Sunday, November 28, 2010

Forces of Nature

Over a week went by and I didn’t think about riding the bike.  I climbed into my truck each day, glad to be drinking a cup of tea, glad to listen to the radio while I drive.  I drove into work each day unconcerned about the weather, indifferent to potholes and puddles.  I had a simple trek to Flint for Thanksgiving dinner with aunts and cousins then headed back home around 7:30PM, in a slow drizzle with temperatures under 50 degrees.  I am glad to have the truck now.  Glad I don’t have to “suit up” before a visit with family.  Glad I can dress in heels and a skirt fresh from the shower rather than as a change of clothes I bring in my saddlebags.  And still, I managed to get in a ride on the bike after all.

I drove to Kalamazoo on Saturday afternoon to pick up my bike from Lifecycle.  It turned out Pat was right, she needed only a new gasket.  I had the valves checked and four needed adjusting.  I got the block off kit and the carbs adjusted, too.  All for a very reasonable price.  And they took good care of her- had her all clean and shiny as the first day I drove her off the lot.  This weekend, riding her off the parking lot, it felt like days rather than a few weeks since I’d been on her.  She is so familiar to me.  My hands reach easily for the controls, muscle memory guiding my movements: easing on the throttle, threading the rear brake at a stop sign, guiding her lean into and through the next curve.  Even in fifty degree weather, without a plan to get home, with a dead battery in the GPS and no map to get where I’m going, I still love the ride.  I wouldn’t have had this ride, on this day if she hadn’t needed a repair.  I wouldn’t have jumped on her to feel this freedom, this easeful pattern of movement in my body.  It is cold and my hands are numb, my thighs tight against the tank, shoulders hunched over to preserve warmth.  I’m glad to be riding.

Sometimes, like this time, I get to ride when I most need it and when it’s least expected and I tell myself this is the universe taking care of me.  I don’t much like using the word God, with all it’s connotations, all the ideas that surround it- like sin, and heaven and hell and adam and eve and the apple.  I refrain from using the word God because of all the word can’t say with all these other ideas floating around it and so I say instead the ‘universe.’  Sometimes it feels like there is a caretaking presence that gives me a moment on the bike when I most need it, most need the freedom. 

Phil and I had a nice long talk yesterday afternoon- well, he talked and I listened.  I tried to hear in all his talking what I most needed to hear.  What a benevolent force might want me to hear if there was a reason I was on Phil’s couch to hear what he most needed to say, after his day unfolded as it did, after my own Black Friday.  I don’t believe in God the way I was taught to as a child, can’t believe in that way of thinking about things that happen.  Sometimes some things happen in just such a way, at just such a time that I’m left staring into a well of feelings that spring up out of some hidden place.  This is what happened on Friday.

I ran into my past.  It came at me from right around the corner, right around the bend.  I was shoe shopping at a favorite store and from around the aisle came a person straight out of my past, straight out of a memory so fresh and stark and harsh, I turned my head and hid my eyes from the intensity of it.  We made small talk, very small – about shoes and the holiday – and finally I acknowledged the past sitting there between us and he did, too.

I’m standing there, our past between us, this other life we’d had together and all I can feel is how much I want to run away, run out of the store, out of the memory, out of the feelings that come when I think of that time in my life.  But I don’t run.  I turn around in that moment, turn around to face what is being shown to me, what perhaps, some benevolent force is showing me.  I see the life this man still wants.   I see the way his desires ruled him, reigned over our life together and I see how it nearly destroyed me - listening to and giving into those desires.  I bit back my own fears and I let his desires lead us, then consume me, devour me.  

During that relationship, I met Patrick, a full-hearted man I’d met through yoga practice.  He sat with me for hours each week, drinking cup after cup of tea as I sorted through the life I’d built with this other man. He was, for me, during those long nights sitting across from one another, the divine embodied.  Patrick taught me to listen to what I was thinking, what I was feeling, what I wanted and needed.  He taught me through his deep presence and awareness, that I am worth listening to. 

It took a lot of practice, a lot of riding, of writing, to find my own way, to let go of another’s desires and find my own.  When I did, I no longer wanted that relationship, that life we had and so I walked out of it.  But around that corner, in the aisle of that store, it all came flooding back – the woman I was, the life I’d left, the plans we’d made and then abandoned.  I saw in that moment in the store, that I had done the right thing by leaving when I did.  I saw that the life I’ve made for myself since, the life that has built itself up around me, is the life built by my desires, my needs.  My life is full of writing and riding and friendships and laughter, of full-bodied hugs and tender kisses and motorcycle vacations.   And it’s filled with scary thoughts and feelings and disappointments and sadness but also with enough people willing to listen, hold my hand and walk with me through it.

Phil told me the other day that I don’t go to church because I haven’t got God.  He doesn’t really know because he’s only talked with me of his God, his religion.  And he’s right in some ways, my god isn’t in the Bible, isn’t in a church, isn’t in following the rhetoric of Jesus’ teachings.  My god is in the moments on my bike and listening to friends talk long into the night and holding another in my arms, feeling the fullness of her whole being.   My god is the force that guides me into the lives of people who need something I have and share readily.  My god is the needs that are answered by friends when my own resources are spent.   My god is in knowing that no idea of god can possibly encompass the mystery of this life, the energies guiding it or the forces of nature that stir it all up and tear it all down.

When that man came around that corner and showed me the life I’d left, it was like a wind came swirling up around us and captured us in its center, holding us in its vortex of stillness.  Its turbulence lifted even the weightiest of memories and scattered the dust of that life so when we parted, it was final.  He to his life, and me to mine.   The Bonneville sits in Phil’s garage until I find a ride down, until it’s time to listen again, until I need a reason for another ride on her.  She sits and waits until the forces of god and nature and desire come swirling about and make it so.  

Saturday, November 20, 2010

I Need a Ride

The weather forecast this week was for snow.  I didn’t see much falling.  I’m glad.  I’m not ready to put the bike away.  I’m not ready to let go of the rides that keep me grounded, keep me connected to others and to myself.  When I leave work now, the sky is dark with the promise of night and city streetlamps mark my path home.  The days are shorter, my vision is shorter, future plans recede into a murky unknown.  Winter isn’t just about snow and cold weather.  For me, Winter is a time of drawing inward, of reflecting on the previous year and digesting what happened.  The bike is my steady companion except during Winter- difficult because this time of year is when I most need what she offers.

I often ride to clear my head.  It doesn’t start out this way, of course.  It starts out that I need to get somewhere or I need to be anywhere except here so I hop on and head out for a ride.  Sometimes it takes 10 minutes and other times an hour but I am always assured that on the bike I can get some perspective.  Get relief from these thoughts that press in on me and make me question myself, my life’s work, where I’m really headed in this life of mine.

My bike has been at the dealership all week getting looked at.  Pat called me to tell me the seal on my oil filter was broken and that I need a new head gasket.  While he was in there replacing that, he checked the valves for me too- part of the 12,000 mile service that I hadn’t found the money for so neglected to have done.  The reason the bike wasn’t starting was because the battery is no longer holding a charge.  I had thought it wouldn’t start, was running poorly, and had the oil leaks because something major had happened.  I had thought it happened because I didn’t have the valves checked.  I thought all this was happening because I didn’t have my priorities in line, because I hadn’t figured out a way to take care of the bike so it could keep taking care of me.

My friend Tracy and I both have the same response to technology.  It makes us a little anxious.  I’m not afraid to try new things and I don’t let anxiety paralyze me with inaction but I do think it gets in the way.  I think there are times when I take too long to act and it costs me.  This time with the bike, was one of those times.   I thought I had caused the oil leaks by neglecting the bike.  After talking with a mechanic, a service man and a few friends, I now realize I can’t cause an oil leak.   The seals fail, I didn’t.  I am grateful for this discovery but still wary.  I am self-conscious about what I don’t know.  One friend tells me I don’t give myself enough credit; that I’m being too hard on myself.  I don’t disagree.  But how do I break a habit like this?  How do start giving myself the benefit of the doubt in every situation?

When my mom found herself alone after 38 years, she had to learn to do everything my dad had done for her, for the two of them.  As you can imagine, or may even know for yourself, a relationship this long had lead to some pretty defined roles for each of them.  My dad took out the garbage, mowed the lawn, maintained appliances and the cars, wrote out the monthly checks for the bills.  My dad built the house they shared together; he knew every screw and nail, every brick and board, had cans of paint labeled and stacked on a shelf in his workshop.  When dad died, she lost a life partner and a life task partner.  She had to learn how to do it all herself- or she thought she did.  That’s when my sister Laurie and I stepped in.  We reminded her that we had spent many single years managing all of the things she needed to learn how to do.  We told her she had good resources in us.  We told her she didn’t have to know how to do everything, she just had to know how to find the people that know. 

I am amazed at how often I give the advice that I most need to hear myself.  I swear, if I could just replay the tape of advice I give out to others, each night before I go to bed, I may be able to change some of these habits of mine, some of these habits of thinking. 

I was talking about my bike and its repairs yesterday with a friend over coffee.  The cost of the repairs is reasonable and while not so much what I can afford, is just about what I’m able to scrape together.  I am grateful for this- grateful that the mechanic listened to my concerns about cost and is giving me a break on it.  My friend informed me that I may not be getting the break I think I am.  He educated me.  We talked about the anatomy of the engine and what’s involved in checking the valve clearance, this costly service I had been afraid of.   He told me what a good deal on a valve check and adjustment is.  My face fell.  I had not researched the cost of this service and because I don’t know much about how the engine works, I didn’t realize how simple it is to do, once the head is off to replace the seal.  I felt like a fool for not knowing this.  But worse, I had been seen not knowing.  I got caught.  I hate when that happens.  I hate that I didn’t know any better, I hate that I got found out.  I wanted the good deal.  I wanted to have handled the situation well.  I wanted to trust my decision on this.  

I imagine that yesterday, while sitting in the coffee shop, I felt pretty much the way my mom felt at realizing she had to learn how to do everything my dad used to do.  It’s a pretty helpless feeling.   Right about now, I’d like to jump on the bike, take her for a long ride and forget about feeling this way.  I want to feel myself handling her, the second-nature of it, and remember those first rides on a motorcycle.  I want to be reminded of what I didn’t know when I first started so I can feel, right in the middle of a ride, how far I’ve come since then.  This is the kind of feeling my bike knows how to deal with.  Together, her and I have been able to break some of my patterns of thinking.  It’s funny because it feels like the Bonnie helps me think - I always feel more clear-headed after climbing off her.  Perhaps it is more accurate to say that she frees me from thinking though- she supports me sure and steady while the wind blows about us and clears out all those thoughts that just get in the way of things.  I sure could use a ride.

My friend didn’t mean to hurt my feelings- he didn’t know he was encroaching on tender territory until he saw my face, until I told him so.  I had been caught not knowing enough again.  I hate not knowing.  My other riding friends would probably find this ironic since I’m always asking questions about the bike, how to ride better, what approach to take.  It’s another thing entirely though, when someone else schools you- when answers come to questions you weren’t ready to ask. 

I’ve been hearing lately in conversation, that there is a “natural order” to things.  I’m not sure exactly what is meant when this is said.  The first thing I think of is the natural order of the sexes.  I look at what I, as a woman, am capable of, good at, born into.  And then the converse of that- what men are capable of, good at, reared to do well.  I don’t much like thinking of things in terms of sex: what she does because “that’s a woman for you” and what he does because, well, “that’s just how men are.”   I really dislike sweeping generalizations.   It would be fair to say I resist them altogether.  But what I’m exploring here isn’t really what the world says I, as a woman, should be, but rather what I have internalized I should be. 

I don’t have the strut and stride of a man that proclaims confidence.  I apologize often.  I try to find “the right time” to say what needs to be said instead of just saying it already.  I’m not saying I want to walk like a man, or that I shouldn’t admit it when I’m wrong or that thinking before acting isn’t wise, what I’m saying is different altogether.  I want to feel deep on the inside that what I want, what I think, what I feel are Right.  I want to give myself that.  I want to assume the best of myself rather than doubt myself. 

Of the things I most love about men, these top the list. I see a man walking with a hitch in his step, I hear him stating his views and making decisions for himself and his family and I think: I want THAT.  I don’t accept that this is the natural order of things and that I will always doubt myself or wish I had done better.  Instead, I want to take that masculine way of being into myself and make it my own.  Male and female, black and white, light and dark.  These are opposing ways of seeing things.  Maybe the world is ordered to show us opposites so we can see ourselves more clearly, not so much to show us our place in the order of things.   I like thinking about it that way.  I’m gonna try that on for awhile and see how it fits.  I don’t know how to do it yet.  But maybe I can find someone who does.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Motorcycling is a Pain

I’ve been talking a good game lately.  I’ve been talking about how great it is to ride a motorcycle.  I keep it all flowery and fun.  Even an accident, I gloss over.  And the people who’ve been injured in the accident.  The thing to know is that motorcycling isn’t always roses and rainbows and smiley faces and candy canes.  Motorcycling is sometimes frightening, sometimes frustrating.  It takes commitment.  It takes money.  How many rides have been cancelled due to inclement weather?  How many times have I had to work all day in wet clothes because I got caught in the rain without my rain gear?  How much money have I put into motorcycling gear when I should be saving for the new roof on the house?  I rent someone else’s car during the Winter but I really want to buy the dual sport bike Mike is selling so I can do some trail riding next year.  Where are my priorities?

If you're having trouble believing in this rant I started on, that's ok- I am, too.  The thing is, I am glad I took the trip, I am glad I have the gear to keep me safe and extend my riding season.  I'm glad I don’t check the weather channel before getting on the bike.  I like that I’m living the life I want to instead of the one I should.  I don’t want my house to be in perfect order, don’t want every bush out front to be perfectly pruned.  I want to live life just as I have been. 

When I was a kid, a certain poem grabbed my attention.  I had it tacked to my bedroom wall, even.  It spoke to the perfectionist in me.  The poem was called “I’d pick more daisies”- here are a few lines:

"If I had my life to live over, I'd dare to make more mistakes next time. I'd relax, I would limber up. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would have more actual troubles, and fewer imaginary ones."

The way I’ve lived my life in the last few years has been a tribute to that poem.  I’m not contributing to my retirement fund,  I’ve got piles of laundry waiting to be folded,  I don’t know what I want to do with the rest of my life.  But I take lots of motorcycle rides, I make time to write, I spend lots of time in the company of people I enjoy, rather than feel obligated to.  

There I go again finding a positive spin on motorcycling.   I guess it can’t be helped.  I’m trying to recount the negative things about it but it doesn’t last.  That’s the thing about the motorcycle, or maybe just the writing about it.  It keeps me trying to find the best way through this life of mine.  It keeps me finding another truth besides the problems I make for myself.

I feel like I’ve done a disservice in talking about how great motorcycling is.  Ok, not a disservice exactly, but rather I’ve not presented the complete picture of motorcycling.  I have not narrated the horrific crashes I’m aware of.  I have not detailed a story from my own family, of an uncle who was injured in a motorcycle accident that left him comatose at the age of 32 for 8 long years before he died of pneumonia.  I think I stay away from these stories because I need a break from them.  Perhaps it is a 15-year career as a nurse that has me staring death and disease in the face, that makes me turn away from them and look to another reality.  Perhaps I just need to step away from those painful places life takes me for a few hours each week and remember there’s another way to get through life, another way to look at things.

The stories I tell about motorcycling spring up when I’m on a ride.  They narrate themselves to me when I’m on the bike.  I’m not trying to invent a positive spin on a ride after it’s already ended.  Somehow this alternate view rises to the surface and I see a rhythm to life that I couldn’t see when I was stuck in the middle of it; when I was struggling to pull up the bush up in the backyard, or when I was lost in the woods, stuck among a bile of bramble bushes- the only way out, through them, the only way out to get poked and scratched and stuck.  The thing about getting oneself out of a hairy situation is that by the time I get to telling it, I’m already through it.  There’s already a better ending laid out for me.  I’m through the pickers, tending the scratches, and doing as we humans do, trying to make the best of it.  So there’s automatically this perspective of “I made it through and now I’m gonna tell you how I did it.”  The thing I need to say here, is sometimes I don’t know how I got through it.  One dear friend spoke to me after my father’s death, which happened on the heels of my divorce, and she said “I don’t know how you are still standing.”  The truth is, I don’t either.  I can’t point to an unfailing faith- there was no faith strong enough to sustain me, there were no arms big enough to carry the weight of that grief.  I just woke up each morning, got out of bed and walked into the day.  There is no primer, no map, no one poem that can carry us through some of these difficult times. 

One friend I have says he won’t talk about this serious stuff in a group because that “would be a real downer.”  I think otherwise.  It is in sharing my difficulties with others that I have come to see their difficulties as well.  I see the people behind the motorcycle they ride- I see them on their own ride through this sometimes painful life.   One friend of mine has buried her father and sister, put her mother in a nursing home, sorted through and sold the family home.  In less than one year,  her family has been dismantled.  I don’t know how she is still walking.  She doesn’t either.  There is nothing I can say except “I too, know this pain.”  And somehow there is some comfort there.  I don’t know how this happens, but others who’ve gone through similar things become a beacon to those who endure it now.  In the weeks following my Father’s death, I reached out to every friend who lost a parent.   I knew I could talk about the loss without explaining it.  One barrier was removed. 

I don’t want to keep talking about how great motorcycles are.  In fact, sometimes they are a pain in the ass.  My bonnie sits in the garage now, only a few more rides in her before the snow falls and I’ve spotted an oil leak around her head.  I am frustrated and scared and I can’t see my way through this- I don't know how it can end well.  I don’t know how I will pay for repairs.  She’s only a few years old- the warranty’s out and I’m still paying on her.  My mind is making this a big problem, my worry compounded by my financial situation.  I know it’s just a motorcycle, it’s a thing.  I shouldn’t freak out about it.  My health is good, I’m employed, my house isn’t falling down around me.  

But the thing is, she isn’t just a bike.  She is how I get where I’m going.  She is how I find my way.  She’s what makes it all worthwhile.

I don’t want to wrap this up all pretty but after worrying for about it for 4 days, I finally picked up the phone and called Lifecycle to see what the problem might be.  Pat thinks it’s a bad gasket.  I'm breathing a little easier but my mind is still swirling around a bit, trying to figure out all the details- how do I get the bike down there, how much will it cost, what isn't going to get done so I can pay for the repairs.  A bad gasket, eh? I hope that’s all it is.  I’m crossing my fingers until I know for sure.  

Friday, November 5, 2010

Choosing the Route

Two weeks ago, I found myself on a long ride with new friends traveling unfamiliar roads.  This trip, unlike my normal group rides with the RIDE club, was carefree- our route wasn’t planned and we didn’t gather at a prearranged time at one location.  The ride started with a chain of phone calls which lead to a series of meet-ups: 4 of us started in Grand Rapids and road to Kentwood to pick up a fifth.  Together we drove down to Wayland to meet up with 3 others stationed at a restaurant, awaiting our arrival.  It made the trip especially interesting, picking up others along the way- a trip within a trip.

During that weekend ride my mind kept wandering.  I was daydreaming about splitting off from the group.  My mind kept flashing to an image of me riding off by myself, back towards home.  I’d been riding for a few hours by this point and I was feeling what I’ll call, “the pull of my own ride.”  At the time, I thought it was a sign I should set off by myself, and head north back to Grand Rapids.  Looking back on it though, I think it was like many other daydreams I have; it was telling me to be mindful of my own ride in life.

Sometimes I don’t give myself enough time.  I schedule myself from one activity to the next, one group to the next and before I know it, I’m restless and antsy.   That’s when I start daydreaming about breaking off from the ride.  Some part of me is asking to break off from the desires of others and start listening again to my own. Recognizing my own needs has been a long time coming.  I’m used to listening to what others need.  I’m comfortable with that.  Sometimes it feels selfish to put myself first.  I try to remember that when I’m saying no to someone else, I’m saying yes to me.  

During our ride, Phil’s hand went up to alert me and I realized our last two riders were no longer behind me.  Because of my daydreaming, I’d lost sight of them and I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I’d looked back.  I slowed, checked my mirror and when no bikes appeared from around the last corner, I turned around and headed back to find them.   When riding with 8 bikes as we were, along winding roads, you don’t always know when someone goes down.  What you know is that suddenly, there’s no one behind you.  This recognition is often accompanied by a pang of fear – it means something happened to stop the ride.  When you’re the one turning back, you hope someone lost a glove or needed to adjust his gear.  But sometimes it’s more serious. 

A few miles back I found Ashley and Andrew standing along a curve, bikes parked and gear scattered. I could see dirt and grass on the pavement and tall grasses matted down at the edge of the road.  Within minutes, the rest of the group joined us and began assessing the scene.  A few kept their eyes toward coming traffic, someone looked Andrew over, a few others scanned the area for gear and parts while another examined the bike to see if it was ridable.  It’s a terrible feeling when someone goes down.  It’s frightening for the rider as well as the one who sees it happen. 

When someone is injured on a motorcycle, it makes me think of other accidents.  I have good friends who have experienced life-altering injuries from their motorcycles.  One friend can no longer ride, another chooses not to and a third has lost his excitement for the same kind of riding he did beforehand.  Every rider knows someone who has gone down.  Most riders know someone who didn’t survive the ride.  One Summer our ride club had 8 members injured in separate incidents.  I nearly stopped riding then.  Each time I even thought about getting on the bike, dread heaved in my gut.   Bile rose in my throat, my breathing came thin and shallow.  That Fall I rode only a handful of times.  If I didn’t feel like riding, I didn’t.  I decided to delay any decision-making about riding until the following Spring.  I decided to let my body make the choice.

Andrew's injuries weren't serious.  His arms were pretty scraped up and he found some nasty bruises the next morning.  He wasn’t too hurt, because a few days later he hitched a ride to the BMW dealership to pick up the brand new bike he’d been planning to buy.  And I wasn’t either.  Andrew’s accident was the first that didn’t make me question riding.  I’m not sure what was different this time.  For awhile there, whenever I heard about a motorcycle accident, I had to decide whether to continue to ride.  The Spring following those 8 accidents, when purple blooms of crocus appeared among patches of melting snow, my desire to ride returned.  I was eager to ride, excited for the roads to clear and daydreaming about the next journey on the motorcycle.  That is how my body talks to me.  It tells me if I’m on the right path.  This time, with Andrew’s accident, I’m no longer questioning if I should continue motorcycling.  I am finally giving over to the purity of the ride.