My Dedication to Dedication*

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!

How Do I Love Thee, Minneapolis?

Love, when it comes, is often a surprise. It takes us by storm, fills our hearts and our thoughts to overflowing with the object of our affections. Requited or unrequited makes little difference with regard to the degree of our obsession with The Beloved. All we know is that we love.

Despite all that, I didn’t know this could happen to me. I mean, sure, I liked Philadelphia a lot. I was extremely infatuated with Dublin, and wouldn’t mind seeing her again. But I had never realized just how profound and deep a love could develop so quickly for a city until I moved here.

I’ve pondered how this happened. I mean, I was attracted – obviously – or I wouldn’t have moved here. Perhaps it has been the time and space I’ve enjoyed to explore. Perhaps it has been the joy of discovery by bicycle and on foot – remove the automobile from the equation and you can have a direct and visceral experience of the city, an experience that fills all of your senses to overflowing. Perhaps I was longing for something to fill a void and Minneapolis happened to be here. All I know is that I am in the midst of a passionate affair that has the potential to deepen into a lifelong, abiding love.

Let me, with all due respect to Elizabeth Barrett Browning (who may object from the grave that I am applying her famous lines, written for her husband, to something as seemingly impersonal as a city), count the ways:

 
 
 
How do I love thee, Minneapolis? Let me count the ways:
 
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I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
 
 
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I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
 
 Image 6
 
 
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
 
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I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
 
 
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I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
 
 
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 I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints.
 
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I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death. 
                
Image 2

Pushing vs Easing Off

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.