End a Fantasy

Yesterday, after much hemming and hawing, I was able to close a chapter in my life that had been holding me back. Since I was a kid I’ve had this idea lodged in my noggin that has driven me to do some very nutty things. For a long while the narrative went something like, “Yeah go to far away planets and drive/fly all over them in explorer fashion.” The early imagery of Battlestar Galactica fueled this fantasy more than anything else. Watching the Landram roar across some anonymous Southern California desert got things going for me back then.

As I got older and had some spare change rattling around it was this same dream that drove me to re-build a line of vehicles. It started with my first “real” bike. The one I saved up for and bought after many early mornings delivering news papers. It was a low-line, chromoly Fuji road racing bike. Back then the town I grew up in went nuts for the Coors Classic, a multi-stage bicycle race that started in California and ended in Golden, Colorado. When the tour came my little hick town became as cosmopolitan as a Swiss town nestled in the Alps, and everyone wanted to be Greg LeMond.

But not all of us are built like Greg LeMond. In fact, most of us just aren’t. It took me a summer of last place finishes on the River Road Time Trial to realize that as much as I might want to be a sports car, I wasn’t built for sprints. Eventually, I turned my race bike into a touring machine (another story herein). In doing so I was acting out this distance fantasy the Landram had seeded.

A long succession of bikes, skis, rollerblades, boats, cars, trucks and vans later I found myself spending my last red cent on a 2003 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab which I dubbed “Ootek.” My plan was to build it and then drive it some where far, far away. I wanted to see, from the driver’s seat, unknown rolling past and know that I was far beyond the reach of anyone’s aid.

Yesterday, I traded in “Ootek” and bought a tiny little Fiat. I did this because that fantasy was financial so far beyond my reach it had turned into a constant, nagging reminder of that vision and how unreal it had become given the context of my circumstances. Every time I drove the truck into the city I felt like I was behind the controls of a conquering tank. Every time I filled up the fuel tanks I was confronted with the range my financial situation imposed. My castle had become my hassle.

For better or worse, I am once again a denizen of the city. In order to afford the luxury of visiting the trailhead I need to get there quickly and cheaply. Otherwise I need to find workable and sensible ways to exist within my urban context. I’d prefer that these modes of travel also remain low impact and as moral as I can make them. Given the reality of climate change, fifteen miles to the gallon does not represent a moral exchange of GHGs for distance.

Trading wheels has already allowed me a nearly forgotten freedom of movement. I’ve spent most of the past five months recuperating from a mild back injury and a worrisome plantar pain. This week I’ve been able to get out and about with A-bear for some trail running. I can once again afford to get us to and from the trailhead. So while I won’t be driving our Prius v above the tundra or beyond paved roads, it feels, for the first time in a while, that I’ll be exercising my fantasy.

This May Become a Regular Thing

So, it came and went. That special day when we’re all supposed to get together and remember those who selflessly gave so much for our benefit. And now with Veterans Day safely behind us for another year we can go back to worrying about the President quoting scripture. Or better yet we can just natter about how morally corrupt we’ve become because we cannot feel comfortable in our own skin when someone wishes us “Happy Holidays.”

Still a Thing

Nothing ever changes, does it? For one brief moment in time every year we pay lip service to vets and then happily and somewhat idiotically proceed through life as if none of that really matters. A thank you, a hand shake and a wreath somehow make up for the debt we owe.

We’d like to imagine that there are “programs” in place to help. However, the Veteran’s Administration isn’t really set up to help, it’s an organization so full of loopholes, catch-22’s and caveats it makes the Army’s “hurry-up, and wait” bullshit appear almost efficient. This despite the best intentions of the people working and continuing to serve therein.

Right now Republicans are overly worried about too many brown people getting into their country; they remain predictably and ignominiously indifferent to the 22 vets per day that end their own suffering. Democrats? Yeah, like anyone cares. Had they a coherent platform which demanded a minimum bar of social justice they wouldn’t have been so sorely trounced in this last election cycle. Yet, with winter coming down in suffocating waves of cold there will predictably be at least 50,000 veterans sleeping under bridges and tucked away behind brambles. Those mules cannot even bring our plight to the table for debate, let alone do anything about it. The American political system done let us down.

Not that I believe such an indictment could ever metamorphose into prognosis, but this systemic malfunction of our society, I believe, prognosticates our demise. Here in America there seems to be a fundamental lack of concern. We don’t repair our bridges, we don’t take care of our veterans. And we’re predictably surprised when the former collapses from below us, and the latter turns and bites.

I-35W St. Anthony Bridge collapse in Minnesota, 2008

So yeah, I’m going to bring this up over and over again. Often, I feel like the operations guy at the software company who has to perpetually harp on the idea that system maintenance is critical and necessary component of expected up-time. If you don’t do what is necessary to maintain what you’ve already got, don’t be surprised when it fails making anything impossible. American’s love the idea that they are somehow exceptional. But we cannot rise above everyone else if our base is crumbling. Veterans, yeah these people are our foundation. But they’re just people; not heroes, not fantastical Übermensch on the march. People with failings, who lack vision, and most often, people who’ve lost their tribe.

This Might Help

This morning I made my way around to an article I’ve been meaning to read. It’s a piece on Slate about authors, most of them recognizable names, that went back years after publishing and reviewed their own work. The author of the article, Three Things You Learn When Famous Writers Reread Their Old BooksKaty Waldman sums up her take on this activity differently than I would. But I would point out, we can agree on one thing; that the notes in the margins reminded us that everyone who writes, regardless of the number of copies they’ve sold or the accolades they are due, is just a person like us. They are filled self doubt, they struggle through the writing process, they lament sentence construction and word choice.

Right now many of you are busily banging away at your keyboards, approaching the literary equivalent Mach 2, as you stretch yourselves for 50k words in #NaNoWriMo. Believe me when I tell you that eventually you will come back to this pile of words you’re assembling and say to yourself, “What the hell was I doing?”

Yesterday I agonized over a single word for hours; I’d leave the sentence and return to it, over and over, trying to massage the damn thing because I was displeased with that word’s meaning within the context of the story. I made pleas on Twitter for help, tried researching the idea I wanted to express on-line, and generally discovered ways to belate finishing this writing project.

Late last night I finally managed to change it, managed to make it work. Despite the many sentences I edited yesterday and the pile of new words I wrote, fixing this single word within an inconsequential sentence located in the backwoods of my story felt somehow cause for celebration. I committed the change and took a break, sipping hot tea and munching celebratory chocolate. Incidentally, I am out of scotch.

This morning I awoke and returned to my lamentable worry concerning this single word. The news, I’ll leave it to you to decide its quality, is that after “finishing” that sentence I wrapped up the project and sent it off to the editor so regardless of what I chose to do with that word in that sentence, I know that it is “done.” I’m not changing anything, and I know I need to move on. Still I worried, but then I read those notes in the margins and it dawned on me that in order to counterbalance the worry which will invariably hold us back, slow us down, or stop the assemblage of words I must compartmentalize and segregate those concerns. These feelings are helpful only to a point, beyond which they will become dangerous and counterproductive.

“Enough is as good as a feast,” and perfection is a myth. Push through my friends, push through. Those little regrets left in the margins are the glorious scars of war, of conquest.

Lola’s Reviews has a new interview with me

As part of Sci-Fi November Lolita of the Netherlands has an author interview up with your’s truly. She’s asked me some fun questions about writing short and long form and there’s a lively discussion going on in the comments section.

So fun times, I’m hoping to expend the conversation into the area of bicycle infrastructure and cycling for utility. Come chime in.

Stop Thanking Me

Here in The United States of America it is Veterans’ Day, a public holiday held on the anniversary of the end of World War I (November 11) to honor US veterans and victims of all wars, and I’m staying in because of it. Today is the day all good citizens are supposed to remember those who served and defended our country in its many times of need. We’re supposed to honor and even venerate these people that made various sorts of sacrifices so that we might live good, meaningful, potentially happy lives. It is also the day when strong armed hand shakes and meaningful looks in the eye accompany perfidious sentiment intended to seem patriotic.

I realize that many of my brothers and sisters in arms may not share my view on this, but I for one am tired of entertaining this sort of duplicitous behavior. It’s not that I wont meet your gaze or shake your hand, I was raised to be polite, but, always at the back of my brain, is the thought, “if you want to thank me do something to contribute yourself.” That’s because at the heart of my patriotism is the notion that we’re all playing for the same team. And from this perspective there is still a lot left to do before we obtain that set of national goals.

For instance, one in ten homeless people is a veteran. That’s something like 60,000 people living on the streets for no good reason. And these people who gave so much to you are just a fraction of the total number of people, your brothers and sisters in citizenship, who also must live nasty, short, and brutish lives. This nation has a class system and these people have become untouchables. We ostracize and segregate in so many ways, but to do so because of economic solvency makes us base and without compassion. This is not a social system I signed up to defend. Want to thank me? Feed, cloth, and show some compassion to a homeless person.

In the Vice President’s speech, given today at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, he called us the “spine of the nation.” He also calls us “the most trusted and tested” people yet the rate of unemployment for veterans perpetually exceeds that of any other demographic. The fact that this nation has unemployed people, people that want to work but who cannot find a job, seems ridiculous to me. That our economy actually forces this reality on so many and we accept this myth as truth is even worse. We’ve got a long history of solving these sorts of problems, and our nation is in dire need of large scale public works efforts. What’s lacking is the political will, the same will the propelled so many of us to our service in the first place, to get these things done. Want to thank me? Employ someone who learned to work via service instead of someone who took that time to obtain a fancy degree. Better yet, show some intestinal fortitude and resolve to create a fully employed society.

I could go on and on, pointing out all the ways in which American’s dishonor the legacy their veterans fought in one way or anther to preserve, but that’s not the point of this exercise. Rather, I’d love to make you aware that you too can contribute to the welfare of this nation. Service, does not require you to take an oath or to bear arms. No one is asking you to sit exposed on a two way range or lose a limb for the good of your country. If you want to thank me, figure out how you can help. Right now and right here. So what do I want to hear on Veterans’ Day? How about “to thank a veteran, I volunteered to help solve some problem that’s important to me.”