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A Ferret Called Wilson

Chasing Happy, Chasing Dreams

Month

January 2015

My Brain

My brain

It recently dawned on me that my brain doesn’t organize the world the same way most other people’s brains do. Where as most people tend to simplify the world around them into predetermined categories, I have a tendency to look at the parts that make things up and draw similarities on a more basic level. For better or for worse this seems to be an obstacle that I need to overcome when I communicate with people.

The most common area where my brain gives me difficulty communicating with people is most surely in human relations. Most Americans, as well as Japanese, tend to view human relationships as being in one of the following stock categories: professional or personal, family, friend, neighbor, acquaintance or romantic partner. There may be some finer categories that people use, too, such as “sex friend” which is a kind of sub category of romantic partner that includes the sex but not the romance or love. For the most part, however, these categories are distinct. Rarely will someone find themselves fulfilling more than one of these roles at a time. For example, your mother might also be your friend, but you wouldn’t call her to go “out with your friends,” which puts her firmly in the category of family. At the same time the characteristics of each of these relationships do very much overlap.

Family and romantic partners are expected to love you. Sometimes friends love each other. Only romantic partners and sex professionals can satisfy your physical needs, though. In fact, hugging members of the opposite sex (among straight people) borders on a violation of the implicit exclusivity of the romantic relationship. On the other side of the spectrum, professional contacts are expected to refrain from emotional interaction. There are many other rules and characterizations of the many types of human relationships as well.

The way my brain works is on the level of those characteristics. My brain looks at a human relationship and asks whether or not there is love, or sex, or an exchange of goods or services. Sometimes the answers align well with the standard relationship categories; sometimes the align less well. For example, what does one call a relationship where there is love and sex and an exchange of market services? Can it be possible to be friends with your boss?

The most difficult for me is trying to communicate about any relationship that involves sex. Most people are quick to drop it into the sex friend category, or the romantic category. The difficulty is with the love factor. Sex friends are not normal friends in the sense that they are expected to not have strong feelings for each other or to be particularly involved in each other’s lives. So if you add love to a sex friend, do you get a romantic partner? No, because romantic partners are for the most part expected to be preparing for a long term monogamous relationship, such as marriage. People who believe in True Love find this conclusion natural because if you loved each other Truly, there would be no reason not to marry. However marriage is a very different relationship than friends or lovers and involves its own set of expectations both within and from outside of the relationship. So what does one call a loving sexual relationship that never moves closer towards marriage? The answer is that you don’t, really. So far I have found no word to communicate that concept.

If you break down human relationships into their critical components, it is quite obvious that a relationship with sex, friendship, and love can be different from a romantic partnership with its expectation of exclusivity. The difficulty I think most people have is that they aren’t looking at the pieces, they are looking at the whole item. This pattern isn’t limited to human relationship categories either.

Recently I was talking to a friend of mine who is quite passionate about politics and who is mostly self taught on the subject. At some point in our conversation I found myself very confused because my friend is also devoutly liberal in his politics, but he was violently attacking economic policies that would help the liberal agenda because he thought they were republican propaganda. I would open my mouth to comment, only to close it again in confusion as the conversation took what seemed to me like a 180º in its ideology. What I realized after having let the conversation settle for a few hours was that my friend’s approach to policy was from a different starting point than mine. He sees policy as a battle among competing political forces whereas I see policy as a collection of changes, each affecting a different piece of the population in its own way. Because I look at policy as being good or bad for the population and not as part of a political agenda I have often been stumped when people ask me what my political leanings are. I simply don’t understand how the divisions are drawn.

Some people say that I am smart. I am not sure if that’s the right word. I know that my brain’s stubborn insistence on seeing the world as a collection of trees rather than a forest has enabled me to see striking patterns among its leaves that others may overlook. At the same time it also complicates my daily life. Categories are helpful in a complicated world that insists on changing faster than any human living in it can manage to adapt. For many of us, it’s enough to know if we are friends on the left, or professional acquaintances on opposite sides of the spectrum and for that categories are infinitely easier to work with. My greatest hope is that perhaps one day I will meet someone who is really good at seeing the larger picture and who will take my hand and guide me through the forest as I spend my time inspecting all the myriad beings inside it. I know I have a lot to offer the world, but I also know that if I spend all my time seeing patterns that I will have no energy to share those insights with others. Ultimately both skills are necessary to achieve change.

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Fi’zi:k Antares Versus

Saddle Dimensions:
Specs: Shell: Nylon Carbon reinforced L: 274mm W: 142mm

The fi’zi:k antares versus for chamaleons is a great saddle. It made friends with my butt pretty immediately after hopping up on the bike. The padding level is enough to take the edges off, but not mushy. It has a pretty light feel, and a simple but effective shape.

Unlike the Mantra, the fi’zi:k was not love at first sit, but it also gave me roughly the same riding sensations for up to an hour and a half of pedaling. The saddle is flat on the top and gives good support to the sit bones. It doesn’t ride up between my pelvic bones like the Mantra, either. At the same time, the center cutout is not as effective as the Mantra’s. It runs the whole length of the saddle, which means that my clitoris was happily supplied with proper oxygen throughout my whole ride. On the other hand it is a straight cut out with no flare so while my clitoris got some needed pressure relief, my labia had to bear the weight in return.

fi'zi:k chamaleon side
Chamaleon side view: 8º, full forward position

One other feature of the Antares bears noting: the nose is significantly wider than almost every other saddle I’ve ridden. I wasn’t bothered by the additional width. It felt comfortable and secure. Whether the saddle is made of particularly slick material or it is just tapered very well from butt to nose, I didn’t notice any additional friction from the wide saddle, just a presence in my mind that I’m sure would go away if I could put in a few more hours on it.

The fi'zi:k chamelion is in the background
You can see (in the back) how the groove extends the whole way

Over all I wish I could have had more time with the antares. I put in one 25K ride and two 10-15K rides and didn’t have any difficulties at all. The cutout protects my precious clitoris even if it isn’t as kind to my labia, and the back of the saddle is very gentle on my sit bones. It’s a great saddle and I would almost say it wins over the Mantra except for the fact that given the choice between risking sexual dysfunction (Antares) and risking saddle sores and ass bruises (Mantra), I have to go with the latter. The discomfort levels are close, but the location is always going to have to err in favor of the genitals. That said I highly recommend this saddle to any female riders serious enough to put in the time and the distance and interested in protecting their lady-bits along the way.

At the Top

At the Top

Recently I became friends with the former ice climbing champion of Japan. After years of topping the charts in her particular sport, she decided she needed a hobby and took up mountain biking — trials, specifically. Except for the fact that we both often get mistaken for high school boys and practice the same sports, we are almost perfect yin and yang. I have tried my whole life to be the best at something, but have always fallen short, usually because I get swept away with some other hobby. She decided one day she wanted to be a world class athlete and was successful very quickly, but then spent the rest of her career in a pervasive ennui about professional sports in general. While I love mountains so passionately that my bones quake whenever I look up and see them on the horizon, she could take them or leave them. I am very comfortable in cold; she hates it.

There are many differences between us, but at the same time both of us share the experience of dedicating our entire lives to the pursuit of a single goal. In her case it was ice climbing. In my case? It was, and still is, answering the questions that arise when common knowledge just doesn’t make sense. Both of us have spent hundreds, perhaps thousands of hours alone, relentlessly chipping away at the wall between where we are and where we feel compelled to be. We are both very intensely aware of how lonely the path to the top truly is.

Over drinks last night I said to her, “When I was young, my mother always warned me that it is lonely at the top.” She paused for a moment and said to me,

“Maybe. But when you actually do get to the top, the scenery is vastly different than anywhere else. You can see things and meet people from the top that you couldn’t if you were just bumbling around mid-pack. For example, you get to meet the other top athletes from around the world. And even musicians. The top climber might have something in common with the top musician even though one is an athlete and the other an artist. So actually, it’s not really that lonely.”

Suddenly I felt criticized. It’s not that she was saying something so very different, or even inconsistent, than what I said. To be at the top is to have gone somewhere that no one else is by definition. But in my friend’s view, being at the top of your own mountain meant being able to wave to everyone else at the top of the other mountains. You can’t see who else is at the top when you’re still down below tree-line and that’s pretty obvious, too. However, I have never gotten to the top of anything. I was never the smartest in math, or the best dancer, or the strongest climber, or the most moving writer. Everywhere I went and everything I did I would excel far beyond the average schmuck, but I would soon find someone excelling even farther than myself. Try as I would to catch up, they would only ever disappear over the horizon, leaving me both alone and stuck in the middle. So while I know the pain of solitary training, I have never seen the beauty of surpassing all of my competition.

As I sat there at the corner table in the dark, twenties speakeasy style whiskey bar, I wondered to myself why this person who I liked so much was making me feel bad about myself by speaking positively of her own experience. Most of the time she is unhappy with her responsibilities as top Japanese athlete. So why would this one moment of positivity disturb me? It occurred to me that she, like so many people alive today, was implying with her language that the scenery at the top is better than what you would see from the middle. While most people would probably think it pretty cool to meet the top violinist in the world, or the top mountain biker, or the top runner, or any other person who had topped their field, people who have never undertaken the long and lonely struggle of getting to the top themselves would probably not appreciate on a personal level all that the other person had accomplished. It would be much like meeting a famous celebrity. We could react with awe, or respect, but we would not be able to connect with that person because we would not be able to share the experience of being at the top.

I thought about some of my own struggles as I sipped a rich brandy out of an extremely large glass. When I was a runner, people would come to me full of excitement saying things like, “did you hear? So-and-so just broke the world record marathon time in Berlin!” My reaction was always, “So? What does that have to do with me?” I was always much more excited to hear that the overweight office lady who just started running last season broke the 4.5 hour barrier, or to find out that a former professor of psychology had quit her job to become a professional endurance athlete. These were things that I could relate to. The professional athlete with the professional team of coaches and the sponsorships and the free medical support breaking the world record was just irrelevant to me. Who knows? If I had all those advantages, maybe I could break a record, too? In essence, I wanted to hear stories of people like me accomplishing things that I would love to be able to accomplish. That way I could hope for my own goals to be one day realized.

I think one of the reasons that I never made it to the top is that to me, being better than other people doesn’t seem to mean much. I like when people cheer for me and praise me. I love it when my friends, people that I truly respect and care about, speak proudly of something I did. If I were a top athlete, news anchors and specialty magazines would say things about how amazing I am, but I would know that it’s their job to say those things, and I would know that the day someone else overtakes me would be the last day that any of those strangers would care. If I ever were to become the best at something I would want it to be because I did something or discovered something that no one else did. I would want it to be a reflection of who I am, not simply an artifact of the relevant competition at the time. To me, the value of making it to the top would be that it would validate all of my effort and all of my uncertainty along the way. I imagine that my friend and her colleagues at the top of their fields are all enjoying a similar type of validation. I imagine that to most of them, being at the top means that they are close to their own potential and that defeating the other competitors isn’t the point at all.

When we finally left the bar and walked out into the eerily cold night air, I couldn’t help but think to myself: She says you have to get to the top to hang out with the others at the top. But what are we doing right now? All I’ve ever been able to do well in my life is be stupidly happy over the incredibly mundane. And yet I get to spend my Saturday evening sharing drinks with a champion athlete and hearing stories of a world that only a handful of other humans will ever get to see. Somehow, I feel like I might have found a shortcut.

Discrimination or Ignorance?

As an active woman with a high sex drive and a very prestigious job, I defy basically all the stereotypes about gender. I’m pretty comfortable defying stereotypes at this point. At 30+ I have plenty of experience being cat called, written off, and misinterpreted and I also spent a good ten or more years trying to fit the typical female mould, too. Many women today call on other women to further defy the stereotypes, “to break out of the mould!” as it were, and achieve unprecedented levels of self actualization. I want to talk about something else. Gender stereotyping is a form of passive discrimination. By assuming all women to be a particular way, we can overlook important ways in which our decisions make women’s lives more difficult. Ignorance, on the other hand, is a deeper form of discrimination that goes beyond passivity into institutional. Ignorance, ignoring the differences, means that not only are we likely to make decisions that are unfairly hurtful to women, but we may do so under the false belief that we are actually offering equal opportunities for all. Sports are one of the easiest places to see gender ignorance.

Women and men are physically different. While no one would deny this basic fact, many people operate as if the differences don’t exist. Products marked as “unisex” and sold as sporting equipment are often products designed for men. Most bicycle seats are too narrow and too flat to support a female pelvis with a vulva. T-shirts given away as finishing prizes at road races are almost invariably cut to fit a male torso — wider and shorter than an appropriate female cut, and often sized for men. The result is that out of half a dozen road races that I’ve run, I only have one finisher’s shirt that actually fits my body. Most are too large because sizing starts at men’s small, and too wide so that they fit me like a tent more than high tech sports apparel. Rental equipment for ice skating, bowling and skiing is also unisex, which we can easily read as “for men”, concluding that the majority of production in the sports industry ignores women.

Gender ignorance in sports is not just a feature of product marketing, but in many cases the entire environment ignores the differences between male and female. I recently left my climbing gym in tears because after climbing there regularly for a year I was still unable to complete half of the monthly routes marked for beginners. Over and over again I see guys join the gym and quickly skyrocket from total noob to intermediate and advanced in a matter of months, but I can never cross that critical first barrier of being able to climb the beginner’s routes. Gym regulars, over 90% men, have tried to comfort me by saying that it is just this gym’s style to label their routes much easier than they really are. It would be comforting to me, I replied, if there was a “pre-beginner” level of monthly routes that were within my ability. However, there are not. But because I have nearly a decade of climbing experience and far more upper body strength than the average female I am confident that it is not my ability which is lacking. On the contrary, the attempts by the regulars to comfort me are actually clear indication of the ignorance: they mistakenly assume that my frustrations will be as short lived as theirs were when they shot past the beginner level years ago. They fail to see that as a female, the level at which physical strength becomes a limiting factor on my progress comes much sooner than for males. My climbing gym is a prime example of an institutionalization of female gender ignorance and it irritates me constantly.

At this point, most people are familiar with the concept of discrimination and are aware that it is not socially acceptable any more to openly discriminate against women. People are also more or less aware that stereotypes can be hurtful and need to be regularly evaluated for accuracy. However ignorance is almost always overlooked by nature. People don’t have words for gender ignorance and can often perpetuate it with misguided attempts to be fair. A road race without gender categories is clearly unfair to women, but if someone said “Prizes to the first three people across the finish line” few people would take note. In my own life I find myself repeatedly having to explain to my friends that their assumptions about what is good and true universally are very hurtful to me because I, as a woman, cannot stand in their position and share their experience. They are good people and they don’t mean to exclude me, but when they say things like “come on, it’s easy!” when I am clearly struggling against my body’s feminine constraints, I can’t help but feel like an outsider.

Women’s Road Saddle Review: San Marco Mantra Racing, and a Rant

I have been hunting for a female pelvis appropriate saddle for three years now. Let me just say that if you want to see sexual discrimination in sports, look no further than your local bike shop. Women’s saddles are their own category as in you have “road racing,” “downhill,” “dirt jumping,” “mountain” and “womens” saddles in the catelogues and shops. So the first thing you learn when saddle shopping is that women don’t need sport specific saddles. We must not be serious enough about our riding to need a saddle that caters to our actual ground conditions or riding position. The second thing you learn is that women have pelvises made of rock and eyes on their butts because a women’s specific saddle is often just a fluffier wider men’s saddle with floral detailing. Now, I’m not a fast rider or a professional rider, but I am a serious rider and I love my genitals. I want a saddle that will not give me clitoral erectile dysfunction, which means I want a saddle designed to support a female pelvis that contains a vagina and vulva and clitoris, not a male pelvis with a dick and ballsack. Try explaining that to a bicycle shop employee and he will inevitably start fidgeting and averting his eyes

…because there are almost zero women in the bicycling industry that women can talk to about buying saddles for women! And it’s not socially appropriate to draw attention to your genitals in a cross gendered commercial situation, so how do you explain to a man that unless a saddle is made with female genitals in mind that it is, no matter what the manufacturer wants us to believe, in fact a men’s saddle designed to support a male taint and male genitals? Buying a saddle as a women is an eternally frustrating endeavor.

I’ve spent many hours searching the web for good bike saddle reviews, but I’ve come up empty handed. And without the ability to actually try a saddle out, it’s really quite impossible to know if a saddle is any good. What’s worse? Any halfway decent product is going to be upwords of $100 (US), so most people can’t afford to get the wrong saddle either. What’s a woman to do?

Well! A woman is to go to the great big bicycle shop in Shinjuku, then Shibuya, then Fuchuu, then Kunitachi and try out all the saddles in stock! I’ve tried two different models so far and as my gift to women cyclists everywhere I’m going to post my reviews to this site. First, however, I would like to describe my San Marco, which has served me well for two and a half years, but is starting to get a little uncomfortable around now.

San Marco TopI bought the San Marco in 2012 as a replacement for the stock seat that came on Pikuro, which was more like an instrument of torture than a seat, really. It cost me a good $200+ at the time. Pikuro is a 2012 Giant TCX2 cyclocross bike with some serious attitude and a lot of pink and I use her for mostly everything and for commuting in particular. At first, the San Marco was love. Riding around the city (3 miles and shorter spurts), I never needed a pad and sometimes I would even forget that I was sitting on a saddle at all. It really fit me well. I never experienced numbness or tingling in my legs or my clitoris/labia and when I leaned forward to use the drop bars the saddle actually became more comfortable. I attribute this comfort to the amazingly wide and smoothly tapered center cutout. For some reason a lot of guys have been telling me that cutouts haven’t proven to be beneficial in terms of blood flow to the pelvis and perineum, but I think they’re just talking about their own ballsacks again because it doesn’t make sense to me how not pressing on the vulva with the full force of your body weight for hours on end can fail to be good for the genitals.

In addition to commuting I would occasionally take her for a 40-mile loop around Valley Forge national park. This was where the San Marco’s true strengths and weaknesses came through. On the out leg of the trip I never had any difficulty. In fact, I could ride out in a thin layer of spandex running capris and experience zero discomfort whatsoever. The problems only ever arose on the return trip where the bare padding of the saddle would start to cause hot spots on my taint and sit bones. I would try wearing padded cycling shorts, but I found that shorts with padding over the genitals would relieve the butt pressure, but cause numbness in my clitoris. Ultimately the San Marco is a great saddle for medium length rides, but at its best it could only ever give me 30 miles before the discomfort would set in and become intense enough to seriously affect the quality and pace of my ride.

Recently I’ve noticed a serious change in the way the Mantra fits my bum-region. San Marco Mantra Cross SectionWhile it still provides the fantastic and so far unparalleled blood flow critical to the continued functioning of my genitals, it has started to cause pain in my sit bones at much shorter distances than in the past, and now requires the use of cycling shorts at almost all distances. Specifically, the Mantra will actually ride up between my pelvic bones, forcing them apart and creating hot spots against the inside of the bones, towards the anus and taint region. I attribute this to the sharp downcurve that the saddle displays towards the back as it wraps around and under the carrier posts. It’s still a great saddle and it’s possible that with some more aggressive butt padding I might be able to overcome this small fault. However, this new trend in discomfort is in fact the source of my renewed search for a saddle capable of supporting a female pelvis.

Because the San Marco has served me so well for so long, I will be using it as a basis of comparison for my other saddle reviews. My goal: a saddle that is wider or flatter in the rear than the Mantra, but with an equivalently large relief zone towards the nose. Updates will be posted and tagged “saddle review”

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