Monday, November 29, 2010

Ich Bin Ein Puppetmeister

I started teaching my writing course this morning. Never mind that the scheduled class started at 0800 and I wasn't awake enough to be coherent, I was there and I was on time, and the coffee dripped nicely from the IV I started on myself (there are benefits to my line of work) and things went swimmingly.

I talked about the things the students cared about the most, meaning, how to get a good grade in my class while doing the least amount of work. We talked about "VOICE", I read to them from Chuck Palahniuk (because he's brilliant), rob mclennon (because I needed the obscure poet voice), and Bike Snob NYC (because I am nerdy like that).  

I teach research and I teach academic writing and thankfully, I have enough self esteem to take it. I hear daily about how much students hate my subjects. They want guts and glory and kinaesthetic learning and they don't want any of this heady dry abstract crap that isn't going to save a life. They like me though. I'm kinda cool, so says my student evals. I stand up in front of my class and make jokes about being hated and they laugh. This is how I am in my real life. In my job life, I don't care what people think. If teaching dreaded courses keeps me from talking about IV's and dressing changes, nursing theory and pathophysiology, I'm a happy woman.

And I legitimately like this crap.

I'm known as the "APA Queen" and, under the right circumstances, "The Plagiarism Police." I can answer any question about APA and its most optimum use, I can mark a page-long reference list in about 20 seconds. I can rattle off an opinion about what constitutes plagiarism and what doesn't, similar to how the bike shop guys can rattle off a pitch about why Dura Ace is better than Campignolo (or vice versa, depending on who you talk to).

Which is why it makes it all the more ironic that I'm about to write a post that I've essentially stolen from another post. But since I linked it, I suppose it is no longer stolen but rather cited -- so I am safe.

I am a writer. I'm controlling you and you don't even know it. I'm hypochondriac, paranoid, and a "lying liar who lies." I told two lies in the above paragraphs and made reference to something which was inspired by something written by someone else and I'm not going to tell you who it was. I will steal your life and then I will fuck with it. You may not even know it's happened. That's how good I am. And if it makes you feel better, I fuck with my own life as well. I'm one dangling participle away from being committed.

Except, of course, I'm lying. So don't believe a word I say.

Beware of the Family Dinner

I wrote two novels for teens and for the plots of which (I use the word "plot" loosely -- I'm a character writer) I stole liberally from my own life. I stole tid bits from my friends' lives too. I stole words out of their mouths, their favorite sayings; I stole their body language too.

I bet you don't even realize that you do that thing with your hands do you? 

Yes, I'm talking to you.

I'll tell you a story about stealing. I was in a writer's course a few years back.

This is how the lying begins. I start to get vague. I can tell you names and I can tell you dates but unless you were there, you'll never be able to pin it on me.

One member of my class was related to a person who was soon, but perhaps it was unknown at the time, to become a published writer. I could tell you genders and I could tell you ages. But I won't, because the innocent need to be protected.

Another person in that same class wrote a brilliant first chapter to a potential novel. This second classmate received accolades for this chapter. The end of this chapter contained a reference to a rather shocking, yet hilarious, sexual anecdote. The chapter author essentially confessed to the class that this was an incident that happened in real life (writers are good at getting personal like that).

Fast forward a couple-ish years. The other classmate's relative has book published. I read book, and LOW and BEHOLD if this, now published, book doesn't contain the EXACT same highly unique sexual anecdote as our classmate's chapter. And it's not nearly as well written or as authentic sounding as the original author's version.

Coincidence? Could two people have had the same hilarious sexual experience? I think not. And my paranoid writer's mind can conjure up the conspiracy theory of how this happened.

Classmate #1 goes home to the fam. Pleasant family dinner, ensues. The white linen table cloth adorns the table. Candles are lit. Perhaps they have ham and brussels sprouts and cream corn and mashed potatoes.

And wine. Naturally, lots and lots of wine.

Classmate #1 starts talking about the writing course at the dinner table. There are other writers in the family. They'll care.

Ha ha ha. YOU'LL never guess the amazing story that Classmate #2 read to us today. 

Hilarious sexual anecdote is related at the family dinner table. This would be the kind of family where such an anecdote would be perfectly acceptable dinner-talk amidst the fine china and silver and crystal.

Fast forward a week. A month. A year. Classmate #1's relative is in the midst of editorial hell and rewrites. She remembers a story she was told of a hilarious sexual anecdote. It would fit her character, brilliantly.

Who told me that story? Gosh I can't remember. I think it must have been my friend Jane. It sounds like a "Jane" story. 

She "steals" the story and it ends up in her book. The book gets published and there it is. Classmate #2 is essentially screwed. She could never publish her story. People will think she stole it.

The moral of the story is, don't tell your secrets to writers. You're life is fair game. They'll distort them and then they'll use them and they'll publish them and they may not even be able to remember whose life they ravaged.

But naturally I'm lying. I made a part of this up. Maybe it wasn't at a class, maybe it wasn't shared at a dinner, or maybe it wasn't a sexual anecdote at all but a fight in a bar with a unique outcome. It could be, but sex is more fun, isn't it? Maybe you can tell me your secrets and I'll protect them for life. But I don't know what's true anymore.

I don't remember.

Wake me Up

For one book I was the puppet master and for the other I was the puppet.

I wrote one novel in 9 months. Writing a book is a little like making a baby. It starts off as a parasite inside you and then it festers and grows to a size that is unmanageable and it is a tremendous relief when it comes out. It's often a painful extraction, but the drugs involved can be very very good.

Book number one was a poor sleeper. It woke me in the middle of the night with startled and profound certainty that I was the most horrid writer in existence and I should just QUIT before I hurt someone. In particular the one likely to get hurt was me. But it all came out OK and it was good to wake up and find that the world was kinder than I thought and what I wrote was actually good. I controlled this book. I overprotected it. It didn't see the light of day until it was perfect and well matured.

The second book wasn't a parasite. It was poison. It was tasteless and odourless. It was voodoo.  It was written at a time when my life controlled me. And after a while I wasn't sure if I was writing the book or if the book was writing me. Dictating my decisions. Feeding my paranoias. Turing into my self-fulfilling prophecy.

I've written nothing fiction since. I've written this blog though, which of course is mostly obnoxious narcissistic crap.

And this is what happens with blog writing:

It takes 10 hours of thinking to conceive a post such as this one. Sometimes more.  It takes me about 3 hours to write and edit. And then I hit "publish post." The pretty orange button at the bottom.  More often than not this is late at night. I sit up re-reading what I wrote. I can't let it go, similar to how I had a heck of a time letting go of novel number one, I overprotect. I nit pick. I "obsessively edit,"as my notation says below beside the date -- this is not a joke invented for your entertainment. It is my real nightmare.

But for the evening, I think what I've written is clever and entertaining and I send it out there to be lapped up and ridiculed or adored and admired... who knows. How I feel about it, depends on when you ask me.

Because I sleep on it. And then I wake up thinking I'm not much of a genius anymore. Except this isn't like my first book which I could smother and keep to myself. This is a blog. And it's out there and being read. And I check my stats and, overnight, about 24 people have looked so far. This sucks. I suck. And I wanna pull it down and hide it again the same way I changed my mind when I offered to let my (X) husband read my book. His sin?  Not asking why I took the offer back when he wasn't looking. I did it on the sly. When he was out of town. And then he never asked again.

So I delude myself. So 24 people looked so far but that's OK because it was likely so bad and so boring that no one bothered to read the whole thing anyway. They didn't get to the real obnoxious part.... you know where I insulted this person, or that person who I deliberately teased about something.

Lord knows in real life I have a knack for inadvertently hitting on people's sensitive spots, unknowingly. Like that day I made fun of a certain guy friend and ridiculed him for not wearing his glasses all the time. He should just admit he needs them. He can't even recognize someone he knows from 20 feet away, for cripes sake.

And then it was just one insult after another thrown back at me for the rest of that conversation because I reminded him of his age. I guess.

Why is he mad? Doesn't he know I have a thing for guys in glasses? He read my first book. I said it in there. I liberally stole that nugget from my life.

And I tease you because I like you. I'm like a 12 year old boy.

I've become an expert at assuming I've offended and apologizing. It's one thing to tease someone in person and be able to read their reaction. It's another thing to do so in writing. I get paranoid about that. My writer neurosis can't take blogging. My skin may not be thick enough. That's why I had to go back and remove the word asshole from that last sentence. Who's the asshole anyway? Only me.

Although most of the time I think I am really damn good.

I'm teasing. I'm just teasing.

And I'm lying. Naturally. Because I'm a stupid f'ing liar.

I'm a writer.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Supercross, Nordic Cross, Whatever-cross. Belgians Rule.

Story of my life. Picking myself up off the ground. 
I sucked.

As I sit here and write this I'm still feeling the effects of the beer I drank after the race. I shoulda drank it before the race. It might have limbered me up a bit for the core workout. But I wanted to get this down in typing while it was still "clear" in my memory. Clear as mud, that is. Or clear as snow, in this case.

Still looking tough and determined early in the first lap. And still on my bike.
Top Five Crashes I experienced at the last cross race of the season:

1. The remount crash. This was the stupidest of all crashes so I mention it first. I hauled my bike up the stairs out of the bush and -- I don't remember what happened.  Maybe my front wheel was twisted. I took a flying leap. And pretty much missed the saddle.  It was on flat smooth snow. It was all downhill after that. 

2. The face-plant crash -- Slipping on my shoe covers hauling-butt up the steep grassy hill. Boom. Down with my bike on top of me.

3. The crazy dip from hell crash x 2 -- shortly after the steep climb hill, there was a dip in the course and it was perfectly rideable for about 3 laps and then it was slippery as hell. The first downing was benign. The second caused cheers from the spectators. I believe skidding was involved. 

4. The bottle neck crash -- Sandwiched by two passing A racers. One of them was the Dark Lord. I can say this with utter certainty -- I would know that blue Cannondale tie-fighting bike anywhere. The other.... who knows... but JP apologized about a dozen times for knocking me down somewhere, so what the hell, we'll blame him. 

Taking a lesson from the master of evil: There's the Dark Lord there. Proof of his aggressive tactics. Cutting corners a little.

5. The S-turn, I-shoulda-been-running-but-instead-I-was-trying-to-ride, crash -- All I remember is Dave Benson pointing at me with his camera and saying, "I got you on that one." Thanks Dave. That moment was recorded for posterity above. Here is the after-moment as I respond to Dave's snarky remark. 

See, I'm a good sport. Still smiling because I am having the time of my life.
Sporting my own "dark side" colours.   

It was the second time I've ridden on snow. Ever.

There are more than a couple snowbanks with outlines of my body embedded within. The whole cross amnesia thing is setting in now. I'm sure I was picking myself up off the ground at least a dozen times with another 2-dozen near misses. But I have equally as many bruises. You can play dot to dot on my legs.

I have no idea how many laps I did. I kept thinking the whole race: I'm just as winded as I usually am but my legs are working at 50% capacity. My upper body, however, was working at 110%. I was not prepared for the constant battle to keep the bike under control. It was pure terror and awesomeness combined. It felt like we were doing far too many laps. I fully admit to graciously thanking Paul B both times he lapped me...

Paul B. Sporting the Mo AND abiding by Rule #37.

I must point out this photo of Johnny G as I, similarly, spent much of the race in this exact pose....

......other foot though. I have a left foot preference. 
Sometimes I think I could have run the course faster. It was the first race I've done that had a run-in start. This is the bike I wanted to take instead of my own. The reason is obvious.

Not to mention those SHORTS. 

Other important news of the day is that after talking all big and bad-a$$ in my last post, I did still manage to beat Terri despite her major equipment upgrade. Terri who commutes much of the winter and has snow riding experience held her own out there pretty good, and fared far better than I in the staying upright department. I could always see her the whole race though, right out of the corner of my eye. I did, unfortunately, miss hearing her ragging on the Dark Lord for knocking her down. I DIDN'T however miss her calling Morgan a "jerk" for shovelling snow on her.

Terri sporting new wheels. 

Terri, you have no idea how thankful I am that we understand each other as we do. 15:5 now Terri. I'm still behind.

The after race was as fun as the race itself. The Belgian beer went down nice. Had a nice chat with Gary about next year's race schedule. Got to meet and know a little better a few people that I know primarily from their blog commenting prowess. Discovered I know JP's wife from a past life -- yet another former lifeguard I reconnect with via my obsessive athletic pursuits. The world is too small.

JP doing his thang. 

Thanks Olympia for putting on a great race. Thanks Dave Benson for the great photos, as always.

And just so you know, I missed my daughter's mini fun swim meet to do this race so Rule #11 was obeyed. I mention it only because Mommy guilt is setting in now. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Kicking Some Ass. Letting it Show.

Sometime in the summer I came across an article about Columbia HTC cyclist Evie Stevens. I had heard about her prior to seeing the article because, as the 6 degrees of separation theory goes, I know someone, who knows someone, who is the father of her roommate from college (3 degrees in this case). So when this Bicycling article appeared in my Facebook news feed and I saw some reference to a tennis-player wall-street-broker turned pro cyclist, I took notice.

Evie Stevens (as seen in Bicycling)
And she's cute, boys. I have a girl-crush.

And the story floored me.

Many times, in my coolest fantasies, the exact same thing has happened to me. I show up at a race. I'm an unknown, and I blow everyone away. Scouts clamour all over me to find out who I am. I get to write novel-length emails back to them telling my amazing story -- near 40-year old mother of two shocks the pro-circuit. Pulls off a time 4 minutes faster than the pros at a big race while still ranked Cat 3/4.

Snap back to reality. Oh there goes gravity.

OH, there REALLY goes gravity. I'm a 39 year old mother of two.

I started cycling, seriously learning the ropes, at age 37. I'm still learning The Rules. Given that I believe that rules are meant to be broken everywhere else in my life, with a few exceptions given to the ones that will keep me (and others) alive a little longer, I'm not likely to care about following rules on the road, trail, or grass either.

But they do make me laugh.

And one rule that's not one of the above rules, per se, but is a pervasive gender stereotype and one I break frequently, is that girls shouldn't be competitive. Nor should they ever verbalize it in any way shape or form. Nor should they ever, EVER, brag a little when they are proud and toot their own horn because that is just plain f*&king arrogant.


Maybe even my little pro-cycling fantasy, above, is a little bit arrogant? Did you roll your eyes when you read it?

Or did you see yourself in my reflection?

But I've been competitive my whole life. Let me tell you the most bizzaro of all my competitive stories.

As a kid, teen, and still to this day, I've had to be able to do everything that anyone else could do as long as I felt what you were doing met my definition of "cool." Preferably I would like to be able to do what you are doing better than you. I was the nerdy kid comparing grades with my friends in Chemistry class and then being angry -- with myself, not with my friends -- when I came up short that 2%. I took on those Jump Rope for Heart competitions in gym class. I flattened them. I could skip the longest continuously in my whole grade six class, although there were a couple kids who could give me a run for my money. I could also do the most double-unders in a row. And I practiced my fool head off to be able to do the coveted triple-under.

But the best trick that I busted my ass to copy was a trick my best friend at the time could do. That trick was twisting my tongue into a wave. I'll describe this trick as requiring the equivalent degree of tongue muscle control as tying the stem from a cherry in a knot (which I can't do, by the way, because it is not nearly as "cool." And I don't like cherries.). So I stood in front of a mirror and I practiced. Ever had a tongue cramp? I have. Not fun. But gosh darn it all, I learnt how to twist my tongue into that wave. And I can still do it. And, NO, I won't post a picture, only for fear that it will be interpreted the wrong way.

Once I met someone at a university party who could also do this trick, and he was being fawned over and awed by all. It was pretty fun destroying his illusion of uniqueness, AND telling him that I knew of at least one other equally talented freak out there. That was an amazingly memorable moment in my life.  (Insert *sarcasm* font).

Would hate for my facetiousness to be misinterpreted.

I'm competitive in sports. I hate getting beat. I hate when my little cycling fantasy doesn't come true. I hate it even more when I've been working my ass off all winter and then someone who I was coming ahead of consistently last year beats me in the first race of the season. No one else is supposed to get better in the off-season. Only me.

I have this little banter with my friend Terri. She rubs it in when she kicks my ass and I rub it in when I kick hers. In all fairness I don't stand a chance in triathlon. Her swim far outdoes any advantage that I might be able to gain back in the bike and the run (on a good day). And she doesn't even have to train. But I had an even better time nearly lapping her at cyclocross provincials a couple weeks ago. I'm gonna milk that one for a VERY long time. We speak nothing of the pure equipment advantage I had. Irrelevant to the discussion.

Evie again. Kickin' some ASS. Lettin' it show. 

I'm a small fish in a big pond on road rides. I'm always one of the slowest ones in the group. I prefer it that way. It makes me work and this is how I get stronger. I'd made it a goal this year to be fit enough to take longer and longer pulls and do my "fair share" and reduce the wheel sucking (I refer you to rule #67). I knew my body this year better too. I made a couple of mistakes on a couple early rides, pulled too long and didn't have enough left to get on the back, but by the end of the summer I had that body-sense licked.

I'm pretty proud of that 200 km ride I did in under 6 hours at the end of August with those guys. Did I do my fair share of work on that ride? HELL NO. I pulled for about 30 seconds in the last 80 km. Those guys are far stronger and far more experienced. Do I still brag about being on that ride? HELL YA. Last year I wouldn't have survived past the half way point at the pace we did in places. In July I wouldn't have survived past the half way point. Two years before I never would have made it to the start.

This was a good view for that last 80km. Photo taken shortly after the half way point; before the REAL pain started. 

Every gain is worthy of a celebration in my mind. Next year, when I do something better, I'll be less proud. I feel this is reasonable self-promotion within the handicap of my experience, ability, and my gender. Next year, I work on eliminating the gender handicap.

And I refuse to punctuate that last paragraph with a question.

When I wrote my first novel and anxiously met my writing mentor for a debrief, one of his first pieces of feedback was that I did "teenage girl" well.

"Whatever do you mean?" I asked.

"Your character talks just like a teenage girl," he said. "She has that way of instead of stating a fact as a fact, she states it as a question instead. Like she's socially not allowed, as a woman, to be confident in her answers."

I started listening around, after that. Women do this. We especially do this if we are speaking to a man. (I've worked with hundreds of female nurses working with dozens of male doctors). A statement becomes a question. It's unconscious. And it's fact.


Now there might be reasons for this. Ahem... its gotta be their idea after all. These are the games we play. But that's a whole other blog.

But why do women do this? Like we are not allowed to compete on the same level with the same amount of assertiveness. Like we can't show our intelligence even in a conversation. And why does it make us a bitch if we try? I don't know too many women who will admit openly to thinking competitively in sports. Why don't we praise ourselves a little? Just last night I chided one of my female triathlete friends for not saying a word about standing on the podium in her age group at an out of town event. I only knew because I independently searched out and spied on her results.

But I see men's competitive talk all the time. Not all men, but most. Tooting their horn when they beat someone who usually beats them. Targeting in: "I'm coming to get you next!" I've seen evidence of that in virtually every race report I've read in cycling, running, triathlon, or adventure racing, written by a man.

And I love it. Is it arrogant? Most of the time it is a light hearted jibe. An elbow and a handshake and, let's go have a beer now. Good race!

Am I serious when I talk like this? Well, sometimes its a nice little fantasy I've spoken out loud. Fantasies are good. And when someone approaches me and asks me if I am going to beat so-and-so in such-and-such race, I'm the first to cringe a little inside and say, I doubt it.

But really I mean, I hope so.

This guy has earned his arrogance. Although this little show-offy move isn't so much arrogant as it is CORNY which, in my opinion, is FAR FAR worse. Now go have some beef.

Competition makes it all interesting. We wouldn't make gains if we didn't let others push us.

So I'm not going to apologize for being competitive. I'm definitely not going to apologize for verbalizing it. Although I suppose that by writing this post at all, I am, in effect, apologizing.

I guess I am a woman after all.


Now if you will excuse me, I have a very snowy cyclocross race to prepare for in two days where I am going to, gleefully, kick all your asses. Yes, even you.

My training secret for "Nordic" Cross:  Excessive shovelling. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

One of the Boys

Harry: You realize of course that we could never be friends.
Sally: Why not?
Harry: What I'm saying is — and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form — is that men and women can't be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.
Sally: That's not true. I have a number of men friends and there is no sex involved.
Harry: No you don't.
Sally: Yes I do.
Harry: No you don't.
Sally: Yes I do.
Harry: You only think you do.
Sally: You say I'm having sex with these men without my knowledge?
Harry: No, what I'm saying is they all want to have sex with you.
Sally: They do not.
Harry: Do too.
Sally: They do not.
Harry: Do too.
Sally: How do you know?
Harry: Because no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.
Sally: So you're saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?
Harry: No, you pretty much want to nail 'em too.
Sally: What if they don't want to have sex with you?
Harry: Doesn't matter because the sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.
Sally: Well, I guess we're not going to be friends then.
Harry: Guess not.
Sally: That's too bad. You were the only person that I knew in New York.

I have a lot of guy friends. I just had lunch with one of them today. He loves his wife. He buys her little gifts all the time. He talks about her as if she is still on the pedestal -- you know -- she's still pretty amazing to him. They've been married a long time and have essentially adult kids. Most of my guy friends are married. I believe this is a semi-subconscious, yet deliberate, choice for me at this point in my life to avoid single men. My married guy friends are comfortable and safe and they are not likely to break my heart. I flirt with them gently (not all of them, but some, and some more than others) and then I get to go home and I don't have to "check in."  (Yes, women feel they have to check in too). No expectations.

But based on 39 years experience with friendships with men (26 years if you take away the pre-puberty years)  I do believe the above dialogue, from an easily identifiable movie, is pretty much true. I've never been "just" friends with a guy and had it last. Sometimes those friendships faded away because the guy would get a girlfriend who didn't really appreciate our friendship. Sometimes it was because I ended up in a relationship with someone outside the friendship circle. Sometimes it was because one of us really did have romantic hopes beyond friendship, while the other did not. Sometimes it was just because whatever need was being met by the friendship at its peak of intensity, was no longer needed. And sometimes it was because we were both really interested in one another and we crossed the line and then one of us panicked and a really good friendship got really F&%ked up. 

I like being friends with men. They are loyal. They are straight and honest. And they are not easily insulted. [Generally.] My first memorable opposite sex friendship was in high school with a guy I'll call Andrew. Andrew would never have been described as the best looking guy in school but he was not shy and he was aggressive, and he never had trouble finding girlfriends. I just wasn't one of them. Nor did I want to be.

The interesting thing about Andrew is that he started talking to me at our mutual workplace because he had a crush on my friend, and that worked out well because I had a crush on his cousin. Andrew and I could say anything to each other and we told each other a lot of really personal stuff. He cried on my shoulder about the girls he liked who rejected him. I cried on his shoulder about his cousin who probably broke my heart a gazillion times. And I appreciated that Andrew could sometimes forget I was a girl.

Andrew "dated" my friend for a short time one summer. Then being the fickle teenaged boy that he was, he decided he liked a girl from his church so he went out with her instead. When that didn't work out, he went out with another girl in his class who had enough self esteem and security to see my friendship with Andrew for what it was and realize that I had NO interest in him and was not a threat.

And when that relationship ended after a couple years, Andrew went out with a girl who had been interested in him for a long time. But she despised me in that catty backstabbing female way -- likely because she was jealous of my friendship with Andrew and had been all along -- I see that now. But that pretty much spelled the end of my friendship with Andrew.

He married that girl, by the way. The last time I hung out with Andrew was shortly before his wedding. We hung out in his parent's basement, talking like we always did, watched a movie, listened to music. We walked around the neighbourhood until 5 in the morning when we ended up in Perkin's and he bought me breakfast. I believe, that was the last time I saw Andrew. It was never said out loud that it would be the last time we would see each other. We both just knew it. I didn't get invited to the wedding.

He said a lot of things that last night I spent with him that seemed regretful over the fact that he and I had never been more than friends. I brushed off what he said and didn't take him seriously. I think a lot of those words may have been born out of pre-wedding jitters. If I had $10 bucks for every guy who came up to me years after the peak point of our friendship and said they wished they had taken me to grad instead of who they took (You would have at least been FUN, one of them said one time) or, I should have gone out with you instead of her, I could probably go out and buy another bike.

Oh well, you didn't know it or do anything about it at the time, so it really doesn't matter.

I miss "Andrew." I feel very nostalgic about our high school friendship. A portion of my second novel is based on my friendship with "Andrew." I believe the first time I saw When Harry Met Sally was with Andrew, but my memory might be making that up.

I've grown up to be the woman who still prefers to be around men. I watch my daughter at swimming lessons 2-3 times a week. All the moms congregate a bench or two over and there is periodic uproarious laughter. I don't sit there and I don't want to. I don't get their jokes.

One of those Mom's tried to engage me in conversation early in the session. I hope I wasn't rude. I hope I was at least polite.  But I could tell almost immediately that she was one of THOSE women. A literal woman. There was nothing that she wanted to chit chat about that I found terribly interesting. Seeing me with several catch-up back issues of Bicycling one session, she even tried to talk to me about biking, but based on her stories, I knew she was the kind of rider that would squeal and complain if the pace was too fast and who would show up with full make-up on and try not to break a sweat. Not that there is anything wrong with this...... (at least she is riding) but she wasn't going to get me. Now she sits with another Mom who I know from past history has a similar estrogen-based ideology and I smile, because I'm glad they found each other.

I sit with 4 Dads, sometimes individually, sometimes together. We talk about real estate. We talk about triathlon and the "competitive edge." A couple of them, their kids do triathlon and that is why they are in a swim club. We talk about what is in the newspaper and about politics. We talk about teaching because a few of us teach. We talk about the expense of bike gear and the good deals we found and the frighteningly large running totals at the bottom of the computer screen at our respective bike shops of choice. The other night I had a full on bike geek session with one Dad who told me about his 29-inch carbon dual suspension mountain bike. Sweet! I knew what the price tag on that bike was before he even told me.

Despite the fact that I can be one of the boys, there are still times when I know I am not welcome. Sometimes I respect that and sometimes I ignore it. And I have gotten myself in trouble by doing the latter but generally only with men who look at me from the standpoint of Harry's philosophy. I like to think I'm one of the guys and perhaps I am a bit naive about the influence my touch of estrogen brings to the mix of their testosterone-fests because I always assume they exhibit their usual guy-ness in my presence. They probably don't. But I do recognize the look and the vibe from men when they suddenly see me for the girl I am and, against their will and order, I've just climbed the stairs up to the tree house club, poked my head in and said, "Hi boys, can I come in?" That look kinda breaks my heart.

So I climb back down and pretend to be interested in dresses, and hair salons, and recipes and feel miserable the whole time because I'm not interested. I tolerate fart jokes better than discussions of shoes and nail polish. I prefer to talk to men and I prefer to bike with men, although not all of them appreciate that I can keep up. And I never EVER complain if I get dropped. Although I work my ass off sometimes to ensure I don't. But I have been on rides where some of the guys wouldn't even talk to me until they recognized I wasn't going to be a wheel sucker and I was willing to work.

Cycling can be the pinnacle of boy's clubs. And yes, there I will be, right in the middle of the pack.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Careful What You Wish For

Yesterday I rode my bike to work for what could be the very last time without snow. It was snowing a bit when I walked from my car this morning. I'm not one for winter commuting but I hate that leg burn that comes in spring when you hit the road for the first time after months on a trainer, so my winter goal is to ride outside at least once a week. I don't care what anyone tells you. Trainer riding is not training. I would swear it doesn't even use the same muscles.

At this time of the year with it being cooler, I tend to slow down my commutes and just ride in whatever I'm wearing. No need to look like I'm off to a race. So yesterday I rode in my jeans. They have a bunch of new paths on my route. The entire length of Shirwin Road has a brand new path and, for now, it is smooth and uncracked. Even the curbside bike paths on Berry are not so bad, but keep your head up because those light standards they deek around sometimes come out of nowhere.

Its cold riding. And it gets light late and dark early so I linger at home and I can't linger at work. This isn't a problem. Lately I've been highly refining my work avoidance skills.

So I want the snow to come so I can try out my new skis but I'm dreading the trainer worse than ever this year.

On the home front, I've got my kid to finally sit on his bike. And, of course, he's in love and he thinks he's a biking star. He even had a dream about bikes last night (that's MY boy!). Even though he won't pedal yet, he can glide and balance for about 6 feet or so. He started off in his boxers. It was very cute. He kept complaining about his nuts getting squished. He wanted to know what you did about that..... (I don't KNOW?!). 

Uhmmm, not bike in boxers perhaps?

So now he's bugging me about going down there all the time and I can't get anything done. Careful what you wish for eh? Yay..

And I've been daydreaming at work a bit too much. Staring out the window a little bit. I need a project. The picture at the top of the blog is the view out my 6th floor window to the grounds of the College below just so you can see what I'm looking at.

Nice view huh?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Perfect Rebel

Christmas is coming, in case you haven't noticed. If you are wondering what to get me, I made a wish list right here. But all facetiousness aside, I spent the afternoon in Toys R Us and my mother minded the kids at the Bakugan gaming station while I went in search of stocking stuffers. While I have one child of each gender, I was able to spend most of my time in one particular isle: This one:

Bakugan... of course.

Thankfully I was able to avoid this isle.

If I had given birth to one of these kinds of girls, I'd be lost. 

But this is the isle that I wished I could have spent time on. Just because it is so cool.

My kids do not seem to share in my appreciation of the bicycle. And just to test out this lack of appreciation, when I finally teamed up with them in the store, I called each of them over to the above pictured isle, independently (because the girl is bossy and the boy is a follower) just to gather their genuine opinion.

The boy went first and he said, "Oh Moooom, NOoooo, bikes?"

The girl, because she is older and has begun to develop that sense  of self-promoted coolness, "Uh Mom, No." And quickly did a pirouette and circled away.

Sigh. I try.

And I quietly wondered if they do the same thing when their father talks about NFL football.

I brought up my disappointment with a bike friend of mine recently. "I mention bikes and they immediately rebel," I believe is how I phrased it. The boy was with me at the time and he immediately proceeded to demonstrate his brand of rebelling when I asked him if he was going to ride bikes with me one day, and made this face:

And while this photo was not taken at the time of the above incident, it was not hard to recreate the moment. 

"They wouldn't have had a lot of "rebelling" modelled for them as of late, would they?" My friend asked, giving me a knowing look.

OK. Good point. My life in the last few years has been all about rebelling against everything I don't want to do. A good insight coming from a guy who has no children of his own. At least your friends will be honest. And at least my friends know I can take their honesty.

I brought up the same issue with the two psychology instructors I work with and this brought on another insight: They probably associate biking with a lot of boring standing around and waiting. 

Also true. I've brought them to workouts and I've brought them to races and while I let them run amok and play in the dirt and the bushes at these things, our stay still always seems to outlast their patience.

When are we going? 

WHEN are we going? 


So I go and I race and try to get a babysitter when these things fall on days I have the kids (or I don't go).  I envy all the other parents who's kids race too and are happy to be there. I've spent a year feeling envious whenever I see any family out for a bike ride together. I feel envious when I see 4 year olds riding without training wheels. My son is nearly 7 and he can't ride on two wheels.  Last summer we did family outings to the park several times but this was when the boy could still ride those tiny bikes with training wheels.

I bought my daughter a bike for her birthday this year. Her first bike with gears. She was happy to get it. I actually think the boy was a little jealous because the bike is his favourite colour, red.  I think she's ridden it twice. Once for practice and once at the Girl's Tri out at U of M -- back in May. In all fairness, this is not entirely her fault. When you are a single parent and you have one child who adamantly refuses to ride, you can't leave him at home alone and go riding with the other one. So we don't go.

Or maybe I'm just too easily manipulated.

Riding our bikes at the lake. And yes, she's not wearing a helmet. It got forgotten at home 200 km away. Slap my wrist and consider me sufficiently scolded. 

With my son I have tried everything. I've tried bribery. What better offer could I have given him than a Nintendo DSi?  NOPE. Nothing works. I gave away his bike with the training wheels. His knees would have been at his ears this year. He has a bike that he can ride but it won't take training wheels. I've tried. The chainstay is too wide for the brace that comes with the ones you buy as add-ons. Today I even offered to bring the bike in the house and let him ride around in the basement. NO. What kid wouldn't jump at the chance to ride their bike in the house?

He's a bit of a fearful kid. He's afraid of falling off his bike. I don't blame him -- so am I. Maybe he's heard me talk about this too. He was at the race where my friend crashed and was taken away in an ambulance. He asked me if this could happen to me. I ducked the question.

In addition, he gets nervous any time the complexity on something he is learning gets harder. He passes the video game over to his sister when he can't get through a level. She does it for him. He's having some trouble in school with reading for the same reason. He gets anxious and he gives up as soon as the words get harder.

I wish I had known about these kind of bikes when my kids were small. I would have skipped the training wheel bikes all together. I'm a true believer.

The pedal-less Adam's Run bike...... Brilliant!

I imagine all it might take is patience and another year. I try not to expect my kids to be me. Maybe they'll never share my love of bikes. But I can sure keep trying. And, frankly, at some point, I'd like to NOT have to drive them to school. Someday.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pssst.... Wanna buy a bike?

And because you've seen enough of me, here's Dave at Wildwood this year (photo by Stefan Isfeld)
So Dave's bike is for sale if you are in the market. Specs are here. It is a size small, 53 cm. Dave's about 5'8"

He's asking a ridiculously low price of $1300 (no tax, no manufacturers warranty). Bike mechanic owned and maintained.

And it is a really sweet ride. I'll vouch for that. It has served me more than well this year. Wish I could buy it myself but he won't sell it to me. It's too big, and having been through the arduous and expensive process of trying to fit a too big bike to me and having it fail miserably and have to buy another bike anyway, I know better. And I trust Dave's judgement.

But you can't have it till after the 27th as I need it for the last race. But feel free to come up and check it out.

dave at alteregosports dot com

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Photo Credit (Stefan Isfeld)

since my first outdoor ride of the year which was on March 12. This does not include Ice Bike which was really my first bike race ever and I performed pathetically at it, which would be expected when you do a race with your disk breaks rubbing the whole time because you put the tire on askew.

Not bad for someone who also had to run train and swim train and when I had the kids had no built-in other babysitter and was stuck at home running laps around the park in front of my house.

I teach research methods and I like stats. And I'm a geek. So after close inventory and analysis of my training calendar, the breakdown looks like this:

899 km commuting to work and other places. I have the summer off so I can break this down to 534 km in the spring and 365 this fall. I don't ride to work every day. I would, if I didn't have kid drop-offs and pick-ups to work into the equation.

367 km in Tucson

38 km Mountain Biking. That is really really sad and why I have not earned a dual suspension.

428 km Randonneur Rides. The two separate 200s in May and in August.

542 km in races and special events, 140 of those cyclocross related, 3 Olympic distance triathlons, 2 long duathlons, the Calgary 70.3; and 140 for the Riding Mountain MS bike tour, which, of course, Is NOT a race. 

427 km for the entire Golden Triangle Day 1, 2, 3

116 Additional kms out in Calgary and Canmore on other days (excluding the race).

394 km in Kenora. Although I think that is a gross underestimate and I've misclassified a few kms elsewhere.

1573 km on all other rides and training rides and group rides and solo slogs down various highways.

It is November 9. There is no snow so still time for the odometer to roll over to 5000. Who wants to ride?

I think I've earned my 3 bikes. Have I earned a 4th?

N + 1

Next year I turn 40.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Crash and Burn Provincials

Photo credit: KK

 Provincials was all about who fell down the least. Crashing was the order of the day for most. Except me. I seemed to have a force field around me that kept me upright. Although it is quite possible that I am just a total wuss. Take no unnecessary risks. Bring the body home intact.

And it got me third place woman. We took inventory at the end of the race. Everyone else went down somewhere. Some worse than others. I've never seen the medics so busy with such a large variety of road rash and injuries. Standing and watching the 20 and 30 year old men's race with Mel and Ryan L, I expressed a little guilt over benefiting from so many other's misfortunes, but as Ryan said, "Hey, that's cross racing."

Sleeveless  and pantless in November (Woodcock Cycle)
I especially have to thank Mel, who I know well from triathlon and who I revere as a rider, for my third place standing. Mel, who races "A" roster and was sure to crush me in this race, crashed out bad on the 2nd or 3rd lap and bent her derailleur out of wack. She finished, but needed to stop and fix her bike several times.

I also have to thank Charlene who also crashed, leaving herself a little woozy somewhere in lap 2. But I'm not thanking her for crashing, that was unfortunate. Apparently I passed her at some point shortly after she crashed, but I don't remember. What I have to thank Charlene for is dragging my ass up that steep incline, not unlike the bunker at Menno, three EXTRA times in warm up. AGAIN?  Do I HAVE to?  Oh, Alright. By the time I got into the race, the extra adrenaline made that steep climb a piece of cake.

Thanks to the Woodcock boys and girls for creating a surprising course with no long hills and NO BARRIERS -- thus rendering irrelevant my big racing weakness: The mount and dismount. The soggy ditch became a barrier by lap three. Most were not riding through it by that point. There were several bad twists of fate in that section. Thanks to Vic for getting stuck there right in front of me leaving me without enough momentum to get through there on lap three. Vic taking that crash instead of me, motivated me to get off my bike and run the ditch for the remainder of the race. Who knows what kind of nasty mishap that prevented.

I have to thank Michelle for teaching me about cross bike cadence (there we go again with that roadie word). I sat behind Michelle for about half of the first lap thinking if I could stay with her that would be a good showing for me. She races with some serious big gear grinding and I tried pushing a bigger gear than I was comfortable with in appropriate places. It was useful. I'm a roadie, remember, typically everything is about the spin.

I must thank the, typically "A" racing, 40 and 50 year old men who didn't humiliate me too badly. About 7 of them full-on lapped me, the last of whom, about 100 m from the finish, taught me that even the Dark Lord can say PLEASE when he wants to squeeze by in tight places.

Thanks to everyone who spectated and cheered. I had no idea so many of you knew my name. It was really motivating.

Thanks to Stefan, the Woodcock folk, KK, Dave B., Chris H. and everyone else who photographs cross racing both personally and professionally. You do a lovely job of feeding my narcissistic drive. And everyone else's too.

Thanks to Dave C. for, not just the bike loan (about which I've gushed enough), but for the Friday afternoon pep talk and for tossing me a few secrets of the trade for how to beat people who are faster than you. It all helped Dave. And it worked.

I wouldn't have raced at all this weekend if it wasn't for Colin A. Thanks for being supportive and a good friend, despite the fact that I am a gigantic doofus. I did not too bad. "For a girl."

I'm having the time of my life. I spent a summer training long distance road so this is quite a foreign type of riding for me. These races are so damn short they are over just when I start to get going. I'm sad there is only one race left.

In that respect, I'm just getting going too.

Not the most flattering picture, but my first ever cycling race medal Silver in the womens 40 year old category. Thanks MCA for making me 40, six months early. (Woodcock) 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Disposable Bikes

This is a photo from today's Winnipeg Sun (Brian Donogh is the photographer, according to the print version). A smallish pile of some of the hundreds of bikes that are dropped off here every year. Many of them perfectly ridable and about 4000 of them have been refurbished (by whom? I wish the article said) and given to inner city kids.

I've made these points before and for the most part I am preaching to the converted:

1. Don't buy cheap bikes. You won't ride them.
2. Give them away if you have to but don't let them end up here.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lottery Ticket Please?

Me looking normal (Dave Benson, photo)
I'm having a better day today, thanks. Which means I'm thinking about bikes.

I have three major things I am coveting right now:

skate skis (soon)
aero wheels for my road bike (spring)
and my very own cross bike (fall)

Snap my fingers and hand me $5000 now please. Thats a tough one for a single income, 57% of the time single parent of 2 (kids don't come cheap you know). So what if I have a good job. The more you make the more you spend and I have too much debt already.

As someone who has owned three different road bikes in the last 2.5 years I know I am not going to be satisfied with an $800 cross bike for very long. I've been spoiled rotten by my bicycle benefactor who is simply satisfied with a triple venti caramel macchiato with whip as payment.  Given I've been riding with beautiful SRAM Rival drive train this season, how could I settle for anything less? I would even sacrifice bike weight for good components.

And finding a used XS Cross bike of high quality will be darn near impossible. I think I need a 48 or a 49. In my quick scan of the internet, it is hard to find even new ones out there that are that small.

And Cross is really hard on bikes. I took Dave's bike into the store today, hanging my head in shame at the rust on the chain and the rust on the pedals. It turns out that in addition to all that, the whole front end was out of alignment -- likely from my fall in Altona.

That will be bike #4. My kids will hate me. I turn them off bikes with my incessant obsessiveness,  similar to how they turn me off things like Bakugan and Club Penguin.

And may I just say publicly, I love Cross people. You are all so laid back and friendly and welcoming and I'm looking forward to getting to know you all better. I know some of you have stumbled across my little blog that I figured no one was ever looking at except for my closest friends. I'm flattered and stunned that you would take interest. This whole cyber spying thing is a little frightening... I'll be have to be careful what I say now...(wink).

See you at Provincials.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Look! The Other Shoe. It's Dropping!

I woke up with a start about 10 minutes before my alarm this morning. Annoying, I know. Sleep is precious these days. I have woke up like this a lot, off and on, in the last 5 years for various reasons. It always seems to happen after the same number of hours of sleep (either 3 hours or 5 hours). The waking stimuli is always something that has popped into my head in that light phase of sleep that is a part of every sleep cycle and it has upset or horrified me enough to make sleep no longer a possibility. I will lay there feeling wound up. Sometimes my heart will be racing. It doesn't seem to matter if this thought is a dream or my imagination or even if it is real. It has that same ultimate effect of making me feel an impending sense of doom.

I researched the origin of the phrase "Waiting for the other shoe to drop" because the sentiment reminded me of how I feel for the majority of the day after one of these startled wake-ups. One of the historical accounts I read stated the phrase may have risen in popularity because of a comedy joke brought to life in a play about two lodgers on different floors. The lodger on the lower floor is settling off to sleep when the lodger above drops one shoe. The upper floor lodger becomes aware that he is disturbing others so he takes the second shoe off more carefully and places it on the floor, but the lodger on the lower floor continues to lay awake in waiting, believing eventually, the lodger on the upper floor will drop his other shoe. When it doesn't drop, he finally yells out to his neighbor, "Well, drop the other one then! I can’t sleep, waiting for you to drop the other shoe!”

Other accounts date the saying further back to a meaning that implies, "Make your next obvious point." Drop the other shoe then. 

Waiting for the other shoe to drop perfectly defines my personal brand of anxiety.

Do we not all have our own personal brand of anxiety? Be honest here. Everyone has something that makes them anxious. Death. Public speaking perhaps (a fear supposedly greater than death). Sickness. Needles. Flying. Heights. Claustrophobia. Talking to the opposite sex. Those are just a few of the more common ones. I would trade my anxiety in for any one of those any day because exposure therapy works. My most recent anxiety provoking situation was uneven twisty downhills on my bike -- fear of falling and injury.

Many people could not write a blog like this because the anxiety and the potential for being judged and criticized is too much. On some days, it is nearly too much for me. 

Everyone's symptoms of anxiety are unique. Everyone has a story to tell. But at what point does anxiety become a problem that isn't simply just an annoyance? Being woke up by, perhaps suppressed, thoughts and emotional fears, as I am on a semi-regular basis, is more than an annoyance because it affects my whole day. And the thoughts that wake me up are about things that are tremendously emotionally painful for me. And most of the time what wakes me up is a fear that hasn't even happened yet ..... but I believe it could.

Most anxieties, like my uneven downhills, can be avoided without disrupting my life. Stay away from it and I don't have a problem. Or I can choose to take a deep breath, suck it up, and tackle it head on, learn a new skill, get tips from those that have been there before me, and it is usually never as bad as I feared. Practice makes perfect. Familiarity breeds contempt?  (That's so easy, says my kids about things that once upon a time they couldn't do and were afraid to try.) That is what exposure therapy is intended to do.

But for some, anxiety is paralyzing. It can create odd behaviour. It can cause you to overreact to what, for others, may be a seemingly benign situation. It can hold you back from achieving a goal in life. It can cause one to take action that forces the other shoe to drop, even though there may be nothing more. The other shoe may be safely tucked under the bed.

I'm a college instructor. I deal with my student's anxiety every day.  Presently I teach one course that has 98 students in it. Of those 98 students, 21 have been assessed and granted access to write their test in our exam services department, many of them because of test anxiety. These privileges allow them extra writing time. Usually, up to an hour. They have physical symptoms at the beginning of a test that cause them to become paralyzed for a period of time, blank out and forget things they knew easily the night before. They can feel faint, heart palpitations, blurry vision. They feel like they are having a stroke. Like they can't breath. Like they are going to die. I've watched students call in sick for tests, ignore emails, not show up for meetings because avoiding their anxiety is an easy coping mechanism.

Recently I met a young, obviously intelligent, woman who, when she found out that I also teach a writing course, pulled me aside and asked if she could sit in on my course sometime. Writing essays  has held her back from going into university, where paper writing is essential, and she's not living up to her potential because of it. Why? Because as a shy child she was forced to read things she wrote in front of the entire class. Just the memory of this makes the act of writing paralyzing for her.

I have another friend who is a performer. He is not comfortable performing if he doesn't have several drinks in him. Why? He sees people out in the crowd chatting and laughing and he thinks they are laughing at him and noticing his mistakes.

Another friend was getting up numerous times in the middle of the night to be sure his child was still breathing. An unusual fear? Not at all. It is the compulsive checking that is the unusual part; especially unusual, in this case, because it is not his first child. This started with child number three.

My anxieties are provoked from fear of being emotionally hurt. Like Lucy convincing Charlie Brown to let her hold his football for him, my anxiety, I believe, has evolved from being convinced to trust my heart and having that trust yanked away unexpectedly. The expectation of the hurt, causes me to feel it before it even happens. I create the next plot twist and live the consequences in my head, without letting life play out as it was intended.

And while I may be successful for 99% of my waking hours at hiding my fears, waiting for that other shoe to drop seeps into my subconscious and disrupts my sleep. It is a very powerful form of negative thinking.

And I don't know what to do about it. When I am in this state the most useless piece of advice you could possibly give me is, "relax and be yourself." "Think positive" is another trite gem. On some days I feel like I am lashing out at everything and everyone while desperately trying to keep my emotions under control -- masking my pain in sarcasm and gentle insults which only leave me feeling guilty and raw inside. And it begs the question of the self fulfilling prophecy because I am certain, at times, I have taken action that forces those involved to pick up that damn shoe and throw it at me.

I worked with a woman once who was always the biggest grouch. She snapped at people unnecessarily. She really didn't seem to like us young people at all (I was fairly young at the time). People were nervous of her, they tiptoed around her, walked on eggshells, (in a blog entry full of cliches and metaphors used to create irony and enhance cryptic-ness, let's add a few more), people avoided her and talked about her behind her back. People tend to condemn what they don't understand. I always tried to be extra nice to her. Complemented her, "sucked up," so to speak, and my experience with her was not as negative as some although I remember once being a couple minutes late relieving her from her station and she snapped at me, leaving me feeling torn in two.  She is an extreme example of how fear of the world's opinion creates negative behaviour.

I ran into her a few years later, now older and now well on my way to my future health care life, and she was in emergency at the hospital I worked at. She was there because she had brought in her son who was in the end-stage of AIDS. Nobody knew about this part of her history when I worked with her in a past life. I supported her and her son through the night and she couldn't have been more relieved to have a friendly familiar face at her side. She was pleasant company and I thought nothing of giving her a hug at the end of my shift. It was also the last time I saw her.

I suppose my final message is this: If you see someone behaving in a way that is out of character, seeming irrationally angry, insecure, bitter, loud -- almost like a six year old acting out to get attention -- take the time to find out why. Surprising things can happen. Life gives us all a beating sometimes. Their behaviour probably has nothing to do with you.

So what is your anxiety and how do you attack it? I would love to hear your stories if you can relate. Sometimes its nice to find out you're not the only one.