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Archive for August, 2011

The race: Wilkes-Barre Twilight Crit, Category 4/5
The result: 21st
The story:

I know this is going to be hard to believe for a lot of people, but yes, I did race my bike in eastern Pennsylvania yesterday afternoon. Fortunately, at the time of my race, Hurricane Irene hadn’t moved far enough north to affect Wilkes-Barre.

Still, it had rained off-and-on during the day, and storm clouds were looming when I pulled into town a few hours before the race set off. I used some time to drive around and see how things had changed since I lived there. I went over the Eagle Bridge to Kingston to see where my great grandmother lived and went to church, saw some other places. It hadn’t changed all that much.

What also hadn’t changed much was the road surface. I did this race last year, and some of the same obstacles remained — a manhole cover in the middle of a 90-degree turn, exactly where you’d want to go; a few metal grates and road depressions along the finishing straight.

But since I’d done it before, I knew what to expect. One thing I didn’t expect was a prime on the very first lap, which seemed like a recipe for disaster. Racers are already geared up, and setting a prime for the first lap seemed like a way to push that nervousness over the edge into Accident Canyon.

Fortunately, nobody crashed or took a corner too fast. So, uh, kudos 4/5 field. I spent the first few laps gaining confidence in my ability to take the corners, and by lap six I moved to the front to test my legs. I hadn’t raced in a month and didn’t know what to expect out of them.

But even if my legs weren’t sharp, I felt pretty good and moved back to take cover in the bunch. The group strung out whenever there was a prime lap, but always regrouped. No organized breaks got away. The laps ticked down and it became apparent the race would end in a bunch sprint finale.

Normally, I’d be content to sit in, then make my way toward the front for that finish. But I was fairly certain this would be my final race of the season, and I’ve always wanted to take a solo flier.

I made that bid for glory on the final lap, but being a rookie at such efforts, I made it in rookie fashion. I launched it from too far out and didn’t do it hard enough — for crying out loud, I could hear people saying, “On the left!” before I even passed them.

But I went with it, and another racer told me I had 15-20 bike lengths. By the time I hit the midway point of the headwind-riddled finishing stretch, I knew it wasn’t going to work.

Had I waited a few hundred meters longer or launched the attack with greater surprise, I would have finished higher. But I’m glad I did it; I wouldn’t have won a bunch sprint, anyway. Maybe next season I’ll make one stick.

Fundraiser update:
Smoketown Criterium – 24th (worth $5)
Tour of Mt. Nebo – 9th (worth $10)
Rodale Park Crit – 10th (worth $10)
Coatesville Road Race – ? Seriously, my name isn’t on the results. (worth $0)
Arsenal Crit – 13th (worth $10)
Liberty Crit – 32nd (worth $0)
Robeson Road Race – 10th (worth $10)
Wilkes-Barre Twilight Crit – 21st (worth $5)
___________________________________
End total: A clean $50

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Hurricane Irene has thankfully passed my area without too much damage, but it still has me thinking about how people deal with the aftermath of disaster.

The level of damage a natural disaster causes varies, of course, and I’m very fortunate to have never experienced any serious level.

But I can’t help thinking one particular thought when I see pictures of the aftermath. Whether it’s a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, flood, fire, or something else, I usually end up noticing something that hasn’t been destroyed.

Take, for instance, this picture of damage caused by the Joplin tornado in May:

The tornado was devastating. It killed hundreds of people, destroyed thousands of homes and caused billions of dollars worth of damage. But there, in that picture, is a refrigerator door with a still-full gallon of milk and bottles of ketchup, mustard and other condiments. To the left, there’s a row of drawers with their handles intact.

I remember looking at one picture from the tornado in which a woman stood in the remnants of her house, surveying the damage. The house had been destroyed, but beside her was a still-standing wall with a cabinet still attached, and in that cabinet were glasses, still stacked and unbroken. For all of the devastation, they were untouched.

And I’m not quite sure what to do with that feeling. Because I don’t think they serve as silver linings; that’s a cop-out resolution that doesn’t take into account the large-scale damage, or the loss of lives and security for those affected.

It doesn’t take into account that in the background of the first picture, behind all the items I mentioned is a pile of rubble and a car turned upside-down. It doesn’t take into account that in the other picture, the woman’s exterior walls had been knocked down and her roof blown off.

It’s too micro a focus.

So while a disaster might not destroy every single item in every single corner of every single life, it’s still a disaster. I couldn’t begin to know how that affects a person, materially and emotionally.

And what of people who don’t have a lot possessions that could be destroyed? Victims of famine, who don’t have food or water? People so impoverished they don’t have access to the most basic medical care?

I’m not in the business of ranking hardships, and I’m not sure it’s a great thing to just say there’s usually someone worse off, because that diminishes individual suffering. No amount of suffering is good. No amount of aftermath should occur in a perfect world.

Trying to prevent and help alleviate it when it does happen are probably the best actions that can be taken.

It’s a matter of privilege for me to be in a position to do so, and that, to me, is similar to the undestroyed items in photographs. It’s humbling.

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*Rabbit Hole Warning. This will be a long, kind of meandering post, but I think exploring something worthwhile. There are about 500 maybes toward the end, precisely because I just don’t know. I’m re-reading it and think it kind of stinks, but hey, how crappy would it be for me to delete this, of all posts?

Maybe I’m wrong, but the perplexing thing about openness is it doesn’t seem like a reflex these days. It takes work to be open — truly honest and open, with no shield.

Before I go further, let’s define “open,” particularly the levels and types. Being open as a government means something different than it does to be open as a friend, spouse or co-worker, than it does to be open as a leader, community or other group of people.

For the purposes of this post, I’ll focus on interpersonal relationships (though some of the ideas can apply to other kinds of relationships.) That’s where many of the ideas come from, and openness is valued within them because the degree to which you’re open roughly correlates with the degree of closeness you have.

And it works for all kinds of 1-to-1 relationships.

As colleagues, if you’re open, you can form healthy working relationships built on respect. You respect another’s role and job, you give constructive criticism and praise when you think it’s merited. You work toward a common goal if you have one. You do not act dishonestly in an effort to advance your own agenda.

As friends or family, if you’re open, you share stories, random thoughts and emotions, offer support for problematic times, develop unique relationships based on shared experiences — maybe even your own language. The degree to which that’s true depends on how good a friend/close a family member the other person is, and it’s certainly not true in all cases. But generally, you can be open because these people will not run away screaming.

For spouses, the same is true, just with an added level of intimacy. Lovers or sex partners don’t necessarily need a deep friendship history, but in any sexual relationship, openness and honesty are needed, just as respect is needed. You cannot arrive at enthusiastic consent without being open. There’s no room for ambiguity, and if there is ambiguity, that should be your signal not to move forward.

With that said, it’s also pretty easy to identify barriers to openness. Let’s start with a big one.

Lies

This is an incredibly broad category. There are big lies, like telling a potential employer, “Sure, I went to Harvard law school.” And of course, there are small, so-called white lies. Fibs like, “I’d love some dessert,” when you’re rather full.

Either way, they’re usually used for some personal gain — whether it’s staying in someone’s good graces, to placate somebody, to extract some benefit from a situation, to avoid an unpleasant situation.

You ever say, after eating the meal a friend made, “Eh, that was okay”? Likely not, because you’re supposed to say it was good even if it wasn’t, and you’re supposed to soften any criticism you do have as a matter of politeness. But that only gets you off the hook, while the friend isn’t really sure what to think, and that doesn’t help. (Though, that’s not to say that you have to be a jerk when you’re honest.)

The lie is also active; you have to say something blatantly untrue. That’s not the case for another type of obstacle toward openness.

Hiding the truth

I can remember several incidents during my childhood where my parents would get very frustrated trying to extract information from my brother, who was an exceptionally well built secret pinata as a kid. You’d hit it with a question, and only a few pieces of candy would fall out. Ask another question, and few more pieces fall. Eventually you’d want to blast it with a mighty swing.

He wasn’t telling outright lies. He told the truth, but it was sometimes not the complete truth.

Many people have done this, and for a person too smart for his or her own good, this can seem like a loophole. But it’s just shitty.

Let’s not leave me out of this. I’ve done it. Hell, I was called an enigma in college because I was unreadable and shared little with anybody. I’ve hidden details because I’m too embarrassed to admit them, to avoid uncomfortable situations and prevent me from hurting someone.

Except, the hiding hurts more.

By hiding your thoughts or facts, you’re closing the door. You’re saying you trust someone only so much, value closeness with that person only so much. You’re saying you’d rather have them wonder and wait than hash something out, than say something that might be uneasy for them to hear. You’re choosing security of self over mutual understanding. And you’re not respecting the other person’s ability to handle the truth.

Do this enough and people will quit on you. You can’t hide and still be someone’s good friend, a good family member, spouse colleague or lover.

Another form of hiding occurs when you just keep silent. You’re not trying to be secretive, but you start to ignore and reduce communication, drifting out of the relationship slowly but surely.

No, you don’t have to be super close to everybody you meet. And there are times when it’s proper to stay closed. For instance, if somebody came up to the A Woman’s Place table during an event, all agitated and asking questions about the shelter, I’d shut down or notify the proper authorities.

But that’s not the type of relationship I’m writing about. Generally, lack of openness isn’t a good pretense.

So why does it seem like there are so many instances of people not being completely open and honest?

Maybe we’re not used to it as a society. Maybe we’re largely selfish and figured out, by accident or experience, that we can lie or hide truths for personal gain and get away with it pretty easily. Maybe it’s not even that extreme.

Maybe we figure we can put off the honesty until later, when the awkward is thick and we have to cut it down with openness. Even when people are able to be open with each other, there are sometimes periods when people aren’t, and the anxiety starts to build. They hide, if momentarily. And while it’s good to clear the air, you ever think about why it needs to be cleared in the first place?

Really, maybe it’s because being open requires you to be uncomfortable and vulnerable sometimes, to take chances and risk making somebody upset. Maybe it’s because having a truly open relationship requires both parties or people being open.

And by open, I don’t mean open like a water tap, where all your thoughts stream out, one after the other in a deluge of words. Open doesn’t mean talkative.

Open means accessing your true thoughts and emotions and sharing them. It means taking a moment to quiet yourself so you can search inside and pull out something true, it’s getting the words past your throat when they’re ready.

Because to be candid rather than canned is worth it, and necessary for a strong relationships, even if it takes work not to pass on the moment of honesty. Honestly.

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