Ride Like the Wind, Even When Stationary

Photo: Deep-Seated FearsI’m told that once one learns to ride a bicycle, the innate sense of balance and knowhow to do so is easily reawakened after a long interval, the moment one gets back on the thing. Which, if it proves true, will be a boon to me after all of these years of not even owning such a contraption. Though that’s not entirely true; I merely own one that travels only in my interior world—an exercise bike.

This could be considered a concession to the oft-overheated world of Texas, where I find it hard to get motivated enough to stroll from the front door to the mailbox on a typical summer’s day let alone do something as strenuous as pedaling at speed on a bicycle. It could be considered a mere kindness to all who would rather not see me teetering on the brink of disaster no matter what my speed, let alone have to try to navigate safely around me. It could even be considered a cheapskate solution to the expense of bikes nowadays relative to what I remember paying for my first grownup sort of bike.Photo: A Whole Rack of Bikes

The latter, however, is quickly canceled out when you know how much indoor, stationary bikes for exercising personages really cost. They’re just as outrageous in price as any that can tootle down the roads. At least, this one was. But the big difference in price is in the personal health, safety, and well-being of this particular rider and all who are freed from the dangers of surviving my biking skills should I hit the actual pavement. I am not in danger of heat stroke on this baby, since it sits in the bedroom not far from the convenient ceiling fan, should I go so far as to break a sweat or simply fall into an unwelcome hot flash mid-ride. It stays upright, no matter whether I am properly centered on the seat or pedaling evenly enough or paying reasonable attention to the terrain, or not. In fact, I can lean back on its amply cushioned recumbent seat with my iPad or laptop propped on my midsection, reading articles and watching video and blithely ignoring anything to do with my steadily cycling feet without any fear of riding off a cliff or into a vortex-like pothole.

And nobody will ever have to see me in bicycle shorts. Period. You can thank me now.

Do I miss real bicycle riding? I can’t say that I do. When and if I live in a climate where I feel comfortable mounting up on one of the real-thing bikes again for a genuine outdoor ride, I will likely enjoy the change of scenery enough (barring any strenuous terrain, because I am a lazy cuss) to make it worth my while. Until then, I’m quite content to pedal furiously, or as leisurely and gently as I like, around the confines of a square meter or so of my own bedroom, ogling digital scenery or perhaps, if the bird feeder is freshly filled, a few wrens, cardinals, and chickadees whose chatter is probably about the crazy bicycling lady on the other side of the window who is obviously so feeble that she’ll never catch up with them.Photo: Red Bicycle No. 2

Meditation Medication

digital illustrationHealth is a wildly, weirdly, wonderfully complicated state. Both physical and mental health are astoundingly omnidirectional networks of intersecting matrices and random points; genetics, environmental influences, accidents, allergies and so much more come together and continue to change over the life of any one person. Furthermore, these meet in an intersection of the two networks (mental and physical) in every single person, that it’s nothing short of miraculous that any of us human conglomerations actually survive and have relatively good health.

It’s completely unsurprising, then, when something or other does break down or fail to be really perfect when it comes to health matters. Thank goodness there are more and more answers and helps for us when it comes to such moments of concern. But for every solution, there are shortcomings and side effects, and we still have to make choices and experiment, test and try and hope.

I’m one of those relatively rare creatures blessed with generally outstanding and reliable good health. I’ve never had a broken bone; I’ve had all of three stitches in my whole life, and I’ve never worn a cast or a brace unless you count the kinds I could buy in a neighborhood pharmacy for an achy hyper-extended knee or a fiddly fingertip whose little cut made a mockery of my hale-and-heartiness when I was whimpering over the pain every time I’d bump it. My various moles, cysts, and bumps have all thus far been benign and manageable. Even those more significant elements that might affect my function and longevity are so far pretty reasonable to deal with and don’t require enormous amounts of care just yet.

The essential tremor, noticeable since I was about ten or twelve, has never gotten so obtrusive that I have had to do anything for or about it. The mitral valve prolapse (heart murmur) is so mild that it went unnoticed until I had a regular physical exam from a person who, as pure chance had it, was conducting a study of that specific condition and so was attuned to its unlikely presence. Very minor hypothyroidism like mine is easily kept at bay with very little medicine (mostly pretty common ones at that) or monitoring. I am especially grateful that thus far there is no indication that the Parkinson’s Disease that poses as the only true black sheep of my family has not to date taken up residence in my body.

This is not to say that I have no inkling of any of the irksome and unpleasant effects of imperfect health. I’ve come to recognize the recurrent, and in some cases, chronic, annoyances and inconveniences that come with allergies. While mine have remained moderate and turn out to be treatable if not controllable, I figured out after getting some help that they had had a far greater control over my daily life and well-being before that time than I had realized. And as I’ve said here before, I have had my adventures with Spasmodic Dysphonia, clinical depression, and anxiety; these had larger influences on me and, therefore, those around me, by a magnitude of difference.

What arises every time I contemplate these things, all of which are in my own life more survivable and treatable than I know that they can be for others, is the notion that as a typically complicated human health exemplar, I still have to work continuously to discern what combination of the tangible and medical kinds of interventions and treatments with those more intangible approaches of meditation, activity, and trust—call it faith, hope, prayer, optimism, or attitude adjustment, it’s all fodder for feeling, and possibly, getting, better—will suffice to keep any of my anomalous conditions in check.

Thus far, the answer for me has been a shifting combination of the tangible and the intangible; I think that’s how it works for most people. My personal recipe for success is neither absolute nor permanent, any more than my personal state of being is fixed or unchangeable. Health, both physical and mental, changes rather constantly over a life span, and the longer one lives the more cycles and spikes of change are likely to occur during the stretch. What, then, can I do?

Keep trying. What combination of body-chemistry-altering substances serves my needs at the moment? They might well be outright commercially made and sold and officially, doctor- or nurse-administered drugs, but they can also easily be homeopathic or folk cures, foods or herbs or numerous other things that I’ve discovered through trial and error suit my physical and mental well-being. The same can be true of physical therapy: it might be specific exercises recommended to me by my doctor or other trusted medical and health experts, or as is often the case, it can be a set, series or group of activities that simply make me feel closer to my optimal conditioning. Nowadays, as always, I find myself using quite the mixture of these helpers to suit my specific needs and wishes for better health and happiness. For me, that means a full combination of what could be loosely classified as medication and meditation.

I can’t begin to tell you how that works or is explained scientifically. Some of it I’d bet good money can’t be clarified in scientific terms. But experientially, that I can tell you: I feel pretty good. I get the occasional sneezes or headaches, and there are times when it irritates me, yes, that my vocal cords are recalcitrant and unreliable. I’d definitely prefer if the shadow of Parkinson’s hied itself off my family’s shoulders, most especially Mom’s, and would never try to sneak up on me later despite any efforts on my part to ward it off if possible. But let’s be honest. Right now I feel pretty good, and that makes me happy. Whatever I’m doing or not doing, taking or not taking, it seems to be working.digital illustration

Naturally

Along with all of the other, perfectly legitimate and obvious, reasons that I celebrate every year when I am remembering the arrival of my next-younger sister on her birthday–the first one remembered mostly anecdotally given my tender years on the occasion, and all of the subsequent ones fitting days for delighting in the gifts with which her continued presence graces me and all of her circle of influence so consistently–I rejoice in the greater sense of appreciation for nature that she has given me.photoShe is something of a bouquet herself. Indeed, she is beautiful in the way of pretty things throughout nature, and also filled with liveliness and energy and purpose and growth that inspire me and amaze me regularly. I look on her as an enhancement of the world a little like a human bloom in its garden, unfolding each day and year with new surprises and joys that reinforce the very image of goodness in life.photoIn a more concrete way, with her love of the outdoors and its grand presents, pleasures and promises she has taught me and continues to teach me to appreciate the natural world as well. As much as our garden-genie mother shared her love of interacting with the created spaces in nature and even getting outdoors appreciatively on day hikes, in parks and on strolls wherever we could, the number-three sister in our quartet has given me yet greater love and sympathy for the breadth and depth of possibility in all those realms of nature and more. I will never keep up with my sister’s skill and prowess when it comes to being physically ‘outdoorsy’ as athlete, gardener or explorer, but every time I step out any door into the untrammeled world, I do and will see much of it as a living bouquet paying tribute in return to one of nature’s loveliest flowers.photoHappy birthday, my dear sister, and I send you these little pictures and words in token of my love that spans from your first blooming in the world to the end of my seasons.

I Left My Car in San Francisco

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Edmonton

Many cities are best appreciated on foot. No matter how plush or sexy a car you have, sitting in it immobile in ugly traffic is just as unattractive as ever–maybe more so, if you’re thinking that somewhere in the next six blocks, if you can ever traverse them, is the bling-swinging pedestrian, high-speed messenger’s bicycle or runaway shopping cart with your pretty car’s number on it, and nowhere in the next eighteen blocks is there such a thing as a parking space for under $40, should you negotiate the next six unscathed. Life in a car is rough enough.

But there’s so much you can see and do on foot anyway that is unattainable or at least seldom noticed from inside a car. Window shopping while driving is no safer or more successfully accomplished than texting at the steering wheel. People watching, one of the best entertainments and learning tools known to observant persons, is at best a fleeting glimpse while driving past, not like the pedestrian’s opportunity to slow down and say hello or, more covertly, sit on the nearest bench and watch the whole human show parade along its way. Some cities, like San Francisco and Prague, Seattle and Stockholm, have enough narrow hilly streets that you can’t see halfway along the block, let alone what’s up over the hill’s crest or down around the next curve.

But if you were trying to operate automotively anyway, how would you be close enough to smell the smoke of a wood-fired oven drifting out a cafe window, to peer in and notice a gilt coffered ceiling behind the revolving door of an old bank building, to catch the eye of the shop proprietor who winks at you out of the dim interior so slyly that you can’t resist going in to see the hand-woven silks so ravishingly gleaming under the curved glass of that ancient mahogany display cabinet? What chance would you have of getting ever so slightly jostled off your straight walking path so that you notice that in the almost invisible gap next to you, between the bent copper drainpipe on the left and the broken rusty post-box on the right, a narrow cobbled alley appears, with sunlight spilling into it in ragged patterns created by its tiny balconies swathed in brilliant yellow and red and purple flowers?

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Denton

I’ve always preferred in-town meanders of the bipedal variety over wheeled ones, especially those exploratory ones in a new town or just a new part of a familiar town. If there’s not too much ground to cover, I covet the freedom I have to stop and gape, to slow down, take sudden unplanned tours and detours, to take pictures of the quirky oddity that almostescaped my eye. The fitness that comes from walking certainly beats that of planting my posterior in a car seat, no matter how tensely city traffic might make me perch there, and if I do get weary there are not only refurbished old trams, pedicabs, monorails and water taxis to deliver me from my exhausted state to my actual destination if necessary, or better yet, a nice leisurely cafe break at a sidewalk table with a sparkling mineral water in hand and dark sunglasses on so I can see all of the action nearby without appearing to stare too disconcertingly while I catch my breath and give my aging parts a little welcome recovery time. I’m just grateful to have two functional legs, no matter how modest my fitness level happens to be.

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Casco Viejo

Since my dyslexic gifts (yes, I just spelled it dsylexic before editing) include complete lack of an inner compass, one of the particularities of strolling wanders for me is that I must always allow plenty of time, and assume a fair likelihood that I will be well and truly lost at least once per outing. Including in my home town. Possibly in my own yard. But so far I’ve always found my way back again, like the proverbial Bad Penny, and remained alive and unharmed. I’m reasonably canny about not going into dicey areas alone or after dusk, taking off without an emergency cell phone (now that I finally have one, though it really is strictly for emergencies thankfully), or going for a genuine who-knows-where expedition without telling someone. But beyond that, plus some welcome good luck and guardian angel accompaniments, I can say with a certain amount of pleasure, surprise and/or pride that many of my best adventures have happened as a direct result of just staying close to the ground and taking advantage of the fortuitous events that occurred along the way, embracing the goodness of the fun and fascinating people who cross paths with me in those fine and serendipitous ways that happen when you let them. They can’t put that stuff in tourist guidebooks.

So I’m glad that I got out and left behind any car in so many grand places, or I’d never have loved them so well. Munich, New York, Verona, Chicago, London .. . would any of them have been a tenth as lovely from a car as on foot? It’s possible, I suppose, but I wouldn’t take back a single pair of my worn-out soles to find out for certain. I suspect more truly that it’s because I get up and leave my car in all those wonderful, fantastic places that I end up leaving my heart in all of them too.

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Boston

A Broad in the Great Wide World

photoIt’s so easy to forget my place. Oh, yes, you know full well that I am uppity and contrary by nature and will drag my heels at the slightest hint of insistence that I should do a particular thing or be a particular way, even if by the pseudo-polite stealth of passive-aggression. I’m just not that naturally Appropriate. A broad, rather than a lady.

I am well enough educated and naturally prissy enough to know the difference. On top of that, I’m smart and cultured and experienced enough to know a whole slew of ways in which I could and possibly should be a better person. I’m also self-aware and honest enough to recognize that the vast majority of those things are just never gonna happen. What you see is mostly what you get, now and forevermore.

But I’m an optimist, presumably quite the cockeyed one indeed.

So while I have openly confessed to you my many excessive loves–gastronomic outrageousness, all things intense and overblown in color and form and bejeweled wildness, baroque language, hardware store binges–I still believe in my own willfully naive way that I might moderate my urges when absolutely necessary. It’s in this hope, however vain or misguided, that I think I might at least periodically overcome my natural state of inertia, of fixity so granite-like on this planet earth that the mere thought of exercise tends to cause me hyperventilation and require smelling salts.

Yesterday, the sun smiled brilliance on me at such an opportune juncture that I broke stasis. The perfect confluence of a gloriously blue-sky cool day with a lunch date with friends a manageable distance away conspired to lure me upright from my characteristic hunched position at the desk and right out into the world.

How quickly one forgets that said world is rather alluring and full of wonders! How quickly I forget that, along with whatever position(s) I occupy in the world of my narrow influence and contact, I also live in the beautiful, messy, unpredictable, constantly shifting world that is my neighborhood, this town, this part of an entire planet.photo

The whole walk wasn’t necessarily impressive in and of itself. Recent longed-for and welcome rains have left the Texas clay in many areas (lacking sidewalks) converted to rust-colored mucilage, so I spent more of my focus on not being sucked ankle-deep or doing a banana-peel slide in those spots than on looking around me with interest. Fortunately, most of those zones are alongside the duller and dirtier of the main roads, where there mightn’t be much more than an onrush of traffic to engage the senses anyway. But in about seven miles round trip there’s a whole lot to awaken those dormant senses, too, and to remind me that while the sedentary state may have become my default position it isn’t necessarily the best or even the most desirable one.

Yesterday I saw the sun again, really saw it; felt it brush my cheek like a tender hand. Felt the breeze tug the hem of my coat and run its fingers sloppily through my hair. I heard birds whistling and chattering in their treetop congregations. Saw the wintry silver seed-heads of prairie grasses blink their brightness on-off, on-off as they swayed in and out of shade, and trees whose leaves have finally burnished to the exact same shade of red as the bricks on the facade behind them.

And I stopped partway home to have a walk through the cemetery, where I chanced on the headstone of a soldier killed at Pearl Harbor to remind me that it was the very anniversary of the attack that left him and many others dead and launched the US fully into World War II and the loss of millions more. The cemetery is old enough to serve as resting place too for a generation whose family plots often contain two, three, four children’s graves, as many in those days died in infancy or barely beyond youth. There are graves for those who lived long and fully, too. The thing is, I was the only person in this particular cemetery at the moment that wasn’t dead.photo

Which pleases me a great deal, I’ll tell you.

And it was an incredibly fitting reminder to me that while I was busy patting myself on the back over having been such an outstanding and exemplary being as to take a measly fair-weather walk, I too will join the hordes of the dead soon enough. So I’d jolly well better get out and about in this wide wonder of a world a whole lot more if I want to see the ravens tumble and leap among the tombstones, smell chimney smoke as it drifts between the sweet gums and cedars, and see that twenty-four-karat sun glittering in the enamel-blue sky like there’s no tomorrow. There can’t be an endless number of tomorrows, to be sure.

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Death comes to us all, sooner or later. In case I needed a reminder, I came across this grave of a young lady who died on her own twenty-eighth birthday. A birthday I happen to share. The End!