"Spin" in aviation training: a "stall" or loss of lift, a subsequent nose-down spin, the specific actions required for recovery, and the feeling, after recovery, that you could tackle absolutely anything!

Sunday, 18 June 2017

ALTERNATE REALITY






A friend of mine mentioned that his daughter-in-law, Kaley, 29 seemed to be a remarkably talented road cyclist but was hesitant to own this fact. Kaley's husband, brother-in-law, and mother-in-law all feel that she has tremendous talent but were stuck trying to figure a way to convince her. If you examine the life manual specifically composed for such a scenario, it calls for the intervention of a grumpy, middle-aged woman. Enter, moi. I explained to my friend that if I could be 29 again and have even ONE person cued in to what my abilities were on the bike at that age, "well, just let me tell you mister! Things would have been, you know, different." My friend offered and I jumped at the chance to meet and cycle with this new phenom.

I'm 54. With that go all of the fun, joyous afflictions laid out on the path of aging like curious toys hidden at a scavenger hunt. Menopause is the big one, and the name can fuck off. Menopause. That's like saying, "I bought a sedan," or "Oh look, blinds on sale."  I think Alternate Reality is a better phrase, because everything that you once knew, depended on, didn't fear, has changed. Everything is a science fiction movie now(What is THAT growing on my chin?). I am, however, fighting the whole aging bullshit. I recently stopped making my bed, I have piles of laundry on my floor, and I can't stop watching Brooklyn 99.  Some days, I don't even floss. I know, rad, right? Dude?

 My consistency through this alternate reality is that I am still as fiercely devoted to the bike, as I ever was. I ride 60k most days, and sometimes I sneer while doing it. I am ready for this. 

I arrive at my friend's house and meet everyone over breakfast before the ride. There is much talk of equipment, previous experience, and, well bacon, because the bacon made for this breakfast was stellar. Alternate Reality-stellar; a clue to everything going smoothly. I notice that Kaley, her husband, and her brother-in-law all have this glow of youngness: freshly scrubbed, pink-cheeked, annoyingly perfect, meanwhile I had to resort to pulling the recoil on the back of my head to shore up my wrinkles and keep my face out of the bacon. I caught myself saying phrases like, "I used to," or, "once, years ago," though I had vowed never to become that person.  Phrases like that are only a short tip into, "Nobody wears dungarees anymore."

Steady yourself Suzanne. You took The Matrix's red pill. Steady.

We head out on the bikes. Kaley's husband comes with and jokes about being the sweeper at the back. I am skeptical about his self-deprecation because he is remarkably nice too. I pair up with Kaley and we chat until we get out onto the highway. I tell her to let-er-rip and not worry. Well, she does, the let-er-rip part. She clearly wasn't worried. Even as I watched her from 100, then 200 metres back, she did not seem the slightest bit worried. Her husband and I shook our heads and quietly revelled in her lack of worry. 

I, on the other hand, was working. This was not a Sunday perambulation for me, as it was for her and I must say, it was difficult. I was frustrated with this ridiculous body that, for some stupid reason, some misguided, downer evolutionary fact, refused to go as fast and as hard as it had in the past (I know, dungarees. Bite me.). I think we should have super powers at this age. What would be so wrong with being able to fly to the store to get groceries? Instead of the threat of breaking a hip, what about the coolness of being able to breathe fire? Or lift, unaided, a multipack of anything you buy at Costco? WHY CAN'T I GO AS FAST AS I USED TO? WAS I PISSING OF THE GOD OF SWIFTNESS? WAS I INTERFERING WITH THE EQUINOX? WERE THE SLOW PEOPLE COMPLAINING? SLOWLY?  Sigh... apparently, I am human, like everyone else, an evolutionary sucker.

The thing is, I'm not ready for this. I am just now, figuring myself out. I'm just now getting the joke! Hardy-har-har-har, and it's hilarious. Good one! Can I speak to you over here for a second? But if there is an upside to todays thrashing, I hope that it is that I have been able to inspire and offer support to a truly gifted athlete. It's quite an honour to be witness to someone at the ground-level of realizing their gifts. I plan to do what I can, in my alternate reality, to continue my position in her cheering squad, and hope that, while I'm out on my rides that I may be, possibly, inspiring someone else. Maybe. But if this alternate reality takes hold... I am TOTALLY going back to my 29 year-old body. THAT would be SOOO SICK, RIGHT? 

RIGHT?





Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Me Now There Then


On a recent sunset ride, I heard the songs of spring frogs, males hollerin' for their honeys. It sent me back to when I was a kid on the farm. I remember hearing my father pulling into the driveway one evening, home from the city. I went out and saw him standing behind the car, the trunk open, his hands were on his hips and he was looking out towards the pond. I remember his shirt and tie, his brown suit pants and leather shoes. He was handsome, but troubled. He had something on his mind. I walked to the back of the car and saw a new bike lying in the grass, pink with white tires and a white banana seat, my size.  He didn't know how to give it to me and I didn't know how to take it, but I eventually pulled it to standing and rode it up and down the driveway for the rest of the evening. I listened to the frogs in the pond singing their hearts out.

It would be nice if the rules of reality were forgiving. It would be nice to be able to slide back in time on the sound of one of those frog songs, step through back into me at that time, knowing what I know now. I would put the bike down, thread my arms into my father's and ask him what was on his mind. I would do the same with my mother and get the two of them to open up and talk to each other. I would sit with them in the kitchen until the barriers got cracked and crumbled. I would help them navigate their awkwardness at vulnerability and we would begin a new, vibrant dynamic, loud and boisterous like those bloody frogs. As a result, my father would still be here. Both of them would still be living at the farm, the house renovated to let in gobs of light. They would be fiercely in demand by grandkids and good friends for nothing other than fun. They would have a goat or two and a passel of dogs that would cause trouble on the evenings when they would host a theatre group in the barn; their own Chautauqua. Mom would have swapped out her apartment upright for a proper grand piano. Dad would write and fish, and my heart wouldn't ache so much.




Friday, 2 June 2017

Carousel



The leaves are out on the big maple tree across the yard from my apartment. It's not a tree with a single, grand trunk, but two good ones, then limbs and branches continuing off of those. Its silhouette makes a compelling puzzle of the night sky; stars and planets winking at me through the breaks. The sky seems to rotate faster than you think. Of course, it's not the sky that's moving but the illusion is part of the show.  Each wink marks time as it threads through the tree, like fairy lights around a fast carousel. It is easy to dread this speed; easy to fret about what needs to be done as if it makes a difference, as if the constellations will change because you're worrying. 

It would be curious to hang on tight and accelerate the spin to see into the future, then back the ride up to the moment with the help of a reliable carni. But the thing I'm realizing is that the glory is in the reveal, the process. It demands getting yourself to a place where you can see and really be in the world as you maneuver through the quotidian tasks of the day. Then, and only then, can you experience the ineluctable discovery of the very thrill of you;

 YOU ARE THE PRIZE!  

Once you grok this, your life turns into the sensual, exhilarating experience it was meant to be. This doesn't mean that there is nothing but cotton candy from here-on-in, but there is less emptiness, less of a compulsion to simply make it through the day, become numb. 

As Bill Hicks said, "It's just a ride."

If you're head is down, mind toiling, seething, you're going to miss the best parts, plus...plus you'll probably drop your fucking ice cream.



Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Ascent



I am cycling up a winding hill. Deep into the first rising turn, a crow stands pecking at some prize, cocks his head to look at me like a wise-guy at a bar. He hops once, exuding more annoyance than fright as I approach, then he opens his glorious back, wings reaching with feathers like divine velvet armour in this late-day sun. He rises, angles high in the air in front of my bike, then slips to the grassy shoulder with no more strain than a sigh; a display of ease and finesse as if mocking my effort. Crow lifts off again and watches me continue up the grade while he swoops and twirls in the close forest, then sets down on the road ahead of me as if to say,

"See how easy this is with wings? See what I can do?"


I nod and laugh. My bike feels perfect, like it's a part of my body. I take in the sweet spring air and in this sacred moment, feel my heart fill, as if to say, 

"See how thrilling it is to be alive?  See how much love I have?"




Friday, 12 May 2017

Leroy


There is nothing better than good conversation. To sit with another and share ideas, thoughts without the dictatorial calibrations of time or any secondary agenda is rare and precious. I have noticed of late that we are often better at talking than listening, sometimes eager to unleash our own concerns like rice out of a sack without a spit of hesitation. And that's a shame. It's a shame because we are cheating ourselves out of the sacred experience of getting to know ourselves, of recognizing the soul that is ours in its naked truth responding to another, sheltered only by our belief and the intrinsic desire to be authentic. The thing is, this kind of discovery takes guts. Not everyone is ready, but when you are, and you go through it, you are keen to run into others. There is little else but the hope of this to summon the strength to throw back the sheets and test your shadow in the new day's sun. Everything else is tedious.


When I was a kid, we had large groups of people out to our farm. Few came from my father's corporate world. Most came from the Quaker part of our family life and were made up of myriad personalities seemingly separated by minute and monumental differences as the day is long.  As a kid, many of the people in our meeting made me want to yawn and roll my eyes. There was, however, one man who always stood out, whom I was always glad to see. His name was Leroy, emphasis on the second syllable. He was married to a lovely woman named Pearl, and the pair, though humble, had more class and spice than any other couple I could name.  Leroy was absolutely authentic, the real deal, and if you were in a conversation with him, you were too. He wore a straw hat in the summer, less to keep the sun off of his head than to prevent, I think, the sun from being outshone by his smile. Such a smile he had! To him, I was not a bother. He was interested in what I was up to. We would talk and he would laugh the most delightful laugh. Not a big belly laugh, but something lighter, as if he was a conduit of joy from the heavens. We would discuss all kinds of things, and when we parted, I felt special. I felt seen. I'm not sure how we would have met outside of the strangeness that was our farm.  Whatever the machinations behind it, I am grateful for our bond. He was like an angel sent to rescue me from losing my mind, from feeling invisible, like a spectre.

You don't have to connect deeply with everyone in the world. You can't. Some humans are sleepwalking, hardly aware of the tender heart beating inside of them. The grander swath, hopefully, is learning, growing, and stretching toward the goal of openness and the ability to sense the rich poetry of life: the deepest love, the most vibrant consideration of humanity, and the fired desire to care and caress.  The hard part, the risk, is committing to being open and vulnerable, but then knocking against another's armour: the closed body language, the words of defence and distance, and a self-righteous air worn like fancy tack on a parade horse. There is no grace in whittling away someone's worth. There is no power in declining an offer to be present and truthful. But it is hurtful. Traumatic, even. Behaviour likened to a bully. It's disappointing to have such an experience, especially from someone you've known for some time, but when you think back, you realize that you have stretched so much further. You have outgrown them and the need for armour. You have nothing to hide and everything to give. According to the way this poetry works, you DO have the difficult task of seeking out new souls in similar step. Hard to find this late in life, but the option to settle is, well, it's not an option. I do have a few good friends, helpful and supportive, but busy in their own lives. I look forward to running into that special one, that person who lights me up, where neither of us want to rush off to anything more important, because what is there that could be? 

I am grateful to have known Leroy. He bookended the start of the most charged parts of my life, strewn with beauty, hopeful narrative, and tragedy enough.  Surprisingly, now, I am grateful to have gone through the challenge of the past years, as dark and insurmountable as they seemed at different times. I couldn't be who I am with what I have to offer in any other way. So, when you're ready, you with your sacred soul, whomever you are, wherever you are, send up a flare! I'll make tea and we will have ourselves a long, luxuriously rambling conversation out in the sunshine.










Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Courage


One trick I have when walking into a challenging social situation is to pretend I am someone else. The someone depends on the situation. Usually, it's a fictional character. I don't do this all of the time. More often than not, I am me, but if there's a room full of challenging personalities, or some sort of overwhelming interaction in the works, I might reach back into a Cormac McCarthy novel and wind myself around one of his characters:

"Officer, I do agree I was moving with a certain marked intensity. Just tryin' to get clear of my history...keeps snappin' at my boots.  I reckon if I were to keep on, I would only run into the back end of it eventually. Here's my license and insurance."

Or Kathryn Hepburn:

 "You are an absolute gift! Cherish the energy you must have to speak so clearly and for such duration without hardly a breathe! Such a strong voice...clarifying the clarified so we are not left to the random, unbridled peace of our own thoughts.  What a waste that would be. Care for a toffee?"

There are, however, situations in our lives that demand the authentic us and nothing but. To venture in with anything other than our truth and vulnerability is to cheat ourselves and squander the opportunity to make ground in our struggle forward. I found myself, recently, laid bare, open and honest, having shrugged off the usual pleasantries and tired conversation that I now find suffocating. From deep, deep inside came words that should have been said well back in my history. I felt them coming. I stood down and let them come, all the while terrified. It was like an exorcism, something more powerful than me. Once the words were out, I stood amazed that I had said them. Stunned that I had had the courage, finally, to get this out, to demand another to be accountable. This would never have happened years ago, deep in that history, but I am not the person I used to be. Not even close.  

This event shook me. I felt like I had been in a fist fight. I was almost sick. I figured myself unravelling and tumbling into chaos, rolling towards my ultimate demise until an objective third party, wise, thoughtful, made the observation to the contrary. I had stepped up. I had done something new. This was a big deal for me. Very big. McCarthy could not have done this. Hepburn neither. This was pure me.

In the words of David Foster Wallace (Infinite Jest), "The truth will set you free, but not until it is finished with you."

I do believe he was on to something...and I ain't done yet.






Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Angel


I spin out of the revolving door into an uppercut by a cold April wind. I take it, still dazed from an earlier battle; a day with a judgemental, condescending harpy in full-blown ego who sends my very soul to the wall. 

                    "Use your words," 

she says when I choke on part of a conversation. Subtle. Mean. Sums me up with,
 
         "Hmm. A Quaker raised on a farm!" 

in a throw-away, arrogant tune. It took all of my strength not to explode out of my chair and pin her by the throat against a shattered window...explain through clenched teeth that there is no scale from 1-to-10 for this rage that I have, and it didn't come from the Quakers. It came from Beefeater, darkness, unbearable heartbreak, and two cartridges from a shotgun. 

But I don't. I endure and behave. Now, hours later, I'm out on the street weighed down with my bags strapped over my shoulders, committed to continuing this fraud of contentment, of competence, taking random hits from wind and spatters of rain doled out like difficult blessings from a crazed priest. I walk up University. I can not bear the subway right now. I am constantly pushing my hair up out of my face and imagine that if I sat on a corner with a cup, nobody would think it strange. 

Outside of the hospital on my route, I notice a middle-aged man bent over near the curb fussing with a bundle of bags or maybe a bike. He is wearing old hospital scrub pants and a navy-blue bomber ski jacket with hood. He has a bandana around his greying, wild hair and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. His face is seasoned like a creased leather bus seat. I am ten feet away from him, trying to figure his story, when he turns to take a cursory look at me. He stops what he is doing and looks again, rests his hands on his thighs and in a voice betraying the scrape and grit of a hard life, says, 

            "You are so fucking beautiful." 

He stands and takes the cigarette out of his mouth, pivoting as I pass.
 
"You are...you are so fucking beautiful. You've got it. You've got everything...fucking beautiful..."

I keep moving but turn and smile at him. I make it clear that I am grateful, acknowledging him, pulling my hair out of my face again and walking backwards away from him. He is still talking but the wind scuttles his words. I wave and turn back towards my route. Something about him; his sincerity cloaked in whatever unknowable lunacy or struggle, timing as if sent. It wasn't like I was wearing a cocktail dress and heals. I had cowboy boots, jeans and a trench coat. 

So I take it. Keep walking. Slowly unclench my fists.