the great Cubs fans of the past were suddenly very present to me in my growing dread. Among others, my deceased maternal grandfather, a diehard fan who often referred to the team as the Flubs when things went south, scoffed angrily at the TV with me. My deceased neighbor, another diehard who frequently had choice words for any Cubs player who stood in the way of flying the W, was sitting next to me shaking his head in disgust. On the radio, the sound of Ron Coomer gave way to the only Ron I ever want to hear calling a Cubs game—and he let out a wail that rivaled the infamous Brant Brown affair.

The rain delay—God’s tears?—came in the nick of time and turned the Cubs fortunes around again. The poor souls in the room were free to go and enjoy the rest of the game elsewhere as the all-too-harrowing bottom of the tenth inning gave way to that monumental moment of surreality. Pat Hughes’ booming voice filled my ears as my eyes beheld a TV graphic previously reserved for jokes and movies. We are the champions.

With tears streaming down his face in a euphoric postgame interview before the champagne had even started flowing, Anthony Rizzo said a line that has been reverberating in my head ever since: “We are world champions for the rest of our lives.”

My tears didn’t arrive at the exact moment of childbirth or World Series berth. But they came eventually—when the excitement died down and the new reality set in. A change had been made. A page had been turned. And there is no going back.

I am a father. The Cubs are the champs.

I tear up now when my daughter smiles and coos and stares into the depths of my soul with her unconscionably big blue eyes. I tear up when I see something that reminds me that she won’t always be—and already isn’t—the tiny newborn who shocked me into non-photographing submission three months ago. I tear up when I think of the woman she could become and the things she could do and the lives she could touch.

Today the social media frenzy of Cubs tributes, remembrances and videos completely preoccupied my work day—an IV drip co-mingling with my Cubbie blue blood to finally let the tears rush forth.

The first thing to open the flood gates? A Budweiser-produced video of Harry Caray magically calling the 2016 Cubs World Series win. I watched it at least three times today, and there have been more tears every time.

Next came the Cubs-produced video of fans reacting to the tune of Eddie Vedder’s “Someday We’ll Go All the Way.”

And then there was this article about dying Cubs fans who gave out mere days before having their last request come to fruition. It’s honestly heart-wrenching to read.

These are the things that make this Cubs victory worthy of tears. It’s about so much more than just a sports team being the best and winning a title. It’s about childhood memories, families and generations. It’s about tradition and love. It’s about hope and regret.

Far better writers than me have waxed poetic on this subject lately, but so much of the experience of being a Cubs fan is a metaphor for the struggle of life. True determination doesn’t always lead to success, no matter how badly you want it, but faith can make that OK. And sometimes success will sneak up on you and make you wonder how it could possibly look so easy.

Unlike the 108 preceding years, this Cubs season was an uncharacteristic cake walk to the playoffs. For a fan who has seen his share of abysmal baseball at Wrigley, the struggle of the playoffs was a refreshing return to form. The Cubs are not a team that should simply waltz into the history books. They have to fake a heart attack and ride in on a gurney—taking a final bow to prove that everything is alright and that you shouldn’t have been so scared in the first place.

Just as fatherhood is forcing me to redefine essential parts of myself, so too will this new, winning identity demand an examination of the Cubs fan psyche. We are losers no more. The cool kids wear Cubs clothes now. The newest members of the fold—like my daughter—will have their baseball consciousness awaken right around the end of what could be a Cubs dynasty. They’ll watch replays of what we all just lived through last night and marvel at how Cubs veterans Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant look so youthful and boyish. They’ll be astounded to realize that Cubs manager David Ross hit his last home run as a player in Game 7 in 2016.

Beyond the box scores, what will it mean to be a fan of a consistently winning Cubs team when you haven’t experienced any of the heartache and frustration? That’s a moral dilemma I’m thankfully in no position to answer. My Cubs will always be the Little Engine That Couldn’t Until They Finally Could and the World Turned Upside Down.

The next few days will continue to be an emotional time for all Cubs fans, especially as tomorrow I will see my team take over Grant Park—a special honor that any Chicago kid who grew up in the 90s thought was reserved exclusively for Jordan and company.

But we’re here now. It finally happened. And we can let the tears out, because the Cubs are world champions for the rest of our lives.

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Going, Going, Gone Viral with “The Team at Clark & Addison”

I’ve previously blogged about my penchant for “fart-ups”—seemingly good ideas that I will think about for a while or maybe even spend a little time working on—before abandoning them to my personal black hole of unfinished projects and long forgotten to-do lists.

Sometimes, however, these fart-ups will hold my attention long enough to actually come to fruition and maybe even flourish for a while. The most recent fart-up that I have nurtured to success is my Chicago Cubs Memes account on Instagram. As a lapsed Cubs blogger with lofty ambitions of writing heart-felt reactions to every Cubs game and plot twist in the team’s annual quest to defy history, I realized two things. 1) No one on the vast Internets seemed to be devoting themselves single-mindedly to creating Cubs-related memes. 2) It was a lot faster to consistently share my thoughts about the Cubs by posting a meme than by crafting a 1,000-word blog post.

Thus, @CubMemes was born near the beginning of the 2015 Cubs season. As it turned out, a decent number of Instagramming Cubs fans were actually interested in the hot-and-hopefully-humorous takes that I had to offer. The account’s following grew tremendously over the past two years with basically no promotional effort on my part. It now sits authoritatively among other popular Cubs Instagram accounts with more than 7,000 followers and lots of interaction on my posts.

Not too shabby, right?

Well, the success of this fart-up made me hungry for more. I had been listening to the soundtrack of Hamilton regularly for nearly a year, and on one of my listens, I had the thought of rewriting the title song as a parody about the Cubs. I even had a phrase that could work: Replace “Alexander Hamilton” with “The Team at Clark and Addison.”

I floated this idea to my incredibly creative brothers, thinking that there was no way that we would ever actually find the time and energy to make it happen.

As the success of the 2016 Cubs leaned inevitably toward another playoff appearance, it occurred to me that this song was basically a musical form of a Cubs meme—and I had a devoted audience of Cubs meme fans at my disposal. I raised the idea with my brothers again, and we started a Google Document to remotely collaborate on lyrics. We wrote down phrases and people/events that we wanted to include from Cubs lore and tried to think of rhymes that matched Lin Manuel Miranda’s complex rhyme schemes in the original.

A couple weeks later (while I had put the project on the back burner), my brothers Chris and Ben messaged me that they had completed the first draft of the lyrics. This was actually happening!

Turns out the first draft was almost perfect. They recorded a demo version with a Hamilton karaoke track, and I got to work editing Cubs highlights and other appropriate Cubbie clips that fit contextually with the lyrics.

Last Friday evening, we all got together at my parents’ house to record the final version. We tweaked a few lyrics and then spent a couple hours recording the song verse-by-verse. The whole thing was a ton of fun, and a chance to hang out with my brothers in a way that just doesn’t happen that often anymore. Fortunately, my brother Ben can legitimately carry a tune and the rest of us managed to sound not terrible picking up the pieces around him. Considering we’re a bunch of nerds, I think we even handily pulled off the rap verses.

I spent the next morning finishing up my edit and laying in the final audio tracks. With my sister-in-law and niece in town for the weekend, I quickly uploaded it and posted it on my Cub Memes and personal social media accounts before we headed off to check out Open House Chicago. (which you should definitely check out next year!)

While we galavanted around downtown Chicago checking out the Aon Center, going on the stage at Millennium Park and strolling the deck of the Chicago Yacht Club’s anchored boat, the Internet worked its magic to make our Hamilton homage begin its viral rise to the top.

By the time we got home in the evening, it had more than 2,000 views. By the time the Cubs game was over, it had 3,600 views. By Sunday morning, we’d topped 10,000 views. The video continued to be shared by individuals on Twitter, and friends were telling me that /their/ friends—who didn’t know me—were also sharing it on Facebook with abandon.

My wife and I have talked about how there is a void to be filled in social media that could be called “Inside Joke Twitter.” When you sign up for an account, you would put in all of your potential interests, favorite movies, books, music, sports teams, etc. You could then choose different concentric circles of these interests and make posts about them. In this case, our video would fit perfectly into the Cubs/Hamilton crossover. While memes function this way to some extent, there are lots of memes that I only understand as a meme and not because I’ve seen the meme’s source material. This would be for deeper humorous dives among passionate fans of two seemingly disparate topics. Anyway, that’s another fart-up for another time.

Needless to say, many people who find themselves within the concentric circle of Hamilton and Cubs fandom discovered our video and were sharing it with each other. Twitter searches and Facebook posts frequently involved the poster alerting other friends to the video’s existence so they could enjoy it as well. That’s pretty much the definition of viral.

I don’t want to toot our horn, but in an age when comments sections are the bane of a digital content creator’s existence and ego, our video didn’t get any negative comments until a random “That was horrible” YouTube comment two days after it was posted—and it’s really only received one or two negative comments since then. My faith in humanity is being restored for the time being.

On Sunday evening, I received a tweet from a reporter at WGN Morning News who dabbles in quirky online stories saying that he would like to show some of it on Monday’s broadcast. I agreed, and the segment aired at 4:45, 5:45 and 7:15. It was pretty cool having our video appear on a news telecast that we had all watched growing up (and which still features the same newscasters for the most part). Unfortunately, by the time my Mom tuned in later in the morning, the main newscasters were incredibly disparaging of the video (which is kind of their schtick—to be cynical about everything), so I guess it wasn’t universally revered after all.

On Monday morning, I received an email from Chicagoist—a local Chicago news website—asking to do an interview with me. I called back the reporter and the blog post appeared in the afternoon. I figured this would breathe fresh life into the video’s circulation and I was right. The Chicagoist story led to several other news and sports website stories, many of which borrowed heavily from the interview I did with the Chicagoist reporter. It’s interesting to see how many news sites get their content from other news sites and just provide a quick attribution at the end. Takes a lot of legwork out of reporting…

By Monday evening, the video had received 20,000 views—officially viral in my book—and then NBC Chicago did a post on their website. This provided yet another boost, and the video has increased by more than 10,000 views each day, currently sitting above 50,000.

Last night, Sports Illustrated ran a story on their website, so I think we’ve pretty much peaked in terms of media coverage. Here’s a list of links to all the media mentions for posterity:

Sports Illustrated

Chicagoist

NBC Chicago

WGN Radio

Timeout Chicago

The Postgame

104.3 KHITS

As I said in the Chicagoist interview, I was hoping that this would eventually attract the attention of Hamilton composer Lin Manuel Miranda on Twitter, but that has yet to happen. Tonight is both the official opening night of Hamilton in Chicago and Game 3 of the NLCS.Also, it turns out that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s father tweeted the video! There’s no time like the present for Lin to tweet it out himself.

Beyond achieving online virality, getting decent media coverage and engaging in a quest for a famous Twitter mention, this project was mostly just fun to do because I never expected us to actually do it and because I got to do it with my brothers. We’ve talked off and on for years about how we should try to get our creative juices flowing in unison and use our talents to produce something fun like this. While none of us are quitting our day jobs to become YouTube celebrities just yet, it is pretty awesome to realize that we made more than 50,000 people smile through this seemingly frivolous endeavor. We live in an amazing time when something like this can be created, shared and enjoyed by so many people so easily.

And don’t get me started on the joy of watching the Cubs move ever closer on their journey to the World Series. To steal a line from Hamilton—how lucky we are to be alive right now.

Go, Cubs, Go! (and thanks to everyone who watched and shared our video)

One Year of Remissioning

It was one year ago today that I got the news I had been waiting six months to hear. My cancer was in remission. While I won’t be considered by the medical community to be “cured” until August 2020, hearing that there was “no evidence of disease” still meant to me that I had conquered the most grueling personal challenge I had ever faced. It meant an end to weekly doctor’s appointments and blood tests. It meant a return to work and exercise and ramping back up to full strength. It meant getting my eyebrows back and at least a little more hair on my head. It meant that I was meant to face down cancer and live, when so many others were not so blessed.

It’s only one year later, but the world looks so much different to me today. The experience of fighting cancer changed me irrevocably and tremendously, but I didn’t expect my life to change all over again in my first year of remission.

Remission.

Now I’m no linguistic scholar, but I don’t think the parts of that word sound like they have anything to do with overcoming an illness. Nevertheless, it’s a rather apt word for how I’ve spent much of the past year.

I’ve been re-missioning.

In fact, I’m on a completely new and wonderful mission now–a life change that was almost as unexpected as my initial cancer diagnosis, but a billion times more joyful.

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As I type this post, my daughter Madeline is lying next to me in her rock ‘n play sleeper, baby-grunting and beginning to stir as she prepares to wake up for her eighth meal of the day. She turned three weeks old yesterday, and she’s the most perfect creation I’ve ever seen.

I can’t help but consider her to be a miracle–and I know that all children are miracles–but Maddie counts doubly so. Before I embarked on my treatment journey, three different doctors told me that chemotherapy had rendered greater men than me sterile, so I should probably make plans for my future fertility (and defy Catholic teaching on the subject). Theresa and I forged ahead in faith–trusting God’s plan for our family, even if that meant that Lumpy would make us a permanent party of two. When I received my remission news last year, the oncologist told us that even if we could get pregnant, we most likely wouldn’t be able to do so for a year and shouldn’t really even try until then. I guess that would be right now.

But just as God surprised us by making 2015 the Year of the Lump, he surprised us again by making 2016 the Year of the Bump. With that positive pregnancy test last December, we were instantly re-missioned.

I won’t pretend that Lumpy didn’t make a few cameo appearances in the past year. He came back like clockwork every three months when it was time for another scan and randomly haunted my psyche with worst-case scenarios: What if the cancer came back? What if I got sick after the baby came? What if the baby was sick? Is that another lump in my neck?

Fortunately none of these dramas ever played out in reality. My latest scan last week appears to be my cleanest yet. I’ve found a new oncologist who actually seems to care a lot about my health and who understands the importance of bedside manner when you’re dealing with cancer. Theresa gave birth to Maddie with no complications (read the epic tale!) and Maddie is as healthy as can be.

This entire pregnancy and year of remission has been filled with “What did I do to deserve this?” moments of gratitude–spawned from an experience that normally poses that question in the other direction. I know that I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t been there, so I can’t help but look back at the marvelous timing of all these staggering life events with wonder and gratitude.

Perhaps it’s fitting that this is my 100th post on this blog–a blog that I started simply to chronicle the experience of my 30s and all the big moments I presumed would be heading my way in that decade. If I could send these 100 posts to my 29-year-old self, I wonder what he would make of it. Would he be afraid? Proud? Shocked? Perhaps he’d be most surprised that I actually kept it up.

As I turn 34 in three months, it would be tempting to hope that the latter half of my 30s is more predictable than the former. But these years have taught me the value of change, the importance of faith and the rewards of following a path that sometimes isn’t clear until you’re looking back at where you came from–and suddenly you’re happier than you’ve ever been before.

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