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A Ferret Called Wilson

Chasing Happy, Chasing Dreams

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Sick Ride of Sickness

Continuing the theme of my reinfatuation with cycling brings me to the topic of bicycles and health. Some people believe that when you catch a cold you need to lie in bed with lots of blankets, drinking soup and being generally incompetent. I, on the other hand, believe you need to ride your bicycle.

Yesterday morning I woke up with a distinct coldy-feeling in my throat. Ugh. I just got over one bug and I seem to be picking up its ugly cousin barely a week later! It was a teaching day, so I went to work anyway. As the day progressed I developed a fever and by the time the bell rang for my final class to begin I was delirious. Personally, I don’t mind fever induced delirium so much. It’s like being drunk, but without the alcohol. My students also think I’m hilarious when I attempt to teach class in a fever induced semi-stupor. Overall it was a good day, you know, except for the part where I was sick and teaching class in a fever induced semi-stupor.

I went home right after class, not even bothering to go back to my office for my things. At 7pm I was in bed and while I knew I was incapable of doing anything that involved being out of bed, neither could I sleep. The reason was that my fevered brain kept sending images of thigh-rippling, spandex clad, fierce eyed cyclists burning lap after lap across the back of my eyelids. On through the night they rode, chasing each other up hills as if they didn’t understand how gravity works, and around corners as if their wheel secreted sticky juice like spider man. By midnight I knew I had a problem. By nine the next morning I was facing a decision: is the sickness of my legs stronger than the sickness of my face (also known as a head cold)?

It turns out that my legs do not like reasons. I tricked them into a baby ride by picking a road that, as far as google maps can tell, dead ends along a river 10km from my house. It doesn’t actually dead end, just sort of wanders off into the mountains, but the pavement gets nasty quickly and I figured I would promise my legs a ride up to the God Rock if that wasn’t enough, but was hoping they’d be too distracted by the second half of my plan to take me up another 500m of climbing while still mildly feverish.

The highlight of today was my cornering practice. I read an article on cornering on a road bike that said smooth is the most important goal. It also explained what the apex of the turn is, which apparently I never knew and that’s why cornering was scaring the shit out of me all the time. In case you’re wondering the “apex” of the turn is the innermost point of the road that you will pass with your bike. The “exit” is the outermost point of the road you will pass after which you straighten your line and are no longer turning. If you’re a “roadie” or some other hot shot and disagree with me, go crash your bike somewhere because this understanding changed my life! On the descent, which had me in my full gear most of the way, I focused on taking every turn smoothly and safely. Specifically, I made braking, looking at the apex, then looking at the exit my main priorities. There were some turns that scared me quite a bit, but I promised myself that I would follow my instructions — brake, look, turn, look, exit — no matter what. If I spooked, I said I would give myself a meter space between me and the edge of the lane and if it looked like I was going to ride into that meter, I would use it solely for braking in an upright position.

And you know what? I DESTROYED those curves! Some spooked me at the onset because, being in the mountains, most of them were blind and some were blinder than others. However many of the spookey entrances turned out to be nice smooth sweeping corners that were only blind because the mountain was cut close to the road. Others spooked me mid way through. But the amazing thing was that I didn’t have to bail on a single curve the whole way down! When my internal alerts went off all I did was recheck my edges: Had I reached the apex yet? If not then I could still turn in harder. Was I approaching my meter margin already? Look at the exit and correct your line. At no point did I actually have to brake mid-turn just by using these rules.

At one point near the end of my descent there was a long high speed (40kph+) S-curve that really pushed my mental edge. I wanted to get out of the saddle. I wanted to hit the brakes midway until I was back at a rolling speed again, but I did neither. I kept to my course, followed my own instructions for success and BAM! out the other side of the curve without so much as feathering my brakes! I was so happy I cried. I’m trying, but I feel like I can’t come close to explaining the amazing difference in sensations I felt on those final corners. It’s like, before I made myself this recipe for success I would just panic. Now, I would sense fear but also maintain control. I can say with certainty that I was well within the physical boundaries of safety on those turns, even in the wet conditions of the day.

So, to sum up, what have we learned today? First, we learned that being Sick means that being sick will not keep you off a bike and you will be better for it. Obviously, my cold is already in remisison. It’s just that the symptoms haven’t gotten the word yet, but they will. On my next ride. For sure. Second, we learned how to corner like a motherfucking adult! Ok, that’s not quite right. We learned to corner like we know what we’re doing! …not as satisfying, but yes. But perhaps most importantly we learned that riding makes everything better. Take a day that doesn’t involve riding your bike. Then consider what that day is like when you ride your bike. Instant better, right?

Obviously.

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…and Lighting and Crashes

I was so inspired by my ride with Thunder on Tuesday that when I heard his team was competing in their first race of the season this weekend, I couldn’t help but tag along. I went for support, but also for curiosity. Part of me always knew how wonderful bikes are, but I never knew how much fun road bikes were until our epic rainy mountain adventure.

The race was in Gunma and it was a sort of warm up for the “real thing” next week. I’m not really sure what that means because I asked “does this mean that people aren’t going to ride full out today?” and the answer was a resounding “no.”

I got a chance to ride most of the course during the award ceremony. Oh my goodness it was fun! A twisty windy mountain loop of about six kilometers and no traffic. There were two turns that were pretty tight on a descent — one was an obvious hairpin and the other was what I think people call a composite turn? It starts out with a certain radius and then when you think you’re almost clear, it tucks in harder right at the end and you’re like “shit! I’m going to go off the road here!” Then there’s a section called “the heart burst” which is a short and steep little climb close to the mid point of the race. I didn’t get to ride the last kilometer because my legs were total trash after tuesday (and wednesday, and thursday, and friday), and I couldn’t make the whole six in under thirty minutes. I also had a late start.

The team that raced turned out to be nothing of what I expected. One of the participants is a middle aged guy I rode trails with a few times who I always took for a downhiller, but apparently does some road, too. Another guy who came was pretty quiet and laid back, but apparently races enduros for fun and so surprised all of us with his skill. There was a father-son pair, both riding their first race, and a kid just barely 18 years old by the look of him. And of course, Thunder. The father-son pair both did amazing, twelfth place and first in age class! Enduro-guy, the kid and the downhiller all had a great time, but didn’t place anywhere close to the top ten. They were great fun to cheer, though! Kept switching it up and getting lost in the pack. We never knew where they would be!

Thunder didn’t do so well. He started out with, pardon me, thunderous speed, but started to burn out about half way. At the eighth of twelve laps we thought he had crashed because he had gone from first to a shakey second, to a solid fourth and then to dead last. The lag between him and the leader was so huge we weren’t even sure if he would show up again or not. It turns out that, while he didn’t crash his bicycle, he crashed his legs with serious cramping that was impossible to recover from. What I didn’t know at the time was that it was his first race in three years. No wonder!

Over all it was an amazing day. I got up at three in the morning so we could make the start line by eight. It’s almost eight now as I type this. But I couldn’t help but feel an undeniable thrill being there watching people I know push the limits of their abilities. I found that I wanted to know my limits, too. I have always held back from racing because I know I am not talented. I injure easily and my asthma only leaves me alone if I leave it alone, but not pushing my edge. But today I had a new desire. Of course I would love the chance to win, but I know I will not win, especially when there isn’t even a women’s class. However win or not win, the only way to know exactly how fast I can really move is to get out there and race.

I’m not ready yet, but I feel as if I’ve gotten infected with a new strain of sick. Not just miles, I need speed now.

Children Need More

In my morning ritual of browsing the interwebs half mindedly for inspiration and company, I found another article ridiculing the platform “every child deserves a mother and a father.” The fodder for the ridicule? A man murders his wife while all seven of his children are at home. This is clearly proof that the movement is doomed and gay people deserve equal rights, right? Wait, you can’t see that? I thought it was supposed to be obvious.

Let’s break it down. First, the movement attempts to link heterosexual norms with the transcendental rights of children to be protected, loved and given every chance in the world for success. There’s an appeal here to the holiness of children and it’s put in contrast to the self centerednes of adults. Wrapped in this motto is the idea that a lesbian who wants to raise a child with her partner is putting her own sexual desires above the needs of the child because she trades heterosexual partnering from homosexual partnering, thus depriving the child of its right to have a male presence as it grows. When used against homosexual couples seeking equal marriage rights, the every-child movement is ultimately saying that sex is dirty, homosexual sex is dirtier, children are holy, and anyone who would put their own needs above a child’s is a Bad Person.

In my recent post on the mind body connection, I make the claim that the mind cannot operate properly without the body being given appropriate care which includes adequate sleep, nutrition and sex. Regardless of your style of sex or choice of partner, if you are denying yourself sexually, your mind cannot occupy the space of openness and love that children need to grow in health. So in a way, the mother/father movement is also saying that mental health of the adult is not a necessary requirement for them to care for their children. Now we can see the argument begin to break down. On the one hand, a male and female presence are considered necessary on a moral level to raise a child and the underlying reason here is that they contribute to the balanced psychological development of that child. On the other hand, the same psychological underpinnings are ignored when the movement is used to attack same sex couples because it denies the well established link between parental mental health and the health and development of their children.

At this point, I tend to lose my ability to empathize with the warring factions on this mother/father debate. LGBT supporters claim this is all about the heteros versus the homos, and since the homos are the minority and are being discriminated against they get to claim the moral high ground. Since this argument is obviously not about psychology at all (since neither side seems to make well grounded and internally consistent psychological arguments), it breaks down into a shouting match about whose rights are more important, and who is “obviously” more ridiculous for holding to their beliefs. I lose my patience quickly with these types of debates because neither side seems interested in discovering Truth or advancing on the fundamental problem. Here, the fundamental problem is about discrimination, but it is being made to be about children. I believe that if it were about children, both sides would discover that they fall leagues behind the standard for optimal childcare.

2014 Genki-mura Kids
Last year’s amazing group.

Yesterday I finished my service volunteering for the Fukushima-ko Genki Mura Camp, a 100% volunteer based nature camp for child refugees of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Because of their age and small bodies, the levels of radiation still present in their home towns are too high for them to be able to play outside without risking serious long term health problems. They are not even able to play in the grounds at their elementary schools because of the contamination and must spend all day every day inside. If you want to know what pathos is, it’s a nine-year-old child who has never been allowed outside to play. Because we believe that Every Child Deserves to Play Outside, we organize and run this camp twice a year in the warmer months so that these kids can have a respite from the confinement of the remainder of the year. The children at the camp stole my heart as they have done every time I see them.

Because the camp was volunteer based, everyone who helped had their own jobs and their own lives that they had to attend to. Some people could only come for a day, or for a few hours. A handful made it for the whole week. However, the kids never took more than a few seconds to incorporate the newcomers into their games. To them, every adult was a plaything and they were climbing on us, wrestling us, crying on our shoulders, napping in our laps, all within knowing each other for barely a few hours. The first thing that I learned about children from volunteering is that children do not come with a built in emotional slot for mom and dad. Children want to be loved, and need to be loved, and they don’t know yet how to be suspicious of the types of betrayals and let downs that we adults come to anticipate. More importantly, they don’t understand the morality behind a mother and a father caring for them. All they know is that there are people that care for them, they need that care, and when there is a loving adult presence in their life they will latch on and soak up that care for as long as it’s available.

The second thing I learned about children from volunteering is that it doesn’t really matter if you produced them with your own genitals, they are fantastic, beautiful creatures. On the last day we all gathered in a circle to say our goodbyes. Each volunteer stood up and said a few words to the kids about their impressions during the week. There were many wet eyes and most of them were from the grown ups. If only a mother and father can love their child, if the biological connection was what really made the affection between children and their caretakers so strong, then why would we, a group of adults with our own lives and our own families, be so torn to part with some random kids that we’ve known for only a few days? Just like children are capable of taking love and care from strangers, we adults are wired to love and care for children, plain and simple.

At camp this last week, some two dozen children were raised, cared for, educated and inspired by over thirty different adult volunteers. The ages of the volunteers ranged from high school senior to mid-fifties. There were men and women, married and single, straight and… me. I’m neither male nor female. I’m not married and I’m definitely not “straight.” The adults knew most of that. The kids picked up on it immediately and you know? They didn’t care. To them I was just another plaything among the other tall and slow playthings that had come to hang out with them that week. And if i needed any proof that my influence was good for them, all I had to do was watch and listen as they shouted their goodbyes out the bus window on their way back home.

Children are magical and wonderful. They deserve to be loved because they are humans, just like we are. And they are precious to us because in children can we see a reflection of the world as it would be without our judgment and our adulteration. For our sake, we should not debate whether a mother and a father, or two mothers or two fathers, or only one parent is the right set up to raise a child because they are all wrong. The right way to raise a child is to expose it to all the love and all the care that we can find for it in this world, wherever we can find it and for as long as we can provide it, even if we may never see that child again.

Simulsoupings!

Every morning I make soup for my weasels. Whole quail and mice go into a blender, sometimes with a chicken thigh or some skin, and out comes a fluffy pink goop that they just love. A little warm water to thin it, and I have something akin to weasel crack.

“Simulsouping” is when you get both weasels lined up in a row slurping their soup in happy unison. This is morning simulsoups.

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初100㌔ First 100 Km

Yesterday I rode my first 100 km bike ride! It was all kinds of awesome. I’ve done 50 miles, which is about 80k, but I’ve never done 100. Actually total was 114, including a dash to and from the train station at night.

I rode with the Kunitachi Giant Store staff including 3 girls, the shop owner and the hottest pair of professional cycling legs this side of the ocean! There was so much happy I would have exploded except that I used my pedals to focus all that energy.

We rode from Kunitachi to Enoshima (江ノ島) where we had delicious sashimi rice on the seashore. Along the way I got to see some girl butts on bikes! I always ride with guys because either there are no girls who want to ride, or the girls who ride are too squeemish to do serious work on a bike and I get bored. So it was a real treat for me to ride with the shop girls. I even got passed on a hill by my new rival, Ms. Tabuchi!

The guy who joined us, with his thighs thick enough for about 2 normal sized legs a piece, is a former pro racer on the Japanese national road bike team. He still races now, but I don’t know the details about his team membership. Most of the time he was zipping past us to burn up some hill, or ride off road along our cycling path, and then swing around behind us to catch us before the next stoplight turned green. But for one moment, he and I were lounging on our frames waiting for the group to catch up and he says to me, “If I had my way I would ride bikes all day every vacation day I ever had.” I realized suddenly that I was in the presence of another one with The Sickness*. I didn’t think it was possible, but he got even hotter that moment.

After lunch we rode home at a brisker pace than we rode out. I was happy because the nonbiri (lazy) 13 kph pace we started with was making the prospect of 100 km seem miserable. Rain clouds started to blow in from over the ocean and we raced them back to the city. One of the girls had leant me her shop shorts, my first bib shorts, and I was grateful for the padding on my saddle-sore ridden butt, but more over I was grateful to be a part of the team.

There is nothing like the feeling of knowing that you belong. I kept grinning to myself knowing that everyone who saw us on the road would see me and know that we were together that day. It was an awesome, awesome ride.


*The Sickness: Needing, for no good reason, to ride bikes, race bikes, train on bikes or play with bike parts basically every day. In other words, where normal people would think you’re crazy because you already own or ride bikes more than enough, you can’t help yourself and go out for more.

Last Day of Classes

I remember being a student. The last exam on the very last day of classes was always a mix of dread, exhaustion and elation. Suddenly you are free of the work, the judgment and the uncertainty that built up over the course of the whole semester and you are standing on the brink of a long and much needed holiday. Now that I’m a professor, my feelings on the last day of classes are largely the same, with a slight additional twist.

This semester I tried something truly wild: I made it up as I went and put enjoyment of the class above the need to force knowledge into my students’ brains. The result was unbelievable. I got to know my students on a personal level. I asked them to think about things together with me and I made it my policy to never ever tell them they were wrong. Of course, when they were off point I would steer them back. That is, after all, what teachers are supposed to do. But I would never say to them that they were outright dead wrong. I think there is nothing more destructive to the development of a young human than to be told that they are unsalvageably wrong.

I got to hear stories about their families, their own experiences traveling abroad, their dreams and their opinions on the world. I got to hear them tell me what they really think, and to me this was the greatest achievement I could hope for. After spending nearly four months together just reading and talking with each other, I got to hear them say that they didn’t like what they had been told, that they didn’t understand why things had to be a certain way, that they wanted to try and discover their own path for themselves. That’s not something you get to hear when people are afraid of being judged. No, that is something that only comes out when people truly feel that they are safe to express themselves. This is my job as a professor.

Now, on the last day of the semester, I am actually sad to say goodbye to this group. We all grew together over these cold months. I know they are grateful to me for a good class, but do they know how grateful to them I am for the chance to learn and discover and think together? Probably not. But that’s ok. Being a professor also means that there are some things I cannot teach them.

Just Tired, Really

So many things have happened in the past week that I feel, most of all, wrung out. I went to a conference over the weekend and it was full of new experiences, most of them amazing and the rest just ok. Then I came back to an emotional mess at home. I don’t lose my temper often, but I felt like I was going to erupt. When I did eventually lose control the seething frustration and anger seeped out from every crack in my composure and stained whatever it touched. I could barely keep from ripping to shreds the people that were caring about me. Thankfully I’ve developed a habit of extreme dogged persistence and I refused to give in to the helplessness. Truly my situation is a right disaster, but I was able to connect with someone because of it. The sense of entrapment that was so completely unbearable eventually eclipsed my fear of rejection and I was able to ask someone for help, bringing him one step closer to the range of true friendship, which I need very desperately.

The wave of emotions has somewhat subsided, and I feel like I can breathe a little, but I know better than to believe that this will be the last of it. I’ve gotten myself in deep and I know it will be a long way out. I’m happy, though, because today I can see the difference between living a life where the stakes are large and the going often difficult, and the deep crevasse of despair that is chronic depression. The difference, I think, is presence. While I won’t say for a moment that the last few days have been pleasant, or even tolerable, I can say that at every moment I was awake and alive. I felt the suffocating pressure of my limited options and the need to continue moving forward regardless of how imperfectly I was walking, but at the same time I could see, as if from a third eye, that the passage I am currently navigating does eventually open up. I was able to experience, digest and dissolve my circumstances each as the individual pieces of a greater experience and a larger, more permanent existence. In contrast to the view from the depths of depression, this perspective carried the comfort of knowing that things really would be ok, eventually, and that the issue at hand is not whether they will be but simply how to get from here to there.

I think, perhaps, this clearer vision is the product of experience. I have been practicing taking controlled risks and fully experiencing the revelation and resolution of my uncertainty. I think my greatest challenge in life is battling my anxiety. Anxiety is when you worry about something that you know you shouldn’t worry about, but can’t stop anyway. It’s that feeling that you forgot to lock the front door despite remembering clearly that you turned the key and twiddled the knob to make sure. It’s how you never worry about if you locked the door until you are sitting on an airplane on your way across the ocean and there’s no way for you to go and check it. Anxiety, I think, is the irrational fear of the unknown. For me, anxiety is the fear that something will go wrong and then it will be my fault. Either I forgot to prepare for some obvious contingency that everyone else would know about, or I read the address wrong or the date, or maybe I just didn’t work hard enough and people will think I’m lazy. When you live with this feeling of constant inadequacy it’s really difficult to relax and enjoy your successes. That’s where my depressions are born.

The great difficult in battling anxiety is that unless you become conscious of it, you never get the chance to prove to yourself that you didn’t have to worry. Sure, you come home from vacation and the door really was locked and you didn’t have to worry after all, but the fact is that you did worry. You worry all the time about this stuff and so you don’t have any experience to prove to yourself that it was really ok not to worry. The antidote for anxiety is, to be cliche, to face your fears. You have to go on that vacation knowing that you might not have locked the door, but consciously determined not to worry about it anyway. This part is key. You can’t just tell yourself that you don’t have to worry, you have to really stop doing it even if only for a few brief moments. Only then will you have under your belt the experience of not worrying about something and it being ok anyway.

Many people might think that it’s easy to think of circumstances where you didn’t worry about something and it turned out ok anyway, but that is somewhat naive. I remember my youth pastor saying that “God does not test your faith with easy stuff, because that wouldn’t be a real test. Bats are forbidden to eat, but that’s not a big deal because no one really feels tempted to taste a bat.” Bacon, on the other hand, this can be a problem. To be fair, I’m neither Christian nor Jewish, but I think this makes a good point. Anxiety tends to come with a theme. I feel anxious about being rejected by people. I live with a deep and constant dread of being alone and anything that can trace back to being abandoned will trigger those feelings. I can think of tons of situations where I gave a performance and wasn’t nervous at all and it turned out great. It’s a lot harder for me to think of situations where I shared an intimate piece of myself with someone, suffered the pain of being rejected, and still found the strength to stand up and try again with a new person. Most of the time I dance around the subject so quickly so as to distract them from what I’m really trying to say. This is my anxiety taking over and it robs me of the experience I need to be a stronger person.

So, I attribute my sense of clarity in the face of exhaustion and uncertainty to the growing collection of experiences that I have been building since my divorce. I really think of my divorce as a new birth because that was the moment that I decided I had a right to be happy on my own terms and that I would no longer allow others to dictate to me what should and should not give me joy. Divorce was a big risk, but sometimes that new restaurant with the shaded windows feels just as big. Sometimes simply saying, “I’m tired and would really rather sleep than go out to dinner with you” can feel equally as huge. The difference, of course, is that slowly, over time, I’ve come to realize that I am more resilient than that. The risks themselves don’t actually change, but my perception of them and my perception of my ability to recover from an unlucky draw has changed dramatically. From where I am now, I only see things as getting better.

“It doesn’t get easier, you just get [up] faster”

It seems like a silly realization, almost a waste of bytes to record, but yesterday it occurred to me that friends are very good. They restore me after my lonely hours spent in my head at work, they calm me, they energize me, motivate me, encourage me and give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Just the chance to see my friends is enough to turn an entire day around.

Friends are good.

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