Finding Inspiration in Life and Graphic Novels: Oracle Code

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What I’m Reading: Oracle Code

If you look closely, you can find inspiration everywhere, including the Young Adult (YA) graphic novel, The Oracle Code, by Marieke Nijkamp. I’d borrowed this book from the library several times, but I’d overlooked it until I noticed it on a list of recommended books similar to others I’d enjoyed.

Finding Inspiration in Life and Graphic Novels: Oracle Code

Oracle Code Summary

Hacker Barbara “Babs” Gordon gets injured in a shooting accident and finds herself in a wheelchair trying to solve the puzzle behind the unusual rehabilitation center her father sends her to. When Jena, a new friend at the center, disappears, Babs enlists the help of Benjamin, a rooftop hacking friend from outside the center, to try to help her solve the mystery.

A female protagonist (check!) overcoming physical obstacles (check!) in a mystery (check!) Sounds a lot like something I’ve helped people do for over two decades. Perhaps that’s why it resonated with me.

Quotes that Inspire

Two quotes from Nijkamp’s story jumped out at me.

Finding Inspiration in Life and Graphic Novels: Oracle Code
My daughter is a constant source of inspiration. Here she celebrates her first-place entry and Reserve Grand Champion ribbon for her Legos submission at the Puyallup Fair.

On Losing

“Losing is only permanent if you stop trying.” (p. 95) Another way to say it is the only way you can lose is to quit completely. As long as you are willing to try new things, explore different ideas, and consider a variety of ways to reach your end goal, you are still in the game of life.

One of the very first hikes I went on when I moved to Seattle in 1990 was Mt. Si. At the time, it seemed like a fun way to get outside with a friend from graduate school for some exercise. In 1999, my husband and I joined the Basic Climbing program with the Seattle Mountaineers. Hikes became a way to get in condition for technical peaks. Our daughter joined us in 2004, and our dozen annual climbs shrank to one a year. Hikes became very short.

Finding Inspiration in Life and Graphic Novels: Oracle Code
Bridal Veil Falls with our daughter when she was four. I led this Family Activities hike for the Seattle Mountaineers.

When Governor Inslee closed all hiking trails in Washington in March of 2020, I felt a profound sense of loss–of freedom, independence, choice, fresh air, discovery, and exploration. I had to get back on the trails. At the very first opportunity, the day Inslee lifted restrictions, I returned to the trails and have been hiking ever since, sometimes three times a week. I had no idea when I started hiking that it would grow into something so important.

On Fear

If something prevents you from doing what you want to do, like COVID did for me eighteen months ago, try to name it. Would you call it fear? Uncertainty? Overwhelm?

Nijkamp writes: “It’s fear that keeps us sharp, that keeps us going, that keeps us figuring out the unknown.” (p. 190) The next time you’re afraid, ask yourself: what’s the worst thing that can happen? Can you expect the best while being prepared for the worst? How likely will that fear materialize? Who can support you if it does?

Finding Inspiration in Life and Graphic Novels: Oracle Code
Ajax during a rest break on a summer hike of Mt. Si.

Inspiration from Others’ Demons

Lest everyone out there thinks trainers waltz up every mountain they choose, please realize that I could have let any one of three big obstacles stop me. My hope is my story will inspire you to move forward.

Lower Back Pain

While I’ve never been in a wheelchair like Nijkamp’s protagonist, Babs, I have battled lower back pain since the late 1990s. I first noticed problems while rowing starboard for my college’s crew. However, it only became debilitating when I competed in powerlifting, a sport involving single-repetition maximum lifts in the squat, the deadlift, and the bench press.

Flare-ups sometimes last for days, and even now, if I neglect my sleep, get too stressed out, eat foods I know cause systemic inflammation, or take shortcuts with my training, I end up hunched over like a ninety-year-old woman. Lower back pain is no fun for anyone. Fortunately, by learning to manage mine, I can also help others manage theirs. I’ve turned adversity into an opportunity.

Finding Inspiration in Life and Graphic Novels: Oracle Code
Know your limitations. I am well aware that my back will never in this lifetime be as nimble as my daughter’s when she competed in gymnastics.

Sugar Addiction

Until July 2019, I was addicted to sugar. Giving up sugar was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Alcoholics can avoid liquor; drug addicts can stop using; gamblers can steer clear of casinos and betting. But since sugar is pretty much added to everything these days (beyond the obvious sweets, it’s also found in breath mints, gum, yogurt, tomato sauce, dried fruit, nearly every cereal, etc.), it requires hyper-vigilance to avoid consuming.

Finding Inspiration in Life and Graphic Novels: Oracle Code
Fruit and vegetable display created by the chef during our Galapagos Islands trip, August 2018.

(Note: If you feel you or a loved one is battling addiction, whether to drugs, alcohol, gaming, exercise, gambling, etc., a great resource is In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Mate.)

Now I cringe thinking about how many batches of cookies, bars of chocolate, bags of mint M&M’s, cans of sodas, and bottles of diet Peach Snapple I’ve consumed over the past three decades. When I reread some of my journals, I know that my earlier obsession with food was likely fueled by a psychological dependence on sugar. Struggling to overcome not one but five addictions gives me tremendous empathy for the struggles of my clients. I know firsthand how enormously challenging it is. And if I can find a way through it, so can my clients.

Skin Cancer

One look at my freckles and red hair and you can probably guess I’m of Scotch-Irish heritage. I’ve had four Moh’s procedures to remove skin cancers from my face and additional surgeries to remove basal cell carcinomas. For two summers, I wouldn’t go outside between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. unless every inch of my skin was covered. Now, I know how to choose appropriate hikes and manage the timing of my outings to keep my skin protected. I also know how crucial it is to get natural vitamin D from sufficient exposure to the sun while not burning.

Finding Inspiration in Life and Graphic Novels: Oracle Code
Two weeks after my fourth Moh’s surgery. Without inflammation caused by sugar, scars heal MUCH, much faster now.

So what?

Every single one of us carries baggage or has reasons to quit. We will always face obstacles and struggles. And until I can no longer breathe, I know I will continue to be challenged. Take a good hard look at what you’re carrying around. How has it weighed you down? What can you do to overcome it?

Because you can. You are the hero or heroine of your own story. One of my favorite song lyrics comes from Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger. Obstacles test us and make us grow stronger and wiser. Use greatness everywhere — fiction and biographies, songs and hikes — to help motivate you.

Final Thoughts

A sign over my desk includes a quote by Nelson Mandela: “I never lose. I either win or learn.” As long as you keep trying new things, you have not lost. I admire courage like Babs’ in The Oracle Code who shows inner strength to adapt and move on with her life. Reading about female protagonists overcoming tremendous physical adversity inspires me to take better care of myself.

When you feel like giving up, think about why you started in the first place. Whether you run marathons, climb mountains, play music, or write poetry, you do it for some reason. What does that thing provide you? What could it provide you if you let go of your fear and the word can’t? Can you get back in touch with the younger you and feel the joy, excitement, or curiosity you first had?

Published by Courtenay Schurman

Co-author of The Outdoor Athlete (2009) and Train to Climb Mt. Rainier or Any High Peak DVD (2002), author of Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills/conditioning chapter 4 (3 editions), and Peak Performance column for the Mountaineers Mag (2014-present). Member of PNWA, SCBWI, EPIC. Served on the steering committee for WOTS (2019-present). Completed UW Certificate program for Children's Literature and Memoir. Co-owner of Body Results, Inc. in Seattle. Climb leader with Seattle Mountaineers for over 15 years. Volunteer at Woodland Park Zoo since 2014.

6 replies on “Finding Inspiration in Life and Graphic Novels: Oracle Code”

  1. Court,
    I’m really enjoying your posts, and especially the photos!
    Love you, Pam

  2. Another reflection-inducing post! Fears… addictions… seemingly insurmountable challenges… books as another source of inspiration and motivation…
    I too had/have my share of addictions. Sometimes I prevailed (I quit smoking 14 years ago), sometimes the work is still in progress (yum…chocolate cake! 🙁 ). A few things have helped.
    With kindness, stopping myself from saying “I can’t” when what I really mean is “it’s really hard”
    Realizing that I am not “less” because of my struggles; they are all invitations to “be more”. I don’t have to accept them all right now, but I don’t want to miss on all the parties in town either.
    Reframing the stories I tell myself about trying and the shame I will feel if I “fail”; I recently failed spectacularly at a 500 miles long-distance hiking challenge… I have learned more than I could dream of from that “failure”… back to it in 2022 and feeling so much stronger already!
    Acknowledging that, left to our own devices, we likely grossly underestimate what we are capable of; how many stories of “heroic” achievements are out there when people are “forced” to face the insurmountable? A small voice in my ear tells me we are ALL capable of so much “heroism” …
    Showing up, that secret ingredient of almost all recipes for success.

    1. Thanks for the share, Gerard!

      Kindness and self-compassion are key elements in making our way through our struggles (Kristin Neff has a great book on self-compassion, one I often bring up in this blog) and admitting that we’re doing our very best at any point in time, with the tools (or habits) we’ve put in place.

      Reframing the messages we send ourselves is also so important. Instead of labeling ourselves with a negative connotation like “shy,” can we say, instead, “I carefully choose who I open up to”? Does that feel more liberating? And in the case of failing at a hike or climb, can we find the silver lining and the take-away lessons learned so we can improve the next time?

      Showing up, absolutely. That’s a huge part of the battle. Enjoy the journey and thanks again for the comment!

  3. Thanks, Silvie Marie! If you have a big enough “why” you can figure out the “how.” By eating primarily homemade, or single-food ingredients (fruits, veggies, grass-fed protein sources, etc. along with certain seeds and nuts) it IS doable but it definitely requires patience, diligence, and the strength to say “no” to all the treats that surround us on a daily basis. If I can do it, anyone can, but it is TOUGH. If you read the book let me know how you enjoy it!

  4. Great article. I agree that quitting sugar is one of the most difficult challenges you are face to. I wish I could do that…but it’s been impossible. Thanks for the book suggestions. 👍

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