fish

Flippering Out

Helmet fastened securely and body poised to dance with the mechanics of movement. Determination etched on the young face before me. Nervous moments as muscles tense and the single wheel beneath responds, Newtonian physics is unforgiving. And the incongruous footwear of flippers on pedals turns mastery into exploration and uncertainty. The part of me that wants to say ‘you can’t ride a unicycle in those’ is gagged internally with a quick risk analysis – which inevitably suggests the real risks probably do outweigh the perceived, but the balance of that is the exhilaration of the unknown. Awkwardly wobbling with delight and joy. She just might be a fish on a bike. We got it wrong, it’s not about what a fish needs, it’s what a fish is free to experience.

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Out Of Time

What is time to a fish? How do the seconds pass? If a fish was riding a bike would it notice the relative speed of the vehicles? Was I that fish on a bike today when caught in the headlights of a car at a roundabout that hadn’t been there a moment ago. The honking of a horn indicating the arrival of another stream of time and momentum. The jolt of awareness that signalled a dislocation in the fabric of collectively agreed rights of passage that I seemed to have disrupted or ruptured.

Speed, space, time, distance, colluding to segregate and define who can participate in the flow of life. If you become relocated in this and live somewhere in between there is unease and distrust – a disruption to the flow. The ability to be ‘present’ and ‘here’ ‘now’ communicating in ways that identify and signify we know where we are located defines intimacy. When people are tuned to a different frequency the ability to connect on an intimately personal level shifts and the signals we usually pick up become lost in the static hum of confusion.

Common functioning suggests we all must locate our consciousness and awareness and sense of who we are within a narrowly defined criteria. Those experiencing neurological diversity (ASD – Autistic Spectrum Disorders – or – Alternative Sensory Downloads) and other forms of time/space re-location (alzheimer’s, amnesia, altered states of consciousness) highlight the pervasive normalisation of human functioning and fear associated with intentionally attempting to create those conditions – messing with mysterious interactions and perception we can have of reality.

Losing someone in time is hard. They can be physically present but elsewhere, they are not ‘around’ and the grief associated can be experienced in the same way as death. Let’s acknowledge this more instead of brushing over the obvious that they are carrying on regular metabolic functioning – AKA alive, and require people to be grateful for this experience. However my heart tells me love transcends the limits of 3rd dimensional space, we might never truly know how someone experiences the warmth of our caring but to quote Carl Sagan, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

If you do see a fish on a bike, you just might want to check what is in your ‘special’ coffee. And just be a bit patient – no need to get into a flap about it and watch out for those red herrings aye.

Stuck in one gear by choice

My new single speed bike is beautiful. I think I might be ‘bike-sexual’ and will happily declare this openly without shame.
Emmet

Meet Emmet (yes named after the Lego Movie character)
There is something pure about riding single speed. It is a bit old school but the simplicity and relationship between the machine and the body is more direct. No gears means tuning into the terrain, technique, timing and toughness.

The irony is that I am used to having all sorts of comments and abuse hurled at me a cyclist. Some of it for just being on a bike but I don’t know that male cyclists get quite the same about of comments about the body parts making contact with the seat as women. It’s another ‘hazard’ one I’d rather not deal with but usually I’m so busy concentrating I just catch the ends of words and sentences, for example ‘*ice *ss’ or ‘**xy *ich.’

I’ve been riding Emmet for 3 days now and my whole world has turned upside down. Heads turn, men comment and not once about me. It’s ALL about the bike. I think I could actually be a fish on a bike and people would still not notice. In fact not only is Emmet complimented there is a genuine admiration and appreciation from some for the pedal power required to move up hill. This weird vibe I think could be respect, ‘I’m the Man’ now. Male roadies (lycra wearing speedy riders) usually look ‘through me’ like I’m invisible or not even in the same dimension but Emmet resonates with them in some way so they ‘see’ us together as something other than a woman on a bike. Their reactions have been refreshing, those usually serious cyclist faces break into grins, nods and finger lifts (cyclist wave). So perhaps, through Emmet, I transgender temporarily as a cyclist, I’m one of the boys.

That is how it seems after 25 years of experiencing those other comments as a woman. Kind of weird but I’m happy to ride along with it. Orange is the new black isn’t it?

Assessing the cost of assessing

Auckland was hit by gale force winds yesterday. The remnants of cyclone Ita and the collective exhalation of thousands of teachers on the last day of term added to the perfect storm. In my wisdom I decided to brave the elements and rode my bike. Observing that there were no other two wheeled vehicles on the road should have been read as a warning but I just clutched onto my drops harder and decided this was an epic opportunity to practice extreme mindfulness. I really was about as comfortable as a fish on a bike.

It was exhausting on every level. I’d used every ounce of concentration, skill, sense and bit of luck to get there in one piece. Walking into work looking at the faces of my colleagues the fatigue and weariness matched mine, although they were somewhat dryer. As students began arriving, they too had ‘done’ stamped clearly across their glazed eyes. It’s only the end of the first term!

I occupy a role in education that affords me some distance from the classroom and allows me to have conversations with young people about how they are making sense of life, including learning. I’ve done my time teaching – it was more learning than teaching if I’m honest and rolled sideways as I became aware of the rumbling avalanche of NCEA and the ‘A’ word – Assessment.

Jump in a time machine back to the 80’s (if you dare) – and New Zealand was experimenting with a combination of exams and internal assessment. Generally however the number of assessments we sat were minimal. Stress wasn’t something any of us really had a concept of except for a very short intense period before end of year exams. Teachers were able to do what they do best, inspire, provoke curiosity, play, create, respond spontaneously, and had TIME to explore content with students.

Before you reach into your memory of High School and pull out the ‘worst teacher’ story – because we ALL have one, this is about structural changes that I feel have come thick and fast and something has to give. There is a cost to both students and teachers. Both have been left scrambling through curriculum content, pushed along by looming deadlines, re-assessment opportunities, evidence gathering and perpetual feedback and progress reports.

When people scoff at youth (let alone teachers!) being stressed at school and are from my generation or older, I resist sarcasm or derision – but not always successfully. The relentless assessment regime over 3 years IS hard on everyone and the carnage is what I see on an increasing level. What is that? Significant anxiety, not just test nerves, but paralytic and overwhelming anxiety. Professional burn out and loss of passion and en-joyment of teaching. Intense pressure to be ‘perfect’ and work harder, longer and to keep ‘raising the bar.’ I’m not saying we shouldn’t aim high but for some reason we have come to believe that more is better and if you say ‘no’ that this indicates some level of failure, or incompetence.

Squeezing more and more out of people is doing nothing to improve the quality of education. That storm yesterday reminded me of the internal struggles I see teachers and students grappling with daily. Fierce winds of change, coming in gusts and catching you off guard on a slippery winding road where the difference between gaining and losing traction is delicate and requires huge reserves of strength at all levels of being.

Insurers measure damage in monetary value. I suggest the cost of the current level of assessment in education is incalculable because it is invisible or worse, desirable. They say if you are caught in an avalanche to ditch the heavy gear, hold onto something, start swimming. Ideally and this is perhaps unrealistic but hey – this is just me writing my thoughts, I would say ‘ditch most assessment’ hold onto authentic and creative teaching and learning, and swim for leisure not for your life.

When it comes to the ‘crunch,’ some things are hard to swallow

Have you ever been eating something, chewing away, really enjoying it only to suddenly hear the sound of enamel on a disintegrating unknown object? It reverberates through your head whilst your mind races through various images of what it could be. There is that awful realisation mixed with the visceral need to expel the contents from your mouth but depending on where you are this might not be such an easy option. If you have a sensitive gag reflex, that will also likely be triggered and as the tears form in your eyes all you really want to know is ‘what just went crunch?’

I have no doubt almost everyone has shared this experience. I have chomped down on a range of nasties such as glass, snails (sorry but they are just not food to me),egg shell, fish bones and scales (but no small bikes), and the occasional small stone – which seem indistinguishable from brown lentils funnily enough. If you are expecting something to be crunchy it’s fine, there’s no surprise, but that instantaneous reaction via sensory cues is a marvelous indicator of just how quick the brain works to invoke panic and fear.

Politeness dictates that we don’t show our disgust. Kind of ironic when you consider some of the disgusting practices involved in food production but that is not for this piece. I am going to blend this literal disgust with the concept of disgust as an ‘unconscious response to the unfamiliar or uncomfortable’. Bare with me, it’s possibly going to be a bit of a dogs breakfast but lets see how we go.

I think our taste in food is much like our taste in anything, it is acquired and developed over time. When it comes to children and food, parents are often keen to help them explore a range of things and persevere multiple times until the reject button has been hit enough and the message is clear ‘don’t like it’. Generally it is more acceptable to expose children to different food than it is any other form difference such as race, culture, sexuality, gender identity, functionality (AKA ‘disability), etc . This is probably related to a belief about what is acceptable and harmful.
How many of us were tortured with broad beans? I swear they were toxic, they had to be, tasting like the smell of dirty socks. But it didn’t kill me, and whilst Broad Beans still don’t feature in my cuisine I can see the intent my parents had, ‘give it a go, it might not be as bad as you think, chew a bit more and give it some time you just might like it.’
Hiding foods within something else is a sneaky tactic. I haven’t been fond of mushrooms until friends cooked a variety I was unfamiliar with in a risotto and I was wondering what the smirk was on their faces as I expressed my delight. Once I realised my assumptions had been challenged I was willing to concede maybe I could accept mushrooms were ok.
I’m wondering a bit about other forms of difference that when ‘hidden’ actually enable the richer personal aspects of self to emerge and ‘flavour’ relationships. Instead of rejecting based on a perceived threat or ‘dislike’ our identities are able to flourish under more palatable ideas such as respect, connection, love, acceptance and honoring unique aspects of self.
If a form of difference is visible – that same instantaneous, unconscious fear/rejection response needs challenging from within. I would suggest that talking or communicating in some way breaks down barriers.
My friend Philip made this and I think sums up nicely how we can go about adding spice to notions of identity and representations of ‘difference’:

But here’s the thing. If I am happy to dine at the diversity buffet,let me; it makes no difference to anyone else. I accept others still want to gorge themselves on hate but to ‘force feed’ anything to anyone and denying them the freedom to be aware of other choices is unpalatable.

This is the tension we are left with and it’s a bit hard to digest. If we are talking about genuine disgust on a reflex level it’s possibly going to be ‘messy’ if someone is asked to swallow something they know repulses them. But then how do we develop a broad taste and appreciation of the wonderful flavours of the world?

I’m really hoping the world food shortage is not going to give rise to insect farming because the combination of spiky bits and chitinous exoskeleton are enough to consider snails a delicacy.

If it came to that sort of crunch – I might just have to eat my words. Now that’s food for thought.

The fine line between pleasure and pain

Learning to unicycle is nothing like learning to ride a bike regardless of whether you have feet or fins. Helping a 6year old learn to ride one is like a nexus of vicarious emotional and physical pain and joy. There is also only one way to learn – and that is to get on and FALL OFF…lots. It’s ugly and uncomfortable and I can speak from experience. No amount of verbal feedback or understanding the biomechanics and physics of unicycling will do anything to improve your riding of one. Experiential learning is powerful but is often overlooked as it side steps the expert knowledge of the teacher. It requires a back down of ego and having been a teacher for a number of years I can put my hand on my heart and say I have struggled with this.

Aside from the obvious physical challenge of learning to unicycle there is the grappling with the inner workings of the mind – particularly fear and doubt, they camp out rather comfortably for quite some time. Then friends of fear and doubt – frustration, annoyance and irritation join the party. Just getting on one without gravity giving you an ass kicking requires enough perseverance to solve a rubik’s cube (and I’m not talking about those insanely talented people who complete them in less than a minute!).

While all this is going on there is still the issue of moving. You see you cannot fake unicycling – it is a fully authentic experience. Perhaps one of the more curious effects is the perception of movement and time. People who have given it a go will probably understand what I mean when I say a few inches or centimetres feels like miles and whilst that might seem an exaggeration the joy and sensation of moving are exhilarating. I suppose it could fall into the realm of altered states of consciousness.

The compression of time is more intriguing. The pendulum can swing in the blink of an eye from an ecstasy to agony, screams of delight to tears of pain. Mind, body, spirit and life compete to imprint the meaning of that moment and this is where resilience emerges. If courage, determination, patience and acceptance are allowed to speak into that moment then no amount of skin loss, bruising of bodies or ego will get in the way of getting back on.

This isn’t just learning it is ‘know-ledge’ as unicycling itself is a beautiful metaphor for life. The only way to go forward is to be in a constant state of falling and balancing this with peddling. Even trying to stay in one spot still involves constant movement.

At the end of the day, it’s just the best leveller in the world. It truly does not matter who you are or how good you are at ANYTHING before attempting to ride one – it counts for nothing. You will be chewed up and spat out.

That is the grav-ity of the situation – this clowning around is quite serious business.

What my nose knows

I am reasonably confident few (if any) cycling commentaries have touched on this. But for you non users of ‘open air transport’, don’t worry, this is definitely ‘NOT ABOUT THE BIKE’.

Our senses serve us well. Even the loss (perceived loss?) of functionality of one or more simply opens the possibility for others to be developed, enabled, re-directed. Being someone who would be viewed as ‘functionally common'(all usual and known senses working), I can’t speak from a position of loss. But I do have a new appreciation of my olfactory abilities and what it has enabled me to experience.

As soon as I leave my front door in the morning my nasal passages are assailed with smells. Usually these come from cars, but not the vehicle itself – the occupants of these ‘particulate containers’ don’t seem to realise that if their window is down – particulates escape and if someone is outside the car in close proximity – they most definitely find their way to the nasal cavity and WHAM – there it is!

Perfume and aftershave dominate (fortunately), with cigarettes next on the list – and the occasional ‘other’ cigarette (bit of a worry when one of those tickles the nose – defensive riding for sure). Then there is the profoundly disgusting poo particulate stream – or the fart car. Of course you wind the window down – but just know it doesn’t always dissipate. Yesterday I followed a methane stream for about 1km (a good 2 and a bit minutes!). Forget diesel fumes, I would have happily sucked on the back of a bus it was that bad.

I also get familiar with the cities refuse cycles and general hygiene. There are some sections of town that are very…fishy. Following rubbish trucks is up there with fart cars. On the other hand there are times when I have been out training and the worst smell is cooked breakfasts – especially when all you have eaten is bananas and energy gels (flavoured snot – for those unfamiliar with these) but it does make me ride harder to get home and get some real food.

So there is the good and the bad but I do have a point – just wanted to fully engage your imagination… I can see the cringes from here.

Smell is a powerful memory trigger and I think we could use it more in our lives and well-being. Even the smell of fresh air on a cool morning, or freshly cut grass (sorry allergy sufferers) connect us with nature and ourselves.

Get out there and smell the roses – REALLY smell them, smile and be glad they are all sweet.