We’re filming a documentary as part of the ADMCi Commission for Research and Development to tell the story of how the motorcycle commission has come together. Admittedly, this took an unexpected turn with a motorcycle accident completely unrelated to the project a few weeks back. As a result, we’ve ended up capturing some of the fall-out from the healing process, which we thought we might share here. Sort of an exercise in humility… Frank Popper, our documentarian, is asking the questions.
FRANK POPPER: [while mic'ing me.] You’re so quiet, it’s almost like talking with a priest. It’s like being in a confessional… (1)
JIM JACOBY: That’s funny to hear. I’ve often consciously used how quiet I am as a gage that people are paying attention to me. I know if someone leans in and says, “What?” that at least they’re paying attention. That said, it’s a bit of a power-play, honestly. More than that, I’m beginning to think that this ‘confessional’ aspect of my demeanor has some real validity. It seems like people feel very comfortable opening up to me with some of their deepest, darkest secrets. They’ll foist their entire life’s directional-problems on me and kind of sit there, looking at me for answers.
I’ve gotten a little more forthcoming about responding to them that the answer is inside them, not me. I used to think I needed to take these seeming obligations on as a sort of responsibility. Now I’m much more selective about that.
FDP: Given the duration of the healing process here, you’ve mentioned that it can wear on you; that it gets depressing. Can you tell me more about that? (2)
JRJ: I keep saying this, but I’ll put it down one more time… From the minute I bounced off that tree in Indiana, I knew I’d been given a gift of some kind. I knew I needed to be conscious of the people who would be coming into my life, paying close attention to the lessons I could learn, and generally changing the tenor of my day-to-day life. Given the radical change — really, a massive slow-down — it’s caused a complete recalibration. For the most part — the vast part — this has been good. I think about my use of time, who I let into my world, and how I prioritize much more carefully.
That said, time to reflect can pile up. Eventually, your mind will pile on and make you feel sorry for yourself that you’re just alone or that you really don’t have a choice to do anything other than where you’re stuck. There might be something more noble in making the conscious decision to be more selective with my time. But, maybe this is just the first step toward re-programming that use of time.
Regardless, like I said, it can get you feeling sorry for yourself when you focus too much on the fact that you don’t have a choice. It feels like you’re trapped, like your world has shrunk more than you’d want it to. I’m in one room of my house now, and that’s it for another ten weeks. My world is confined. I battle out of it through phone meetings, skype conference calls, participating in the podcast, writing blog posts, networking based on the momentum of the great NPR story from Marketplace.
That all helps. But again, every now and then, you just feel like you’ve lost some of you freedom of choice when a walker is your only means of transportation and sometimes you fear that even that might be less of an option or could fail you somehow. I worry that someone will take it. Or what if someone breaks in? I can’t defend myself or run. That’s scary, frankly.
FDP: I’ve seen some interesting reactions to people beginning to comprehend that it will in fact be you riding for the land-speed record in Bonneville, especially after this accident. Can you describe some of the reactions you’ve gotten so far…? (3)
JRJ: The vast majority are the same. Basically, this: “Wait, I’m sorry, what? You mean, you? You’ll be actually riding for the record?” This is usually the third or fourth time they’ve heard the information, but for whatever reason they just don’t process it. Then at some point it breaks through, again, usually on the third or fourth attempt.
That said, for some it simply doesn’t break through in some cases. My parents have never addressed it, despite me mentioning it directly in emails, sending news stories talking about it, and more. My in-laws just flat-out ignore it. They’ll make passive-aggressive comments that I won’t be riding a motorcycle anymore now that I’ve had this accident. I’ll respond that they’re right… until I got to Bonneville for the record. And it’s funny, you could be looking right at them and they’ll just stare right through you and move onto the next topic. It happened this afternoon, actually.
I’m assuming that means they don’t want to address it… or can’t. I’m not entirely sure.
FDP: It’s interesting to think that your responses here could be serialized and released as teasers to the upcoming documentary. Not that we know exactly what that might be, but it seems like people getting to know you as a character would be powerful. In a way it reminds me of the build-up to the Blair Witch Project. (4)
JRJ: Perhaps, except that would mean that these posts would be coming from beyond the grave. How are these blog updates happening when Jim Jacoby is dead?? There must be a wrinkle or a bug in WordPress. It’s not possible to send updates from the beyond. Or is it? Maybe I could set these up to publish after the speed run. The computer wouldn’t give a damn if I made it or not. So, yeah, actually that is a possibility. That would be kinda funny actually. A little dark. But pretty funny.
FDP: From the moment of the accident to the moment of your thought about Bonneville, how much time elapsed and what were your first thoughts about the speed run? (5)
JRJ: That’s a great question. Here’s the thing. As I was in the slide and the tree was closing distance between me and the bike (because at that point, the tree is moving not you — it’s like a horror movie where the hallway compresses without you having to walk through it), the timing was actually inverse. Here’s how it happened: Time itself compresses in a moment of intense fear. Suddenly you have TONs of it. Too much. Concurrently, you know you’re moving faster, far faster, than you want to. So as you’re on this terrible funhouse ride toward the tree, you have a lot of time to think.
My first thought was that I was going to die and that I didn’t want to. I really didn’t want to. My next thought was, “Where is that life-flashing-before-my-eyes movie?” because I’d much rather be recapping that than closing the distance with this tree. And my third thought, before I hit the tree was, “What is this going to do for Bonneville?” Then, bing-bang-boom, I’m floating backward through the air and land flat on my back.
So, the thought was miiseconds before the impact. That said, the next round was before calling JT who I felt I owed an obligation to. I had to be the rider, so I minimized the healing time. No one told me directly but I assumed 4-6 weeks based on what I was picking up anecdotally. I wasn’t willing to let go of the mid-August target. He and I agreed we’d play it by ear until we learned more but that, of course, we’d be very careful with the healing process because you can really screw yourself up for the rest of your life if you don’t do this part right.
Two weeks after the accident I got the definitive news that it was a 12-week healing process — no ifs, ands, or buts. That directly conflicted with the USFRA sanctioned run so we had to begin talking about different dates, different sanctioned events, even back-up riders.
I’m still not willing to compromise my place on the seat of that bike, but I’m being forced to be open to at least alternatives as we make our way to the race season which is basically mid-August through early October.
FDP: So what is the extent of the damage to you? What happened? (6)
JRJ: Well, I wasn’t very proactive about making sure I got pictures of my insides, but there were a lot in terms of x-rays and CT scans. The main damage and main focus was a crack in my pelvis. That appears to be on the back side of the socket that holds the ball-joint of my hip/thigh bone. It’s essentially inoperable, which is sort of good news… as long as it doesn’t shift. That’s also where the internal bleeding was happening which was really the only time I was genuinely concerned. Not knowing if your body is running in some direction internally for a while is weird and discomforting. Fortunately, it was just a natural leak from the bone and didn’t continue.
The other major injury was my wrist. Oddly, I didn’t request to even have this checked out until the second day in the hospital when I said, “You know, I think there might be something wrong with my left wrist too.” They brought the machine into my room for that one which was really cool and diagnosed it on the spot. The little bones that connect my left thumb to my wrist were snapped. Apparently that’s bad because those bones in particular don’t get good blood-flow so they have a habit of ‘dying’ if the healing process doesn’t go entirely right. I think they called it narcosy or something.
So that’s what broke. The first few nights at home were tough, but the worst was making my way back to bed in the evening. In retrospect, I think my body was going back into shock each night because as I’d struggle back with my walker from the family room to my bed in the kitchen i’d be wracked with freezing chills and nausea that didn’t go away for quite some time until I settled down. I was on fairly strong pain medication at that point, which by now (three weeks in), I’ve been able to taper off pretty significantly.
The last sort of discovery was in the soft tissue. The inside of my left bicep had a big knot that must have been an impact area with the tree. It drained for about a week and turned my whole arm black, making it difficult to bend my elbow. For a brief while I thought I’d also broken ribs, but that’s netted out to this feeling of having done 1000 sit-ups… about 950 more than I’m able to reasonably do, so the muscles in my gut and my chest just feel torn up. That seems to be the last revelation of the pain and damage.
FDP: You mentioned you felt obligated to JT in some ways. When did you actually speak with him and what was his reaction? (7)
JRJ: I forget why, but he had called as he regularly does, so we ended up talking the day after the crash later in the afternoon while I was still in the hospital. We had some pre-amble and then I just rolled it out there for him. He took it all very much in stride. In a way, he reacted like a proud parent welcoming his son to ‘the club.’ It was something like, “Well, good for you. Now you’ve had your first crack-up so you got that out of the way.” I felt the same way though actually. With the Bonneville run looming, I had started thinking more and more about crashing, how to fall, what I would do, etc. Now I could let a lot of that go because I’d had a much worse experience, I believe, than I’d likely have at Bonneville. There isn’t a tree to be seen there in ten miles in any direction, so that should be good.
Oh, and he asked if I “wrecked my balls.” I assured him all was well. Apparently he’s had some problems in previous crashes.
FDP: As I’m roaming around your house here, I’m curious about your design aesthetic. You seem to have strong opinions on what’s good, what’s bad, and why. What do you look for? (8)
JRJ: I’m a fan of great design, not a visual or architectural designer in the traditional sense myself. My own criteria are functionality, what I would call ‘mark of the human hand,’ and the ability to read a story in a piece of work. Our house is designed in an arts and crafts style which Dawn and I love. It satisfies us because it tells a local design story about a movement born here in Northern Illinois. It’s also exceptionally functional in terms of how lighting and windows are handled, and just the right amount of ornamentation or visual language without being either stark on one end or showy on the other.
Beyond that, I look for a sense of the person who made the thing somehow captured in that thing. So even if woodwork is milled, you have a sense that overall the designer was working through a storyline of sorts, creating harmony through a limited set of visual cues. That excites me because you can essentially ‘read their work.’ It’s something I’ve only been able to articulate more recently as a result of hanging out with JT and David Lenk and Jim Cohen who are classically trained and proactively look for an opening to ‘read’ a design… both on the surface and from the inside out.
By the way, it was during the arts and crafts movement when the word ‘craftsmanship’ was coined and popularized in the states.
FDP: With all the beauty in your home, the balance of design and integration with the architecture and the furniture, I can’t help but ask, what’s your fascination with skulls? They’re all over the place and it seems an odd juxtaposition… and yet it works. What’s going on? (9)
JRJ: That interest goes way back. A stand-out moment was when I was first dating Dawn and I somewhat carefully mentioned that I was interested in acquiring a human skull someday, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. Without missing a beat, she whipped out a catalog called Skulls Unlimited that she shopped from frequently and there they were! Pages of museum-quality human ‘heads.’ I couldn’t believe it. This was the girl for me!
Dawn studied technical drawing at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago (SAIC), so she’s not a weirdo. She needed these things for study and replication. In fact, we’ve never actually purchased a human skull, but we do have a lot of other ones… cats, bats, rams, and so on. We also have a lot of art that represents or emotes human skulls and skeletons. I have lots of books. One of my favorites being Empire of Death (coincidentally by a fellow NIU alum), which catalogs the world’s greatest ossuaries (places where they store bones or inter the dead).
I learned a lot about myself from that book. There’s an appropriate fascination with the artifacts of the dead. As a human being, you address and discuss it with yourself. It turns out studies about cultures that expose death more proactively are mentally healthier than those who hide it. In France in the 1800’s there were huge tourist attractions for massive ossuaries, and tours ran all around the clock. Eventually they were shut down because they didn’t manage the disease aspect of these collections very well, and they just fell out of favor once disease was linked to bad water originating from poorly managed cemeteries, etc.
Anyway, this is a long way of saying it all comes back to Hamlet or any similar situation. Conversation with death is an important personal discussion and the memento mori help prompt it. I collect things that help me do that both because I love them aesthetically and because my mind and body seem to want to have that discussion regularly.
FDP: You mention you’ve been trying to think more deeply about the speed run and maybe how it’s affecting the people around you. Tell me about watching Crash Reel, which you mentioned was a pretty moving experience. (10)
JRJ: In a way, you could criticize a movie like Crash Reel as ‘accident porn.’ I’m not a fan of that and I’d never have watched it under what I might call ‘normal circumstances.’ A good friend, Bryan Campen, had mentioned that I should watch it because of the great human interest aspect and the family story and so on. I’d actually purchased it on iTunes a week before my own accident, but had never gotten up the energy to watch it.
So, the second day I was back home from the hospital, I fired it up on my laptop and resolved to face it. For those who don’t know, it’s a documentary about a kid named Kevin Pearce who emerges as one of the top snowboard competitors in the world. They follow his rise to stardom and his back-and-forth competition with Sean White, probably the most famous representative of that sport. The promoters for the sport increased the size of the half-pipes these kids compete on and they were getting bigger and better ‘air,’ doing more amazing tricks, and so on… Until, eventually, in a meet just a few weeks before the Olympics, Kevin had a horrible crash in a practice run trying to complete his newest trick. He catches the front lip of his board at the top of the pipe and just slams his head face-first into the snow. It’s incredibly hard for me to watch and I get choked up even recalling it. I cried through the first third of the movie and I’m not sure why.
Then this amazing drama begins to unfold. The story becomes about Kevin’s family rallying around him. His brother, who was also a competitive snowboarder, quits his job to focus full time on Kevin’s recovery and therapy. His family discusses Kevin’s eventual desire to return to competition and they ultimately do battle over the kitchen table about whether or not he can or should.
Of course, Kevin does, because it’s how he defines himself. But he’s simply not the same person he was before. Traumatic brain injuries, it turns out, are regularly repeated because athletes go right back to what they were doing before their first injury, so repetition of two- or three-times are not uncommon.
Eventually Kevin makes peace with it all and shifts gears on his life. But again, the story isn’t about a horrific crash, necessarily. It’s about his family’s love and understanding and pain as he goes through his personal arc of reconciliation with the very thing that defined him and was then snatched away.
While I’m not going through anything nearly as profound, the movie has given me a much better sense of the people around me and that they too share unwittingly in my commitment to this goal. And, so, I need to include them in the decisions I make. I’m much less cavalier about it and it’s only because I now can understand that inclusiveness on a much deeper level.