Month: January 2013

Letting Go

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I’ve been thinking about Things lately – my Favorite Things, specifically.  I’m not the sentimental type. If I was running out of my burning house, there is nothing I would bother taking except my cats and husband. Yes, I might be sad later that I no longer had some things, but I don’t think I’d be too worried about taking anything with me.

Of course, the burning question I was faced with after this revelation was: If I don’t define myself by what I own, why do I have so much stuff?

It would be easy to blame my husband who can’t seem to get rid of anything in our house, even junk mail. Everything is always someone else’s fault, right? Wrong. If I’m honest with myself, I have filled my life with inanimate things, and I have a hard time knowing when it’s time to release them.

Again, back to the question of why? Why do I hang onto so much stuff?

Fear. There is definitely a bunch of stuff that I seem afraid to let go of. Thoughts like “what if I need it one day?” haunt me. PT equipment, camera boxes, travel books from places I’ve already visited, sports gear (fixie, sailing gear, kayak gear, extra skis, extra camping stuff), bags, vacuum cleaner, scrapbook making stuff, articles, electronic cables…

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I also have a hard time letting go of gifts that were given to me. I am afraid of hurt feelings or telling the truth if the giver should ask what happened to their gift. Books, pottery, jewelry…

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Guilt. Sometimes I look at something that I don’t need, use, or love and think about how much the item cost. How can I get rid of something that was so expensive? Kitchenaid mixer, crepe pan, film camera, clothing items, chairs, artwork…

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Sentimentality. Okay, I started by saying that I’m not emotionally attached to things. Ha! I have an entire collection of things that represent times and experiences that I’m deeply attached to. I haven’t wanted to let them go, lest I let go of the memory or good feeling. Maps, ticket stubs, broken sundial pendant, stuffed animals, event tshirts and memorabilia, inherited items…

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I’m not sure where all this new insight will lead me. Will I be able to release some things now that I’ve named the emotional reason for holding onto them? Do I even need to? (Probably, our house is pretty small.) Time will tell.

Season of the Bike

Photo by northernontario_motorcycletouring

Photo by northernontario_motorcycletouring

It’s been a while since I’ve thrown a leg over my Monster and felt the rumble of the engine beneath my legs. Yesterday, I got a email with the text of one of Dave Karlotski’s stories for The Saavy Traveler, which reminded me how much I really miss riding. Read all the way to the end; the last paragraph is so true. If you like this story, you can read more of Karlotski’s stories at The 751.

Season of the Bike
by Dave Karlotski

There is cold, and there is cold on a motorcycle. Cold on a motorcycle is like being beaten with cold hammers while being kicked with cold boots, a bone bruising cold. The wind’s big hands squeeze the heat out of my body and whisk it away; caught in a cold October rain, the drops don’t even feel like water. They feel like shards of bone fallen from the skies of Hell to pock my face. I expect to arrive with my cheeks and forehead streaked with blood, but that’s just an illusion, just the misery of nerves not designed for highway speeds.

Despite this, it’s hard to give up my motorcycle in the fall and I rush to get it on the road again in the spring; lapses of sanity like this are common among motorcyclists. When you let a motorcycle into your life you’re changed forever. The letters “MC” are stamped on your driver’s license right next to your sex and height as if “motorcycle” was just another of your physical characteristics, or maybe a mental condition.

But when warm weather finally does come around all those cold snaps and rainstorms are paid in full because a motorcycle summer is worth any price. A motorcycle is not just a two-wheeled car; the difference between driving a car and climbing onto a motorcycle is the difference between watching TV and actually living your life. We spend all our time sealed in boxes and cars are just the rolling boxes that shuffle us languidly from home-box to work-box to store-box and back, the whole time entombed in stale air, temperature regulated, sound insulated, and smelling of carpets.

On a motorcycle I know I’m alive. When I ride, even the familiar seems strange and glorious. The air has weight and substance as I push through it and its touch is as intimate as water to a swimmer. I feel the cool wells of air that pool under trees and the warm spokes of sunlight that fall through them. I can see everything in a sweeping 360 degrees, up, down and around, wider than PanaVision and higher than IMAX and unrestricted by ceiling or dashboard.

Sometimes I even hear music. It’s like hearing phantom telephones in the shower or false doorbells when vacuuming; the pattern-loving brain, seeking signals in the noise, raises acoustic ghosts out of the wind’s roar. But on a motorcycle I hear whole songs: rock ‘n roll, dark orchestras, women’s voices, all hidden in the air and released by speed.

At 30 miles an hour and up, smells become uncannily vivid. All the individual tree-smells and flower-smells and grass-smells flit by like chemical notes in a great plant symphony. Sometimes the smells evoke memories so strongly that it’s as though the past hangs invisible in the air around me, wanting only the most casual of rumbling time machines to unlock it.

A ride on a summer afternoon can border on the rapturous. The sheer volume and variety of stimuli is like a bath for my nervous system, an electrical massage for my brain, a systems check for my soul. It tears smiles out of me: a minute ago I was dour, depressed, apathetic, numb, but now, on two wheels, big, ragged, windy smiles flap against the side of my face, billowing out of me like air from a decompressing plane. Transportation is only a secondary function. A motorcycle is a joy machine. It’s a machine of wonders, a metal bird, a motorized prosthetic. It’s light and dark and shiny and dirty and warm and cold lapping over each other; it’s a conduit of grace, it’s a catalyst for bonding the gritty and the holy.

I still think of myself as a motorcycle amateur, but by now I’ve had a handful of bikes over a half dozen years and slept under my share of bridges. I wouldn’t trade one second of either the good times or the misery. Learning to ride was one of the best things I’ve done.

Cars lie to us and tell us we’re safe, powerful, and in control. The air-conditioning fans murmur empty assurances and whisper, “Sleep, sleep.” Motorcycles tell us a more useful truth: we are small and exposed, and probably moving too fast for our own good, but that’s no reason not to enjoy every minute of the ride.

In memory of Robert Frost

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Robert Frost’s death. If you’re like me, he is the first poet you remember reading. Even as an adult, I still love his use of metric timing and rhyme. It’s charming and sweet, especially in a world dominated by free verse. Here’s a short poem of his that I think is perfect as winter starts to give way to spring.

A Patch of Old Snow
by Robert Frost

There’s a patch of old snow in a corner
That I should have guessed
Was a blow-away paper the rain
Had brought to rest.

It is speckled with grime as if
Small print overspread it,
The news of a day I’ve forgotten —
If I ever read it.

 

Five Pieces of Inspiration #4

It’s been a while since I posted a simple list of things I find inspiring and interesting. I like sharing them though. It’s like a little piece of my Vision Board. Perhaps you’ll find inspiration in there too.

  1. I’ve been doing a lot of cross-country skiing this winter. I’m also trying to be motivated to run in the cold, dark, wet mornings before work. Allen Lim’s article on exercising in the cold of winter gave me lots to think about.
  2. My friend Laura reminded me last weekend that there’s nothing better than a real wood fire to warm body and soul at the end of a long day outside in the cold.

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    Photo by Matthew Venn

  3. Still struggling with New Year’s Resolutions? Think simple: 30 accomplishments to be proud of.
  4. Advice to young writers from Jeffrey Eugenides.
  5. Essentials only, clearing out the rest: Zero Clutter.

Open Letter to CBC re: the Seattle Brews Cruise

Dear Cascade Bicycle Club:

I was shocked and extremely disappointed to read today that Cascade Bicycle Club is hosting the Seattle Brews Cruise – a ride that promotes drinking during the ride. Part of the reason I support the club is its ongoing efforts to ensure its rides are safe and promote cycling safety in general.  Not only is this event in contravention of these goals, it explicitly encourages unsafe riding behavior. As such, I would like to request that Cascade Bicycle Club rethink whether the club should hold the event as planned.

You might be thinking, “Aw lighten up already! One beer can’t hurt. Our riders know their limits and will be responsible.” The trouble is statistics say otherwise. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), 28% of all cyclists killed in 2009 had a measurable blood alcohol level. That bears repeating, more than a quarter of all cycling deaths involved alcohol consumption by the rider. Only 24% of the fatalities involved a BAC in the rider of .08% or higher. That means a rider doesn’t have to be legally impaired to increase his/her risk of death. On the contrary, a bicyclist’s risk of a crash begins to increase significantly at 0.05% BAC and climbs rapidly after about 0.08%. To put it succinctly, when a rider is only a pint or two down, the odds for a bicycle crash go up – sometimes way up. One study showed BAC over 0.10% increased injury risk tenfold.

The risks aren’t just related to cycling deaths either. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine shows that risk of injury also increases.Alcohol, bicycling, and head and brain injury: a study of impaired cyclists’ riding patterns, found that among the 200 patients studied “[a]lcohol use showed a strong correlation with head injury” and that, “[i]mpaired riders were less experienced, less likely to have medical insurance, rarely wore helmets, were more likely to ride at night and in slower speed zones such as city streets, and their hospital charges were double.” The study’s conclusion is unambiguous: “Alcohol use leads to a host of unsafe bicycling practices, increased head and brain injuries, and costs to the cyclist and community.”

What strikes me is that the risk of head injury and costs to the community are the very reasons cited for helmet wearing. And yet, the club has blatantly chosen to ignore these risks as it promotes behavior that impairs riders’ motor skills and judgment before they throw a leg over the bike.

The club discourages the use of headphones, riding on sidewalks, disobeying traffic laws, riding in a paceline if you aren’t trained to do so, and riding without a helmet – all because these behaviors compromise rider safety. Alcohol consumption is no different. It compromises rider safety and should be relegated to its proper place as a worthy post-ride celebration. Please consider canceling the Seattle Brews Cruise or at least canceling the mid-ride beer stop.

Finally, it strikes me that this type of ride could lead to legal trouble for the club. I’m not a personal injury lawyer and am not offering specific legal advice in this area. I’m just raising the red flag. If the club actively encourages behavior that it knows to be unsafe and someone is injured or killed as a result, could it be liable for gross negligence or wrongful death? Does promoting an activity that the club knows to be dangerous constitute grossly negligent behavior? Will the club’s waiver hold up if the club is found guilty of gross negligence? If you decide to hold the event as planned, it would be worth consulting an attorney about the club’s potential liability in the event of an injury or death. I would prefer the club spends its legal budget on creating positive change for cyclists, not on defending against avoidable lawsuits.

Thank you.