The Bird

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged here, and in the meantime, life has changed and changed, and then changed again. Sometimes suddenly, sometimes too gradually for comfort, but there it goes again, like seasons shifting.

Some of these changes are things I’ve pushed for, through hard work, hard dreaming, or both. At least one of them will involve a change of blog. I’m not sure whether I’ll keep this one active and do two blogs, or whether the new project will eclipse this one (poor Girlwich, first Twitter ate you, and now the newbie might, too).

Either way, I hope to be writing more, be it here or there. The new one (just to give you a hint) will be about bicycles. Try to conceal your surprise.

The bicycle thing crept up on me, you know. It was years in the making, but there was a moment of discovery, too. One day, riding home through Prospect Park in the good-old/bad-old Brooklyn days, it occurred me that bicycles had taken root somewhere big, right in my chest, as if a giant bird had laid a great glowing egg in the heart cavity.

It had been growing there for quite some time, but it was only in that moment that I realized what it meant, and how central it had become. I’d thought that I rode peripherally – that I rode because my boyfriend (ex, by that time) liked it, or that I rode to get around, or to be social with my growing bikeish circle of friends.

But what had happened, you see, was that I’d fallen in love. Bone-deep in love with the bicycle itself. As if with a giant, sometimes awkward, often swooping and masterly, always moving bird. The bird and I had become grafted to one another, and I’d been transformed, without knowing it. Transformed into something I think I’d always wanted to be.

A free person. Free and independent and limber and easy, always able to move, always able to breathe. The egg in my chest hatched, in that one moment, and I breathed it in, my deep love of the bicycle. I felt its presence in my own bones, and I embraced it, and we moved on. On and on and on, to where I am today.

Little girls

I am collecting little girls on bikes. I know that sounds weird, but listen.

Between riding my bike to take care of errands and bike-ride rides, I am on the bike just about every day. That means I spend a lot of time on ordinary streets, on bike boulevards, and on mixed-use (read: everything but cars) paths. There are a lot of little girls in Portland, and because it is spring, and an especially beautiful, sunny spring at that, many of them are learning to ride bikes.

They ride in dresses. Pink dresses, purple skirts, bright yellow tops. So do I (except for the yellow. I look terrible in yellow).

When we meet, it is like looking at an alter ego. I remember being that age. I remember the moment when, riding along on a patch of grass on the cul de sac at the friends’ house where we were staying while my parents tried desperately to find an affordable apartment, I first felt that mysterious balance kick in. When I went from being afraid of the bike’s wobbly movement as it teetered between one off-key training wheel and the other, to moving forward in a simple smooth line.

shadowI still don’t know how it works. There was a moment yesterday when I wondered, as I sometimes do, exactly how I was doing this. It seemed weird to be hovering on two wheels, with no obvious reason for not falling over. It was a little scary. It’s like looking at a familiar word and having the order of letters suddenly stop making sense. It’s a free-fall sensation, and all you can do is hang on, waiting for things to come back to normal.

I reminded myself that I spend a lot more time riding than I do walking. I am far more graceful on two wheels than on my own two feet (unless I’m dancing, which probably has more in common with bike riding than it does with walking).

Eventually the unease slipped away, and I was back to normal, sailing along. But the point is, riding a bike is no more explicable to an adult who does it every day of her life than it is to a child who is striving to find the secret of staying up. It’s a kind of magic.

I think, too, for a child, who lives in a world of “you’ll get to do that when you’re older,” riding a bike is one of the rare things she can do now. It’s difficult to get the hang of, and once you’ve got it, it lets you move through the world in a different way. A five-year-old girl has an eternity to wait before she can drive. But if she masters this bike thing, she can go places right now. Under her own power. Like a bird.

Yesterday, I heard a dad coaching his young daughter, “Pedal pedal pedal!” And she piped up, “Pedal pedal pedal, like that bicycle!” [meaning me].

I always wave, and I’m always rewarded with a wave back, or “Hi!” or an amazed look (holy cow, that lady is riding a bike, just like me).

wheelflowerOne day there was a girl of about eight in a purple dress walking along in front of her grandparents. She was watching me ride by, so I waved and said hi, and got a huge smile and excited “Hi!” in return. As I passed I saw that her grandparents were wheeling a purple bike.

Telling my friends about it, over dinner, one of them pointed out that I was wearing a purple dress that day, too. That was when I got it. The girls see an adult woman in a dress just like theirs, doing something they are learning to do, too. A big-kid something. It’s a kind of magic.

Questions

I’m meant to be working. I am working. Sort of. I’m also daydreaming about ten things at once and catching up with my favorite blogs and thinking about what the hell kind of wheels I should get made for this 650c bike frame I have.

Mostly I am thinking, antsily, about a new project I want to get started. It’s something I feel strongly about. It’s to do with bikes (shocking). I think it’s something that should exist, and I will somehow have to raise money for it and wheedle friends into contributing time and possibly pay a designer and definitely pay a printer and oh yes hordes of other things.

I’m not really sure I should try. But I’d like to, because it’s something I want to see in print. Sometimes you need to go through herculean efforts to bring things into existence for no other good reason than that you feel they ought to be in the world.

There’s this nice, nice line in Under the Tuscan Sun about how a group of Italians built a set of railroad tracks into the mountains, before a train existed that could make the journey.

I feel a bit like those Italians now. I’ve been taking all sorts of risks recently, and I’ve no sense of whether they’re going to work out. I’ve got this bike frame. I like it, but I don’t really know if it will become a bike that I like. I’ve got this boyfriend, and I moved in with him, and our cats don’t get along, and sometimes we don’t get along either, and then I hole myself up in my room and daydream about which rims to use for the new bike, and wonder whether it is even going to come together, in the end.

It’s all the same space in my head. One big room, with a lot of questions in it.

A step

We are getting very close to the beginning here. Or, I should say, beginnings, since there are several new things I am hoping to do. They are good things, for the most part, but big things. And big things are scary.

I’m sitting on the floor with the cat curled up nearby. I had to coax her out from inside the structure of my boxspring, where she’s recently found a way to hide out. She finds big changes even scarier than I do (if that’s possible), and there’s no way of explaining to her that I’m certain (well, pretty certain) that they will be good.

I feel a bit like Red at the end of Shawshank, astonished to find myself hoping so many hopes. I wasn’t at all sure, after I left Voldemort City, that I would be able to do that. I wasn’t at all sure of the condition of my heart. It had been so long since I’d used it for more than pressing courage out of like so much blood.

Boy can attest that I still sometimes draw quite a bit of fire from that organ. But there are other things there, as well. There is softness, and there is the ability to dream of things that don’t exist yet. It’s a start.

 

As pretty does

Bicycle clothing manufacturers seem to be under the impression that no one will be able to tell I’m a girl unless I’m covered in flowers. And that any confusion in gender identity would be the worst fate that could befall the human race. God forbid a woman should ever look fierce, or strong, or even healthy – or anything other than pretty.

Last week during one of my trainer sessions with Boy, I decided to wear a jersey, which I don’t normally do, because I don’t feel like myself in them. Boy said, “Wow.” (not a good wow)

“What?”

“That’s a lot of flowers.”

“That’s why I never wear jerseys. They’re all ridiculous.”

We then had a little bit of mild discussion, in which he theorized that manufacturers make them that way because most women want them that way, and I said No, manufacturers make them that way because they are mostly men who think they know what women want – and really, they don’t care what women want, because they’re more concerned about putting women in something that makes themselves feel unthreatened and right with the world. Which means, flowers.

“Wow.”

For the world to keep spinning on its axis, women must at all times be pretty.

Not sweaty, not grimacing with effort, not difficult to distinguish from a male rider at a distance (Oh, that rider is at the back, it must be a woman; put some flowers on her ass to be sure). Pretty. Or at least cute.

Yeah, right. Somebody hand me that pedal wrench. I’m gonna go try and convince the powers that be to build me a plain blue jersey, with racing stripes.

Four letters

I haven’t written here in quite a while (I’m afraid to look). It’s December now, and my mother is undergoing chemo, and my job is changing, and the boy and I are getting to that part of things where we get to see that neither of us are perfect, and so we’re both extra-sensitive and apt to take things the wrong way. And then of course we both get fussed, because we do truly like each other, and neither of us are happy when things are cloudy between us.

In other words, life.

Life includes pain and death and frightful things. That is in its nature. It’s not limited to that, but you simply can’t get around those things and be a human being.

The cat, who had her own health scare recently, but is doing okay, is curled up on the opposite couch, looking self-contained in that pretty way she has. I look in the mirror sometimes when I’m holding her and wonder if we match. Or more precisely, I expect us to match more than we do, outwardly. I know we match on the inside.

I don’t know, not yet, if the boy and I match or not. Outwardly, we look rather gorgeous together. We are both athletes. We both like to dance.

Inwardly, we connect, but it may be the connection of two very different creatures. And I never know what to think of that.

Sometimes I think we may all be such different creatures that matching is not an issue. Or it’s a misperception of the situation.

Maybe all that matters is love. That sounds doughy and simple. But really – maybe you love who you love and it never, ever makes any sense.

Love Letter

Dear Boy,

You are wonderful. I have no idea what to do with that, though I like it very much. Please continue to have patience with me. Thank you.

Love,

Me, trying to remember how to be less-than-supergirl, and more than solitary.

The View From The Other Side Of The Windshield

A few weeks ago my bicyclist boyfriend and I took a trip to the Oregon Coast. It was a lovely trip, in all, but it meant that I spent several hours behind the wheel of a rental car, much of it in hard rain.

I should preface this by saying that I’m not a nervous driver, nor am I unskilled. I used to own cars (many years ago), and I’m both experienced and careful behind the wheel.

Nevertheless, it’s been a long time since I drove anything like regularly, and during that time, either the general standard of driving behavior or my perspective on it (or both) has changed.

The first part of our trip involved a pretty intense dose of curvy freeway under what I call “tightpack” traffic conditions, in heavy rain. Back in the day (you kids get off my lawn), we used to practice something called “driving at a speed appropriate for conditions,” which meant that posted speed limits were to be adjusted downwards if the road surface was slick or otherwise unsafe.

Nowadays, apparently, rain just means the road is to be used as a waterslide, and you should drive as fast as you damn well please, regardless. Ditto, any idea of safe following distance.

The man and I had just been remarking in shocked tones about all the tailgating, bobbing and weaving, and general zooming going on, when I saw taillights ahead (and slowed down gently, both to make sure I’d be able to avoid whatever Bad Thing lay ahead and to alert drivers behind me that I might need to stop soon).

Sure enough, there was an accident ahead of us. At least half a dozen of the goons we’d seen speeding and tailgating and weaving just moments before had piled themselves up.

Oh wait, make that two accidents. Right next to the on-freeway pileup was a second pileup on an exit ramp.

There are many reasons for the typical level of driving behavior to have trended toward the shitty. Modern cars are much more insulated from road noises and road feel than older cars were. People talk, text, surf, and watch video while driving (and eat McDonald’s, put on makeup, yell at the kids, etc.).

More people drive SUVs, which tend to be overpowered and underbraked – not to mention the fact that a lot of SUV drivers have no understanding of the different kind of handling a larger, longer, heavier vehicle requires.

And then there’s the more subtle change in consideration for the safety of fellow human beings. The discounting of the very real dangers presented by cars and trucks, the auto industry’s blatant marketing of cars as expressions of power and outlets for aggression.

It all adds up to a less-humane, increasingly treacherous road environment – one that made me even more anxious as a driver than I am as a bicyclist. I couldn’t wait to get rid of that damned car.

Back on the bike, I was even more careful than usual, because I felt like I’d seen a glimpse of what people behind the wheel are thinking. They’re thinking I’m a squirrel. An annoying, “in their way” squirrel at that.

Committed

I’ve been wanting to take real pictures again (as opposed to crappy iPhone ones), but I keep forgetting to bring my camera. Also forgetting to charge its battery. I have two cameras. No wait, three. No wait, four. It would be easy to bring one. If I could just…remember.

But I can’t remember to take out the garbage or buy toilet paper or mail a check to the IRS. I can remember to pump tires before leaving the house. I can remember to check & see if the chain needs lube. I can remember to buy condoms.

It suggests that some of these things are priorities to me in a way that others aren’t. Bicycles and sex, priorities. Housecleaning and paying bills (or dues), not.

I’m not sure what this means. I’m not sure what a lot of things mean, lately, but I find myself a little more willing to go out on a limb and find out. Several intense things happened in my personal life recently, and I am out on a few limbs, looking down at the ground – sometimes being nervous about the long way down, and sometimes looking up at the sky, wondering if it’s possible to find a new way.

I really will try to remember the camera, and its battery, because there are things I want to just show you, instead of talking these slow circles around them.

Common Knowledge

I need to tell you something. Bicyclists are human. This shouldn’t need telling. That it needs telling tells me there’s something seriously wrong.

I shouldn’t have to say that calling a person on a bicycle less than human, an acceptable target for your road rage, or even just for your contempt, is racism – attached to a mode of transportation rather than a skin color.

I shouldn’t have to show you the way police and courts consistently fail to honor their responsibilities where cyclists (and pedestrians) are concerned.

I shouldn’t have to show you deeply disturbing evidence of hate crimes against bicyclists.

I shouldn’t have to tell you stories about the vitriol and violence that I and everyone who rides a bicycle encounters not just occasionally, but as a matter of routine. I shouldn’t have to tell you BECAUSE IT SHOULDN’T BE HAPPENING.

Listen carefully now. That person on a bicycle is no different than you. It could be you. Maybe it should be you, because then you’d know what it’s like to funnel your energy and breath into transporting yourself, all the while feeling the hulking, hot metal beast next to you threatening your life if its driver happens to decide that a text message is too important to give his full attention to the road. Or if she just decides she doesn’t like you being “in her way.”

Are you really thinking, when you get behind the wheel, that the person you’re comparing to, say, a squirrel, might easily be your daughter?

Or are you too focused on how angry you are because you’re forced to sit in traffic for 40 minutes when you’re just trying to get home from a bad day at work?

Because I guarantee you the bicyclist at whom you’re so incensed for merely being on the road in your vicinity probably had a similar day at work, and is just trying to make it home alive. The ten seconds (at most) you’re so enraged at losing because she’s “in your way” is, for you, a fleeting thing. For the person you ran over and left to die because she didn’t count, because she wasn’t (you assume) someone you knew, because she wasn’t in a car, that ten seconds you weren’t willing to wait was all she had left.

I shouldn’t need to say any of this. This should be common sense. Or at least common decency.

But it’s all too common.