So recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of personality. Why am I the way I am? I have to admit that I’m not always an easy person to deal with in the real world. I’m a bit tone-deaf, in terms of what I say. I’m very… blunt, though not in the “that dress looks like crap on you” sort of way. I just tend to say exactly what I’m feeling, without considering what that will mean for other people. Usually, this is a good quality: honesty is rarely a bad thing. But sometimes, it is. And in all the years that I’ve been on this earth and speaking in full sentences, I’ve had this problem. I haven’t learned to fix it. I haven’t gained any wisdom, beyond the realization that, as Popeye would say: “I yam what I yam.”
At work, this tendency toward total truth has made me very popular with my teenage students. Teenagers, after all, live in a world of absolute hypocrisy most of the time: one day someone is your “best friend,” and the next they’re telling everyone on Facebook that you’re a “slut.” Basically, I feel like they’re training to be adults, and like all novices, they’re using an exaggerated version of what they see the masters doing. So while kids appreciate my honesty, not everyone else does. Adults often function much like big teenagers, but with more subtlety. As I’m not their teacher, my grown-up contacts aren’t as thrilled by being told the absolute truth all the time.
(Note the highly-symbolic nature of this photo of a hawk besieged by crows. Nice, eh?)
I could argue that I’m just stubborn: after all, our greatest weaknesses are usually our greatest strengths in another form. I like being honest. I wouldn’t really want to be “better” at subversion, at obfuscation, at watering down my own emotions and beliefs. As I grow older, I know that most of my life is simply going to unfold they way it is going to unfold. The illusion of control is just that. So in the end, if my honesty gets me in trouble sometimes, so be it, right? But dang, there are days when it would be nice to have learned my lesson, and not have to fuss with the ramifications of who I now know I irrefutably AM.
Anyway, what does this have to do with riding? Well… not much. But it’s just part of my larger exploration of my own personality. If, after all these years of hurting or being hurt by my own big mouth, I haven’t changed, what else about me is rigidly true? What else resists any attempt to alter it? And if wisdom, if years of experience, have not “taught” me when to shut my trap, what else have I not learned? And why?
The answer, I think, is in my genes. I really believe this: we are fated to be who we are. This isn’t because some crinkly old women are sitting around weaving the thread of our lives, as the Norsemen believed. It isn’t “the will of God,” though sometimes I believe in Him, too. Who we are arises from our DNA, from our essential make-up. What we can’t change, exists because we were born that way (cue horrid Lady Gaga music here). I was born without a filter between my heart and tongue, and that’s just the way it is.
I was also born with a disease that is rooted in my genetic make-up. I can’t change it, anymore than I can change the way I talk. So recently I’ve been wondering more and more: how much of my personality roots itself in this disease, which I only recently defined? How much of our “health” influences the way we are? I think the answer is probably obvious now that I’ve asked the question (isn’t that always the way?), but it’s only just occurred to me.
When I ride, I feel a sense of physical freedom that I rarely experience in any other context. I’ll admit it: I ain’t no natural athlete. My mother used to tell the story of attending my first (and only) ballet recital. The teacher instructed all the little girls to “drift gently across the floor, like autumn leaves.” To hear my mother tell it, the other little girls drifted softly as kittens. And then there was me, thumping across the wooden boards like a donkey. “So,” my mother asked after we finished, “how’s she doing?”
“Well…” the teacher hedged, “she tries harder than any other child in the class.”
Now, like many of my mother’s stories, this is probably exaggerated. Probably. But no one has ever admired me for my physical grace. I’m not awkward, exactly, but I’m not going to woo anyone with my ability to move without running into a coffee table (or the wall, for that matter). I tend to bump into things, hard. I trip a lot. I drop things. If I’m not falling down, I’m so afraid of it that I’m nearly paralyzed. Really, you should see me on a ski slope. It’s sad. My son and I get off the lift at the top of the bunny hill and he smiles at me: “See you at the bottom, Mama,” and fifteen minutes and a thousand turns later, I join him. The one time My Skiing Madman dragged me up onto a long, intermediate run, I was so terrified that I arrived at the bottom covered in sweat despite the fact that we were night skiing in February. At that point, I’d had lessons for three winters in a row!
So why is riding any different? Well, possibly because I’ve been doing it for so long that I’m good at it. But I suspect that in fact, it isn’t any different. I’ve had some serious falls, after all, breaking bones and nearly breaking my head. The only reason I get back on a bike each week is that I’m stupidly stubborn. I’m not going to change; I love to ride, and nothing will stop me, short of total disability.
Overall, though, my unathleticness (that’s a word, I swear. Just because no spell-checker recognizes it means nothing. Shakespeare invented lots of words) has echoes in many areas of my life.
Recently, I traveled down to San Jose, where one of my BFFs (I have two, and many other lovely friends who understand my worth) took me to see a concert by the multitalented and generally amazing English artist, Frank Turner.
I know. Who? Okay, he’s playing Wembley in Britain, and tiny, smokey little dives in the US. That you probably don’t know who he is reflects more about our media’s inability to distinguish talent from celebrity than it does about Frank, trust me. I had never heard of him, either, but one show got me hooked.
(warning, there’s some swearing in that one. Some people, I know, are easily offended by such things. Or you’re at work: quick, click on something else!)
My friend D had another friend who met us there. I really liked her, as she was one of the few people I’ve ever met with a smaller filter than I have! A very tall, prettily-blowsy woman, with lipstick that was just ever so slightly outside the bounds of her lips and hair that was falling out of what was probably a nice chignon that morning, she greeted us with: “I think I’m already drunk!” Later she told me: “I knew I would love you, because D loves you, and I love her!” Seriously, she’d known me for less than an evening at that point, and our entire conversation had consisted of her yelling completely obscene come-ons at Frank (who I’m pretty sure couldn’t hear her) and then telling me, again, that he was the “greatest, hottest singer on earth!” I’m not sure this is fully true, but I was happy to nod a lot and enjoy her enthusiasm.
About an hour into his show, she grabbed me by the hand and shouted “I want to be close enough to feel Frank’s sweat, and you’re coming up with me!” Then she dragged me up to within ten feet of the stage, placing herself without apology in front of many much shorter people. I was doing the embarrassed “heh heh, isn’t she drunk?” shrug way more than I liked to at this point. But then something happened: I realized that everyone else was dancing, making-out, laughing and shouting, and I was just standing there. When, I thought, did I become such a fuddy-duddy?
Oh yeah, I’ve always been a fuddy-duddy.
First off, I don’t really drink. I probably have three cocktails a year, mostly because The Handsome One makes them for himself and gives me a serving. They’re generally highly fruity and lightly alcoholic. I hate, hate, hate being buzzed. I hate the way my head feels: that sensation that when you look too rapidly to one side, the whole world keeps going and then snaps back into place. The first, and last time I consumed alcohol in front of my colleagues, I spent the night in the bar’s bathroom sobbing for no real reason. Also, I talk more.
Secondly, I don’t do drugs. I never have. Really. I’m not making this up.
So I’m a total square. I have had… um… a few relationships in my time, but that’s my only form of wild-and-crazy rebellion. I just don’t party hardy. Never have, never will. So I’m not much fun, you know, in that way.
I used to dance sometimes at clubs, but I wasn’t actually any good. The fact that everyone else was smashed was a huge benefit there. Otherwise, someone would have noticed my relative ineptitude. I’m no Elaine on Seinfeld, but I’m not going to win Dancing with the Stars anytime soon, trust me.
I find public physicality rather embarrassing actually. Before I got sick, I often went rock climbing. I wasn’t any good at this, either, and no matter how many lessons I took, I didn’t get any better. Now I understand why: I have nerve damage in my spine, legs and arms, and that makes it hard to lift one’s leg up to one’s waist while simultaneously pulling oneself up onto a ledge the width of a pencil. But even more than my frustration with my own inability, I was often ashamed of how lame my climbing was. I mean, I had a climbing gym membership, and I used it! Often! So how come, when I got out on the rock, I found myself stumbling over things I knew I could probably nail if no one was watching me? Why do I hate hiking with others? Riding in groups? Why am I so determinedly anti-team?
Well, I’ve always been sick. Just because I didn’t know it, doesn’t make it less true. I’ve always had problems with my ability to perceive my body’s location in space. I’ve had nerve damage since high school. I’ve always been prone to falling, to running into things (and people), to missing the ball or the ledge or the target. So how did that innate lack of athleticism affect my feelings about exercise? How did it affect my desire to dance in public?
Could one of the reasons I’m a fuddy-duddy at rock concerts not just be that I don’t drink, but because I can’t move like other people?
Are there a lot of rhetorical questions in this entry?
Again, by the time I get around to asking the question, I’ve probably figured out the answer. I’m a bit saddened by the truth of it. It would be nice to believe that once or in the future I was going to suddenly be that graceful, liquid dancing machine that I am in my heart. Alas, it just isn’t meant to be.
But I had fun at Frank Turner’s concert, anyway. And I’m still riding my bike.
My favorite Frank lyric, which is oddly applicable here, from “Love Ire and Song”:
“Well we’ve been a good few hours drinking/ So I’m going to say what everyone’s thinking/ If we’re stuck on this ship and it’s sinking/ Then we might as well have a parade.”
He’s talking about political protest, but frankly (it’s a pun, I know. Isn’t that awesome?), it fits here too.
And come on, admit it: you didn’t want to read another entry about riding the Interurban Trail for an hour before dusk, anyway.