Tuesday, August 20, 2013

a clean bike - a clean heart

This week, I pulled out the Sekai, my rough-stuff touring conversion. Regular readers will remember this as the cheap mountain bike I bought last fall for $25. I was still reeling on multiple levels from my sudden and painful departure from the bicycle industry, and in October of 2012 I had no idea what my life would look like. On an impulse I saw this bike in a craigslist ad and brought it home in my trailer. I figured that, for as cheap as it was, I could fix it up and sell it for a fair amount more, and in the meantime it would give me something to do with the copious amounts of spare time that, in the first weeks after quitting Citybikes, I now found myself with.

In the end it turned out that the bike would fit me perfectly as a touring bike. So I rebuilt it with drop bars and it become my rough-stuff-touring-rando bike. I rode it all winter and well into the spring.
Then, a few days before I left for The Incredible June -- an entire month of Jewish music work out of town -- I hung it up on a hook.

Two days ago, I took the Sekai down off the hook for the first time since May. I put it in the repair stand and set about cleaning it. I removed dirt and greasy stains from the tubes nearest the drive-train; I cleaned the gunk off the rear derailleur pulleys and scrubbed the chain, and removed gunk from the chainrings up front. I wiped down the rims, which had collected months of road grit. And finally, I re-lubed the chain, spun the wheels, and decided it was ready for a ride.

I am in a similar process right now on a more personal, spiritual and emotional level. The Jewish High Holidays, a time of introspection and seeking forgiveness, begin in a little over two weeks. Just as I need to maintain my bicycle and regularly remove dirt and grit so it runs well, so I must also periodically clean my heart -- to let go of old behaviors and notions about the world that no longer serve me -- so I can move forward with enough space for new meanings and opportunities to come in.

The day before Kol Nidre -- this year that will be September 12 -- will mark a year (Jewishly, anyway) since I turned in my key and walked away from the bicycle industry, and in so doing cleared out space for new things to come in and for my life to change. And believe me, it has been more than simply my professional life that has been changing. I recognize that I am in a near-constant state of emotional and spiritual change, from the ground up. I recognize that working with people who were so pessimistic about the world, about people, was harmful to my psyche and that remaining there would have been disastrous for me. I had to leave so that I could surround myself with people who know how bad things are and who still have faith that we can, in some way, make things better for ourselves and our children. I had to leave the bike shop because the collective nihilism was killing my soul, and there was no way I could remain there and simultaneously move forward in a good and healthy way.

So here I am. I recognize that everything happened because it needed to, because it was supposed to. I know that I had to leave in order to set my feet on the path where they are now. And I am at peace with how it has all gone, and where I am today.

And with that, I think I'll go for a little bike ride.

Friday, August 16, 2013

ten years of yesses

On August 17, 2003, we said yes.

We've been saying yes every day since then.

The wedding was great fun -- people still tell us so even now -- but the real prize has been working to create a marriage every day with my smart, funny, gorgeous Sweetie.

I cannot think of a better way to spend a life with someone this amazing.

Here's to many more yesses with "the one in whom my soul delights".

Happy Anniversary, my love.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

the deep, dark thoughts we all harbor (but which so few of us will admit to having)

The title pretty much says it all. In this age of fear and worry, suspicion of every single person who doesn't walk, talk and quack exactly like us, cities going bankrupt while banks get bailed out and bankers get richer; school districts failing and kids facing uncertain futures; the increasingly dubious value of a college diploma and the growing specter of future generations of elders having no Social Security or Medicare -- and never mind global warming or international warfare, both of which seem destined to last until the earth finally implodes -- well, it's no wonder we all think that the world is going to hell in a very large handbag.

Because, on multiple levels, it actually is.

There. I've said it.

I'll say more: It is TOO late to keep talking about preserving the way of life we know. That life is unsustainable and will not last. We can find new ways to keep people living longer but is that really a good idea? I want no part of it. I will live out whatever span of days I have, and die when I die -- as all things should.

I took a break from electronic media for a few days, and spent the time in a retreat with fifty other Jewish women. We learned, danced, studied, prayer, sang and ate together in a rustic setting. The youngest woman in attendance was forty-one. The oldest was ninety-three. Younger women helped older, less mobile women make their way around the site as needed, and together we helped prepare and clean up after our delicious, simple meals, many made using vegetables from the garden behind the dining hall.

It was somewhat utopian, this little retreat; it was also a vision of what could be -- and what I think ultimately MUST be if we are to survive as a species.

We will all have to learn to live more simply, on less money, in communal structures of various kinds (whether it's co-housing, multi-generational family units, or whatever else we come up with that enables more of us to live together more affordably). We will all have to travel smaller distances, rely less on mail-order products and services, and learn to live more locally and within our means.

We will also have to learn how to grow our own food again and to live far more simply than we currently do. This will ultimately mean setting up communities whose size and locality make them sustainable. It will mean making more of what we need at home, or doing without.

Above all, we will -- all of us -- have to stop living in denial of our mortality.

All of us are going to die someday. Some sooner, and some later. But every single person on the planet who is here will someday keel over and cease to exist in the physical realm. It is high time we taught our children how to live with that reality, instead of the myriad ways we teach them to evade it.

Voting for the right party, or living in the right city, or having the perfect job will not change this fact. neither will plastic surgery, drugs or other medical advances. Eating better, engaging in more physical activity and giving up cigarettes are all things that might make you healthier and help you feel better but none of them will prevent your death.

Imagine how we might all live if every person in the world understood that he or she will die someday, that none of us is immune and that our days our numbered. How might we change the way we live, and the things we value? ow might we change the way we teach our kids, or the things we learn?

Well, I am imagining these things already. And that is why I will probably spend less time goofing around on the internet and more time engaging in real-time activities with the people where I live. Because the goodness of my life, and the lives of those around me, depends on it.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

consumerism and the durability of things

In 1998, the bike shop I worked at sold US-made messenger bags by a company called RELoad. The bags were made one at a time on industrial sewing machines by one of four sewers based in Philadelphia. Each bag used high-grade Cordura on the outside and was lined with thick, tough truck tarp, making the bags not only bombproof but waterproof as well. The bags were not cheap -- starting prices for a basic messenger backpack were $175.00, ridiculously expensive in 1998 -- but they were very popular and sold well for quite some time.

An enterprising fellow who worked for RELoad took the scraps left over from bag production and started making them into wallets and checkbook covers, which he sold under the name Randl. I bought one of the wallets in 1998.  It is still the wallet I use, 15 years later.

Here is a photo of someone else's Randl wallet, very similar to mine, though a little dirtier:

The wallet fits perfectly in my pocket, holds everything I need (and I admit that, without credit cards, I don't need to carry as much as the average American), and has remained bombproof.

And therein lies the rub.

Randl sold these wallets for a few years, but because they were bombproof (as well as style-specific in a way that can only be described as niche), sales fell off and eventually he stopped making them. Today, they are hard to find anywhere. I have only seen one other Randl wallet in my city, and that was seven or eight years ago.

What happens if a manufacturer makes a product so durable that people don't need to buy another for a long time? Obviously, there are questions of fashion and utility as well; but if a product is so durable that people don't replace it every so often, sales fall off and the maker eventually goes out of business. That is as pure a capitalist model as I can think of. And I think it's an issue that lies at the heart of our troubled consumerist culture today. Stuff should last -- but only for so long. After that, it should have the decency to wear out quickly so that people will have to go back to the store and buy more things. This is how jobs are created and preserved, this is how people earn paychecks and provide for their families -- in an ever-growing sea of stuff. Marketing and advertising support this model of buying things and using them until they fall out of fashion -- just to make sure we're not using a thing until it truly wears out, I suppose.

This model translates to many aspects of life, including the clothes we wear, the cars we drive and even the food we eat. Capitalism thrives on UNsustainability -- the notion that things must wear out more quickly and NOT be recycled, because recycling or repurposing lengthens the usefulness of a thing and that keeps us away from the store longer.

I buy things; we all do. But I also repurpose things. Earlier entries at this blog have included photos of Judaica (ritual Jewish objects) that I've made from bicycle components. I began making those things for myself because I wanted ritual objects for home use, but could not afford -- or even, frankly, justify -- the high prices of commercially-made items in the catalogs. The items have been a hit with friends (I've since given several as gifts), and the originals remain in use in my home today.

Right now, I am sitting on a small pile of cycling musette bags -- feed bags used in road races -- that I plan to turn into something else. I want to make a tallit, a Jewish prayer shawl. In light of my increased out-of-town work, I need a prayer shawl that is smaller and will travel easily. I also want it to reflect the journey I've been on and where I came from. After nearly two decades in the bicycle industry I decided it would be cool to cut up those musettes and rearrange the pieces of fabric into a prayer shawl.

Sweetie thinks it will look odd -- "there'll be logos all over it," she said. Well, that's okay. I'll rearrange the pieces so the logos aren't quite as obnoxious, and perhaps I'll cut up the shoulder straps into tiny strips that can be tied into tziziot, the fringe that hangs from the corners. In the end, I'll have a one-of-a-kind tallit and I won't have had to buy anything to make it happen. I like that.

Perhaps if there's leftover fabric I can make a kipah (skullcap) to match...