NBT: Biking

I love biking. We-ell … okay, I love the idea of biking. Especially commuting by bike — bikes as transportation, rather than solely for recreation. It’s the most energy-efficient form of transportation yet devised! ((Roughly every other article I’ve read about bikes, biking, bike baskets, commuting by bike, ebikes, biking in heels, the various competing schools of helmet usage thought — even things only tangentially related to biking — mentions this fact. I think it’s some kind of secret code within the cycle chic cartel.)

Because (of course) I love the aesthetic. Bicycles are so sleek and lovely! They come in pretty colors!

And you can have a basket! And put flowers in it! Or — even cuter — puppies! (Wait, why would you? That seems like a bad id– but who cares; it’s on Pinterest! So people must do it!)

I also love biking’s benefits. It’s environmentally sustainable! It strengthens your largest muscle groups! And lots of smaller ones, too! Cardiovascular health! Lots of Vitamin D!

Etc., etc.

But I don’t love the hassle and the in-crowd snobbery — the I-wouldn’t-be-caught-dead-on-a-Schwinn, big-box-store-bikes-are-the-scourge-of-humanity, I-hate-all-these-poser-hipster-fixie-brats (and so forth) bike forum snobbery. I’m too old for high school, guys. I was too old for that sh*t even in high school.

And to be honest, I don’t much love the sweat.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with sweat. I’d far rather be able to regulate my body’s temperature through automatic processes than not. But … it’s hot in the summer here. People-dying-of-heatstroke hot. Also, we live in a very sprawl-y iteration of suburban sprawl, so getting around without a car is a heck of a time commitment. Spending that much time outside doing nothing is bad enough; spending it pedaling furiously and dodging potholes is, of course, much worse. No matter where you’re commuting to, you’re going to show up looking and smelling a bit worse for wear than if you take an air-conditioned car.

So on the upside, biking is: pretty, responsible, healthy, pretty, economical (potentially — sure, you don’t pay gas, but it’s not like people just give you those basket puppies. And floaty floral dresses. And what about sunscreen? Oh, right, and the bike itself. Bikes are not cheap. Especially if you listen to the big-box-brands-are-the-scourge folks). And it’s also pretty. Did I mention that already?

On the downside, sweat, time, money — the basic downsides to most pursuits, really. But you already know I’m giving it a go. So the question is, how to actually bike more, now?

  1. Only bother taking the Cantankerous out in the blissfully perfect weather I apparently require; glance at her wistfully as I get into my car the other three hundred and fifty days of the year. It’d still be more than I’ve done thus far.
  2. Go full spandex. Padded undies, clipless (?) shoes, etc. Start giving unsolicited status updates of my bike miles for the week. In addition to my new lovely cruiser, I have a hand-me-down road bike from the early 90s that I must conclude was an Inquisitor in its last life, considering its glee in torturing me, wrists and back and unmentionables; maybe I’m just not riding her right, or she’s not adjusted correctly. Maybe it’s a thing that gets easier with time. Tough it out; this is the way grownups bike around here, after all. There must be something to it.
  3. Eat that elephant one bite at a time. Go for a short trip (on either the Inquisitor or the Cantankerous) as often as I can, but don’t sweat it if I can’t. Put the Empress on the back (I’ve done this twice so far; she thought it was the Best Thing Ever) and go for a spin around the neighborhood. Go as far as I want, then back, then go farther the next time. Try a milk run; the grocery store is only two and a half miles away, for crying out loud. Get used to the weather — it can’t be that bad. Can it? (Though judging by this week, YES. Yes, it can. But still.)

I mean look, people do it. If they can, I can.

But … they don’t often do it here. That’s the thing. And I think the reason is more than just sweat and snobbery.

I was watching a video about the infrastructural changes a Netherlands city I’d never heard of has made over the past forty-odd years, changes that have resulted in 50-60% of the trips taken within it being made on bicycles. Fascinating stuff. (Look, normal people use the internet to watch porn. I watch discussions of municipal policy. To each their own.) My daughter caught some of the Groningen video with me; her wide-eyed comment was, “We can use our bikes to GO places!”

It brought me up a little short. Yeah … we can. Sort of. Maybe. I mean, practically speaking, we’d both need a lot more practice and strength (and sunscreen) but it’s possible. But changing the idea from me biking on the road to actually get somewhere to her doing it — even when she’s riding a bike not a trike, and is covered in Kevlar, and has a security detail — makes an enormous difference to me … because people are kind of scary. Around here especially. And it seems that most of the 4x4s on our shoulderless roads bear serious grudges against any vehicle without a motor.

There’s a meme I found while I was trying to decide how to illustrate this point — which I’m not going to post, because I have (privileged-person, pompous-sounding) issues with sharing photos of others’ victimization, issues which I’m sure I’ll belabor at some point — that’s a photo of a car smashing into a group of bikers, with bodies and bikes and water bottles flying in all directions. The captions are things like “OMG SO MANY POINTS” and “PUT YOUR SEATBELT ON I WANT TO TRY SOMETHING.”

I’ve joked about that kind of thing too, especially in my angsty teenage days. Movie and video game violence is fun, and often really funny. Largely because it’s fake. Also, humor is one of our safest refuges from an inhospitable universe. If you can laugh at something scary, like death, it has a little less hold on you.

But that image — the bike crash in the meme — wasn’t photoshopped; the driver pictured was passed out drunk at the wheel and cannoned into an amateur bike race. He killed a man named Alejandro and hurt ten other people. And I had to go to the second page of Google to find anything for the image other than “Crash Hilarity” or “LOL I hate bikers!”

I’m trying really hard to find a way to conclude this post light-heartedly, but I’m not coming up with much. I guess what I’ll do for now is bike in my neighborhood with my daughter — on either her bike or the back of mine — or take our bikes to a paved trail when I get around to it. I’ll save the biking-as-transportation experiments for when I’m on my own, at least for the foreseeable future. And just hope nobody’s feeling homicidal those days.

Thoughts About Paris, and Elsewhere — A Freewrite

Hi, guys; sorry for the delay. I was sick this past week, and then I’m afraid after the international events of the weekend I really just didn’t feel like chatting about peg dolls or nightstands or outfit templates at all. I have (of course) some thoughts about the attacks of the last few days. And one from a good while before that. I often process my feelings best by writing about them (surprised?) so I thought I’d share a bit.

I turned twelve a month before Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh bombed Oklahoma City’s Federal Building. I didn’t know what happened until I got home; kids at school had said something about a bomb somewhere, but they talked about bombs and guns and machismo all the time anyway, so that was hardly unusual. I found out that evening, sitting between my parents in our dark living room, watching dusty, heartbroken people on the screen with the awful half-building looming behind them.

It was so … real. This didn’t happen in America — did it? It had now.

I think that was my moment — the moment I realized how real other peoples’ pain was. As real as my own. I knew everyone had feelings before then, of course, everyone mattered, but … I really hadn’t yet gotten a handle on the sameness. The oneness. That I was part of we all.

I realized it then. Whether here or in countries I couldn’t yet pronounce, whether they looked like me or not at all, whether our beliefs were anything alike … when strangers hurt, they hurt like I did. There were people I would never meet, who lived in places I would never see, who were just as scared, right then, as I was. Who were just as grateful that their parents were with them instead of being pulled in pieces from under broken concrete.

The Murrah Building Bombing wasn’t the only terrorist attack that year; far from it. There were twenty-five others around the world, in Sri Lanka, Russia, Algeria, and elsewhere. Pakistan. India saw FIVE bombings that year.

But the one close to home was the one that made me ask, for the first time, where does this come from? Why had it happened? And — what on earth can I do? Rather than just grimacing — how awful! — and forgetting about it.

None of us begin our lives knowing that we are part of “everybody.”

That however much we differ, we have still more in common; that we are made of the same matter as every other human on (or off) the planet. And their experiences are as real, and matter as much, as our own.

And that we’re all in this together, like it or (apparently more often) not.

Sometimes we realized this so undramatically, or so long ago, that it FEELS like we’ve known it forever — but we really haven’t. Sometimes it changes us so dramatically that we forget — or try to — what we were like before.

And even when the idea of our connection with the rest of humanity has been seamlessly incorporated into our worldview for, like, ever, there is still more to learn — or unlearn, often quite uncomfortably. More internalized prejudices, more unexamined assumptions that we weren’t aware of or remotely prepared to wrangle. Layer after discouraging layer of them.

Recognizing our commonality with others is the beginning of that pursuit — not its end, by a long shot. And yeah, sometimes, that beginning is made when something truly awful happens too nearby to shove it to the backs of our minds.

I bet a lot of people are having that moment this weekend, following the attacks in Paris. Some may be asking, what else am I missing? What on earth can I do? Why does this happen?

If your moment was a while ago, it’s easy to feel impatient. “Yes, yes — but there’s so much else you really ought to be upset about! Look now, look closely at all these other tragedies! The ones you didn’t care about yesterday!” It’s easy to try to rush other people through it, because we need all hands on deck if we’re going to do anything about any of it.

And … of course we do need all hands on deck. (Okay, honestly, I’m not even sure we have the deck yet, metaphorically speaking. But once we have it, we’ll need everybody.) The world desperately needs as many empathetic, self-aware people as it can get. It needs people who recognize the humanity of others and are willing to work with, and learn from, and help each other. People who can look now, and look closely, at the tragedies that don’t get much airtime. And at why that is — including examining the systems of marginalization and oppression with which they are, or have been, complicit.

I’m pretty sure it’s our only way out of this hateful mess.

But we’re not going to get there like this — wasting this moment on shouting in each other’s faces that we’re not caring right.

Please. There’s plenty of grief and outrage to go around. Believe me.

Grieving for the casualties in Paris does not dismiss those in Cameroon, or the West Bank. Or Nigeria. Or any of the thirty-two other nations who’ve suffered terrorist attacks so far this year.

It seems to me that respecting each others’ grief makes us all stronger; policing or exploiting it only makes us weaker. Respecting someone’s grief gives them the space and safety to learn, to listen, to think new thoughts. To grow from there. Telling someone they’re grieving wrong takes all that safety away. So no learning. No listening. No new thoughts. Just defensive indignation.

Which is not to say we should simply “calm down” — about any of it. It’s okay to be outraged. It’s right to be mad — for instance — that someone whose moment happened today didn’t even see the tragedies yesterday. Because it doesn’t have to be that way.

Attacks in Africa or the Middle East are reported by much of the news media (of whatever stripe) and responded to (if at all) by the general public vastly differently than those in Europe or North America. They are. Undeniably. The reasons for that, at least the ones I know and suspect, are appalling … and addressable. The reasons that so many people never have their moment, or who only have it after so much of their life has past, are distressing … and addressable. And on and on.

But to address them, rather more of us have to be willing to give our assumptions a rest and really find the real answers to the question, what are all the causes? How do they work — and what can we do about it?

And for that to happen, more of us have to have that moment. So let’s not shout people down or turn them away because we got there first. Please?