Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Punks, mourning and motivation

This weekend someone stole my bicycle and then also took the time to steal the mirrors off my moped and let some air out of the tires. Obviously, god wants me to ride the bus more often.

Here are two scenarios of what I imagine the thief or thieves were thinking:

"Well, this cool bike that some idiot didn't lock up has some actual street value, so that's going to put some cash in my pocket. Hmmm. now that I've taken care of the income-generating portion of the evening, I think I'm in the mood for some random maliciousness."


"I hate that bitch who's always riding around the neighborhood on her stupendously flaming and awesome yellow moped. She needs to suffer some, so I'm gonna deflate just enough of the tires so that when she tries to ride it she won't be able to steer and I'll laugh at her. Oh, hey, the fool didn't lock up this bike. Mine, now!"

I miss my bike! My little La Chiska, I mourn you. I hope you aren't lonely or scared out in the wide, wide world. I think, however, that you have the inner strength to survive and grow. Please forgive me for not locking you up, as I had grown lazy and complacent. Godspeed, my friend.

My renter's insurance is going to reimburse me for the value of the bike plus my estimation of parts and equipment I'd bought over the years. And the new mirrors are on the way, so everything is fine, really. Except that it irks me that someone could be so mean-spirited. Taking my bike I can sort of understand in an opportunistic, economic free-for-all way, but tampering with my moped? That's just crummy.

As part of my 2005 resolutions, I decided to stop watching TV on an experimental basis. I began in February by giving a friend custody of my cable cord and I've since canceled my TV subscription entirely.

I can't say that not watching TV has caused any grand epiphanies. I'm a bit disappointed, actually, because I thought I'd suddenly tap into a deeply buried creative part of myself or at least go out for walks more often or keep a cleaner house.

All that's happened so far is that I take a long nap everyday after work and I've racked up some fines checking out tons of movies at the library.

I don't miss commercials, and I don't miss the doom and gloom of local and national news broadcasts. But I do miss programs, because there really is some fine entertainment on the tube.

Mostly, I miss being in the loop, especially during major events like Hurricane Katrina. I have a coworker that has a majority of her family living in New Orleans. Most of them evacuated, but there are a few she hasn't been able to contact. Everyday this week I've made an insensitive or stupid comment to her because my lack of a news source has made me ignorant of how dire the situation is becoming. Only today, after surfing some news sites and looking at photos am I beginning to understand that an entire city and it's unique culture, which I have visited once and which made a strong impression on my imagination, may simply cease to exist in any recognizable way. It horrifies the mind, and yet the world keeps on revolving.

A friend has planted a seed in my mind that I should join the local FIT and train for a half-marathon. I'm at a point lately where I'm just not convinced that I particularly like running. But now I don't have a bike! And I just canceled my gym membership. I need to do some sort of exercise. I think I can probably work up to running 13 miles, but the question for me is whether it would be a chore or an enjoyable challenge. One thing this summer lull in regular exercise has taught me is that enjoyment is fairly critical to my motivation. I think what I need to do is sit down, reorganize my budget and see if I can afford some regular dance or movement-based classes.

Here's a quote I've been mulling lately, by Andre Gide: "One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time."

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Magical Mystery Ride

Piggybacking on my last post, here is a brief recap of another core city ride Rainey and I did this weekend:

The ride started with a quick jaunt to the farmer's market, where we both bought zinnia bouquets and Texas peaches. We followed that up with a ride downtown to hang out for a bit at a coffeeshop and to buy some earrings.

And then, I easily talked Rainey into riding deep into the South side of town to a botanica I've always wanted to visit out of (respectful) curiosity. It's interesting to me that places like this exist and/or co-exist along with a culture that is traditionally Catholic or christian evangelical.

There certainly is an interesting blend of spirtualism in the local area. For example, every year during the Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration the local cemeteries are filled with families bringing flowers and decorations and tokens for their loved ones (beer seems to be a popular token). But if you walk around these cemeteries, every once in a while you'll see a grave with a bag of trash on it, signaling that someone is still fairly pissed off. It's a different concept of the divide between the living and the dead than what I, with my abstract, intellectual Protestantism, grew up with.

Now, while the Day of the Dead celebration acknowldeges a certain mystery and mystecism about death, a botanica is just a full-on black magic shop acknowledging all kinds of otherwordly forces and powers.

Anyway, we arrived at our destination after a few miles:

The other side of this building is a fish supply store: Papa Jim's Aquarium. Go figure.

Here are some of the hundreds of magical waters available for purchase at Papa Jim's, though these are all available in different forms, such as in perfumes, soaps, floorwashes, powders, oils, bathsalts, candles and sprays:

African Voodoo Water: used to add strength to one's will and determination
Lonely Soul water (Al Anima Sola): used to help the spirits cross over when someone dies
As You Please water: Makes others do as you please: good for disobedient children
Bend Over water (Inclinarse): gives you power over others, bends them to their knees
Black Chicken water (Gallina Negra): removes jinx
Bring Back Lover water: use to bring that special someone back to you
Damnation Water: used to cause great distress and bad luck to your enemies
Jury Winning Water: use to have power and success over jury
Law Stay Away (contra la ley): keeps the law away and stops them from harassing you
Lucky Bingo water: brings you luck in bingo, Anoint corners of bingo cards
Never Forget Me and Love Me Forever water: you will always be on your partner's mind
Quick Job water (trabajo pronto): when seeking employment wear this for fast success
Special #20 water: loosen someone's tongue, make them tell you the truth
Stay At Home water: put this on a wandering mate to keep them at home where they belong
Stop Bill Collectors water: use to keep all the bill collectors from bothering you everywhere
To Get Rid Of water (sal para fuera): sprinkle in the path of someone you need to get rid of
Wealthy Way water: used to help make you rich
Weed Of Misfortune water: causes you enemies to loose everything they own

My favorite was a soap called "Yo Puedo Mas Que Tu" or "I Can More Than You", which is used to have more power than anyone else. Ever. Categorically. Sort of seems like there should be a "nanny-nanny-boo-boo" along with that one, though.

I was secretly hoping that in perusing the shelves I might find a magical potion called "Lethargy Begone" or "Light Fire Under Butt" or even Chris' famous "Dig In and Push." I'd seriously buy me those in bulk and bathe in the water twice a day, like a faithful, pious and fervent believer.

All in all, it was a 25+ mile bike day, and educational, to boot. I'm thinking my next destination ride will involve a tour of historical cemeteries and/or churches or maybe a full-moon ride one fine evening. My bike, she is my muse!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Be like Lance, sorta kinda

My friend Rainey is like my patron Saint of exercise. Without her calling me up asking me out for swims or walks or bike rides, I don't think I'd have gotten exercise at all this summer. She doesn't seem to realize that it's hot, dammit and therefore sitting on my butt is justifiable. She's always emailing me at work, a few hours before quitting time, making biking or swimming sound like the perfect after-work apertif. And, usually, it really is perfect, once we get going and start shooting the bull, at which we are quite talented.

Our bike rides are the best, because while we work up a sweat, there's something recreational and leisurely and goofy about them. We're just sort of tooling around the neighborhood, seeing what there is to see. Sometimes we run errands, sometimes we take long pauses in between to eat ice cream or check out a store.

Both Rainey and I used to ride frequently with several local cycyling groups. The groups organize rides, usually of 30 miles or more every weekend. Those rides are fun, but neither of us has done them in over a year. The problem is multi-spronged: for one, the vast majority of these rides take place on the far-flung edges of the city, along highway access roads or country backroads, which poses a transportation problem for me since a car is required to reach these places. Two, these rides are usually peopled by road racers with fancy equipment intent on getting in a hard-core training ride, which certainley has it's purposes, but which usually leaves me on my mountain bike in the dust, annoyed and demoralized. And three, the routes are repetitive and I've done quite a few of them already.

So I've been mulling the idea of starting my own bike club, or of at least generating some bike route maps and posting them to some local websites (if anyone knows how to generate such a map, let me know!). There are so many interesting routes in the city core, near where I live, that I think other cyclists would enjoy. A few nights ago I showed Rainey a 20-mile route that goes through a historical district and then gradually climbs into a neighborhood called Inspiration Hills with views of downtown. Here's a hazy shot of our teeny downtown skyscape:

I've been inspired by some of the bike activities going on in Portland, Oregon, which VJ does such a good job of documenting. During this suumer's Pedalpalooza activities, for example, the folks in Portland organized thematic rides, such as the "donut" ride which involved riding to different donut places, sampling the wares, and then riding on to the next destination. Brilliant! Other rides had to do with star-gazing, mystery destinations, taco tours, biking to a movie theatre for a movie, etc... I would have a blast planning rides like those.

I think there are two categories of cyclists, with many shades in-between: those who use the bike for a workout and those who use the bike for exploration/utilitarian purposes. I fall into the latter camp. I like to bike to either get somewhere specific or to check interesting places out.

Once we got to the top of our hill Rainey and I hung out for a while, being goofy. Here we are with our best Lance Armstrong impressions, after our grueling ascent:


I went to the doctor this week for some doctor stuff and she told me, very nicely, that I might want to consider losing 20 pounds. That's the first time a doctor has ever made any recommendations about my weight. I made a noncommital noise, because, really, she can't force me to lose weigh if I don't want to, but I did feel chastised nevertheless.


Have I mentioned what an obsessive list-maker I am? I gathered most (not all!) of my current lists together this weekend in the hopes of consolidating them, to no avail. Here's the evidence (I even have typed lists!). Still, compiling them makes me feel so happy and, briefly, organized and calm. It's a sickness, I know:

Some of these lists pertain to my planned vacation in September to San Francisco, for a friend's wedding. I'm tentatively planning an extravaganza of physical adventures, like dance classes, biking and walking tours, maybe a rowing or outrigger canoe class, plus some of the normal tourist stuff. If anyone has any suggestions for other things to see/try/do, such as a good place to go hiking, pass it along.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Beauty, and Pedro the Cranky Taco Guy

I only just saw the Dove ads a few weeks ago. Since then, I've read a few blog entries, articles and commentaries on them.

I saw the first ad in an Oprah magazine I scanned in line at the grocery store. I didn't realize it was an ad, and thought the magazine was running an article on body image. My heart actually lifted in my chest looking at the picture of these women posing in their underwear, I felt a flush of anticipation and a thrill of giddiness. I felt an electric spark of recognition, an expanding sensation of possibilities.

I suddenly coveted that magazine with a fierce, obsessive determination, but I couldn't spare the money so I put it back on the shelf with a promise that I'd hunt that edition down at a discount book store and buy it. And I did, I went looking and didn't find it, but it still lingered in my mind, that image. I needed to find it again, to examine those women's bodies in leisurely detail! It wasn't until a week or so later that I realized the picture I'd seen was part of an ad campaign and I could open any recent women's magazine and see the same ad, an ad that is advertising an anti-cellulite cream.

So what is it about these ads that made me react with such obsession? There are critics who call these women fat and unattractive; there are some who say the women are beautiful despite their larger thighs and softer flesh. I hate that qualification, that word: despite. How about, beautiful because of their substantive thighs and fleshier torsos? That's how I see it. I suppose these critical comments only confirm for me that beauty is all about perspective, that how we see beauty is entirely something that we can train our eyes to see or not see, according to our own preferences and psychology.

I don't see what these critics see. I think these photos are perfection.

My eyes see women who are sublime, healthy, vital, comfortable. I think I've trained my mind and eyes, over the years and on my own journey to accepting my body, to prefer this sort of female figure. It's hard for me to fathom that not everyone sees the same thing, that not everyone agrees these women are radiant and that their bodies are patently fabulous.

I know the ad campaign is complicated by the fact that women's bodies are nevertheless being used in the service of capitalism; I know there is some question of whether or not any airbrushing was done on the models; I know that an ad like this still has the power to make a woman size 14+ feel inadequate; I know that people will continue to define their own versions of beauty regardless of this one ad campaign.

And yet, I'm thrilled at this small blip on the radar screen of popular culture because it may force some people to think about how and why beauty has become defined and codified by a relatively small cabal of advertising execs and beauty industry employees. There really are so many different ways of seeing and appreciating.

Here's an analogy: some people may think a spacious, modern-style house is the height of housing nirvana. I think those houses are ugly as sin. I myself know a shabby, tiny, slightly seedy looking house would make me swoon with delight, because that's where I see beauty. And maybe I've just been trained to see that way, to carry my own values and upbringing into the way my eyes perceive a random collection of woods and nails and dirt.

The problem is that while people may privately have their own beauty ideals, the mainstream American media is far too often guilty of just presenting one ideal. In terms of physical beauty, they have one tall, thin ideal. It's not that mainstream models are not "real" -- of course they are real, living women who don't deserve to be hated -- it's that popular culture has the power to enforce and cultivate desire and to imply that anything outside the realms of that desirable body is shameful. Only showing one image, one body as desirable, over and over again in magazines and movies and television, can inspire a sense of invisibility and worthlessness in anyone who doesn't fit that ideal.

I really don't understand the big deal. What's so threatening or unusual or freakish about using all kinds of different models to sell products?

But the fact that I get fucking ecstatic and my heart skips a beat -- like I'm looking at some forbidden, taboo pleasure -- when I see an ad like this, surely is indicative of how sweet and rare it is to see anything that strays, even momentarily and not very radically, from the standard ideal.

A few entries back I mentioned a day where I was struggling with a pervasive sense of anger.

Sadly, I haven't been able to shake it, along with a nasty case of dissatisfaction. I may well be on my way to bitterness, soon, and after that it's just a long, slow descent into recriminations, defensiveness, fatalism and a victim mentality. Also, wearing all black and slouching.

It's still little things that are bothering me. Like a diversity workshop for my job, where the trainer, with great use of dramatic pauses, announced that Leonardo DaVinci and Michelangelo were G-A-Y, obviously expected this to blow our minds and expand our consciousness. Or the mass of my female friends who suddenly are getting engaged or swept off their feet. Or the fact that my dishes never ever clean themselves, the bastards.

I saw this advertisement on the side of a building yesterday, and it summarizes exactly how I feel: cranky and absurd.

This anger must be trying to tell me something. I think the anger is a sign that I care really, really strongly about some things. You know, I'm not a person who believes in the pursuit of and inalienable right to the elusive "happy". I don't think such an end goal exists. And yet, I have this vast well of wants, of imagined destinies. In fact, I'm slightly horrified by my own wants, my insatiable desire sometimes to just go out and ravish the world, devour it -- it's unseemly, this emotional appetite.

Today I was trolling the Internet for celebrity gossip and was reading rather cursorily about Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt. She was quoted as saying that the break-up of their marriage wasn't due to a disagreement over children, but that she wants and will have children. That she will have "it all".

Something about that perspective made me want to crouch beside the Jennifer Aniston in my mind and say to her "Stop it. Stop wanting it all. I can't have it, and neither can you. Just stop deluding yourself."

Part of what I've been feeling is isolated, bereft, even when surrounded by people. Like I'm a transparent overlay floating over a scene, part of it but not touching. Like I'm the outer layer of a two-paned window, or of a thermos, or an airplane hull -- the hard shell that's separated from its mate by a vacuum of air, removed from the warmer things closer to the center.

Because this is, supposedly, a fitness blog, here's a rundown of my physical pursuits in the past few weeks:

Running: infrequent, but still hanging in there
Swimming: a few times a week, a fair mixture of laps and lazing around on my back
Dancing: some salsa classes where my two left feet are in obnoxious rare form
Roller skating: a sally to check out the local roller-derby girls, wherein I discovered that the roller rink is the perfect place to upgrade my acquaintance with Top 40 hits
Biking: a lovely 10-mile ride at dusk
Walking: pounding the pavement with NPR as my faithful companion