January & February Update

Unrelated to the travel journal parts of this blog, but I have a new short story out in the “Gorgon: Stories of Emergence” anthology published by Pantheon Magazine. My short story “Of Talons and Teeth” is included along with fellow Viable Paradise alumnus Aimee Ogden’s “Psalms.” “Of Talons and Teeth” even includes an illustration!

You can find a list of my publication history on this very website.

On the travel journal portion of things, we’ve been up to our usual shenanigans. The big family highlight for January was our trip to see Hamilton.

I didn’t go to the theater much when I was a kid, and the handful of times I went in high school and college it didn’t really stick. (I have never forgotten the production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” that I saw at Drury as an undergrad, so I’m not sure why it didn’t stick.) It took listening to the Hamilton soundtrack for me to find an interest. The combination of whip-smart lyrics, history, and musical style caught my attention and never released it. I had to wait for it for three years, but I was finally able to see the show in person in London this year.

It was excellent. The production, the staging, the choreography, the costumes were all *amazing.* The cast was really good. They weren’t the same as the cast album that is seared into my brain, but they were all highly talented. I especially loved Rachelle Ann Go as Eliza in “Burn.” My favorite song of the show, and it doesn’t make my top 20 from the cast album.

If you’re into theater, you should see Hamilton. Period. Listen to the cast album a few times, read the Wikipedia entry on Alexander Hamilton’s life, and go when the opportunity presents itself. It will blow you away.

Also in January, I made it out to Griffin Park to see Brentford FC (named after me, obviously) take on Stoke City. It was a chilly afternoon, but a good result for the club. I had a great time visiting some of the local Brentford pubs and talking football with a bunch of people that have been following the clubs for decades.
And… I saw these two delightful street signs.

I was shocked this was the name of the street…
…and then I saw this one a block later. Well played, England.

In February, my mom came to visit, so we took her into the city to see some attractions. We made our first trip to the London Eye.

It was a typical February day in London.
We were back near the Eye a week later, and the weather was *perfect*

We visited the Museum of London, and it remains my favorite museum in the city. It’s the narrative that really does it, I think. I love that you walk in the entrance, start in the Paleolithic era, and make your way chronologically forward through the history of the city.

We also made it to the Sky Garden. It’s a three-story garden at the top of the Walkie Talkie in the City of London. From 35 stories up, you can see much of the city. We had a fairly clear day (by London standards) with wonderful views of the Shard, the Tower of London, the City of London, and St. Paul’s. The Walkie Talkie, you may remember, was the building that was melting cars after it was built. Sadly for us–but happily for the vehicle owners below us–the problem was successfully resolved with metal slats on the southern face of the building, and there were no unsightly lumps of plastic stuck to the pavement.

Back on the writing front, I am finishing a second pass of edits on my novel-in-progress. I started it in late 2017 and have worked on it off and on since then. The move led to some interruptions, but I’ve been working on it steadily since Viable Paradise. I have a few willing alpha readers lined up, and I’m aiming to have it out to them by the end of March. It’s part steam punk, part space opera, with a heap of revolution, and a twist of betrayal. This will be my first novel that I send out to agents and pursue the traditional publishing route, so it will likely be years before it’s available to a broad audience. Hopefully you’ll see some more short fiction from me in the meantime.

Celsius Temperatures, A Scale for Americans

  • Below 0 – Stay inside
  • 0 – Wear a coat, scarf and gloves 
  • 5 – Wear a coat and a scarf
  • 10 – Wear a jacket. Or a coat. Your call.
  • 15 – Wear a jacket
  • 20 – Wear a jacket if you’re standing around
  • 25 – Leave the jacket at home
  • 30 – Wear shorts. Stay hydrated.
  • 35 – We definitely need air conditioning now
  • 40 – What is this, Arizona?
  • 45 – Leave Australia, return in 6 months

Weekend in Paris – Quick Thoughts

We spent four days in Paris the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s. It was beautiful, not very busy, and cold.

The Eiffel Tower: worth climbing to the second floor for sure. The line for the stairs was much shorter than the elevator, so we took the stairs. There’s no choice but to take an elevator further up if you wish to go to the top. We did. No regrets, but it’s not really necessary, either. The second floor is impressive on its own.

Versailles was even more ornate than I expected. I’d like to visit in the spring or summer to see the gardens. I booked my tickets in advance, which meant I was able to spend 5 minutes in the queue rather than an hour (said queue is surely much worse in warm weather), but the really pro way to see Versailles is book a tour in your language. That lets you enter with your tour group, and then you can stay inside the gates and view the rest of the palace on your own without needing to back out to the queue. You need tickets to enter whether you do the tour or not, but the tour is worthwhile in its own right, and the ability to skip the queue is a nice bonus.

The whole time I was there I couldn’t help but think about how such ridiculous excess ultimately resulted in the French Revolution.

The Louvre would be worth seeing if all the art and artifacts were removed. The building itself is gorgeous. No one does ceiling moldings like the French. Again, book your tickets in advance. The worst queue here wasn’t to enter the museum itself, it was to get through security. If you enter through the Lions’ Gate or another side entrance, you can drastically cut down the time you wait. You can also book timed tickets, which we did; we had to wait for all of five minutes.

I’m not sure if you can book Notre Dame ahead of time. If you can, and you want to see the inside, you should. We wandered around the outside and skipped the inside due to lack of time for the queue. Basically, if you want to see anything in Paris, book ahead of time.

Also, research your restaurants in advance. We picked a random spot for our first meal just because it was near our hotel. I will charitably call it mediocre and accurately call it over-priced. I spent an extra ten minutes looking for food for subsequent meals with much better results.

Spend the extra ten minutes is pretty good dining advice anywhere. Download Yelp (for the US) or Trip Advisor (for Europe) and look at some reviews. See how a place rates. If it’s not in the top 10% in its city, consider something else unless you have inside info. Also look at the 1-star reviews and see if they are coherent and whether they address the same things. I’m perfectly willing to ignore bad reviews if they are reflective of staff having a bad day, but I’m less inclined to ignore them if multiple people mention quality declining over time.

2018 – Year in Review

An ongoing meme for 2018 was “the last week has been the longest year of my life.” This is frequently in response to some heinous fuckery in American politics, but Brexit is running a close second. On a personal level, the last year has not been the longest year of my life, but it has been the most momentous. I’ve taken on a new role at Ye Olde Day Jobbe and moved from southwest Missouri to London, UK.

The first part of the year was much like the previous ten years. As a family we made a few trips to Kansas City, spent most holidays with family, read some books, played soccer, played board and video games, and traveled hither and yon for work. Around March the opportunity to move to England arose, and things went into overdrive. We listed and sold our house, sold our cars, and readied ourselves for the big move. I made a trip to England in May to investigate neighborhoods, finally settling on southwest London as my target area due to a combination of proximity to work (about an hour away), schools (good to very good), and cost (expensive, but not zone 1 or 2 expensive). 

The big move happened in July. By American standards we didn’t bring much with us. A few suitcases each, a few boxes shipped separately, and a whole lot of hard drive space for photos. 

Unfortunately, USPS and the UK Post Office handled our packages with the care I expected. Both PCs were damaged, all three monitors were damaged (one destroyed), and they refused to pay anything. So that was great. On the plus side, it was STILL cheaper than shipping everything via another carrier, even after replacements.

Before we left the States, the girls asked if we were going to do more stuff in England than we’ve done in the US. It really drove home how much we had taken being in the US for granted. The girls had traveled around Missouri, made a few trips to Florida and the Gulf Coast, but seen little else. Travel in the US means either driving for hours (or days) to get somewhere or spending a fortune to fly. With so much to see and do in London plus the ease of affordable travel to Europe via air and train, I assured the girls we would do more in the UK.

London itself has plenty to see and do. It’s one of the top tourist destinations in the world, and for good reason. We have scratched the surface while we’ve been here, and that’s been with trips into the city multiple times a month. 

In addition to London, the girls went to Dublin for a weekend (when I was in the States for Viable Paradise), and we have just returned from a four day weekend in Paris. 
Rather than write out a list of highlights, I’m going to throw in some photos with captions. Y’all are here for the pictures, anyway.

A quick shot of the London Eye at sunset in December 2018. We haven't visited it yet, but it's on the list.

Image 1 of 13

Friends and coworkers have asked what’s different. The answer: nearly everything. Springfield and London have about as much in common as Springfield and the moon. The differences, though, are more city vs rural than American vs British. We used to have a yard, and now we have a “garden” with no grass. Going somewhere used to mean getting in the car; now it means catching the bus or the train. Distances are no longer measured in miles (or kilometers), but in minutes and hours. The food is good in both cities, but there’s so much more variety in London.

And yet… London and Springfield aren’t so very different. People are people everywhere. Regardless of language or religion or skin color, people are opinionated, caring, flawed, indifferent, busy, generous, self-centered. 

There is a very real core of American exceptionalism that thrives in the Midwestern United States. This belief that our innate Americanness makes us special. That our religion or our culture are superior. Folks, those things are not only untrue, but the very belief isn’t even exceptional. It’s delusional. The Brexiteers over here are preaching the same toxic narrative as the nationalists in the US. The nationalists in France, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Sweden, etc are doing the same thing.

America, as a country, has done amazing things. Exceptional things. It has spawned great thinkers, great artists, great leaders. It has also participated in its share of atrocities and crimes. None of which is to say that an individual American is special because they were born in America. Are you special because your team won the Super Bowl or the World Series?

SPOILER ALERT: You’re not. You’re special or not because of the things you have done and the way you treat people. And if 2018 taught us nothing else, it’s that treating people poorly overrides any celebrity or accomplishments a person can have. Just ask Bill Cosby.

Look, we’re all on this planet together. We’ve got one little blue pebble floating amongst an enormous, uncaring cosmos. The ice caps are melting and Americans are talking about building walls. How about instead we all try to be a little nicer to each other? My goal for 2019–and I know I’m setting a high bar here–is: don’t be so much of a dick. I hope you’ll join me.

Viable Paradise – Bonus Advice

Take some binder clips to hold your packets together. There’s lots to read, and you’ll be dragging papers around.

Take warm, comfy clothes. It gets chilly downstairs. I bought a hoodie on the island and wore it practically every day. No regrets.

Take good walking shoes. You’ll likely be doing a fair bit of walking, whether it be to town and back or out for your 1 on 1s.
Take the time you need to meet your critique and creative obligations, but don’t be afraid to take that time in the common room with headphones on. If I have one regret, it’s that I spent Wednesday afternoon–and especially Wednesday evening–holed up in my room getting work done when I could have been more social while still getting my work done.

Do not miss out on Steven’s pies. Or the fudge.

You’ll have a chance at leftover curry, but go back for seconds, anyway. It’s worth it.

November 2018 – A Month in Review

The calendar says that it is nearly winter, but the weather feels as if winter has already arrived. At the same time, it’s hard to believe we’ve been here for five months and that Christmas is only two weeks away. The girls were having a similar conversation last night, and it made me think about what we did in November. 

On November 1, I captured a video of the autumn rain. I didn’t record this thinking it would make a good intro to a blog post, but play this thing on loop. It’s incredibly relaxing. 

Technically, bonfire night was on the 5th, but London celebrated in style on Saturday the 3rd. The girls and I went to Battersea Park and took in the biggest fireworks show I’ve personally seen. It was truly a delight. 

The following week took me to Dublin for work. Traveling for work generally means long days and little time to enjoy the place I’m visiting. The museums and cultural attractions are typically closed by the time I leave the client office, but I usually manage to find a decent meal, a drink, and then see whatever I can. In Dublin that meant this guy:

And of course a pint of Guinness. 

I didn’t like Guinness in America. I tried it a few times, but it always tasted slightly burnt. When I came to London, I tried it again. It was better! Creamier and that burnt flavor was gone. Then I tried it in Dublin. Reader, a pint of Guinness in a busy pub in Dublin might just be the best pint of beer of in the world. (I am open to suggestions otherwise!) It’s like drinking a hug from an angel. Like warm sunshine on a cold day. Like a nice, long piss after… well, you get the idea. It’s not remotely the same beer as America. I realize folks have lots of reasons for not consuming, and I respect that. However, if you enjoy a pint now and again, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better pint anywhere. 

The following weekend Carissa and I managed to get out of the house for a few hours for a date night. We saw Dessa in concert, and the show was delightful. 

Dessa has her own, distinctive sound that covers ground between indie, hip hop, and pop. I enjoy music as a neophyte. I do not catch the complexities of composition, and I cannot carry a tune in a bucket. What I do especially love are clever lyrics, and Dessa’s lyrics are razor sharp. We had a delightful time supporting our fellow Yank.

Toward the end of the month I made my first-ever trip to Portugal. As with any work trip, the pictures are A: photos from airplane windows, or B: inanimate objects. I need to work on this.

Lisbon was great. Warm weather, friendly people, great food. 

My biggest challenge was the language. It turns out that all those years of Spanish have left me in a spot where I can almost sort of understand Spanish if people speak slowly, but completely confused me for handling Portuguese and its pronunciation. 

Enter Scene: Brent walks into a small, family-run cafe.

BRENT: Buenos dias. Una taza de cafe, por favor.

WAITER, in English: Sir, this Portugal. We speak Portuguese. And your Spanish is atrocious.

BRENT: Uh, I’ll have a glass of water. Please. 

That story may not have actually happened, but it is true nonetheless. 

The final day of the month saw me back in London, and the girls and I went to Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. 

  1. Winter Wonderland is lovely
  2. Winter Wonderland is crowded
  3. Winter Wonderland is expensive
  4. We plan to go back next year

The girls went ice skating, and we all went through the magical ice forest. It was cold. It was also magical. There were rides. There was bratwurst. There were CHURROS!

The park is a “Christmas” carnival, which means it is an exercise in capitalism in its purest form. They let you in the gates for free, but everything from there has both a queue and a cost. The place was absolutely jammed with people by the time we left around 9:00 PM, but we still had a lovely time, and the girls want to go back next year. 

If nothing else, for the churros. 

On Viable Paradise

It’s been six weeks since Viable Paradise ended. It feels like yesterday. It also feels like a lifetime ago.

Before I went to the workshop I read a bunch of blog posts from other students. One of the things I noticed was how many of the blog posts occurred weeks or months after the workshop ended. People wrote about how they needed time to process things, how they just weren’t ready to write about the things they had learned. It seemed weird to me then, in the before time. It doesn’t seem so weird now.

Moment: sitting in a critique group with my classmates, listening to people passionately discuss a story about a black woman in prison. Hearing Nisi’s feedback and seeing a glimpse of a world I didn’t realize existed.

When you step off the boat on Martha’s Vineyard, you leave behind whatever else is happening in your life. For that week all that matters is making good art. Work can wait. Family can wait. It’s like emerging from the wardrobe into Narnia where the forest is covered in ice and strange creatures are prowling just out of your sight. Only the island is covered in autumn leaves and the strange creatures make a damned fine curry.

Moment: walking along the beach with The Oracle of the Buses and discussing how trying to twist a trope can still give power to the trope.

The workshop occurs on an island that exists outside the regular flow of time. There are so many people to meet, so many stories to read, so much to learn. I arrived late on Saturday evening, and approximately one month elapsed before dinner on Tuesday . I blinked sometime after dinner, and it was already Friday afternoon, and I was scrambling to escape the nor’easter bearing down on the island.

Moment: reading novel chapters that are so good I can’t believe they aren’t published

I have notes. I always have notes. I write because it helps me order my thoughts and it helps me retain what I hear. Lord, do I have notes.

The staff remind you on day one that you deserve to be there. You were invited to attend because your work was good. There was a conversation one evening about Imposter Syndrome. Every single person in the room had it to one degree or another, including the ones with their names on the covers of best-sellers. That was strangely reassuring.

Moment: hearing critiques of those novel chapters that want to change the parts that I loved

Over the last few years I’ve read a number of books on craft. Dozens. The best books help you see things differently each time you read them. Many of the lectures at VP cover topics that exist in the craft books. There’s a difference between reading a thing a few times, hearing a thing a few times, and discussing a thing with someone that has been doing the thing professionally for decades and has incorporated it into their writing DNA.

Moment: listening to one of my writing heroes discuss the financial realities of a career in the genre.

The instructors are wonderful. There were a few that were not part of my critique groups or one on ones, and they each made a point to chat with me during the week. I don’t know the best advice I received, but I know the piece that felt most real. It had nothing to do with craft and everything to do with the realities of living in a world where obligations and art must compete for the scarcest resource of all: time. The advice was that when you get ready to be a full-time writer, see if you can reduce your hours at your day job to be part-time for a while. This will help with cash flow, but it will also help transition to a new routine without a single enormous shake-up.

It was good that the island existed for a week outside the ordinary flow of time. Not everything would have fit, otherwise.

How to Take Trains: A Guide

There are many things that the locals take for granted, but someone that’s an outsider may find confusing. Riding trains, when you’re accustomed to driving everywhere, is one of those things. Here is a quick guide.

Empty tracks in Central London. The Shard in the background.

Step the First
Buy a ticket. Or don’t. If you’re traveling inside the 6 zones of London transit, you can use your Oyster card. Otherwise you can buy a ticket online via TrainLine or the train company website. Or you can buy a ticket in person at one of the ticket booths or self-service kiosks.

First class tickets cost more, have slightly more comfortable seats, and are near the front of the train. Not every train will have carriages with first class. If you have a second class ticket, it’s on you to not sit in first class. If you do find yourself in first class and a conductor comes along and finds you, plead ignorance and lean on your non-British accent. It might allow you to stay where you are. Otherwise move to a new seat in the regular carriages.

Outbound tickets are typically cheaper if you pick a specific time to leave. Return tickets don’t tend to matter as much. If you know you will be making your return outside of rush hour, get a non-peak return without a specific time. This will enable you to hop on the earliest train if, for example, your meetings end early. Otherwise, if you have a specific return time, you might find yourself sitting in Leeds for two hours while your coworkers abandon you to get back to London earlier.

Step the Second
Get on the right train. If you’re going to a major terminal or junction, this is easy. If you’re going to a stop between major terminals or junctions, be sure you’re not on an express train that will skip your stop.

Two trains on adjacent platforms in Barnes

The trains are ordered by departure time. If you scan down from the destination, you’ll see all the intermediate stops. Say you’re at Waterloo and you want to get to Barnes. You can hope on a train bound for Twickenham, and it will probably stop at Barnes along the way. But there’s also an express that will hit Clapham Junction, Richmond, and Twickenham while skipping everything in the middle. If you get on that train, you’ll speed right past Barnes and find yourself in Richmond, which means you’ll either be waiting on a new train going the opposite direction or walking to the bus stop.

Step the Third
Get off the train before it leaves your destination. Seems obvious, but if you’re standing at the doors waiting on them to open, you might be in for a surprise.

They’ll light up green when the doors are active

Unlike the tube, train doors do not necessarily open on their own. When the button lights up, push it.

Other Things
Don’t be afraid to take an inside seat if it’s empty. People will either scoot over or let you past them. You sitting down means there’s more space for others to stand.
If you’re wearing a backpack on a crowded train, take it off and set it between your feet. It makes more space for others to stand, and it keeps you from smacking people when you turn around to reach the door behind you.
Either hold onto a rail or take a good stance for balance. (Feet shoulder width apart and turned to a wide angle.) Don’t lean on the rail. Don’t slouch against the wall and fall over when the train stops.

Navigating the trains is not hard, but it’s also not intuitive to new people. Hopefully this will help you avoid some of the mistakes I have made.

Cancellations
If your train is canceled, the board at the station will list your alternative trains. Sometimes this means any other train from that line, but if it’s on another line, you lose that flexibility. I can speak from experience when I say that riding the wrong train on another line means you get to buy a new ticket at full price.

Laser Eye Surgery, A Retrospective

After years of thinking about having laser eye surgery done, I finally decided that now was the time. In early May I went in for a consult at Mattax Neu Prater in Springfield, MO, and they ran a battery of tests on my eyes. The end result was that Dr. Mattax though I was an excellent candidate for either Lasik or PRK. I scheduled surgery for the end of May and went away to think about whether I wanted PRK or Lasik.

Pre-surgery selfie taken at the doctor’s office

There are plenty of places online that will go into more detail on each type of surgery, but here’s the summary:

Lasik: the doctor uses a laser to cut a flap in your cornea, the flap is peeled back, and the cornea beneath the flap is shaped with a laser to correct your vision.

PRK: the top of layer of cells on the cornea are removed via some chemical and a delicate squegee, and the cornea is shaped with a laser.

Lasik provides a quick recovery time, and most people have good vision within a few days. The downside is that the cornea isn’t like your knee. Once that flap is cut, it never truly heals. Dr. Mattox explained that there’s always a small risk of the flap getting ripped open or torn away. I still regularly play soccer, and I do occasionally catch elbows and hands to the face, so this was a concern.

PRK provides a much slower recovery time, and the first few days after surgery can be downright painful for people as the cells on the eye heal. It does not require a flap to be cut, so there is no concern about it being re-opened or torn. Dr. Mattox mentioned that police officers, firefighters, soldiers, and professional athletes typically go with PRK.

After considering the options for two weeks, I decided that I was willing to deal with short-term pain and a few months of blurry vision in order to not worry about the flap and future complications.

It’s now been three months. My vision is at least 20/20 in both eyes, possibly better. Dryness is largely gone, with the exception of a few days in the last month where I spent 12+ hours staring at a screen. (Computer job + writing hobby = too much screen time.)

What follows is my journal of the surgery and post-surgery days.

Day 0
I went in to the doctor alternating between excitement and trepidation. A nurse took blood pressure and gave me a valium. I was already fairly relaxed as laser surgery was something I had wanted to do for years. Even if I was kidding myself, the valium made sure I wasn’t. The nurse gave me a hairnet and booties for my shoes. She swabbed around my eyes with an iodine solution and I waited a while for the valium to take effect.

In surgery they laid me back on a padded bed. The doctor explained what he was going to do, and proceeded to tape my eyelids open and put a ring over them. He gave me numbing drops and let me rest a moment, then dabbed some solution over my eye and wiped it carefully. It took a few wipes, but I couldn’t feel anything. My only job was then to stare at an orange light. The laser thumped a few times, and the light gradually turned blurry. A fain smell of burning, not quite hair, but certainly not charcoal, reached my nose. The doctor pulled the laser away, warned me that he was going to squirt cold liquid in my eye, and gave me a squirt. It felt good. I cracked a joke about when was the procedure going to start? No one laughed. I explained that it was a joke because it was so quick and painless.

They repeated for the second eye, and it was much the same. No pain, and over in under 10 minutes. The time under the laser was about 35 seconds each. Someone was in the background counting backwards in 5 second increments, which made the time under the laser seem even easier.

Afterward I felt some pain as the numbing drops wore off. My vision was shockingly clear, but then the pain grew. It wasn’t horrible. Not even to the level of jalapeno juice, but more like sweat on a too-dry contact. If I kept my eyes closed, I didn’t feel it at all, so I made my way to the car by holding onto my daughter’s shoulders while my wife and a nurse guided my arms.

Once I was home I put on some doctor-provided goggles (to prevent unconscious eye scratching), went to bed, and napped for a couple hours. Light sensitivity wasn’t too bad–I wanted a dim room, but was able to move around otherwise. I applied steroid and antibiotic drops regularly as directed, and didn’t experience much discomfort. I spent most of the day resting in a dark room listening to Neil Gaiman’s “Norse Mythology.”

Post-surgery goggles. There may have been strong, prescription drugs involved in the taking of this photo

Day 1
Woke up at 7:00 AM with an appointment at 8:00. Eyes were a little dry, but not terrible. Did another round of steroids and antibiotics. Wore sunglasses and a big, floppy hat (my yard work hat) to the doctor’s office. They said I was at 20% regrowth and to keep with the medical drops 4 times a day. They also instructed me to use plenty of moistening drops, too.

Pain was minimal. Hard to even call it pain, really. Felt like I was wearing contacts at the computer and not blinking enough. Which, come to think of it, was literally the case. In the first 36 hours I used three small tubes of “single-use” preservative free eye drops. Single use really meant quadruple use–I could douse each eye twice before the container was empty.

At this point my vision was blurry. I’d have moments of clarity, but mostly it felt like i was reading with my glasses off and the book was just a little too far away. With text blown up to 200% I could use my computer, but the characters were still fuzzy. From what the doctor told me and what I read online, this was to be expected.

Day 1.5
Pain picked up as I approached 36 hours post-surgery. Even with wetting drops, felt like sandpaper in my eyes. Or old, crusty contacts. And it persisted when not blinking. Research said that the 36 to 48 hour mark was often the most painful. This was probably a 6 on a scale of 10. Rough, but not curl up in a ball and cry rough. I took half a hydrocodone and went to bed. That didn’t help immediately, so I covered my eyes with a cold, damp wash cloth. Finally, the drugs kicked in, and I replaced the cloth with the goggles and went to sleep. I woke up around 5 am with scratchy eyes, so I added some drops and took the other half of the hydrocodone. The doctor was clear about staying ahead of the pain. By the time I finally got up for the day around 7:30, my eyes were scratchy again, but not really hurting.

Day 2
My vision in the left eye was better than the right, but was lousy in both. Where I was able to get by with 200% text size on day 1, I couldn’t read anything on day 2. I had some moderate burning in the morning, but countered it with a hydrocodone. Pain eased off later in the day, though I applied eye drops regularly to help with scratchiness. By the end of the day my vision had shifted to where the right eye was more clear than the left, but still, both were bad. I was able to read at 200% magnification, but only with difficulty.

Day 3
I woke up with no burning, just dryness. Treated with the preservative-free drops, waited a few minutes, and started the first course of antibiotics and steroid drops. Blurriness persisted throughout the day. It was impossible to read more than a few words at a time without frustration. I listened to more Norse Mythology.

It felt like I wore my contacts in for too long. As if they’ve gone blurry from protein buildup. I kept thinking that I should put on my glasses and I’d be able to see. Or take out the old contacts and my vision would clear right up. The brain does funny things when it’s trying to adapt to a new situation. I did some reading and saw something saying that vision declines when the protective lenses are removed. It was not reassuring.

By the end of the day my vision almost felt decent. I could read text at 125% with only a little blurring. I could see well enough to butter toast. And then I put the drops in again, and everything went back to blurry.

Day 4
With halfway decent vision, I decided to cut a bagel for breakfast. I didn’t get my finger out of the way and laid it open with a quarter inch slice. Thirty minutes later, I went in for the 3 day (4 day, really) checkup. The bandage contact lenses came out, and any thoughts of “almost decent” vision were soon gone. The doctor said everything was recovering well and looked good.

Unfortunately, blurry vision persisted throughout the day, making reading difficult. I had intended to work at least part of the day, but my to-do list involved a fair amount of writing, and I couldn’t read well enough to do it. I ended up taking a couple conference calls and using PTO for the rest of the day.

Day 5
Woke up to continued blurry vision with little improvement over day 4.

Day 6
More of the same, but a little more clear. Still far from 20/20. I couldn’t read a book with normal text size, and even blowing up the text in an ebook it was still blurry.

Day 7
Woke up feeling like things were more clear, but after putting medication drops in, vision felt blurry again. About like day 6.

One week in, I was not disappointed, but I was not ecstatic, either. From what I read, I was right on track with where most people are. I wished my vision were a little more clear than it was, but I felt safe driving in the afternoon. And for the record had no accidents.

Month 1
Vision has been steady the last few weeks. At the last checkup, two weeks ago, my left eye was around 20/30 and the right was 20/50. Acuity comes and goes, but it was still in the same general area. The doctor reduced me from four to two prednisone drops a day. I could see reasonably well at a distance. When driving, I could see the other vehicles fine, but license plates were blurry. Most of the time my vision felt acceptable, but when I had to read or pay attention to fine details, it was frustrating. It should improve, so I didn’t let myself worry too much about it.

On the plus side, my vision wasn’t actually bad. It was like wearing glasses that are smudged. I could navigate the house and do normal activities with no problems. I still started to reach to take off my glasses before washing my face each night. Then I realized that I didn’t have them anymore, and it made me smile.

Month 2
Vision was pretty solid. For most of each day it was around 20/20. No noticeable blurriness, no haziness, no concerns. My use of the eye drops tapered off over the previous two weeks, so the giant box I bought back in June could last a few more months. After trying a few brands, my favorite has been the Systane Ultra drops. They are every so gooey, and my eyes relax after they go in.

Month 3
We’re now at Month 3 at the time of this post. As far as I can tell, everything is perfect. Maybe even better than perfect. I have had a few days in the last month where my eyes felt dry late in the day, but it wasn’t bad enough to outweigh my inertial laziness and unwillingness to go find the drops.

Summary
The surgery itself was easy. The recovery wasn’t as bad as I feared, though day two had some moments that would have been miserable without good drugs. After about two weeks I could see tolerably well, and after about six weeks things were mostly back to normal. The good news is that PRK patients often end up with 20/20 or slightly better vision, though it takes three to six months.

My total cost was right around $4k for both eyes. This included the pre-op appointment, surgery, follow-ups, goggles, cheap sunglasses, and medical eye drops. It didn’t include the hydrocodone prescription or the additional lubricating eye drops.

I am under doctor’s orders to wear sunglasses when outdoors in order to prevent possible hazing in my eyes. The irony of giving up eye glasses to wear sunglasses is not lost on me, but when it was pouring down rain at Notting Hill Carnival, I could see just fine, which was heavenly. It is also amazing to wake up at night and be able to see across the room. Every evening when I go to wash my face before bed, I still reach for eye glasses that are no longer there.

Would I do surgery again? Yes.
Would I choose PRK over Lasik again? Yes.
Have I already been smashed in the face with an errant soccer ball? Also yes.
Do I have any regrets? NONE

Some Sartorial Advice for Junior Developers

Why, hello there. If you’re trying to navigate the transition from jeans and a t-shirt to the kinds of clothes you can wear to an interview / onsite with clients / to a job with a dress code, here are some pointers. There are few rules to style, and these shouldn’t be taken as such. They’re more things I’ve picked up in the course of my career, but I think they’ll help someone that isn’t sure where to start.

If you need to wear a suit, you need one that fits. It’s possible to spend thousands of dollars on a tailored suit, but unless you’re in finance, it’s not necessary. If you can get a made-to-measure suit, that’s probably your best option. Something like Suit Supply, Thick as Thieves, or Endocino are popular options. If you can visit one of their stores in person, they’ll take your measurements and cut a suit for you based on an existing pattern that is close to what you need. This will get you a suit that fits well and is made with reasonably good material. If you aren’t close enough to visit, you can often do your measurements at home.

A navy suit jacket by Thick as Thieves

For your first suit, go with navy or charcoal. Can’t decide which? Flip a coin; heads navy, tails charcoal. If you’re having it made, anyway, get an extra pair of trousers cut from the same roll of cloth. It won’t cost much more, and the trousers will be the first piece to wear out. Personally, I’d get a vest a made, too.

A new suit comes with a wealth of choices. Notch lapels or peak? One vent or two? Button cuffs or sewn? What color lining? You can’t truly go wrong here, but my observation is that senior folks tend to have peak lapels, two vents cover your ass better than one, and it’s cheaper to adjust the cuffs if the button holes are sewn. For the lining, I’d stick to something that’s similar to the color of the suit, at least on this first suit. (I did once work with a guy who had shirts that matched the lining of his suits, and it was a nice touch, but that’s more advanced than we need here.)

If you have an option to upgrade the buttons to horn, do it. Plastic buttons look cheap because they are cheap. (I wish I had done this. I still might.) If you have an option to pay a little more for pick stitching, consider it. It’s not make or break by any means, but it’s a nice touch. (Another thing I wish I had done.)

Things to look out for in the fitting:
The shoulder pads should end with your shoulders.
Can you raise your arms to horizontal without the arms binding?
When you button the jacket (always the leave the bottom button unbuttoned), do you see an X across your chest? If you do, it’s a sign the jacket is too tight.
Can you walk comfortably without the trousers binding in the crotch? What about climbing a few stairs?
The bottom of the jacket should be halfway between your head and your feet, neatly dividing your body in half. If it’s much longer, you look like a kid wearing his dad’s suit. If it’s much shorter, you look like a kid who has outgrown his only suit. Neither are the end of the world, but if you’re getting a jacket made, make sure it fits.

Getting the right fit in the shoulders is the most important part of suit sizing. It’s easy to adjust cuffs, and it’s easy to adjust sleeves, but if the suit doesn’t fit in the shoulders, it’s doomed. Next up is the fit in the chest followed by the seat of the trousers.

Can you go to Jos A Bank, Mens Wearhouse, or JC Penny to get your suit? Well, technically, yes. But don’t. For not much more, you can get a higher quality material that will fit you better. If getting measured by one of the big made to measure places isn’t an option, check out a Nordstrom Rack and find something that fits right in the shoulders and chest, then get the sleeves and legs adjusted. You want wool without a polyester blend.

Burgundy oxfords by Meermin.

Now that you have a suit, you need shoes. Your options are black, one of a million shades of brown, or burgundy. For your first pair, go with burgundy. One, I love the color. Two, it looks good with navy, charcoal, light gray, and white; basically anything but black or brown. I personally like both split toes and cap toes, though neither are considered as formal as a plain toe. Monk strap vs laces is your call. Both look good. For brands, Allen Edmonds is a good Made in the USA choice. Don’t pay full retail. They’re routinely on sale for $250 or less. And yes, good dress shoes are probably going to set you back about $250. If you want to look more to Europe, Carmina, Meermin, or Loake are nice shoes at decent prices. While you can get by on an $80 pair of shoes from the mall, if you spend a bit more, you’ll have something that will last you ten or more years with proper care.

When you buy your shoes, buy a matching belt. You don’t strictly need one if you’re wearing a suit that fits properly, but it’s nice to have for all the times you’re wearing trousers and a dress shirt without the jacket. I don’t have much of an opinion on buckles. Something simple and silver would be my choice, but you do you.

What about suspenders? you might ask. Yeah, what about them? I don’t own a pair and I don’t have much of an opinion on them. I would probably stick to a belt on the first suit and branch out to suspenders once you are able to read this post and think “your style is boring.”

Plain blue dress shirt by TM Lewin

Next up are shirts. To get started, go with Charles Tyrwhitt or TM Lewin. Both regularly run deals that let you get 4 shirts for $150 or so. They are not the best shirts in the world. They are better than what your mom bought you at the mall when you needed a shirt for pictures in high school. (Hi mom! No offense!) For the first four shirts, get a white one with texture, a blue one with texture, a blue one with a pattern, and something with some spunk. Pink or lavender or orange; whatever you like and whatever you think will look good on you. I love my lavender shirts and wear them regularly. If you’re in America, get button cuffs. If you’re in Europe, get French cuffs and some cuff links.

And finally you’ll need a tie. There are ten million options and most of them are bad. So I’m going to make this really, really easy. Start with one tie: a navy blue grenadine silk tie. Grenadine is a type of silk that’s woven into lace. It’s soft, it’s textured, and it matches practically everything. A decent one will run you about $90. Sam Hober and John Henric make quality ties at better prices than the bigger London tailors. You’ll pay more than you would at Tyrwhitt or Lewin, but you’ll get a better quality, and this tie will last you decades.

Navy grenadine tie by Sam Hober

In theory the socks should match the color of the trousers rather than the shoe. In reality, socks are a place to have fun and throw in some wild colors and patterns. Personally, I have some socks that I bought from Uniqlo that are solid colors with some texture, but I’m not terribly adventurous.

Speaking of Uniqlo, I highly recommend the Heatech and Airism undershirts. Also highly recommend the Airism boxers and boxer briefs. Most men I’ve seen in London have not had undershirts under their dress shirts. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps they like sweat and deodorant stains on their shirts? Personally, I go with undershirts that either match my shirt color or are neutral.

Hopefully that gets you started. If you have questions or want to gripe at me, you can use the comment system here, but I’m bad at checking it. Try twitter instead: @dbrentbaldwin