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Yesterday my friend Ryan sent me this text:

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He was on the verge of unfriending me in real life because I hadn’t yet seen Mad Max: Fury Road.

Well, last night I saw it and…holy crap.

First of all, it’s a gorgeous piece of art. It’s not for everyone, for sure, but I spent most of the time in the theater thinking, “How did they do that??” A solid story, interesting characters, amazing scenery and…freaking car chases. Except that doesn’t do justice to what actually happened for two hours. I texted my brother-in-law afterwards and said, “I wish I lived near a desert so I could drive recklessly through it!”

The reason Ryan wanted me to see it so badly, though, was because of Imperator Furiosa.

Oh, Furiosa.

furiosa

We don’t know much about Furiosa, but we do know that she is strong, smart and compassionate. Her mission, unbeknownst to the evil Immortan Joe, is to transport his captive wives to freedom, which she believes will find them at The Green, the place she was born. The story follows this perilous journey, filled with carnage and careful character development.

What struck me, though, as I’m sure it did nearly every amputee who’s seen it, is exactly what my friend Ryan was hoping I’d notice:

Screenshot_2015-05-30-12-10-41-1

Furiosa’s difference was not a plot point.

In fact, they never addressed her arm throughout the entirety of the movie.

Not once.

Not once while she was driving. Or fighting. Or jumping between vehicles. Or loading weapons. Or shooting said weapons.

And they could have.

We don’t know why she has one hand. We don’t know if she was born that way or if she lost it somehow. We don’t know how her steam punk prosthetic works or where she got it, though we know she doesn’t need it to kick someone’s ass.

mad-max-fury-road-2015-002-furiosa-atop-man-ORIGINAL

All we know is that she has one hand and…it doesn’t matter.

I’ve actually read that she and George Miller actually do know the back story and, according to them, it’s amazing. So, maybe one day we’ll find out and that’ll be awesome.

But for now, I’m happy to watch a movie that incorporates characters with many differences and doesn’t use them as a device, but rather, allows the people with them to be just that…people.

More broadly, in Mad Max: Fury Road we see that difference doesn’t make a person good or bad. We see characters with differences who are evil and others who are heroes. And even others who just are. I could be off here, but I feel like that’s a rarity in the movies these days. I appreciate the efforts the filmmakers put forth to incorporate actors with differences and not make a big deal about it.

Some have complained that they cast Charlize Theron in the Furiosa role rather than an actual amputee. I understand the sentiment, but it doesn’t bother me. For one, they spent $150 million dollars on the movie, so it makes sense they’d want a well-known actress in the lead role. Second, she’s an amazing actress. My opinion is, whatever the arena, no amputee should expect or want to get the role/job/roster spot/etc. simply because they’re an amputee. While we should never be discounted because of our difference, I also think the best person for the job should get it. In this case, Theron got it and she deserves any award she gets for her performance.

Ultimately, if you can handle intense, violent action movies that feature limb-different heroines, Mad Max: Fury Road is for you.

Did you see the movie? What did you think?

Last night I ran my first 5k in over four years.

The lady in front of me was the focal point, thus the blurriness. Still like this shot.

The lady in front of me was the focal point, thus the blurriness. Still like this shot.

It felt amazing and I surpassed my own expectations! My modest goal was simply to finish (I’m actually still in the midst of my Couch-to-5k training), but I was confident I could do so in under 45 minutes. I felt good pretty much the whole race and toward the end I thought to myself, “I think I can finish this thing under 40 if I push!” So…I pushed.

As I hit the home-stretch and heard the cheering and the announcer say, “Here comes Ryan…Hock!” Then I saw the big digital clock, which showed 39:56. I yelled “CRAP!” as I sprinted to the finish line, passing it at 40:01. Spent and doubled-over, I went to stop my RunKeeper app and noticed that it said 39:52! Oh, yeah! I had forgotten that we started in waves, so I actually finished earlier than that! 39:09 officially, nearly 6 minutes better than my goal!

Running to the finish line!

Running to the finish line!

Back in February I wrote a post about trying to get healthy again and was doing ok, but got consistently disciplined at the beginning of April. In fact, since April 8th, I’m down 17 pounds.

How?

Well, the simple answer is that I’ve been eating much better, tracking what I eat every day, and working out regularly. I also received consistent encouragement from a group of online friends (shoutout to my #fitbyfirst peeps!) and IRL friends. Groundbreaking, right??

So, what made the difference this time?

I believe signing-up for this 5k played a huge role.

While I realize that ultimately I could choose to not run it and just be out $30, that’s not how it worked for me. I knew that if I wanted to run it and finish it, I’d have to eat well and train consistently.

And I did. Because running a 5k is really good for you.

First, running a 5k is doable for anybody. It’s 3.1 miles, so even if you just walked it, you could probably finish it in an hour. With a couple months of consistent training, you could run/walk it, no problem. In fact, I ran my first 5k back in 2009 and documented the whole journey here. It’s pretty hilarious.

Second, it gives you a goal to work toward. This was huge for me. It forced me to put my training sessions on the calendar and to go out and run, even when I didn’t feel like it. Each session got me closer to my goal – and continues to! And now that I have this one in the books, I’m excited to improve my time at the next race! I’m self-aware enough to know I’m not going to win the dang thing, but that’s not the point. My only competition at this point is with myself. I’m pushing myself to get a little better, a little faster every time out. I think the 5k is a perfect distance for this, especially for anybody who is working themselves back into shape.

To give some perspective, the bottom left was from December. The top left, from EASTER.

To give some perspective, the bottom left was from December. The top left, from EASTER.

Third, running a race and super fun! Seriously, you guys. Race day is a blast. Actually, for me it starts the day before with packet pick-up. Getting that new race shirt and the other goodies! Then, just like my friend Anthony, I like to have “the perfect setup.” I love setting my gear out the night before, fresh and clean. Pinning my bib to my new race shirt and setting my music playlist for the run. Getting to the race grounds is always a little adventurous and it’s a blast to be with hundreds, even thousands of people all with the same goal…get to the finish line! And have as much fun as you can while doing it! Getting to the homestretch and running down the chute toward the finish line while people cheer for you…such a rush!

Crossing that finish line, the sense of accomplishment is such a rush.

But, it’s not the end. Like I told my brother-in-law, Steven, this 5k was a solid building block.

I can’t wait for the next one.

I’d love to hear why you love running 5k races or any races for that matter! What’s your favorite story?

We weren’t all shaking our heads.

Elizabeth Heideman’s recent piece on Salon.com about the Toyota and Microsoft Super Bowl ads, which featured two people with limb-differences, would have you believe that we – all disabled people and activists – were upset about them.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact, I believe her piece did more harm than good to an already nuanced conversation.

The fact is, differently-abled people aren’t represented very well in mainstream media. Some activists decry this injustice quite often. But then ads like these come out and those same people complain about them being “inspiration porn.” Frankly, it’s not a good look for our community. The other problem with Heideman’s piece specifically, is that the ads themselves don’t even meet the definition she herself puts forth in regards to IP. She says IP is anything that “sensationalizes people with disabilities.” To sensationalize something means to “present information about (something) in a way that provokes public interest and excitement, at the expense of accuracy.” There was nothing sensational about either advertisement. The Microsoft commercial is essentially a documentary about how technology has positively affected the little boy and his family. And the Amy Purdy ad…

Amy Purdy is amazing and the ad showcased her process and achievements well, even pairing her with the voice of Muhammad Ali, The Greatest of All Time! She was not presented as broken or needy; she was shown as powerful and able. Nothing about the commercial asked me or anyone to pity her in any way. In fact, that’s kind of the point here. It’s my opinion that something is only “inspiration porn” if it is perceived that way by the viewer. That is to say, if I see something and think to myself, “Boy, at least my life isn’t that bad,” then that’s on me, not whoever created the inspiring meme. That’s where education about the reality of having a disability comes in.

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My wife is incredible. She has been my rock throughout the last few weeks. She’s also an amazing writer. So, when she said she, too, wanted to share her experience of telling our kids about my dad’s passing, my heart leapt. The following piece is her perspective of the events so far. Be moved. Be encouraged.

I am the oldest of four kids, and throughout my childhood, my parents would call us together for “Family Meetings” on a fairly regular basis. I have very distinct memories of 3 of those meetings, when instead of bouncing around and chatting about piano recitals or family trips, we were told solemnly to “sit down so we can talk”. We could feel the atmosphere change during these family meetings, and we would just stay quiet as we watched my father tear up and my mother console him as he filled us in on the deaths of three of my grandparents. It was difficult, but manageable. The weeks after these meetings were full of relatives and funerals and then we would fall back into our loud, busy lifestyle. After those few years, we never had any serious family meetings like that again. They are just a memory for me now.

When Ryan and I had children and I became a part of the HUMONGOUS Haack family, I knew that difficult family meetings come with the territory. I have been preparing myself for the conversations that are required for parenthood since Sam was born. I am ready to discuss braces, prom dates, first jobs, college choices, “the talk”, and even death. I just had this image of us sitting in our living room, calm, yet tearing up as we described the passing of any of our loved ones. I thought I was prepared for all of this.

Turns out, there is NO WAY to prepare for having to tell three precious children that their beloved “Papa” had taken his own life.

Gramma Donna, Papa and the kids

Gramma Donna, Papa and the kids

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If I were to identify a theme that presented itself at that 2014 STORY Conference, it’s this:

Those who are prepared to fail, succeed.

For a conference about dreaming and story-telling and creating, that seems like a fairly negative theme, but to me it was refreshing and encouraging. There were a litany of other lessons to be gleaned from this year’s experience to be sure, but that theme permeated several of the presentations in one form or another.

Jonah Lehrer bravely began the conference by sharing his story of success, complete and utter ruin, and what he’s learned for the experience. If you don’t know who Jonah is (like I didn’t before hearing his story), a quick Google search will bring you somewhat up to speed. Jonah is a NYT Best-Selling author and a brilliant mind in the area of neuroscience and had everything going for him as a young author and journalist. But then…scandal. The way I understand it, he stood accused of plagiarizing his own material – essentially regurgitating previous work and passing it off as new – as well as others’ and was fired/resigned from essentially every position he held.

Jonah Lehrer

Jonah Lehrer

Lehrer’s tale is still in process. He didn’t stand before us triumphantly, telling us how he rose from the ashes after flaming out. He told us he’s still figuring it out. Suddenly he had nothing but time on his hands and he said that enabled him to become a better husband and father. The fall reminded him of his true passion, writing, and kept him up at night lamenting how he’d lost that passion amidst the fame and popularity he was experiencing. So, now he’s working on a book about love, the only thing he had left after losing everything he thought was important. He dreads the day he has to explain to his kids what happened and wishes he could purge Google of the results that currently represent him (including one dude who has a strange obsession with hating on him), but has come to realize, “Say what you want about failure – it educates.”

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Alex Minsky is embracing his new life.

Which includes some of this:

Yeah...I got nothin'.

Yeah…I got nothin’.

And this:

Can you say Mockingjay?

Can you say Mockingjay?

In this episode we talk about:

  • How he got blown-up in Afghanistan
  • His recovery process and subsequent spiral into alcoholism
  • His forced sobriety and the new life he’s enjoying and protecting
  • How saying “Yes” can lead to amazing opportunities
  • How to stay motivated to create a healthy lifestyle
  • Some of Ryan’s Random Questions
  • And more!

You don’t want to miss this episode. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to be inspired.

And you’re going to laugh a lot.

If you’re on iTunes, I’d love if you subscribed and left a review here!

Please leave comments below about how Alex inspired you!

Originally I was only going to review the Synapse 25, but then we thought it would be cool to do a comparison review of the 25 and the 19. Make sure you watch the video below to see the comparison and enter for your chance to win the Synapse 25 for FREE!

Getting my Tom Bihn Synapse 25 backpack and accessories was an adventure in and of itself.

I was notified that the shipping process had started on July 2nd, which seemed like plenty of time to receive it before I left for Portland, OR on July 9th. But darn it all if that pesky July 4th holiday got in the way. I waited and waited until I finally got the update saying it would be delivered by the end of the day…on July 9th. NOOOOOOOO! My brain went into overdrive since I was leaving at 145pm on the 9th. That morning I got an update saying it was “out for delivery.” Maybe I could catch the driver somewhere! I then realized that I work less than five minutes from the distribution center it was likely being delivered from. I tried to find their local number but kept landing on the 800 number, which was of no use. Finally, I found the good ol’ 608 number! I dialed and the lady on the other end said she’d see if she could find it. Yes, I prayed she would return with good news. “I found it. We’ll just hold it for you at the front counter,” she told me. I thanked her profusely and then went to pick it up shortly thereafter. I felt like Indiana Jones as I walked out of that FedEx distribution center.

Then the real fun began. I unboxed the bag.

I’ll jump into the present tense now to describe the bag. It’s beautiful. The material is sturdy, built to last. One of my main concerns with a backpack is that the zippers are easy to use with one hand. The Synapse 25 has six, seven if you count both for the main compartment. I’m happy to report that they are secure, yet simple to zip and unzip with one hand. The handle at the top of the bag is a perfect size for my little arm to fit through, giving me some leverage for using the bag with my right hand.

The compartments in this bag are…cavernous. I honestly kind of wish I had gone with the Synapse 19 because I overestimated how much space I actually need. Here’s a shot of all the stuff I was lugging around with me in Portland.

Tom Bihn Synapse 25

Yeah, so, I probably didn’t need to carry all of that stuff around with me the whole time. I had plenty of room for more, though!

The temperature was in the 90s when I was there, so my back did get pretty hot, but I don’t blame the bag for that. I blame all the stuff I was carrying around. Even so, I was never uncomfortable, though I did wish at times there was a bit more padding on the shoulder straps. I can imagine filling this backpack to the brim for a camping weekend and having more than plenty to survive for quite some time.

The accessories are fantastic, too. The sleeve for my 11″ MacBook Air is REALLY nice, though it was a bit difficult to get my laptop in and out of with one hand at first. It’s loosened up a bit, but can still be somewhat of a one-handed challenge. The 3D Mesh Organizer Cube was perfect for my phone charger and other cords. The 3D Clear Organizer Cube kept my toiletries together and visible for security. The Mesh Ballistic Organizer Pouch worked great for my computer cord. And the 16-inch Key Strap kept my keys safe and secure until I got home. Again, all of the zippers were of high quality and easy to use with one hand.

Ultimately, the Synapse 25 is an incredible backpack. The materials and craftsmanship are second to none. The design is well thought out, with each pocket and zipper in its rightful place. I’m proud and excited to carry around my Tom Bihn backpack and plan to do so for years and years to come.

Checkout the comparison review video below and enter to win your FREE Synapse 25 below that! You’ll get the Olive Green Synapse 25 in the video – a $200 value!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank to Darcy and the amazing folks at TomBihn.com for providing the bags and accessories to review!

My wife thinks I’m crazy for liking records.

She’s not alone.

And honestly, I totally get it. Most of us have that image in our head of the pretentious audiophile who praises the richness and warmth that emanates from the grooves, maaan. They tout the superior sound that comes from a needle and a record and denounce CDs and MP3s as cold, lifeless data conveyors.

Oh, yeah...and beards.

Oh, yeah…and beards.

Beyond that stereotype, though, there’s also the impractical nature of the LP. They’re big, they’re bulky, most of them are old and smell musty, they snap-crackle-and-pop, the sound is often warped and they’re not very portable. Sometimes they skip and you can’t easily play only one track. I’m fully aware that there are a plethora of reasons for MP3s being the dominant format for music these days.

There are reasons that records are still around, though, too.

So, why do I dig records?

Without sounding too hippie about it…there’s a magic to them. Ok, that’s pretty hippie. Listening to a record is an experience, though. I love rifling through my collection and then pulling the right record, carefully removing the disc from its sleeve and examining it’s surface to make sure it’s clean, admiring the grooves. There’s something about physically holding a record. There’s a weight to it that you don’t get from the thousands of songs on your iPod. I gently place the record on the turntable (which is quite the task when you only have one hand)and then lightly set the needle on the edge, watching it catch that first groove and start moving its way to the middle. Then the music starts. Whether it’s Count Basie or Miles Davis or Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin or Tower of Power or The Beatles or The Who…

Ok, so, it’s not quite that dramatic, but you get the point. (And if you haven’t seen Almost Famous yet…sorry)

For me, the perceived weaknesses of a record are actually quite character-building. Our expectations are sky high these days. Everything needs to be perfect and convenient and we need it NOW! Records slow us down. They are an exercise in patience and understanding. When I play a record, I understand I’m going to listen to Side A and then Side B and I’m going to do so in the order the artist presented them to me. Records harken back to a time when musicians crafted an album, not just random, hit songs. Not that there aren’t musicians who do this now, but in the LP’s heyday they really had to think about it. I can’t skip a track. I can’t put it on repeat. I allow the record to play and enjoy the experience. The crackles and pops and occasional moment out of tune reminds me that imperfection can be endearing. Fifteen years later and I can tell you at exactly which moment my Wish You Were Here record skipped and played the same saxophone part over and over until I moved the needle. Like life, it’s usually the imperfections we remember.

Now, I’m no snob. I’d say at least 95% of my music listening happens on my phone or computer. Spotify, Pandora, iTunes…love ‘em. I’m not saying that listening to records is somehow better, but I am saying it’s different. And there are certainly times in my life when it’s better. Those times where I’m running ragged and I’m trying to do a thousand things at once. Or when I’m feeling nostalgic. Or, you know…Stairway To Heaven. There are times when putting on a record and having a cold drink just seem right.

And that’s why I like…no, love records.

UPDATE: The project is LIVE! Go here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1756964235/different-is-awesome-kids-picture-book

So, I got this news today:

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It’s official. The Different Is Awesome! Kickstarter project is ready to Screen shot 2014-04-29 at 6.38.28 PM!

I’ve prepared for this like crazy and I’m beyond excited to press that green button.

And I will…on May 1st. Thursday morning.

GET READY, INTERNET.

Here’s the deal, though…I need your help. I know we can do this, but it’ll only work if we all pull together to make it a reality. Are you with me?! Here’s how you can help:

1. Share, share, share! Once I officially launch the project on Thursday morning, I’ll be sharing it with my sphere of influence and I hope that you will, too! Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, email, tell your family and co-workers, smoke signals, sky-writing…I’ll say it right here: The person who shares the project in the most creative way will win a FREE autographed copy of the book!

2. Pledge early! One of the most consistent indicators of a successful Kickstarter project is a strong start. People who are browsing the projects see one with a strong start and are inclined to jump in, too, because it must be awesome! So, my big ask here is that if you’re planning on pledging, it would be incredibly awesome if you did so one DAY 1 or shortly thereafter. Take a look at the pledge levels and the corresponding rewards and reserve yours!

3. Ask questions. Seriously. I want to make this fun and as easy as possible. If there are things you don’t understand or are having difficulty with, let me know and I’ll do my best to help.

So, we’re really doing this, y’all. You only live once, right? Oh, snap…I think I just accidentally wrote YOLO.

Here’s to dreams becoming reality! Here’s to success! Here’s to the most awesome community ever!

Love you all and appreciate you more than words can say.

Hugs to all!

Ryan

This is the conclusion of my four-part recap of the Helping Hands Foundation’s 2014 Winter Outing.  Read about Friday here, Saturday here and Sunday here.

While my travel to the outing was uneventful, my trip home was…kind of a disaster.

Tony, Nikki and I left the hotel a little after 10am and my flight to Philadelphia departed as planned around 130pm.  I arrived in Philly, took the shuttle to Terminal F, and waited for my 522pm flight to Milwaukee.  We were all sitting there, waiting and watching for our plane to arrive at the gate.  5pm, still no plane.  515pm, no plane.  Finally we were told the plane would arrive at 6pm and we’d leave at 645pm.  The plane finally arrived at 630pm and we waited for an update.  The woman at the gate said something about the pilot needing 15 more minutes to talk to the people in Milwaukee “to make sure it’s safe.”  That was the first indication we had that we might not be going home that night.

Finally, the woman came back and I’ll never forget the look of fear on her face.  She didn’t even use the PA system, she just blurted out, “It’s cancelled.”  Of course a ton of irate people ran at her, like SHE made the decision to cancel it.  What did they want her to do? “Oh, I can see you’re all very upset, so, never mind!  Let’s board and head to Milwaukee! Hope you don’t die!”  Just dumb.  So, we all had to stand in line and try to reschedule our flights.  Rumors were swirling about why the flight was cancelled and when we’d be able to get out of Philly.  I met a few people who I got to help make laugh, so that was nice.  I finally got to the counter and was super jokey with the lady, which she seemed to appreciate.  The first flight she found me had me getting into Milwaukee at 230am on Tuesday.  Yeah…no.  I had her look again and she found the LAST flight to Charlotte, NC at 5, connecting me to Milwaukee around 1030.  “Sweet, I’ve never been to North Carolina!” I said.  She laughed.  She printed my tickets and off I went.

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