There but for the grace of God…

I promise you; this post is hilarious. But I have to say some stuff first. Sorry, but not sorry enough not to do it.

This post is 90% images.

When I started saving all these ridiculous images from online dating sites, I was happily coupled and not at all searching for a date online. I was trolling for Blog Fodder, man, and the fishing was good.

Too good, actually; I have over 425 images from Bumble and Tinder to try to write about. Ooooof.

I put it off, and I put it off. Each time I browsed the depressing, lifeless sea of desperate, hopeful faces, I thought, “I am so glad I’m not actually trying to find a date, holy cow. There but for the grace of God go I.”

Cue #2020: A novel coronavirus, race riots, a Presidency in shambles, a country on the brink of collapse, murder hornets, vampire penis leeches, coke boars, Bubonic squirrels… the screenplay writers for this season should be sacked.

Also, I lost my job in early June, and, last week, broke up with my partner of just over two years, because WHY NOT, 2020? Come at me, Year! (Ok, please stop coming at me now.) As a final “screw you, eDar,” I will be turning 50 in almost exactly a month.

As the Cowboy and I slouch off in differing directions, searching for the next romantic adventure, I find myself turning to Bumble and to Tinder with … some sincerity.

Fuck.

I do not like online dating. I loathe and despise it because of everything written here. It feels contrived and stupid and awful and I hate it.

I also have no real way of meeting anyone another way, because of the aforementioned pandemic. Fuck.

Alright, fine. Away we go – how bad could it really be?

This bad. This bad is how bad it could really be:

Uncertain if like puppy dog…

While I’m not crazy about the term “pansexual” (because “pan” until recently included animals, inanimate objects – you know, everything, as the word itself implies, and that is not me, this is too long a parenthetical phrase so let me begin again.)

While I’m not fond of “pansexual” as a self-descriptor, it’s about as accurate as anything. I am attracted to the entirety of a person, irrespective of age, gender identity, race, religion, height, weight, education, financial success, et cetera. The only requirement is a connection of one form or another. While trolling the various dating apps, however, I focused on men – chiefly because most of the women and non-binary folks have the common sense God gave a duck and don’t post irretrievably stupid things. Generally. Not exclusively.

Many of the men on these apps write literally nothing about themselves – nothing! They put up photos (such as those of Josea above, showing how diverse he is) and boom, that’s it – come on, ladies! Come and get it!

Not this lady. I don’t care how physically attractive I might find a person, I’m not swiping right if there is zero context. Take Supreme Commander Scott, 50:

SC Scott clearly has some diverse interests here, and he can spell “Neurosomatic.” However, that is literally all we know about SC Scott. He might be a hot guy carrying a surfboard on a horse whilst riding on the beach, but that’s not enough. A feast for the eyes does not a connection make.

Which is not to say I won’t linger a moment and just enjoy a little nibble of the proffered fare.

Or pause and boggle at the sheer physical prowess here and there:

One could be forgiven for surmising that a person who says nothing in their profile may not be best known for communication. At the other end of the spectrum, where I live and breathe myself, we have Paul, 52, who may be extending a bit too much intimate knowledge right off the bat:

As an added plus, his photo was a piece of gray fabric draped along a wall, mostly in shadow. Deep.

A rare variant here: Zero words, but Flava-Flav!!

He was a quiet boy, kept to himself, always paid the rent on time…

Some men strive to show what good providers they are. All we know about John, for example, is that, sometime in the last 48 years, he once held a dead fish:

LOOK AT ALL THE DEAD THINGS I COLLECTED:

I BROUGHT YOU A DEAD THING!
I VERY MUCH WANTED TO SHOW YOU THAT I CAN PULL A SMALL, HARMLESS WATER-DWELLING CREATURE OUT OF ITS HOME ON A GOLF COURSE AND POSE WITH IT DRAMATICALLY WHILE IT SLOWLY DIED A HORRIBLE DEATH. I AM RISKING MY LIFE! yOU CAN TELL THIS IS A DANGEROUS SITUATION BY THE WAY I’M STANDING – PREPARED FOR ANYTHING THIS CREATURE MIGHT TRY!

Lawrence is trying a less bloody approach:

Field-dressed those pears himself, he did.

Some seem to find safety in numbers, and give absolutely no clue which person they are in a group shot. Scott, given the diversity of the people here… just give us a little clue.

Another common sort of chap on these things is the Too Sad to Try Guy: He posts an obviously horrible photo that could not be less flattering, and then say something like this:

Welcome to your self-fulfilling prophecy, Greg, 49! Holy crap, man, take off the Crocs, put on some adult pants, and get out there, buddy! Believe!

Some are more aggressive in this stance than others:

James seems friendly. I’m sure he has… a lovely singing voice? We’ll never know, it’s none of our damn business, thank you very much.

A variant of this subspecies is Still Trying Guy. STG is typically not your classically handsome fellow, and writes something like this:

Now John’s a decent-looking guy, but he’s seen some shit on Bumble.

The Overly Wacky Guy. The OWG has more confidence than the TStTG, but he’s still shrouded in insecurities and self-doubt. He tries to hide this in plain sight by doing gratuitously over-the-top things in his photos, either by making funny faces or wearing gigantic bow ties or performing on-stage in a musical. Like, you can really glean a lot about what kind of dude this is, right? Just from one photo?

Perhaps this way, when rejected, they can console themselves that it was the gag, not they themselves, that drove the ladies away. They just don’t get his sense of humor, they’re not for him.

Bryan starts great with the first responder photo, but then begins to go off the rails. Mostly about his teeth.

Others choose to open strongly, GET IT RIGHT OUT THERE:

Occasionally, it’s just them making an ostensibly enchanting weirdo face, perhaps leading the fairer sex to muse, “I bet he’s fun to be with,” or to wonder, “what hilarious times will we have?”

As for me, that face makes me wonder, “Are you going to eat that puppy?”

Oh! People do wear scarves like that… inside… sometimes…

On the other side of the spectrum, we have the men who are so confident they give no fucks whatsoever about what their photos might show them doing. Check out Eric, who rides a motorcycle and knows his way around a sewing machine – holla! This is completely fantastic:

Then, there’s The Too Good to be True: A fantastically gorgeous person with amazing photos and solid text that writes back and seems engaging… until they find out you’re not a.) a movie producer, b.) a prospective fitness client, or c.) a professional photographer. This guy was quite sweet, but obviously trolling for clientele, not dates, and, certainly, not dates with me:

In additional to being basically Adonis, he writes and acts. Be well, Bpet.

One thing discerning women look for in a dating profile is what the gentleman’s home looks like. For example, we like to make sure all of the drawers are open to different degrees, that the miter saw is right at the foot of the bed, that the couch cushions are on top of the dresser, and that the bed is a jumbled mess of roadside-sale blankets. HOLY SHIT, YOU GUYS: JACKPOT!!!

Next, we have Brendan Fraser in a role that will surprise you (or not:)

I mean, seriously now, Ulgor, are you really putting your best Neanderthal ridge forward here? I super dig your attempt to be really expressive about what you do after work, though; your people were always so good at the pictograms. It looks like in your spare time, you enjoy the ocean, coloring, hunting small birds, and foraging for nuts, grains, fruits, and berries.

Some people claim they don’t see color, others are apparently actual paint chips (paint chips 5600 miles outside my search parameters, too, no less:)

Some cannot be classified. Nay, they defy explanation or even comprehension:

All of my, “what?”
Is this from the 11 o’clock news B reel?
What have YOU been doing, my good man?
“Hard knocks” is a nice touch. Apparently, I can add “attracted to gothed-up Disney characters” to my “acceptable” list.
Oh, dear.
My peepee!

Philip, 46, doesn’t want children, has a graduate degree, enjoys sunglasses, and once let a woman pick something off his shoulder while he was on a boat. That is all we know.

Then… then we have the unfortunate souls who both seem to be trying and failing, and looking accidentally ridiculous whilst so doing. This is where I go straight to Hell, not passing “Go,” for being a terrible, shitty person (at least for the sake of appearances for this blog.)

Here is a gentleman I like to call, “Bold Choice Nigel:”

Nigel is very comfortable with his body, and that’s healthy and wonderful. Good job! I struggle on this front, and I’m not even amphibious!

This guy is just the happiest little dude: SO EXCITE!

Joseph, this is not your dental exam, hon…

Time travelers.

Reasonably sure this was taken in my 11th grade English class.
Sidenote: Does EVERY high school have that guy in its photos?
I mean… wow. That’s reaching back. That’s clinging to some seriously irrelevant stuff.

Hang on a moment, please; I need to take this call from the Neiman Marcus catalog:

Hey, once you’re off the phone, could you let this guy call the 70’s back?

I AM COMING FOR YOU WITH MY BICYCLE.

It’s utterly fascinating to me, what we choose to put out there about ourselves, the things we consider important or obvious, the rationale as to why a given photo would be enticing. I am wildly uncomfortable with photos of myself, but some of these folks seem entirely at ease. Amazing.

Speaking of “comfortable with themselves,” there are the confident few who just put it right out there, no beating around the bush:

Best of luck New Virgin Bryan; I hope you find a freak of your very own.

Every now and then, one of the gratuitously weird ones catches my eye. Let’s look at , for example:

Leaping across an unknown expanse in tutu and striped tube socks, and being alarmed in pink nail polish on a boat!!! Shut up, take my money, and tell me your tale, my good man.

Sir, your date is so drunk, my vision is blurred:

This guy is fresh off the set of “Narcos:”

Despite his tags, I have a very difficult time believing this guy doesn’t get high:

Sometimes, I just want to date their hobbies and Instagram feeds: Firearms, dogs, Jeeps… a fingertip…

Animals are common subjects and companions in photos, as we love to show how very dateable we are! We will love your critter(s)! Dogs, cats, of course, the odd horse now and then, and… an unusual number of chickens.

We have no idea whether he’s the mascot.

The odd snake…

An halibut…

The occasional GIANT SQUINTY RAT DOG…

Gnomes…

Kittehs outside the home is a whole sub-genre:

As is “look at me carrying my dog:”

And whatever the fuck is going on here:

(There is a LOT of subtext here, folks.)

A scant few profiles are actually alarming:

So, punch-me-in-the-face guy is a MILE away. How comforting and convenient: I’m in striking distance.

WHY DO YOU GUYS WANT TO PUNCH ME?! Why is this a thing?

YOU STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME, SHHH-JAMES. Who told you this was a good idea? How is this anything other than creepy as hell?

WE ARE COMING FOR YOU.
I tell you what; I have a WHOLE narrative in my head about this guy and his dead shark eyes, man. I do not know what planet he is from, however.

Mo takes a more subdued approach to creepy terror: Just two eyes in the darkness:

Ever wonder what it would be like to be pecked to death by the eagle from the Muppets? I bet Peter could really help with that.

“Dude, you can totally see my penis if I hold my shorts like this!” I feel like this guy is so fixated on his junk, he doesn’t notice the rest of the photo.

You’re doing that on purpose: You know you can put those down, right? You don’t HAVE to carry them around all the time.

Jeff loves food:

If we observe the photo, it’s possible to think Jeff may not have experienced much diverse “food” in his life.

Likewise, Bernard could use some horizon expansion:

This guy works out so much, his face flexes:

Some are quite particular in their search parameters:

I have a hard enough time trying to find someone who rides a motorcycle; finding a woman who can operate a forklift has got to be worse. We’ll just overlook the “and look pretty” part.

At times, the photos just don’t match the text:

Some of them make me murderously angry and I want to swipe right just to infiltrate their worlds and tell them what shit people they are.

YOU PUT THAT BACK!!!

The Charmer thinks he knows all the right answers, but in truth, he only knows the cliches (hork:)

I’ll swipe right on about one out of every maybe 30-40 profiles. I go back and forth between looking at all the photos first or reading the text before looking at the photos. I was about to swipe right on this guy:

He had everything going for him, but then…

Oh dear… all the skull rings, and also… I believe you may have misread the prompt, perhaps?

His last photo NOPED him right out the door:

Bonus points if you can tell me why, very specifically.

About one profile out of every 100 really gets me interested, really makes me take notice and think in addition to swiping right.

“We will vacation in the south of France,” I murmured as I tried to come up with a clever opener. “Our friends will throw us yacht parties on anniversaries and we’ll ride horses through Scotland together.”

Or, OR, we will completely and utterly fail to hit it off or find anything to talk about. Yep.

Sigh.

That’s the rub; all that sorting and swiping and flashes of hope all going up in smoke within the first few messages, more times than not.

I can only swipe back and forth for so long on any given day before I want to jump off the roof, so my dating app days are definitely numbered, but I do vow to toss more of these up here from time to time. ūüôā

It’s All Love, Man

Our muses are our loves. People, places, machines, events. Simple as that. The muses change over time. One leaves. Another arrives. It’s always about love.

Douglas Grosjean

I try to live my life full of Love, and one of the ways I express that love is through photography. I may not be especially technically skilled, but I think I have a fairly decent eye for composition, framing, et cetera.

Sometimes, the photos don’t turn out the way I want them to, but, despite myself, they turn into something I might like even better – though I might not be able to place my finger on why.

R on his mighty K1100RS at the… at the…1999 something something Rally for Ironbutt types. I love the motion, and even though I didn’t move fast enough to freeze R in place, I think this is way cooler.

I love taking photos. I especially love taking candid photos of the people around me, ideally while they don’t even realize I’m there, so I capture an unadulterated Moment in their lives. I wish I could just invisibly melt into the visual background noise of any given situation so people wouldn’t feel self-conscious- ok, that sounds a little creepy; that’s not what I mean at all. I just want to capture the natural moment as it unfolds.

J has fully adapted to this Baja life.

When I carry a camera with me, I have to be very cognizant of time if I’m with anyone else. I get 100% lost in the macro, in the weirdly beautiful, or just the strikingly beautiful. I could spend hours photographing a tree or a set of rapids and be perfectly content. I have to be mindful that not everyone wants to stop every 13 inches or seconds to gaze with unmitigated awe at a snail and a tire track and a crushed pop can and a rose and a leaf floating in a puddle and the rivets on a plane wing and a splash of reflected color on a brick wall and and and and.

Circa 2000, my boyfriend and I were driving around a new area of Washington. I looked to my right and saw what I thought was the vertical stabilizer of a B-17. Of course, we immediately flipped around and went back: Indeed, we had stumbled upon the Yankee Lady, one of not many flying these days. I could’ve spent a year with her.

When I lurk around the periphery, or when you see me surreptitiously trying to sneak a shot with camera or phone, please forgive me. Smile, pose, or pretend not to have seen me, but I would beg of you not to get annoyed or to hold it against me. To be honest, my favorite is when you truly do not notice me, because in that moment, I am not looking for your Camera Face; I’m looking for you. When I take a photo of you, it’s because I appreciate you and I want to remember this moment myself, yes, but it’s also because maybe you’ll see the photo and you’ll love it, too, and it will make you happy, also.

This beautiful girl looked so contemplative as she gazed out the window, I couldn’t resist sneaking a photo of her. I liked the result and thought she might, too, so I overcame my fear of seeming totally creepy in favor of making her smile. She was really appreciative, and when I told her she looked very deep in thought, she told me the story of her travels – quite a journey ahead for this young woman. But this kind of shot, man – this is what I fucking love.
Another R on his horse near Chehalis, Washington, on my birthday.

For, you see, the shots I am taking are all ultimately about Love – of you, of the moment, of the surroundings, of the insane unlikelihood of us existing at all let alone having met, of everything – I’m trying to preserve a moment for you, for myself, to look back on. I want you to feel like someone cared enough to capture a moment in your life, like someone noticed you holding a certain expression, like someone witnessed time with you and wanted to remember it. Someone was present; someone was there with you and experienced the same thing from a different perspective and that’s something you now share for the better or for the worse depending upon the moment.

M striding across the Playa at Gerlach 2018. Sometimes, they see me coming; what are you gonna do.

Some perceive it as an intrusion into a private moment and are genuinely bothered, and for these times, I am truly sorry. Let me know; I’ll leave you be. I do not like posing for photos myself, but don’t mind nearly as much if I can at least pretend not to notice the camera. I get squirmy and I get Chandler Face.

Thus, because I know it might make people uncomfortable, it takes more than a little courage for me to point a camera at someone, especially strangers. My Midwestern Polite demeanor gets itchy and wants to make casseroles.

I could ask, but then I’d lose the moment.

G, J, and S2 boating in the Sea of Cortez
R wrenching on one of our derby cars.

Sometimes, it goes badly for the photo.

Occasionally, perhaps more than I want to admit, due to poor timing, the wrong equipment, bad lighting, lack of skill, whatever, the shot doesn’t turn out the way I envision. But I keep the photo, because it helps me remember the moment.

Even though I may not specifically go back and randomly recall a moment or event, seeing that photo will bring back the same emotions and a flood of memories. More often than not, a smile and maybe a little, “aw.”

E and J having a great time at our favorite bar in Baja.
Ani being fucking amazing, as is her wont. (aw)
Wade, Nick, and Ellen being blinded by OMFG SUDDEN BRIGHT HEADLIGHTS at XLADV.
J and R on their wedding day. Still makes me smile every time I see it. I don’t think this could be any more her. Even if it’s a little blurry. (aw)
Wendy’s dog, Jake, had been a very naughty boy and destroyed our office. This photo remains one of my favorites of all time, low-resolution, poor depth of field, and all. (all the aw)

Sometimes it goes about as expected.

T dousing T2 at one of my riding club’s annual parties and traditions.
S, looking glorious and beautiful, as she just can’t help doing.
I met M once – at the 2004 Reno Air Races, but holy wow did we ever hit it off and had an absolutely wonderful time raising hell together. Those truly were the days.
L petting a barn kitty at sunset on Orcas Island.

Sometimes, it’s better than I could have hoped.

And I thank my lucky stars every time this happens.

G sitting on the bar beach in Baja.
Wade gazing longingly at E’s HP2 Enduro at this year’s XLADV.
J at Bruno’s Country Club, Gerlach 2018. I hadn’t seen J in almost 20 years. He is still very J.
S2 admiring the centuries-old architecture of a mission in Baja. This one makes my heart skip a beat. Someone please tell me why.
E on the boardwalk at sunset after a weird day of riding last year.
E enjoying a pipe at Agua Caliente.
S2 happily looking forward to jumping into the Sea of Cortez with whale sharks.
S’s husband, also S, out on the trapeze of his catamaran, looking like a fucking boss.
I’m just going to put two more of these here. You know: For the art.
Fun day!
I have thus far found it’s rare for people to be able to look into the camera without smiling, or posing, or getting nervous – at the very least, there is usually a sudden armor on the face, in the eyes. Few people appear perfectly natural and comfortable. Even fewer people have the confidence to look not just at but into the camera, into the eventual viewer of the photo. Annie did.
V walking his bicycle in downtown Bellingham at a work event. I love this photo 10000% but I don’t even know why.
Same thing here: Love it – no clue why.

More often than not, it’s somewhere in the middle.

Not terrible, not special, just a random photo of a random moment. But I remember where it was taken and why.

C and A taking a moment at the Big Bear Camp-Out last year. That day is one none of us will ever, ever forget.
Julie waiting for her picture to be taken by a professional at Wolf Haven.

I take a lot of GoPro video, which often yields wonderful candid stills. Love them – I just have to pick the right split-second to grab, the one that’s the most that-moment/that-person.

S3 about to lead us on a dirt ride. I think he was probably surrendering to the chaos he knew would follow.
Chaos like this. I will never not laugh with absolute joy, love, and appreciation when I see this photo. That’s S3 going over on the bike there.
And chaos like this. That’s my bike. No, really, there’s a motorcycle there – no, behind S3. Yes, in the bush. No, typically motorcycles are not oriented like that. Thank you.
I believe P is the only one of us who did not fall down.

My favorite, of course, is The Real Camera, with which I can control depth of field, aperture, and so forth. It is also the absolute most conspicuous.

E, L, and G on our first night in Bahia, where they are about to experience the best daiquiri rocks and Cuba Libres they’ve ever had.
S2 being thoroughly amused by E’s story.
GS Trophy Team member Lisa Taylor (right) at this year’s GEICEO ADV Rally in Julian. I love her friend’s happy, laughing face.

Remembering. That’s so important for me, and, as I stare down the barrel of turning 50 next year, I am extremely cognizant of my mother’s struggle with memory (early onset dementia, compounded by a TBI.) I joke about being a space cadet, but internally, I am terrified.

What if it’s not a lack of paying attention, what if it’s not being cavalier with details – what if it’s something pathological. What if I’m on the other side of this photo in twenty years?

Sidenote: As I was linking this photo up, I had a powerful flashback to the night before I moved to Seattle – Christmas Eve, 1999. We were in a hotel room, and my mother had taken her bedtime drugs, so was sleepy and a little out of it. I was doing a lot of birding in those days. Mom was having a hard time with me moving so far away, but there was a part of her that was trying to find something positive, something happy for me, to focus on: “Will there be birds for you to look at?” she asked, in a very childlike voice. “Yes – many, many beautiful birds, Mom.” It just about makes me cry, the innocence and the desperation of it.

Sometimes I worry that by being so consumed by capturing moments that I am not fully living them. I suppose that could be true, but having experienced a great many unphotographed moments, I don’t know that I really notice a difference. I take such pleasure, such abject joy, in photography that it only adds to the experience (unless it detracts from someone else’s.) I feel a tiny bit of anxiety when I really want to take a photo, but cannot.

I’ve delved into that a bit and I think it’s due to a combination of things:

  • Worrying I won’t remember the moment later, even without dementia
  • Wanting to share it with other people
  • Maybe a wee touch of, if I don’t have proof, did this really happen?
  • A whole heaping lot of, maybe this will stir a memory for me if I end up like her.

When I’m too old and infirm to do much of anything anymore, put me down in front of whatever thing that’s like Flickr in those times and let me browse back over all the little vignettes I’ve gathered. Maybe reliving things with visual aids will ease the burden of not having any burdens at all, other than my own frail and failing body.

So, my friends – the original intention here was to convey my love and appreciation for all of you whom I have photographed, and to those of you whom I someday will. I will cast you in the best light I possibly can, I will never intentionally embarrass or shame you, I will not publish them if you do not want them to be published. With love comes respect and a general wish for your overall happiness and well-being.

We’re all in this together, sharing. Sometimes, I like something tangible to remind me.

The Absence of Presence – Part Three

Continued from:
Part One
Part Two

Sunday’s visit was “better,” all things being relative. She was more alert and I’m fairly certain she did recognize me at times.¬†Dad wondered if taking in photos of me when I was younger might stir some recognition, so I went through and found a few representative pictures, including one of the two of us together when I was eight or nine.

When I arrived, she was sitting in her Jerry chair in the community room. There were perhaps eight or so other patients in there, sitting alone or around a table, and Mom was off to the side, staring off into whatever her mind was trying to show her. I pulled up a chair and sat next to her.

I laid the photos on her tray. She clutched at them, almost reflexively, but did not hold them up herself. I held them up, one by one, explaining the photos were of me, of her and me together, and I think she might have had a second or two of recognition there.

Due to background noises, my bad hearing, and her quiet volume, I could not hear or understand most of what she said. Once home, I imported the video I took into Adobe Premiere Pro and amplified the volume. I think she said at one time, “hug me… if you can…” but I did not hug her because I couldn’t hear what she was saying. Heart-breaking. Of course I would have, had I heard. Once, she said fairly clearly, “help me.” Oh, my, I wish I could.

To be completely honest, there were a few moments when I thought I should end it all for her by gently, ever-so-gently, holding a pillow over her face until she quietly suffocated to death. It would not take much, or long. However, I realized that forensic science (should that be called upon,) would quickly discover the cause of her death, and I certainly did not want to spend any time in prison, even for such a crime of compassion. I thought about suggesting to the nurses they give her “a little extra PRN” (as-needed morphine doses,) and very quickly realized that was just a terrible idea.¬† This was Mom’s path to walk alone; no one else could legally help her along.

One thing she asks often is “why…?” At times, it seems like a full question unto itself, at others it seems like she has something more to add but then trails off after the first word. I don’t know whether she’s asking why in general, or why about something specific, but there is no answer I can give her. There’s no good reason for any of it, other than pure human frailty being a motherfucker sometimes.

She manages to communicate snippets, incomplete thoughts. Not long after I arrived, she mumbled something about “my sisters,” but I don’t know what she was saying or asking about them. She has two younger twin sisters, only one of whom has she seen in recent times.

“I want you to stay…” she later said, I think to me, but wasn’t sure.

She is typically very agreeable – when someone makes a suggestion or asks her a question, her response is often a weak, simple, “okay,” with an lift at the end, like a small child. Unless she really doesn’t want the thing being suggested, and then there will be a “no…” with varying degrees of intensity.

I wonder where she is in her head, what she sees, what she believes to be true.

I settled in for this last visit, and, like millions of children before me, I reversed our roles and wiped my mother’s nose; I helped get her fed and changed and bathed; I soothed her to sleep with my voice as I stroked her hair. I thought of singing her a song my parents made up for me when I was a toddler, but didn’t think I could bear it myself.

Perhaps the most important thing about this visit was Forgiveness, and I thought long and hard before saying anything about that to her. I weighed out the pros and cons of lying versus actually being able to forgive versus not saying anything at all. I don’t know that I can forgive her – I don’t even know all the things I need to forgive her for, there’s so much. Then again, this person in front of me was not the same person who committed all those acts of maternal treason years and years ago.

Yet how do I forgive a person who cannot remember the things that she’s done to me? How could I not? I know that forgiveness is as much for me as it is for the person receiving it, but my own benefit has never really been a good motivator for me.¬†If it were a lie, it would be for her, and how could I begrudge her that?

I don’t even know that it was a true thing when I said I loved her. It’s been so long since I’ve thought of her with any shred of positive emotion that I no longer actively feel the love for her as my mother. What I felt was compassion and kindness and despair for a fellow human being who was suffering and who should be let go. I felt a generic sort of love for a now-gentle and helpless person. Subconsciously, of course, I’m sure all sorts of havoc was being wreaked.

I cried or struggled not to cry a lot on Sunday. I’m sure some of the tears were related to the painful past we shared, and, to some degree, acknowledging that my mother was in fact dying no matter how estranged we might be. The first time I really felt certain she recognized me was … profound, I suppose. It wasn’t long after I arrived Sunday, when we were still sitting in the community room. Our eyes locked, and hers seemed clearer for a moment. She clutched at my hands, reached out on her own and touched my face. Not long after, I cried a full-fledged cry, surrounded by strangers in various degrees of suffering, in various degrees of awareness and lucidity. One of the nurses kindly and silently brought me a box of tissues when she saw me, and her compassion renewed my tears.

I thought to apologize to her, but I realized that crying in situations like this is normal and natural and healthy. Nothing to be ashamed of, although I am always ashamed when I cry in front of other people. My traditional “Stuff all the feelings down just like this casserole” Midwestern upbringing forbids ugly crying in public or in front of … well, in front of anyone, really.

Here, however, it would probably be more peculiar if I did not cry. In the face of this kind of suffering in any living being, how could anyone not be moved to tears? What kind of monster would not cry upon seeing her own mother in such a state?

In the end, everything is stripped away, everything but the most basic needs, the most basic thoughts, the most basic feelings, wants, desires. The need for human contact, the need for physical comfort, the need to be cared for and reassured. There’s nothing left of any residual badness or evil or unkindness from the past; all of that has been cleaved away leaving this empty husk, a bare shell of a woman who seems very sweet, very gentle… and full of needless suffering. So much pain.

Her former business partner and close friend wrote some kind words about Mom to my aunt, and I realized once again how the outside world knows a very different Lynn than I did. No one else experienced her as a mother, and most people from her public persona would never believe the things she said or did. How could such a kind, generous, sweet, compassionate woman be so cruel? Because untreated Borderline Personality Disorder, that’s how. She was both personae, now she is neither… though she is closer to her public persona than her private. This is a good thing for her and for everyone around her.

She’s obviously suffering so much. She is in constant discomfort, even while she’s sleeping, and she is obviously distressed in her thoughts as well as in her physical sensations.

My mantra while there – “no one deserves this.”

Coming Soon: Part Four

 

The Absence of Presence – Part Two

Continued from Part One:

This photo shows, starkly, the overall tone and sentiment of my visit with Mom Sunday, the second day. Both of us overshadowed by the agony of her affliction.

One of the fears I had about visiting her was of making things worse. If she did recognize me, would it cause her stress, anxiety, too much excitement? What if she did recognize me, and was reassured that I was there… and then I was suddenly gone? Would that traumatize her anew? These were among many fears and concerns I had to stare down in their red, beady eyes.

I’ve read about how people try to interact with dementia patients, though it was suddenly very starkly clear I was unprepared for this. Things are different when it’s personal. Things are different when 48 years of life and experience are scattered and flung to the four winds, leaving me standing alone in the barren field of her dementia. She was there, but not there, caught in some purgatorial hinterlands of her own failing mind.

I knelt before her, having no idea where to start.

“Mom? Hi. Hi, it’s me, it’s Erin. I’m your daughter.” I managed a weak smile. She was fairly sedated, and could not keep her eyes open for long. When they were open,¬†¬†it was difficult to get her eyes focused on me (or on anything, for that matter.) After awhile, same nurse who told Mom I was here knelt with me before her chair with the tray removed. She took Mom’s hand and put it on my face and took a very authoritative, loud tone.

“Lynn, Lynn – your daughter is here. Your daughter is¬†here. She came to see you. Touch her, hug her! She’s here and she loves you!”

I had not yet said “I love you,” and I wouldn’t for awhile. I didn’t want to lie, and I didn’t know whether it was true. I was still trying to adjust to this wretched figure before me being my mother.

I had the feeling the nurses’s words were as much for my benefit as for Mom’s; she didn’t know our history, she only knew Mom had been asking for me and that I had never visited. She kept trying, kept putting mom’s hand on my face, kept trying to get her eyes to open and focus.

Then, after getting virtually no response from Mom, she said to me, “Oh my God, her brain is just gone, it’s gone.” Mom’s hand fumbled on my face and neck limply and without much response. “Lynn! Touch your daughter, she came to see you from California. Lynn! Lynn! Your daughter loves you!” This was the first time I came to tears – the kindness of the nurse, coupled with her stark words, mixed with the enormity of our relationship, of the situation.

My mother’s house was a very nice two-story Colonial in a good neighborhood, full of her books and beloved possessions. Here, she was sharing a room with another dementia patient, with only a few scattered belongings to remind her of home: Some photos, my old deacon’s bench that held my toys for so many years, one of her favorite paintings, a few knick-knacks on a bookshelf. Nothing more.

Mom walks almost continuously. If she is not sleeping, she wants to walk. This is apparently common in dementia patients, and in her case, they believe she is looking for me. She very frequently talks about “my daughter, I have to find my daughter,” and worries about me being in some kind of danger relating to water.

Sunday morning, my dad told me of a time when I was 4 years old and we were at Lake Michigan camping on the sand dunes. My mother was back at the campsite, while Dad and I were playing on the beach. I took it upon myself to wander off, he thinks maybe back toward the campsite, but I didn’t know my way and I got lost. I was only away from my parents for maybe 10-15 minutes at most, he said. However my mother was in an absolute panic, and I’m certain it felt like a small eternity to her and probably to my father as well. He wondered (and now I do as well) if that’s where she thinks she is, and why she feels like I’m in danger and need rescuing. Cruel. Stuck not in happy times from her past, but horrible ones.

We got her laid out on her bed, only ever so briefly before she struggled to get up again and resume her endless march, and I looked over her tiny body closely.

I recognized the mole on the back of her left calf, and not much else. Her face… no. Her entire person… no. There was no visible sign of my mother. She had been devoured, erased by this disease.

I went through the video, grabbing still shots and editing them, finding ways to express how she had faded away:

She was kept fairly medicated for pain, as she had fallen recently and had a huge, awful bruise all over the right side of her bottom and back of her right thigh. Because of the physical pain, she often wore an expression of anguish, which I amplified in some to show the awful, ugly reality:

One of the wonderful caretakers told me she had recently gotten Mom to smile and dance a little bit, but her dancing was just moving her shoulders back and forth. I was happy to hear she had a moment of fun. She told me that before Mom took a radical turn for the worse, she had a friend, Phil, on the floor who would walk with her. They would sometimes stop and kiss. Sweet.

The patience of these women was profoundly humbling; I could never hold a candle to a one of them. It is exhausting and difficult to keep track of my mother as she carries on in her search which will always only end in failure to find her goal. She can no longer walk alone, she has to be accompanied so she doesn’t fall.

Trying to get her into bed, even when she is literally falling asleep on her feet, is impossible. She has a nearly superhuman strength, apparently also common with dementia. It took everything I had to try to keep her lying down, or to get her to lie down – it was impossible without hurting her.

They could restrain her, it would be the easiest thing for them, but instead… they walk with her. They ask her questions, they try to get her to engage.¬† When all else fails and they must attend to someone else, they sedate her further and wait. Her tolerance is so high, they have to dose her repeatedly to get her to calm or sleep. She seems to be more comfortable in her Jerry chair than in bed, so we try and try again to seat her for more than 30 seconds at a time.

She wants her hands held almost all the time, she wants human contact, and reaches for every hand she sees. While she was lying down quietly for a rare moment, I held her hand for the first time.

After awhile, convinced I would keep close watch, they left me alone with her to walk the halls. Eventually, I closed us in her room, because she was so medicated that when she stopped to turn around at the end of the hall, she stooped over asleep. I wanted to keep her close to her bed and chair, and so we walked in circles around her room. She would sometimes try to open the door, but I held it shut. She shuffled to the other end of the room and seemed to look at the photos on the bookshelf or out the window, but I don’t think her eyes actually saw anything external. I’m fairly¬†sure her eyes were closed, and when her grasping fingers touched upon and gently held the picture frames, she was only keeping herself upright as she fought the many milligrams of morphine.

At one point, she said, “itch my back,” and I thought maybe she recognized me at that moment because she would make that request of me sometimes, but perhaps not. Saturday was mostly just incoherent walking. I talked to her a little, and, when she was clearly in physical agony or was excessively worried about something going on in her head, I would reflexively say, “everything is ok.” What an exceptional lie. Nothing was ok. Absolutely nothing at all was “ok” in her world of turmoil.

I left after perhaps four hours, after which time I was exhausted. It was not a productive or satisfying visit in any way, I had not reached her at all. It was only ceaseless shuffling and struggling, punctuated by seconds of calmness. I went home to my dad and step-mom’s house to ponder, to recover, to wonder.

Continue Reading: Part Three

The Absence of Presence – Part One

I began writing this on November 6th while I was back in Michigan. Things have happened since then, and will be in the next few posts.


My mother is dying.

For many of you, this statement strikes a powerful and poignant chord in your hearts as you envision how you would feel were your own mother dying, or as you remember how you did feel when she passed. I empathize with you deeply, and envy you having a relationship with your mother that was different from me with mine.

My mother has Borderline Personality Disorder, which brings with it histrionic, manipulative, and generally cruel behaviors. While she stopped short of physical abuse, the emotional and psychological abuses were vicious. Because I didn’t know how dysfunctional our family was until I was in my thirties, I felt “close” to my mother for a few decades before realizing what we had was not closeness at all, but a wildly co-dependent relationship. I was the very definition of a preoccupied child.

My mother raised me to be both ego-maniacal and incredibly insecure. Depending upon her mood, I was both the best and worst possible child a mother could ever have, and I’ve written about that elsewhere on this blog. To this day, I still wrestle with low self-esteem, body dysmorphia, and other psychological and emotional issues as a result of her unceasing, relentless judgment. Fortunately for me, a gang of wonderful millennials taught this old dog some new interpersonal and personal tricks, and I’ve been so enriched by following their example. Thus, anyone who denigrates millennials as a whole will receive an entire earful from me about “not all millennials,” and how my particular kids have given me a lot of hope for the future of our species.

I don’t remember why she was crying here, but this was before The Great Schism.

In 2010, my mother was in a very minor 5mph car accident in which she hit her head including a direct blow to her Broca’s area on the driver’s side window, which left her with very bad paraphasia, visual disturbances (including the inability to make sense of written words or letters,) bad coordination, and terrible memory issues. Her life was irrevocably altered in an instant due to the misconduct of one reckless driver, as was my ability to reconcile any issues from my childhood with her – she simply did not remember them, and, cruelly, could not remember why I resented her so much. She only remembered the happy times, whereas I mostly remembered the bad.

I’ll spare you the lengthy details of the ensuing legal battles with her insurance company, but suffice to say she was completely screwed from every quarter. Despite the fact we had not spoken in over two years, I became her legal Guardian and Conservator, as well as her primary caretaker for over a year. It was unpleasant for both of us, and I admit I resented her the entire time.

Due to the duration of the legal battle, and the pitiful insurance settlement she received, she lost her car, her home, and most of her belongings. After 15 months, I could no longer stand it, and I surrendered Guardianship and Conservatorship to a law firm who specialized in those things. They’ve done a good job, as far as I can tell.

Since surrendering responsibilities, I have not seen or spoken to my mother. I learned she had been placed into an assisted living apartment because she was not safe living on her own. Then, she went into full-fledged adult foster care in a hospital facility. Last month, her case worker phoned to say she was not doing well and I should come see her if it was important to me to speak to her before she died. She wasn’t expected to pass immediately, so I had some time to decide.

I debated a lot as to whether I wanted to go back home to say goodbye. 90% of me did not. I sought my friends’ advice, which was overwhelmingly (and gently) this: Go, because you may regret it if you don’t. Go for yourself, if not for her. Go, in case she might recognize you. Go, unless it will truly destroy you as a person. Go, because you’re more likely to regret not going than having gone. Go.

Thus, when I received the call last week that she was in the end stages, I booked a flight for the next day and made arrangements.

This was how she looked about a year ago in a photo taken by my aunt:

Such a lost, yet hopeful expression; it just about makes me cry to look at.

Driving over to the facility, I made attempts to steel myself for this visit, but I had no idea what to expect. I realized I couldn’t very well prepare myself for whatever lay ahead and surrendered to whatever was going to happen. I was both relieved to be alone and also really wanting “Walter” with me. Business had taken him back home, and he could not come along. He told me I was strong, and that I could do this. Part of me believed him. Part of me was glad he wouldn’t see me crumple because that would surely inevitably happen.

When I arrived at the absolutely wonderful rehab facility that has been her home for the last year, I parked and went inside. Registering at the desk, I received her room number and directions. Exiting the elevator, I knew I was scant moments from seeing what I didn’t want to see, but had to see.

I approached her room, which was near the end of a hall. Inside, two beds, both empty. Some personal effects I recognized as inherently “Mom.” The beds’ mattresses were thin, much like camp cot mattresses atop frames that could be hand-cranked to raise and lower head and feet. There wasn’t much in the way of noticeable smells.

I knocked softly and called, “hello?” as I peeked inside. To my immediate left, two nurses had a gruesome figure in the shower. I saw this wretched, skin-and-bones, whimpering … the only word that comes to mind is “hag” of a woman being held up and firmly but gently sponge bathed. I don’t use “hag” as a derogatory term here: It is the only word I can use to convey the grimness of the apparition before me. Skin hung off her bones from head to foot, her breasts swung around her waist, bones jutted from her hips and legs, her normally dyed-dark-brunette hair was shoulder length, wild, and completely gray, her face a contorted rictus of misery. She was whimpering in misery almost constantly, in obvious physical and emotional distress.

The expression she wears here is how she appears most of the time – in agony. In hell.

Thus it was I saw my mother for the first time in over five years.

I would never have recognized her.

I stepped back into the hallway to preserve her privacy in such a state of misery and nakedness. I was stunned, heart-broken. My aunt had sent me a photo to help prepare me for what I was going to see, but even it didn’t show anything near the depths of despair to which my mother had sunk. When she went into assisted living, I would imagine she weighed well over 200 pounds. Now? Perhaps 100. When I last saw her, she was oriented and aware of her surroundings, had a sense of herself, and could remember some things about the past. Here? No longer.

When I told the two lovely women who I was, they were astonished. “Lynn!” exclaimed one woman with a beautiful central African accent. “Lynn! Your daughter is here!”

I heard a whining, barely-audible mumble from the skeletal figure. The nurse replied, “I’m not lying, your daughter is¬†here!”

After a few minutes, they had finished bathing her and dressing her in what must have been clothes from the Goodwill, and then helped her teeter-shuffle out of the bathroom. They managed to get her into her Jerry chair, a wheeled medical chair with a locking tray to hold her in – an adult-sized high chair, as it were.

I knelt before her, overwhelmed with compassion and sadness.

Continue Reading: Part Two

 

Confidence & Evolution – A Love Letter to BMWOCSD

Dearest BMWOCSD Members –

Today marks the one-year anniversary of my first visit to San Diego. I came to visit some Michigan friends who had moved here a couple of years before, and also to see if I might be interested in living here myself. As you’ve seen, I love to ride, so I had one requirement for my next place of residence: I needed to be able to ride my motorcycle year-round on beautiful roads. That was my single criterion. I was tired of putting up the bikes for 4-5 months out of the year, tired of riding in straight lines on boring, flat, shitty roads.

To be honest, we don’t get many snows like this anymore. Back in the 70’s, the whole winter was like this, and it was pretty great. Now, things just tend to be below freezing cold, dead, gray, and awful.

I was always interested in and attracted to motorcycles, but they seemed so unsafe, so unstable. Then I dated a guy (hi, Troy) with a V65 Sabre, and after a few rides on the back, I said, “ok, fuck this – I wanna drive.” I was 26 then, and I wish I’d started when I was 16. Or 6, for that matter. Instead, young Erin’s need for speed was confined to sneaking the family car out and careening down those abandoned country roads with my best friend, Lisa, and to tractors, and to roller skates.

A favorite childhood pastime.

Fast-forward to now: I’ve been riding for a minute – about 22 years, but the vast, overwhelming majority of that time was spent riding in central Michigan (otherwise known as, “where roads and cars both go to die.”) Whilst living in Lansing, we had to ride 30 minutes in one of two directions to hit any sort of twisties. Northwest, there were several s-curves in a row – several! Several was a big deal back there. Southeast there was a longer bit of road that was more twisty and which took a good 20 or so minutes to travel in one direction. Then, from there, we had a few fairly attractive options in the Ann Arbor area, but nothing to write home about. Let me show you what I mean – this is a map of the area:

See all those straight lines? Now imagine them filled with potholes the size of a Buick. That’s central Michigan for you.

Central Michigan is very agriculturally driven; those roads tend to either follow the property/field lines or water. As a result – I bought a Harley. Now, now, hear me out – I’ve been a sport and sport-touring rider for my entire riding career, and I largely held Harleys in contempt. In contempt, that is, until I rode one and just had a grin on my face the whole time.

No regrets – She was a great Michigan Bike.

So it came to pass that, in 2012, at the beginning of my very own Mid-Life Crisis*, I bought a brand new Harley Super Glide Custom, named her Dahlia, and spent about 16,000 very happy miles on her. Harleys are fun to ride in straight roads. Now, for those of you who have never lived anywhere¬†but in San Diego County, “straight roads” are exactly what they sound like – roads with nary a curve to be seen. Freeways here in SoCal are better than the best roads in central Michigan. You feel me? Right on.

I thought I was a pretty damned good rider when I lived in Michigan.

I was, of course, wrong – it’s just that Michigan is not precisely a hotbed of super-accomplished motorcyclists.

Thus, when I moved here, I basically had to learn how to ride all over again in a more tactical manner. Chuck and Lorraine took me on my maiden ride, and I was utterly blown away. We hit Sunrise, we hit Mesa Grande, we hit Palomar, we hit The Chairs, we hit … other roads I don’t remember… but I was exhausted by the end of it. My brain was going a kazillion miles an hour, and my shoulders were a little fatigued from “all the pushing” of the handlebars. Some of the turns intimidated the hell out of me – heck, some entire¬†roads intimidated me (Highland Valley, for example, was just a huge stressor for a good, long while.)

Back then, I was riding my now-gone FZ1-R1, and I loved her desperately.

Power all day long.

Many of you will remember: I was slowwwwww. As my beloved Mike Mc. recently said, “Erin, when you joined this club, you couldn’t pass a mouse.” He’s not wrong.

On impulse, I bought an FJ 09 for the annual trek up to Gerlach, Nevada (where I first met Chuck in the 90’s!) Had I known better then, I would’ve skipped straight to the GS and saved myself some money and headache, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Recently, Randy dubbed this bike “Cassandra:”

Sadly, the FJ did no favors to my riding skills; the stock tires were so utterly abysmal – what they lacked in road feel they also lacked in grip. Confidence = undermined.

Thus, when I first started riding with the club, I was inexperienced on these roads, on a bike whose tires fought me every inch of the way. It wasn’t until I put new PR4’s on Cassandra that my riding noticeably improved and I began to fully appreciate the FJ’s light weight, incredible power, and extreme agility. Juuuuust in time to buy the GS, naturally.

By the time I picked up the GS, I mostly had the hang of San Diego roads, and the confidence boost the GS gave me was immense. You all know the story of how Ember came to pass, so suffice to say, I am so happy with this bike. She is the best bike, the nicest bike, I have ever had. I ride the GS better and faster than any bike I’ve had, and only some of that can be attributed to me – much glory to the bike.

Best. Bike. EVER.

I’ve been gradually riding better and better, thanks to following behind some of the best riders I’ve ever personally known: Rex, the two Scott’s, Phil, Tom, the aforementioned Mike, Nick, Edward, Rich, Jonathan, Bob S., a couple of Bill’s, and more than a few assorted others. You guys have been the best instructors, just leading by example most of the time, and at others, offering advice.

Lately, I’ve come to feel more confident, and confidence is where it’s at.

The San Luis Obispo trip was a huge turning point for me; these were roads I’d never ridden on previously, in a group comprised of people with whom I’d not ridden previously (or at least not much, apart from Scott R. and Scooter Bob.) Thus, I had no expectations, no preconceived notions of what was hard, what was easy, what was scary, and who was “way faster than I am.”

I just rode, subscribing largely to the, “If He Can Do It, So Can I” theory of speed – if Scott, on his older GS, could keep this pace on roads he hadn’t ever been on before… shit, maybe I could, too.¬†

Familiar words echoed in my head: “Erin, you have¬†got to learn to trust that GS.” The thing is, I trust the GS implicitly – that bike knows what it’s doing, no question. The distrust lies within myself – I don’t trust my reflexes, my judgment, enough to have faith that whatever is around that turn, I can handle it. I feel like all of the people I noted above have that kind of confidence – and, short of a bus blocking both lanes, they’re probably right.

Sure, the odds are in our favor on blind curves, but one never truly knows. I was talking to The Unnamed Gentleman the other night about this very thing, and he summed things up succinctly: “I ride for the 99% of the time it’s going to be clear; you might choose to ride for the 1% it might not be.” He went on to talk about ways to mitigate possible problems (late-apex cornering, for example,) but in the end, it comes down to faith and common sense.

Faith and common sense. Are these mutually exclusive?

I’ve had more than a few “oh, shit!” moments on bikes when reflexes and instinct took over and everything worked out just fine – my muscle memory and judgment did their things. Those things weren’t always the¬†best courses of action, but they got me through.

And it surprises me Every. Damn. Time.

After the SLO trip, though, I noticed a change. Yes, some of the curves and roads were still a bit intimidating, but it didn’t matter as much – sit there, twist that, everything is good and fun. Fine and dandy. I’ve been working consciously on removing any preconceived notions of “this curve is scary” and instead, just riding.

This past weekend, I rode with Klaus for the first time, just the two of us. He took it easy on me at first, and then suddenly, we were fucking flying through the curves. I started scraping things. Hard. Hard enough to actually warrant backing off on Montezuma because I was afraid three points of contact were going to flip me into a high-side or other gnarly situation. I am certain Klaus could have gone a fair bit faster, flinging that HP2 all over hell and gone, but we were moving right along.

The sidestand footprint enlarger took a hell of a beating on Sunday. It hangs down a fair bit lower than the peg – which somehow also got scraped. No bueno, no bueno at all.

Upon seeing that, The Unnamed Gentleman said, “Your suspension is on SOFT.”
“Nope. HARD.”
“Hard ROAD, hard DYNA?”
“Hard DYNA.”
“So when you’re pushing that hard, try one rider with bags. It will keep the bike from sagging at the apex under the G-force.”
“I’m afraid that’ll be a little tall when stopping.”
“Won’t really affect the height.”

I went downstairs and adjusted the suspension, feeling the bike lift up a good two inches on me. “Won’t really affect the height,” he said. I’ll give it a go for now, though.

After Sunday’s romp, I have zero chicken strips on my rear tire and I have to say – that feels pretty awesome. However, I’m now confronted with learning how to ride all over again at a different level – using body weight to reduce lean angle. I’m not going to be dragging knees anytime soon, and likely never will, but I have to start getting used to hanging my ass off the saddle a bit to help things along.

Plus, I need to learn how to ride in the dirt. All the learning: I can’t wait. All of this I would love to one day parlay into a traveling, ADV-moto-journalist career, but I can’t afford to quit the day job just yet, and it’s not an easy field to break into.

Back to my main point: This club has been amazing and has helped me to advance my riding by several levels. You’ve shown me the¬†best roads, both paved and not, you’ve given me a tribe here in SoCal when I had none.

I am exceptionally grateful to all of you who have been so welcoming, so kind, so gracious, so helpful. I want to give a bunch back to the club and am still figuring out the best ways to do it.

From the bottom of this Michigan farm girl’s overflowing heart – thank you.¬†I’ll do my best to make everyone a casserole over time.

*¬†The rest of the mid-life crisis went like this: Chop off 20 inches of hair; dye short hair weirdo colors (wait, I’m still doing that – shit;) leave husband; divorce husband; proceed to date a bunch of people half my age; buy a flashier car than I needed; run up credit card debt; move to SoCal.

An Open Letter to Louis CK

Louis –

I’m pissed.

I’m pissed at you.

I’m of course pissed at you because you have caused trauma and stress to people (particularly women) around you, but I’m also selfishly pissed that I (and the rest of the world) will be deprived of your unique humor and wit because you literally could not keep it in your pants appropriately.

Am I¬†surprised? No. Hell, no. Anyone who has listened to your material understands your obsession with masturbation, and how you weirdly sexualize things like newscasters saying “Libya.” Thus, “surprised” is not on my list of emotions. What is?

Disappointed.

“Disappointed” tops my list. It is followed by “sad” and “angry” and a whole host of other feelings, but I am selfishly disappointed in no small part due to the fact that I’m probably not going to get to hear new Louis CK material for a very long time, at least not outside trying to recover from this series of stupid, unthinking, even-more-selfish incidents.

Let me tell you about our one-sided history together: I have watched “Live at the Beacon Theater” (sometimes just having it on in the background) several times a month for the last six years; I’ve watched and rewatched “Louie;” I have quoted you and posted clips of my favorite Louis CK bits all over hell and gone whenever even remotely relevant. Some are embedded in my blog posts.

I can’t say I’m your biggest fan¬†because that’s silly, but I was a pretty damn big fan. I’m not a “fan” kind of person, either: I’m not generally possessed of a desire to meet celebrities (other than a brief series of childhood fantasies about living with The Fonz and sleeping in the same bed with him – I was five at the time, so I didn’t even know what that was about,) and I don’t get starstruck often. But you? I thought you’d be amazing to sit around and hang out with. I’ve wanted to talk to you about your experiences, ask questions about some of your material. Sure, I knew you’d have less than zero interest in doing so, but that didn’t much matter. There was this tiny little voice in my head sheepishly saying, “maybe we could be friends.”¬† That probably would have been a disaster, much like your “maybe something nice will happen [on a date]” – straight into the shitter.

Not only did you nail the comedy, but you also reached¬†deeply into uncomfortable topics, into awkward situations (typically where you were the subject, but not always,) and you offered poignant insights into the overall human condition that not a lot of other people would even touch. I fucking¬†miss that, man. There were some moments in “Louie” when I literally had to avert my eyes to tone down the mortification factor. The woman who broke down crying about her daddy in the middle of sex? Yeah.

We’re of a similar age, and I am also divorced/single/alone, so I related to a metric honkload of your material in that groove.¬† In the pilot with¬†Chelsea Peretti? Holy¬†shit, dude, I wanted to claw my eyes out and slither under the floor at each inept pass. I don’t think that could have been any more awkward unless you… oh. I was going to say, “unless you actually took out your cock and started masturbating on the bench,” but that’s just a little too on the nose now, isn’t it?

 

There is a less-selfish disappointment, too, one not born of “but now I can’t get my Louis CK fix!”

I really thought you were one of the good guys.

Truly. I thought you were self-aware enough not to be That Guy. I thought, based on some of your comedy bits and show dialogue that you really Got It, that you understood women have a shitty, terrible time out there in some respects, and that you wouldn’t perpetuate that kind of bullshit yourself. To be fair, from what I understand, these incidents happened years ago, and maybe you’ve been working to atone for them. I dunno. That matters, but it matters less than you might think.

Your issued statement takes a fair amount of responsibility, at least. It’s heartening to know you understand why what you did was wrong – maybe you are just parroting what you’ve been reading in the #MeToo movement, but it at least sounds genuinely remorseful (if a bit defensive, but in your situation, it’s really hard to be utterly gracious and humble; of course you want to try to defend yourself to a degree. It’s an embarrassing, shitty predicament you’ve put yourself in with huge ramifications. I have no idea if I’d be able to handle it myself.)

When Al Franken’s photo came out, I started a blog post about all of this and couldn’t ever publish it – this recent surge of allegations and reactions is a complicated phenomenon on so many levels, it’s damn near impossible to discuss honestly without sounding like a.) an apologist for predators, b.) an obsessive feminist or vitcim, or c.) an ignorant, indifferent passer-by. I have questions about what the right and wrong repercussions are for men (like you) who have committed these acts. Asking those questions makes me sound like one of the three types above. Not that anyone on the internet would ever conceivably jump down anyone else’s throat, mind you, especially when discussing a hot topic such as sexual predation… oh, wait.

When I think about this, I don’t think about it in terms of “I, too, am a sexual abuse annd assault survivor who gets harassed often.” I am (one incident is described here,) but that’s not the overriding thought in my lobes – the predominant mantra is a toddler-esque¬†“but it’s not faaaaaiiirrrrr” followed by catching myself (literally several times on any given day) thinking about material that’s somehow relevant to the moment at hand.¬† Fuck, that sounds obsessive and stalkery, which I don’t think I am: Some people think about “Star Wars” as it relates to their lives, some people think about “Lord of the Rings,” others think about “The Wire” (the poor bastards;) it’s all about what and who we relate to. Me, I relate to motorcycles, [insert long list of boring things no one wants to hear about,] and you. Irrespective of whether either one of us likes it, you’re in my head, man. From what I can tell, we have a lot in common. Yayyyyy. <sigh>

That’s about all I’ve got right now, Louis. These thoughts have been bumping around in my head for months now, and I had to get them out in whatever inept form they took. I know there is an approximately zero percent chance you’ll ever see this, but, while I’d like for you to see it, it was more important for me just to clear my head.

Sincerely,

eDar

Faith

 

Not all of my bikes have named themselves, but a few have:

1973 CB500 – Lucille
1992 Seca II – Cricket
1992 K100RS – Cicada
1997 K1100RS – Grak
2012 Super Glide Custom – Dahlia

Whether a bike has a name is not related to whether I especially like it; take, for example, the 1997 1200 Bandit Рone of my most favorite bikes ever, but it never chose a name. See also the damnable K100RS. That bike and I fought tooth and nail from Day One, but she named herself almost immediately.  It is still a mystery to me how I completed my Bun Burner Gold astride it. I suppose I should chalk that success up to the Russell Day Long Saddle and call it good.

My beloved FZ1 never chose a name and had some gender identity issues. The FJ09, same.

The FJ and I had a bumpy start in large part due to the absolute crap stock tires. Many times now, I’ve said those tires were like having sex with 4 condoms on: You know something is going on down there, but you’ve got no real idea what. I couldn’t stick securely to the pavement, let alone feel what road conditions were like.

Having spent quite a few years on the phenomenal Pilot Road and Pilot Power series, this was extremely unsettling and I didn’t trust the grip. That, coupled with the extremely sensitive fly-by-wire throttle, coupled further with the almost-too-tall saddle height, and it was a recipe for unease. The upright seating position was¬†super weird for me, too, and even the bars and grips fought me – both hands became very numb after about 15-20 minutes for the first several weeks I rode. The saddle is like a plank, but it’s comfortable for a good 4-5 hours before my behind really starts getting antsy.

It was not, shall we say, “love at first sight.” However, I’d done my research, and I sensed its potential, so I signed the papers a few days before Chuck, Lorraine, and I left for our Gerlach, NV trip. Do I regret that decision now? Maybe. However, finances aside, the FJ did a great job prepping me for the GS – had I leapt directly from the FZ to the GS, I might have been wholly unprepared.

Still a damn fine platform.

Eventually, the FJ and I reached a state of reasonable detente: I loved its performance, but disliked a small but significant number of items. Then, about 10,000 miles in, I replaced the stock Sportmax tires with my preferred PR 4’s, and¬†holy wow, what a difference. The whole way home from the dealership after having them mounted, I was wondering, “what the hell is that feeling?” Most of the way home, I realized, “Oh – that’s The Road, the thing I’ve been missing for 10k miles.”

My confidence soared, my cornering improved, and I was able to keep up with some of my favorite riding partners. Finally. It was like remembering how to ride after having been in a six-month haze.

Despite this much-improved situation, the FJ was (and is) limited to the pavement for all intents and purposes. She does not much care for dirt, much less gravel or mud or large bumps. My eye began to wander, and my BMW Owners Club of San Diego cohorts were only too happy to begin selling me on a BMW R1200GS as The Perfect Mount.

I’d estimate 80% of this club rides a GS. I don’t like “fitting in” and doing what all the cool kids are doing, so I wasn’t initially at all interested in saddling up to look like everyone else. However. Years ago, I learned that sometimes, when something is really popular, it’s not just trendy – sometimes, it’s actually an amazing product.

I resisted, and hard. The last (and only) time I rode a GS was back in 1999, and I found it far too tall, too heavy, and entirely “meh.” I was a sport-touring rider – I wanted a sportbike, and the GS was most definitely not that. Not then. My K1100RS and I were perfectly happy together.

When I began riding with this club, there was a guy on a red Ducati for the first few rides. I remember thinking, “this guy is kind of slow, maybe next time I’ll pop in front of him in line.”

On the next ride, Red Ducati Guy (whose actual name is Phil, now one of my most favorite people around) showed up on his R1200GS and¬†absolutely killed it. I couldn’t have kept up with him if I tried. My mind was blown – what in the actual hell? The GS was bigger, heavier, had ADV tires on it, and seemed an unlikely candidate for that kind of performance.

Boy howdy, was I ever misinformed.

Damn near everyone in this club who is at the front of the pack rides a GS, and there are several metric honkloads of reasons why, all of which can be summed up thusly: They’re fucking amazing. In every way.

They are also, of course, somewhat spendy for the newer models. I still wasn’t ready to entertain it as a bike for me.

Fast-forward several months, during which time my friends were exceptionally… “helpful”… in guiding me toward a GS. Phil was especially relentless – it seemed like not 10 minutes went by without a reminder.

All this talking got me to the point where I was willing to at least give one a test ride. Our former club President, Edward, conveniently works at the local BMW shop. I went in looking for a lowered GS, thinking that would probably be the only model I could conceivably keep afloat. Edward, a master salesman, calmly helped me to realize that a standard GS with the seat in the low position would probably be workable.

And it was.

Off I went on a test ride Рstandard GS, low seat position. After about 45 minutes in rush-hour traffic, I headed back to the barn: Everyone was right. The GS is a superlative platform, and I was pretty comfortable on the standard version. Edward, bless his soul, gets a fair share of the credit for winning me over.

The bike that started it all: The first modern-era GS I’d ridden. Standard height, low saddle.

That price tag, though. It was north of $15k, which was about $5k more than I ideally wanted to spend. I told him I’d have to think on it and do some math.

The following weekend, Phil & Mike Mc. helpfully escorted me up to the other local-ish BMW shop in Escondido, where they had not one, not two, but¬†four lowered GS’s on the premises. I immediately found the one I liked best – a 2016 Triple Black with 5500 miles, crash bars, heated grips, and other assorted fineries. Phil led me on a supremely fun test ride that lasted perhaps a half hour. My feet look flat-footed when I’m on this bike, but in truth they’re not¬†quite all the way down. My boot soles may be fully on the ground, by my heel inside the boot is about a half-inch off the insole. Still, I am reasonably stable.

This bike had so many enticing features in addition to the above: Cruise control, spoked wheels, dark smoke screen, newer ADV-type tires, hard bags (which will soon be swapped out with my existing Givis,)

That was the bike. That was the one. It was also $18k – no way. Rudy, the excellent sales guy I was working with, ran some numbers on financing with me, and they just weren’t appealing at all. I told him I had to pass, waved goodbye to that bike (which would surely be snapped up immediately after I left,) and went on about my life.

Mostly.

Visions of that bike literally kept me awake at night. It¬†haunted me. I couldn’t fall asleep. If I woke up in the middle of the night, my brain immediately latched right back onto it. NO, I kept telling myself – you’re in enough financial hot water as it stands, missy, let’s not compound matters. Ok? Ok.

Phil seized upon this bike almost as much as I did. When I got home, this was waiting for me:

He was relentless, spamming me with memes of his dogs (truly, the lowest of the low:)

Greg was also an enthusiastic contributor, dropping helpful links on my Facebook wall for me to consider.

A week went by, and the bike had not sold. I remained resolute – it just wasn’t meant to be.

I received a very nice tax return that would’ve covered half the bike. NOPE, pay down credit cards. Ok, pay down the cards and buy some farkles for the FJ.

Shortly thereafter, I got a modest raise at work that would cover the payment almost exactly. Shit. Nope, nope, nope – pay down the credit cards!

I would check the website daily… maybe a few times daily… to see if it had sold. Nope, still there.

Then, last Saturday morning, I woke up and they had dropped the price by $1,000. It was a fairly miserable, rainy day and no one in the club wanted to ride after breakfast save David. He was amenable to riding up to the dealership via back roads to see what was up with the bike.

Up we went. I don’t like riding in the rain, especially out here where the roads don’t get rained on very often. The oil and other build-up on the pavement is treacherous, not to mention all the detritus on the road from the adjacent landscape: Sand, mud, rocks, you name it.

We arrived, and there she was. I said hello and looked her over before going to find Rudy. “If you can do $16k out the door, I’ll buy it right now,” was my initial offer. He chuckled a bit and started working numbers.

Soon thereafter, Phil wandered in, an expectant grin on his face. He was there to get an intercom system installed on his wife’s helmet, but he was pretty excited about this new bike prospect, too.

Rudy was able to drop the price down to $16,250 – nice. However, that left a nasty sales tax and registration fee to deal with. Out the door, about $17,600. Whuff.

I had to think long and hard about this.

As I was contemplating, Scott R. showed up. Then Tony C. I felt like the club was crawling out of the woodwork to bear witness.

After talking with my bank, getting Rudy to match their interest rate, and a lot of hand-wringing… I took the leap.

I signed the papers.

I now own a drop-dead gorgeous, practically new, factory-lowered 2016 R1200GS Triple Black.

Phil might have been almost as thrilled about this as I am – that grin lit up the surrounding six counties. Pictured below, a trace of that grin as he looks upon his GS, my GS, and Gary A.’s GS, all in a pretty row at Cameron Corners.

Putting a grin on Phil’s face was almost as much fun as getting the bike.

After receiving many high-fives and congratulations, I mounted up and Dave led me home. I had asked him to take it easy, given the solid rain going on. As it turns out, that wasn’t even remotely necessary – the bike didn’t seem to notice anything out of the ordinary and just stuck smoothly to the road. Two-thirds of the way back, I told Dave I didn’t want to stop riding.

Here’s the email I wrote when I got home:

The end of one era, the beginning of another
erin darling
Mar 10 
to BMW Chatter

A girl can only hold out for so long when the universe jumps up and down trying to get her attention.

That I lasted as long as I did is a minor miracle, but as of about noon today, I capitulated and bought the triple black GS, much to the delight of all parties present. It started out with only Dave and me, but then out of the woodwork there suddenly was Phil. And then Scott R. And then Tony C.

Many grins, many high-fives. Phil now has to find something else to torment me with – I am confident it will take him about 8 nanoseconds to come up with something utterly demonic.

This bike, though.

She.

Is.

So.

Fucking.

PERFECT.

I didn’t want to go home, despite the persistent and often enthusiastic rain: I’m not sure the bike even realized the roads were wet. A kazillion raindrops needling into my face couldn’t put a dent in my grin.

Today, Derek rode the FZ1 to Gio’s and I handed over the last of the paperwork – she’s gone. Goodbye, dearest heart – you were loved desperately. That era is over for me.

Tomorrow, as we say goodbye to Gio’s and close out yet another chapter, I’ll introduce you to my hot new bride as we embark on our honeymoon. It’ll be a long ride day for me – I’ll start with you guys, do that up, and then head out for whatever distant destination beckons (company welcome, of course.)

Thanks for all the advice, encouragement, and even the harassment – my stubborn side doesn’t let peer pressure get to me, but I couldn’t stand all the arrows pointing more and more brightly to this bike.

When I inevitably drop it and can’t pick it up, I will perhaps have a moment’s regret, but then in a bit I’ll be underway and grinning again (unbroken body parts allowing.)

The next morning, I was One of Us. Below, Tony C., with Edward (who is still speaking to me, even) in the background.

It’s a little uncomfortable, frankly, to be riding the same bike most other people are also riding, but I Get It Now. It’s silly to avoid something amazing just to avoid being one of the herd. Some things (oxygen, water, and GS’s) are worth a little herd-hanging.

Phil has already found his next thing to torment me with:

That is Phil’s Ducati. There is an approximately 0% chance of me buying one anytime soon, if ever. NO, REALLY.

Sunday’s ride involved a lot of still-damp pavement, but the bike did not notice or care. I’m not used to ADV-type tires that are designed for on- and off-road use. The tires currently mounted are not aggressive dirt tires at all, but they’re less sporty than I’m accustomed to, and I was initially quite concerned about that.

As we set out, I kept thinking, “I can’t really feel the road,” and the bike kept saying, “let me worry about the road – you just settle in and enjoy the ride. Get used to the shift assist, take in the scenery. I’ve got this.”¬†And so she did.

It is an exercise in trust for us both: She says, “I’m trusting you to use the clutch sometimes, and also not to wrap us around a tree. You can trust me to do the rest. I promise.”

“I’m going to tip you over at some point, you realize… I’m… I’m sorry in advance.”
“Tipping over is okay – let’s just make sure that’s the worst that happens.”

My lack of concern about the lack of pavement sensation was in itself disconcerting, but I quickly got used to it. There is a very noticeable pull toward the outside of the curve at speed РI can definitely feel the low center of gravity pulling down and outside. However, it feels like something that will be easily predictable once I get used to it Рit seems like a constant increase in pull related to speed and weight, not a variable one based on whatever.

There was only one vanishingly brief moment on the ride where I felt a little concern – on a road I’d not been on previously, I went into a turn that was sharper than it initially appeared to be and the pavement was seriously uneven. I heeled over, hit a few bumps, felt the rear end slip juuuuust¬†a touch, and then everything was fine and smooth again. A non-event. On the FJ, that might have been Much Badness due to the wallowing after hitting a bump mid-curve.

Those western bits on Highland Valley Road where there are Significant Pavement Anomalies mid-curve? The ones I was always astounded no one seemed to care about? The ones that nearly threw me off the road? Non-issues.

The bike has a feature I initially held in a bit of contempt: “Shift Assist Pro.” This essentially renders the clutch irrelevant for 80-90% of all shifts, and a lot of the club members rave about it. I’ve been using clutches on vehicles since 1985 – “Oh no,” I thought, “having to pull a lever once in awhile – how terrible.” The thing is, though, being able to be lazy (which isn’t all bad in this case) isn’t the only perk; it’s also¬†safer with the assistance. Upshifting takes a fraction of a second and makes acceleration smoother and faster. The real glory, however, is downshifting – especially in a curve, if necessary. Granted, with shift assist downshifting, the throttle should ideally be fully closed, which isn’t where one typically wants to be in a curve (if you’ve got the throttle closed and you’re still going too fast, you’ve made a mistake in judgment of speed and gear selection,) but even with the throttle mostly closed, it’s a really fast, buttery-smooth event that doesn’t fuck with one’s line very much. No wallowing.

I was not ready to be done when the group was, so I hit the 15 and headed back up north to meet with a friend who had recently picked up a bike himself. We cruised over to Borrego Springs at a leisurely pace, enjoying the views along Montezuma. At one point, I had to pull over to the side to let my friend catch up, and in so doing,¬†allllmost dropped it to the right. I caught enough traction and strength to keep her from going over at the last possible second. There is most definitely a lean-angle “Rubicon” point on this machine, and I’m sure I’ll find it sooner rather than later. Thank goodness for the crash bars.

This is the nicest, best-appointed bike I have ever owned. Yesterday, Thursday, I took a couple-few-hour trip around our usual routes. Temperatures varied from 64 down to 49, and on other bikes, numbers south of 62 tend to get me pretty chilled without warm gloves and a down liner in my jacket.

As I was getting a tiny bit chilly, I had a Matrix/”I know kung-fu” moment:

Only it’s:

The upper forties required neither my super-warm-even-when-not-plugged-in Widder gloves nor my down liner. It was glorious. On the freeway home, another epiphany:

So this is what having a modern bike is like! Bells! Whistles!! Hand relief! TECHNOLOGY!!

In short, I am bonding with this bike really well. There are moments when I feel like a modern-day cowboy with a beloved horse. I liken Ducatis to Arabian stallions: They are high-strung, expensive, twitchy, and will buck you off if you’re not paying attention. The FJ was nowhere near that level of finicky, but I’d place her at maybe half-Arabian gelding when in “standard” mode. “Standard” is performance-with-manners-oriented. In “aggressive” mode, which I seldom use, it might get bumped up to full-Arabian gelding. Mode A is “holy-shit-hold-on-and-hope.”

The GS? Thoroughbred. Pure elegance, exquisite smoothness underway, a bit on the large side, but capable of doing pretty much anything. It is not a barrel racer, but it is insanely fast and agile for its size and weight. It is not a carriage-pulling Draft Horse, but it has significant low-end power. I’ll keep her in “rain” mode for a bit to get used to all the things, and then we’ll start having some real fun.

What I lack in height I also lack in upper-body strength: I learned yesterday that I cannot get her up on the centerstand, or at least haven’t yet figured out how – even with the suspension on HARD, it’s a non-starter with my lousy back. Given I don’t have a chain to lube (WOOOOO!!) that won’t be a frequent problem, per se, but I would like to be able to throw her up there as needed. I’ll figure it out, likely by putting it onto “two-up with luggage” mode.

Further, what I lack in self-restraint I also lack in common sense: I am not known for my good financial decisions (case in point, this one right here.) I’m a “leap now, look later” sort of person. I have faith things will somehow, some way, work out and that I’ll be ok.

Buying this bike is a leap of faith that I’ll land on my feet. It’s a leap that I’ll develop the skills to keep it upright under emergency conditions if I don’t already have them. It’s a leap, much like entering a blind curve – we trust it’ll be fine, and if it’s not, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Ah, yes – A kazillion words later, I’ve remembered my original point: Names. We’ve tried a few names on for size, bandying them back and forth between us (I know I’m insane, no need to point it out.) She suggested “Sue” at one point, to which I immediately issued a peremptory challenge. No thank you, please.

There are two strong contenders – one more meaningful than the other (but also far less interesting.) Both are very appropriate. We’ll see which she chooses soon.

 

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

For many years, I was a thoroughly shitty person. Competitive, judgmental, negative – all the things – probably more internally than externally, but I’m certain it was obvious to others more often than not.

Many of these thoughts and behaviors were directed at other girls (and later, women) because I had been so fully conditioned to see other women as some evil force in the world, competition for male attention, threats to my personal satisfaction, et cetera.

What. Utter. Bullshit.

It was doubly idiotic in my case, because I am I am often attracted to women as well as to men, so I had this ridiculous war going on in my head of hating women, of feeling ultra-threatened by them, and yet also being drawn to a number of them.

Thankfully, somewhere in my thirties, I managed to break through that insane socialization and began to appreciate women, to respect them, and to be very gentle with judgment. Of course, there are a ton of women who are better at things than I am. Of course, there are women who are far more intelligent, more together, more attractive, more everything than I am.

And that’s ok.

I’m sure many, perhaps even most, of you grokked this far earlier on in life than I did, but my perfect storm of a wretched, judgmental mother combined with American marketing and general socialization, had me swallowing that particular bait hook, line, and sinker.

I couldn’t be more grateful to the people who unknowingly helped me to climb out of that pit of despair. Thank you. My life is so much richer, far less miserable, now that I can accept other women as whole people rather than just Competitors.

Recently, I became friends with a woman who would have sent me through the roof with jealousy and anxiety a decade ago. She is intelligent, kind, driven, skilled, generous, supportive, gorgeous, and just generally¬†neat. The more I get to know her, the more I adore her: She’s all the things. The¬†good things. Sure, I’m certain she has her baggage like the rest of us do, but her level of kick-ass far exceeds that other stuff. Look at this girl:

Right? Not only does she ride, but she races. And she rides dirt.¬† She does all manner of things I’d love to do myself but never made priorities in my life. So, I’ll live vicariously a little through her adventures and hopefully share some, too. Ten or fifteen years ago, I would have just quietly seethed with raging jealousy and avoided her, because I was dumb.

This post started knocking around my head this morning as I was scrolling through footage of the lunch ride down to Ensenada, Mexico, we took yesterday with two other friends. Raven (because of course her name is “Raven,”) was behind me for some of the trip, and I found myself looking for frame grabs in which she looked awesome (these, incidentally, are not hard to find.) I had one of those “huh!” moments as I realized I¬†wanted her to look awesome, to¬†be seen as spectacular. The me of days past would have quietly swept those under the rug. Here’s one now:

So, this is a sort of self-congratulatory post, which makes me wince, but I’ll throw it up here anyhow as part of my journey. You know me – I seldom have a thought that doesn’t come tumbling out of my fingers. Plus, since The Dawn of the Internet, I’ve found when I share shortcomings, it often helps someone else wrestling with similar things not to feel alone.

Here’s Raven’s Stuff so you can follow along with her, too:

Website: http://raventurous.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/raventurous/?hl=en

 

Motorcycles, Politics, Camping, Sex, Compassion, and Bees

Part One: Bees

Some days we never want to end, others cannot expire soon enough. This past weekend held a little of both, though the good certainly outweighed the bad and the ugly.

As one might surmise from the title, this is going to be a long one, folks, and we’re going to cover a lot of ground (badly, and without much in the way of Organization, might¬†I add.)

Let’s start with the bees, because they’re important, they’re dying all around us, and three of them¬†had important cameos this week. Wait, lies – Let’s start with this weekend’s plans, because they factor into everything.

On Tuesday, I decided¬†to¬†tag along on a group motorcycle camping¬†trip to the Salton Sea from Friday through Sunday. I’d not done motorcycle camping since 1996, and what better way to get back into the swing of things than with a gaggle of other like-minded folks?

Ok, now the bees.

That morning, I had found a very sickly looking bee on my patio furniture. I see dozens of dead bees around my apartment complex, which is always a sad thing. I have to assume there is some¬†kind of pesticide they’re using which is¬†killing them off in tragic droves, one by one, dozen by¬†dozen.¬† I find them lying on the sidewalk every day. I don’t know what sort of bees they are, or whether they are solitary, but I do know we need every last one of them that’s left on this Earth.

“To understand many things you must reach out of your own condition.”
~Mary Oliver

Thus, when I saw the wee girl on my chaise lounge, I didn’t have much hope of her being alive. I gently blew¬†across her wings, and¬†she¬†reared up¬†into a groggy but distinctly¬†defensive¬†position: Middle legs and stinger raised, wings outstretched, facing this new unknown threat. Immediately after assuming this posture, she¬†lost balance and tumbled onto her side. Oh, dear. Poison? Cold? I have no idea how to¬†distinguish a poisoned bee from one that is simply too cold. I watched her for a few seconds as her legs clumsily churned in slow motion, trying to¬†get her¬†upright.

I can’t stand to see animals suffer; it causes me anguish in a deep, sensitive, delicate area. My first instinct was¬†that she was dying, and that I should end her suffering. That’s such a final solution, though – I wanted to give her¬†the chance to survive. Hoping she was cold and that I could warm her up, I placed my index finger alongside her body so the¬†heat would radiate out¬†to her. She immediately perked up and began scrabbling¬†toward¬†me – not in an aggressive¬†manner, but in a keenly interested one: Her antennae¬†and front legs reached forward¬†ambitiously, her abdomen and stinger remained relaxed.

As quickly as she could, she climbed up onto my finger, legs frequently missing their steps and wobbling with every one, but she got there and then she sat quite still – only her antennae moved, daintily touching my skin, perhaps trying to figure out what I was, whether I was food, or just a heat source.

“This is quite an exercise in trust for us both, isn’t it?” I murmured.

I waited. After perhaps two minutes, her movements became more regular and coordinated, and after a minute more, she adroitly took to the sky where I hope she will live out a normal, healthy bee life. Thursday, the spectacle repeated itself as I found a similarly beleagured bee clinging to the wall near my elevator. She took much longer to come around, but eventually she, too, flew off into the sun. I videod that one, which is probably only of interest to me (and maybe Steven and Leslie:)

I hope this is amongst the right things to do, and isn’t causing them harm or more stress that will lead to terrible things. Thinking back to both of these times makes me feel happy: Altruism serves the self, too.

Flash-forward to Saturday night around a campfire burning in a large metal pit. A pale, half-inch-long spider ran in circles for over an hour along the rim of the pit, sometimes stopping to inquisitively check out its surroundings, but mostly just running around the rim fairly quickly. For awhile, no one else seemed to notice it, then Chuck pointed it out. We wondered why the circles – if it was too hot, why didn’t it simply hop off the edge into the cool darkness? Around and around and around, sometimes at what seemed like its top speed. Others began to notice it and watched.

I was worried someone was going to knock it into the flames – people are so often mindlessly cruel to tiny beings, particularly when we find them distasteful – but as far as I know, nobody did. I watched them watching it, trying to figure out what everyone, arachnid and human, was thinking. Naturally, I’ll never know. At some point, I looked for it, and it was gone – I hope off into the night to hunt some bugs, and not into the flames to briefly wither and then die. I was heartened, though, that at least for a half hour or 45 minutes, the humans elected to let it live. This brings us to:

Part Two: Compassion

We are strong when we show the smallest of beings compassion. Humans, lacking any real predators (though I do hold out hope for the bacteria and viruses to rein us in, perhaps soon,) might think we have little to lose or to gain by stepping on a spider or by putting it outside, unharmed. I posit we have everything to gain through compassion. The simple act of choosing kindness over cruelty or even over neglect actually changes our brain chemistry and our bodies. For the better. You can read a summary of one such study right here: Compassion Meditation. Scientific article here: Compassion Training Alters Altruism and Neural Responses to Suffering

Beyond quantifiable results, though, lie the more immediate, personal, less tangible ones: We feel good when we do good.¬† Some might feel a sort of smug satisfaction when squishing an insect, but is it really a¬†good feeling? Perhaps for some. If you’re someone who likes the idea of Power and Control, what greater satisfaction is there than to have the ability to decide whether something lives or dies? In the grand scheme of things, one spider, one bee, is meaningless to most of us – but it’s pretty fucking important to the spider and to the bee.

Let’s flip this around for those amongst us who aren’t of a mindset to live and let live. Let’s think for a moment about wild dolphins – these are powerful, intelligent animals, capable of quickly, easily, and efficiently killing humans in the water. Seldom does anything ever go wrong when people dive with them, though. Sure, there is the odd, misguided attempt at coupling, or a “rogue” habituated dolphin getting cranky, but most dolphin “attacks” get no worse than this – spoilers, no actual attack occurs, just enjoy:

They¬†could kill us, but they choose not to. There’s a lot of power in that. Wild-animal-related human fatalities typically happen under circumstances that are usually the fault of either that particular person (getting selfies with wildlife, trying to pet or feed wildlife, provoking wildlife, et cetera,) or of People in General (areas where wildlife is often fed, encroaching onto territories, et cetera.)

Predators other than humans don’t tend to attack without cause – the stakes are too high, even for the apex predators (wolves, sharks, bears, et al.) They forever live in a PVP, very¬†permadeath¬†world (non-gamers, click the links to learn the lingo.)

All of us have the physical ability to intentionally harm or kill lesser beings should we so choose. There have been (thankfully rare) times in my past when I was needlessly cruel that to this day cause me the greatest shame I have ever felt. I don’t know why I did the things I did, and I wish more than anything I could go back and not do them. Instead, I have to live with those memories as a reminder of what I was capable of when my worst self took over and beg the forgiveness of a vast universe.

That Ian Malcolm quote, though: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”¬† We all know how that ended up, don’t we: Velociraptors. Right? Right. The next time you see a spider or an ant that is not especially in your way, choose to let it live and see how that sits with you. I hope it takes, not only to benefit those critters who might otherwise be harmed, but also to benefit you, yourself – walk into the warm light, man; it’s really nice here. For all of us. I promise you won’t be any less of a badass by being kind – in fact, your level of badassitude will increase immensely because you¬†could choose pain or death, and you instead chose kindness and life. That? That is the ultimate in strength.

I have digressed, per usual. My point: Be compassionate, because you can afford to be. It costs nothing to extend kindness, and I suspect that even the most calloused, blackened heart can be warmed through its practice.

Let’s get off this particular soapbox and move on: Part Three: Motorcycles¬†(coming soon…)¬†