July 21, 2008

A week ago, on Sunday, I crashed hard while riding in traffic on Lake Shore path. Lots of runners and riders, stopping or slowing suddenly, I touched a wheel and couldn’t hang on to it. About 9:00 a.m. Landed hard on concrete, at about 10 to 15 mph. I was concious the whole time, but had to lie still at first. People came to my assistance, my companion came back around, and I sat up slowly. Serious abrasions on my right side, two around my elbow, all around the knee, and on the middle of the thigh. I got up, knocked my handlebars straight, and started riding. About a mile on from the crash site south of Fullerton, at the service booth, we planned to stop to put some air in her tire. Coming to a stop, I found I couldn’t use my right leg at all, and almost fell again trying to dismount. Finally we got me back on, and left the shore to find a service station for her tire. Riding sitting on the saddle feeling the shocks, unable to move the bike under me as usual. On a speed bump a couple of miles later, I found I could stand a bit with the left foot forward and right to the rear, so I was riding ok. I creaked to a stop at the station we finally found, putting a toe down and standing with the tube between my legs. Able to ride fine, my friend helped me up my back porch after we got to my house, because I found I could only walk with great difficulty.

So my son found the parts for me to make a respectable cane, and with it I moved around ok but with difficulty. Went out to dinner that evening with a large family group, sitting in one place for several hours. Found I could barely move at all on getting up, and got up the steps after being left off with very slow moves and assistance. Spent Monday and Tuesday mostly lying on my bed, and felt a lot better and more mobile, so that I went in by Wednesday, with the cane. Felt better every day, walked better without the cane by Thursday. An ache now and then when I forgot myself, such as when I saw a parking space and tried to hop in the car for it, with the usual lunging action. Ouch!

Today, a major relapse: after a day working around the house, I was getting dressed to go in when I lifted my leg to put my pants on, and the pain was suddenly intense, as bad as it had ever been. I called around and made arrangements for a friend to take me to the emergency room. My wife arrived from work before I was seen. The consensus was that I’ve got damage to the cartilage along my right femur, which was bolstered by an x-ray showing no breaks. It’ll heal fine as it was doing until I pushed too far too fast. So for the next few days, as little movement as possible, and after that use the cane as much as I can, to keep it unloaded as long as possible. I’m not nearly back, as I thought I was, but at least it’s simple and not likely to last long or be permanent in any way.


Shortest day of the year

December 21, 2007

But it’s warm today, almost forty, so I’ve taken a ride for the first time in over a week: there’s been too much ice and snow before today. When I turned around at Belmont it was 4:20 and already dark.

I’ve been denned-up lately, hardly getting out of the house except to shop or pick the kids up at trains.  Being out and exercising meant a recovery of good spirits.  I’ve been dwelling on age, age appropriateness and its barriers lately, a topic appropriate for the season.  Not very communicative.  I’ve commented here and there, but not so very much, and I’ve been feeling I have nothing to say.  But I’m sure that will pass.  Riding was fun, but the first day, with a kind of automatic action, always is.  It’s the second day when you feel the motions are alien and unfamiliar.


October 16, 2007

The last few days I’ve had some familiar sensations while riding: beginning Sunday, and also yesterday and today, a pinprick feeling on the tops of my thighs, followed by a feeling of warmth, like when a child or takeout order sits on your lap.  And a burst of energy, of ability to work harder with the thighs, to pedal faster.

You may know the feeling, and its cause: the reopening of vascular networks.  When not used regularly, they tend to shut down, and eventually the body dismantles them.  I’ve been riding most of the year a few days a week, which holds my weight and most aspects of fitness, so that it always feels good to ride, but today is probably the first day in over a year I’ve ridden on a sixth consecutive day.

When the networks reopen, the muscle areas they serve can now get oxygen through blood flow, and can get energy aerobically instead of through ATP or, pushing hard, through lactic acid.  This is why the warmth and sense of being able to push harder, and it’s pleasant to do so.  Over these three days, my pace has really picked up, and the location of the pinpricks has moved from the top center of the thighs to points farther away, as more branches open.

I know what this is because I’ve experienced it several times before.  I began to ride seriously when I approached my 40th birthday, fifteen years ago.  Since then I’ve picked up riding to a daily practice a few times from a less-frequent, “maintenance” regimen, although I’ve never been as deliberate as calling it that implies, and always get vascular on the third or fourth day.

It occurs to me that my years of cycling, both in my youth and in my early middle age, make this level of fitness and training available to me on very short notice.  In less than a week I’m much more capable of riding fast and far.  Most people do not have this, and there will often be a disconnect when I discuss exercise.  We were talking about “spinning,” riding a stationary bicycle with others, being prompted by a leader to rise on the pedals and sprint, reduce resistance and spin faster, etc., all while continually pedaling, so that the aerobic effect builds relentlessly, yet other muscles and systems are worked.  I realise that I do all of those things without prompting, it’s simple and easy, and makes the elaborate arrangements and cost and scheduling of health club spinning seem silly and unnecessary.

But of course it isn’t: I can ride my bike safely from my garage and back, adjust and repair before putting it away ready for tomorrow; the skills, confidence and fitness base took years to develop, and have been sustained by frequent practice, gratifying pleasure in the simple act of riding, and the luck of good health and no serious accidents.  I can sit on a hard, narrow saddle; many can’t anymore or never could.  It would take years for people without this background to get where I am now, without any guarantees, and why would they?

People exercise as and when they can, and more power to them.  The difficulties can be formidable, which is why so many don’t get far or never start at all.

The Short Loneliness

September 27, 2007

My title is a reference to Dorothy Day’s remarkable memoir, The Long Loneliness, which I’ve been reading and hope to have something to say about soon. What I mean is that what I’ve been experiencing the last two weeks gives me insight into myself, particularly the worst experience of my mature life.

I’d already been out of work nearly two years when I had a very positive interview right at the end of the calendar year. It was a startup in legal publishing, my specialty; some venture capitalists had bought a small publishing house’s products: files, lists, inventory, some outdated equipment, mostly macs. The intention was to relaunch this line, add to it, and make money with new and streamlined work processes. They were looking to build a professional, that is legal staff, and had been attracted by my resume’s emphasis on task versatility.

It turned out they weren’t ready to hire right away. Would I come and work for them as a contractor? I took advice and negotiated a very nice rate, which probably got us off on a good footing of mutual respect; I tend to undervalue my worth. So I went to work in the new year.

As soon as I arrived in that small organization, I began to feel an enormous rush of verification and confidence. I knew this business, not just what I was supposed to do, but what the people in the cubicles around me were doing too. The guy making a customer call on this side of me? I knew what the sticking point was going to be. The designer across the way, struggling with the pagination and fonts? I knew what had been overlooked in her instructions, and what the solution would end up looking like.

The contrast with the final days of my long-time job, which had left me wondering what I wanted to do, was stark. Our division, once a small versatile company, had been folded into a large and hierarchical organization, where our very virtues told against us. We came to specialize in taking over small-list orphan titles, the fruits of the very acquisitions that had started with us and eventually swallowed an entire industry, and producing updates and supplements in the same style—in every sense of that word—cheaply and quickly. Oh, we were profitable, but we didn’t fit the plan. It was satisfying work for me, reverse-engineering some ancient data, or merely a book on the shelf, and adapting our processes, which used conventional, often virtually free software to make its equivalent so you’d never know it wasn’t the same as it had ever been. Updated too in the sense of legal style and philosophy, so that the intention of the book, its graces and economies, what had made it good in its day, remained palpable. The other parts of the company couldn’t do this and were so focussed on their own processes and empires that they didn’t even try. The feeble attempts they made after our liquidation, when someone had panicked about the missing revenue our products generated, were grotesque and quickly died. It had been good training for me, I knew—wasn’t that what you were supposed to take from your job, in the 90s? skill sets?—but morale suffered as our days and staff dwindled, a long process, and I was one of the handful left to turn out the lights.

The new contract job was also downtown, a wonderful pick-me-up all by itself. We had been for years in an astoundingly featureless suburban office park. I eventually made something of this by conducting an informal but sophisticated natural survey of the soul-less landscaping and abandoned corners of scrub and grass that surrounded us. I knew every tree, bird and mammal over a wide radius, and the list got long. During outplacement, we did the tests of affinities and personality types—is that Meyers-Briggs? I don’t even know—and the conclusion was that while I was certainly ok as lawyer, editor, scholar or teacher, I had really been intended by God to be a field biologist. Anyway, riding the train into the city for the first time in twenty years, since law school, set the tone for my whole day. Moving in the early morning into its bustle and grandeur, I could have devised a fresh paraphrase of the spirit of Hart Crane’s The Bridge every day.

A lot of the work was design. The files for the titles were being converted to Indesign, just then gobbling market share from Quark because it was native to OSX. But they were behind schedule, and needed fresh product fast. The old titles were in Quark. I was asked if it would be possible, while I performed legal review and updating, to “massage” the styling too, and make judgments about many layouts and figures the designers had no way to judge? So that the designers could just design?

I don’t think they really expected a positive reply to that question, but yes, I could do that. In a way, because they quickly asked as they hired even more designers if I could possibly work at home, this represented a diminution in my quality of life, because the downtown and camaraderie and excitement were so germane to my happiness, but it was what the project needed then, and I was damn useful. So I put a mac together out of parts in my attic, a 601, barely modern but capable of running the later version of the classic OS, got a copy of OS 8.5, of Quark, of the necessary fonts, by scrounging from my friends. I was up and running. Then I chewed through about a dozen titles in three weeks, going downtown every other afternoon or so to exchange files, and soak up the atmosphere.

Then they pulled the plug on the project, and went down to a skeleton staff. They’d become suspicious of the titles, that they’d paid too much for them, and that the potential might not be there. I’d contributed in my way by writing memos about the shortcomings I was finding, but I’d assumed this would be useful for a determined effort, to be fixed in time, not a reason to change course.

So as suddenly as it had started, it was over. And having been so high, I didn’t just go down to the place I’d been before, but right through the floor into free-fall. It was the shock, of having my needs for professional and personal fulfillment met, and then just as suddenly withdrawn, that did it.

The next half year or so was horrible. I had what I now know are classic depressive symptoms, but which I didn’t know how to interpret then. I couldn’t work, nor do much else. I missed deadlines on free-lance projects as the world went dark, and thereby lost the connections that generated that work. I eventually got prescribed drugs, which left me numb. It actually felt that way, but it’s also a good euphemism for all its effects. I started seeing a therapist I still see, and on my wife’s suggestion, for she was very distressed about where they left me, stopped the drugs. I was soon back to my sub-optimal, normal self.

Over the last two years or so, I’ve been building myself to the most confident and un-depressed state I’ve been in my entire mature life. My online life under this identity has played a very big role in this, as I’ve sorted through my identity, and brought things back into view that had been lost for ages. I began working as a contract attorney, with a long commute as described on this blog, and while that basically paused my activity here, I commented plenty, and the paycheck and regular routine, however draining were wonderful. But when that came to an end, I didn’t miss it so much. It was in that sense quite a bit like my long-time job, even to the work environment, inside the building and out. It was easy for me to attack the deferred maintenance around here in a good mood, as in the Flood post below.

And then, for several weeks, I was on an exceptional document review project. Even though starting from a much higher place, the lift, the high was vertiginous. The team was amazing, much older and more varied than the typical collection of recent grads, many veterans of the process. High quality people, whom I could talk to all day without running out of things to say; we all felt that way. The reasons they were there at all resembled my own: an unconventional career path had run its course, leaving us high and dry, essentially with an unemployable specialty. People weighing legal careers should consider the assurances you’ll receive that you don’t have to practice law in the light of my experience.

Even by the standards of this group, I was very efficient. I would guess that only the guy on my left, a U of C Law grad and one of those shambling geniuses whose clothes would fall off within the hour if he stood still, was more productive, and he missed things I didn’t. We finished on time and the firm met its production deadline, and we dispersed.

And of course, I feel the decompression again. This time I know what it is, and have plenty of hope for more work, but losing it now, even in the normal course, leaves me bereft. I’m tempted to compare myself with someone thrown in a cell, but of course that’s absurd and obscene, at this moment. But I do have to start up my life again, and at least get back to where I was a few weeks ago, before this episode, in my capacity to fill my life with useful activity and company. I need to brace for the surges and undertows of these experiences, and what they tell me about my responses are a valuable key to my needs.

Lakeshore path Utopia

September 1, 2007

On the third day of my new contract, I found the adrenaline woke me up at 5:30. I made myself stay in bed another hour, then rode on the Lakeshore for an hour. I got there about 7:00, and immediately began noticing that everybody I saw was fit, runners and cyclists. But what really stood out was that relative fitness was all they had in common. The age distribution was very broad, with substantial numbers of all adult age groups. The impressionistic bell curve normally peaks under thirty, but this morning the distribution would have been more like a mesa, and the male/female ratio, most times at least 2/1, more like 3/ or 4/ or 5/, was 1/1. I won’t go into why that was, because I don’t know.

What I do know is that it was a picture of a physically healthy society. But of course this slice is very self-selected. Now there are places on this continent where there are many healthy and attractive people, but in my experience they skew young. The large number of middle-aged women, unselfconsciously exerting themselves, mostly alone or in twos, not as often in couples as the few women you usually see, was what made today stand out, as a glimpse of a world I wish were more typical.

Once more into the breach

August 29, 2007

I’m starting a new contract assignment tomorrow morning. It promises to be intense and time-consuming because overtime is not only allowed but expected. I’m very pleased because work is welcome: this one will be valuable experience and promises to be resume–able in a very short time, so that the benefits will be shall we say front-loaded.

So I’m not going to be on the dayshift at this or any other blog for awhile. I’m hoping to keep up posting here though, because I’m finding that very satisfactory without consuming much time. There may be plenty in the routine of the new job to spark off casual thoughts, and my downtown location also holds out the possibility of seeing some friends I don’t get to very often.

I wish I’d gotten farther on the house. I’m about to ride seriously now, because I don’t know when I’ll get to again.

Bring out your dead

August 28, 2007

I’ve a dead animal in my garage; the smell is unmistakable. I’ve a tangle of bike wheels and frames on two walls, other gear on the third. Two years ago, a large opossum got tangled in them and died. I had to pull things away from around the carcass, shovel it into a garbage bag and then double and triple bag it, and then treat and clean the floor, setting up an exhaust fan and running it for days. About twenty pounds, just enough to be awkward, making an “arms length transaction” impossible, maggots of course. I haven’t found it this time, but I’ve got my work cut out for me.


August 26, 2007

We had some damage this time, in our utility/laundry room. We’d let stuff pile up there for years, and when this time the drain in the floor clogged with debris, about an inch of water gathered. That was Thursday night. I spent most of the last two days cleaning it out, laboriously sorting the vast number of things, mostly screws and other fasteners and assorted hardware that got spilled over time, and then coated with some kind of muck. In all this I’ve thrown out things I have no idea why I thought to save, and before throwing out a dehumidifier that had stopped working years ago though new, took a few minutes to see if I could figure out why it didn’t work. Within fifteen minutes I found it in the switch, set it for always on, and put it back together. It’s running now next to my son’s all-day-every-day computer station, and while he complains about the noise, he wears a headset with mike anyway, and I can already feel the difference, even from before. I had meant to get to the cleanup soon, but now I have no choice. I’m hoping to clean and sort all the rooms in the basement for the next few weeks of free time, if that’s how long I have. I’ll build up a great deal of capital for better living in the process, get back the use of things like the dehumidifier—I’m sure there’ll be other examples—and just live more comfortably. That way the whole interlude will be positive; the list of things I can do, with existing tools and spending nearly nothing, is very long. I should, and do feel lucky.

Riding in the dark

August 21, 2007

Again last night, because that’s when there seems to be time for it. A different sensation this time, heavy fog rolling in while I was going South, so peering anxiously for unlighted cyclists—the most dangerous—and pedestrians. By the time I came back, it had cleared and was only dark. My light and rear blinker make me feel safe and visible, although Chicago is exceptionally well-lit anyway.

I’m a vehicular cyclist: I follow traffic laws while riding and going to left turn lanes, etc. The new strobe headlights, while perhaps good for being seen, run against that practice to my way of thinking. I see more and more single speed and fixed bikes, and often those are the ones dark at night, because of the absolute minimalism of the setup. And often set up with a riding position just as extreme, with the bars much lower than the saddle. Those were coming out of the fog, at speed last night on the trail, head lowered, because looking up is hard and you have to strain to do it from that position. My position is much more traditional, bars level with saddle. Makes looking out easy.


August 18, 2007

Or something very much like it, on the bike just now. It rained on and off all day, and there was a big parade—Indian National Day—that I didn’t want to get caught up in. It rained again during dinner, but by just past 7:30 it had dried off. So I rode off in the dusk, and found conditions wonderful. The lakeshore path South of Ardmore was as nearly deserted as I have ever seen it, and the recent rain filled the air with the scents of trees and grasses, and there was a firm breeze off the lake. The feeling of happiness just started breaking over me in waves. I’m sure some of it is shear physical release, some the endorphins. But there is something else too.

I’m feeling I need to address the special feeling I have for solitary experiences, especially when they take me by surprise. I’m a very gregarious person, very prone to loneliness and with a hunger for companionship and communication. But my most intense experiences, at least on a regular basis, always occur when I’m alone. I’m going to write about this very soon, as I finish up with the car thoughts.