Cycle Perspective

My bike was everything.

“I used to love my bike more than life when I was a kid,” I said.

“Then why don’t you have one now?” she asked.

Good question. I thought of that feeling I used to get as a child, zooming down the street on my blue banana seat bicycle with the extended handlebars. No doubt I was on a mission.

I’d be going as fast as I could, feeling the wind in my hair. I’d let out a triumphant whoop. It was freedom. It was speed. It was distance from my stepfather and my family dysfunction. It was the closest thing I had to control over my life. I was calling all the shots. It was pure joy.

I would do figure eights in the street. I’d ride around the speed bumps as fast as I could. I’d wave at people as I passed, but I wouldn’t stop.

One time I was riding barefoot (stupid) and I somehow got my pinky toe caught in the bike chain. I nearly ripped it off. I came home bleeding and crying, and my stepfather decided to take the bike away. (Wouldn’t “wear shoes” have been sufficient?)

My solution was to steal my own bike and hide it and still use it. It’s not like anyone knew or cared where I went or what I did anyway. And that’s what I did for a good month until everybody forgot I wasn’t supposed to have a bike in the first place. I lived in a world without consequences. I’m amazed I didn’t misbehave even more than I did.

One time my bike actually was stolen by a kid from down the street. (That family would steal bikes, repaint them, and then sell them at flea markets, so it was hard to keep a bike in my neighborhood.) But as quiet as the experienced little thief tried to be, I still happened to see him. I ran screaming after him as he tried to cut across a field with my beloved bike. I wouldn’t give up. I just kept running and screaming for my freedom, and shouting, “I know who you ARE!” He finally dumped the bike and ran away.

It’s never a good idea to underestimate me. Especially when I know I’m in the right. And to think that I rode the school bus with that little sh** every day.

My childhood was strictly about survival, and in that, my bike was my best friend. It gave me superpowers. It allowed me to be alone and yet active. My bike was everything.

When I got older and got a used car, I dropped my bike like a hot rock. I don’t even recall what became of it. Maybe I gave it away. Maybe I just let it rot. Children rarely pay the proper homage to the people or things that were once important to them.

I didn’t have another bike until I was in my 40’s and living in Vero Beach, Florida. It was a nice way to cruise my neighborhood in the evenings. I brought that bike with me to Seattle, but I was shocked to find out that the place had hills. The bike went quickly to the Goodwill.

Bicycles no longer represent freedom to me. If I want to get away, I just drive now. Besides, my house is on a highway, so it’s not suited to doing figure eights. And I’d look a little silly doing those at my age. That, and I don’t really enjoy sweating anymore. All my exercise these days is in the swimming pool of the YWCA.

But every once in a while, I close my eyes and picture myself zooming down the street, the wind in my hair, triumphantly whooping. And it’s good.

Hey! Look what I wrote!


I’ll Take Love with Conditions

I think unconditional love is an absurd construct. Even my dog has his limits. If I stopped feeding him or started torturing him, how much do you think he would love me then?

While it’s comforting to think that there is love that you can count on, I believe that the responsibility for maintaining that bond goes both ways. Frankly, I’d find it rather creepy if someone loved me so unconditionally that I could become a monster and that person would be okay with that. I do not want someone loving me even if I decide to be a serial killer. I expect to be held accountable for my actions.

I was once in a 16-year relationship with someone who enjoyed saying, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” I knew he was attempting to be reassuring, but in truth that always made me inwardly shudder. I don’t want blind adoration. I actually kind of feel better when there are well-defined boundaries. When I know where I stand, I can do so with confidence. That, and there’s a great deal of pressure to maintain your center of decency when, literally, anything goes. (I admit I didn’t handle it well.)

Parents are expected to love their children unconditionally. I can’t really speak from experience, as I chose not to have kids, but I suspect that “unconditional” condition is the very source of a great deal of dysfunction. If “unconditional” were taken off the table, more parents would be invested in instilling values in their children that would encourage them to be decent human beings, because it’s safe to assume that most parents really do want to love their children.

If we stopped looking at love as if it were a possession, as if, once obtained, you get to keep it, a lot of things would change. If people genuinely believed that one must be loving and lovable in order to receive love, this would be a kinder, gentler planet. If we knew that love must be earned, fewer people would remain with their abusers. If we set the bar ever-so-slightly higher when choosing a mate, it would make for much healthier family units. And if we looked at love as something that must constantly be nurtured in order to thrive, we wouldn’t be so shocked and devastated when it withers on the vine due to our own neglect.

It might also allow us to exercise critical thinking. This whole blind loyalty thing that is becoming the cultural norm is actually rather terrifying. If you vote for someone whose behavior becomes more despicable over time, your FIRST instinct should be a withdrawal of political love for that person. Your standards should be high, and your tolerance for outrage should be short-lived. Our leaders should be kept in check, as their powers allow for rather more destruction than most of us can endure.

So, dear reader, be loving. Be kind. And remember that it’s okay to set boundaries.

Happy Valentine’s Day.


Like the way my weird mind works? Then you’ll enjoy my book!

I Was a Book-Nosed Girl

To say I had a dysfunctional childhood would be putting it mildly. Purely to save myself, I spent a great deal of time dissociating from my daily reality. In fact, I really can’t recall much from ages 11 through 13.

I can say that I watched Mr. Rogers until an embarrassing age. He was the calm center of my storm, the one voice of reason and compassion. Sadly, his show wasn’t on 24 hours a day, so the rest of my waking life I dove headlong into books.

I carried library books with me wherever I went. I even brought them to school, in spite of the fact that I also had to lug around about 30 pounds of textbooks. Without a book, I felt vulnerable.

You can hide behind a book. You can lose yourself in one. Books don’t judge you. They don’t shout. They’re safe and reliable. They never let you down or put you down. And they can transport you to better worlds.

My favorite books growing up were the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey. I must have read each one about 20 times. Recently, in an effort to get in touch with my inner child, I started reading them again.

It’s interesting to revisit the planet of Pern from an adult perspective. I can certainly see why these books would appeal to a troubled child. Pern was an amazing place. Yes, there were bad people there, there were trials and tribulations, but justice always prevailed in the end. The good people pulled together. They took care of each other. Bonds were strong. Work was hard but it was honest, and you could take pride in your skills and talents.

McCaffrey also created her own vocabulary, which delighted me. There was a coffee-like substance which was called klah. Klaaaaaaaaah… That’s perfect. What would be better to wake you up on a cold morning? And crablike creatures were called spiderclaws. Of course.

And when a dragon or a fire lizard loved you, you were loved and protected for life. There was no question. You could count on it.

On the back of a dragon, you could fly away from all your troubles. Pern probably saved my sanity. I bet the Harry Potter books do the same thing for kids today. There’s something to be said for getting lost in a book.


Avoidance Practices

I used to date someone long ago whose mother was… well… weird. And by that I mean really, really odd. Her concept of reality was so skewed that you never knew where she was coming from. Her children used to make fun of her behind her back, which made me extremely uncomfortable, but I tried to view it as the coping mechanism that it probably was. I can’t even imagine what growing up with that woman must have been like. It was probably akin to waking up every day in a different abstract painting where the rules of perspective are constantly in a state of flux. And she completely controlled that clan by pretending to be utterly helpless, which got on my feminist nerves.

I would have never married into that family. Not in a million years. When there’s that level of fundamental dysfunction, there’s bound to be a legacy. They say that you can determine how a man will treat you by how he treats his mother, and I firmly believe that. But you must also take into consideration how that mother has treated her son. You can only get past a certain amount of emotional scar tissue.

Like it or not, when you marry someone, you’re marrying into a family, too, so you should be strongly advised to take a hard look at your in-laws to be. (Because of this, I think I’m a great catch. Both my parents have passed away, so there’s a certain level of complexity that can be entirely overlooked. But then, I’m pretty freakin’ complex all by myself.)

I really like how the Australian Aboriginals deal with this situation. They have certain cultural avoidance practices, and one of the main ones is that daughter-in-laws and son-in-laws are not to speak to their mother-in-laws. Period. If they show up to the same party, for example, they sit with their backs to one another. If they do need to communicate, the do so through the spouse. It’s not a hostile situation. It’s not born out of anger or dislike. It’s actually viewed as a form of respect. But I can imagine that it goes a long way toward promoting family harmony.

I have to say that I love this idea. Love it, love it, love it! Can you imagine how much nicer Thanksgiving dinner would be if this practice were put into place? Okay, a lot of people get along with their in-laws. If so, they are lucky. They also seem to be the exception, not the rule. So I maintain that some ancient traditions are really worth perpetuating.


Avoidance, by Robin Wiltse

Thirty Yards Deep

My childhood was full of dysfunction and poverty and abuse. A lot more people can say that than we as a society would care to admit. Beneath this civilized façade is a nasty and brutish reality for many of us, and that shapes who we are.

When you grow up in a really screwed up environment, it effects your ability to trust, to feel safe, to be confident. It twists your concept of what you deserve. It colors the way you view the world.

I say all this to explain, not to excuse, who I am. I don’t think my past gives me a free pass. I just think it means I probably have to work a bit harder to get where I’m going. But I can still get there, and those achievements will be all the sweeter for having been hard-won.

I’m not into sports, but someone said something to me the other day that really struck a chord in me. She said:

“Given the fact that you started out 30 yards deep in your own end zone, it’s really impressive that you want to play the game at all, let alone have scored so many touchdowns.”

Yup. I think I’m willing to own that.


[Image credit:]

My Own Personal Dallas

The other day I had a unique opportunity. I attended a friend’s extended family gathering. The thing is, no one there knew me except my friend, and they didn’t realize how much I knew about their family dynamics. I’ve been friends with this person for decades, and he confides in me. I know all the family scandals.

Once I connected the names with the faces, I sat back and watched the show. It kind of felt like I was the omniscient voice in a sordid TV drama. I had a running narrative going on in my head.

  • Ooooh, A just rolled her eyes behind B’s back. That’s because he’s talking about being generous, even though he’s constantly borrowing money from A and never pays it back.
  • C and D just brushed shoulders. They’re having an affair. I wonder what D’s husband would think about that if he knew? Especially since C is his brother.
  • E looks annoyed at everyone. As well she should be. She’s the only one who is taking care of their mother with dementia.
  • F and G are siblings, and they had sex with each other when they were teens. Ewwwww.
  • H is secretly gay. It seems obvious to me, but denial is pervasive in this family. How sad that she feels the need to keep it a secret.
  • I is a heroin addict.
  • J isn’t really the father of K.
  • L once got drunk and French kissed Uncle M at a wedding. He was horrified and everyone still whispers about it.
  • N is mentally ill, unmedicated, and once threatened to kill his nephew.
  • Everybody hates O’s wife.
  • P is part of a really lunatic fringe religion.

This was an interesting experience because I got to see the public face that each person put on while at the same time knowing what was hiding behind each of those masks. People can really by duplicitous and complex. The irony is that setting all this inside information aside, everyone was really nice.

The only thing I don’t know is who shot JR. Maybe that will be revealed at the next gathering. It kind of makes you wonder what you don’t know about the people you think you know, though, doesn’t it?