Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pedalpalooza: NP Greenway Ride


Saturday evening we took a tour of what folks from the citizens group North Portland Greenway hope will eventually be a trail which connects Cathedral Park in St Johns, with the Eastbank Esplanade and Forest park via the east side of the Willamette River. I had no idea all these as yet, un-built and often privately owned tracks existed. The ride was a grand adventure.

We started on Waud bluff (never knew there was a name for it), on Willamette Blvd next to the University of Portland. Scott Mizee led the ride, along with Jason Starman and Joe Adamski. The first thing we did was make a screaming single track decent down to the railroad tracks. I immediately regretted not bringing my mountain bike instead, but the trails were totally doable by all the folks along who had everything from road to MTB steeds.


We continued along the tracks and through the UPS parking lot to a look out point on Swan Island. Scott talked about the industry of the island, the history (the spot where those buildings are used to be Portland's first airport) and the sections of trail that have already been created, which we proceeded to tour shortly.

The ride was so much fun in part because I've lived in Portland my whole life, and I had no idea of all the cool paths that were right under my nose. Even with the trail undeveloped, there are folks right now who use them to walk and bike to Swan Island, (where about 10,000 people work now) or on to downtown from north Portland. The finished part of the trail is gorgeous and includes a view point with historical information. It's a great spot to watch ships being built and launched. They try to announce when the launches happen and Scott said they're great fun to watch, and include lots of pomp and circumstance. One of the goals of the project is to attach a bike/ped access bridge across the river to the existing train bridge, which would give great front-door access to mountain biking in Forest Park or just a more direct route from north PDX to downtown.

We continued on through more parked trucks and into railroad-owned territory. On a perfect, warm Saturday solstice evening, there was no traffic and the ride was lovely. The views of the Fremont bridge and downtown were spectacular in the fading evening sunlight. Clearly we weren't the only trespassers, as evidenced by the graffiti tags on many of the train cars. I felt like I was rolling through a scene from Breakin'.

We came out from River Rd, which turns into Tillamook St, and comes out via a bridge over railroad tracks onto a section of Interstate Ave that I ride past all the time. There are two lovely bike lanes on either side of the bridge/road that lead exactly nowhere, since technically, you can't (legally) ride on the railroad path. I've often wondered where it lead though, and now I know.

Most of the riders peeled off at that point to get home or to other PP events, but Jess, T, and I were game to go back and explore north section of the trail. We rode up Interstate to Willamette and back to our starting point, but then kept going through the U of P campus. Down another steep hill (paved this time) and soon we were back along the railroad tracks. As we bumped along the large thick gravel next to the tracks, I wished once again that I had my MTB--I would have given it to Jess. Her broken wrist is mostly healed but still in pain every day. We weren't expecting quite this much adventure when we signed onto this ride. Although we both had a good time, a little full suspension would have been nice for her to have on a lot of sections.

Train Bridge

She came through like the trooper she is though. Our next stop was a cove near the train bridge that goes across the Willamette near Ida St and the Fred Meyer in St Johns. I had often looked down on it from the bluff, but being up close was very cool. The area down there is pretty sketchy and I would *never* go down there without a group. We saw some folks that probably live down there and skirted one look out point after hearing evidence of a rowdy solstice party going on.

2008_0621_035_np_greenway_rideWe did climb the stairs to stand on the train bridge and we treated to a train coming through just at that moment. There were two tracks on the bridge so it was plenty safe for us to stand on the sidelines and watch it go by. It was amazingly cool and made even better when the conductor, who looked far too young to be so curmudgeonly, leaned out of his window and yelled, "Get out of here!" Perfect.

As we climbed down the stairs, I couldn't help but ask, "When do we find the body and pull a gun on Ace?" We came out into Cathedral Park just as the sun was setting over the St John's bridge.

Thanks to Scott for showing me I don't know nearly everything about Portland. I'm excited that cool people are working to make this trail happen. Scott said they may try to do the ride tours monthly, which I think would be great for creating interest in the trail and getting the word out. The wheels of transportation are slow, and what they most need right now is a group of people they can call on in key moments to agitate the right political powers-that-be.

Check out their site to get more info and sign up for the email list.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Sunday Parkways

2008_0622_007_sunday_parkwaysAs we pulled out of the garage at 8:15 Sunday morning, on our way to Portland's biggest block party, Jess announced, "It's raining out here."

So. Typically. Portland.

Well it's also typically Portland to carry on in the face of raindrops, so after going back for our jackets, which we had hoped to retire for the summer, we set off. J's friend T had left the house in optimistic shorts and T-shirt attire. She turned down the offer of my extra jacket, then reconsidered, but by then she was already soaked. Not only was it rainy, it was pretty chilly too.

We joined the route at Arbor Lodge Park on Bryant St and there were few people to be seen aside from organizers and booth staffers. We worried that turn out might be low for the event, but I felt that A) the weather would improve and B) if you're going to live here, you learn to do things in whatever weather is offered. It was still early after all.

After collecting some Cliff Bar samples and a few of the awesome new N/NE PDX bike/ped maps (thanks Timo!), we continued on over the Bryant St bridge to Peninsula park, which would be our station for the next several hours. T had an engagement, not to mention she was miserable, so she headed home. I chased down a guy on a Big Dummy to pick his brain about it before picking up my volunteer T-shirt and reporting to our post.

$5 Life Savers

We had volunteered to help sell and fit helmets, which were being sold for $5 each through Trauma Nurses Talk Tough at Emanuel hospital. Helmet fitting doesn't seem like it would be fun, but I actually quite enjoy it, and I'm good at it. Things started out slow, but soon there was nothing but a sea of heads waiting to be fitted. I had a blast seeing how happy people were to get a new helmet and in some cases, find out how comfortable they can really be. I also had parents bring their children over who already had helmets, just to ask if they were properly fitted. It's such a better feeling than seeing all the naked heads on bikes and resisting the urge to lecture them.

Speaking of naked heads, if you or someone you know has one that needs covering, the trauma nurses are holding more sales on the following dates:

Emanuel Hospital Atrium: 2801 N Gantenbein Ave - Portland, Oregon

June 26th (That's tomorrow!)
July 17th
August 14th

Legacy Mt. Hood Medical Center Kids Fair: 24800 SE Stark St. - Gresham, Oregon

Saturday September 13, 2007 10 am to 2 pm

Helmets sizes in toddler to adult. Spread the word.

Two old family friends showed up and I settled their helmets over their considerable cushions of hair and they left smiling. I fussed around the tiny head of the most patient two year old I've ever seen. I met 'mystery black guy rider' Ernie, who I see around in the neighborhood but never actually got to meet. I hope the little guy (maybe 8 or 9) with dreadlocks eventually submitted to a fitting--when I got distracted with another customer, his dad was lecturing him about how he couldn't 'be like the racers' unless he had a helmet. The first person we met when we arrived was Nancy, a feisty red head who was in charge of taking the $Lincolns. Later, she was outted as Janis McDonald's mom--no wonder she was so cool. Jess wound up on the channel 6 news (0:58).

Time flew by and before I knew it, our shift was over and the sun was starting to peek out of the clouds. By the time we made it back onto the route, it was truly a summer day. The streets were completely packed with happy people. We bought a few baked goods for Obama, ran into people we knew and thanked all the cops at the major intersections who waved us through, while pausing the auto traffic.

Over at the SEI stop, we said hey to our Little Red Bike friends Evan and Ali and I discovered the African American Outdoors group (my people at last? Maybe...) Our last stop before the route re-opened was the Kaiser stop, where we sat in the city maintenance truck to get a perspective from life on the other side. It was good to get an idea of what truckers see (or don't see) as we share the roads.

I will definitely be writing and agitating to the proper folks to get another one of these going ASAP. Maybe one day we can be like Bogota, Columbia and have millions of people taking back the streets to play every Sunday.

Thank you Portland, may we have another?

We've Had ____ Days Without a Rude Driver

Car crashes into bike race
Originally uploaded by lazarus6

A bike commute should not cause crying. And yet, my girlfriend arrived home last night in tears, thanks to the sheer number of car drivers on the road, who seem intent on taking someone else out as they get from place to place.

Recently, Jess altered her route so that she only spends about four blocks on a main road--Interstate between Skidmore and Alberta--and yet she still can't get home without one, if not several incidents, in our supposedly Platinum Level city. This time it was the driver of a pick up truck who, deliberately and with malice, pulled out from the side street to turn right across the bike lane and onto Interstate, cutting off Jess, and (incidentally) the car next to her.

Jess is not what I'd consider overly confrontational, but even she was moved to yell, "I can't believe you just did that!"

"You guys (bikers) do it to us all the time," replied the equally insensitive passenger. "Why don't you try driving sometime?"

"I do drive, and I'm very respectful."

The driver then proceeded to swerve over into the left turn lane and make a U-turn across the MAX tracks on a red light.

I only hope the accident he someday causes only injures himself and whoever is stupid enough to ride with him, though I fear that won't be the case.

Shortly after that she was unnecessarily beeped at by some impatient woman who needed to get to the red light two seconds faster. The list goes on.

Today her bike is in the garage. She was so upset and frustrated by the culmination of what has been an ongoing trend, that she drove to work rather than risk another series of stupid people trying to run her down in rush-hour traffic. I don't blame her.

I have no doubt that she'll get back on her bike when she's ready. But it's sad that we (and by 'we' I mean all road users) have to worry about getting home alive because stupid people have been given a license to kill.

Earlier today, I was pondering this blog post as I began the ride home from my yoga class at PCC Cascade. Headed slowly along the ped/bike path through the parking lot, I was nearly run down by a driver speeding through the parking lot at 10-15 mph, and completely ignoring the stop sign in front of the path. I put my foot down and yelled "STOP!" at the driver, before my brain had even fully registered what happened. The driver, an old man in his 60's or so, just looked me as he sped on through.

A woman who was walking just behind me and talking on her cell phone, stopped her conversation to chant the license number long enough for me to make a note in my phone. Unfortunately, it probably won't do me much good. A call to the non-emergency police number yielded a sympathetic but basically helpless officer. Thanks to Ray Thomas, I do have the option and resources to pursue a citizen citation, but I'm not sure if even that's worth it, considering he didn't actually hit anyone. Mostly, I wish I could find out where he lives so I can show up at his door and have a chat with him about the importance of not killing or injuring people while trying to get around.

CrazyBikerChick has one of the most excellent open letters to drivers that I have ever read. If you drive a car, but don't ride a bike (or don't ride in traffic), I encourage you to go read it, and share it with others. I just want to get home alive. I just want my girlfriend to get home alive, in one piece and not stressed to the point of tears by people who never learned to share.

Is that too much to ask?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Muddy, at last

MudMonday night I went out for my first mountain bike race at the PIR Short Track series. It was only the second time I've actually ridden my new MTB, which I've had for over a month. I managed one ride through Forest Park last week and that was it. So it was all or nothing. I signed up for the whole series because when else am I going to be able to ride great dirt, bumps, single track and gravel 10 minutes ride from my house? Exactly.

Earlier in the day I took my bike down to River City to get a shorter stem. While I was upstairs getting helped, there was another RC employee working on a very nice Cannondale belonging to Sue Butler. Her name sounded kind of familiar, so I figured she was pretty good. Next, I stopped by Cyclepath on the continuing search for a saddle that doesn't make me scream after 10 minutes. Bill offered me not one, but two test ride saddles and let me take them for a week. Brilliant! Why has no one ever done this before? There's no way you can really know if a saddle is going to work without some serious ride time. Especially on a MTB, there's no garuantee of keeping it unscuffed enough to return if things don't work out.

At home, I was running late, as usual and had just enough time to pop one of the test saddles on, throw on my kit and ride to PIR. Did I mention it's only 10 minutes from my house? Bliss.

When I arrived, the junior and beginner women's clinic had already started. I still needed to register, but I didn't want to miss some nugget of information that might help me survive the race. I rolled up, and who was holding court, but Sue Butler. She and another woman took us in two groups pre-ride the course.

The problem with riding the course slowly is that a lot of the obstacles require speed in order to clear them. There was literally a huge pile of gravel in the middle of the start lap. I might have freaked out about it, but I didn't want to look wimpy in front of Sue, so I just waited till everyone else was at the top and then rammed my way up. Speed is your friend.

My favorite section by far was the whoop-de-do hills, or whatever you call them. Sue showed us how to push down at the right time to increase speed. And I loved her tip for climbing more effieciently: "Boobs to the tube!" In other words, keep your center of gravity low. One thing not to do is stand up and pedal, especially not on a full suspension bike, as that is just asking for back tire spin out.

We circled into the trees and rounded a sharp corner into several very small, compact bumps. A guy blew by us and promptly crashed in the middle. "Doesn't it make you feel better to see the guys crashing too?" said Sue. "We scheduled that just for you, ladies." Then someone in our group tried it, with not much better results. Sue demonstrated and advised us to keep out pedals level while cresting the bumps, so you don't hit your pedals. But that assumes you have enough momentum to stop pedaling and still crest the bump. Easier said than done. I don't like to think too hard about technical obstacles when I'm on the MTB so I cut ahead and just barely cleared the bumps.

After that I went ahead of the group and finished the lap. I was stressing out about registering. I meant to register by mail earlier in the week but I forgot that stamps went up. I got in line with about 20 minutes to go until my race start.

I saw a young girl also in Sorella uniform and figured she must be our newly sponsored junior racer. I felt really bad about not having time to say hello and gave her a couple of smiles. By the time I finished registering, they were calling up the kiddy racers and I still had to pee and fiddle with my tire pressure. I let out too much air and then had to rush over to the Chris King booth to use their pump. And my saddle had loosened on the ride over, so I ended up stuffing my multi-tool in my jersey and running over to the start line, where everyone was already lined up. I just had time to tighten the seat and hope it was in a decent position. I stashed the tool between two fence posts and squeezed my way up into the women's field right before the beginner men were sent off.

I'd been nervous about the race for most of the afternoon, but there was no time for that now. Thirty seconds after the men, our horn sounded and we were off.

My goals in this race were, as in every race, to keep the rubber side down and have a good time. I really could care less about my finishing place, so I let most of the riders surge ahead of me on the nice wide starting straight. It was much easier to navigate the course now that the race was on and there wasn't much time to think.

I got passed by most of the women I think, but I managed to pass some little kids, so I felt good about that. On the first lap, we had to go through a lovingly hand-made mud pit. There was really no good line, so I just down shifted and pedaled like crazy and made it through. Then there was a super twisty single track section through some dirt piles and then the whoop de do hills. The tree sections had lots of sharp turns but I took it easy. When I got almost to the end of the first lap, I went through a short muddy section and up a steep hill. There was a very good course marshall (or maybe he was just a super helpful spectator), who was always yelling encouragement and helpful advice. He reminded me to quit looking down and instead look out and ahead at where I wanted to go.

I did about three laps I think. After the first lap, I just settled in and literally enjoyed the ride. I passed one woman who was walking her bike, but still moving forward. Good for her. For next week, I need to work on faster passing, tighter corners and pushing a bigger gear on the non technical areas. For the most part, I seemed to have no trouble being in the right gear at the right time.

Laura & Me

When it was over, I felt completely toasted. My throat was on fire from the dust and I literally couldn't talk for about five minutes. My friends Simon and Laura, who came to cheer me on, came over and watched me heave and spit for a few minutes while I downed water. If I could just skip the 20 minutes or so immediately after the race, that would be perfect. After a while, I started feeling human again and could chat normally. I saw the Sport women's race go off with Sage (my Urban Assault partner) right in the mix. And I chatted with Laura, a new teammate I hadn't met yet. I didn't find Sasha (our new Jr racer) but will definitely chat her up next week, since I am now registered for the whole series (and plan to arrive nice and early!).

Me and (different) Laura

Muddy, at last

My bike is now appropriately muddy, which makes me very happy. I don't feel like such a poser. I'm definitely looking forward to more racing next week!

ETA: In the men's single speed race that happened just after ours, one of the racers, Colby Brooks, collapsed near the start/finish area. When I could breath again, I went over there to take pictures of the race and saw several people surrounding him and sharing CPR duty. He did not crash, probably his heart gave out, as people said he just collapsed at that corner of the track. Time seemed to slow down. It felt like they were doing CPR forever, and I didn't think he was going to make it, but the EMTs arrived and got him stabalized and he is reported to be doing well and recovering. I have to give huge credit to Mike Murray for having an awesome organized team, medical personal etc. There's a lot of second guessing going on over at about whether the race should have been stopped, but as far as I can see, things were handled with minimum panic and maximum efficiency. And Colby is alive. I'm sure as far as he and his loved ones are concerned, everything was done perfectly. Get well soon Colby.

EATA (Edited Again To Add):

The results are in and I placed 11th. Not that I'm competitive or anything.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Welcome Urban Assault Riders

I understand the Austin Urban Assault is happening this weekend. To all you riders who have been emailing me for quiz answers: I don't have them. My partner did most of the research, and in any case, I didn't save the answers, nor do they give them out at the race, since they re-use the quiz, as you have likely discovered.

Don't worry. The quiz is hard for everybody. Do your own research, make your own guesses, and remember to have fun! Good luck, and keep the rubber side down.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

First Day of Summer

I've decided today is going to be my official first day of summer. It's got just about everything you need in a summer day:

Free Waffles from Flavour Spot


A trip to the farmer's market:

Cycle Seen Tour

A Pedalpalooza ride (A self tour of the Cycle Seen exhibit since we were late for the start):

Cycle Seen Tour

Good food from Good Neighbor Pizza:

Cycle Seen Tour

Cute girlfriends:

Cycle Seen Tour

Cirque Du Cycling parade and criterium race:



And sun! (Finally!)

Welcome, summer. Were so glad you're here.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Friday, June 13, 2008


I'm waiting around at Macforce for my new boyfriend Todd to come out and get his thank you cookies, that I made spur of the moment after he saved my bacon (and probably my entire back up disk) from certain death this morning. It was on my way after all. I didn't used to believe in PMS but the fact that it's (FINALLY!) sunny and warm, I'm out riding my bike around and I'm still cranky must mean something's up. I'm trying to think good thoughts, but it's hard. I love Stephanie Schneiderman--love her--but if "Oxygen" pops into my head one more time, there might be a suicidal incident. Made an un-chaperoned visit to REI with predictable results. Went to the graduate portfolio show at my future school. They're doing some good work down there. On my way to my first Pedalpalooza event.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

An Ounce of Prevention

I have pictures of my insides, and a gap in my memory. No, I didn't wake up in a tub of ice with my kidneys missing: I had my first colonoscopy. Thirty-seven is a little young to be having your first colonoscopy, but I have a high genetic risk for colon cancer—as evidenced by three close relatives who have all been diagnosed with the disease, two of whom did not survive. It was therefore highly recommended that I get screened early.

When you mention a colonoscopy to people who have had them done, they will most likely tell you that the worst part is the preparation. I would have to agree. It involves abstaining from solid foods the entire day before your procedure. You can only have clear liquids—this includes Jello as long as it's not purple or red in color. I recommend making some, so you can at least have the illusion of eating. The fun really begins when you start drinking your laxative prescription, usually Go-Lightly, to clean out your colon. I was tipped off by my doctor's office to flavor the drink with Crystal Light, which made the taste tolerable. You drink eight ounces, every ten to fifteen minutes until you finish the whole gallon. It takes about four hours, and once it starts working, you can pretty much plan on not straying too far from the bathroom. In fact, I recommend getting some nice padding for your toilet and firing up a DVD on a laptop. If you don't have a laptop, you can always settle in with a favorite book.

The next day, I showed up at the clinic, weak-kneed, with a sore spot in my lower back that I presumed was the result of my stomach caving in on itself. My partner Jessica drove me to the clinic. Because she is a nurse, we got permission from the doctor for her to watch my procedure, which made me more comfortable.

After filling out the ubiquitous paperwork, I was taken back to the preparation/recovery room, where I put on the ridiculous gown and waited. My nurse's name was Candy. It took some doing, but I refrained from making an obvious joke about stripers; especially since she was about to put in my IV. I've never had an IV before, but Jessica sticks them in all day at her job, so I know a lot about what makes them difficult. Candy examined the back of my right hand, tapping it occasionally and looking for a likely vein. The prospects weren't good, and it didn't help that I hadn't had anything to drink in the last three hours, per my instructions. “See that dip? That's a valve,” Candy said, pointing to where my vein petered out. “I don't think we're getting past there.”

“Why don't you try my arm?” I suggested. “I give blood regularly and they never have any problems.”

“The problem with that is, you have to keep your arm straight,” she said.

“That's OK. It's preferable to multiple sticks.” Sure enough, she got in on the first try and it didn't even hurt. Once I was all taped up, she took some time to explain the risks of the procedure. The possible complications include rectal bleeding (especially if any polyps are found and removed), nausea or vomiting from adverse reaction to the sedatives, and infection. The biggest hazard is intestinal perforation, or getting a hole poked in your colon. If that happens, you need immediate surgery to repair the hole and avoid death. This problem only happens in about .02 percent of cases, but it's one that has loomed large in my mind because my grandmother on my dad's side was one of the unlucky minority. She went in for a routine colonoscopy and the doctor perforated her colon. The clinic staff were more concerned with covering up their mistake than getting her to the hospital, which was some distance away. The hospital then dragged its feet getting her into surgery. She died two days later.

For this reason, I made sure my procedure took place at a clinic across the street from a hospital. I interviewed my doctor regarding her experiences performing the procedure, and asked if she'd ever had any complications (she hadn't). She assured me that since I was young and healthy, everything would most likely go smoothly. Still, I was happy that Jess would be there watching.

I actually had two procedures in the same appointment. First an endoscopy, to check my stomach for ulcers; then the colonoscopy. For short procedures such as these, most doctors use what is known as conscious sedation. This means they give you a drug to keep you calm and make you forget the procedure, but you're not actually asleep. The most commonly used drug combination is a dose of fentanyl for pain, combined with midazolam hydrochloride, also known as Versed, to keep you relaxed and make you forget. Although some people have adverse reactions to Versed, or trauma related to memory loss, I was completely on board with the idea of forgetting the pain. I suspected the endoscopy would be much worse than the colonoscopy. “Am I going to have a sore throat?” I asked the nurse as she prepared to give me the first drug.

Jess answered first. “Yeah, you will.”

My procedure nurse looked sheepish. “Well, we usually say no to that question...” In other words, she usually lies. I didn't see how you could have a big tube stuck down your throat without some residual effects.

“Hmm...I'll probably need ice cream to sooth it then,” I said. “Can I get that written in my take-home instructions?” This was now a running joke with me and Jess, ever since I persuaded my dentist to leave a fake voice mail stating that I should stay on soft foods—specifically ice cream—for the few days following my dental procedure.

With that, the nurse injected what she called 'a starter dose' of Versed and fentanyl into my IV. Within a minute, I started to feel drowsy. “Something's happening,” is the last thing I remember saying. Unfortunately, the starter dose proved to be somewhat inadequate. As if it were a very vivid nightmare, I can clearly remember the feeling of choking while the tube was snaking down my throat, and feeling as if I was going to throw up. I also remember Dr Breittenger telling me to try to breath, they were almost done. It was like a scene straight out of a horror movie, or one of those dreams where you desperately need to talk, but can't. Jess confirmed later that I struggled quite a bit until the tube was out, and my blood pressure skyrocketed to two hundred over one hundred. The doctor asked Jess to turn up my oxygen flow—they were busy holding me down and trying to finish quickly.

Once the tube was out, they increased my dose of Versed, and the rest of the procedure is a blessed blank spot in my memory. For the rest of the day, my brain danced in and out of awareness, and I struggled to put floating pieces into place. Rather than be disturbed by the gaps in my memory, I was completely fascinated. Poor Jess just found it irritating. Our conversations went something like this:

Me: (At home, waking up from a nap). Dang, I meant to get pictures!

Jess: We did get pictures honey. I showed them to you.

Me: You did?

Jess: Yes. Here they are.

And so it went. I became obsessed with trying to piece together dream-like sequences that I wasn't sure had actually happened. In each case, I would ask Jess to confirm the event. For instance, when we left the hospital, we made several stops before going home. Jess picked up my favorite fried rice dish from a restaurant near the hospital. Then I (apparently) decided that it would be a great time to stop at REI to try on some shoes I've been wanting. I have to order them on line, but I wanted to make sure of the size. As we walked into the store, I said something like, “Aren't I doing great honey?” In my mind, I felt completely alert, sure that I was 'passing' as a normal, un-drugged person. In reality, watching her tell the story to others later, her mimicry of me was more like a half-drunk person about to pass out. Hours later, a picture of myself, sitting on a bench, trying on a sandal came into my head. “Did we go to REI?” I asked, startled that an entire visit to my favorite store could dissolve into mist.

Images and conversations continued to float back to me in a haze for the rest of the evening. Sometimes specific mention of an event would bring something back as well. “You've got tomato soup in the cupboard,” Jess reminded me. Oh yes, we stopped at New Seasons and Fred Meyer on the way home and I asked for soup because my throat hurt.

I suppose I'm so fascinated by all this because I've never used recreational drugs, or even alcohol. Perhaps someone who spent their college years waking up in strange places after parties would find this sensation routine. The experience got me thinking about what complex creatures we are, and how amazing it is that my doctor can completely alter my brain, then go inside my body and come out with photos I can use to gross out my friends.

My colon, I'm happy to report, is clean as a whistle. Most of the risk factors for colon cancer are things I avoid already; cigarettes, red meat, alcohol. Due to my family history, I will probably need to have a colonoscopy every three to five years. Despite my paternal grandmother's tragic outcome, I will continue to have them done. Colon cancer is ninety percent preventable with regular check ups. For people with a family history of colon cancer, it's even more important to get screened. Survival rates go from ten percent to ninety percent if the cancer is caught in the early stages. My maternal grandmother was diagnosed with an early stage of the disease when she was fifty. She was treated with surgery and is still going strong at eighty-four years old. Sadly, she has now buried two of her children, who could have been saved with a timely colonoscopy screening.

Death is coming for all of us, and it's easy to carry the feeling of invincibility from your youth into adulthood. I've seen the results of putting off preventative care because you think you're too busy. My mom had excellent health care, but she buried her head in the sand when it came to her poor health choices. I'm determined not to follow in her footsteps.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Out On A Limb

One of the prompts for the third of our four essays due in writing class, was to write about where you're from and who you are, and to answer questions such as:

How one perceives oneself within and outside of a community and culture. How have you dealt with assumptions about each culture? What assumptions do people have about you? How have you handled these situations?  To what extent have you embraced or resisted stereotypes?

Well, it's kind of a no-brainer, this prompt.  Obviously, I could write about being a black gay girl in a straight white world--but I really didn't want to.  I desperately wanted to write about something 'more upbeat.'  On the day that we spent time in class brainstorming our topics, I made the mistake of mentioning my dilemma to a classmate:

As I attempted to express my frustration with the demographic make up of my home town, my classmate hastened to reassure me by saying how much worse things were in her home town in the Midwest, where 'the N word' can still be heard on a regular basis.  I took a deep breath, and tried to explain to her, the subtle forms of racism which are not necessarily any easier to deal with, precisely because they can be so hard to pin down. “You know, I've heard that from other people,” she replied.
    I ended the conversation at that point, before I officially became the 'angry black girl.'  Her response was a red flag to me that those 'other people' were most likely people of color.  It is common for people in a dominant group to not actually hear something that is said about their privilege, unless it is coming from someone in their group.  If my classmate had actually internalized what those 'other people' had told her, perhaps she would not now be responding to my experience by telling me how grateful I should be that things are 'so good in Portland,' compared to where she is from.  As if Portland had figured it all out, despite having a history of racist laws in the Oregon constitution until 1959.  Her comment was completely inappropriate, for the same reason it would be unseemly to suggest to a paraplegic  that they should be grateful they're not a quadriplegic. 

Well, after that, I really felt like I had to write it, if only to give her a clue, and deal with my frustration.  But now I was pissed off, defensive and wary.  The next class, Joan, the teacher, asked us to go around and share our topics.  I didn't really feel like talking about it at that point, so I just said something vague about 'not fitting in.'

"Oh yes, there's a whole area of research on that," Joan said excitedly. "Outsider/insider syndrome."  She then went on with some story about going to a little town to do research and how she experienced the same thing.  But I wasn't in the mood for "I know just how you feel!" coming from a straight, white, middle class woman just then.  She felt me too, because at the break, she ran right over to me.  "I just wanted to check in--I don't feel like I answered your question."

"I wasn't asking a question." I told her that I was feeling guarded about my topic, and that I wasn't going to workshop it in class.  She panicked then, thinking she'd done something to offend me, so I had to reassure her that it wasn't her. 

I worked on it over the weekend, starting over completely three days before it was due, because the first one had just turned into a rant about everything that had ever pissed me off.  Not very useful.  When I was done, I sent it to my WBPs (Weird Black People's) and they all wrote back with virtual head-nods that yes, I'd gotten it right.

The next class, I pulled S (my new metro straight, white boy-friend who loves the lesbos), and L (the other lesbo in class) into the hall and gave it to them.  "You're the first ones to see this in this class," I told them.

"You're gonna give it to us crackers eh?" S joked.  I wasn't worried though and we ended up meeting after class at Cup and Saucer and they gave me some good grammar feedback, and generally said they loved it.  L kept saying how she wished I was in her diversity class the year before, where all the black people were straight and all the gay people were white.  And one of the black women basically had the attitude of, 'let's take care of us (black folks) and then we'll get to you.'  Yeah, that strategy wouldn't really work for me.

"You need a hotline," I told L, "so you can dial it up when you need a queer person of color to come and call bullshit on everybody.  I'm envisioning a nice outfit with a cape of some sort.  Maybe an invisible plane.  You could have different extensions depending on which race you need."

Before I left, I said, "Now watch, we'll get them back next week and Joan will ask me to read it in class." 

Fast forward to this morning.  I walked in late, and Joan was giving a lecture about run-on sentences.  I guess the latest crop of essays wasn't quite up to snuff in the grammar department.  That got me worried.  Grammar isn't really my best thing, and doing things last-minute doesn't help.  But after her diatribe, she came over and handed me my essay and a quick scan revealed all 4's--her grading system is three numbers from 1-4 for concept, development of idea, and execution.  "Beautiful essay," was her comment.

Well, good, I hadn't twisted my guts out for nothing at least.  But the best was yet to come. 

"I would love to have Dean and Kronda read parts of their essays, if you're willing." She looked at me.

I debated.  S and L, sitting next to me, knew better than to offer advice.  Of course it would suck to sit there and read my angry black girl manifesto to a room full of unknown white people.  But really, why had I written it, if not for this very moment, to call out my well meaning, but clueless classmate and make her listen?  I said yes.

I let Dean go first, enjoying his letter to his 'maybe, someday' child.  Then it was my turn. 

I was expecting it to be challenging, but I hadn't bargained on just how hard it was.  I started crying in the middle of page two and didn't stop until class was over.  Oh, so it's going to be like that eh? Crap. The worst part was when I got to the conversation (quoted above).  I was crying too hard to make sentences anymore and had to stop for a long moment.  I didn't look up, but I could imaging how much discomfort I was causing in the room.  Well, why should I be the only one? I heard Joan start to say something, but I ignored her and continued.  Wow, I guess that really got to me.  I wasn't trying to be a drama queen, and I certainly don't like crying in front of a big group of people staring at me, but it wasn't the first time and it would be over soon. If showing these strangers my pain helped make my point (and got a certain person to listen), then it was worth it.

I settled into an acceptable level of crying that would still allow me to speak, and kept going.  All was well until the very end, when I started choking up again.  Come on, you've only got three sentences, suck it up!  Another long deep breath, and I was done.  I felt like I'd just finished biking up Larch Mountain.

I sat and wiped my face on my sleeve, grateful it was cool enough to warrant long sleeves today.

M, chimed in first.  She was in the workshop group when I refused to talk about it.  But they pestered me, so I told them a little bit, to which she and B (from Forest Grove, a suburb about 30 miles from Portland) replied, "Wow, we never thought of that." Yeah, why would they?  I don't remember exactly what she said, except that it was sweet, that she was thankful that I shared, considering I didn't even want to talk to three people about it, and now I had dismantled myself for the whole class--and she said that "anyone with ears should hear this," which is possibly the nicest compliment on my writing, ever.

Another woman (name forgotten) chimed in with more nice words and said she hopes I find a way to get it published (general consensus).  And Dean, Irish, forceful, loud, all-about-me Dean, complimented the 'quality of the writing' and said my tone was 'just right.'

Joan, who admits she spends hours trying to find just the right words for everything, was amazed that I had written the whole thing in a week (less, really).  "I can't do that.  You have a rare gift."

But the best comment was the one that didn't come: my classmate was silent, and looking *very* pensive, which is exactly what I hoped for.  Maybe she actually listened.  Maybe she'll think twice before she says something stupid to the next black person she meets.  Maybe she finally heard me.  If that's true, then I'll take, 'slicing your heart open and bleeding all over your sleeve,' for the win.