An unexpected end, an uncertain future, and love.

Against all expectations and most logic, I ended my Mississippi River solo bike tour early.  If I’m honest with myself, there was fear in the decision.  Fear at entering territory (ie the South) even more unknown than the hundreds of miles I had already covered.  Fear also in letting down the multitudes of old and new friends that were impressed by my stamina and proud of my stamina, for just the day before I made this critical decision a college friend of mine waxed poetic on the Facebook on my pedal-toned calves and general chutzpah.

Clearer and deeper than this fear, however, was my sudden awareness that I had accomplished what I set out to do, something difficult to quantitively evaluate due to my lack of pre-ride mission statement, but something of which I was entirely certain nonetheless.  In overly simplistic and sentimental summary, I set out to find myself again.  Somewhere in the last year the muddle of my life and divorce and commitments and obligations and overwhelming number of possibilities overtook my core self, and she was misplaced.  Not lost, but off meandering somewhere in greener pastures while my logical self tried to little avail to get things in order so she could return.  Yet routine and obligation (a persistent bugger) made self rediscovery challenging, if not nearly impossible.  Hence the solo bike tour, a time apart from friends and failures and chronic juggling.

I set off down the Mississippi River on the Parrot to recommit to myself, the only person with which I will reside forever in this life.  I set off to relearn the joys of guilt free solitude.  To be interested in my Self again.  To accomplish something under my own steam that was not regulated or required by another.  It just turns out it only took me to St. Louis to do this.

So who am I, now?  I am more resilient than ever before.  I am increasingly comfortable without a ten (twenty, thirty, etc) year life trajectory.  I believe in my charisma.  I am in love with cities.  I am inspired and invigorated by LGBT and feminist culture, and plan to immerse myself in both of these things and explore my identity within them when I return to Minneapolis.  My bicycle is a part of my being.  I love and need other creative, communicative, interesting and interested humans in my life, while simultaneously being unapologically committed to pursuit of solitude whenever I crave it.

I may yet be a politician, a farmer, a writer, or something yet undiscovered.  My path will contain both heartache and passion for certain, because I cannot help but live 110%, always.

Be in love with life with me.  This is it.

Land of the Saints.

Land of the Saints.

My last two days in St Louis – including my first day off from biking in two weeks – have been splendid, to say the least. Late September in this lovely city is balmy and filled with luscious flowers in front of nearly every brick home.
My exploration on foot yesterday began with a friendly bookstore cat…

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Moved to the marvelous free art museum and zoo in Forest Park, a beautiful urban oasis…

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A courtyard installation by Andy Goldsworthy, a favorite artist of mine.

   

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Burrowing owls! I can't get enough birds.

And ended with delicious local brews at HandleBar, a bicycle themed bar in the Grove, an up and coming neighborhood I could easily see myself living in.

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Am I ready to pack up and leave Minneapolis for warmer Midwest climes? Not quite yet. But I do hope to visit St Louis again before too long.

The need for compassion in the midst of bureaucracy.

My community organizer work has been particularly frustrating as of late, due to roadblocks and unsuccessful attempts at funding and change for two different projects.  My (and I think many people’s) first instinct is anger, frustration.  I want to find someone to blame.  Not getting what I/we want must be someone’s fault, right?

Not really.  Through several melancholy yet still productive conversations it has become glaringly clear that unsuccessful work with the City is rarely if ever the problem of one person.  In fact, more often than not the immediate City staff are doing the best that their excessive work load and limited job scope allow to help make the work of neighborhoods as fruitful as possible.  Problem is, so much bureaucracy and hierarchy has been created in even the local government that the hands of each individual civil worker are essentially tied when it comes to making more than basic changes to City policy and strategy.  Communication between departments about shared issues is not well established (though it’s getting better), so smaller scale stakeholders sometimes don’t enter into the conversation until the pivotal decision point has been passed.

So what now?  I can’t blame individuals (and in fact like many of the City staff very much), can’t blame particular departments, and can’t upend the system as a whole because 1) such things only occur during riots, revolutions, and the like and often result in chaos, at least for a time and 2) I don’t yet feel prepared to offer a holistic, viable alternative.  What I can do is practice compassion- compassion for the City staff I interact with, for my co-community organizers, for the residents and business owners in my work and home neighborhoods.

I’m not sure what compassion looks like, and I’m certain it manifests differently depending on the situation.  I do know it includes lots of listening, much less speaking than I’m used to, and holding myself accountable to promises that are made.  Hopefully if I can practice compassion in my work it will not only change my internal response to the situation but slowly yet surely will filter into the way that conversations and interactions happen City-wide.

What am I doing?  Breathing and smiling.  Thanks Thich Nhat Hahn.

Meanwhile I’ll be working on that re-visioning the City plan 🙂

You can do it too!

I’m tired of the astonishment, the surprise, even the awe.  I’m tired of feeling like the worst sort of broken record, “yes, it really is enjoyable, no it’s not too cold, yes I can ride on snow/ice/wet pavement because I have studded tires”.  I’m tired of it because ANYONE CAN RIDE A BICYCLE, even in the winter (the only exception being physical disability, but I think that’s assumed).

I’ve read countless articles that try to convince people that bicycle commuting isn’t really so crazy after all, but this latest find might be one of my favorites.  It’s simple, personal, to the point.  However, it is written by someone bicycling in Central Illinois, which doesn’t quite have the same traffic and weather as the Twin Cities.  Consequently a couple of the author’s points need a bit of expanding…

1. It’s too expensive to buy a bike.
I’m glad this one is first because to me it’s the easiest to debunk.  A bike?  Expensive?  What about a freaking car?  While it is possible to spend upwards of $1000 on a bike, I got my wonderful used Bridgestone for a mere $200, with probably a total of $100 in parts switching to get it to its present state.  $300 is like, 1/50th of a decent new car (I think, not being a car owner I really have no accurate concept of car purchasing).  Take someone with you who knows what they’re looking at and you’re looking for, and you’ll find the perfect used bike in no time.

2. There’s too much traffic.
This one takes a while to get used to for certain, but after you can internalize the ‘I have just as much right to the road as any other form of transportation does, even in heavy traffic’, you’ll feel like a badass in no time.  Be careful, and ride defensively, but know you own the road too.

6. I will inhale more pollutants from cars riding my bike to work.
In addition to the author’s point that drivers actually inhale more pollutants anyway (I would really like the link to this study, because 2-4 times more seems like a bit much), the health benefits of bicycling outweigh the detriments from inhaling pollutants NINE TIMES OVER.  It’s still abysmal to get caught behind a particularly noxious truck though.

and my personal favorite:

10. It’s raining, I can’t ride today.
Get some fenders, get a raincoat, and get out there.  Pack your work clothes in your waterproof bag and change upon arrival.  As to the snow and below zero temperatures, which is the real potential challenge and snafu for so many (unless you’re in Portland, where biking in the rain makes you hardcore), cover your skin.  Pick up a pair of goggles- this year is the first I’ve ridden with them and it’s amazing how much they increase my overall body temperature- and some long underwear and a wool base layer.

So hopefully everyone has realized that YOU CAN DO IT TOO.  To all the unbelievers, those who are astounded by my carless existence, I might print out this blog entry and just hand it to you next time you express surprise at my commuting my bicycle.  And I just might make messenger bag patches of the title too 🙂

Quality over quantity: a lifelong pursuit.

Last night while Benjamin and I were enjoying a magnificent performance of Dvorak’s 7th Symphony by the MN Orchestra- the first installment of their Inside the Classics series this year- I found myself contemplating the cost of the experience.  I should begin by disclosing that we were able to attend this concert at half of the normal ticket cost because I finally bit the bullet and joined Groupon.  However, each ticket was still about $22, almost nothing for an acclaimed orchestra performance, but substantially more than Ben and I ordinarily spend on a weekend entertainment outing.  Because we usually spend $0.  We look for free shows at local bars, of which there are many, and only some of them worth seeing.  This led me to wonder- how have I been unintentionally valuing quantity over quality?  Is this something I really want to continue doing?

No offense to the bands that play free shows at local bars; I enormously appreciate having that option as an evening activity, planned or spur of the moment.  Nonetheless, by valuing the ‘free’ rather than the performance itself, I have likely been missing out on countless opportunities to see stellar shows/theater performances/art shows/concerts.  There is something to be said for actually committing to an event enough to spend a decent amount of money, something enormous even in the event that one is supporting a local artist or musician or non-profit by attending said event.

I have discovered that this ‘free/cheap = best’ mentality has flowed over into other facets of my life as well, namely going out to eat.  As you may have noticed from several previous posts, I LOVE FOOD.  I love the ingredients, the preparation, the community, the fellowship, and the sensations of eating.  You would expect that as a result I would take advantage of the many fine dining establishments in the Twin Cities that highlight local, seasonal, and finely crafted fare (Lucia’s, The Craftsman, and Birchwood Cafe to name just a few).  For the most part, sadly, you would be wrong.  A combination of convenience and self-imposed frugality means that I eat out frequently, but not often at the pricier yet classier locales.

So here is my challenge to myself (and to anyone else who has noticed a quantity-over-quality mentality creeping into their decisions): do less, but do it well.  Go to fewer shows and performances, eat out less often, but when I do both, do what I truly desire.  Save my resources to go to the fancier restaurants I read rave reviews of in The Hot Dish, and for better known bands and unique performances and those beer festivals I’ve always drooled over.  And in the meantime I will work toward a couple of my 2011 Practices to Enact, cooking, walking, writing and exploring the city I love.

But don’t worry Parkway Pizza and The Hexagon Bar; I will still pass through your wallet-friendly doors once in a while.

~Lauren

More reflection.

As interesting as musing over my 2010 Practices to Enact was, I will now embark on another ‘list reflection’.  This one was a note on Facebook with the following instructions:
“Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.”

I wrote the original list of 25 random things in February 2009.  To provide some context, I was four months from college graduation (oops, I just told y’all my age), not yet in Lutheran Volunteer Corps, and uncertain as heck as to where I was going with my life, both in physical location and vocational path.  Original list is in italics, my comments today are in regular type.

1. I’ve been a vegetarian for nearly seven years. This means my body will soon stop producing enzymes to digest meat, which is simultaneously awesome and terrifying. However, I’ve thought about eating animals again occasionally to support local farmers. But only local and sustainable of course.
Still mostly a vegetarian, though I’ve become a lot less vehement, particularly when food with a minor amount of meat is served to me.  I also ate an entire hamburger the summer following this list creation while I was working out on sustainable farms in Western Minnesota.  It was both local and sustainable, and delicious to boot.

2. I’ve never been into sports, but watched this year’s Super Bowl with my parents because the Arizona Cardinals have been my dad’s favorite team for as long as I can remember.
This year I watched an entire quarter of a World Cup game and felt like my sports quota was exhausted for at least a couple of months.

3. I enjoy pieces of most subcultures, and have constantly found myself on the fringe of many things. Often these pieces don’t work together too well in common society. For example, I equally (but for completely different reasons) enjoy Elle, Wired, and Backpacker magazine.
Entirely true a year and a half later, maybe even more so with my ‘discovery’ (via my housemate Rachel from last year) of Google Reader.  See the final point of my September Beautiful Things post.

4. I start craft projects and don’t usually finish them.
I’m getting better I swear.  Mostly by doing simpler projects that don’t have such a concretely defined finishing point.

5. Sometimes I think my early high school self would be highly disdainful of many aspects of my present self, and vice versa.
This became even more apparent when I read through my journals of high school that my mother brought when she visited a couple of weeks ago.  High school self and present self would be acquaintances, maybe, and high school self would be relieved at calm gained and angry at zealousness lost.

6. I don’t believe in soulmates, but I’m a huge proponent of kindred spirits.
Still don’t believe in soulmates, but somehow the universe decided to bring me to a wonderful partner, man, and friend.

7. I want to spend a year living in a commune, from a tent, in a developing country, and with a group of native peoples. Probably not all at the same time though.
My big adventure goals have  changed quite a bit actually.  I would still do all of these things, but now I’m really excited about biking the length of the Mississippi River with Benjamin in the near-ish future.

8. I’ve been told that at school I come across as a youngest child, but at home I’m often the quintessential older sister. For no good reason I’d much rather be seen as an older sibling as opposed to a younger one.
Age has since become relatively irrelevant, at least in social situations.  Though when I do pay attention I notice that I am frequently the youngest person at a particular gathering these days.

9. I call many places home, and can find home nearly anywhere I go. While this lets me find joy and connection in a plethora of new situations, it also makes me REALLY bad at keeping up with people I’m not actually physically present with, apart from my family.
Yup.   But I did make a Facebook note a moment ago asking for people’s addresses so I can simultaneously have a reason to write regularly AND keep in touch with people.  Snap.  I’d like your address too, so please leave it in the comments.

10. I kind of want December 21st, 2012 to be an actual apocalypse.
Just so I can have an apocalypse party for three days.  Everyone’s invited!

11. I believe the holy is in the paradox, that when you discover two equally important but seemingly incompatible truths, you’re probably on to something. Live in the complications.
This one is illustrated regularly, by my passions and experiences and conversations and the frequent inability to reconcile it all.  Celebrate the paradox!

12. I think that people are essentially good, though not really in any religious sense. I want to be the kind of ‘good’ stranger that people can depend on so that my trust in humanity can be withheld when the situation presents itself.
Meeting strangers during my 14 months thus far living in the city has solidified this even further.  There are so many ‘isms’ that lead a person to act out of selfishness or another form of evil, and while personal responsibility does play an important part, a majority of pain, violence and oppression comes from systemic problems.  People, as individuals, have at least a core seed of goodness.

13. I value authenticity above all else, and expect it from everyone and myself most of all.
Yes.

14. Sometimes I wonder if I’d be happier being a genius at one thing rather than mediocre to good at a number of things.
Genius and mediocrity factor nonwithstanding, having the ridiculous number of interests that I do has certainly started an uncountable number of conversations with wonderful people, some of whom have become good friends.


15. I am constantly in awe of how magnificent and complicated the world is, and how I managed to be an entity in it at this moment in time.
The change of the seasons amplifies this point- I am amazed at the pure outpouring of energy that happens on this planet, and the constant fluctuations, only a small percentage of which I am privy to.

16. I am obsessed with space. This includes any sort of movie set in space, Battlestar Galactica, and the NASA universe picture of the day.
So obsessed that I’m planning to see the new IMAX film on the Hubble telescope at the Science Museum this Friday.  For my birthday.

17. I’m working on becoming a better listener, to not wait in conversations for my turn to speak and not always feel the need to give advice. This is largely inspired by being blessed to have so many fantastic listener friends in my life.
I think this will always be a work in progress, and a particular challenge for me.  Though I am more blessed than ever to have great listeners for friends.

18. Lately I identify most with the idea of joy, though I’m not really sure I could define it for you if you asked.
This has persisted, to the point where joy feels like a core component of my being.  I can only hope that I give it back to the universe in even a fraction of the amount that I receive.

19. At this point in my life I can’t imagine settling because I am intrigued by so many places, people, vocations, and opportunities that I don’t want to commit to just one and risk forsaking the rest.
Of all the random facts in this list, this one has changed the most, and in fact was what inspired me to do this reflection.  Most importantly, settling no longer feels like a bad word.  I have found a place and a person that I want to be with for a very very long time, and while that means I will be putting down roots, it does not mean that I cannot still have adventures and throw myself into opportunities as they present themselves.

20. As much as I have moments of cynicism where it seems as though human beings are destroying everything that is good on this earth, ultimately I love humanity and don’t think I could ever completely leave it behind.
But this is definitely second in terms of most change.  I still love people- I see the good and the beauty in individuals daily and sometimes my soul aches at how wonderful human connection can be.  But I think the planet would be better off without us, really.  We selfishly consume resources far beyond the planet’s means without giving back in equal measure, or even attempting to do so most of the time.  Every species has its era, and it just might be time for ours to begin coming to a close.

21. Namaste is one of my favorite concepts; it means ‘my inner light acknowledges and bows to your inner light’.
Several times I have considered signing all of my emails with ‘namaste’, even the work ones, but thought it might be confusing/spiritually offensive to somebody.  But it’s still one of my favorite concepts, and I may get a tattoo related to it one day.

22. I hope to publish a book one day, and I’ve had several absurd ideas over the years as to what it might be about that have thankfully faded into various journals.
It will not be fiction, as evidenced by my slackings during NaNoWriMo.

23. My idea of what love is has changed quite immensely over the years, and I’m excited to see the depths it will reach as I continue to meet and know people and have new experiences.
Exponential changes to this day, and more to come I think.  Love is deep and wide and so multi-dimensional that trying to contain it to our physical universe seems a travesty.

24. I think my parents are the most fantastic parents that I could have had and I love them dearly, while I simultaneously see the root of several of my insecurities and frustrations toward the world in them.
This too deepens with time, as new points of conflict and convergence emerge.

25. I am constantly being reminded that nothing is permanent, that there is beauty everywhere, and that all is one.
There really is nothing to add to this one.  Namaste, all.