Digging for Treasure

2 04 2015

On Sunday, I texted a friend about plans to go on a group bicycle ride to kick off #30DaysofBiking. The weather was gloomy and expected to get worse. I wrote:

“I’m at the laundromat. Planning to re-evaluate when I get home and check weather radar. Feel bad if I bail, but not really up for riding in deluge and high winds.”

When I got home and checked the weather, I felt reassured that we were expecting light rain for a brief period. The wind was supposed to pick up as the afternoon progressed, but I reasoned that I’d be home before it was too bad. So I layered up, put on my helmet, and took off to meet the other 250 or so riders at Gold Medal Park.

It began sprinkling as I rode. The entire time we waited at the hill for the group to gather, then to have our official photo taken, I kept up a running inner dialogue. In it, I talked (and agreed) with myself about how reasonable it would be to break from the group as we left the park and ride home. After all, I don’t own rain gear, so I would likely be soaked immediately if the rain picked up. Also, I had a particularly busy week coming up and a Sunday afternoon to prepare would be so much more useful than a ride in the rain. You get the idea.

But when it came time to line up and begin the ride, I found myself queuing-up with friends and riding slowly into what had become a true rainstorm. Ten minutes later, the rain had changed from steady-but-gentle to ice pellets being hurled at exposed skin by 40-mile-an-hour winds. My glasses were useless, but I was one of the lucky ones: my eyewear protected my eyes somewhat from the mini hail pelting us. Others were riding with eyes more than half shut. We slowed to a crawl, miserably hunching into ourselves on our bikes. Occasionally, we passed under a bridge or some other momentary shelter, and shouted encouragement or commiserating comments to one another. But we kept riding.

It turned out the weather forecasters had been correct about one thing in particular: the worst of the weather was of short duration. Eventually, the rain stopped (although the wind remained strong), and intermittent sunshine began to warm us from our pre-hypothermic states. There was high-fiving and self-congratulating throughout the group, one friend going to far as to announce we had all earned our badges in “badassery” that day.

But I am not rad. I am not “bad ass”. And even though I joined in the general air of braggadocio – because it really was epically horrible weather for biking – I couldn’t help but reflect on what qualities I do possess that ended up convincing me to ignore my own inner inclination to ditch the ride that day. I came up with two self-descriptors: stubborn and tenacious.

It would be lovely to honestly assess myself and come up with adjectives I can wear like superhero shields: Courageous! Intrepid! Stupendously Amazing! But even for the purpose of self-affirmation  applying these words to myself feels silly and false. But Captain Tenacious? She may just be my inner (somewhat nerdy) super-hero: not readily relinquishing a principle or course of action; persevering, persistent, determined, resolute, patient, steadfast, untiring, unswerving, unshakable, unyielding. Stubborn.

The moments in life when we need to dig deep within to find the wherewithal, the will or the energy to continue moving forward through literal or metaphorical storms are like an inner treasure-hunt. Instead of quitting, we dig a little deeper – unearthing truths about ourselves we may not have been able to see in the bright sunshine of perfect days. Some people may, indeed, find courage and other heroic traits residing within. I found an inner doggedness. It turns out, I can look back in my life and see many moments when my innate tenaciousness has pulled me through when shinier qualities haven’t been as useful. And I’m ok with that – in fact, I’m willing to celebrate the discovery of this personal treasure.

What about you? What inner treasure have you unearthed on this life-long hunt of self-discovery? Whatever qualities you’ve found, no matter how sexy (or otherwise) those traits may be, I hope you’ll take some time to celebrate them. They are, indeed, what makes you and your path unique.

 

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“Gotta Get Through Here, Dude”

21 08 2014

 

Do not be your dorky self. Do not make a scene. Do not call attention to yourself. Do not show your feelings. Do not, under any circumstances, act as if you matter.

I don’t believe in any of these dictates.

I don’t believe in living life as if I don’t count.

I don’t believe in accepting whatever anyone else wants to dump on me.

But I sometimes find myself living as if I do believe those messages and dictates. As if I have no choice but to take whatever is being handed to me. When I feel insecure, when I feel alone, when I am anxious for people to like or love me, I revert to behaviors which, instead of making me more lovable just make me easier to take advantage of. To disregard. To hurt.

The other night, I was on a social ride sponsored by a local bike shop. We were riding to St. Paul for ice cream at Izzy’s, second-best ice cream in the cities (sorry, but Sebastian Joe’s remains number one in my heart!). We were a large group, and were asked to ride in pairs. I fell into place alongside my friend, Kate. As we rode, we got on the subject of body image and how it can impact every part of our lives. If we let it. If we choose to accept all of the cultural messages we receive. Kate told me that she had a “come to Jesus” moment in her own life.

“I realized, this is what I’ve got. Short of surgery, I can’t buy a new face or body. So I’ve got to be down with the ones I have. And anybody who tries to make me feel bad about that will just get the five fingers of death!” (she brandished her fist in the air to emphasize this point).

As we crossed into St. Paul, we faced the dreaded Marshall Avenue hill. I’d never ridden it before, but those who had warned that it was a tough one. I was feeling good, had been enjoying the ride and conversation, and I’m good at riding hills thanks to RAGBRAI. So while Kate waited to take the hill with her partner, Victoria, I forged ahead. I charged up the hill, passing friends and fellow riders. When I reached the top, I was winded but felt great – for about thirty seconds. And then…horrible, unbelievable pain whapped me in the head. I have never felt anything like it. My head felt both as if it was being squeezed in a vice and as if it were coming completely apart at the same time. I didn’t know what to do. Several friends rode up and, as they passed, asked if I was ok. At first, my indistinct answer was, “I don’t know”. But as the pain continued without abating, it became “I don’t think so” then, “NO”. I wasn’t ok.

As I stayed put, trying to breathe through the pain, the ride sponsor stopped beside me. He sat quietly and patiently while I tried to figure out what I might need. Kate and Victoria rode up and stopped, their faces full of concern. Then two other friends rode back from further ahead to see what was wrong. I was frightened. And I didn’t have a clue if the appropriate response was to shake it off or ask for an ambulance to be called. But what I focused on, what I was worried about, was that my “emergency” was interrupting everyone else’ good time. I didn’t want them to miss their ice cream, or have to stop having fun on my account.

So I insisted we move on to Izzy’s. I got off my bike and locked it up, and realized that Kate and Victoria were planning to stick with me. Victoria said, “If we’re bothering you and you’d prefer us to give you your space, just let us know.” But the last thing I wanted or needed at that moment was space. I don’t really remember waiting in line for ice cream or what we talked about. I was just doing my best to appear completely normal while feeling nauseated, in pain, and scared. Every time I made eye contact with Victoria, I knew she knew that’s what I was doing. As we got our ice cream and tried to exit the shop, our way was blocked by a bunch of guys who were just coming in the door (the line snaked halfway down the block outside). I stood there wondering how to make my way out, when Kate stepped up and just calmly said, “Gotta get through here, dude!” and the crowd parted with ease, apologizing for blocking the way.

Such a simple thing. The three of us burst out laughing on the sidewalk. Kate proudly repeated her line, “Gotta get through here, dude” several times, enjoying our response to her directness. And then she said, “Jen, you have to be more like that. You have to stop caring and develop an attitude. ‘Hey, I’m sorry if my health crisis interrupts your trip for ice cream, I can’t care about that right now – deal with it, dude!’ That’s what you need to say. And if anyone has a problem with that, you know what to do…”

In unison, we both lifted our fists and said, “Give ’em the five fingers of death!”

 

The Mary Lambert song, Secrets, is posted for two reasons. As a dedication to Kate and the great conversation/life lesson, and as my new theme song! My past theme songs, Flo Rida’s “Club Can’t Handle Me” and Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” were also aspirational. I love the message of Secrets: namely, that you shouldn’t hide yourself inside – be who you are, without apology or shame. 





Riding Lessons: What I Learned Over 406 Miles and 17,000+ Feet of Climb

1 08 2013

The morning air was fresh, though not really cool, as we made our confused and circuitous ride along the Missouri riverfront in Council Bluffs, Iowa. We found ourselves amid other discombobulated riders searching, as we were, for the elusive “Dip Site”. Eventually, we found the patch of sand leading down to the water where bicyclists were dipping their bike tires in the river. If I had known we would spend our first four miles of RAGBRAI 2013 riding in the wrong direction (west) I might have been tempted to skip the traditional dip. On the other hand, I’ve always been a traditionalist when it comes to rituals like this one. So, dipping my tires at both ends of the ride was a must.

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And it was all uphill from there.

Well, at least the first few days were. At the end of day one (Council Bluffs to Harlan –  54.8 miles and 2476 feet of climb), I was tired and sunburned. My brain felt like it had been cooking inside my helmet. The minuscule amount of thought power left for my use was mostly taken up wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into. I was dreading day two (Harlan to Perry – 83 miles and 4239 feet of climb).

Miraculously, day two was incredible! Despite the sun beating down on me, I felt great and my muscles were all cooperative. I rode all but one hill of that climb – and the one hill I walked was too much for hundreds of RAGBRAIers. It was the only hill I walked all week, across the entire state (and I’m here to say that Pleasant Hill isn’t all that pleasant).  When I got off my bike that evening, I felt like I could do anything!

Day three was blessedly cool, overcast and relatively short (Perry to Des Moines, 49.9 miles and 1308 feet of climb). Day four (Des Moines to Knoxville, 49.9 miles and 2920 feet of climb), hump day, was painful. My butt hurt from sitting on the bike saddle, I had serious chafing where my right buttock met the top of my thigh, and my legs were spent. For the first time, dealing with muscle spasms in my glutes and hammies, I wondered if I had it in me to finish. Thankfully, my support team of friends, co-riders, and moms were encouraging and refused to listen to my fears. Layne (who, with her fiance Chris, hosted us for three nights) made us a dinner that tasted like a feast! I will never again underestimate the positive, soul strengthening, effect fellowship with friends over a really good meal can offer.

Day five (Knoxville to Oskaloosa, 52 miles and 2808 feet of climb) was less horrible than I anticipated. I had wisely purchased some chamois cream to help with/prevent further chafing. I rode the entire day out of grim determination and little else. But I finished, and actually enjoyed a pleasant couple of hours in the Oskaloosa town square, people watching and listening to the community orchestra.

Day six, Oskaloosa to Fairfield (52 miles and 1222 feet of climb) we had the flattest, fastest, easiest ride of the week. Woo-hoo, flying along at 18 mph felt pretty awesome!

Day seven, the final leg of the route, Fairfield to Fort Madison ( 63 miles and 2427 feet of climb) had its challenges. But by then, I knew I would finish. The pure adrenalin push to reach the Mississippi got me there well before the route was set to close at 3:00 p.m. This time, the dip site was easy to find – though still difficult to reach due to the press of other riders making the ritual dip at the end of the week. And every single one of those thousands of riders was celebrating a personal victory or accomplishment. Powerful to be among such a crowd!

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And that, my friends, is the recap of the week. However, there is so much more to share. There were moments that took my breath away, when I was overcome by the beauty surrounding me and the grace of being alive. Every morning’s ride held at least one completely perfect mile. On the first day, I raced a train coming out of Council Bluffs and left it in my dust! Crossing Lake Red Rocks on a mile long bridge. The morning Sarah rounded a bend coming out of Pella and almost hit a deer, only to have a spotted fawn trot out onto the road right in front of us. I rode with friends (Colette, Tricia, Tammy, Ryan and of course Sarah who rode the whole week with me); unexpectedly ran into friends (Mark, Andrea, Joe, Mary Beth); stayed with friends (Molly,Layne, Chris, Ari, Sara). And, of course, made new friends, most notably Ma Botkin, Sarah’s mom who travelled as our support and team mom through the hardest part of the week.

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Last summer, I shared the lessons I learned through some mishaps while preparing to ride three days of RAGBRAI 2012 , ( “Learning to Shift” which you can see, here).  Virtually everything about my life is different from what it was a year ago: no job, new city, a vacation that has lasted all summer. The RAGBRAI 2013 experience also taught me some valuable lessons – the kind that resonate with life experiences off the bike as well as on. It seems only appropriate to share them:

Know why you’re riding.

Everyone has their own reasons for attempting a ride like RAGBRAI. They range from having a week of raucous partying to raising money or awareness for an important cause. And that’s fine – I’m not about to judge. But what I do know is that I had to be clear with myself every day about my reasons for being there – or on the hard days, I would have just given up and flagged down the Sag Wagon. On Monday (Day 2), pedaling up yet another interminable hill, the silence nearly drove me batty. By the end of the week, those uphill climbs were some of my favorite moments: the shouts and laughter quieted, and the only sound other than birds was the occasional click and whir of shifting gears or another rider huffing air as we passed each other. It was in these moments that I had the most clarity of purpose – I was there to fulfill a promise I made to myself back in 1978. There were no external factors involved, only a need to prove to myself that I could do it. I never overheard anyone declaring their intention to quit while coasting down a hill – but there were plenty such conversations taking place halfway up seemingly endless inclines. Those hills were a crucible of clarity for many of us.

Is feels obvious to me that this maxim is true throughout our lives. Clarity of purpose is so important to staying the course. When I left New Mexico in June, preparing to move to Minneapolis, my dad said this: “There are gonna be days that are hard, when you’re lonely and frustrated and you wonder why the heck you did this. At those moments, try to remember how you felt back in February. That will help you weather the tough days – knowing you had good reasons for making these changes.” Already this has helped me weather those brief moments of panic and anxiety. I turned 52 the day after I finished RAGBRAI, and this is the first time I’ve truly appreciated the gift of clarity.

Every hill is unique.

Since the first time I rode a bike as an adult, hills have presented a challenge to me. RAGBRAI offered me a unique opportunity to learn how best to manage them. Over the course of the week, we rode every type of hill imaginable, and what I learned is that no two are the same. Yes, you have basic strategies for conquering hills, but the truth is, the hill you think you see as you approach may, in fact, present very differently when you’re actually riding it. Sometimes, I thought “this one will be easy” or “this one is gonna take everything I have” – and I was often wrong. You have to take each hill as it comes: adjust for the wind and momentum and freshness of your legs, find the sweet gear that works for both you and this particular hill, take it as fast or as slow as necessary to make it to the crest.

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The lesson in this is that each challenge we face in life is different from the previous challenges we’ve overcome. We can’t lull ourselves into a false sense that today’s challenge is a piece of cake because we’ve overcome such challenges before. No two will be the same. For example, I’ve moved before, and those moves have been harder or easier depending on a variety of factors. I’ve never moved at 52, without previously arranged employment, to a large metropolitan area. This move won’t be the same, though there may be some similar features. Just as you can’t anticipate exactly what each hill will require, you can’t anticipate what each life challenge will call for from you. And that’s ok – because you can’t ride up a hill you haven’t come to yet! You can’t meet life’s challenges in advance, you have to meet them as they present themselves. And each one will be unique, and call forth a unique response.

Everyone needs support…

There were a few lone rangers out there, bicyclists who towed their tents, camping gear, and clothing with them. But they were few and far between. Most riders had support teams – Sarah and I had Ma Botkin, who dropped us off each morning at the starting point, then met us at the (roughly) halfway point with food and cold beverages. At the overnight towns, Ma Botkin was there, waiting for us to roll in. She took really good care of us, anticipating our needs and generally mothering us. We also had Layne and Chris, offering us air conditioned sleep, private showers, sustenance and the love of a giant yellow lab named Ari. And we had Tammy, Tricia and Curtis who kept our support vehicle following us after Ma Botkin had to return home to Illinois. Most of all, I had Sarah – who was the mastermind of the trip plan and who, as the stronger rider, waited for me at each stop. Every time I rolled into a town, the first thing I did was seek out her jersey. And it was there, every single time, in a patch of shade, waiting patiently for me. Talk about steadfast and loyal – I can never articulate how much that means to me, or how happy and/or relieved I was each time we met up.

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The support I felt while on RAGBRAI is only one example of the amazing support I have had throughout the recent major changes in my life. Every single day since I tendered my resignation has brought a message or action of love and support from someone. And every day has been filled with goodness, light and love – even the slightly crappy ones. It overwhelms me with gratitude – and reminds me how important it is to be on other people’s teams myself. To return the gift of unconditional support whenever/wherever possible.

…But in the end, you pedal your own bike.

While support is awesome and a necessity for most of us, no one else can actually pedal the dang bike for you. Whether on flat ground, snailing up a hill or sailing down one – the bike is powered by your steam and no one else’.

One day on each RAGBRAI offers a Century Ride – an extra bit of road called the “Karras Loop” – which allows motivated riders to get 100 miles done in that day. Upon completion of their “century”, riders get a patch celebrating their accomplishment. Curiously, I heard riders talking about some others who cheated on the century ride – they found, and took, a shortcut which shaved 10 miles or so off the ride. And yet, they picked up century patches alongside riders who completed the entire loop. The people discussing it just shrugged their shoulders and shook their heads. They weren’t outraged, they were perplexed. And I agreed with them. Why would you proclaim an accomplishment you hadn’t earned? There are no prizes, most of the world knows nothing about century rides or RAGBRAI, it won’t get you a better paying job. Worse, you will always know it is just a patch that actually means nothing.

Some days, the Sag Wagon did a huge business. People had lots of reasons for not finishing a day or the week – bike trouble, injury, fatigue, heat exhaustion, or they just hit their limits. I would never call that cheating. Every mile of that ride, especially the truly painful ones, were a test of my willingness to accomplish something that really only mattered to me. I crossed the entire state of Iowa using only my own power to do so. I had a team without whom I never could have undertaken the challenge, but I was alone on my bike, mile after mile, pedaling.

In life, we don’t live well without others supporting and challenging us. But this life we’ve been given is ours to live day in and day out – no one else can live it for us. There’s no point in trying to cheat our way through it, but honest failure isn’t something to be ashamed of. Our truest successes, in the long run, are those that live within our hearts and matter most to us, not to the rest of the world.





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.





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.

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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





Get Your Bloom On!

2 08 2012
Springville, Iowa, July 27, 2012.
 
 I am standing in the middle of the main street of town, with my good friend Tricia Borelli and thousands of others, and I am suddenly overcome with emotion. I tell Tricia, “This is what I want for everyone!”

Let me explain what I meant – and it wasn’t for everyone to stand in the streets of Springville, Iowa-though I believe there could be worse fates. We had just finished what proved to be the hardest 10 miles of a 208-mile bicycling adventure (three consecutive days of RAGBRAI). With a sore body operating on little sleep, the 10 mile leg just completed, consisting of lots of climb against a strong headwind, called upon every reserve I had. This middle day of the ride was “supposed” to be the easy one, too. What a betrayal of my expectations!

As Tricia and I pulled into town, the members of our team who had arrived ahead of us flagged us down. We explored the town, grateful for the food and beverage options and for the hospitality of the local Methodist church which allowed us to used their indoor bathrooms. Take it from me: porta-potties used by thousands of bicyclists are not the preferred option. We had some time to kill before our last two teammates arrived, which meant real leisure to soak up the ambience.

People of all shapes, sizes, abilities, ages, ethnicities and backgrounds swelled the small town’s usual population of around one thousand to nearly ten times that. Banners flapped in the stiff breeze, music came at us from every direction, colorful costumes and jerseys caught our attention. The sun beat down on us and sweat caused our spandex-laden clothing to stick to our bodies. I downed a bottle of blue Gatorade with relish – something I would normally avoid as exuberantly as I avoid eating liver.

As I watched the spectacle and felt myself just one more colorful piece of it, I experienced one of those rare moments of clarity in life. This exact moment that I was living in with such joy, I would once have shunned. The July heat. The crowds. The physical exertion. The athletic, ebullient, friendly, happy individuals surrounding me.

Until the recent past, I eschewed entering fully into my own life. I stayed away from situations that called upon either my inner resources or the direct experience of strangers. In that way, I kept my world small and my life manageable. I felt safe but I rarely felt joy. I felt “in control” but never expansive.

All of that has changed, and my life is so much richer for it. Suddenly, standing in the middle of the street in Springville, my heart paradoxically wholly open and completely full, I realized:  it isn’t enough to want these things for myself. It isn’t enough to continue to work on my own growth and development. To know and experience my own “before and after” is to want that for anyone else holding back from fully living their own lives.

You know who you are – those of you waiting for something to change in your life in order for you to feel happier, better understood, more passionate. Those of you who feel stuck in a place you never really intended to be. Those of you who feel called to…something else, even if you don’t quite know what that is. For each of you, I want the more you’re longing for. The future you don’t quite know how to reach. And I promise you two things. First, I promise that I will continue to hold your heart’s desire  in my thoughts and in my prayers. Second, I promise that whenever the opportunity arises to offer something tangible – and within my power or ability to give – by way of support or encouragement to another late-bloomer (like me, like you) I will.

You may feel like a bedraggled weed, but you’re really a beautiful flower. You may not, just yet, believe in yourself or in your ability to change your life. But I already believe in you. After all, I’m just another slow-blossoming flower on the midwestern prairie – if I found a way to fully open my petals and bask in the sun, so can you.





Learning to Shift

12 07 2012

I wheeled it into the shop before work on Monday morning, July 2nd. I remained stoic as the guy enumerated the items that needed to be repaired or replaced. As the cost rose I interrupted him to ask, “Bottom-line it for me – will it cost less to repair this one or buy a new one?” He laughed, assuring me the repairs would fall well short of the price of a new bicycle. I was still holding my own as he consulted a calendar on the wall and said, “I can give you a guaranteed pick-up date of the 13th.”  And that is what brought the tears to my eyes.

Two weeks without a bike in early July when one is training for RAGBRAI is an eternity. At least it is for me – I’m still trying to make up for forty years of inactivity, carrying 50 pounds I should have shed by now. And it was just one more crappy thing on top of a bunch of other difficult things that have made this summer one of stress and anxiety. The one thing that hadn’t, till then, been stressful (except for the two crashes that led to the extensive repairs) was cycling. I was finally getting the hang of shifting to maximize the usefulness of 21 gears. Hills were no longer daunting. Well, not completely daunting. Even crashing had added to my confidence – I got right back on and rode 18 miles, didn’t I?

Anyway, later on Monday I lamented to a friend that I would have to cancel plans for a 4th of July ride out to Ely, and she promptly offered to lend me her bike. I gratefully accepted the offer, and later that night, she dropped it off at my place: bright blue, low, wide handlebars and the fattest tires I’d ever seen. The bike turned out to be specifically engineered for beach riding. I recognized the brand, a nice bike. But not intended for the type of riding I do. Six gears, the lowest of which required the level of exertion I usually used for riding along straight, flat land. Hills were only possible if I stood to pedal, a skill I had hardly used, much less perfected. I shifted gears, and they shifted again on their own, often slipping out of gear randomly. Occasionally, the chain fell off. I learned to enjoy the feel of riding closer to the ground, of the easy manueverability of the wide handlebars, and, yes, even the burning in my quads and hammies.

And then the unthinkable happened. The loaner bike broke and was unrideable. That day’s ride ended in a two-mile walk, pushing the bike along beside me. In 105 degree weather, midday. But the loan and riding of the beach bike had done more for me than build up some new muscles and develop my hill-climbing skills. It had reminded me that I had resources, support, people to help me. So, even before I showered after the long walk home, I was on the phone to another friend, asking if I could borrow a bike from her family.

I picked the big chrome men’s Huffy. Taller than my bike, with a strangely tilted saddle, six speeds but the lowest speed was more like the “granny gear” on my bike. I expected a less difficult transition than I had experienced with the beach bike. But, no, it was not meant to be. At the beginning of a 40-mile ride, I put the new loaner through its paces, and immediately discovered it was incredibly difficult to shift gears. In fact, I wrestled with the handlebar shifting mechanism for a full 30 seconds before I could get it to shift out of 4th gear. First gear, granny. Second, super-easy-almost-granny. Third gear, a grinding clicking sound that did not inspire much confidence. 4th gear, where it had been stuck, wouldn’t work and now ground until it automatically found 5th gear. It was clear to me that 4th was where I wanted to be, but 5th was where I would do my riding. By the tenth mile, I was aware that my knees were not enjoying the added strain. However, it was easy to take the hills, and I figured I could tough it out. And I did, including the two miles I rode without glasses when I lost the lens of my prescription sunglasses.

I’ve learned a lot in these two weeks of my bike being in the shop. Valuable lessons, not the least of which is to take care of my bike and keep it in good repair. More important, though, I’ve learned:

  • We all have plenty of gears, but most of us discover a sweet spot and pretty much stay there. Sometimes, it becomes so ingrained, it’s difficult to shift into a new or different gear. We feel stuck when we try. If we shifted more frequently, and not just when it was forced upon us, we’d find the whole process would go more smoothly and comfortably.
  • And about that “sweet spot”. If we stay in it, rather than try the other gears available to us, we don’t develop skills or new muscle. We just get more efficient at what we already know how to do. Sometimes, stasis is what we’re after; however, growth is both more challenging and more fun.
  • Hills. Every life, every ride, has some. How we handle the climb – not the equipment we use – is what reveals our character. Its easy to psych ourselves out before we start the uphill, to think ourselves into failure. It’s even easier to let ourselves off the hook when we have something outside ourselves to blame (Really? A beach bike is NOT intended to do this…) The truth is, hills are conquered by perseverence and discipline applied with a dash of positude – by internal qualities, not equipment.
  • Equipment may not be what conquers the hills in life. But it does help to have the right stuff in good working order. Take care of what you have, pay attention to what it needs, lube it and wipe it down when necessary. Treat your equipment with loving care and attention, people!
  • Even a small adjustment can bring big changes. Just ask my quads. Shift your perspective and you work differently – you will feel and see different things.
  • Wide handlebars = open arms.This can make you feel vulnerable until you get used to them. And then you just feel open. Open and ready to embrace new experiences.