Special RAGBRAI Edition: Sunday Roast (A Conversation Between Friends)

25 07 2013
IMG_0004_2
NOTE: Occasionally, I’ve invited guests to blog on Jenion. The feature has typically been posted on Sunday and in addition to my Thursday post. This week, however, I am riding my bicycle across the state of Iowa. Today’s guest kindly volunteered to cover the weekly post so I wouldn’t stress about it while on the ride!

Today’s Guest Blogger: Mike Beck

I can’t believe I actually said it out loud.

Last Thursday evening: “Are you going to blog while riding RAGBRAI?” I asked Jenifer.  “I don’t know.” She replied with some hesitation.  “Maybe I’ll guest blog this week!”  (This is where I should have bit my tongue. Hard.)  Her reply? “OKAY!”

 I’m Mike.  I’ve been mentioned occasionally in Jenion, so the name may seem familiar.  Actually, I’ve been mentioned more frequently than what may be obvious, but often, it is in single statements with no names; lines repeated from past conversations where only I know that she remembered something we shared.  You see, Jenifer and I share a lot.  When we’re together, we gab.  And when we’re apart, we text and email each other frequently.  We cover any array of topics.  Nothing is off limits.  We speak ironically.  We delve into deep discussions.  We often laugh with abandon. We’re close friends. 

 I met Jenifer in the fall of 1979.  I was a sophomore at Loras College, Jenifer a freshman at Clarke College, both in Dubuque, Iowa.  A mutual friend brought Jenifer along to a gathering at the Loras Christian Center, a place where many of us found the foundation of our faith, the freedom of our young adulthood, and the bonds of what would become life-long friendships.  Oh, and folk music!  Lots of singing and guitar playing took place there.  (We were so cool!) 

I have learned so many lessons from the people who used to hang out at LCC.  But the most important lesson, and one I’ve tried to carry with me throughout my entire life, is that friends are precious, deserve to be cherished, nurtured, and celebrated.  I have been blessed with many wonderful people in my life just because we took the time to get to know each other a little bit, and decided the investment was worth it.  My relationship with Jenifer is clearly one I intend to hold onto as long as she’ll put up with me.  (I’m not too worried since she recently relocated to my city of Minneapolis and lives in an apartment in my building!)

And ever since she landed on Franklin Avenue, we’ve spent a considerable amount of time together, grocery shopping, bike riding, and hanging out with my visiting family.  It just seems natural that we knock on each other’s door as we pass in the hall and check in, coordinate trips to Kowalski’s or Target, and plan our new favorite thing: night bike rides around the city’s amazing bike trails!

Then she left to ride in RAGBRAI, a week-long bike ride across Iowa.  I texted her the first day she was gone: “I’m bored.”

 And that is where the blessings of having friends kicked in.  The boredom lasted about five minutes.  My friend JC was laying sod in his yard Saturday morning and I offered to help.  Just as we got the last of the grass installed in the back yard, I had to take off.  I was meeting FA for lunch downtown and needed a shower.  As our sunny summer rooftop lunch ended, my youngest son texted and wanted to have dinner together.  JW texted in the middle of my pulled pork sliders to see if I had dinner plans.  Yes, but we were going to head back downtown for the Aquatennial fireworks.  Please join us!  (Which he did.)  In between, EP called and wanted to go for a bike ride.  Not tonight, but how about tomorrow?  On Sunday, SB joined us and we rode the entire chain of lakes.

Monday evening, I had a relaxing time with three other friends catching up over a glass of wine on a backyard patio.  Tuesday night, I made it to Moto-I for a roof top happy hour with a large group of other friends.

So, even though I knew I was going to miss having Jenifer around for a whole week, I was also reminded of how important it is to have close friends, people I care about deeply, who remind me what a privilege it is to be part of their lives.  A text from Jenifer put it in perfect context: “When you start really living your life, people want to be part of it!”

So, as I hijack Jenion for this week only, I would humbly propose that we repent our anemic understanding of love, and actually get out and do something, anything, with our friends, not because we need them in our lives, but because we want to be part of theirs. And frankly, it’s simply how we have been called to live.

Advertisements




Pushing vs Easing Off

18 07 2013

Let me begin by saying I’m fine.

We’re riding this little heat wave in Minneapolis, like much of the country, and my new apartment doesn’t have air conditioning. So I sweat. Whether I sit completely still, sleep, or move around unpacking boxes and tubs, I sweat. The only difference is the amount of sweating – movement takes it from a “sheen” to “pouring out of my skin”. Since sweat was happening anyway, and RAGBRAI starts on Sunday, I decided a long bike ride was in order. For some reason, sweating always feels better outside and as the result of physical exertion.

I knew something wasn’t quite right within the first hour, when I had already emptied my water bottle and was dreaming of stopping for something cold to drink. Mind you, I planned to ride between 4-6 hours, which would hopefully net about 60 miles of road. I had to stop at 9.8 miles – I’m not usually really warmed up for a long ride until double that distance. So I stopped at a restaurant and drank a large glass of iced tea, followed by another of iced water. I refilled my water bottle, then ate. I’d guess I had about 96 ounces of liquid, plus my lunch, sloshing around in my stomach when I took off again – bad idea. I was not feeling well, but I had a goal in mind and I intended to get there. So I pushed on.

Let’s just say another 90 minutes of riding saw unpleasantness happening – and my water bottle was drained again. At this point, I was way out on a trail near nothing – no people, no businesses, no shade. Now, I had no choice but to push on. To be very clear – I was miserable.

Eventually, I reached a shopping center and stopped again. A bottle of water, a glass of ice, and a tall iced coffee in my possession, I took a seat in the shade and watched the clock – I intended to sit still for a full half hour. Then I would decide whether to continue riding or just head the last couple of miles home. Happily, the thirty minutes resulted in a refreshed Jenion. I took the scenic route home, circling both Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun before heading for my apartment – where I took a long cool shower and applied medicated powder to areas of chafing and heat rash.

The reason I am sharing this story is that it contains a lesson I’ve been slow to learn in my life – namely, knowing when to push and when to ease off. In observing myself, I’ve discovered that I often make exactly the wrong choice – I push when it would be in my own best interest to ease off, and I ease off when it would be best to push.

This summer a magnifying glass seems to be focused directly on this issue for me – interpersonally, psychologically, emotionally. When I began making plans for the time I would be between jobs, it looked very different from how it has turned out. I was pushing hard and applying for jobs I couldn’t possibly imagine myself doing, driven by fear and panic. Every single one of those applications resulted in rejection – though some were quite lovely and thoughtful rejections (“We actually think you’d be a good fit for us, just not in this position.”) The message eventually came through – I was unclear about my direction, and running around in circles just to be able to say I was trying was not a productive use of my time and energy. Relaxing into a two-month hiatus from pushing on the employment front has not been easy – no matter how it may look from the outside. But it has led to some amazing experiences of joy when I can release into being in the exact moment I am in.

A perfect example was the Basilica Block Party last weekend. Back in May, Mike suggested we sign up to volunteer, and we did so in spite of my complete lack of knowledge about the event, and the fact that it would be my first weekend living in my new city (even though at the time, I was still hedging on whether I would choose Minneapolis). Our job was to wander the venue and self raffle tickets – something I would normally hate. But I was free from expectations – my own or anyone else’s – and it was a fun and engaging experience on several levels.

When it comes to interpersonal interactions, I have always been the equivalent of a dancer who steps on her partner’s toes. When I can relax and let things flow between myself and another, things go really well. The four days I spent with the Dennis’ in Cedar Rapids between my trip to New Mexico and my move to Minneapolis were perfect in this way. But when I get all bottled up with unspoken expectations and emotions, or I am untruthful or withholding of my feelings in order to maintain stasis, it always leads to pushing at the wrong moments, stepping on toes. So I have been trying to notice the moments when this is occurring and back up, take a better more true run at it. Here’s an example: on Sunday I got together with my grad school friend, Kathe (which was wonderful, by the way). Later, I was telling Mike about Kathe’s feeling that I should be writing for submission, looking for ways to make a living with this talent and endeavor that I love. Mike said, “And did you roll your eyes at her like you always do at me when I say that?”  I started to pooh-pooh the idea that I roll my eyes at him, to deny his experience and push my own version. The truth is, I probably have looked at him as if he has two heads. But it isn’t because I discount his opinion. It is because the idea of going after what has always been a dream is so scary. So I backtracked, and told Mike, “I’m going to say this, for the record: I have always appreciated your support and encouragement about my writing. It means a lot to me. If I’ve rolled my eyes, it isn’t because of what you said, its because I haven’t known how to respond.” Which led to a brief but important push on Mike’s part – when he ended the conversation with the question, “What do you have to lose?” Touché, Mike, touché.

Pushing to achieve something – an accomplishment, a better understanding in relationships, personal growth – is a good thing and definitely has its place. I don’t want to stop pushing myself. But pushing for the sake of sticking with a plan that isn’t working, or to manage feelings of insecurity or fear, is rarely a good or beneficial idea. The same is true for easing off – doing so in order to create time and space for growth, to allow an interpersonal interaction to develop naturally, or to regroup are all good. Easing off in order to avoid hard truths or to maintain false amity with others is a self-betrayal. Figuring out which is called for in a particular moment is a skill – and like all skills it improves with practice. Sometimes, like on my bike ride yesterday, you learn the hard way how to recognize whether to keep pushing or to ease off. Luckily, at other times, you learn through making the right choice – and those are the lessons I’m learning to cultivate this summer.





Thursday, July 18, 2013

18 07 2013

Image





Learning Not to Kill the Magic

11 07 2013

On my recent visit to New Mexico, my parents and I drove to the Jemez State Monument. The drive from their home in Rio Rancho to the monument is gorgeous. As we passed one of several pueblos my father recalled stopping there once. He told the following story about that brief visit:

“We stopped at the visitor center, and there was this kid working there. He asked us where we were from, and I told him, ‘Rio Rancho now, but originally from Iowa.’ He said he hadn’t been many places, but he’d had the chance to visit Iowa the previous summer. Then he said, ‘And I saw something magical there. Something I thought only existed in books or movies – I honestly didn’t believe they were real.’ And you know what he was talking about? Fireflies! Course, it’s too dry down here for lightening bugs. Just imagine what that would be like – dusk on a June night in Iowa – if you’d never seen them before. No wonder he thought it was magic!”

A couple of weeks later, I was enjoying an incredible June dusk on the back patio of my friends, the Dennis’, in Iowa. As the fireflies began to light up the yard, I was remembering that conversation just as I heard a loud SMACK and the words, “Got it!” from one of the Dennis girls. In dismay, I asked why she killed the firefly, and her answer was, “I don’t like them.” A few minutes later, her sister joined us and the entire process was repeated – another lightning bug dispatched to a violent, early grave. At that point, I couldn’t refrain from sharing with them the whole story about the pueblo kid who saw something special in the insect’s beauty. I concluded my morality tale with the line, “Don’t you see? When you killed those creatures, you were killing the magic. Is that really what you want to do?” Two pairs of shoulders lifted in identical shrugs.

Heavy sigh.

Fast forward another week, to the Fourth of July. Minneapolis, MN. To celebrate my first holiday as a Minneapolitan, my friend Mike and I spent the entire day on our bikes exploring the city: Lake of the Isles, Sculpture Garden, Loring Park and Greenway, Nicolett Mall, St. Anthony Main, Gold Medal Park, the Guthrie, Boom Island, University of Minnesota campus.

Strange mirrored reflections in window, on the Endless Bridge, The Guthrie Theater

Strange mirrored reflections in window, on the Endless Bridge, The Guthrie Theater

Late afternoon found us back on St. Anthony Main, thirsty and just a tad hungry. We stopped at an outdoor restaurant, with perfect seats to watch the crowd already gathering to stake out their fireworks-watching spots, though it was just striking 5:00 p.m. The server brought our menus, including the daily specials sheet, and Mike remarked that the flatbread on the normal menu looked good. I mentioned that there was another flatbread on the specials menu, to which Mike replied, “I saw it. Not interested, too complicated, too many ingredients.”

Now, I didn’t really care or have a stake in what Mike ordered for dinner. So there was no point in my follow-up to him, in which I pointed out that there were the same number of ingredients in both flatbreads. What I was trying to say, but not managing to spit out, was that the description of the special was more complicated and flowery, but that the actual ingredients were pretty basic. It completely came across as argumentative. Truly, it didn’t matter, yet I couldn’t seem to drop the subject, which quickly became (justifiably so) irritating to my companion. When I finally did stop talking, Mike and I sat in silence for a few minutes.

And that’s when I realized that there are lots of ways to kill magic. If our fun and easy 4th of July companionship had been a little bug with a phosphorescent butt, I would have just smashed it – but good! And while this moment was a very minor example (Mike was gracious enough to let it go and we were both able to enjoy our fish tacos), it is indicative of something I believe we all do, namely: failing to appreciate wonder when it occurs, so that we end up squashing it.

Sometimes it’s an issue of perspective. Like the Dennis girls, for whom fireflies have always been around, familiarity breeds contempt, or indifference. Someone for whom that thing, be it an insect, an experience, an emotion, is unusual or extraordinary is often more open to the wonder or magic of it. This is also true in relationships. Think about being a teenager and hearing someone say something complimentary about your parent(s) – shocking! Or when a new friend reminds you of a special quality in an old friend whom you’ve “gotten used to” and you suddenly realize you’ve taken that friend’s amazing quality for granted. The trick is to find ways to see things with new eyes, to keep refreshing your perspective. I never want to forget the wonder of bicycling, for example – how much I love that feeling of riding, of moving fast under my own steam, my body keeping a stick of metal attached to two wheels upright in an act that completely defies gravity. But training for endurance events, like RAGBRAI, can make the experience feel like a chore, rather than a joy. So I do my best to change things up, take new routes and trails – or like last night, jump on the chance to head out for a night ride (which is a completely different animal than daytime rides). Obviously, this would be impossible to do with everything in our lives. Keeping perspective fresh on household chores, or grocery shopping, may not be possible or even worth the effort. But something as amazing as little insects twinkling and sparkling in your backyard on a perfect June night – definitely worth a little effort to keep the magic alive.

IMG_3140

While biking across the Stone Arch Bridge, I stopped for a fresh perspective.

At other times, though, it isn’t an issue of perspective, it’s one of awareness. It seems so often in life that I am caught up in my own inner dialogue instead of the moment in which I am living. I think of it as PMAD: Present Moment Awareness Deficit. Last week, I went to my first Minnesota Twins game at Target Field. I stubbed my toe tripping up the stairs and fell forward (luckily, not spilling much of my cold beer). By the time we had found and climbed to our seats, I was no longer in the stadium, I was in “Jenland” and my stream of consciousness went something like this:  “I’m bleeding! I can’t believe I am bleeding. All over my sandal. The night is ruined. I’m bleeding, I smell like beer, I’m sweating, the kid behind me better stop kicking my seat, I wish I had worn something else, I hate my hair…” You get the picture – my body was sitting in an amazing location, with the Minneapolis skyline spread before me, but my head was literally not in the game. And social media contributes greatly to PMAD – it’s hard to notice the moment you’re having when you’re conversing via text and checking facebook statuses with/of people who aren’t in that same moment. Wonder and magic could be exploding like fireworks all around you, and you might miss it completely.

Great view, from Target Field

Great view, from Target Field

Looking back, this is what I regret most – the times I realized, too late, that marvelous, mystical, enchanting things were happening all around me and I was too busy being mentally snarky to notice or fully engage with them. Over time, I’ve been learning to recognize the signs of PMAD in myself and I’ve picked up a great technique to counteract it. I tell my muscles to relax, tell my lungs to breathe deeply, and tell my inner chatterbox to shut the hell up at least until I’ve relaxed and breathed. Usually, that gets me back into the moment – as long as I recognize that I’m experiencing a PMAD episode to begin with. (This technique worked beautifully at the Twins game, by the way! What a great night that turned out to be – including actual fireworks!)

One of my favorite Roald Dahl, a man who understood how to appreciate the magic in life (or at least how to get it down on paper), quotes says “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” Whether I’m experiencing a stale, “blasé, blasé” perspective, or having a PMAD incident, I always hope to find my way back to watching with glittering eyes as the magic of this one, precious life unfolds around me. Unless I see it, I can’t fully experience it. And I think I’ve killed enough magic for one lifetime.

Fireworks Finale, Twins Game, July 3, 2013

Fireworks Finale, Twins Game, July 3, 2013





Thursday, July 11, 2013

11 07 2013

 
Image

 

That’s better! Moving in the preferred direction 🙂

 





Good Omens

4 07 2013

“Factual information alone isn’t sufficient to guide you through life’s labyrinthine tests.  You need and deserve regular deliveries of uncanny revelation.  One of your inalienable rights as a human being should therefore be to receive a mysteriously useful omen every day of your life.”  —Rob Brezsny

“There is no such thing as an omen. Destiny does not send us heralds. She is too wise or too cruel for that.”  — Oscar Wilde

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

On the day I arrived in Minneapolis, two small things occurred which seemed to be signs that I had made the right decision to come here.

At 5:00 p.m. on Monday, I exited I35W into downtown Minneapolis, four lanes of busy traffic surrounding me as people began the mad rush home from their workdays. I was listening to local radio Cities 97 and, as my tires literally crossed from the freeway to the exit ramp, Sara Barielles“Brave” – my unofficial theme song for the summer – came blaring through my car’s speakers. I was singing along, buoyed by the lyrics, “…Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live, maybe one of these days you can let the light in, Show me how big your brave is…”, when the car in front of me in the left turn lane died. The light ahead turned red. I looked in my rearview mirror, to my right, and felt the claustrophobia of being hemmed in by hundreds of vehicles along with the certainty that I’d be stuck there all night. My car was loaded down with stuff from my storage unit, my bicycle dangling off the back end, and I made a split second decision — before the light changed, I was going to signal my intent. I cranked the wheel, flipped on the turn signal and nosed slightly into the next lane. And when we got the green, I was able to smoothly pull around the disabled vehicle without eliciting a single honk or appearance of road rage from the other drivers. Good omen number one – check.

My new landlady, C., is friendly and kind and fairly conscientious. Also quite a talker. It took well over an hour to go over the apartment, the lease, and the Minnesota tenant/landlord requirements. By then, we both forgot the exchange of keys that was to take place! Luckily, once outside the house, C. put a hand in her pocket looking for her car keys and discovered mine. When she came back, there was a tutorial about the keys – I didn’t want to seem impatient, but seriously, folks: after a long career in residence life on a college campus, I am a flipping key expert and can easily handle the four new ones (garage for bike storage, mailbox, security door, apartment) she gave me!

In the middle of my time with C., Mike arrived home. Mike – who went from long-distance friend to upstairs neighbor and lifeline with my signature on C.’s lease – helped me finish unloading my car. We separated to shower, then met up again for dinner to celebrate my first night as a Minneapolitan. We went to a wine bar/restaurant I had never been to before and, as it was an incredibly beautiful evening, snagged the last outdoor table. As we sat there, sipping our fruit water and waiting for our healthy “small plates” orders (which, as is our habit, we intended to share so we would both enjoy the collard greens, arugula, pancetta and Spanish cheese) we lapsed into a companionable silence.

My mind began to range back over the previous two months – from submitting my resignation through to that entire Monday – and I was completely overwhelmed by the number of seriously, profoundly, joyful moments encompassed within that time span. Heartfelt and sincere exchanges of love and respect with colleagues and friends; the most deeply soul-satisfying farewell celebration with friends at Molly’s; the safe travels and great times with my family in New Mexico; the quick visit back to Cedar Rapids and quality time with the Dennis’ and several friends (none of which felt crammed or cramped into the four days I was there); coffee and lunch with my brother Jeff’s family in Cedar Falls on my way to Minneapolis. The past two months have, quite literally, been the most amazing and beautiful time of my entire life. I feel almost greedy in, looking forward, hoping that this wonderful streak will continue through the move this coming weekend and RAGBRAI at the end of the month, and on to finding a job so I can really settle into my new home.

Obviously, people can debate forever whether omens and portents truly exist. If you know me, or have been reading Jenion for a while, you know I am an inveterate reader of signs. I believe that our intuition often knows better what is right for us than our thinking brains. Our egos and personas, filled with the “shoulds” and “oughts” we’ve internalized over the years, can often be just so much static, preventing clear signals from penetrating to our core. Intuition can sometimes help by taking us beyond the fear and paralysis that our “practical” brain (and its tendency toward circuitous thinking) leads us into. Which isn’t to say I believe in jumping into things based on a hunch and no careful thinking or planning. Only that both pieces are important in putting together the puzzle of our choices to make a full picture of our lives.

When I came back to the present after these recollections and musings, our al fresco dinner was finished. We hadn’t actually licked the plates clean, but it was close! Mike and I both felt like ambulating, so we drove over to Lake of the Isles for a walk. At the lake, the lovely hush of summer dusk was in full swing. As we got out of his car, Mike said, “Jeni, look up!”  When I did, the late evening sky was a breathtaking and deep violet-blue. And there, right in the middle of the sky, framed by the trees ringing the lake, was an X formed by criss-crossing jet contrails. I couldn’t help it, I immediately cried out, “X marks the spot!”

To me, those vapory white lines of water crystals in the sky appeared to be exactly that – the destination on a global-sized pirate map. A giant X marking the exact spot where my treasure will be found: Minneapolis, Minnesota. Good omen number two – check.

Image 1

Standing in the doorway of my new apartment on Monday afternoon. Photo courtesy of Mike, who wanted to reshoot it once he learned I planned to use it today! But I like this authentic, first day, commemoration!





Thursday, July 4, 2013

4 07 2013

Image 2

Ok everyone, here’s the damage report! After an active but “easy” month, my weight is up somewhat. It could be worse – a lot worse – as every house I stayed in and, I believe, every meal I was served included chips. Among other high calorie deliciousness. I don’t typically make these foods as readily available to myself in the normal course of days…but this wasn’t a normal time period in my life. So, now its back to self-discipline with occasional, reasonable, departures!

Happy Independence Day!