Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Certain Way of Riding in This World

Taken Jan 16, 2013: burned, cut down, destroyed.
Apr 28, 2014: regrown, blossoming, thriving, the fence still scarred by fire. This: exhuberant domination of life-force.

A familiar scene from several romance movies: the attractive but somewhat anxious suitor approaches the girl at the bar who might be just slightly out of his league. There's clearly chemistry between them as he moves within conversation range, which is close in the noisy room. He hesitates. She looks him straight in the eye, smiles slightly, and says, "Don't blow it." She waits. It's all up to him. Don't screw this up, dude.

Within that close electric space delineated by two strangers at the bar, what happens in the next moment, and for the rest of the night, and occasionally for the rest of their lives, is up to the two of them, starting with the next words out of the guy's mouth. Although set in the trivial context of a romance movie, it is a quintessentially human situation: short of a fight breaking out in the bar (saw that one, too), or some other dramatic intrusive plot twist, anything might happen, and it's all up to them. 

Glory, or defeat, either way, it's the operations of their minds, the machinations of their own hearts, that dictate the outcome, as well as the perception of it as it unfolds, as well as the memories of it afterwards. No pressure, humans, this could only be the greatest moment of your lives, or an abysmal, forgettable defeat (one more of a string of them?).

Many of our encounters with other people are like this whether we recognize them as such or not. Up to us to direct. Movies we're starring in. Scenes we're playing. How will they turn out? How did they go? We acted our parts, said our lines, stuck to our defined roles, and they turned out how they did. Spectacular? Awful? Somewhere in the dull, gray middle? Up to us. Who else could it be? Don't blow it. Don't screw this up, dude.

Yet, we do. I do. Blow it all the time.Walking through the several acts that make up a life, blowing it. Look around, it's easy to see happening everywhere, all the time. At the kids' concert at the middle school, while the kids are up their performing songs they worked hard on, parents in the stands too busy texting to listen. You think the kids don't notice? You think the kids don't learn many things from this? How to act. How to be. How to attend your kids' concerts at middle school haphazardly, inattentively, distracted by fleeting electronic messages, posts, videos. Blowing it, moment by moment.

Harsh with each other when all it would take to resolve is to eat something. Or to hydrate. Or to take a couple of deep breaths. Irritations, deficits, disorders inside ourselves that we own, that we produce, that we should govern, which we allow to lash out, from weakness, from lack of perspective, from our own limits. Don't blow it.

The title of the post was inspired by a poem by Maya Angelou, Our Grandmothers, which portrays a woman who, in spite of an exceedingly difficult life constantly pitted against forces of prejudice and power trying to tear her down, maintains an inner strength of steadfastness and faith: "I shall not, I shall not be moved," she intones.

I understand these things, the situation of the guy at the bar, as well as the center position we actually play in the ebb and flow of our own lives, and this causes me to aspire to a certain way of riding in this life, one inspired by the kind of exuberant domination of life-force on exhibition by the oleanders in the photos above.

This way of riding is more-than-surviving, it's thriving and ready for anything, phyisically, emotionally, intellectually, instinctively, right skills, right time, right place. It's dodging, evading, waving, smiling, dancing and not hitting, hopping and not falling, swooping and not skidding. 

It's thinking three seconds ahead and noticing everything that's coming even if everything that's coming has its head up its ass while texting while lane drifting while running a red light. 

This way of riding gives what is needed to who needs it when they need it.

It speaks words that the other wants to hear: the girl thinks: he did not blow it
The driver thinks: that was pretty cool. 
The pedestrian thinks: that guy was very polite, not in a hurry, not a jerk in any way. 

It hands a cold bottle of water to a homeless guy on a hot day. It buys someone lunch who really needs it. It shows patience at a moment when understanding can change a life for the better. It turns off the damned cell phone for the duration of the middle school concert.

When hot, tired, thirsty, angry, lonely, hormonally challenged, hungry or hurt, this rider of a certain way in this life thinks of the grandmothers in the Maya Angelou poem, and intones, ""I shall not, I shall not be moved." Steady on. 

The exuberant domination of life-force that powers all efforts is there to see me through, and to remind me of what's at stake, and who's responsible. Everything. Me. Here and now.

Riding my bike to work I think these things. That greeting the construction guy loudly and sincerely, and receiving his cheerful response, does nothing more than change a couple of moments for a couple of lives in a tiny, nice way. But that was my choice. My doing. Not doing it would have felt like blowing it to me. 

And every day, each time that I choose differently, and observe others choosing differently, to proceed with cold indifference and self-centered attention and focus, I think, that also is a choice, affecting a couple of lives in a tiny, not-so-nice way. These tiny choices, these small acts, the minor effects, they add up. On the street, riding on the road to work: a wave, or not? A smile, or not? A quick greeting, or not? Anger, a finger, a gesture, a yell, or emotional control? Evade or engage with violence? Dodge or hit?

Whatever life brings, whatever the world throws at me, to come out the other side like the oleaders in the photos: growing, blooming, green and thriving, exuberant in the sunlight of this day here and now. Unmoved.

These tiny choices, these small acts, these minor effects, they add up to life. What we're doing, what we're feeling,  how we're living, that's what's at stake. Thinking of it like that, I know how I want to proceed. I know the end that I desire. To stay steady. Keep to the happy. Maintain a certain way of riding in this world.

Riding my bike to work I think these things: what a world that would be.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Canvas and Leather as Memory Tools

Canvas and leather bags, with metal buckles, front and back

It might be because of my first tent, which was made of heavy canvas with a certain feel and smell. After use, I left it open in the backyard to air out in the sunshine, but the smell stayed with it. If I close my eyes, and think back to crawling inside it late on a summer afternoon, I can recall both the feel of the material, its weight, texture, and stiffness, as well as its smell.

Canvas and leather objects have complex sensory depth to them--sight, sound, smell, color, texture, flex, weight--that they have become associated with specific memories and even people, for me.

I have some nylon and plastic bags, too, but they just don't carry the same significance for me. They work, at least well enough, but they seem lifeless and fake to me. Just containers. Bags for stuff. But not evocative, not connected with the past, not able to remind me in themselves of past trips and old adventures.

One of my nylon backpacks has been to some incredible places. But for some reason, in itself, it doesn't evoke specifics for me. For example, I took it out a few weeks ago looking for a piece of equipment I thought might be stored in it, and found a trail tag from Havasupai in the Grand Canyon a few years ago. The tag instantly reminded me of that hike and overnight, but why didn't the bag itself? It was there, shouldn't it have brought all those associations back to me just by being held in my hand? Nylon sheds memories like it sheds rain, I guess.

Canvas, leather, and steel buckles, though, they make me think of canoe trips and north woods. Dusty desert and morning dew. Campfires and cooking over them. Mud and ferns. Crickets, sounds of night. They remind me of things I've done, and hint and what yet might happen. Nylon just doesn't do that for me.

I would much rather look at this all day than velcro (or dashboard)

This post wasn't about these bags themselves, but the stuff they're made of. I'll cover the bags another time. Right now, a thunderstorm is flooding my memory, and I need some smores.


Monday, April 21, 2014

The Flowers' Message is Not Lost Upon the Rocks

The flowers and their petals are modifying the message being sent originally

First, I noticed the scattered petals messing up the astroturf. Its perfect green surface is mocked by their random scattered chaos, perfume, and transience. In a few days, they'll be gone, one way or another.

Is it not bending to touch the rocks? Can you not imagine a secret being shared?

Seeing the other frond, a second joins the effort, stretching to a rock of its own
This one, getting tired of waiting, impatiently begins to stretch upwards toward the flowers

Once upon a summer here, all was quiet. The flowers and the rocks stayed in their places, the artificial turf was unmarred. See, from the post linked above:

Before the yearning and improvisation started. Everyone knew their place.

Then the yearning, the sneaking over the wall, the improvisation began. Order began to give way to emotion. The flowers gulped up the gallons of water and air and the megawatts of sunshine, and now in their ardor they reach to touch the rocks and share their message.

Do rocks speak flower? Do they require a translation of the oleander dialect? 

I may be of some assistance. If you happen to see me laying here with my head on a rock, a flower pressed to the other ear, slowly mumbling to the stone, have no concern. Talking to a rock is slow work, but very worth it, and sounds to humans like little more than low rumbling mumbling. On the other hand, flowers speak very softly, quiet as the wind. I listen, and can only hope that the flowers' message is not lost upon the rocks.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

They Call Me Mellow Velo

The ground is covered with a carpet of yellow blossoms fallen from the palo verde trees, for miles and miles

Some days, some rides unfold nicely. After warmup, once the muscles find their firing rhythm and the pedals start spinning right, the bike starts to float, and feels very low-effort. The riding is easy then, and I am spurred to push a little faster, a little harder, to burn off a few more calories and a little more pent up stuff.

The light winds pushed the blossoms into rows along the path, but they covered the ground beneath the trees

Turn around at the halfway point, and discover that the wind is now at the back, and should stay that way for the twenty miles home, which brings a smile. Stop off at the cold water fountain to take the hot edge off the upper-eighties afternoon, and munch some sport jelly beans to go with all the water. With the tail wind, the sun heads behind some fluffy clouds, and subtly the afternoon turns mellow-perfect for a longer ride, acting under orders of the tail wind and the clouds. Faster, man, steady on, dive down through the underpasses and back up the other side, keep the flow going.

My mind was drifting when I hit a deep dip in the path. I was so relaxed and moving along so smoothly that the bike seemed to float right over it. The downhills were attacked, the uphills powered, the flats filled with long spinning. They call me mellow velo, and I think I want to keep doing this until long after the sun goes down.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Rivers Running in My Bike Lane


Salt River, Verde River, Colorado (via the SRP/CAP interconnect) water, diverted, pumped, carried, siphoned and directed to this spot, now running in the street down the drain, and then to where? Not sure.

Sure that it's a sign, a symbol, a warning of waste in the desert, of wanton disregard of the environment, the future, the anti-frugal usage of a scarce resource in high demand. You can see that here, and I cannot argue.

I also see more, today, history, and tomorrows.

Today: what we can do, what we might do, hydropower and solar power too that runs my lights and cools my house and runs my Internet. I think about water chemistry, the salt of the river, the carbonate-silicate cycle, CO2 and C4 photosynthesis happening in a blade of Bermuda grass watered by the freight of three distant rivers inside a major city. My bicycle has fenders. I dive it into the running water which it slices through and sends sheets sideways. It's cooler when I enter the rivers' running.

History, recent and distant: the politics and dollars behind this flow within my lifetime. The pioneers who scratched out the farms that became these neighborhood in my great grandparents' lifetime. They followed the same canal routes as the Hohokam a thousand years before because the ancient ones knew where the water flowed, how it wanted to go, and what would grow best here.

Tomorrows: will the water hold? Will my children have this hydropower, too, will the rivers still run in the bike lanes here for them? I'm reading Five Billion Years of Solitude currently, which says it's about SETI but it seems like it's about more, about us in the cosmos, where we are, how we got here, understanding those being key to understanding exoplanets and space telescopes, and filling in the Drake equation with something different from SWAGs expressed in powers of ten. Canals on Mars.

We'll look in the direction of those distant rocky spheres in the habitable zones of their suns (noise-like delta-vs) and ask questions I'm asking about the rivers running in my bike lane in the light of my own star blazing my route: where's the water, what's going on with the CO2, how much oxygen was, is, and will be there, what will grow, what will live, what will thrive, and what will die, under those conditions?

I'm riding along looking up, down, out, back, and forward. My childrens' names whisper through my thoughts, along with possible lives on possible distant worlds. Drawings on rocks by Hohokam. Sun-powered wind farms running my Internet. 

I draw in a deep breath. The rivers running in my bike lane smell like forever.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cyclist You Are Amazing Just the Way You Are

Purge. This. Crap.

I am sick of being bombarded with advertising proclaiming how inadequate / fat / slow / outdated I am. That all of us who ride bikes could be SO MUCH MORE if we would just spend a few thousand dollars regularly, specifically allocated to a narrow group of prominent advertisers.

Marketers know that when a mind is bombarded with the same words and images a certain number of times, the message will sink in even if it's nonsense or unwelcome. 

GET LEANER: you are not lean enough.
GET STRONGER: you are not strong enough.
TRAIN SMARTER: you are currently a training moron.
FULLEST POTENTIAL: you are wasting your potential currently.
TRANSFORM: you require transformation in your entirety.
IS IT SAFE??? you are constantly on the brink of death and/or dismemberment.
STIFF: your current frame is floppy.
COMPLIANT: your current frame fights against you at every bump.
LIGHTWEIGHT: your current [insert anything] is TOO DAMNED HEAVY / FAT / BIG.
PHOTOSHOPPED GIRL: she is way out of your league.
PHOTOSHOPPED GUY: he is Superman and you are Jimmy Olsen (on your good days).
(TO GUYS) GET BIGGER: you are way too small
(TO WOMEN) GET SMALLER: you are way too big
WATER IN A DISPOSABLE PLASTIC BOTTLE: is way more valuable than from the faucet

It's a battle for mind and eyeballs. Therefore, I am throwing it all out. Any media which attempts to instill in me inadequacy, want, desire, need, by raising doubts, activating fears, throwing sloppy innuendo my way in order to get me to purchase something, goes straight into recycling. All TV commercials go on mute and I look away.

Here are some alternative messages which I prefer:

Cyclist, you are amazing just the way you are
Girl you are beautiful
Dude: you are the net result of three billion years of biological evolution
Potential: in your every movement and thought you demonstrate realization of it

My eight year old bicycle takes me everywhere I need to go

My mind is my own. My dreams belong to me, not advertisers and marketers. I would rather make something or see something than buy something I don't need. Teaching, learning, moving, these are hugely more important to me than consuming or jumping on the latest trendwagon to be pseudo-cool.

Everyone is different. No one can tell you how lean, strong, fast, or even hydrated you should really be, particularly not advertisers who don't have any idea who you are or what you really need. I am not going to listen to them. I'm throwing them all out of my mind. I am imposing a global ADBLOCK on my Internet, my eyeballs, my ears, and as much as possible on my household. I need to go find that Internet proxy program (Privoxy? Squid?) that I can set up where the net enters my house and try to filter them all out. 

You are strong.
You are amazing.
You are cool.
You are perfect the way that you are.
You are beautiful.
Banish marketing nonsense from your mind.
Go for a ride.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Take the High Road: Arecibo On My Mind

Sunshine cactus bicycle miles: the rolling perspective machine

I probably should have been a radio astronomer. Child of the space age, rocket-obsessed, late-night TV moonwalk insomnia, obsessive grade school consumer of science news and science encylcopedias and anything I could get my hands on, shortwave radio listener kid tuning in to Radio Tirana etc, proud nine year old owner of a reflecting telescope which was deployed on cold winter nights to look at the stars. Penzias and Wilson stumbled upon the cosmic background radiation the year I was born. I was primed to don headphones to listen to whispers across the light years piped to me from structures the size of football fields aimed upwards to gather up picowatts of cosmic RF in search of data, patterns, symbols, even a relative perspective to anchor meaning.

The emblem, the hope, the symbol, the nexus of all my young aspirations was the huge radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Other kids my age dreamed of going to an NFL football game, or of spending the afternoon at the video game arcade, but I always wanted to visit Arecibo to listen to the stars. Yes I jumped head-first into science fiction, too, but I didn't require those stories to fuel my imagination or to fire my dreams, since I already had engraved on my brain the image of the dish at Arecibo.

Second item of deep background to support this post, in the days when I was both suffering from chronic back pain + knife-like sciatica and commuting by car to work each/every day, when sitting in one place was about the worst thing I could do for the muscle cramps and rampant crazy inflamed nerve signals, some mornings not even the pills would help much. (Chronic pain is terrible for the brain, by the way. I should have dealt with it more aggressively and with professional medical assistance earlier. Lesson learned.)

Surgery and physical therapy ultimately fixed the back situation. What took me away during my drive in was cranking up the music on a good stereo and singing along in the car. One of the songs which helped the most was Puscifer's Momma Sed. It's a song which sounds like it's about getting over a lost love, of which let's not underestimate the acute distress that can cause, but which broadened in scope can cover most of the painful, perspective-robbing challenges that life throws at us inevitably. The lyric "Take the high road / take it like a man," came to have specific and encouraging meaning for me well beyond what it sounds like initially. Yes it's certainly about being tough and strong and possibly even macho, but "take the high road" also pointed me toward the intellect rather than brute force, to the stars rather than the fists.

So, combining those two items of deep background, it's clearer why the image projected on the giant screen behind the stage during the Puscifer concert I saw in Mesa at the end of Momma Sed had such a powerful impact on me: Maynard standing in front of what I believe was an image of the radio telescope VLA in Socorro, NM. He turned around and gazed up at the giant antennas, having just finished singing the closing line: this pain will pass away. We are tiny specks of immense potential gazing upwards at a vast universe but capable of learning so much more about it, if only we focus our curiosity and technology effectively, out of an openminded perspective which grants both how much we could do and how little we actually know so far. 

I have to know. I must find out. I want to discover. What's out there? How does it work? Gravity waves and pulsars. Black holes and quasars. Photons relativity and quantum mechanics. The unknown wed to the pinpoint possibility that life exists out there, too. This pain will pass away. A cosmic perspective for seeing long and far through agony. 

That flagship symbol of the Sonoran Desert I live in, the saguaro cactus, snaps me into that long/far perspective when I see it on a bike ride. Spiny, stoic, strong, persistent through heat and dessication, also providing delicious fruit and home for cactus wrens, it is both minimalist and essential in its approaches for surviving and thriving. Drenched in desert light from the nearest star, warm and spinning, this too shall pass away like rain.

Riding along on the surface of the bluegreen marble planet, I'm rooted in a caveman beast mind and body easily distracted and even overwhelmed by the sensations of the moment which can be both good and bad, but always HEY HEY HEY seek to grab the attention and burn away time until I'm all out and am no more. But I'm also looking up, out at the stars, listening for waves of a longer, slower, deeper time. Lean my bike against a saguaro, set my bare hand gently on a patch of its green skin to feel the warmth emanating from it. 

Solid, heavy with stored water, vertical, when they die they first expose their inner supporting spines, then turn to dust, like us and everything else. This too will pass away. But, pause a moment longer here, and look: spiny arms point upwards. The cactus wren calls WRACK WRACK WRACK in the summer heat. He too is soaked in picowatts of RF broadcasting quietly from a billion other stars. I tell him: take the high road. Take it like a man.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Me the Artist of Myself

Maintaining the striders** against the wind, waves, and currents: ongoing

Whatever I may be, currently, feeling/doing etc, it must have been caused by something I've done, thought, or felt myself, now or in the past.

This is the obvious, but seldom observed, fact of who's really responsible for me. After the mystery of how I became to be in the first place, of which I have concepts and notions but cannot personally attest, and after that unconscious first few years of semi-dependency, and setting aside scenarios of power and control*, well, that would be me.

The consciousness of that, the minute deconstruction, analysis, understanding, and construction of the next moment with clear understanding, is the art.

The engineering, from cinder blocks to ropes, to electronics and metal fabrication, of twelve foot long green canal bugs

Minute deconstruction, what do I mean by that? Nothing fancy. Just asking: where am I? What am I doing? Why am I doing it? Where did that purpose come from? Who taught me that? Where did they get that idea? My ancestors, in both their successful biological propagation and their teachings, must've played a pivotal role, tracing back, since they made it possible for me ask these things and to consider the answers carefully. So what did they do to make these possible? Why did they do those things, and not others? Where did they get those ideas? These are biological questions, but also artful: why did they make what they made, do what they did, think what they thought, believe what they believed, and pass it on? 

I note in passing this intriguing concept from I think Richard Dawkins: for me to be here asking those questions about them, all my ancestors have to have been successful ones, both in the biological and artful senses, since "failed ancestor" is an impossible concept. The ones whose genes and ideas failed to be passed on to offspring are not ancestors.

Pre-maintenance, the striders got shoved around the canal by winds and currents

What does this have to do with the bicycle? Directly, for better or worse, these words grew from seeds planted in my mind by seeing the strider being pushed around by the winds and currents, then later watching the SRP guys fixing them, and then by mulling it over while riding home. I worried, by the way, about potential problems of twelve foot long green bugs floating around the waterfront unmoored, but they appear to have been both relatively stable in their movements, and benign in their meanderings.

As we generally find ourselves, here and now, both profoundly free and equipped with tools, technology, and opportunities beyond the wildest imaginations and craziest dreams*** of any of our ancestors, who within many of their living memories lived lives, employed tools, and followed ideas which would have been familiar to medieval city-dwellers four hundred years earlier, these inquiries appear vital to me, along with the careful and sober consideration of their answers and the implications of them. Those may lead us onwards, but first we must ask them. It just happens that I am both comfortable, and enabled, to consider them on my bicycle. That's the connection, while spinning and relaxed, that I make with me, the artist of myself.

*scenarios which I in fact mulled over quite thoroughly, yielding some intense emotional reflection and rather dire memories which I omit here due to essential blog filtration rules. Believe me, I have personal understanding of this, and also have what I think would be cogent and valid reflections on it, but don't think that would be very appropriate to go into here. Perhaps another time.

**Canal Convergence 2014, Water Striders by Jeff Zischke.

***except for Asimov, Clarke, Robert Anton Wilson, PKD, etc, who are not, unfortunately, my biological ancestors  

Friday, April 4, 2014

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

We Who Bungee the Trunk Bag

Relaxing beside the lake, a beautiful lugged frame...hey wait, bungee around the trunk bag?

I came here to acknowledge that I, too, have been known to bungee a trunk bag or two. I could say it was because I was carrying stuff on top of the bag and wanted to hold it firmly, or that I have it just in case I find something larger that needs to be bungeed down for transport home. A plausible excuse would even be that without it, the bag tends to rattle or bounce a bit, so I add the bungees to keep it still and quiet. No one likes a rattle; no one likes the gratuitous bouncing bag.

But I have a hunch that it's actually just there for backup. Extra. A second layer of fastening, in case the first fastening system fails. Once something like this happens:

Results of my leather u-lock carrier test: primary attachment failure!
You tend to want to have a backup fastening system in place just in case the primary fails. I wanted to nod knowingly at the guy, and share a moment of mutual recognition: ah yes, the extra fastening system, a backup if you will. But we who bungee the trunk bag, we also like our tail lights to face straight backwards and not at the ground, or up at the sky. But that's nothing that a little bungee adjustment couldn't make right.