this mortal coil

“That didn’t happen!”

So, I had to talk about something difficult recently. How do you do that? I mean, “you the reader,” not me. I know how I do it, and why.

I’m an introvert. For my purposes that means a couple of things:

Being around a lot of people doesn’t charge me up. Being 1:1 with someone, or in a small group, can. I’m not sure how typical that is of my kind, but I know my favorite parts of the work day are with “my people” in 1:1s, or with my managers. Big meetings are hard. Big social events are hard.

The other thing it means is that I’m not comfortable with a lot of spontaneous expression. I’m an internal processor.

So, when I think I’ve got to have a hard conversation with someone, I think about it a lot beforehand. I used to joke that I spent my morning commute spinning up virtual instances of people I needed to talk to so I could think through a few possible conversational directions. I though it was sort of cute to say that, but I don’t think it really leads to a good outcome.

I mean, it’s okay to decide you’re going to think about what you want to say to someone before you say it, especially if carelessness with your words could hurt them. That’s fine. We should all do that. We have these little phone rooms at work that are barely big enough for a chair, and I sometimes go into them a few minutes before I need to talk to someone about something that matters a lot and think through what I’m going to say. Sometimes I even write it down in a text file. I take deep breaths and close my eyes and settle down into myself.

The “think about what you’re going to say” strategy begins to fail when you imagine what you’re going to say and then imagine them saying something back, and then what you’d say to that and then what they might say back to that, etc. etc.

It took two things to help me realize the problem there.

The first was that one day, in the middle of a period where I wasn’t sleeping much, I realized how badly the lack of sleep was affecting my perception of things around me. Passing comments suddenly seemed like they might be insults. Hanlon’s Razor sort of went out the window.

So I had a pretty good fix for that: On mornings when I’d gotten little sleep — less than six-and-a-half or seven hours — I’d spend a few minutes on my commute thinking about that and what it meant. I’d talk to myself on my bike:

“You didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. You’re going to be feeling a little paranoid and on edge. You’re going to want to take offense at things people say to you. You’re not going to be seeing things correctly.”

Then I’d get into work and try to remember to talk to myself about that a few times over the course of the day.

Things started to roll off my back more easily. It was nice.

It also started making those little conversations with virtual people go down better. I stopped anticipating the worst, or when I would anticipate the worst I’d remind myself that I wasn’t very well rested. I’d make a little joke to myself to spin that instance down and bring up another one and try again anticipating better behavior.

You’re thinking about the ways in which that’s still broken, but this is my story of self-discovery, so either skip ahead or quit reading.

Anyhow, that was my little hack that made difficult conversations with virtual people in my head go better.

I didn’t get the second piece until I went off to a sample training for a program called Conscious Leadership.

If I had to describe Conscious Leadership in a nutshell, I’d say that it takes a lot of thinking around mindfulness and tries to make it work in a business context. If you’re at home with Zen Buddhism, you’d hear some things that are familiar to you.

I could go on and one about Conscious Leadership. I’ve given copies of the book The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership to managers who work for me and people I care about. I use its language in my daily living, and I measure myself against its standards.

The way it helped me in this specific instance was that it reminded me of how easily we can get pulled into the stories we create around things, and how we should always strive to take a story we’re telling ourselves and “explore the opposite.” Expressed as a commitment to sustainable behavior, the Conscious Leadership people put it like this:

> I commit to seeing that the opposite of my story is as true as or truer than my original story. I recognize that I interpret the world around me and give my stories meaning.

I realized the ways in which my virtual instances were just stories I was telling myself. I’d made a certain peace with the worst aspects of them by taking care to remind myself of the times when I wasn’t well rested and was making the stories worse, but I was still just making up stories and arguing with them.

The thing is, as an introverted internal processor, it was pretty easy for me to slip into those conversations with virtual people in the process of just trying to figure out how to say what I wanted to say when I felt a conversation was particularly important.

I had to pick up a new habit, which is really what this whole post is about.

A Walk on the Beach

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So, I went camping. On the last morning we were at the park I woke up pretty early and took my camera and went for a beach walk. I set out thinking I’d go down to the jetty, a few miles down the beach.

I hadn’t meant to spend much time thinking about things and mainly hoped to just take pictures, but there wasn’t a ton to shoot and I knew I was going to have to talk about something difficult, so I lapsed into thinking about that conversation, and that meant I started arguing with a virtual person. Because I was thinking about a difficult conversation, it got increasingly negative and fraught.

I caught myself doing it and got really frustrated, because I know I’m not supposed to do that. So I’d stop for a few minutes and think about other things, but then I’d fall back into it.

Then I remembered how I coached myself about being under-rested, and took a page from that practice.

As I made my way down the beach, each time I’d get into an argument with that virtual person, rather than getting frustrated and beating myself up, I’d just stop and say out loud “this isn’t happening. That didn’t happen. You didn’t say those things.”

Conscious Leadership advocates moving your body when you’re feeling something strong and need to process it, or see it differently, so I’d shake myself a little, too.

Reader, it felt pretty good.

By the time I’d made it to the jetty, miles down the beach, I was smiling to myself because I knew what I needed to say. I knew it miles back down the beach. I’d just fallen into my old habit of wanting to think it all the way through, to know just what to say to each possible response or argument.

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And of course the conversation went fine, anyhow. They usually do. I pay attention to people and how they’re feeling, and I’m careful in the initial framing and get things off on the right foot, so just taking the care at the onset is usually enough. When it’s not, well … I stay calm in the pocket, too.

Since then, though, I’ve been using that practice a lot, and it is incredibly helpful. I’m an introvert! I think about what I want to say to people before I say it! I’ve got a life-long habit of spinning up virtual people and arguing with them, which is to say a life-long habit of telling stories to myself that aren’t true. It’s tough to break, and I haven’t broken it. But I’ve added a little thing to the loop: When I catch myself doing it, I say to myself, “that didn’t happen” and it has made me feel lighter and happier each time. I think to myself “I don’t really know what they might say, but they didn’t say that, and they could say something completely different. You’ll just have to find out.”

Let’s Talk in 2017

tl;dr: I’m taking a little break from social media. I hate the thought of missing a direct tweet or private message from you on whatever platform we have accounts on together, so I’ve put some contact details at the bottom.

Otherwise:

I’ve been taking a lot of pictures lately. Probably more than I ever have.

I’ve been taking pictures for a long time: My first job after college involved photography to go with my reporting, so I learned how to get decent results with a film camera, and I learned some darkroom work. I’ve made it a point to have a camera with a few more features or settings than I know what to do with since Ben was born, and I’ve hated going on a trip or vacation without having a camera along for about that long.

A few years back I set aside my mid-consumer range dSLR for a premium point-and-shoot rangefinder. I wasn’t sure how I’d deal with having a fixed, relatively wide lens but it turned out okay.

This year I decided to upgrade. I got a mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera out at the high end relative to anything else I’ve ever bought. I love it. It’s as close to my ideal camera as anything I know of, and I’ve enjoyed shooting with it more than anything I’ve had since my Canon PowerShot G5. When I see something in the light I can make the camera see it, too. When I just want to grab it and go to take snapshots, it lets me do that. When I choose to be patient and take along a tripod and trigger, it rewards my patience. It’s a few steps ahead of me, which has pushed me to learn more. I’m taking it with me almost everywhere. Photography has become what I want to do when I have any time to do anything, and it’s something I want to get better at.

Something I’ve been thinking about the past few weeks, though, is that I haven’t been giving myself a ton of space to form my own thoughts about my work.

A friend recently observed that photography is great for me because there’s an emotive/artistic side and there’s a deeply technical side. It’s very easy for me to get pulled into the technical side, whether it’s optimizing the gear I use, figuring out how to automate or speed up a darkroom workflow, or figuring out how to best distribute an image. I love the combination of an iPad, SD card reader, Lightroom Mobile, and AirDrop. It’s really easy to capture, edit, and share an image from the Max or over lunch.

The other side—the artistic one—is harder to enumerate. I don’t understand it very well yet, and I need to learn and practice a lot more. I’ve started looking for teachers and people who are willing to let me practice the kinds of photography that involve humans with them.

I’ve also started thinking a lot more about what I’m trying to do outside of “capture an image competently,” and what it means when I take a picture, or when a picture survives the gauntlet it ran from previsualization to capture to “flagged as a keeper” to edit to printing/sharing/etc.

And I’ve also been asking myself about what I’m after at the print/share/etc. stage of the process.

So there’s one set of thoughts. Now for another:

My diary app recently started kicking up “on this day” entries from a few years back, when I went on a social media sabbatical. I was pretty unhappy with the state of my social brain. Everything went from being a vague impression still sloshing around in the limbic system to a tweet or a post somewhere, but with a layer of self-editing that really bothered me because it felt reflexive and unconsidered. I’d stop when I’d catch myself doing it and ask myself why I was doing it, and I never liked the answers. So I deleted all the social apps on my phone, deactivated my accounts, and turned off all the mail notifications the more obnoxious services will still send you when they can tell you’re not “engaged.”

I’m not going to try to sell you on doing that. It wasn’t like I experienced some sort of creative renaissance. I did just stop sharing everything for a while, and that meant I didn’t have to waste time wondering why I was sharing the way I did, or wondering what sort of reaction something I’d shared had elicited. I felt like I had a certain amount of mental space I hadn’t had in a while.

After a while, I drifted back in, and began the cycle all over. This past year has had its own set of challenges, and I’ve started to feel a growing disconnect between the person I am and the person I’m sort of performing on social media. I once read that younger folks usually take a break in the form of walking away from their accounts, never to return. They just establish a new account and build a new set of friends/connections, leaving behind their old identity. I don’t like the thought of that because I hate the thought of being read as having unfriended/unfollowed someone when I really just want to get a break from all of it, but I think I need another pause, so I’m going to take one. Here’s how to reach me:

  • Mail: mph at puddingbowl.org
  • Skype: michael_hall
  • Google Hangouts/Talk/Whatever-they-call-it: pdxmph
  • Signal: Please drop a mail and we can exchange info.

Management Training

If I speak in the languages of humans and angels but have no love, I have become a reverberating gong or a clashing cymbal. — 1 COR 13:1

There’s a certain amount of pressure on the professional at some point in their career to create a Medium account and engage in some self-marketing. I found an old draft of a scuppered attempt at that while going through the digital shoebox that is my Evernote account, and realized that’s not going to happen. We have one Rands in Repose and that is enough.

However:

  • Today I learned a piece of good news about someone who once worked for me
  • I recently took some time off and got to talk about work to people who don’t see me at work
  • I shipped a book of koans off to a friend and selected a few that meant something to me, including one that touches on this topic

So, I’m going to share the anecdote I had in Evernote that was meant to be the core of a Mediumesque post on my tenure as a manager and instead use it for this much more distilled set of ideas I want to get off my plate instead of turning them into some awful “Stirling’s Gold” series:

I was out in the field at Fort Bragg on a week-long exercise. The chow truck came around to our site and everybody lined up. One of the soldiers in my little operations group ran up to the front of the line, filled a plate, and ran it back to the First Sergeant, who was sitting in front of his tent. He took the plate, set it inside his tent, and walked over to me:

“I need to talk to you, Hall.”

“Sure, Top.”

“Don’t ever let that happen again.”

“What’s that?”

“Fixing me a plate. Never, ever let one of your soldiers fix me a plate again.”

“Top, Private Goyer was just …”

“Don’t do it.”

And somehow I got it. I’m embarrassed that I got to the age of 27 before I learned that lesson.

Funny to write it out, but I think First Sergeant Rhodes and Shanley Kane would get each other. And speaking of her, go buy her book, even if it’s just to read “Values Towards Ethical and Radical Management.” She’s got way more useful stuff to say than I was ever going to waste on Medium.

Please be considerate of my neighbors

So, here’s a scenario to try on:

You’ve just woken up in your tent down on the Springwater Trail.

You climbed into a sleeping bag the night before. The temperature was headed down to the low 40s. You’re sleeping in a tent among dozens of others in a similar situation. The small ad hoc community around you has all sorts, including  people who seem angry all the time, and young men who are dressed much more nicely than everyone around them. They don’t spend the night: They just make a few deals and then head home for the evening.  If you’re a woman, there’s a better than even chance you were assaulted within 72 hours of beginning your life outdoors. Since it’s April in Portland, it’s muddy and wet. You might have gone to sleep to the sounds of people fighting or yelling at each other. You probably woke up because it’s really goddamn cold, or because your children woke up with the light, the way little kids do. 

So, about the time you’re unzipping your tent, grateful that nothing happened to it or you or maybe your family the night before, a pair of people on expensive bicycles, all kitted out, ride by. They look around at all the tents, and one looks to the other and says “Jesus Christ, this is fucking disgusting.  Who the fuck are these people?”

Well, friend, they’re my neighbors. I ride by them every morning on my way to work, and again on my way home each evening. I’ve got a pretty simple protocol for making my way through the little community that has sprung up on the Springwater near 82nd. I’ll list some of its key elements:

  • I slow down. There are a lot of people down there, including families with small children. Nowhere I need to be is more important than any of those people. 
  • I don’t gawk or comment if I’m with someone. I wouldn’t want to be gawked at if I had to live in a tent along a trail. I wouldn’t want someone to loudly wonder “who the fuck” I was, or comment on my “fucking shithole” accomodations. 
  • I say “good morning” or “good afternoon” to the people I do make eye contact with.  That’s my practice with just about everyone I pass on the trail. 

I’d really like to believe that the “Jesus Christs” and “who the fuck are these peoples” are coming from a sense of deep moral outrage that we live in a country where families with little children, the working poor or anyone else for that matter has to live in a tent in the mud along a trail on the edge of town. Because I read nextdoor.com and the Facebook groups for my neighborhood, I know that’s not always the case. At least sometimes they’re also coming from a place of deep revulsion with the people in those circumstances themselves, and from a deep desire to erase them from awareness … to push them out of view with no regard for where that might be or what it might mean for them. It comes from a place of rationalizing the existence of that kind of misery that comes from ones own precarity (though maybe that’s not so true of the people on the nice bikes out for a pre-work ride). 

Wherever it’s coming from, I’d really appreciate it if you’d keep it to yourself next time. Those people are my neighbors and I want you to be kind to them. 

Priorities v0.5

Oh, feature creep.

So, last I wrote about it, I’d put together this little prioritization tool based on some thinking I’d done about priorities. I reused a bunch of code from a previous project to get to a sort of “good enough” state.

Then I started thinking about the ways you could extend that model into a bigger environment, like a company, which has several organizational levels besides “teams.” So I did a huge cleanup of the legacy code in Priorities and started work on something that would be more appropriate to modeling goals in a really large environment.

In the end, though, I realized a few things:

  1. I don’t really own that other project anymore. I mean, it’s “mine,” but I’m sharing it with people who’d like to do more with it.
  2. The places I was taking that other tool were being shaped by the company I work for.
  3. The thing I set out to do with Priorities was meant to be really simple. There are ways to extend the idea, but they leave the tool in a place where it’s harder to approach for someone who isn’t working in the same company as me.

So this weekend I just started over with Priorities. Since I’d been working on an alternate app that needed a bunch of the old Priorities code cleaned up, I had a pretty decent set of models and templates, so it was really easy to reuse a lot of the thinking, but keeping the new version to something quite simple.

The older version of Priorities, the one I wrote from all the legacy code, lives in its own branch now, since I learned at least one person had downloaded it and was using it.

The new version is in a new master branch on the project. For this version, I did a few things:

I changed the “Team” model to “Lists.” Not everybody’s managing a team. You can still name a list after a team, or whatever you like, but by talking about “lists,” it’s more of a tool for anybody, from a sole proprietor to a company.

I also began working toward making lists private. The old version let everybody see everybody else’s lists. The new version will still allow that, but you have to go looking. Once I get the basic features polished up, I’ll take a pass back through to require ownership to view a list. Once that’s done, I’ll work on allowing owners to set their lists to be public. For now, the app guides you toward just looking at your own stuff.

There’s a little help if you’re a new user and don’t have any lists set up:

Priorities Home

There’s also a prompt once you make a list and don’t have any goals:

Priorities

If you’re interested in giving it a spin, you’ll need Ruby and Bundler on your system:

  1. sudo gem install bundler (no sudo if you’re using rbenv or rvm)
  2. Download Priorities from GitHub: git clone https://github.com/pdxmph/priorities.git
  3. In the download directory, install the needed gems: bundle install
  4. Set up the database: bundle exec rake db:migrate
  5. Run the app: bundle exec rails s
  6. Visit the app in your browser.

Since it’s running in dev mode, it’s going to be sort of slow on load.

The TODOs are pretty simple at this point:

  • Do more to ensure the privacy of individual lists.
  • Clean out the remnants of the old team model.
  • Put it somewhere private but not secret so people who don’t want to run their own instance can use it.

Then there are a few things to think about:

  • Adding info pages for each goal.
  • Adding notes for each goal.
  • Adding back the comparison data for goals.
  • Figuring out if there’s value in expanding the user model to have “groups” for shared lists.

Get-Right Saturday

At some point in my writing career — at some point around the time I was responsible for turning in a regular column on some real 101-level home networking and security topics — I came to a realization that was, as always, nicely encapsulated by an XKCD:

Realizing that was pretty liberating! Suddenly I wasn’t worried so much about whether what I was writing about was new or novel: My website wasn’t meant for people who needed constant novelty, and the people who were reading my columns were really just trying to make sense of the most basic stuff: How do I protect my new wireless network? How do I protect my privacy? When people talk about privacy and Google, what are they concerned about and should I be, too? How do I move this file from my desktop to my laptop?

Once I stopped writing the column and spent more time as an editor for my bullpen, I carried that along with me. My writers were all really smart, cutting edge sorts of people, and some of them would get wrapped around the axle trying to write about stuff that was new. But the audiences for all my sites were people who were coming to grips with technology and needed a confident voice to accomplish the basics plus some next-level stuff. So I’d coach the writers toward helping those people gain some level of conversance and basic mastery.

That’s all to go toward this particular blog entry, which is also sort of 101 stuff about life that I think I’ve figured out and maybe someone else hasn’t.

So:

We recently adopted a practice we’re calling “Get-Right Saturday.” It works like this:

  • We have a recurring event set up in the family’s reminders list. It triggers at 10:00 on Saturday morning, and it goes to our phones, tablets, and laptops via the iOS/OS X Reminders app.
  • When the alarm goes off, we stop what we’re doing and spend 45 minutes or an hour picking up the house. Whatever pieces of mail got left on the table, or coats got draped on the kitchen chairs, or shoes that sort of shuffled away from the front door de-shoeing area get herded back to where they belong. We sweep, dust, vacuum, and clean the bathrooms. A load of laundry goes in the washing machine.
  • Once we get tired of doing all this, we each drift back to whatever we were doing (or I go upstairs and work on the bills for a few minutes) and get on with our weekend.

I mean, no big deal. Not groundbreaking.

The thing that made it a breakthrough for us was stopping to examine things that were frustrating us very deeply about our household each week, because of the way our lives work:

  • Al has a full-time job on the far east side. It’s a pretty engaging job with a lot of challenges.
  • Ben’s going to a school way outside our neighborhood, and he does after-school stuff that can keep him until 5 or 5:30. Since we have one car, Al handles carpooling Ben and a few other kids from the neighborhood down to SE Burnside in the 20s, then back out to her job on SE 120.
  • I’ve got a full-time job downtown. Since we have one car, I don’t have a lot of flexibility. I take the Max or I ride my bike, and my commute each way is pretty much an hour because I’ve got to either walk back and forth to the Max station, a mile from the house, or spend extra time changing/getting ready to ride my bike. Some days I’m up at 4:45 to make early meetings.
  • I’ve got a few other cognitive challenges that make it pretty hard to not fall into something and forget about all the other things, which is a polite way of saying my housekeeping habits have slowly improved over the years from “catastrophic” to “shambolic.”

I’m not complaining at all. Neither of us do. We both love what we do. In one way or another, each of our jobs is something of a cause. Ben getting to go to a school that’s better for him is more important to us than the convenience of being able to pack him on a bus each day.

At the same time, we have to prioritize. Keeping up the house slips over the course of the week. There’s homework to help with, our days to talk about, books to read, news to follow, and on and on.

I used to do a little more over the course of the week when I worked at home. It was easier to take small breaks to pick up, do a few dishes, run laundry through, etc. We lost that when I started working in an office again, got it back briefly during a regretful period of home employment last fall, and lost it again in November.

About a month ago, we noticed how irritable the clutter was making us, so we talked about it and figured it out:

We were both raised in houses where there was a full-time breadwinner, and another parent who wasn’t working full-time through most of our childhoods. One of us had a housekeeper, and the other a mom who was fond of chore charts and training the children to do dishes, pretty much setting herself up as the shop supervisor for a small housekeeping workforce of underage laborers.

So, our expectations were informed by our upbringings, and our upbringings were about single-income households where one of the parents could spend more time just keeping things up (or managing the children to keep things up, or making sure the housekeeper was keeping things up).

They were also informed by the people around us. We know all sorts of people, ranging from single-income households with children to dual-income child-free households. It’s natural to compare, and it bothered us that our house didn’t really feel “drop-in ready” most of the time. I mean, some of that’s the house: It’s got a relatively small open plan common area on the ground floor, and that’s where we spend most of our time. It doesn’t take much for that space to get out of control.

Our behavior toward the housekeeping was informed by the shape of our weeks. We’d get through the week, feel sort of greedy about our time to do whatever we had in mind for the weekend (which amounts to laundry, grocery shopping, getting haircuts, and going to movies), and we’d never really sync up on the stuff that was bothering us around the house.

That was making us both feel guilty, which was sort of a stupid way to feel given that our material conditions were different from the ones that created the measurements we were using to gauge our success at being grownups. It was also making one or the other of us pretty cranky about what wasn’t getting done.

Get-Right Saturday is great for a few reasons:

  1. The house has stabilized into a sort of baseline level of declutter that’s pretty good. Yeah, it drifts during the week, but we’ve beaten a lot of it back.
  2. When things do get a little out of hand during the week, we don’t get as anxious or guilty. We know we’ve got an hour of working on that coming up in a few days.
  3. We hold each other accountable to concentrate 3 people hours on the house.

That 10 a.m. start time gives us enough time to get up, get breakfast, and sit around reading or playing games for a little while before starting. When the hour’s over, we still have most of the day ahead of us to do whatever we were planning to do.

Like I said, probably not new to a lot of people, but maybe new to a few people.

Bonus Tip

We were also raised with what I’ve come to think of as “American-sized” laundry baskets. I don’t know the exact dimensions, but I can confidently say that each one holds 1.5 – 2 standard washing machine loads of laundry. If you’re the type who is visually cued to deal with laundry, and not the type to decide laundry day is actually a few days, American-sized baskets are the devil: They hold enough to mean you’re going to get into a couple of loads worth, which means laundry becomes a bigger chore by instance.

We recently decided we needed a few more sorting baskets for the laundry area, so on our next trip to Ikea we picked up some of their baskets. We noticed they were small when we bought them. Since they were meant as a sort of holding tank for laundry we wanted to get out of the way so each of us could play through the machines on the weekends, we didn’t mind that they weren’t meant to hold a standard North American laundry basket worth of stuff. We did kind of make fun of them, though, in an ironic way.

“These laundry baskets are fine for your Northern European social democracies and possibly Canadians, but they do not support our more expansive American needs.”

So, anyhow, what we discovered after two weeks was that the smaller Ikea baskets hold a single load of laundry. When one is full + 8″, it’s ready for the washing machine. That means laundry’s a lot simpler. Less stuff stacking up in the laundry area, because a single load is going through with each basket, not 1.5 or 2. You just see that you’ve hit capacity, drag it downstairs, shuffle the Ikea-sized load in the dryer into a basket, shuffle the Ikea-sized load in the washer into the dryer, stick your stuff into the washer, and it’s like the Island of Sodor or something in its balletic synchronousness.

I super recommend them if you’re the type who’s disciplined enough to respond to a basket that is visibly full, but not organized enough to simply do the laundry weekly without the visible reminder.

You can’t say what you are, but you should try anyhow.

I say ‘I consider myself a feminist,’ because I really do. But I always feel like I’m taking a big risk when I say ‘I AM a feminist,’ because there is always, always some other feminist out there who will show you that you’re wrong. Usually they’ll also show you that you’re awful for it.
— Someone somewhere I visit regularly

Another feminist here. That’s an understandable sentiment.

Personally, I hate calling myself anything at all, ever. I spent four years trying to reconcile what I thought I was, what I wanted to say to people I was, what I wanted people to think I was underneath, and what I wanted to be with what I was being every single day by just waking up where I was waking up and doing what I was doing.

I spent even more years after that trying to work through whether I’d ever known or could ever know what I was: Maybe I’d stopped listening to my better angels. Maybe the better angels had never been real. Gandhi had suggested that nonviolent behavior could be motivated (and tainted) by cowardice, so I wondered to myself if what I’d thought had been a nonviolent worldview hadn’t actually been a sort of cowardice, and that by enlisting maybe I’d just embraced what I’d always been.

Some understandings about myself and the world around me crystallized, some things just got more complicated:

Could I jump out of an airplane at night? Yes. And for the last year I was jumping out of airplanes, it’s fair to say I was frightened every time. By the time I got to that point, I’d healed up a lot. I wasn’t who I’d been when I walked into the recruiter’s office: If the controlled environment of the army had been a splint or a cast, it ended up setting my bones into shapes they hadn’t been before I enlisted. So I gained some understanding of what it is to be deeply afraid and yet still do the thing you set out to do. For a period, living that pattern allowed me to say to myself that I wasn’t a coward, that I had a core I could depend on. So I started looking beyond where I was, and having thoughts about what could be next, and wanting it. I didn’t want to give up and disappear into the army.

Then I was out, and rather than going back to be near the people who had cared about me and supported me while I was in, I chose somewhere else. I couldn’t just go back to where I had been, among people who might have been tempted to say, “well, that’s all over now and you’re back.”

I was loved and cared for, but not a lot of people knew me. They just had the biography, and that question of cowardice was still very real, and was suddenly unresolved again because I figured out that physical courage isn’t moral courage. So, I wanted the new people in my life to know something more about me than where I’d been, but I was still struggling with what it was I’d want them to know, and if it was possible for there to be anything more to know. After all, there was what I thought I was, what I wanted to say to people I was, what I wanted people to think I was underneath, and what I wanted to be, but there was what I had been every single day for four years by just waking up where I was waking up and doing what I was doing:

I’d been the guy who got sent to the chaplain because he wouldn’t sing the baby-killing cadences, and then invited to declare himself a conscientious objector. Didn’t do it, though, because I wasn’t. I just didn’t like baby-killing cadences.

I’d been the guy whose boss told him he should seriously consider taking a subordinate into the woods to beat him up, and briefly wondered if it would need to come to that, then learned how to make anger and its energy palpable; maybe to help avoid taking that step and maybe to make it easier if I had to.

I’d been the guy who told a barracks bully that I’d take an eye or an ear, and needed to believe it.

I’d been everything that environment demanded of me, and I chose to stay in it.

I nearly started typing, “but in the end,” because that would allow this to be narrativized and resolved. But there’s no end because I’m still sitting here typing. There’s an ever-unfolding now that I needed to learn about.

There were all the moments where I looked back on some of the things I said and did and hated them. When I’d tell stories about things I’d seen or done and I’d realize people were repelled by the mere fact that I’d been there to see them. There was the year where I needed to get help because I’d see a picture of a maimed child in an Iraqi marketplace bombing, or read about a murder-suicide on an army post from some solider who’d come back from the wars changed, and I’d think about how I’d wanted to be some part of that, and that’d be it for the day, stopped by anger and grief. I’m so glad I worked at home: I don’t know what I would have done with people around when those moments came. Maybe I would have just swallowed it whole instead of composing some polite fiction of a status message and going to sit in my room.

Then there was just more life, and a slowly growing recognition that I couldn’t ever un-be those things. When he was little, Ben thought I’d once been a knight. It was heartbreaking to explain that I hadn’t been. But it was strengthening to realize that the more truthful I could make myself be with him, the better a parent I could be to him.

I figured out that I had to start being the person I wanted to be in that ever-unfolding now. I had to accept that some people would see the biography and think things they’d be justified to think, and that I had to set that aside: There’s no erasing it, and to erase it would be to erase me. Instead, I had to learn how to be open to the things that I can hear and feel are right, and accept that they might be incongruous with what I’ve been.

Because of all that, because I once set aside everything I said I was and became something else, and because I then spent years trying to make all of that make sense, I’ve got a deep aversion to saying I’m anything at all. To the extent it’s any of my business how people talk about themselves or what they are — and it almost never is — I wish there’d be less “speaking as a …” and more “because I live my life thus.”

At the same time, self-identification helps people, right? It helps us hold each other — and ourselves — accountable.

I read bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody where she writes “the soul of our politics is the commitment to ending domination,” and I thought to myself “yes, that’s right, I want to live that and teach my son that.” I put down the book and thought “I agree with her, and other people who call themselves feminists,” and then I felt okay saying “I’m a feminist.”

Despite my aversion to saying “I’m this” or “I’m that,” I think “I’m a feminist” is a thing worth saying.

Because I’m a man, steeped in this culture and taught habits of thought that are anti-feminist, I’ll sometimes do things that aren’t feminist things to do. I’ve been lucky to have people in my life who have been gentle and patient with me when I’ve done this. Some day I’ll meet someone who won’t be as kind, or who will want to prove that I’m not a feminist at all. Depending on who that comes from, that could be upsetting or embarrassing.

The alternative, my heart tells me, is to be less supportive than I could be; to be an “ally” who can still maybe slip back and forth, maybe never having to own being wrong or hypocritical ever again because I remember how hard it was to put a sense of self together again after being something besides what I wanted to be.

All we can do is be what we are in the ever-unfolding now. We can open ourselves to hearing what’s right, and we can try to choose what’s right, or at least choose what’s less wrong. We can accept that we’ll sometimes fail at that. We can allow ourselves to be held accountable. We can try again.

On the Quicksilver (and the curious marketing conceit “RV resort”)

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We took our new Quicksilver trailer out on its inaugural camping trip this weekend. A few notes on the whole thing:

We’ve got a Livin’ Lite Quicksilver 8.0. It’s a tent trailer, not a pop-top, so when it folds out it’s sort of like having an old-school canvas tent with a bimini frame sitting up off the ground on a big aluminum box.

Not being a pop-top, and being made of aluminum, it only weighs about 850 pounds, which is well under our Toyota Matrix’s 1,500-pound towing capacity. Driving it out to Mt. Hood this weekend was pretty easy. It was very quiet, and the main thing I noticed about it was how it affected braking: I definitely needed to give myself more time to slow down.

Setting it up is very easy: It has a vinyl cover you unsnap and roll up, a set of four aluminum struts that hold up the bed ends when it’s unfolded, and a bunch of snaps, velcro and bungie loops to hold the tent top in place. Ideally, you’ll want to deploy it with two people, but I’ve managed to put it up and take it down on my own. With two people, it takes well under 10 minutes to get from “completely closed up” to “fully deployed.”

Setup on the inside, once the tent is up, is pretty easy, too. The galley top (with a sink and a cabinet) can be lifted into place by one person. It has a folding table and removable seat cushions that stand up in a minute or two. There are also little light/fan combination units that clip onto the bars next to each bed end and plug in to 12-volt power sockets.

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As RVs go, it’s a pretty simple affair.

Each end of the tent has a double mattress. It’s also possible to collapse the dining table and lay it between the two dinette seats, then put their cushions down to sleep two more people. The mattresses on the beds are a little thin, so next time I think we’ll bring along our Therm-a-Rest pads.

It has an electrical system with three standard household outlets and a 12v adapter. You can run it off its own 12v deep-cycle battery, or you can connect it to shore power. It also has a small sink with a faucet that can either work with city water connected from the outside, or pump water from a plastic, 7-gallon tank in the galley base. It was pretty nice being able to wake up and start the water for the French press with an electric kettle. There’s no built-in stove, but there’s enough counter space to use the two-burner camp stove our dealer threw in. Alternately, there’s a small aluminum table you can mount outside the trailer to use for cooking.

It’s got pretty decent storage. The galley offers three small cabinets with plenty of space to stow cables, hoses, the camp stove, and first aid kit. There’s another cabinet by the door that can hold a few things you might want to grab out even before the trailer is fully deployed. The dinette seats also offer storage compartments. For travel, you can slide a few things under the dining table when it’s folded and placed over the edges of the dinette seats. We were able to fit everything for our trip into the trailer itself (including cooler and folding chairs), and didn’t have anything in the car with us.

We had good weather for our trip. It got down to the low 40s overnight, and we used a small ceramic space heater running off the electrical system to keep the trailer warm. I slept in an unzipped sleeping bag and stayed pretty comfortable.

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I can’t name many downsides. Sleeping with a heater in such cool weather did cause some condensation. We toweled a lot of it off before we packed the tent back down, and since it was sunny and in the high 50s this afternoon when we got home, we just set it back up again to air out and dry out a little more.

The city water pressure from our hookup was a little high and caused a small leak around one of the pipes. We spotted that happening pretty quickly. One of the nice things about the all-aluminum body is that it wasn’t a huge deal to towel up the water without fear of rot setting in.

All in all, though, it’s mainly a big tent on wheels, with plenty of space to sit around if the weather turns (or if you just feel like hanging out in there). It definitely changes your outlook about the weather when you know you’re sleeping four feet off the ground under a waterproof vinyl top. Because it’s a little more weatherproof than a tent, and because it’s easy to heat if need be, it extends our camping season quite a bit. Because it’s a little more comfortable to sleep in than a tent, it also extends our range. We’ll probably do a few more trips to some of the regional parks like Oxbow and Stub Stewart, just to make sure we’ve got the hang of driving a trailer around the metro area, but we’ve already got a spot reserved at Crater Lake this summer, and I’d like to figure out a longer trip somewhere further out before next year.

Where We Stayed

When we bought the trailer, the dealer included a year’s membership in an RV park network. We can stay in any of the parks in the Pacific NW for free for up to 30 nights this year.

We stayed at Mt. Hood Village. Since our trailer is just 16′ when fully deployed, we opted to stay in what you might call the “rustic” section of the facilities: Dirt sites with water and electricity (but no sewer or cable t.v.)

That was probably for the best: We had the entire area to ourselves. The premium area was packed pretty tightly with really big RVs. Yeah, they had a shorter walk to the (indoor) swimming pool and hot tub, but they also had to deal with all the hooting and yammering of people out under their awnings, drunk on Coors Light and the novelty of just-a-hoodie weather in January.

The vibe was pretty friendly. Our family did get the side-eye from a dude with a pony tail and the most gigantic owl tattoo I have ever seen: It spanned his chest and its eyes encompassed his pecs. He seemed a little miffed we were in the hot tub (which was huge … it could have easily seated 10 people), maybe because he was hoping to maul his girlfriend in there. Al & Ben left to go swimming, and he did get a little nasty with the towel-off once he and his girlfriend decided to climb out. Another couple in the corner looked to be completely fucked up on something that made them squint into the far distance and occasionally slur giggling observations. Oh, and Ben & I shared a sauna with a guy who’d bark “shut-it-shut-it-shut-it-the-heat-the-heat-the-heat” when people came in or out. He was also super worked up about a missing flashlight, and he snarled recriminations at one of his children through the steamed glass.

Still, people did smile and say “hi,” so friendly enough; but I think we’d have been okay just sitting by the fire, too. I also think that perhaps “RV resort” is one of the more interesting bits of branding nomenclature I’ve encountered in a while if that place is an average specimen. Your average state park is doing what it can to make the sites feel a little isolated from each other, and what you lose in the way of a hot tub, gift shop and swimming pool you make up for in relative quiet, hiking trails, twilight ranger shows at a rustic amphitheater, and fewer opportunities to see some dude with a ginormous owl tattoo toweling his lady off all nasty.

The membership is free for a year, though, so really we can live in both worlds if we choose.

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Multimedia

This video is 14 minutes of camper setup competency that I find a little hypnotic. It helps that the Livin’ Lite company is located in Northern Indiana, and so I’m hearing the voice of my people (more or less: I’m about two years more “from Oregon” than I am “from Indiana,” at this point).

Which reminds me of another thing that I enjoyed this weekend:

I worked at an RV plant the summer after I graduated from high school. I was really, really bad at it, but I learned a lot: I installed air conditioners, manufactured step-well covers, routed and secured fiberglass sheets to partition walls, undercoated vans, and did a bit of finishing work here and there.

Sitting at the table enjoying my coffee this morning, knowing the trailer was made in the same town where I helped put together RVs, it was pretty easy to see bits and pieces that looked like things I’d made or assembled that summer. You might see some of that stuff and not think twice about it, assuming a machine did it, but I spotted a few things: A small nick on the crimp on an otherwise perfect aluminum cover; and the thumbnail impression of a screw that had gone in a little off, then got pulled back out a bit and tightened back down a tiny fraction of an inch the other direction. For a second, I could smell routed fiberglass and rolls of carpet in a hot warehouse.

Breakfast at Oliver’s

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I appear to have eaten at Oliver’s Cafe about 90 times since March, 2012 (can’t account for a few cash transactions). I ran the Quicken report that told me that through a quick script to count how many of those visits were on a Sunday (“Dad and Ben breakfast day”): Harder to know that because the date of the transaction going through varies from the date the transaction happened, but it must be about 70.

Ben’s got a usual: 2 scrambled eggs, a sausage patty, a cinnamon roll and a cup of decaf. He settled on that after a streak where he was all about the bacon pancakes, which are incredible but also torpor inducing. Lately I’m all over the place. The coffee is a constant, but it’s hard to choose between all the scrambles and omelettes, plus the occasional bacon pancakes or plain old hotcakes.

When we first moved here, the space Oliver’s is in was occupied by Le Sorelle Café. You could get coffee and pastry and panini there. We’d stop in on Sundays after going to the farmers market. Le Sorelle didn’t last. Coffee in Lents, in general, does not last unless it’s being served out of an espresso hut. That’s a shame, because until the neighborhood is ultimately overrun by people like me, it’d be nice to have a slow but steady coffee place to go work at now and then. We had that in the form of Lents Commons, but it fell apart pretty quickly because it was never meant to be a coffee place: The owners wanted it to be a performance space.

Oliver’s has been at it for a couple of years now, and I hope they’ve cracked the code for remaining viable in Lents: They’re only open until 2 each day. They’re not even attempting dinner service.

Anyhow, this isn’t its Yelp page, where it is mostly appropriately revered by the neighborhood.

Ben and I have been walking down there most Sunday mornings for a while. It’s about 10 minutes from our house, so we’ll go all but the worst days, unless we’re feeling lazy and don’t want to get out of our pajamas.

Some days, we don’t say much. Other days, Ben wants to talk about World of Warcraft or something he saw on YouTube. This last Sunday, he was curious about elections and what it would be like if we had more than two major parties. “Winner takes all” was pretty easy to explain. Proportional representation was helped along by our recent Munchkin Cthulhu binge, because forming a coalition government in parliament is exactly like agreeing to gang up on a level 16 eldritch horror in exchange for a cut of the treasure.

When we get there, we’ve got a few preferred booths over on the east side of the restaurant, where it’s more isolated. Our waitress this past week is new — or new to Sundays — and she’s only seen us four or five times. She was visibly disoriented when we had to sit over on the west side in straight-backed chairs like a pair of chumps, though.

So, most of the wait-folks there know us pretty well by now. Ben still delivers his order each week like it’s going to be news to the waitresses. I’ve made more of an effort to mix it up ever since I caught a waitress starting to write my order down before I spoke it. The next week I deliberately broke my rut and there was an expression of polite surprise that I wasn’t having the omelette.

After I left the newspaper — my first job after college — I ended up in a burger joint for a while. On the days I had the lunch shift, there was a group of three mailmen who’d come in every day. They ordered the same thing every time, and one of them brought exact change every time. The first time I served him his burger I forgot to apply some discount the owner had made up for mailmen and there was a diplomatic incident. I never got the comfort of that routine because the three of them were pretty sour-faced guys. I just saw them sitting there eating their burgers in silence, maybe tipping a curt nod at the counter person on the way out, back to their routes.

I’ve certainly had routines since. Al & I were regulars at the Barracks Road Mister Donut in Charlottesville, VA on Sundays: chocolate angels to go with the Sunday Times for a long while. The fall and winter she was pregnant with Ben it was me going over to Jae’s Low Beer Price on Belmont for ice cream sandwiches, Diet 7-Up and the big box of Dots (which were fresh maybe one time out of ten, which always provoked pleased exclamations).

But I’ve got a weird thing about my routines being picked up on, too. It can feel strange and intimate, and I think about those mailmen and how little I knew about whatever they did besides eat burgers at the College Mall Road G.D. Ritzy’s in Bloomington, IN and (I hope) deliver mail, and how flattened out they seemed to me.

Sounds a little neurotic when I see it there in black and white, but there it is. Most major demons and powerful wizards are similarly particular about people knowing their true names, let alone their preferred breakfasts.

But with the exception of adjusting my ordering habits now and then to appropriately reset expectations with the wait staff at Oliver’s, I don’t mind being a regular there so much because the other half of things I think about in the process of regularing there is my childhood:

Several moves around town before I was five, a big move from Texas to Pennsylvania before kindergarten, cross-town moves and a few elementary schools, a move to Chicago, then back to Pennsylvania (way down the road from where we’d been before), then Indiana in the middle of eighth grade.

I recently did the math, and realized that this time in Oregon — since July 6, 2001 — is the longest I’ve lived in any state my entire life by a couple of years. We’ve been in this house just a few weeks over 5.5 years, and that’s the longest I’ve ever lived in a single house.

I’m not going to say moving around a lot was bad for me. I got a lot from it, especially because it was all so varied: suburban Chicago, dairy country in Pennsylvania, small-town Indiana, Texas, suburban Pittsburg. Lots of experiences — jumping up from dinner to help our host birth a calf out back in the barn! — and lots of people of all kinds.

But it was also kind of lonely. The Pennsylvania farm kids hated the accent I picked up in Chicago. The small-town Indiana kids didn’t really care about hunting much, and my hunter’s ed certification badge wasn’t really a mark of achievement to them. The Chicago kids — I guess they all went on to become John Hughes characters, but I don’t know because I only knew them for this little slice of their grade school lives. I had friends but they didn’t last, and I didn’t ever learn to expect them to.

So when Ben was getting ready to start kindergarten, we decided to make up our minds about where we’d be living, and we picked our house partly because we could see the elementary school he’d be going to from the front porch. I was pretty set on the idea that we’d be looking from that porch to that school every morning until middle school. That on Ben’s first day at middle school, he’ll be in a new place with friends from that school. And that when he starts high school, there’ll be familiar faces in the halls that first day — faces he’s known for almost as long as he can usefully remember anything.

Ben went on this Lady Gaga kick a couple of years ago. He loved her makeup and costumes, and “Born This Way” just sort of resonated with him. He got marked as a weirdo for it, and there was some trouble at school briefly. A group of mean girls started a playground “Ben’s a fag” campaign and he got pushed around. We briefly freaked out — I took six months of that kind of abuse from a bunch of farm kids in Pennsylvania in eighth grade — just five or six punches on the arm or in the gut every morning before gym for six months straight — and it sucked. We’d managed to “win” the elementary school lottery, though, so we could have picked another school to transfer him to the next year. But the thing we learned from the teacher when we talked to her about it was that Ben’s friends had all stuck up for him, and even if there was some stuff going on from a few shitty little kids, after the first shoving incident his friends had all just surrounded him and kept him safe. I thought about it some and realized transferring him to another school would just mean starting over, and maybe not making those friends he’d need before a mean girl clique over there decided he was a weirdo, too.

All of which is to say, that’s part of what we bought — that sense that the best school is the one his friends are at. I have to randomize my breakfast orders to keep from — whatever would happen if I let myself be known that way — but Ben gets to walk into a place where sometimes we hear the waitress behind the counter say “the guys are here,” and he can have his usual.

Some Notes on Bike Commuting

Last year I sat out the bike commute challenge at work. I was feeling resistant to bike commuting because I’d given it a try in late fall/early winter and had a really hard time of it. This year, I thought about it ahead of time and decided to set a goal of biking to work every day in September.

I started out July with a three-day-a-week goal and it was pretty easy to get up to five days a week within a month or so. The last Friday of August, I went on a 51-mile ride around east Portland (warning, PDF) as a sort of “if I can do this in a morning, I can surely do 24 miles a day” validation run.

Here are a few observations:

Handlebars matter

My last bike was a hybrid with mountain bike bars. It was very hard to ride for more than five or six miles without feeling some discomfort. There just aren’t many ways you can vary your grip, which makes it pretty fatiguing over time. My new bike has drop bars and “chicken levers” in addition to the normal brake levers. There are plenty of ways to shift around on the bars now, which helps beyond just resting wrists, hands and shoulders: It’s much easier to shift weight around in general.

A good bike fit matters

Puppet Labs paid for most of a bike fitting during the bike commute challenge, so I was able to have a specialist set me up and coach me on posture and positioning. My seat was riding a little high, and my posture wasn’t great. 30 minutes later, everything was adjusted correctly and I had learned how to position my feet on the pedals and hold my back. My ride has been more comfortable since.

Cleats are nice, but they take work

After a lot of back and forth, I bought clipless pedals. I had toe clips on my last bike, and they were fine but a little bit of a pain now and then. For September, I just used the pedals that came with my bike. They were fine except on wet days: I’d hit a few hills where I didn’t downshift enough and my feet would slip off.

I celebrated my 100 percent commute rate for September by buying clipless pedals and shoes. I was initially going to go with the standard Shimano SPD setup and possibly dual-use pedals (cleat hardware on one side, standard cage on the other), but noticed Shimano’s selling a line of clipless pedals and shoes branded as “Click’R.” They’re supposed to be easier to get in and out of, which was a concern for me because everybody said “if you go clipless, you’ll fall over some time in your first week.” So rather than going with the half-measure, I just bought Click’R stuff.

The Click’R line involves a slightly different pedal construction and standard SPD cleats, along with shoes that I think are a little more built for street wear. The pedals are also multi-use, so it’s possible to use them for short rides without cleats. The guy at Bike Gallery installed the pedals for me and set the tension very low. I went out in the side parking lot and practiced clicking in and out 20 or 30 times, then took off for work.

I haven’t fallen over yet, but clipless pedals weren’t completely trouble free to begin with. You have to set up your cleats with a little care to make sure the pedal is properly aligned with your foot. I set mine up kind-of-sort-of correctly and began to notice two things: My left foot was turned in a little (bad alignment of the cleat along the length of my foot), which caused me a little knee discomfort; and both feet were sore from my toes trying to grip something when I pedaled.

I paid very close attention to this video on proper cleat setup, made a few adjustments, and I’ve had a week of much smoother riding. No more inward turn, the knee pain is gone, and it’s easier to adopt the sort of shuffling pedaling motion you’re supposed to have when you’re clipped in. I don’t think about my feet, either. I just click in and start going and there’s no more foot stress.

The big difference I’ve noticed in my rides has come from better pedaling technique: When I’m doing it right, I’m exerting less force in a way that used to cause my upper body to move more when I pedaled. Now, with that shuffling stroke, my upper body has an easier time staying still and that makes for a ride that feels smoother and more anchored.

Lower gears are better

When I first got my new bike, I was pretty excited about how fast I could go on it. I lived up on the third ring and sort of mashed along at high speed. After a few weeks, I read that the middle cog is traditionally the cruising cog, so I dropped down to that, but still stayed up on the high gears. In the past few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with lower and lower gears, and I’ve found that spinning along around the middle of the middle cog is just about right for me. I’m moving about as fast as I was when I was mashing in the upper gears, but it feels better (and it contributes to the smoother ride I’ve been getting by improving my pedaling technique). It also makes hills less traumatic: one long pull on the STI shifters gets me down to a climbing gear, and three clicks at the top gets me back to a cruising gear that doesn’t take a ton of effort to get moving with again. There are a few hills I don’t even think about anymore because there’s less wandering around the gears.

You won’t please everybody

A short list of things I have gotten yelled at for on the Springwater:

  • Using my bell to warn people I’m coming up on them (“Whatever!”)
  • Not using my bell to warn people I’m coming up on them
  • Saying “on your left” before passing (“GOOD FOR YOU!”)
  • Not saying “on your left” before passing (that guy chased me for a block, yelling at me that he was going to kick my ass) (we were on opposite sides of the widest part of the trail with nobody else around)
  • Blinking lights (“disco, motherfucker!”)
  • Steady lights (“FUCK YOUR LIGHTS!”)
  • Yielding the right of way to a driver who had the right of way
  • Failing to cross against a signal

I had one close shave with someone who just turned across a bike crossing without looking, and I had one close shave from someone who yielded the right of way at an intersection, then rescinded the offer as I passed in front of them. I think someone thought the whole “lunge at the bicyclist with your car” thing was a playful joke I might enjoy. Good one!

But, you know, over 800 or so miles that averages out to someone being unhappy with me about once every 80 miles. I’ve since settled into just using my bell (people who are walking or riding along and talking or listening to music don’t hear spoken warnings without me shouting, which just makes them angry) and I’m firmly in the “your attempt at rules-of-the-road-negating ‘courtesy’ will get someone killed, so I’m not budging until your arm falls off from gesticulating at me” camp.

Lights are a conundrum. Too bright or angled too high, and they’re obnoxious. Angled too low and they make the Springwater at night a pretty iffy proposition, considering how many people there are on foot wearing nothing reflective, or salmoning up the trail with no lights. My takeaway so far: I’ve adapted to bright lights on other bikes by looking down at the side of the path until they’re past, and I just keep my light at the lowest of the three brightness settings.

What I got over three months

So, from a dead stop of having not ridden to work in 18 months in July, to biking into work every day in September (and so far in October, with the exception of a single work-from-home day), this is what I got:

I was pretty saddle sore the first week or two, even at three days a week. My back wasn’t always happy, and my shoulders were sore, even though my new bike let me shift around a lot more than my old one. After a month, I wasn’t thinking about saddle soreness at all. I even did a 10-mile ride from a coworker’s house in my jeans without getting too sore. By mid-September, I wasn’t thinking about my shoulders or arms at all.

My overall sense of wind has been steadily improving. Now that I’m spinning more than I’m mashing, I’ve been experiencing a much more profound sense of stillness on my rides. That extends from the steady motion of my body to the ease of my breathing. Clipped in, properly seated, and resting on the brake hoods, I feel anchored and connected to my bike.

There’s been some work stress, but that hour on the bike at night gives me a ton of space to process it and come through the door in a better place for my family. The hour on the bike going in gives me valuable time to think about what’s coming for the day and gear up for it.

Without paying much attention to my diet — meaning I just sort of went with it when all that increased activity meant I wanted to eat like a horse, and I haven’t been denying myself much since my appetite settled down — I’m also down a bit over 17 pounds.

I guess the big downside is that winter is coming and I don’t think there’s any alternative but to keep the routine I’ve established. It’s been too good for me to stop, even if it means I’m going to be getting wet a lot.

© Michael Hall, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license.