I Am #YesAllWomen

29 05 2014

On a beautiful spring day in 1972, I was walking home from Pinecrest Elementary School (Hastings, MN), enjoying the sun on my face and what ee cummings called the “true blue dream of sky”. I was the kind of kid who, even in 6th grade, wasn’t very aware of my surroundings – always lost inside my own head. Eventually, though, the fact that someone was following me, and speaking to me, impinged on my awareness. I half turned, though I spun back around immediately once I realized that the kid talking to me was Randy – the guy I had a crush on.

“You better walk faster ,” he said. “Cuz if I catch up to you, I’m gonna rape you.”

I had only a vague sense of the threat in those words, but I sped up.

Randy and I lived in adjacent neighborhoods, so his group of boys and my group of girls had a tendency to circle one another, occasionally intersecting in a game of horse or some version of “kill the man with the ball”. My friends said his following me and taunting me were signs that he liked me. After that, I became aware of his presence and gaze on me during these neighborhood kids free-for-alls.

One day, a few weeks later, my friend Cheryl and I were walking the circumference of our subdivision, following the streets that bordered the cornfields that hadn’t been plowed under for houses yet. Randy and his friend, Shannon, were in Shannon’s front yard and called us to come over. We stood talking for a couple of brief minutes, “What are you doing?” “Nothing really. You?” Suddenly, Randy shouted “NOW!” and he and Shannon each grabbed one of my arms and began dragging me into the back yard. Cheryl followed, neither of us sure what was happening.

At first, we were all laughing and it seemed like just another, more intimate, version of “kill the man”. Then Shannon said, “Randy told you he was gonna rape you.” Suddenly, real fear replaced my uncertainty and I began truly struggling to get away. As I was dragged into the cornfield behind Shannon’s house, I managed to free one arm, then pull away by almost slipping out of my shirt (I remember it was my favorite t-shirt, the one with the peace sign on the front that I had taken from my dad’s closet). Randy let go as we heard the fabric rip and I took off running toward home.

At the time, I wasn’t sure what would have happened had I not broken away. I felt serious ambivalence about whether I had been in danger or if this was typical behavior when a boy liked you. What I was clear on, however, was that this episode was one to keep to myself. So I did.

####

In seventh grade Math class, we were often given time to complete homework problems at the end of the class period. At least once a week, sometimes more often, I would be diligently attempting to figure out the difficult story problems when one of the boys (my assigned seat was surrounded by them) would use something – a pencil, a ruler, even one time the point of a protractor – to reach around my arm and poke my breasts. Then they’d all laugh. Once or twice, the male teacher asked what was going on, but how could I have spoken up in that situation? In front of the whole class? No way.

####

Flash forward a few years, and I’m in high school in a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. Randy (another Randy – the names have not been changed for the purposes of this post) lived across the street and I thought he was the hottest boy ev-ah! His parents were never around, and I killed a lot of afternoons hanging out at his house with Randy, his older sister Lisa and their kid brother. One afternoon, just Randy and I were in the house when Lisa came home. She appeared to be in a bad mood, and almost immediately picked a fight with Randy.

After a brief but intense shouting match between the two of them, Randy grew quite calm and told me to follow him to the kitchen. When we got there, he opened a drawer containing several large and clearly sharp knives and began fooling around with them. I said, “Hey, you’re gonna cut yourself! You should put those away.”

Randy flew into a rage, grabbed my arm and twisted it behind my back, holding one of the knives against my throat. “Do NOT tell me what to do,” he yelled at me. I tried talking him into letting me go, but before I got very far, Lisa came into the room and started yelling at him to “stop being such a fucking asshole”. Instead of letting me go, Randy applied more pressure to my arm, torquing it so painfully that I was required to bend at the waist to avoid it being ripped from its socket. Randy pressed the point of the knife into the middle of my back and said, “You’d better stay put. If this knife stabs you in the back, it’ll be your own fault.”

I was terrified. I can remember my breath coming fast and shallow, the feel of my heartbeat pounding in my chest. The utter and complete belief that he was capable of carrying through on his threat – both because of his superior physical strength and because of his rage.

He and Lisa yelled at each other while I kept still, focused almost entirely on the point of the knife and the degree of pressure with which it was pushed into my back. Eventually, Randy threw me to the floor and said, “Get the fuck out of here.” I didn’t need any other incentive to run.

Lisa stopped me halfway across the street and begged me not to tell my parents. She said, “You’ve seen what our life is like, he wouldn’t really have hurt you he’s just got problems that aren’t his fault.” Later that evening, Randy came to the door with Lisa. She said, “Randy has something to say,” and nudged him in the shoulder. He said, “I wouldn’t have cut you.” When my parents asked, “What was that all about?”, my reply was, “Nothing.”

####

At a dance in the student union, my senior year of college, a man I didn’t know grabbed me and gave me a huge hickey on my neck. Although I shouted at him to get off me, and beat at him with my hands, my friends looked on, laughing. When he ran off, I turned to my friends and angrily asked why they had done nothing. Their response was, “We just assumed you knew him.” I was speechless.

####

Like most women I know, I have a litany of such stories: from the almost mundane (inappropriately spoken to by strangers) to the truly dangerous (a naked man with a shotgun). These experiences have made my life smaller in many ways. They are the reason I am afraid to be alone in the woods – no Cheryl Strayed odysseys for me. They are the reason that I’ve never worn a bustier in public. They are the reason that, even though I don’t have air conditioning, I close and lock my ground floor windows when I go to bed. They are the reason I don’t go out alone at night. They are the reason I evaluate my safety at all times, why I can’t bring myself to sit with my back to the room or the door; why I sometimes feel like a coward who has given away my freedom in order to feel safe.

Many of these stories went untold when they occurred, due to my own immaturity or conflicted emotions about them. I thought that a boy threatening to rape me was unusual – until I saw almost the exact scene played out in a movie called, “Welcome to the Dollhouse”. As I got older and learned more about other women’s’ lives, I realized my experiences were hardly beyond the pale.

In fact, by comparison, they’d hardly register a blip on the misogyny scale. I’m one of the lucky ones – the men in my family, the men I’ve dated, hell even the men I’ve been shit-faced drunk with – have been kind, generous, respectful. They’ve been the type of men who don’t abuse women.  The men I’ve trusted have not beaten, raped, or commodified me.

Even so, I HAVE been dissed: disrespected, disenfranchised, disregarded.*

Even so, I HAVE felt fear my whole life – and been made to feel that fear was my own fault. I was overreacting. I was dreaming things up. I had an overactive imagination. Reading the #YesEveryWoman tweets has been a moving experience, reminding me that I am first and foremost not dreaming, overreacting, or imagining. Second, that I am not alone – though it is hard to take comfort in that thought.

Hard to take comfort…because tonight I stopped by the coffee shop down the street. The young barrista who makes my order before I place it limped as she walked from the credit card reader to the espresso machine.

“What did you do to yourself?”, I asked, genuinely concerned to see her legs scraped and bruised.

“I didn’t do it to myself,” she said. “Be careful if you go out alone after dark around here. It’s not the best neighborhood. I mean I knew that, but then I thought, heck, its my own block. The police haven’t caught the guys. Seriously, be careful.”

So there is no comfort in #YesAllWomen. There is only (finally) giving voice to the truth of our experiences. If you are one of the people backlashing against the hashtag, that’s your right. I would just say that it is also our right to give voice to our shared experience; our right to say “enough”.

If that makes you uncomfortable, welcome to our world.

#YesAllWomen

 

*Note: While this post focuses on the ways women are, from a young age, routinely physically and psychologically assaulted, the daily kinds of sexism we face – in school, relationships, on the job – are an important part of the #YesAllWomen experience and hashtag. Had I focused on these experiences, my post would have been beyond lengthy.

 

 





The Millennial In Me…

23 05 2014

When we left off last week, I was sharing that when I moved to Minneapolis, I fell hard for the city right away. However, it is taking longer to feel at home in this youthful, creative, fast-paced city suddenly recognized throughout the country as the hot place to be (figuratively hot, not literally!). In new places I often feel I start at a deficit, being naturally reticent and an introvert. I admit to sometimes feeling outpaced – my reaction times, my overall sense that I can keep up – swamped in the wake of the amazing twenty-and-thirty somethings who are making waves and pushing this community forward. Many Baby Boomers and GenXers have dissed Millennials as lacking a strong work ethic, carrying a sense of entitlement, being unable to focus. In the now famous rant by the character Will McAvoy on HBOs “Newsroom”, he accuses a young questioner of being “…part of the Worst. Generation. Ever.” In her article for NYTimes.com, “The Truth About Millennials (in Boomer Eyes)“, Kate Dries shares a list of negative articles about Millennials which blame them for everything from killing the NFL to destroying the housing market.

My own anecdotal witness is that much of the negative press about Millennials is untrue. Millennials are nothing if not change-agents. A few years ago I hired my first true Millennial employee, Layne. As her supervisor, I spent the first few months trying to determine the best ways to mentor and guide a creative dynamo who saw no absolute boundaries. To her, everything was permeable and up for renegotiation. Hiring her changed both my professional life and my personal ways of interacting with the world. Despite the early disorientation I experienced, I regard hiring her to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Which leads me to my adjustment to Minneapolis. As I have observed, read, attempted to parse the lay of the land and come to love not only the structure of this city, but also the people who embody this community, I’ve been learning some valuable things from the Millennials around me. There are qualities and/or approaches that seem to be widespread among Millennials that are not standard equipment in the tool kits of GenXers. That Millennials experience and express their generative impulses differently than previous generations seems undeniable. Layne first taught me how to work with and love the energy of Millennials – what even GenX apologist Gordinier grudgingly but admiringly calls their “confidence and entitlement”. Since moving here, I have been learning to appreciate more than their optimism and belief in possibility. I have a growing respect for their ability to get shit done. Not necessarily or only work, in the traditional sense. But important stuff, nonetheless. Stuff like making the world a more inclusive, kinder, more joyful place.

Below, three things I’m learning from Millennials I’ve met and how I’m hoping to emulate them in my own life :

1. Millennials grew up during the Nike revolution. They took in the motto: Just Do It! with their mother’s milk and have been living it ever since. For Millennials, ideas and action are inextricably linked. The caution shown by previous generations, the overdone analysis of whether the idea is feasible before engaging in the action, is considered by many Millennials to be the very reason nothing changes. They “Just Do It”, and see where it leads.

The reason this is an important take-away for me, and for many in the generation(s) preceding the Millennials is that we tend too far toward caution. Even when we are in the midst of building something new in our lives, we over think, over-plan. From Millennials, I’m learning that sometimes jumping in with both feet is the only way to do it. Tentative and overly-analytical isn’t self-motivational. And if you’re not self-motivated, forget convincing anyone else to come along.

A Millennial who typifies this approach is Patrick Stephenson, cofounder of 30 Days of Biking. Not only did he and a few friends have a thought (“We should bike every day in April”), they decided to act on the that thought and invited others, via social media, to join them. Five years later, thousands of people the world over took that same pledge this year, sharing their experiences and photos in a joyful explosion of bike-related community. Patrick, known as @patiomensch on Twitter, was named one of the top tweeters to follow in the Twin Cities, and his energy, enthusiasm and contagious activism draw others to him and into collusion with his spontaneous ideas. He is aware, however, of his own generation’s downsides. Last week he tweeted what could reasonably be considered a response to the Millennial tendency toward narcissism: “Fellow Millennials, don’t worry about cultivating your ‘personal brand.’ Just do cool, fun shit that you BELIEVE in. It’ll all work out.” If any Millennial I know has a personal brand, it could be argued that Patrick does – but he’s about the doing; the spotlight is a side-effect of that, not the focus.

2. Millennials are not hampered by the idea that their revolutionary actions must always have life-long effects. When they decide to see where a creative idea or impulse leads, they are prepared for the possibility it will turn out to be a stepping stone to something else. I like to think of this as Millennials’ “pop-up” mentality. Pop-up stores or restaurants appear, have their moment, then give way to the next great thing – and that’s how it is intended to go. Millennials are good at seizing an idea, building something with that idea at its base and being prepared to let it go when the time is ripe – their version of Tibetan sand-painting. I think this comes, in part, from the redefinition of failure which has taken place in our cultural consciousness in the last decade. Michael Jordan has said that his failures, much more frequent than his successes, are what truly built his greatness. Millennials believe that failing is a natural part of creating a life – whereas I, along with my age-mates, was taught that failure was not an option. If failing is an o.k. option, why wouldn’t one take risks?

One evening in April, on a group bike ride, I met Diana Neidecker (@dianapantzmpls) who mentioned that she “did a thing from home” when the subject of work arose. Later, I asked about her “thing”, and Diana’s answer was, “I’m starting a kindness revolution.” We went on to have a wide-ranging conversation about Millennials, making things happen, and creating nontraditional pathways in life. Diana has several projects underway, including a business in which on-line subscribers receive a monthly Be Nice Box ($1 of each box is donated to charity). Diana also has a vegan lifestyle blog, is training for some serious athletic endeavors (triathlons, duathlons, etc.), and this past weekend planned a kindness flash mob. Will all of Diana’s projects be equally successful or have long-term staying power? It is too soon to know – but Diana told me that, “I feel certain in my own heart that I’m doing what I’m meant to do with my life.” One of the great things about being a kindness revolutionary, in my estimation, is that even your duds or flops are likely to bear lovely fruit.

3. Inclusion is only a “thing” for Millennials because the world was already divisive, discriminatory and oppressive when they got here. This fact spurs Millennials to engage in social activism – though it takes new forms through their engagement. One example that I love is the marriage of social justice and entrepreneurialism. In Minneapolis, we have some incredible examples of this including Finnegan’s Beer (100% of their profits go toward hunger alleviation), Full Cycle (a nonprofit bike shop that works with homeless youth) and many more.

To be fair, Millennials who are taking on social issues aren’t all located in Minneapolis. I recently interviewed Frederick Newell, founder of The Dream Center in Iowa City, home to a unique academy for single fathers (among other innovative programs). Frederick didn’t begin with a dream to found a nonprofit – but he saw a need and challenged himself to find ways to meet it.

For Millennials, inclusion isn’t just about social justice or adopted causes, though. It has often been noted that Millennials are adept at putting the “social” in social media, and many of them cast a wide net – interested in and engaging with friends and strangers with the same degree of openness. Since my arrival in Minneapolis, I’ve discovered that – used as a tool rather than an end in itself – social media can help make real connections between people who would otherwise not have crossed paths. The #30daysofbiking community is a perfect example of this, as is Thursday night #bikeschool. What began as very topic-specific interactions have blossomed into voyages of discovery as connections, shared interests and commonalities are unearthed. Millennials are comfortable with the cross-over from media to in-person interactions For me, translating the connections I’ve made through social media into IRL connections and friendships is still an awkward process. But I’ve had the opportunity to both observe and experience how this can happen – and I intend to practice until I can make this transition with the ease of the Millennials I’ve met.

This is already an incredibly long post and there is still so much more to say – more stories and more people to introduce. Last week, I closed by asking the question: can I change generational affiliation? Do I want to? Scott Hess gave a great TedX talk titled, “Millennials: Who They Are and Why We Hate Them” (which you can watch, below). He answers the title question with this nugget of wisdom: because we are jealous of them. For me, and for several GenXers I’ve talked with since my original post, Hess’ hypothesis is partly (if not wholly) true. More than that, though, we find ourselves drawn to the energy and excitement of investing in and playing a central role in each day’s endeavors. For those of us who grew up comfortably operating in the margins, out of the spotlight, being in the center of the fray is a new experience. And I’m not the only one who wants to create an “intergeneration” that marries the best qualities of Gen X and Millennial. The Millennial in me says that’s entirely possible – just do it!





X-asperated: Can I Change My Generational Affiliation?

15 05 2014

To begin, it sucks being born on the cusp. The definition of cusp, “a pointed end where two curves meet”, makes this clear. The cusp is an uncomfortable place and I was born squarely on that point – my birth year falls into the dead zone argued by researchers – some claiming I’m a Baby Boomer, others that I’m Generation X.  Its no wonder I’ve never felt like I really fit anywhere. Like there isn’t any breathing room because members of those two big-ass generational curves are taking up all of the oxygen.

Add to that the fact that I’ve always thought of myself as a late-bloomer. My whole life has been one long game of catch-up: to my siblings, to my classmates, to my coworkers. Fashion trends? My brand-new clothes are inevitably so last year. Social trends? If I notice them they’ve progressed so far past the tipping point they’re lying on the floor ready to be walked over by the next new thing. I have always thought this the likely reason I feel so comfortable with people who are younger than me – I’m marginally ahead of them in life experience!

Taken together, these two factors have had me, since moving to Minneapolis, thinking a lot about generational differences. Minneapolis is a happening place, a city with a young population. It has been named one of the best cities for new college graduates to find employment. It certainly appears that Millennials have already been handed the keys to this particular kingdom – but more about that later. Suffice it to say, my Gen X butt has been handed to me a few times since moving here. Or, as Jeff Gordinier describes it, I feel as though (along with the rest of my generation) I’ve been “shuffled off to some sort of Camp Limbo for demographic lepers”. (X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft But Can Still Keep Everything From Sucking)

“We’re equipped. We’re wary enough to see through delusional ‘movements’; we’re old enough to feel a connection to the past (and yet we’re unsentimental enough not to get all gooey about it); we’re young enough to be wired; we’re snotty enough not to settle for crap; we’re resourceful enough to turn crap into gold; we’re quiet enough to endure our labors on the margins.”

                                   —Jeff Gordinier

According to Gordinier, Generation X, smaller than either generation it is wedged between, was destined to be marginalized from the start. Our formative years were marked by national failure – the Vietnam War and the Nixon presidency. Our coming-of-age was marked by the stock market crash of October 1987. In fact, he says our generation was destined to be “bushwhacked” by bad economic conditions repeatedly. By way of comparison, Gordinier claims, “the Boomer and Millennial viewpoint is ‘I want to be in the fucking spotlight’. Gen Xers are uninterested in the spotlight. They’re more interested in dodging it and doing good work quietly. I think theres a sort of comfort in the margins.” (from Helaine Olen’s interview of Gordinier on AlterNet)

The more I’ve read about Generation X, the more I’ve been forced to reconsider how well I fit. Turns out, I was most uncomfortable with the slacker stereotype of Gen X (because I’ve never been a slacker). The rest of it sounds…well, familiar. Gordinier believes that Gen X is “doing the quiet work of keeping America from sucking.” Gordinier’s book, ultimately, takes a positive view of the generation, as does this somewhat hokey clip from Karen McCullough:

Most of the literature finds praiseworthy attributes in Gen X, including creativity and innovation on a large scale – after all, Google, Amazon, Wikipedia (to name a few) had their genesis in Gen X.

But that still doesn’t mean I’m happy about being Gen X, despite finding I actually fit in. Dodging the spotlight and doing good work quietly, acting and being comfortable in the margins, is an apt description of me, my professional life and my choices. And while I have been most comfortable in the margins, it turns out that it has perhaps done me a disservice to live there. That kind of life does offer internal satisfactions – I have earned respect from people who matter to me, feel I have made a difference to those I’ve served, and believe I’ve continued to learn and grow as a person. What taking comfort in the margins does externally, though, is create room for others to take advantage of or take credit for, misunderstand or belittle, your work and accomplishments. And forget the Millennials’ obsession with building their personal brands; margin-dwellers are the opposite of branded or self-promotional. We’re a generation of wall-flowers, hoping that our quiet good work will speak for us.

And perhaps it does, though often not loudly enough to be heard over the cacophony of “spot lighters”. It is one thing to choose to operate on the margins, and another thing altogether to feel you are being pushed there by people or forces that don’t value what you have to offer.

Where is this generational navel-gazing taking me, you may wonder. Many of my age-mates and fellow Gen Xers, who grew up being overshadowed by Boomers and bitching about it, now complain about Gen Y, the Millennials. Incessantly. I am not one of the complainers. But in this city abounding with Millennialism, Gen X sensibilities always seem to be a step behind. There’s no denying the energy created by Millennials – and the desire to be part of that energy is contagious. It all leaves me wondering whether I can adapt – use my late bloomer qualities to flower in this zeitgeist. Can a person switch generational affiliation? I can’t change my age, but is it possible to change my way of thinking to be more Millennial? And do I want to?

Note: In my next post, in an attempt to answer those questions, I’ll be introducing you to some awesome Millennials I’ve met and sharing what I’ve been learning from (and about) them.

 

 

 





Thursday, May 15, 2014

15 05 2014

Image

A couple of people asked me this week where I was with regard to weight, so I thought it was time for a post. Slow but still moving in the right direction.

In many ways, I feel it is a victory every time I step on the scale now and the weight I’ve already lost has stayed off – and if I continue toward my eventual goal, even better! No worries – I will keep you posted!





Mayday

8 05 2014

may

verb
1.
expressing possibility.
2.
expressing permission.

It hit me suddenly, full-force, like a punch to the gut. It’s May already.

My reaction, too, was very much like the reel that happens when you’ve been punched – doubled over, retreating from the fist pushing with such velocity into your midsection. My reactionary thoughts were quick, too, and packed their own punch: its been almost a year, how can you still be so unsettled, why have you been wasting your time, why did you…blah after self-defeating blah.

But that was just an emotional reaction. I don’t know why my default is set to catastrophizing (well, I have suspicions, but let’s not drag them into today’s post). It always has been. Back in the day (almost a year ago), I used to warn the people I supervised: “My first reaction is never my best. Give it a little time, and I’ll have a better one.” And while I haven’t been able to change that about myself, I have picked up some skills to hasten things along.

The first, and most important, is to talk back to that reactionary thug in my head. The second is to move along, as if there’s nothing to see here. Just another first reaction. So when I took that blow to the gut, I told my thoughts to shut the hell up. Then I grabbed my jacket and headed out for a walk.

I was moving pretty quickly as I rounded the corner, as if I could outrun my own thoughts. First stop was for coffee – I wanted the comfort of a cup in my hand. But by the time I reached Washburn-Fair Oaks Park, I was already past the worst of my panic over the swift passage of time. The beautiful evening began to make itself known to my conscious mind. There were families in the park, enjoying the soft spring evening. Some of them had puppies. I defy anyone to sustain a panic attack while watching children play with puppies in a park.

I slowed down and made my way, leisurely, onto Nicollet. I had made a spur-of-the-moment decision to get take out from one of the restaurants on Eat Street, so I stopped three people who had obviously just picked something up and asked what they had. One had Thai, one Chinese, and the last actually had leftovers cleverly disguised as take out. The Asian-influenced culinary choices helped me decide – I went to the Mexican place whose name I can never remember.

I ordered two tacos, hard shells, and a side of beans. When my order was ready, I headed out the door, but stopped to rearrange the items in my sack. That’s when I discovered that my order came with a side of chips and salsa. I took one chip, savoring it’s salty, earthy corn flavor. It was so delicious! I stopped the next pedestrian coming toward me on the sidewalk and offered him the bag of chips and salsa. From his reaction, it was a good impulse.

And just like that, my second – better – reaction arrived. I began to think about the word “may”, and it’s multiple meanings. Suddenly, I remembered riding in a group bike ride on Saturday night when the bike mechanic-cum-poet riding beside me said, “I always love this time of year. Everything seems full of possibility.” One meaning of may – expressing possibility.

What if, I wondered, I gave myself permission to stop worrying about everything and just continue exploring the possibilitties that present themselves? Another meaning of may – expressing permission.

Possibility and permission. If nothing else, this year has been teaching me to dwell within these two concepts. To look beyond fear and find the possibility inherent in each day’s activities. To give myself permission to explore, to try on, to fail. To hold myself in this place for as long as is necessary without giving up or giving in to defeatism.

At that moment (and I’m not making this up) the sun broke through some lingering clouds for a truly spectacular sunset. I stopped thinking so much, and just let myself feel May wash over me.

 

“Yes, Yes”, Zachariah Schaap’s Flipagram

Note: If you haven’t already watched this on my FB page, I LOVE this flipagram from Saturday’s ride. Even though I am only in it very briefly, I look joyfully in the moment – as do all of my ride companions. It completely captures what it’s like to give yourself permission to be open to possibilities in the moment!

 





My Dedication to Dedication*

1 05 2014

So say it like you mean it boy
Be the seed in soil
Toil and reap
Keep the spoils
The road is steep
The pavement coils…

-from “Like You Mean It” by Sims/Doomtree Records

30 Days of Biking Kick-Off Ride: taking our places for the group photo

30 Days of Biking Kick-Off Ride: taking our places for the group photo

The hissing of sand dislodged from between pavement and rubber tires. Ka-thunk (my bike hits a crack)/ka-ching (my u-lock, dangling from the handlebars, jumps and falls back into place). Ka-thunk, ka-ching. The tink-tink-tink of the computer sensor counting every revolution of my front wheel. Always the rush of wind in my ears.

For April’s 30 Days of Biking, these were the sounds of dedication.

It is never easy to commit to a daily practice, whether that practice is meditation, yoga, taking a multivitamin or getting to work on time. April, famously the cruelest of months, makes the commitment to daily cycling particularly troublesome here in Minnesota. Our weather runs the gamut: winds from breezy to tornadic; temps from temperate to freezing-ass-cold; humidity from slightly damp to deluge-level rain with a little snow and a few “icy pellets of death” thrown in. Given these factors, I am proud to say I persevered, riding my bike with a deep willingness that conquered momentary weakness.

We biked through snow...

We biked through snow…

…basked in sunshine...

…we basked in sunshine…

…we layered up for cold and wet conditions!

…we layered up for cold and wet conditions!

…This is how we pull ourselves up
Overlook luck
Run til the tank spits dust
Cuz aint no spark thats bright like us
We do what we say say what we mean …

One of the main reasons I was able to maintain my dedication to 30 Days of Biking was community. Mike’s friend, Patrick Stephenson, whose warmth and joie de vivre are contagious, led us to 30 Days. Patrick, (aka @patiomensch on Twitter), co-founder, -creator and all-around-guru of 30 Days embodies the 30 Days tagline “community of joyful cyclists”. Through 30 Days, I’ve not only had the pleasure of getting to know Patrick, but also of meeting some other interesting, diverse, and genuinely amazing members of the local cycling community. Daily social media posts kept me apprised of what everyone was doing, where they were riding, and how they were meeting the challenge of April on two wheels. Knowing I was part of something bigger than myself injected the daily commitment with both more joy and a greater sense of obligation – not to the pledge I’d taken but to myself as an extension of that community.

Soaking wet, freezing cold, and fiercely joyful?!

Soaking wet, freezing cold, and fiercely joyful?!

 

Joy is a strange concept. In some ways, I’ve always thought of it as a feeling too big to be contained in an ordinary day. And I certainly never intentionally associated it with words like commitment or dedication. But cycling, over the past few years, has taught me that they can and do align. And during this 30 Days of Biking, I’ve felt the joy of follow-through that only comes after commitment. On days when no part of me wanted to get my bike out of the garage, the ride often took on an edge of fierce joy – as if my heart recognized something my brain was slow to comprehend. Namely, that fulfilling my agreements when I am the only one who knows or cares is one way to feel really good in my own skin. Would anyone have judged me if I’d missed a day? Not at all! A joyful community is an accepting and inclusive one.

We do tend to judge ourselves harshly, though. So moments that remind us we are capable of overcoming laziness and inertia help to silence our inner critics.  We see that we can rise to meet challenges placed in our lives – whether they come to us through external forces or whether we willingly take them on in the form of 30-day challenges. It is an act of self-affirmation to put our butts where our mouths promised they would be – in this case on the saddle of my bike every day in April.

Has the world been changed because I did this? Perhaps in a small way, since my participation and minimal financial contribution add to the number of Free Bikes for Kidz being given away via 30 Days of Biking. But if I am truthful, not really. Have I been changed? I hope so. When we wish to “be the seed in soil”, we are wishing for growth. There is no growth without dedication and self-reflection. Riding a couple hundred miles in early spring offers the chance for plenty of self-reflection (once you get past the “dear lord, why am I doing this?” stage).

I have often heard that converts are the most zealous believers. In this case, as one newly converted to joyful commitment, to my “dedication to dedication”, I zealously wish the same for you!

Take it all the way
No in between
My dedication to dedication
I dedicate this to you

Easter Sunday #30DaysofBiking ride in Delmar, Iowa

Easter Sunday #30DaysofBiking ride in Delmar, Iowa

*Please note:  The title of this post and the lyrics posted throughout are from “Like You Mean It” by Sims/Doomtree. Please check out the link and listen to the whole song – Doomtree is a collective of friends who create and make music together here in Minneapolis. I discovered this song, serendipitously, on the final day of 30 Days of Biking when the link was tweeted by @Artcrank, another member of the MSP cycling community!