Set Down that Heavy Load: The Things We Carry

When I was younger, I enjoyed the acquisition and accumulation of stuff. Clothing, books, cute knick-knacks, purses (because no purse is ever the perfect purse, but hope springs eternal).

My older sister went shopping for baby clothes with me when Eldest Daughter was but a newborn and distinctly remembers me saying, “Why buy one when three will do?” (In my defense I was talking about baby bonnets—I figured there would always be one in the wash and one misplaced somewhere. In this I was correct.)

In the same way I acquired thoughts and emotions. Packed ‘em around in my head for years sometimes. Chewed on old grudges, mourned old sorrows, felt guilty all over again for some dumb or cruel thing I did in high school. (Sorry, Tim T.—I should not have teased you.)

Then I began reading Buddhist thought by various writers. I discovered myself in those pages and realized that indeed, attachment causes suffering. Every time I dug up an old bone and chewed on it I left yet more toothmarks—on myself.

No one else learned any lessons or said they were sorry or changed their minds based on the scenes that played out in my overactive imagination and memory. Yet the body responds to those things in your head just as if they are real, so I got all the same adrenalin, accelerated pulse, and shallow breathing from an imaginary fight or debate as I had experienced in the real thing.

I began to say to myself, “Why dig those ruts any deeper?” I learned to stop myself when I started playing the tape over again (for you young ‘uns, think of that as hitting the left arrow button).  I began to set down the stuff I carried in my head.

Somewhere in one of the books I read I picked up the line, “Don’t let someone else live in your brain rent-free.” Every time I poked an old mental bruise, I once again gave that person or that incident residency in my brain. I gave away my energy for free.

There is a wonderful Buddhist story that illustrates this in the children’s book Kindness, a collection by an author in my hometown of Spokane.

The story describes two monks, one young and one old. The old one helps a woman cross a stream by carrying her on his back, which the young one considers a violation of their vows.

Hours after the incident he scolds the older monk, who replies, “I set that woman down beside the stream long ago. You have carried her all this time.” (Various versions of the two monks story can be found here.)

I try to set something down every so often, whether it’s a once-treasured possession I wouldn’t bother to replace if the house burned down (a new measuring stick I just learned) or a negative thought.

I asked my friends on Facebook what they carry, leaving it up to them whether they wanted to answer metaphorically or concretely. I got such wonderful answers that I’m saving them for a follow-up post. 

A teaser for that post: Some carried negative thoughts like those I describe here. Others, though, carry things like a song to sing, lessons learned from a beloved grandfather, optimism, and peace based on religious faith. You don't have to set down everything in your head. And I apparently have very practical friends, since among them they have everything from a multi-tool to a Swiss army knife and a tape measure to lip goop (always lip goop).

Your Turn
  • What do you carry?
  • What have you set down?
  • What are you still carrying that you would like to leave beside the stream?
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#LetsBlogOff Participating Blogs You Should Check Out

Those Nice Lady Drivers

I had such nice encounters with drivers today it’s worth blogging about as a thank-you.

After hearing the rain pouring down last night, I was delighted to wake up and find a crisp, sunny Saturday morning waiting for me. I was scheduled to speak at a bike commuting workshop at Sun People Dry Goods and would have ridden my bike no matter what, but I’d much rather arrive dry than damp.

So I dressed in my typical workday commuting outfit: Black knee-length skirt, black tights, black dress shoes, Smart Wool top, cardigan. Part of my point when I promote bike riding is that it’s entirely possible to ride in regular clothing as just another regular person, not a Spandex Superwoman, so I dressed the part.

After a fun workshop with Spokesman-Review Slice columnist Paul Turner, Cycling Spokane blogger John Speare, and Mother of Bike Education Eileen Hyatt, I headed homeward.

At a busy stoplight at Browne and Second, where I waited in the southbound lane second from the curb (the through lane for the left-hand turn I needed in the next block), a woman pulled up next to me in an SUV, rolled down her window, and said, “You look so cute! Keep it up.” We chatted briefly. She said she thought we really need more women riding bikes. The light turned green and away we went.

I took the eastbound left turn on 4th and waited at the stoplight at Division. A really huge SUV hung back about a half-block behind me. The lights rotated through a complete cycle and skipped us. I realized my bike wouldn’t trip the light sensor and the vehicle was too far back, so I waved the driver forward.

The vehicle eased up beside me and the passenger-side window rolled down. The woman driving said, “I was just trying to make sure I gave you plenty of room.”

“Thanks!” I said. “I just need you to trip the light because it’s not changing.”

“Okay; just wanted to make sure I didn’t crowd you.”

“Thank you so much! I really appreciate it!” The light changed and away we rolled.

No earthshaking revelations here—just two really pleasant encounters with friendly, supportive drivers on a sunny Saturday. Well worth noting.

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Losing Weight

No, this isn’t the grapefruit diet, or the all-you-can-eat diet, or the “use this one silly trick to blast stomach flab” diet. It’s the purse diet.

As in, when was the last time you took everything out of your purse and then decided what to put back in? Or—brace yourself—switched to a smaller purse?

That’s essentially what I did to move into panniers for bike commuting. It illustrates yet another of my life lessons learned from biking: If you can’t carry it, you don’t need it.

If you’ve ever ridden a heavy bike load up a steep hill, you know that you don’t want to carry excess weight (whether it’s on you or on the bike). I’m not talking about the crazy roadies who obsess over shaving 10 grams off the weight of their pedals—just your average concern for not working any harder than you have to.

When I started commuting, I’m reasonably sure I hauled a lot of extra weight because my instinct was simply to transfer my purse straight into my pannier. That way you get to carry not only the weight of the stuff, but the weight of the purse too.

But honestly, how much of that stuff that you carry do you ever really need? You’re carrying it “just in case.” Just in case what—you find yourself stranded 85 miles from the nearest Rite-Aid or 7-11 and you don’t have an emery board? (My mother always carried at least three.)

Honestly, how long will it be until you can get to a source of whatever it is you’re not carrying right this very second? And can you survive that long? Unless you’re a diabetic and looking at your insulin, I bet you’ll be okay.

Every so often I find that the little detritus has started to creep back in and the pouch of essentials I carry is inching upward. (And if I do carry an actual purse, as I do on the days I ride the bus, all bets are off. I rarely bother to clean out my purses because I use them so seldom.)

The basics? I use two pouches. One pouch has “me” stuff:
  • Bike wallet with ID, debit card, folding money, and a couple of essential cards (bus pass, insurance, library card, Rocket Bakery preloaded card for coffee)
  • Checkbook only on days I actually know I need to write a check
  • Lip balm or lipstick, although I keep those in my desk at work so technically I don’t “need” to carry them
  • Nail clippers (because I obsess about my fingernails in a highly unhealthy fashion and can’t stand it if I can’t immediately deal with a broken nail—and because they make a good emergency pair of scissors)
  • Keys (to get into my house and my office, silly--did you think I meant car keys?!)

The other pouch holds “tech”:
  • Smartphone
  • Extra battery for my phone (a work necessity)
  • Patch cable so I can use my phone as a tethered modem if need be
  • Flash drive
  • A couple of my business cards
  • Pen

That’s it for the basics. On work days I also carry my lunch, a water bottle, and a laptop with power cable (I bought an ultralight so this only represents about 3 pounds total).

Play Our Home Version:

  • What excess baggage do you carry? 
  • What would it tell me about you if I looked in your purse?
  • What are you afraid of if you don't carry this stuff?
  • When was the last time you actually used most of the things in your purse?
  • What's the worst thing that could happen? (In my case, if I'm not carrying the nail clippers I will chew on the rough edge in a most unladylike way. This is not a terminal disease but I prefer not to.)

Feel free to extend the meaning of "if you can't carry it, you don't need it" metaphorically. I've had thoughts that weighed me down and when I finally set them down and rolled away without looking back, I felt light as a feather.

Post inspired by “Instead of Driving . . . I Won a Pack!” on Kent’s Bike Blog. He won a pack and could have received a larger size, but said, “If I have too much space, I tend to take too much stuff.”

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Good Advice: Take It a Little Easier on Yourself, Sicko

Why I have time to write this post:

I ran across LetsBlogOff today thanks to Twitter.

I saw it because I had time to scroll through tweets and click links that caught my eye just because—not links that contribute to my professional knowledge or have something to do with one of my civic volunteer hats.

I had time to scroll through tweets because I went home sick instead of staying at work and powering through, which used to be my norm. “It just has to get done today. I should get it done.” (As I’ve written before, don’t should on yourself. Say that quickly and you’ll get the real meaning.)

I came home because I’ve given myself permission to be human. Being human means having limitations. Not only having them, but recognizing and respecting them.

Once upon a time I almost never got sick. I’m a pretty fanatical handwasher and user-of-paper-towel-to-open-rest-room-door, which helps. I’m also lucky in that I got a pretty good draw in genetic poker; my dad is 93, my mom is 89, and three of my four grandparents lived well into their 80s and 90s.

But in the last few years I’ve gotten knocked down—hard—about twice a year by some kind of bug. I get my flu shots faithfully and do think they help, as I often stay well when everyone else is tanking.

However, I am (ahem) getting an eensy-teensy bit older, as I have been known to lament. I stretch myself really thin between work, volunteering, and family, and sometimes don't have quite enough butter to cover the toast, if you know what I mean. I don't have time to go to yoga, which would help make me more mindful about my choices and priorities if I did. I'm setting myself up.

I finally caught on to a simple truth: Powering through does not make me get well faster. Quite the opposite, in fact—I drag out my recovery because I never really give it a chance.

In the bike world they say slow is smooth and smooth is fast. My sickness corollary would be that being sick (acknowledging it, really) is getting well.

Thanks to@Urbanverse for the RT of this post, Extraordinary Singleness of Purpose, which led me to the Let’s Blog Off world. This is my own advice to myself, not advice from someone else, but I think it fits the theme. And I have plenty more advice--see below.

The best advice I ever received, which was really supposed to be the point of this post, has to be 3 Things My Mother Taught Me.

Your Turn

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you? Or advice you recall and use regularly, even if it’s along the lines of “remember to set the liquid measuring cup on the counter instead of holding at eye level to get an accurate measurement” (thanks, Mom and Mrs. Eldridge who taught the 4-H cooking classes in Lewiston, Idaho).

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Seeing with New Eyes

By Andrew Coulter Enright. 
Used under Creative Commons license.
Taking up biking for transportation has given me the same experience that becoming a mother did. No, not endless anxiety, sleepless nights, and sh&*—well, at least not too much of the latter—but rather the experience of learning just how much the world was designed not for you, but against you, by people who do not share your particular circumstances.

You chose these circumstances. You love these circumstances and they bring you joy no matter what. But better design would make it a bit easier to enjoy these circumstances.

Disclaimer: I do not present these thoughts under the assumption that the entire world should be redesigned for new moms and women on bikes (although heavens, what a civilized world that would make).

I ask you only to consider what it might be like for someone whose circumstances differ from yours—to try to look through their eyes a bit and consider whether you can make some adjustments that accommodate more ways of viewing the world. We all wear blinders; can you take yours off?

I have never taken part in one of those days where you take on a particular disability to learn what the world can feel like from that vantage point, the way City Councilman Jon Snyder did when he spent the day in a wheelchair. But wrestling a baby stroller into and out of buildings that lacked automatic doors certainly made me wonder how people in wheelchairs could possibly manage (and probably made me a better state legislator and later a better grantwriter for a disability rights organization).

When I had my first baby (who’s all grown up now!) I began a voyage of discovery, as Marcel Proust would have it: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” 

Dealing with the needs of a baby or child when surrounded by people who don’t have one, as any parent can tell you, often gives you a new lens through which to view the world.

Riding a bike for transportation has taken me on another voyage and given me new eyes as well. Most parts of this voyage give me great joy. What I get to do on my bike:
  • See my city from a fresh vantage point, without the isolating barrier of over 3,000 pounds of steel, glass, and assorted petroleum products wrapped around me.
  • Make actual eye contact with people out walking, biking, or driving. smile, and connect.
  •  Give directions to lost drivers who can’t ask another driver, because how would you?
  • Notice details I never saw in all the years I drove: architectural features on buildings, interesting signage, side streets that offer a different route to my destination.
  • Spot businesses I had no idea even existed that I make a mental note about so I can come back and check them out—or I stop on the spot because I don’t have to search for a parking place so I feel free to make these spontaneous decisions.
If you have never ridden a bike on streets you usually drive, you have no idea what you don't see.

Then there’s the flip side—the one created by design that leaves you out.

I remember pushing my stroller into a crowded conference room and realizing there was nowhere to stash it—because women with babies were not expected in those particular marble hallways.

Similarly, taking your bike to a destination that has nowhere to lock your bike or store it securely presents you with something you have to figure out. People who don't have strollers or bikes to deal with don't see the lack of facilities.

While the vast majority of the time it’s easier to stow my bike than it was to stow my baby stroller (which I could never have left locked to a signpost on the street), I still encounter obstructions, lack of a good fixture to lock to, bike racks installed too close to the wall of the building to be usable, and other design barriers. 

That’s just one example.

Then there are the other barriers: The ones not presented by design of things but rather design of events.

If you’re a new mom, is the event held at a location that permits you to step aside and breastfeed discreetly? (Somewhere other than in the bathroom, please—would you want to eat your lunch in the can?) Will the bathroom have a space for diaper changes?

If you’re riding your bike to a destination, did the organizers send out any transportation information other than where to park your (assumed) car? Say, telling you about the availability of bike racks or the transit route and stop that serve the destination? Is the location even served by transit? If there are no bike facilities will you be allowed to bring your bike inside for safe storage?

Is the event meant to go late into the night so you end up with a fussy child or an expensive babysitting tab?

Is the event meant to go late into the night so you’re biking home in the dark? I enjoy riding in the dark but it can present more hazards than daytime riding and not everyone is comfortable with it.

The next time you’re designing something, whether it’s a building or a meeting, take a look at it with new eyes. If you weren’t you­—if you were someone with very different circumstances—how would it work for you?

And if you haven’t gone out to take a look at your world from the saddle of a bicycle, I highly recommend it. That’s a set of lenses you may just never want to take off.

(As for parenthood, that's a call you'd better make on your own.)

Afterthought: Perhaps this metaphor has particular power for me because I've worn glasses since I was five years old. I'm terribly nearsighted--and now have the joy of adding farsightedness to the mix as I get just an eensy-teensy bit older. Being able to see clearly is not something I can afford to take for granted.

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BEWARE the Facebook Comment Plug-in!

If you haven't heard the news, Facebook has made changes to its comment plug-in. Whether or not you have anything to do with managing an official Facebook page, if you have a Facebook profile and comment on blogs you need to study up.
I read about the changes yesterday in a post on Mashable, watched this video interview with a Facebook VP, and read a post on Facebook expert Mari Smith's site.
They all love it. I don't.
If you have tabs open where you logged into any site using Facebook for their comments, go log out and log back the old-fashioned way--using an email address. Then come back. (Although you don't need to worry here because I haven't installed the code I'm talking about.)
Here's why I think you need to do that. What I understand the changes to mean is that the following sequence can occur:
1) You are on an external site that is using the new FB comments plug-in. (If the site has not upgraded its code, you don't have to worry about steps 3-5.)
2) You opt to give that site access to your FB account, which you will be prompted to do. If you allow that link to be established, and then....
3) You comment on that external site.
4) Your comment made "out there" (via the FB comment plug-in) shows up on your FB profile. 
As an aside, for me this sounds spammy for my FB friends. I make lots of comments on blog posts having to do with social media, health care, higher ed and other work-related things that I would never bother to share on FB, which is far more personal for me.
5) This is the step that worries me--what I heard their VP say on the video was that then, if your friend on Facebook comments on your comment that has just appeared in your newsfeed, that person's comment gets pushed back out to the comment section on that external website! 
Your friend did NOT go to the site and create the link between comments made in FB and the outside world. You did.
Mari Smith shows a screen capture which seems to suggest that they have to give permission for this external posting step but it isn’t spoken to directly.
Not everyone will necessarily understand the significance, and from the screen shot I can't tell whether people have the option to keep their discussion solely inside Facebook and still be able to comment on my comment where they want to comment—inside Facebook.
There is no way I'm using the FB comment plug-in if by doing so I expose the private comments of my friends to the world without their explicit and fully informed permission. I have friends on Facebook who don't necessarily keep up with every nuance of these issues and who count on me to keep them informed about changes so I know this may create problems for them.
If Facebook would let me choose which element(s) of my publicly available profile to show on external blog comments I would have no problem with it whatsoever. 
But forcing me to change behavior inside Facebook so they can do something outside Facebook is just yet another example of Facebook reducing user privacy and then making us clean up after their changes. Notice that none of these ever give us advance warning and leave the setting at opt-out until we opt in actively?
Second reason: Linking employer to personal opinions--are you KIDDING me?
From the Mashable post, described as a “feature”:
Social Commenting & Context: When users are logged into Facebook, they are able to comment on a site with the Comments plugin immediately. Users are able to get more context about a person by looking at the text next to a commenter’s name, which displays any mutual friends, the person’s work title, the person’s age, or the place that a person currently lives – information pulled from the user’s Facebook profile. The information, of course, will be based on a user’s privacy settings.”
I don’t know about you, but I do (or I should say, "I did") list my employer on Facebook page—because my friends see it and because I make it quite clear, via the bio there, that opinions expressed on Facebook are my own and having nothing to do with my employer. I provide context that is lacking on external blog comments.
But this change means my employer is now going to show up affiliated with my comments all over the Web if I use the FB comment plug-in?!
Worse and worse! I am a public employee and have private political opinions I may choose to express on blogs.
 I do so knowing full well that someone who wants to can spend a little Google time and figure out where I work, but I have not commented in a way that deliberately ties my personal opinion to my place of employment.
 If Facebook makes that connection that for me--and they do; I tested it--they just created a huge problem for every government employee and for plenty of people in the private sector who don't want their employer's site listed right next to their personal opinions. 
If you want to see what it looks like, go to that Mashable post and scroll through the comments. You will see one from me with my employer listed next to my name, and a second from me without the employer name because I have now changed my FB account settings to make that information completely private. 
It looks to me as if I am speaking on behalf of my employer when their name appears next to mine.
Further unknowns: Do the Facebook profile details that get pulled in alongside your comment become part of Google results? Do you really want whoever is looking at Google search results for your company name to see every opinion you've expressed online in a private capacity?
The value of Facebook for me is expressly that I choose who sees my words. If they take that away they just lost the walled garden effect that provided the original appeal.
If I want everyone to read what I say, I'll just post it on a site the way I'm doing here.
If you’re following this development, do you have an explanation to reassure me? Or should I just follow my instinct and avoid the FB logo anywhere close to something on which I’d otherwise like to comment? If this plug-in spreads I may just have to quit commenting on blogs completely.
And yes--I'm going to post a link to this post on my Facebook profile.

Evolution, not Revolution: All Biking Motives Welcome, Part II

The first part of this mini-rant appears in Evolution, not Revolution: All Biking Motives Welcome, Part I." It was inspired by a post entitled “Practical Cycling and ‘Lifestyle’ Choices” on the BikesideLA blog.

I didn’t start riding a bike as a diehard year-round commuter. I didn’t start as a “practical cyclist” who was making a political statement through my choice of transportation.

I started riding because I generally like being active, the city put a bike lane in front of my house, and when I tried it out I found my bike was—warning, unpolitical statement coming—fun to ride.

When I subsequently spent a Saturday afternoon riding from my house on the South Hill to the Rocket Bakery in the Garland District (which, as Spokane folks know, means I climbed a real heart-attack hill going north up Post) for a caramel latte and a giant snickerdoodle that were equally available at a Rocket Bakery two blocks from my house I wasn’t making a political statement. It was 100% a lifestyle choice. 

Did the enjoyable and successful experiences I had as a "lifestyle" bike rider help me mature into a "practical" bike rider, and beyond that into a bike advocate and activist? You bet your multi-tool and bike pump they did.

I would agree that riding a bike creates a genuine attitude shift; I wrote about my bike-inspired perspective on time a while ago, for example. But the dismissive tone that devalues specific reasons for bike use? Not my thing at all. This, for example, in the post that set me off:

But when someone uses a bicycle to do something more important than shop for discretionary-income funded items, this use can become more than a consumer choice…The glory of this practical bicycling, then, is that one can actually be an effective and fully human agent using one, assuming that you use it for some substantive purpose, rather than as a lifestyle accessory.

I get—I really do get—the many problems created in our society by the idea that we can have what we want, whenever we want it, at zero long-term cost. In fact, one of my blog posts asks questions about the need to own things and whether we might create new models and I lecture you about buying local food in this post.

I shop at thrift stores because it minimizes resource consumption and drive a 15-year-old car (when I drive) for the same reason. I pay more for locally grown food (a “consumer lifestyle choice,” I might note) because of the difference my dollars make. I am fully conscious of my consumerism and make mindful choices.

What I can’t go along with is the idea that people who choose to ride their bikes—only sometimes, only for fun (gasp)—are  not the real deal, let alone “an effective and fully human agent.”

In fact, if we design our transportation infrastructure to support those occasional riders who aren't the fast and the fearless, we will have a better and more complete bike transportation network than if we only meet the needs of the hardcore riders.

A system that signals safety and encouragement to the occasional "lifestyle" rider is a system that works for everyone from 8 to 88--no matter where, or how much, they shop.

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Evolution, not Revolution: All Biking Motives Welcome, Part I

The question of what constitutes a real cyclist—or bike rider, or person on a bike—seems to come around in various guises again and again on bike blogs (as it just did again on Kent’s Bike Blog). As I’ve written before, I think labeling people who ride bikes in various ways divides unnecessarily and does us all a disservice.

It popped up on BikesideLA in a post entitled “Practical Cycling and ‘Lifestyle’ Choices”—a title that immediately sets off a little red flag for me because putting something in quotation marks like this signals loud and clear, “My reasons for riding a bike are ever so much more virtuous than yours.”

My context for reacting, for those who don’t know: I'm the founder of Bike to Work Spokane and just stepped down as chair of the city's Bicycle Advisory Board. I now serve on the board of our region's metropolitan planning organization (and all thoughts here are 100% mine, not affiliated with any of my various roles).

I thus work on--and value--both the rah-rah events side of trying to get people riding even if it’s just one day or one week a year, and the bike and transportation policy side where I hope to facilitate genuine lifetime mode shift. And I have experienced the profound mental shift from "I ride my bike sometimes--when weather is perfect and it's not complicated" to "I am someone who rides a bike for transportation nearly all the time."

The beautifully written LA blog post rubs me the wrong way even though we’d probably agree on some of the underlying issues about unnecessary consumerism.

The dismissal of "lifestyle" riders serves only to alienate people who can be allies in advocating for sorely needed infrastructure improvements. If you're telling them that only the pure of heart are the real bike people, you've lost the soccer moms and weekend coffee shop riders who can be your most effective advocates at a city council meeting.

We should welcome and encourage people who ride because it's fun, not because they want to make a political statement.  Going all holier than thou on them about their superficial reasons for riding is hardly the way to win hearts and minds.

So what if they think they look cool riding a bike? They’re riding a bike, not driving a Hummer. We should celebrate their “lifestyle “choices, not look down on them, given that those choices could so easily take another form (like a stretch Hummer limo).

As anyone who has ever organized a political rally knows (I've held elected office so this is firsthand knowledge), you'll usually only get the diehards for the deep-thought sessions.

You'll get a larger crowd for something that energizes and teaches gently rather than smacking them upside the head with The Way The World Should Be According To Me.

And you’ll get an even bigger crowd if you serve food and beverages, tell them to have fun, focus on things you agree on, and stay away from the preaching.

Are these people your “real” supporters or your “lifestyle” supporters? Sure, the diehards vote (or bike) at a higher and more consistent rate. But—here’s the key—they were going to vote/ride anyway.

Any campaign consultant worth her salt will tell you that you don’t spend time on the people who are 100% for you. You don’t waste time on the people who are 100% against you. Your goal is the undecided middle. And you sure as heck don’t get to them by telling them they’re shallow.

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