Stories of my friends: John

John Anderson is possibly my greatest cheerleader. Each time I publish one of these profiles, he clicks the thumbs up (Facebook) or heart (Twitter) and then tells me how much he likes it.

I should get him some pom-poms.

No. No. John stands out enough. It’s true. Round glasses, substantial beard, goofy smile and a general — je ne sais quois — Johnness, I suppose. He isn’t going to be mistaken for anyone else, pom-poms or not.

When my development nerd co-workers attended a meeting/lecture, one of them returned with, “Jill, there was a guy there who seems like someone you’d like: tattoos, really smart, lots of facial hair, kinda sticks out.”

Me: “Probably John. John Anderson.” And it was.

See? It’s like that.

I met John primarily through Twitter, but we have now spent time together in real life, mostly at the Archive in downtown Salem or at the annual tweet-friends parties. And through him, I met his delightful wife, who facilitated my attendance at a life-changing event, by the way.

He’s liberal, smart, nerdy and funny. He’s a feminist, patient dad, and lover of the beer and food and has friends all over the country. People like John. He has fought and beat cancer. Lately, he’s been fixing up the yard at his new house and giving speeches at various nerd (developer?) events. And he has the third cutest dog ever.

Plus, he knows what it’s like to grow up in a small, dusty town in the middle of nowhere. We have that in common. We’re practically twins, really.

I recently ran into John at the March for Science where we ended up taking a relaxed, leisurely stroll. Instead of being allowed to fill the street, we were relegated to a single sidewalk, which slowed the processional some. So we mostly ambled for science.

Here’s the thing: John cares deeply and always wants to do the right thing. And while he is quiet and soft-spoken, I bet he would cheer with pom-poms if it were going to help save us. I like that I can count on John to stand up and fight or march or walk gently to make the world a better place.

Me: How weird is it to have grown up in small-town Kansas?

John: It’s a little weird — I realized the other day that I have more Twitter followers than there are people living in the town I grew up in (and I don’t have that many followers) — but it’s also hard for me to imagine growing up anywhere else, ya know? If I’d grown up someplace else, I’d be somebody else.

Me: True. Same here. Where, of the places you’ve lived, is your favorite?

John: I feel like I get asked this question a lot — and I’ve lived in a number of different places — and I don’t feel like I can answer it universally. My answer is always dependent on when in addition to where. So when I lived in Iowa City, when I was going to the University of Iowa that was my favorite place (shout out to Gabe’s, yo!) There were certainly a few years during the 12 we lived in the Maryland suburbs outside Washington, D.C., when that was my favorite place (shout out to the 930 Club, yo!)

Now that we’re living in Salem, I think it’s my favorite — but I say that knowing that if I’d grown up here, or if I’d lived here in my 20s or 30s, before the kids, I wouldn’t have liked it all that much. But now that I’m halfway into my 40s, married, couple kids — Salem is pretty damn good.

Me: What one or two events/people/whatnot had the greatest impact on your life?

John: Wow, great question. Tough question!

One event is the random frat party I went to my junior year. I wasn’t in a frat, but I had a casual friend from my dorm days who had joined a house that was just starting up. (They were, in retrospect, kind of the “socially awkward” frat…) At the party, I ended up running into the woman who I ended up marrying a few years later. We’d had a class together the previous spring semester and (completely unbeknownst to me, because I am a huge oblivious dork) she’d been interested in me. She gave me a ride home from the party, we set up a date for the next weekend, and one thing led to another. We’ll have been married 24 years this July.

The other event is the regular Wednesday after-work unofficial beer drinking club at the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the NIH. After I got my Ph.D. in Molecular Biology, I ended up landing a post-doc at NCBI. A few months into that, I figured out that I actually wasn’t really all that interested in a career in science. (“You couldn’t have figured out that out without seven and a half years of graduate school?” said my wife when I told her this.) Thanks to my regular attendance at the Wednesday night beer group, which was poplar with the systems support folks, I was able to make a lateral move from being a postdoc to being a junior systems administrator. (Also just about doubled my salary, which is never horrible.) I held that job for 8 years and at the time I left, I was running a team of 5 other folks. Set me on my current career path, and I literally can’t imagine what I’d be doing right now if I hadn’t had the chance to make that switch.

Me: I didn’t know you had a Ph.D. (See? I said he was smart.) How do you feel about socks?

John: In theory, I’m in favor of spiffy socks. I have some nice ones I like to wear when I have to get dressed up — but that’s pretty rare these days, as I work from home.

During the dry season, I wear flip-flops whenever possible, so that sort of precludes socks. During the wet season, or when I’m running, I end up wearing generic white ankle socks.

So, thumbs up in theory, but actively avoided in practice. (I fear you’re silently shaking your head in disappointment at this particular answer.)

Me: Well, I’m a sock person. What are your future plans?

John: Geez, I feel like you started out with these easy softballs and then all the sudden the dial got turned up to 11 or something.

Right now, I’m pretty happy with where I’m at. I like my job, I like the people I work for and with, I like the work I get to do. I’m pretty happy with the community I’m building around my life in Salem — the Hack Salem meetup group, the friends I’ve made locally, what we’re doing with our house, all of that sort of thing.

So, I guess my plans are “more of the same, more better”, as boring as that sounds. (All of this contingent on the country as a whole somehow managing not to go completely to hell over the next 3 years and however many months of this bullshit is left. deep sigh)

Me: Yeah. Worrisome stuff. Speaking of, did having cancer change your life?

John: Yes and no. Yes in the sense that there’s definitely a distinct “before” and “after” division point in my life now, one that’s different than “before” and “after” getting married, or having kids, or any other significant life thing that I’ve done. I’ve got a calendar entry that repeats annually that’s called “kidney removal.” (June 10th! Send gifts!) I’ve got an 8-inch scar around one side of my body, and I sometimes, if I move in the wrong way, I can feel how all the muscles over there are different now. And I get to look forward to going into the doctor for an ultrasound or a CAT scan once a year for the rest of my life. (I mean, assuming I get to keep having health care, which …I guess that’s another thing I get to worry about now.)

But also no, in the sense that it wasn’t some huge epiphanic event where I suddenly got insight into What’s Really Important or anything. In the grand scene of things, if you have to get cancer, I totally recommend doing it how it happened to me: find it by accident, extremely early, get it cut out, find out that it hadn’t yet started to spread, and then that’s the end of it. (I mean, aside from that once a year imaging thing.) The vast majority of folks that get cancer have it much worse, with the chemo and radiation and all of that. In the grand scheme of things, I was incredibly fucking lucky.

Me: Say something nice about yourself.

John: I’m a helper. I enjoy connecting people with each other when I know they’d get along, or when one person I know can help a different person in some way. I get the biggest charge from solving a problem, and especially when I can solve it just by helping two folks that I happen to know with each other.