Musings on Bicycling and Buddhism

Thursday, December 6, 2012

So I broke a chair

Broken Chair 

On Monday evening, whilst having the most delightful chat with my roommate, the chair I was sitting in suddenly broke right out from under me. Smush. Bottom hits the floor in mid-sentence, I am uninjured and mostly just surprised.

And no, while this blog has had some downtime, I haven't turned into a whale, I don't think that that is why the chair broke. These chairs have lived in several apartments and have had several owners. They are much used and loved, and much repaired. It really wasn't much of a surprise that this one broke. (The others may be soon to follow, we expect.)

It just had to happen right then.

More Than Just a Chair 

This chair breaking out of the blue is like the changes that have happened in my life of late. A sharp shock, but there's more to it than that. This chair breaking means there's not enough at the table now -  change is coming. The chair is beyond repair, so whatever comes next is going to be very different from the other furniture. Or maybe it's time for something entirely new (to us)?

The things we base our daily lives on, and base our daily lives around, become staples. Become a foundation upon which we build other things. We can take them for granted. Chairs are one of those things, we don't expect them to break. So this broken chair, these life changes, can be a surprising and uncomfortable shock as best, injuring at worst.

But someone lends a hand, and helps pull you to your feet. You learn to laugh at yourself in the face of your damaged pride. We keep growing. We learn to have gratitude for what was, for what has supported us, and we move onward. (This is one profound chair, but my parallels leave something to be desired.)

Changes on this site aren't complete yet, but coming - some things you cannot foresee to plan around...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Brief Pause

Good day! Main blog content will be down temporarily for a few updates and changes! Check back soon!

Will be back up in a couple of days.

We leave you with some goodies from the old days to hold you over.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

In My Father's Shoes, or Pedals Rather

File Under:  Beyond Biking

On Saturday I biked 60 miles from where I live in Somerville, MA to my hometown -  a rural town in central Massachusetts. I had never undertaken such a solo mission before and I'll be writing more about that adventure in it's own post.

But I biked all these miles in my father's pedals. My first bike ride to my childhood home, carried on a piece of memory, carries significance for me.

As if I have come into my cycling inheritance.

History Lessons

My first bike, the very first one, the one with the training wheels, came in the mail, in a box, in a million pieces. My father built it up. We sat on the porch while he put it together. It was white, with streamers, sparkles, and had a top tube protector with unicorns. It was the most ridiculous bicycle ever.

My dad spent a lot of time with me and that bike. Around the age of seven I still had training wheels, and as it came time to take them off - I fell again and again. I had grown dependent upon them. But Dad didn't give up. And it wasn't until I had fallen down more times than I could count and cried and flailed and said that I was done with bikes forever that he did not push me any further.

For the next three years my friends and cousins learned to ride without training wheels. I refused to try. I would run along with the bikes, which made me a fast runner but I was ashamed of myself and my failure. Over these years I also took up horseback riding.

Then It Happened

Fast forward to the age of 10, and one day in late fall I thought to myself, I haven't tried a bike in awhile, I wonder what would happen if I just got on? I can ride horses, maybe I can ride a bike now... Fully prepared to fall and bite the dust, donning my horseback riding helmet - I got on a bike. And I rode.

Yes, I was wobbly, but I didn't fall. And I kept going. Soon I was biking everywhere. I biked constantly and well on into my teen years, up until driving became a priority, and on even after that. I didn't bike in college, although I often considered it. It wasn't until I moved off-campus in my final year that the cycling bug bit again and I've been urban cycling ever since.

Connect the Dots

My father passed away when I was twelve, so there were a lot of things about him that I didn't get to learn. Anecdotes and found objects have helped me to fill in the pieces of the man I only sort of got to know. And it was only about two years ago that I learned how my dad was a cyclist.

We always had sheds and out buildings filled with bicycles growing up, so I should have guessed - but I thought that that was normal. Everything from vintage step through frame bikes to vintage road bikes to racing bikes (but no mountain bikes) dwelled in our sheds.

When you got too tall for one bike, there was no necessary trip to a shop - there were probably already several to choose from on the premises  Tire flat? Wheel out of true? Derailleur not working? No problem, those where easy for him to fix. Other people gave him bikes they didn't want anymore and he fixed them.

All this bicycle-ness was completely normal for me growing up. My uncle, an auto body pro, would paint my cousins - his daughters' - bikes in the most fantastic ways - anything we wanted. Sparkles. Unicorns. Pastel. Fluorescent. Bikes were an intrinsic part of life. My sister, who knew how to ride, but opted not to was always a mystery to me.

The dreams of little girls

Bicycles were the horses for my imagination. We couldn't have horses when I was young, but I took lessons and rode in shows. And because I couldn't have my own horse, and my similarly 'afflicted' cousins (who lived down the street) couldn't either, the bicycles became our horses.

We would ride for hours and hours, our imaginations would fill in the storylines.

After my father passed away I kept biking. I did eventually become a horse owner as a teenager and even rode competitively in college. When I was in college my family gave away all the bikes left from my Dad's time. I was the only biker, and yet not.

Fast Forward to November 2010

The year before last while the entire family embarked on emptying out the attic of the old farmhouse, I found a wheel set, an old wheel set - one my father had built. Amongst the hodgepodge, from an unlabeled box with a hole in it peeked bicycle things. Still coming into my own as a cyclist I didn't recognize all the tools or components in that box but I knew it for what it was: bike guts.

Later, as I dug through the box I got a snapshot of another chapter of my father's life. A time dedicated to cycling and building bikes. Before he met my mom.

I was shocked and elated.


I learned through research and asking at shops more about the components left in that box. And my Dad did not skimp on those parts, all were of top-of-the-line European and Japanese manufacture from the late '70s. Amongst them were a hex wrench set, another wrench set, a chain breaker, all of which I still use, and a set of pedals with clips (aka toe baskets).

At the time I only had one bike, and Charlie's pedals were fine, so the pedals sat in my pile of spare parts.

Cycling Inheritance

Over this past summer, as I've entered the cycling industry I now have three bikes. One of them is a yellow Bianchi Veloce named Bumblebee (or on occasion she goes by Princess Buttercup, she's rather girly). She came into my life used, but equipped with clipless pedals for which I did not have the shoes (nor at that point wished to acquire said type of shoe).

So I thought to put on these pedals of my father's, to finally put them to use. They are vintage Mikashima keirin approved pedals with clips. They go nicely on the Bianchi with Campagnolo group-set situation that Bumblebee has.

But more so than that they are a piece of something greater. They represent a piece of something shared between those who cannot be together.

So, I may never have a chance to go on a bike ride like this with my Dad, but I somehow inherited his love of cycling. (Not just that but also his penchant for pretty components and very long rides (my aunt recently told a story of his bike ride to Cape Cod, but that's for another time).)

Somehow, despite life changes, distance, and so many other variables - I have become a cyclist of my own accord, just like my Dad. As I embraced my solo trek from my present to my past, I rode on my father's pedals.

I guess there's more in common than I have ever known.

Connections last across generations and distances and those we love are never far away because they're a part of us. As my dear friend has lost her father recently, I offer this up as a small anecdote that small things go a long way; and it's what we do with what we carry in our hearts after the fact that determines the future.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Scariest Thing You'll Ever Face: Yourself

File Under: Breaking the Limits

I'm giving up on giving up. I've decided. I've had it with fear, doubt, and disillusionment. These things were cool when I was watched Reality Bites, long before I went to college and started living on my own, long before life got hard. (Life was never exactly easy, but this is before it got difficult as a direct effect of my own actions, or actions in this lifetime (if you're into that sort of thing).) Back then identifying with the disillusionment was enough, there really didn't need to be anything on the other end of those emotions. I was the disillusionment.

I've got a counter-force brace on my right arm, supporting my busted elbow (micro-tears in the tendon) from my Tough Mudder. I've got bone bruises on my patellas (aka knee caps), abrasions, strained tendons in my knees, ankles and feet that keep swelling up at the most inopportune moments. I've got bruises everywhere. (And a nasty burn on my arm from baking a cake.) And a smile on my face.

Why would this make me smile? I'm not a masochist. I'm also already signed up for a Rebel Race in 2 weeks and another Tough Mudder in May. No, I don't think I'm insane either.

Battered by Sandy

I imagine those much more intensely effected by this hurricane than I may feel something like this:

Everything hurts in here, it hurts in my heart. Everything is gone. And I'm so angry at this situation, and it keeps coming out at everyone else. Am I angry at myself? Or the world? This whole situation sucks.

Just don't give up, as soon as we give up the growing stops. The healing stops.

There's a story of a man, Devadatta, in the Lotus Sutra and elsewhere. So the story goes, this man - a relative of Siddhartha, an exemplary practitioner, gave way to jealousy, scheming and greed. Convinced the king to kill his father and usurp the throne. Tried to kill the Buddha and take over the community. But all of this grew out of his giving up his own internal struggle, really.

It hurts so much, but keep going. I keep throwing myself headlong into these challenges because I want to try, I want to challenge myself in a big way not to give up. Look my doubts square in the face, and win.

Outside In

One reason I did the Tough Mudder was because I was sick of looking at my life from the outside in, judging my success in any endeavor by someone else, or what I thought someone else thought of me. Even by this age and amount of living I know better, yet the propensity arises from time to time, and lately more than I'd like.

I here endeavor to be completely honest with myself, even if I don't like what I see. Even if I'm stuck doing things that I don't want to do. It's the only way forward. The Mudder was mine, and mine alone. I certainly wasn't alone at all in the doing of it, before or after - but the confrontation of the self was mine.

That Devadatta fellow I mentioned before - he was all about external appearances, all about being in charge of everything for his own glory. There was none of the introspection, the struggle to find that sometime-ephemeral sense of having a unique mission in life that requires so much work. I don't want to be that person.

Doubt, self-deprecation, self-begrudging come from the same place as arrogance. They come from a place where our outsides determine the innermost truth of our heart. It is place that has no respect for the inherent worth of each individual, because from this perspective the individual only has worth in regards to the outside.

There is no inner growth here.

Dangerous Buzz Words

"The faith that can change destiny cannot be carried out easily. Must not doubt. The fundamental cause lies in my own determination and faith.

"I have a mission. Without a mission, a Bodhisattva of the Earth has no reason to exist. Human beings must never forget their mission. Since this is the case, my only choice is to courageously carry out powerful, unyielding, indomitable faith."  Oct 10, 195? Daisaku Ikeda, A Youthful Diary

Faith is a dangerous word, full of all sorts of connotations. But here I use it to mean faith in ourselves; in our own unique capacity; faith in oneself to know that, e.g. I can grow more, be more - being just who I am. (In case you were wondering: Bodhisattvas of the Earth are those who answered the Buddha's call to stick around after his death to continue to lead others to enlightenment on into the future, especially when the eras become rife with strife.)

In training for an event you have a goal - e.g., I will run 12 miles of mud and obstacles and finish successfully. I will ride my bicycle 100 miles in one day. In life - scary big-picture moment here - we have a mission. No one tells you what it is; it's yours alone - yet so intricately connected to everything. Sort of a determining your own destiny thing. But it's also a lot more exhausting than riding hundreds of miles or running tens of miles to discover it. And also, just as exhilarating - probably more so.

Through challenge we grow. We get a chance to seek the profound inside our lives during this existence  We get a chance to write our own definitions, not be told who and what we are from the outside. We get to each discover what our mission is, and for each it is different.

But it means we have to make a choice to do this, a choice for self-determination.

Mudder as Life

I cannot look to another to know my purpose. The mud covered people running next to me, helping to catapult and pull me up and over obstacles, just as I aid them - they cannot tell me either, although we run and struggle together. I would not assign an arbitrary value to any one of them based on their muddiness  because I am just as muddy. But underneath that mud, the person inside is shining. That person is fighting with everything they've got, surmounting obstacles with the help of others and helping others. That person is fighting their own internal battles just as much, even if I cannot see from here.

Each one of us is running this thing for some reason, some internal drive. Some mission we've made for ourselves. This run isn't a competition, it's a challenge. You've got to have some deep personal reason to run it, or you won't finish.

Part of my goal was to do to every obstacle, not to skip any. In a Mudder you can skip an obstacle if you need to - although most don't, but in life the only way out is through.

I'm running through my proverbial mud.


Dream bigger than what you think is possible, only then will your life begin to approach what you're truly capable of, is a paraphrase from the person I identify as my mentor in life. Well, right now my sense of mission is murky, and I've got dreams that should very well be impossible. But just because I don't have the answer now, and maybe am not yet capable of what I imagine, doesn't mean I can't ever, or won't ever.

The future is farther than the horizon, what is possible is more than what we can see right now. When we give up on giving up, give up on defining ourselves by our current external limitations, the possibilities open wide, and the only limit is our own vision.

You might have noticed by now, inside our innermost beings, there are no limitations.

Herein is an existence that does not require the outside to exude joy. Never giving up means it doesn't matter how muddy my outsides get, I am not defeated, I am not destroyed - no matter how bad the getting goes.

And that's where this smile comes from.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mental Grit and the Dragon King's Daughter

File Under: Breaking the Limits 
This is a long one.

It's been a little while since I've posted anything here. Life has seen a loss, a birth*, and a wedding. I've been writing for a larger project and also training. I pushed myself to be able to run 10 miles without stopping in a very short two-week period.

"Why?," do you ask? Because I made a promise to myself.

Back in July I was supposed to participate in a Tough Mudder with my intrepid cousin, whom I call Watson. Circumstances came to pass that meant that I could not go to that one, she finished and became an inspiring example. However, I was able to participate in the TriState Tough Mudder this past weekend in New Jersey.

That's why I drove myself to be able to run 10 miles.

That's me in the middle back with knee bent.

Mental Grit

If you look at Tough Mudder's marketing and their website it's very "tough guy" looking. Their logo is the silhouette of a man running through fire. The event is marketed as: "Probably the toughest event on the planet." In the Frequently Asked Questions they mention that about 25% of participants are women.

So why do it? Is this some machismo thing?

There's a lot more to this than meets the eye. The Mudder pledge includes a number of significant things that make it different that other events of this kind.

To paraphrase The Pledge, at the start participants pledge that they understand this is a challenge, not a race; camaraderie comes before course time; not to whine; help fellow Mudders complete the course; and to overcome all fears.

From the outset it's about working together rather than competing against each other. Many of the obstacles cannot be completed alone. This is something I came to understand very well as I ran this as an individual. I certainly had some wonderful friends who came as spectators and cheered me on. Every turn of the course that had me lay eyes on them again was like the sun coming out behind clouds. It would put extra power in my stride for the coming mile.

This was grueling: Mud for 12 miles; hills of mud, pits of mud. Smoke and fire. Small crawl-through spaces, filled with mud and muddy water. Barbed wire. A freezing bath of ice water, cold enough that as you plunged in you're passing through a layer of ice. Jumping off a high platform into muddy water, sliding down a chute that begins at the vertical and you can't see the way out. Tunnels in the dark, in the mud. Bog up to your shoulders. Walls, climbs.... I think you get the point.

And electricity. They introduced five new obstacles at our event and one of them really pushed me beyond what I thought I could handle. This involved crawling along in muddy water on your stomach (much like under the barbed wire), except it was not barbed wire above you, but live wires carrying 10,000 volts of electric current.

Take a moment to pull out your science book from grade school, consult an electrician, or xkcd. Wet, muddy you plus crawling through some wet, muddy goo means you're even more conductive and delicious for an electric current to use to ground itself than the infamous "Electroshock Therapy" that comes at the end of the course.

To put it simply, I was shocked more times than I can count. And it hurt. It felt like a stab and a punch at the same time. A quick series of shocks followed by one powerful hit almost made me black out. But I kept moving.

I challenged each obstacle head on. I did not skip anything. Even when my arms failed and I fell into the cold water below and had to swim I did not give up. People I have never met and may never see again helped me. They gave me leg ups over walls, pulled me up mountains of mud. Caught me when I fell. Pushed when I slipped. At each obstacle I stayed to help those who had helped me and those coming up behind. By the end my right arm gave out completely.

You run, you slip. Sometimes you fall. You climb you jump, you're covered in mud. It tries to take your shoes. You help people up. You continue. By mile 9, I felt it well and true but I did not stop. Many people were suffering from severe muscle cramping, especially in the calves. I didn't, but I am very grateful for all those bananas they gave us.

I finished.

So much of this is not just physical strength and athletic ability. They call it mental grit, and I understand what that means now. I didn't think I had it in me to do anything like this. But my mind, even when fear wanted to consume me - was true. I never gave up on my promise to myself and I've come out of this with a renewed perspective and fresh focus.

I feel more awake, not just to my daily external reality, but to my internal one.

The Dragon King's Daughter

Running the Mudder wasn't for me so much proving that as a woman I can do the same course as all these burly men. It wasn't to prove something because I work in a male-dominated industry. It was about pushing my limits to see what lies beyond, to dare to dream outside my daily circumstances.

This kind of challenge, this kind of dream does not necessitate a trial by fearsome and difficult physical trials. So often our daily lives hand us challenges so great that we do not believe we can surmount them. And sometimes we pretend that they're not there, or try to blame others for them. We fear them and try to avoid them. And this can go unchecked for years.

But remember,

I do not whine, kids whine. I overcome all fears.

There's me and there's this obstacle, the internal dialogue goes. The only way out is through - trying to go around gets us nowhere. Me - just as I am - has to be enough.

Or to quote Yoda: "Do, or do not. There is no try."

In the Lotus Sutra the enlightenment of the Dragon King's daughter is just such a case of: me - just as I am - has to be enough. The story goes, this young girl, as just the half-dragon half-human that she is - is able to manifest enlightenment.

This is a big deal.

Up until this point historically, in no sutra was the possibility of anyone female ever attaining enlightenment even a remote pipe dream. The best you could do in this lifetime was be pristine, austere, and pray to be born a man in a future existence, then maybe after enough lifetimes you could achieve enlightenment as a man. It required a complete forfeiture of the self.

Yet she manifests enlightenment, just as she is.

This story is pointed to as the place that marks the doctrinal possibility for the enlightenment of women. Something previously completely denied. It also is pointed at to show that we do not change the core of who and what we are when we reveal the Buddha-capacity already inherently endowed within each life. We manifest our Buddhahood as we are. Even dragon-girl princesses from the bottom of the sea.

Or to take it out of storyland...

That means that my awkward, muddy self is a lot more than meets the eye. This means that whatever your outsides, your circumstances, your struggles, your gender, your anything - that the capacity to awaken to and manifest the best version of you, of your life, is untarnished. We are each completely endowed with this capacity, even if it exists in a latent state.

By facing challenges head on - whether they come in the form of excessive credit card debt, strenuous relationships with your family, or a giant mud pit with fire and smoke - we reveal our internal worth. It is by advancing further today than yesterday.

Underlying Humanism

And the teamwork comes into play too. We take on our own challenges and help others do the same. As trying as the Mudder is, it is a humanistic experience because through the shared struggle and helping one another advance and overcome these physical obstacles we validate and demonstrate the worth of each person, regardless of their level of fitness. I overheard many a pep talk amongst friends and team members on the course. These teams were not just supporting over physical barriers but also internals ones, they were cultivating the internal strength, the mental grit of their comrades.

When we help others take on their challenges we can create this humanism in our daily lives.

Where does mental grit come from?

Tough Mudder is a test of this mental grit. A series of obstacles that test your inner strength and resolve as much as that out on the outside. In a conversation with my partner in crime, the Bandit Man, I attested some of my own mental strength to previous disciplines in my life. As a young person I was a ballet dancer, ran in the track team, and rode as a competitive equestrian. I did martial arts in college. I've been playing taiko for years, with this past year's training being some of the most rigorous I have ever done. I am a cyclist who rides no matter what time of year it is, and here in New England the winter can be a monster.

But more so than perhaps any of these things, and it was the Bandit Man that brought this up, perhaps it was my Buddhist practice. And Buddhist practice is the continual self reflection and improvement of the self, paired to the commitment to helping others do the same.

There is a passage in the second chapter of the Lotus Sutra that reads, "In all of the ten directions/ the Buddha alone is without fear." And that has how I have been striving to live this year.

Face my fears head on. Do the thing I am most afraid of, because it is probably what I need the most to grow.

Mud Again

This coming May will mean another Tough Mudder, but this time as a team.

*I'm a crazy "aunt" now! My dear cousin had her first baby girl! (Different cousin than mentioned earlier.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Trade Shows, Gender, and the Cycling Sausage Fest

File Under: Tales from the Cycle-verse

Hi, I'm a girl and I can fix a flat on my bike.  I can do it on my own, on the side of the road while thousands of other cyclists fly by on Hub on Wheels.  Of course - I'm still immensely grateful for all the volunteers who stopped to ask if I needed anything.

Hi, I'm a girl and I can build up this bike.  (Not talking welds here, but believe me that's on the to-do list.)

Hi, I'm a girl who writes about, advocates for, fixes, recommends, photographs, advises, commutes via ... all-things-bikes.

Hi, I'm a girl who is a keen observer of and sometime professional in the cycling industry and sometimes I want to vomit.  Especially when I see things like this and this.

Yes, these beautiful women are doing their jobs, it's true.  But if this industry is supposed to be egalitarian, forward thinking, and challenging the status quo - not just in health and infrastructure, but also beauty - why does the largest North American cycling tradeshow resound with this imagery?

Where did the real women cyclists go?  There were a few there but most were left back at the office.

There are real women out there; we're out here, we ride bikes, we know what we're talking about and yet are pretty much absent from this trade show.  There are some elite athlete beauties, but somehow even that imagery is a question mark.

Recently Elly Blue of Taking the Lane wrote a post about how to figure out if cycling imagery is sexist, and what trends we are seeing. A conclusion from this article, that somehow in marketing imagery it is men that are riding, challenging, and adventuring whilst women somehow end up next to the bike, as a place to secure fashionable accessories - an auxiliary subject for the gaze.

She notes:

"I want to point out that these images are not just made and chosen by men. Women are also active in many representations of bicycling that would fail this test, both as willing models and as photographers and producers. My point is not that we’re the helpless victims of sexist men, but that we’re all part of a culture where sexism is normalized, celebrated, and rewarded. I think there’s a widespread sense that this is the game we have to play if we want to succeed. In a way that’s true, but I’d argue that there are inherent limits for women in this game; we can only go so far. If we really want equality we need to change the rules."   -Taking the Lane

And there are even comments on the InterBike Facebook photo post linked to above, from men and women viewing this:

"Yep, this is part of the reason the industry and sport stagnates. Even Hooters is realizing how limiting this approach is." [from a man actually...]

"I  want to know if any of those girls could fix a flat..."

I know - just in this city - some amazing women in this industry, lady shop service shop owner and mechanic, web comic artist, photographers, pro racers, and so many others who live for bikes even if this may not be their profession.  They are incredible.  They are gorgeous, they do amazing things.  And yet somehow they're left out.

They're not worth marketing to?

Trade shows take industry culture and condense it, stick it under a magnifying glass and shine dazzling lights all over it.  Under this level of magnification you can't help but notice some things are out of balance, somebody's missing. Somehow at this show, real women cyclists are missing, or eclipsed.

The thing is you can market for them, to them, and things can look different. The attitude at the European trade shows is a lot different, and they keep growing - whereas this North American show has actually gotten smaller over the years, with big industry names leaving and running their own shows...

Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

Or if you're rusty on your Latin, correlation does not imply causation.  Just because the great North American trade show looks like this does not necessitate that this is the why of it getting smaller.  But there are a lot of women out here, from an economic perspective that's a big market demographic which this sort of imagery often alienates.

Perhaps you could even sell your brand better with informative, experienced bicycle geek girls who know what they're talking about rather than just having it memorized for the show?

Even a pro marketer must find it exceedingly difficult to take a tradeshow, which should be a veritable goldmine and market it successfully when you take a great product and put it through this kind of lens.

And as a consumer it's also hard when you're disgusted by a lot of it.

And the disgust is not so much, "Oh, overly-sexualized-imagery-again...", it's more of a: "Is this the best we can do?  We can make bikes that you can jump out of planes with, bikes that are lighter than my shoe, bikes fast enough to break land speed records, but we can't think of a tradeshow approach any more evolved than this?".

Talking Humanism

This great device, this bicycle, is a great vehicle for humanism.  But when half the species is not being put on an equal level, it's not humanism at all.

Just as Elle says, let's change the rules.  Somehow I'm going to!  Humanism in cycling, here we go!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


I had been in the same place for so long I forgot what it was to be a newbie.  At this time last year we had hired a bunch of new waitstaff, and one young man in particular was very anxious to know how long it would be - exactly - until he wasn't a newbie anymore.  I now wonder exactly the same thing.

A friend of mine was saying that she's been at her "new" job for just over a year, and finally - just maybe a little bit now - she feels like they're trusting her to do her job.  Finally everything she says and every judgement isn't questioned constantly.  She isn't being given filler tasks and constantly being told she doesn't know all the things she's supposed to know.  She is finally being impeded slightly less at doing her job by those who are trying to tell her how to do it.

It sure is hard being the new kid.

Especially when the turnover isn't particularly high (which is a good thing), and they haven't had to do this in quite awhile.  Haven't had to break in a new person in so long that so they've forgotten how.

Well, guess what?! I'm new.  I'm going to make mistakes.

And lots of them.  And I might not understand something the first time.

Not only is this a new job, it's a new industry.  A whole new world.

But I won't be swayed.  And you can tell me one thing, and then do something completely different.  You can say, well you should be doing this or that; or know this or that.  But I won't know until it comes up.  Because there is no guide here, no standardization, no training - just jump in the deep end and swim.  (Coincidentally, as a child I had to be rescued from many a swimming lesson for almost drowning because I jumped in the deep end.)  Even though all the manuals are years old and out of date and I'm supposed to know them, even though I don't have all the answers - I will swim.

And this may come off as impassioned.  And maybe I sound frustrated - because, face it - I am.

But this is a chance to expand my capacity and I will not back down.  Sure, maybe I haven't proven myself indispensable here yet, but I will.  I will work as hard as it takes, as long as it takes, to produce some kind of concrete, proactive, and innovative value.

I work on my off hours.  I work in my sleep.

I'm not backing down.  Not from this momentary obstacle, not from anything.

Because this doesn't define me, it can't.  My potential is bigger than this.

And one thing I don't have much of, and boy do I know it - is patience.

But I'll grow some.

Hi, I'm the newbie.  I make mistakes, lots of them.  Every day.

But I'm learning.

We have this quote in the office on one of the filing cabinets attributed to Thomas Edison and it reads, "If you want to increase your success, you must double your rate of failure."  Well, if that's the case then I'm golden. I'm here to learn.

When I was a kid we took the training wheels off my bike when I was 7, pretty late, eh?  I couldn't ride without them so I gave up for 3 years.  Then one day, when I was 10 - after having started riding horses for several years at that point - I got on a bike and could ride.  Just. Like. That.

Maybe this is the story of my life?

Ok, I'm off to make some more mistakes!  No I'm not begrudging myself here - I'm learning....

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mistaken Perfection and an Education

Ingredients in mind:

1.) One teaspoon

In The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde, this portion of dialogue occurs near the start of the play:

Jack Worthing: You are quite perfect Miss Fairfax.

Gwendolyn Fairfax: Oh I hope I am not that. It would leave no room for developments, and I intend to develop in many directions.

2.) A pinch each of:

Misplaced Expectations

Mix together with a bicycle build and
 receive an education.

Outside what we know...

You can think that you've got it pretty good, that things are pretty much covered. You can hang out in comfortable-town, doing comfortable things you know how to do, and leave it at that.  You've got your bases covered, things happen, you can pay the bills and life goes on.

But sometimes what you don't know is that there is an entire other horizon to explore, a life just like this one, but a little different, and a whole lot better.  Where somehow purpose, passion, talent and need all come together and are actually fulfilled. 

"Listen; there's a hell of a good universe next door: let's go."  -e.e. cummings (from my favorite poem of his...)

But you don't get there unless you dare to dream and push outside what is normal and comfy.... (sometimes pain, if it's familiar enough, can even be something we tell ourselves we're ok with... but that's another story...)

Past circumstances in my life let me get to a point where I could be complacent and comfy. I knew the answers to just about every scenario that would or could come up.  I did my time, worked my way through - often learned the hard way.  I inadvertently cultivated a sort of nonchalant confidence where I did not have to try my best to do an excellent job, my opinions were sought after and considered with weight.

This was not making me happy.  Even though the bases were covered.  I often begrudged my circumstances and that was the day to day.

It was not until I made a commitment to doing my absolute best every day and winning over my weaknesses;  not until I determined to live with a purpose; and to make each decision with deliberate intent - only then did my environment come to change.  And so inside a year my life has changed more than 180 degrees. Everything changed.

Dynamic perception and delusion...

In the process of building, challenging, and dreaming up new ways forward in this new place I have fallen on my face again and again.  Learning so many facets of a world that I knew so little of before - all of these have profoundly challenged me.  Each and every time I thought I had unearthed a solid foothold from which to advance to the next step I would screw everything up and fall on my face again.  I would make another mistake.

Perfectionists do not like mistakes.

So much so that sometimes we will not undertake something because we might fail.

At least that's how I used to look at things.  Much less so now.  I've always been detail oriented and had high expectations for myself, no matter where I find myself.  I've often had a hard time admitting when I'm wrong about something.

How things were before, I was rarely wrong, so I didn't have many mistakes to acknowledge or apologize for.  But I also became somewhat stagnant and used to being right all the time.

Then the carpet was ripped right out from under me.

In the Oscar Wilde quote above, Gwedolyn Fairfax does not want to be perfect as it would limit her development.  Even though in the scene this is more of a piece of flirting banter, it has truth in it. (Like so many of the witty strokes of linguistic genius Wilde gives his characters, unsettling truth - perhaps that is why I love his writing so, but I greatly digress.)  Perfection is static, it doesn't change.  Life is dynamic - it has to be, it is constantly growing, changing, breaking, rebuilding, adapting, becoming more.

Early on I thought if I just did these certain things a certain way I would be fine and could carry on as before.  But life doesn't work like that.  You don't just get to press pause, change positions and then press play and things continue as they did before, except in a different setting.  You must move, grow, fall on your face, get back up again.

But all that failing and continuing creates courage in the face of the unknown, it removes fear.  When you give everything you do all that you've got, whether it ends up being a mistake or not, you at least didn't give way to fear or delusion.  Give all that you do all that you've got.  In taiko we say if you're going to make a mistake, do it with everything you've got.  Play the drums with your whole heart, no matter if you screw up or play perfectly.  Own it, take responsibility.

I'm trying to live life this way.

Yes, maybe what you thought was the right path was wrong, as I have been doing time and again lately.  Maybe the way it ought to have been or how you had your heart set on it being wasn't the case.  But if you're completely present and invested in what you do, do not hold back - then you know you really did give all there was in you.  In that kind of action there can be no regret, even if something was a mistake.

We make mistakes and we break through our delusions, sometimes forcibly.  When we can break through we can advance past the pretense of perfection, past a static state already in the past and look toward the future, to growth and empowerment.  Move to a dynamic, growing reality and all the hope and prospects it has to offer.

We receive an education.

And my most recent education has come in the form of building a bicycle.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Some assembly required...

Custom head badge came in the post yesterday, thanks Shane!

I've got the JB Weld, I've got the head badge, I've got the frame.

Waiting for Mercutio's parts (and Charlie's replacement parts) to come....

...Emily is building a custom rear wheel for Mercutio because his rear hub spacing (135mm) is too wide for a regular track hub (120mm), that's what happens when you re-outfit a prototype. (Especially when you change something into a fixie that wasn't built to be one.)

Just need Charlie's parts to hold out a little longer...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cycle-topia: Bicycle Utopia

When I started this blog I was new to bike commuting, and a complete novice at anything cycling related.  I'm a little more experienced in that now, but I am a complete novice at the bicycle universe, or the bike-verse (or cycle-verse, still deciding on a good name); so every once and awhile I will mention some things I notice about this strange and exciting country.  Some thoughts from the bike-verse...


The word utopia comes to us from Sir Thomas More's 1516 work of that name.  It means the ideal place or perfect society, but it comes from the Greek roots for "the place that cannot be", or "no place". Being no place in particular means it cannot be defined or limited, but it also suggests that it cannot ever exist.

In his work, A Modern Utopia (1905), H.G. Wells writes:

"...But the burthen of the minor traffic, if not the whole of it, will certainly be mechanical.  This is what we shall see even while the road is still remote, swift and shapely motor-cars going past, cyclists, and in these agreeable mountain regions there will also be pedestrians upon their way.  Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia, sometimes following beside the great high roads, but oftener taking their own more agreeable line amidst woods and crops and pastures; and there will be a rich variety of footpaths and minor ways..."

A bit more than a century ago one man's ideal society included bicycles, everywhere.  The bicycle was by this point in history a normal part of daily life, and so it would have made plenty of sense to consider that it would continue on in such a fashion.  In the decades prior to the publication of A Modern Utopia bicycle technology had advanced to the point of a freewheel, coaster brakes, the pneumatic tire, and gearing systems (although not widely used); at the rate this technology was advancing it could perhaps have been the common sense of the times to conclude the bicycle would only increase in usefulness and usage.  And surely the bicycle has stayed with us, waxing and waning with the times.

The early '70s saw the only years when bicycle sales have ever exceeded car sales, due to an oil embargo.  These days bicycles are again making their way to the fore.

Do you know what a bicycle utopia looks like?  Do you live there? Can you point out the way?

In this age in which we live we have an abundance of transit options; all manner of ways of crossing water, sky, and land - most involving internal combustion engines - just as Wells presupposed.  We still have bicycles, such a joy!  Does a modern bicycle Utopia exist?  And if so where is it?

Many would point to Copenhagen as the paragon of the modern world for cycling quality.  More than 36% of trips in Copenhagen were taken on bicycles by 2009, with this being reported as high as 50% this year.  Cycling infrastructure abounds, separated cycle tracks, parking, air tanks for use refilling tires, etc.  The land is mostly flat, cycling so common place, and the winters are manageable so cycling has evolved adornment in an internationally recognized and followed Cycle Chic movement.

One of the great things about cycling is it doesn't have to come in any particular form, and bicycles are in their natural environment when they are being ridden, and so that utopia really is no place, as the bicycle is moving. But I digress....

Boston is certainly not a cycling utopia, but it is my cycling country.  There are beautiful paths, some new and some old and in need of better maintenance.  The Dudley White path was my main commute route in the Waltham days.  We have miles of new bike lanes all round the city, and what debuted last week - the North Bank Bridge. (More here)

At last one can cycle from the Esplanade on the Boston side to the Charlestown Navy Yard if one so desires.  I haven't gone over it myself yet, but as soon as I do you'll get a scenic vista shot with Charlie looking snazzy by the Zakim.

Cycling around Boston gets better every day, not just because of Mayor's Menino's pledge that the car is no longer king in Boston, but because every day I realize more and more how much I love this.  

Pedaling to Utopia...?

Thinking about joining a Randonneur event, I'd like to go a long, long way - I have so much more to learn, as the bike-verse teaches me daily, for this I might need gears...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Earthly Desires and such

After having read a few things, about ladies and gentlemen, and the ways things relate between us - and having some conversations (although not with this in mind); some thoughts began to brew.  Ever since I became more active in the cycle-verse; I've noticed some differences, and not just in the dress code.

Here in the cycle-verse, there are a lot fewer ladies.  We seem to be the minority species, from company headquarters, to group rides, to people writing about bikes - there don't seem to be as many ladies.  And the lens through which we are viewed, and view, is quite interesting.

Speaking to one bicycle lady at a lady's ride recently, she remarked that we're more pieces of meat than anything.  Reading comics of the great Bikeyface, we get a poignant and light-hearted perspective.  Following the Lovely Bicycle, one encounters helpful advice and beautiful images.  The voices of the lady cyclist are definitely out there, there just aren't as many of us.

So in an industry dominated by the gentlemen-type half of the species we notice some differences, which I suppose is how the rest of this thought tangent evolved....


Some time ago a friend introduced me to the writings of Yashar Ali, in the Huffington Post.  He primarily writes about gender and gender relations.  I was not a Women's Studies major, although I had plenty of friends who were, and took a few classes - so I am somewhat familiar with the academic approach to this subject. (And this tangent lacks academic rigor!)  In one of his articles about neediness, he takes the stance that women bear the brunt of carrying, what he calls in another article, the stiff upper lip of our relationships.  He writes that women are socially conditioned to put their needs on hold, or just swallow them without ever asking for these needs to be met.

Pause:  Taking a moment to talk about the difference between having needs and neediness.  Some of this is reflections from another article on A New Mode by Eric Charles.  Having needs, e.g. food, air, water, a place to live; these being some of the most basic and obvious needs shared across our species.  Although, depending upon who you talk to many more things are necessary on the most basic level (e..g. a bicycle, love, chocolate?). Neediness, something you're allowed as a child, but not as an adult in an ideal world. Neediness (as I use it here): inability or unwillingness to self-validate, seek worth and identity outside one's self, judge value from external sources, define self by an outside source (e.g., one's partner).  

Press play button: What Eric Charles points to in his advice column is building a self that is strong and confident, that does not require another person for identity and sense of value, a stand alone spirit, if you will.  What Yashar Ali observes occurring with women, is that they (we) don't want to be seen as needy and so they remain silent, devaluing themselves in the process.  He points out his impression that men ask for what they need, straight and simple; yet somehow the equivalent for women makes them needy...

In recent conversations with ladies in my life on relationships, especially those that have come to an end recently - I've seen some common trends; a pattern in my generation?  Putting them all together we notice a feeling of onesided-ness, that the one doing the breaking up had extended comfort, understanding, and met every need and want of the other - often being shook off, or ignored when presenting a completely understandable need to be met in the relationship.  (And in case you're wondering I'm drawing on conversations undertaken with folks in all sorts of relationships, not just heterosexual ones, although those have been the majority.)  

Earthly Desires are Enlightenment

There is an idea in Buddhism compressed into "earthly desires are enlightenment".
Simplified and yet somehow long explanation: Early Buddhist teachings sought to eliminate all desire, primarily through ascetic practice - as desire was understood to be the root of all pain and suffering.  Over the course of time the Buddha's teachings evolved, from a simple "just get rid of it", to something deeper.  In short and simple terms, we need desire - it drives us to eat, sleep, procreate; the species wouldn't survive without it.  It's rather necessary; but what do we do about it, because honestly it is a rather unruly thing and makes us do all sorts of things that are rather not that good for us (and that is of course, putting it extremely gently).  So another idea out of the later Buddhist teachings (Mahayana), is that each and every life, regardless of our circumstances, has within it the inherent, completely endowed, capacity for Buddhahood, i.e. the equivalent capacity to be a Buddha as the Buddha (see also: mutual possession of the Ten Worlds).  It's frequently dormant and has to be activated or awakened ("Buddhanature, activate!"?), that's were a practice comes in but that's a different story.  The idea goes, because of this fundamental Buddha capacity, i.e. Buddhanature, each and every part of our lives, even the gristly, yucky parts - even pesky desire- has an enlightened capacity to it.  That doesn't mean we run rampant across the known world justifying crappy behavior.  There's a lot of self discipline and introspection here, its tough.  (But I suppose anything really worthwhile requires a bit of work.)  We learn through going through life, making mistakes, introspecting and challenging ourselves to grow fundamentally as people to be aware, truly awake to the nature of our lives; and to cultivate those better desires, and when we do completely mess it up, to find the enlightened capacity of our desires; and so our lives grow.

Press play button: So we need our desires, they drive us to do the necessary life stuff, to keep on living, to maintain our species - on the most basic level.  They make us try to improve our circumstances, strive to better ourselves.  Our needs have an enlightened capacity, especially when we are aware, and not just reactive.  When your partner is needy (be it true neediness or just presenting a need), there are many possible replies; which are often reflective of  how things are with you (i.e., your life-conditition).  We can be, perhaps we have been, perhaps we are - the sort of partner that cannot self-validate, that requires another to have an identity, who's needs must be met before the other person's can even be heard, who cannot or will not face the difficult things head on.  (Or been with this sort of person.)

Needs to do mean neediness, there's a difference.  As women (and men too I suppose, but I'm not going to be presumptuous to claim to know what it is to be a man, as I am female.) we must express our needs and not fall silent due to fear.  If you are strong in your own existence, not an island, but have a stand alone spirit to know yourself without depending on others -  know that if that person cannot hear you, or will not hear you, when you state your needs, then this is not the right person.  Yashar Ali points out that some relationships go on for years because one party is just waiting for the other to become the person who can give back, it is a rare change to encounter.  Many of these ladies I have spoken to ended relationships where that was just the case, and for many of us it didn't take quite as long to catch on as before, we're learning.  And that person will be alright, there are plenty of people in the world who will wait for them to become a giver, and sometimes the role reverses (see How I Met Your Mother episode about being kept on a hook).  Not settling for less is constantly driven home in Eric Charles' columns.

Bicycles and Life

As lady cyclists we don't have to dress-wearing, dutch bike riding, basket wielding, high-heel donning riders if we don't want to, or we can be.  Ride your bike, that's what matters - and here I'm using this as simile for life.  You cannot be told who and how to be, it is ultimately your life - and yes there are many, many places in the world where women have little to no say in their lives, that's for another post altogether - stand tall, be yourself.  Needs have an inherently enlightened aspect, dare to know yourself, dare to move beyond fear and say it like it is.  (Even wear cowboy boots if you want.)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Shouting for Humanism

This comes to mind in regard to a few articles:
Boston based cyclist blogger on cycling in suburbs:
Video interview with London mayor on the cycling in London:
Report by British Medical Association on transit:

One thing becomes abundantly clear - there are people shouting for humanism, and it's happening to the tune of bicycles.


As one proceeds to listen to the interview with London mayor, Mr. Boris Johnson, one hears him speak about the future of cities.  The Economist, and others reported this spring that for the first time in human history, more than half of the world's population lives in urban areas. And this is expected to increase in the coming decades.  We'll be stacked nearer each other than we have ever been.

To paraphrase some history: It's been the trend for many a decade to put industry and economics first when planning any sort of domestic policy for building projects and civic development.  So much so that for a long time cities were dying, at the time of the rise of the suburb.    But as the times change we are seeing a different sort of cry.

The British Medical Association (BMA) published a report (over 100 pages!) on how national policies have hurt the health of the nation - particularly in regards to transit policies.  The physicians argue that the vast majority of policy decisions have been made for the benefit of the automotive industry, and at the cost of the nation's health.  They said something similar back in 1997 and nobody listened, and yet somehow the same problems still exist, and in many cases have been exacerbated.

The UK, as well as the United States, has been undergoing intense debates over the exorbitant cost of health care.  The UK's system has historically been more "socialist" or "universal" (pick your description based on your ideology~) than that of the United States, and the government has been seeing the rising costs put to the national treasury in a very serious way for quite some time now.  The BMA posits that making civic decisions based on the health of the nation as first concern is the only way to proceed.

In the interview with Mr. Johnson, we see him making the point that cities must be more mindful of their occupants and design "villages" within a city.  Clean, green, and enjoyable public spaces must become the to-go logic.  Local Massachusetts based blogger IsolateCyclist asks for common sense in the suburbs.

What we see coming from these places, on both sides of the Atlantic, this cry to pay attention to the future.  There are entire movements devoted to this, such as the Boston area's own Liveable Streets.


One way to look at all this is a shift in ideology.  Rather than bigger is better, faster is better, industry wins - we see a shift in concern in toward the human being.  Let's bike to be healthier, let's make decisions to benefit people's daily lives, let's make beautiful cities.  Human beings as primary concern instead of economic afterthought.

And one great way to achieve all this is with bicycles.  Who would have ever thought?

And check it out - making humanistic decisions can be economical too:

"Active forms of transport, such as cycling and walking, are highly cost effective forms of transport. To the individual, walking has few costs associated with it, while the costs associated with cycling are minimal compared to those of motorised transportation. Active travel contributes savings to healthcare budgets, in terms of savings on treating chronic illness. Transport-related physical inactivity in England is estimated to cost £9.8 billion per year to the economy. This figure is in addition to the £2.5 billion in healthcare costs spent annually on treating obesity. "A 2007 Cycling England report that estimated the economic value of cycling, found that the health benefits could be valued at £87-300 per cyclist per year, depending on their age, fitness level, and neighbourhood. This did not account for the substantial social benefits of cycling, which include offering more independence to children, improving the quality of life for communities and, in some areas, supporting tourism. "A 50 per cent increase [in cycling] could lead to health savings of £1.3 billion…All [international] studies reported highly significant economic benefits of walking and cycling interventions. The median result for all data identified was a benefit to cost ratio of 13:1 and for the UK, the figure was higher at 19:1." -from the BMA article

So perhaps, by making humanism the common sense of the nation, our economies can prosper as well.  I may not live long enough to see the long term effects of all this, but I certainly would love to hear more folks joining in on this chorus of humanism.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


Raw, uncut, uncouth
devoid of filters
the earth and sky complete and whole
the road is full of holes
shaky trespass across uncertain darkness
we fly through the night
twinkling like stars

new connections born of
an unspoken solidarity
drawn from many places
and yet no place

the sea calls
the sky erupts
we cavort in the night with explosions of light
the adventure continues into the small hours
lost but not alone
the horizon beckons from the promontory
the city a halo of light around the harbor

she stands shining in the night
surrounded by a fence we climb
to navigate around locked gates
the wind a sweet melody
on our faces after the swift climb

we descend with gravity
back through the labyrinthine streets
some parting here and there
the tenuous connections split asunder
this was a brief encounter
in the hidden night

but it is not the last or the only
a melancholy parting
but it fades with the dawn
refreshed and new

welcome to the full moon ride

Friday, June 29, 2012

Leaves on a tree: Life-condition

Both during and after participating in the first ever Ikeda Youth Ensemble National Competition for taiko - I've had quite a few observations, breakthroughs, and experiences to say the least.  This one found it's form after a conversation with Mint and Jen O. about how leaves look before a storm.

[from a trip to Joshua Tree, I'm always amazed that flowers bloom in the desert...]

Life-condition.  It's a term a lot of SGI Nichiren Buddhists use to describe how one feels in not just a mood-ring kind of way, but also spiritually (ecumenically?).  If one says, "I have a low life-condition"; that could be taken to mean I'm cranky, whiny, maybe angry or sad - and maybe you'd be better off not talking to me, or maybe I don't want to talk to anybody.  It can be a rather solitary state, either purposefully or not.  If one says, "I have a high life-condition"; don't confuse that with the state engendered by the use of recreational pharmaceuticals.  A high life-condition is rather a state of being when we can see our problems in perspective and know that our situation doesn't define us; both the good and the bad are met with strength, tact, and grace.  Part of how we introspect and talk about Buddhist practice has to do with an honest evaluation of our life-condition and the practice we undergo to raise this condition and help others do the same.

[trees grow in the desert~]

The tree of life...

Coming out of the aforementioned conversation and thoughts on this much used word came some imagery...

In Buddhism we often talk about the inherent and infinitely complex interconnectedness and interdependence of all living things, we call this dependent origination.  And in the natural world:

In the fall when the leaves change color, they die.  They fall off the trees and onto the earth.  A fallen leaf is brittle, dry, and singular - easily blown about by the wind.  A dry, brittle leaf is crushed to dust under my shoes.  When we reject the interdependence of all life, when we have a low life-condition we are like this - brittle, frail, easily blown about by our circumstances.  Alone.  

When we delve into and take joy in the interconnected nature of life, when we have a high life-condition - we are as the leaf in summer.  A green leaf is connected to a larger whole, it is both nourished and nourishes.  The individual leaf performs photosynthesis and contributes to the larger living entity, and yet cannot perform its function without nutrients sent from the roots.  A green leaf is supple and strong.  When the winds blow the branches move and the leaves flutter - but are not destroyed.  The wind moving the branches may be the obstacles that influence our lives, but when connected and contributive we are not destroyed.

Other notions that one could continue off from the above parallel...

Trees don't get around much, they must grow where they are.  Sometimes we don't like where we're at and begrudge it, ignore it and so do not advance.  A plant has no such choice.  When we make the determination to start growing right where we are, it is amazing the things that we can achieve, the dreams we can manifest, even when resources seem to be nonexistent.

You can grow a plant from the cutting of an old one.  Sometimes great winds rip branches off trees and decimate the organism.  New growth often climbs out of an old stump.  A shorn off branch can begin a new tree.  Just because our circumstances may seem to have taken everything from us does not mean that it is impossible to grow again anew.

"Even places that have been shrouded in darkness for billions of years can be illuminated.  Even a stone from the bottom of a river can be used to produce fire.  Our present sufferings, no matter how dark, have certainly not continued for billions of years - nor will they linger forever.  The sun will definitely rise.  In fact, its ascent has already begun." -Daisaku Ikeda

Monday, June 18, 2012


Just how versatile are you?  Things are going well, and we’re at the top of the world – well, maybe if not the top of the world, at least things aren’t so bad.  So we go through the days.  But what happens when things don’t go according to plan?  When you can’t do something you’ve been trained to do, have done elsewhere, have the tools to complete – and even people willing to help you – and it doesn’t work.  And no matter how hard you try, or what creative way of approaching it you think of next. It. Still. Doesn’t. Work. 

What then?  If you’ve got the training, the tools, the manpower, the gumption, the guts, the will to work.  But it still doesn’t work.

How versatile are you?  Can you adapt to changing, unhappy, unfulfilling, constantly challenging situations that make you question your own worth?

Can you do it, can you keep going even then?

That, in truth - of course, is really only a question that each person has to answer for themselves, but the point is, to keep willing, to keep daring, again and again and again – even when it starts to look like insanity, even when it starts to feel like insanity – and winning through because you haven’t been defeated by the constant efforts without reward, then that is true versatility.
Versatile come to us from the postulated Latin roots of
versātilis - revolving, many-sided, equivalent to versāt ( us ) (past participle of versāre,  frequentative of vertere  to turn; see verse, -ate1 ) + -ilis -ile

Turning and multi-sided....

How many sides do you have?  Are they all true?  Are they all you?
When we’re pushed beyond what is comfortable into what is necessary for our growth we can get cranky, and suddenly a functioning adult wants to have a temper tantrum like a small child.  But can we turn?

In Buddhism, Buddhahood is liked to a many faceted jewel of limitless worth.  The term human revolution, meaning a fundamental transformation in the life of an individual being contributive to a transformation of society and the times  - also has a turning semantic aspect.

There are many facets to the human life, there is deeper stuff here than the frustrations of what we cannot do right now.  (And that doesn’t mean we won’t be able to do them someday!)

So rather than have the temper tantrum, as momentarily satisfying as that might be; stand up, fight on -  never give up, show versatility – show the many faceted jewel of limitless worth that is the human condition, that is you.

By never giving up, we win. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Fond Farewell

(Yes the title of the post is the title of an Elliot Smith song... but this is a happy thing....)

Charlie says goodbye to his parking spot, and the friendly vacuum cleaners.

Today is our last day with the jolly Saint, after almost seven years from when I first walked in the door, today we say our fond farewells.

Tomorrow shall be Charlie's second birthday, with me that is.... he's not telling his age, so don't ask.

More than 7,500 miles together in two years, how the time does fly!

On Monday onto new adventures, into the land of the bicycles....

Friday, May 25, 2012

Perpetual Motion Machine: Perpetuum Mobile

So back in the day, before the math and the physics were as subtle as they get nowadays, fine gentlemen scientists thought perpetual motion machines would be a great idea.  All you need is one singular burst of activation energy and then you get a machine that keeps running itself, indefinitely.

Now with friction and all those other pesky ways energy is lost over time, we know that this will not be the case, eventually the power source is exhausted, or the parts wear out, or a whole mess of other variables kick in (talk to a math or physics person for all the elegant formulae please).  The Deutsches Museum in Munich has an entire exhibit hall devoted to quite the collection of these contraptions and the vision of them has stayed with me in the years since I've been there.

Now enter Charlie....

Charlie doesn't coast, can't coast, the pedals go round and round, always.  Charlie is a fixie, one must even pedal to stop.  Even when coming to a halt we're advancing.

Charlie is my perpetual motion machine.  (Or the closest I'm going to get).

Life can look this way sometimes too.

There's a goal and you go all out for the goal, and once it is achieved you think, "Well - okay, I've achieved this, so now I can rest.  I'll try hard again later when it suits my purposes." (I was thinking like this lately and realized how ridiculous it was.) Or, "Ok, I've put in the activation energy, now I'm here! It'll keep moving of its own accord."

But living, really living, doesn't work like that.  It's a dynamic succession of determining, striving, failing, getting back up - and even once you've achieved the goal, moving forward, growing, changing, challenging the next horizon.

Because really, why would you want to coast when there's so much adventure in the challenge?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Back to that Moment

I want to go back,
back to that moment
last weekend
last morning
last month
when everything was new and bright
the sun was shining
and there was a springtime's worth of it everywhere

I want to go back,
back to that moment
when anything was possible

I want to go back,
back to that moment
when I first realized I could do it
the pride and wonder
when I could first ride a bike
(or you can stick any first experience of the positive life-changing variety in here)

But I can't go back

And so I go forward
pedal stroke by pedal stroke
through puddles
dodging garbage trucks
jaywalking pedestrians
everything on the road
that seems
for today
to want to do me in

I go forward
until at some moment
I don't know when
(maybe I've pedaled
long enough
or far enough)
that the feeling returns

And I can do it
and it's wonder
and mystery
and adventure

its on a bike

just because you grow up
doesn't mean
you have to lose the joy
the wonder
the fun of it all

my time machine
imagination vehicle?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Tales from the Road: Midnight Marathon Ride

Sometime last year I came across the blog of the inestimable Greg Hum, who had come up with the fantastic idea of starting something I came to learn as the Boston Marathon Midnight Bike Ride - in coordination with the Society of Sponateity.

I found out about this long after the fact and found myself overcome with the excitement to participate the very next time this came around.  So I put it on my calendar, and did what anyone would do  ~ kept riding my bike.

Months and adventures pass and the end of March approached and I asked myself, are you serious about this?  On a fixie, are you crazy?  I read as much about the previous years as possible, and informed all the bicycle-prone people in my life.  In the end I was joined by the Beard and Watson.  Beard on a single speed, Watson with gears and a mixte frame, and me with Charlie the fixie.

The forecast didn't explicitly say rain even though it was swampy humid.  We set off from 1369 in Central (thanks for caffeine, this ride was past my bedtime to say the least) and made for South Station.  Watson procured some commuter rail tickets for us along the way.

Not having biked to South Station myself, and being the designated leader of this little menagerie, we were most fortunate to run across the founder himself, Mr. Hum - and were able to follow his and his companion's lead to South Station.

Then we waited.....

....the station filled with bicycles and their humans.  Spandex clad with advanced equipment, rust buckets, mixtes, fixie whips, folding bikes, and even a few Hubways - in every color! Mardi Gras beads, glow lights....

... and we waited.

They called the train and we queued up and we waited.

The cars filled and people crowded in with bicycles....

Our car:

Some were neatly stacked, some thrown about.  And we waited.....

The train left more than 20 minutes late because they had to add another car, there were so many of us.  More than 600 I am told.  And the train ride commenced.  And so more waiting (or in my case a bit of a nap)...

And although I write "waiting" a lot, cyclists aren't the waiting type.  Waiting in this story means jokes, questions, exchanges, finding out things you never knew, admiring a stranger's bicycle, eating, and telling stories. So there is much more to these hours of the night than just waiting.  (Swapping tenses!)

Anticipation rises as we approach the Southborough stop.... people begin final checks on their bicycles and equipment, unfold from commuter rail resting positions.  Start to get ready to disembark.

And the train pulls up and the platform isn't long enough.  So half the train unloads and they move the train up.  We gather in the parking lot across from the train stop.  There are more of us than fit into it's confines.

A small undulating sea of blinking lights, the great mass of bicycles unseen in the darkness.

And then it begins to rain.

Mutterings of general contempt for the sky ensue.  The newbies are not prepared for this.

This is when you wish for fenders if you don't have them, and grin if you do.

We set off!  The writhing mass unsure of how to all fit under the train bridge on the road to the Marathon's starting line.  Our little menagerie is separated.  

The next miles to the starting line all seem to be uphill with no streetlamps.  The only visage upon the road is a constant stream of blinking bicycle lights reflected upon the wet road.  Looking ahead - a sea of red, looking behind, white shining.

For whatever reason some cyclists start singing, first this:

then this:

Both of which I know by heart, the later from what is, admittedly my favorite Disney film.

So it's not that strange to be in your mid-late-twenties and sing mildly obscure Disney songs at the top of your lungs in the middle of night whilst riding a bicycle in the dark with hundreds of people you've never met, right?

Uphill, uphill, passing each other here and there.  The tick-tick-tick of derailleurs hard at work, Charlie and I continue, pedal, pedal.  One large hill looms, streetlights emerge, have to stand up - for the first time wishing for gears.  Somehow it ends up feeling like a great big version of Prospect Hill back in Somerville - the steep bits anyway.  Many walking their bikes up.

At last we of the menagerie find each other.  We reach the starting line.  The rain continues but with less enthusiasm.

Then it's downhill.  Not some gentle lowgrade, but something kids with sleds dream of.  Beware of wet brakes ladies and gentlemen.

But I can't coast, choosing to do this fixie.  Bomb!  Legs spin round and round and round.  Apply resistance to pedals to achieve deceleration, don't want to waste the breaks on this one.  Watson and Beard go on ahead, I'm a bit over-cautious, these are some of the longest, swiftest downgrades I've ever navigated with Charlie as a fixie.

Eventually the rain stops.  Eventually the downhill is less intense.  I don't know how many miles it took, it was so exhilarating it goes by too fast.

Porta-potties provided, untouched, for your convenience along the way.  Really they are for tomorrow's crowds, but how often are they observed unsullied?

The miles continue.  When a car approaches from the front cries of "car!" flow through the throng, when from behind, "car back!".

The miles go on. The throng stretches out over miles as the paces stretch out by speed.  You can go for some time without another cyclist in sight. We pass well-known places, Wellesley College, much later Boston College.... but I get ahead of myself.

Framingham is our Skylla and Charybdis:  The commuter rail tracks cross the road on a curve.  The tracks are wet, the road is wet.  The rubber track liners, meant to ease the passage of car tires, with much larger contact patches, are too flexible, the rubber too slippery.  The first wave of cyclists, these people by no means beginners - take a hit, there are several severe falls, and badly damaged bicycles.  By the time we arrive there are police cars warning the oncoming bicycles, two ambulances, and a fire engine.  We dismount and walk across.  I later learn that over the course of the night these tracks claim their share of cyclist blood and bicycles.

As the miles continue we encounter bike drummers.  Drunken enthusiasts who wait outside their homes in these late hours to cheer us on and give us high-fives as the night wears on.  Folks with flat tires being aided by strangers. Every time we stop people going by never fail to ask "Are you ok?".  We ask the same to others.  Cliff bars save the day, and a bag of mixed nuts.

Never really register HeartBreak Hill, by that point legs are mush, have been pedaling the whole way, Charlie and I.  Have already biked twenty miles that day before we went to South Station.  Our menagerie is fatigued but determined.  We pass into more familiar parts of Boston.  We pass Superb Bicycle.  We come upon the final blocks, turn onto Boylston, and sprint down this multiple lane street toward the finish, down a road that is usually a taxi cab death trap for the uninitiated cyclist.

And under the finish line.

By this point it is 4am.

We got to South Station around 9.  The midnight train left late. We flew, then tired and slow.  It didn't matter, we made it.

A brief rest.  By the time everyone, wet pants and all, were safely cycled home, it's almost 5, and the new day is beginning.  I pass several cyclists headed down to do Hal's ride on my way home.  Maybe, when I'm faster, I'll do that one.

A great adventure, certainly worth all the wait.  A great thanks to the organizers and support volunteers. To the civil service individuals, police, firestation personnel, ambulance, and emergency services folks.  To the wonderful people who always asked, "Are you ok?".  To the people who stayed up all night to wave to a bunch of silly bikers.  To the people at the T and Commuter rail conductors.  The fine folks who pointed the way in the dark so we didn't get lost.  To the founders and all the intrepid folks who dared to do such a thing.

See you all next year?:)
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Tour de What You Will by Jessie Calkins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License