Widowhood is all around us

I just learned that a woman I know at church–older than me but definitely not elderly–just lost her husband to kidney cancer. I’m told this is the second husband she lost to cancer. Gack. I can’t imagine losing a husband twice to the same ailment. Or losing a husband twice before we’re old enough to really grow old together. It just reminds me of how my mom told me that because I’d been widowed once, I wouldn’t lose a husband again so young. This is proof of the ridiculousness of such a statement–no one can assume the length of anyone’s mortality. My mom also says to me that my family is from “good stock” which somehow means that we are impervious to early death. I know she was just trying to comfort me. It’s just believing these kind of statements gets yourself in some serious trouble. I think that’s part of the reason I suffered so badly when Mike died–on some level I really believed I was immortal in some way. Blame it on youth.

I had sent a card to this woman about a month ago, after her husband’s surgery. I’m on a mailing list with my church through our Ministry of Caring where I get all the latest prayer requests and calls for celebration and, if I feel compelled to do so, I can send cards. It’s my way of contributing to the church right now–about all I have the time and energy to do. I usually just send cards to people I’ve met personally since there is one girl at the church who sends cards that come from the church “officially.” I had seriously thought he’d pull through this, but maybe that is how I lie to myself–I assume the best all the time, even when presented with all the facts. Part of me wants to believe in the impossible story: the man so close to death that he can see the Grim Reaper standing in the corner of his room waiting to take him, who fights hard and miraculously recovers against all odds. That’s part of why I love Lance Armstrong so much–the Grim Reaper was breathing down his neck and yet he survived at impossible odds. I think a part of me sometimes thinks my husband gave up easily, that he could have fought against his fate too. And I get mad when I think like this. Did he not love me enough to fight to live?

Throughout his book It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, Armstrong says that he doesn’t know why he lived and others don’t, that simply some do and some don’t and it makes no sense. Which is a great, sobering view of life that I think someone who has faced death realizes. There is no pattern in this chaos, at least not one that a mere mortal can discern. Some people live, some people don’t. It’s a crazy lottery you don’t want to win.

Kidney cancer, I guess, is particularly aggressive. This man was only diagnosed a month or so ago. And now he’s gone. Yesterday at church, the minister had announced a prayer/thought request for him because he was having problems with the remaining kidney. I remember thinking, “Oh no…” That’s it. Just the sinking feeling of despair for someone I barely know, for the man I made the potential warrior against Death. I said a prayer for both of them–husband and wife–for what it’s worth, though I’ve pretty much just written prayers off as that thing you do for yourself and others more than an actual hope that some divine power is going to intervene and change things because, as you know, it seldom does. It doesn’t matter how hard you pray or ask for a different outcome, things will unfold as they will unfold. I guess you just hope to send positive energy to those who are left in the wake of the grief.

As a widow or widower, I think it’s very hard to not become affected by the similar plight of those around you. You remember an aspect of what it felt like to be in that position, even though everyone’s grief is different, and you know that on some level you understand them in a way you wish you didn’t. And to lose a husband twice… ugh… I’ve always said that if I had to go through what I went through with Mike again, I wouldn’t make it out the second time. In reality, I probably would–I have such a goddamned survival instinct–but I can’t imagine having to do this all over again. It’s unrealistic, I know, since we all eventually die. But I guess I just hoped that I would die first next time (I half-joke about adding this to my wedding vows often). Or I guess I had hoped that I’d handle it better if it happened when I was 80 years old as opposed to 26, 36, 46, 56… I guess we all lie to ourselves to some extent.

My heart goes out to this woman in my church, with whom I’ve only had a few scattered conversations and shared a few chortled remarks. I guess that’s all I can say. I’m feeling inspired to make a donation to the Livestrong Foundation or the American Cancer Society in this man’s name.

On the writer’s conference

I think I don’t play well with other writers. Any time I sit in the room with a bunch of other people who write, I feel jealous or intimidated. Jealous because I feel in fierce competition with other writers. After all, these are my potential competitors, especially in the world of memoir writing, even if I’m the only one in the room writing about being a young widow. The fact of the matter is that only one person out of thousand (or maybe more) actually gets published. We’re all a bunch of dreamers who enjoy writing and feel like we have something to say to the world; at the end of the day, we want to be the one to win the publishing deal. So we’re really more adversaries than we are companions.

I’m always reluctant to show other writers my writing. I’ve never joined a writer’s group for this reason. I don’t want people to steal my ideas–my thoughts, my metaphors, my stories. I’m even afraid someone would take my widow story and try to make it their own, ripping it word-for-word. So I’ve just never jumped on the bandwagon of the supportive group of writers to have people edit my work. I only show my writing to other people who don’t write and friends I trust. That’s it. And you can bet I have the useless copyright notice at the bottom of every page. Even if it really means nothing. I was told once that it’s really hard to win a case against someone who you feel has stolen your work or ideas. Art is so subjective.

All that said, I can’t say that I had the greatest of times at the writer’s conference. I had a lot of trouble shutting down the voice in my head that kept telling me that I was better than everyone else in the room. Which I know is unfair, really, but it’s the only way I can survive as a writer. Even when you sit in those classrooms with the intent of listening to the speakers, everyone at the conference is concerned about self-promoting themselves. In the cut-throat market of publishing, you have to be your own marketer. Even as a published writer, you have to do a lot of leg work that your publishing house doesn’t do. Unless you are Stephen King or Danielle Steele, you have to arrange book readings and signings at various book stores and you have to push your work onto the shelves.

Which is why a writer’s conference is somewhat annoying. People who have self-published their own work try to work an opportunity to mention their books during the Q&A portion of a speaker’s talk. They’re just sitting in the audience, awaiting their opportunity to push their wares to a potential readership in the guise of providing useful advice. And you can’t entirely fault them for it because you know in your heart of hearts, you’d at least feel compelled to do the same thing if you had something to sell. I know I would. If I got anything published, even something I’d published myself, you bet I’d find a way to work the topic up in every discussion I had with anyone. I’d be pushing my wares all over the place. Damn right.

Sure, every writer will tell you that they do it because they have to. The love of writing and spinning words is so overwhelming that you are compelled to do it even if you have no intention of publishing. Yet, at the same time, every writer is a narcissist who gets off on the knowledge that other people are reading his/her words. Why do you think I keep a blog instead of a personal journal? Why do you think I use my blog as a personal journal? Is it not sad that I write on this blog more regularly and consistently than any journal I’ve kept my entire life (and I’ve kept journals my entire life until I started blogging)? Why do I write on the blog more? The answer is simple: You are reading.

I want to say that I’m magnanimous and that my sole desire is to share my own experiences with others who don’t know what it’s like to be a widow or for those who do know what it’s like or to share camaraderie with my fellow cyclists. But the truth is, I keep up this blog because I know people are reading. Not as many as I’d probably like, but enough to goad my ego. Maybe you all need to stop reading so that I can be a bit more modest about myself. Don’t feed the narcissist.

Speaking of blogs, I got a little jealous the other day reading someone else’s blog on cycling and noting how popular the guy was–he had over 100 comments. So, of course, Ms. Competitive came out and I thought, “Gee. I suck. I don’t think I have enough people reading to get 100 comments.” Which, of course, led me on one of my trips of self-deprecation. I think that if I “had what it takes” to be a published writer, then my writing would be viral. Right?

It’s so easy for me to talk myself out of trying to write something that could get published. Like I’ve said in many blogs before, I am my own worse enemy in this regard because I give up before I’ve even tried. Because I’m so competitive and easily jealous, I let other writers’ successes intimidate me into silence. My narcissist, I guess, is not as conceited as maybe it should be. I guess I just submit to the voices in my head that tell me I’m never going to make it. I’ve written nothing as far as my memoir goes in months, so of course this statement is true.

I will say, however, that being at the conference did make me want to go home and start writing. Of course, I had an overbooked weekend and didn’t get around to actually writing anything. But I did start to think that I need to get more focused. I do have some ideas and I definitely know which chapter I want to write next. I’ve been composing the first sentences in my head for the last few months.

I think the major problem I’m having with the memoir, though, is that I don’t know where I’m going with it. In the memoir writing lecture I attended, Deanna Adams (the speaker) said that the memoir needs to work like fiction in that there should be some climax reached and a conclusion at the end–something that suggests growth or change or gives people a message. I don’t know if I have that for my memoir. I know I’m nearly eight years out from my husband’s death, and that I’ve let a lot of grief go, and that I still occasionally go through some bouts with grief, but I am not sure I have a conclusive conclusion. I’ve always thought my conclusion was something like, “Life is hard. I persist. You have to push past the pain and deal with the disappointment of not getting the life you planned. The end.” I just think that widowhood, like many things in life, is something that doesn’t conclude. You carry a piece of the person you loved forever. Life can get great, but it will never be ideal. You just make the best of a bad situation, I guess. But I don’t want to be completely negative.

I guess if I were to write this thing, I really need to think about the point of it. I want to share my experiences but as of now a lot of things that I’d bring up aren’t really resolved. I haven’t spoken to my in-laws in over eight years. I have no teary confessions of guilt or earnest apologies for crappy grief-stricken behavior. I don’t have a child to talk about centering my life around. I’m not remarried with a new, exciting future ahead of me. (People like the whole “remarried angle” because it symbolizes total growth and a complete abandonment of grief, even if that isn’t true at all.) My story really is just left hanging at the end. I have nothing conclusive to say except to share my experience. Maybe no one wants to read about that. Maybe I’d be boring the hell out of you’all. Maybe I just suck.

Anyway, I suppose the writing conference was good despite the mix of jealousy and mad self-deprecation coursing through my veins. I was able to relax during the last session I elected to take for fun–world-building for science fiction. I guess I don’t, right now, feel competitive with other writers over my science fiction. Plus, the speaker handed out some marketing tags about some of his own books (remember–market yourself, market yourself, market yourself) and I was interested in picking them up, though I didn’t end up buying them before I left. He kind of provided information about the trend in science fiction right now so it was eye-opening. He had great, informative hand-outs. Stuff to think about if I ever think about writing regular fiction and/or science fiction again. I think I have probably an even smaller chance of ever getting any of that stuff published than my memoir and I think I have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever getting my memoir published, even if I completed it.

Well, we’ll see what happens. I just need to start focusing. I’ll never have anything to pedal, or be competitive with other writers about, if I don’t sit down and write. I know this. I just need to forget about all the possibilities of what could happen should I complete it. This is really for myself. I need to purge and I should just sit down and do it. Something tells me that once I do, some of my anger and sadness will be resolved in the transfer from my brain to the page. I certainly hope so.

Contemplating time

At the end of another really busy weekend that went by way-faster than I would have liked with little room for complete relaxation, I’m reminded–through things going on in my life right now–of the following poem which I wrote one morning in 1997 as I waited at the W. 150th Rapid station headed for work (right after college, I worked at a law firm in downtown Cleveland).

It was several months before I met Mike and I was in the first round of my life as an adult working. I hadn’t yet moved out of my parents home (for what I was getting paid, I couldn’t afford it) and I had no idea what to do with my life (and it felt even worse than it does now). I felt like I was on the precipice of something big. I suppose all young folks feel that way after college–the whole, “Well, world, I’m done with school, I’ve got my degree, I’m ready for an adventure NOW.”

I felt lost between the past and the present–the good times behind me that had to inevitably end (college) and a future I had to start but didn’t know where to begin or even where I wanted to go. Both of these feelings are a lot like how I feel now. I suppose that’s why the poem came to the forefront of my mind. I feel stuck between my past and present again, and I’m not sure how to catch the train that goes to a future that has an enjoyable outcome.

Phantom Train (9/9/97)

Time is a speeding freight train
And I am standing by the tracks,
Longing to jump on;
But all I can do is watch in silent despair
As the Past escapes from sight.

The train is sleek and black,
And made of unblemished metal
It does not feel,
Does not know the value of its cargo;
It merely goes about its Natural work,
Relentlessly pushing further into the distance
Where no corporeal body can travel.

Memory’s perfume rides the motion-made breeze
Just barely perceptible on the edge of sense,
Arousing savory images of what-was
Nothing tangible to grasp, to keep,
No proof that the Past is more than a dream.

Sunlight flashing from between the moving cars
Forms wispy specters to enact each scene—
A silent film amidst great pulses of strobe
Stabs my eyes with reveries of bygone joy,
Tainting and souring all that is-now;
I trade smiles for grimaces and a wrinkled brow.

Time has its Clients who gladly take
Each day’s new shipment of this train’s freight,
They embrace what comes and enjoy the new,
They tell me that is what I ought to do;
But I only want what is already gone
And has passed like a phantom in the coming of dawn.

The train has no beginning, no end
As far as any mortal can see
It does not stop,
Does not yield for dissidents such as me;
It leaves us standing at the wayside station
Cruelly charging onward to that archaic destination,
Where forever is already over.

It also struck me tonight as I was listening to (and, unfortunately for anyone in earshot, singing) U2’s song “Zoo Station” (from Achtung, Baby) that my metaphor of time as a train is not original:

Time is a train
Makes the future the past
Leaves you standing in the station
Your face pressed up against the glass

Those lines conveyed the same feeling I was trying to express, a sense of being outside of the flow of time as a lost observer. Great minds think alike I guess!

Seriously, though, I think this poem resurfaced in my mind because I’m at that place right now. Though, some might say, I’ve never left that place… I think right now I’m feeling particularly crunched by the weight of time so all the old thoughts are resurfacing. Maybe everything is about to recycle itself again. Maybe right now I am on the edge of Something Big, like I was last time, and one of the trains will stop at my station to let me aboard. I just hope I can figure out which one I want to take before the boarding call.

Another set of two wheels

For those of you not immediately in my sphere of daily contact, I thought I’d update you on my latest obsession: I’m currently studying for the temporary permit test for a motorcycle endorsement. A friend of mine and her husband (R and J from my recent skiing adventures) and I are signed up for Ohio’s motorcycle safety course on June 18, 20, and 21st, at the end of which, if we “successfully graduate” from the course, we get our permanent motorcycle endorsement. I’ve always wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle–despite vigorous safety warnings from friends and family–and I’ve finally found the right person(s) to motivate me into action. I’ve talked about learning for years. Now with the safety course, I’ll at least get to find out whether or not I would even enjoy riding a motorcycle.

Now, please, I don’t need a hundred people posting to tell me how dangerous motorcycles are. Look, I ride a bicycle on the roads. If you don’t think that’s a dangerous activity–especially in Northeast Ohio with its barrage of angry drivers–then you are sadly mistaken. I’ve known of people getting hit and dying on bicycles and it’s not as rare as you might think. I take the risk when riding my bike on the street and I do it willingly because I love the sport. If I worried about the myriad of ways I could die each day, I’d never leave the house. I don’t let my fears stop me from doing the things I want to do. Life is too short for regret.

I think I have the kind of safety awareness to be a good motorcyclist. My years of riding a bicycle on the street have taught me that drivers don’t see you, so I’m particularly cognizant of cars about to turn into my path. I’m always prepared to stop suddenly or take evasive action as the situation arises. I know how to scan the road for potholes and obstructions because I have to avoid these on a bicycle. I think a motorcycle is going to feel beefy compared to my light-weight and thin-wheeled bicycle. I’m guessing I will feel comfortable on the motorcycle. But I don’t know yet.

I’m actually excited about fulfilling yet another thing on my unofficial list of things I’ve wanted to do before I die. I’ve been slowly checking things off this list my whole life, really, and it’s taken my adulthood to reach these dreams. So please, no nay-saying comments. In each of the activities I do, you could name people who have died doing them (skiing, bicycling) so I don’t need further proclamations of doom. I have noticed that mentioning motorcycles around people produces immediate reactions of either positive or negative with no middle ground. It’s almost as if I took out a cigarette in front of a new group of people or told everyone I’d taken to jumping out of airplanes for a living (I have, in fact, jumped out of airplanes before). Yet my bicycling is seen as healthy, when in all reality I’m at a similar risk (though at lower speeds) riding on the road.

Anyway, this is a bonding activity for me and my dad. He’s always wanted to get back on a motorcycle. He had one in his younger years, I think before I was born. However, when I was much younger, he would borrow a friend’s motorcycle and I’d ride on the back with him. So I guess it’s his fault I have the lust to ride in my blood. He also used to let me take sips of his beer when I was a kid and look where that’s got me. Dad and I bond over beer, motorcycles, and hiking mountains in Colorado. What a cool father-daughter relationship!

And, no, a motorcycle will not replace my cycling. I still like to work hard to get to a destination–endurance sports are in my blood. I’ll just use the motorcycle to get to places I’d normally go by car in the summer. Just think about how much I’m helping save the environment with the high mileage you can get out of a motorcycle! I’m an environmentalist now!

On keeping my last name

Romantic love is a luxury of modern times. In the “old days,” marriage was not about love, it was about property exchanges and gain for the men involved in the transaction–the father and the groom. If you happened to also fall in love with your betrothed, you were extremely lucky. In most–but admittedly not all–cases a woman had very little say in who she would marry. Marriage was an invention to legitimize children and determine inheritance. It is only in the modern age that marriage has been strictly about love. To pretend that marriage was a divine transaction given to us by some greater power based on romantic love is to revise history in the context of modern society. Even the Old Testament has stories about women being traded or married off specifically for the advancement or benefit of the male parties.

The reason a woman changed her last name in those days is because she became by law the property of her husband. She left the household of her father–whose property she was deemed previously–and switch owners to her betrothed. As such, she received the last name of her husband to testify to this ownership.

All this said, I have a lot of trouble accepting a tradition that is really handed down to us from a much darker time for womankind. I realize another thing we’ve rewritten through time is what it means to change your last name, which is why I did it the first time I got married, and that is it symbolizes the two in love becoming one–a team. I accept this as a better interpretation of the tradition. But why does it always have to be the woman who changes her name? Why can’t men step up and offer to take the woman’s name?

Oh, to ask a man to do this illicits such furious fights. Stammerings of, “But, but, but this is my identity!!” (I’ve only had one boyfriend who offered to take my name if we got married. And I’m not sure if he was joking or not.)

Bingo. And you think I want to lose my identity, the name I’ve kept for 34 years (minus the few years I had my late husband’s last name until I changed it back in 2005)? I’ve been an E longer than I’ve been an F; I am comfortable with myself as an E. I’m proud to be an E because the E’s loved me and supported me throughout all the tumultuous days of my grieving. Where were the F’s in all this struggle? They were busy fighting over who knew Mike more and who deserved what he left behind more than his wife who he only knew for a pittance of three years.

I believe that your blood family is the only family who truly loves you, even if they don’t always show it. In my husband’s death, I learned the value of family and I appreciate my own much more than I ever did. I was stupid to believe that my in-laws could possibly love me as much as the mother who bore me for nine months and the father who worked to put food in our mouths throughout my childhood. I earned my last name. I earned it through pain and tears and grieving. The Es will have my back forever, whether they like it or not, because they are stuck with me. In-laws and other people have the option to move about freely–their only connection to you is through their own child so when that’s gone, they have the ability to break the bonds of the so-called marriage family.

It’s not just the anger, though, from being rejected by my in-laws that spurs my desire to hang onto my last name. I went through a metamorphosis of sorts when my husband died. In those years that I clung to his last name as though keeping it would somehow bring him back, I struggled with a very real crisis of identity. Who was this Heidi F person? Suddenly the F name just sounded so foreign. I had to explain myself to people who had known me as Heidi E but had missed the whole short episode of marriage that I had. It seemed to come up all the time. A big bomb dropper: “Well, yeah, I got married. But he died.” Not something you want to bring up in pleasant conversation.

As the Fs went further and further away, I was alone in an island of F-dom. I had changed my name for the love of my husband, but now he was gone. The team that was F to me was no longer a team, just a single player alone, staring at the empty soccer field of life on which the team once did battle. But E; E meant something to me. It was the name I wanted to publish under. It was the name I first learned to say and spell in kindergarten. It was ME–who I was, who I am, who I’d grow into. I changed my name back and vowed to never change it again.

But why is it that men can’t seem to see the connection between the identity attached to their own name and the one attached to a woman’s? Was I supposed to grow up expecting that my last name was not permanent? That I was supposed to “lose myself” as an individual proverbially in my marriage? If you truly believe that marriage is about creating a team, and that team has to extend to the changing of last names, then why not both people make up a name they can share together? Isn’t that a better symbol of the new symbiotic entity created in the marriage? Or take each other’s last names and hyphenate as I’ve seen friends do. (Often homosexual couples will also do this to symbolize their union.)

Why do so many men in our society have such a problem with changing their last names, but they expected it unquestioningly from their spouses? How fair is that?

Traditions need to be questioned. I’ve always questioned traditions because they don’t always make sense. It’s not enough for me to do something just because tradition dictates–I need to know the why, where, and how about the tradition. Sometimes it seems to me that we continue to participate in a tradition simply because “that’s the way it’s always been.” That’s not a good enough reason for me. Sometimes traditions, such as the woman changing her last name, are grounded in a negative historical context. I think we should discontinue practicing a tradition when we don’t agree with the basis on which it was founded. This is the modern era, afterall, and women are independant, capable of achieving their own places to live, their own sources of income, and chosing whom to marry. Traditions should bend to accommodate the change of times.

Whether or not to change your last name is purely up to the woman and/or the couple involved. I’m not advocating forcing my break with tradition on everyone else; some women aren’t attached to their names at all and feel totally okay about a name change. I’m just trying to justify here why I think it’s okay for women to decide not to change their name or, at the very least, why I would chose to not change my name should I ever get married again. I like myself as Heidi E. I’ve established a career under my current last name. It was the name my parents chose for me. I want to keep it. I don’t plan to have any children, so there’s no quandary here over whose last name the children get. (Though, I’ve always said that if I did have kids, they could take the father’s last name for ease of use; I don’t particularly care about passing my last name down to future generations. That’s my brother’s job anyway.)

Meet Mike

Another birthday present for me this year was from Diane: she gave me back my husband’s bike. When I was moving from my condo in Stow after my husband’s death, I gave Diane the bike because I was going to be moving into an apartment with limited space and only had room for my bike (which was, back then, a Gary Fischer Gitchagummee; I traded that bike in 2005 for a 8″ Celestron telescope). Diane happily used it for years, even commuting to work for a time on it, until she got frustrated with all the other riders in the park passing her so she upgraded to an “event bike” a few years back. Now, in an effort to minimize the amount of stuff she has in the house she shares with her collector husband, she offered to give me the bike back since she doesn’t use it anymore. I gladly took it back because of all the memories associated with the bike. Also, I could always use another bike, and this particular one could have its own uses. Though, it’s not quite a mountain bike, I think its wide tires might allow me to ride some easier mountain bike trails.

I played around with the seat height last night, then road it down the street. I think it needs some work, probably a tune up and some replacement parts, but otherwise, it seems okay. By the standards of my usual riding, it’s ultra comfy (look at the size of that seat!). But at least now I have something to really slow me down should the occasion come up to ride with my non-road friends on the towpath or somewhere. And now I feel ultra geeky because I’m up to three bikes!

In the spirit of naming bikes, I’m calling this one Mike. The reasons are obvious. The bike reminds me of my husband and the days after college when I first got back into riding and thought these trail bikes were the bomb. I also remember thinking our bikes were light… HA! The last bike I’d ridden was from the 1980s so everything seemed lighter and newer to me. Can you believe I rode a bike similar to this on my first MS 150? I was nuts! It took me forever to complete the first day of 75 miles; I didn’t do the second day as I was in a lot of pain. I must have always been a road cyclist in my heart…

U2 Albums, Ranked

For my birthday, Michael bought me The Unforgettable Fire, which is a U2 CD that I lost in the Great Stolen Car Incident of 2003. It’s one of my favorite CDs and as I was listening to it yesterday, it led me to contemplate what how I rank all the U2 studio releases against each other. So, here goes, in order of my favorite to my least favorite:

1. October (1981)
2. The Unforgettable Fire (1984)
3. War (1983)
4. The Joshua Tree (1987)
5. Achtung Baby (1991)
6. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2005)
7. Zooropa (1993)
8. No Line on the Horizon (2009)
9. Rattle and Hum (1988)
10. All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)
11. Boy (1980)
12. Pop (1997)

I think I got them all. I don’t know if Rattle and Hum technically counts as a studio album, but I need to recognize that there are some really great songs on that release, including a cover version of Dylan’s “All Along the Watch Tower” (are the members of U2 Cylons??) and U2 original songs such as “Heartland” and “All I Want is You.”

I also love the Under the Blood Red Sky: Live from Red Rocks CD. That definitely doesn’t count as a studio album, but the live versions of some of their best songs is outstanding on this release (though not all of them really come from the Red Rocks concert). Of course, the video footage of the show is even better because of all it was actually filmed at Red Rocks (thus some of the songs are different than the supposedly corresponding CD). That was probably one of their most amazing shows and I was too young to have seen it live at the time (I was like 8 years old).

I think it’s funny that my favorite releases–The Unforgettable Fire and October–are generally the least favorite by a lot of U2 fans. My all-time favorite U2 songs come from these releases: “A Sort of Homecoming” from The Unforgettable Fire (UF) and “With a Shout (Jerusalem)” and “Tomorrow” from October.

UF is a great release; it’s the growth of the band into something else, making their own sound and experimenting with a laid-back ambient tone. Some of my U2 friends will debate this with me, but I think the release is solid all the way through. My favorite tracks are “Indian Summer Sky” and “The Unforgettable Fire.” To me, the CD is about poetry. The music is poetry and the lyrics are poetry. The rock sound is subdued, only brought out in the hit “Pride (In the Name of Love).” It’s always been my favorite traveling CD, especially when traveling in the bright colors of fall. UF embodies a feeling of loss and renewal. It’s also a very transitional release between War and The Joshua Tree–two releases of a completely different sound. I will always love UF and I don’t care what the popular vote of the fans is.

October is just what it is. It’s very spiritual, written by a band at the height of their Christian fervor (well, at least as far as Bono and The Edge go). It’s a very intellectual release and I feel it’s when Bono really started to think harder about the words he chose to use in his songwriting. It’s their second release, coming after the juvenile musings of Boy. I see October as a coming of age and the start of the U2 we come to know and love later.

A funny thing about October is that it is undoubtedly one of their most spiritual releases and me, a total atheist, I missed almost all of the Biblical references including in the song “With a Shout” because I didn’t know he was saying “Jerusalem” as the refrain. I’m really clueless sometimes! When I started unraveling the lyrics, in the love of the music, and taking a closer look at them, I realized quite embarrassingly that my favorite of their releases happened to be the most pointedly Christian one they ever did! Being not so spiritual, I actually felt bad about this for awhile. “How could I love a CD with all this Christian stuff in it?” I mused. “What will my friends think?”

Of course, like all U2 music, the spirituality is subtle. I read somewhere that Bono has said that the spirituality is in the lyrics for those who want to hear it. Meaning, I think, that you don’t have to be in his camp to enjoy his music. I thought it was a very English literature thing for him to say, something along the lines of finding your own meaning, as the listener, in the lyrics.

Still, I always like to know what the music I enjoy is trying to say. Even if I can’t go there with Bono as far as the Christianity goes, I find that I can identify with his spirituality on non-Christian level. Besides, even if I can’t go with him on his Christian journey and thoughts, I find myself fascinated with his take on things, with how he sees the world and how he beautifully conveys that to his audience. He’s a thinker and his lyrics give me a lot to think about. I feel like he has that amazing ability to convey his thoughts in such a way that he can make you feel what he’s feeling even if you can’t even identify with the language behind them.

Well, that’s not to say the whole band doesn’t do that. It’s not just the lyrics that make the entire U2 experience for me, it’s the sweet sound too. And the rest of the band contributes to that. What U2 has is magic. October, to me, is the beginning of that magic. And though their music may have gotten more refined with age, I rank the beginning albums highest because I’m intoxicated by the sound of potential and the energy of four people who were pouring their heart and soul into it.

Always wear a helmet

This story of Natasha Richardson is really freaking me out. I’ve been a skier since I was sixteen, and I only recently started wearing a helmet, which, honestly, was provoked by Michael who aptly pointed out that I wore a helmet on my bike and asked why I wouldn’t wear one skiing. I guess there was an element of narcissism involved with this–how could I be a cool ski bunny with a dorky helmet on? This was a similar qualm I had when I first started wearing the “egg crate” on my head while cycling. I figured I’d ridden a bike since childhood without a helmet, why start now? And, as a child, I used to jump ramps with my bike. I practiced a lot more daring behaviors that I don’t do now.

Of course, I still wore a helmet. And it’s a good thing. The reason for wearing a helmet finally became obvious to me one day a few years ago in Colorado when I hit a dog about a block from my house while commuting home from work. The dog came out of nowhere and was pretty damned lucky that I was not in a car, for he would surely have died. Instead, he ran out in front of a cyclist going 25mph or better, who was trying to get to over 30mph to make a speed sign flash.

That was one of the scariest events of my life and that is why I bring it up often. I was knocked unconscious on impact. The last thing I remember was the sensation–not the sight or sound–of hitting the dog. And then I woke up in an ambulance with the commotion of paramedics working over me. I didn’t remember hitting the dog and I couldn’t remember where I was. One of the paramedics asked me if I remembered what had happened and I must have looked at him confused because he prompted, “You hit a dog…?”

Everything came back to me at that moment in fast-forward. It had rained that day and I had stopped at a BP station to wait out the storm about 5 miles from my house. An hour later, the storm passed, I had gotten back on my bike and rode the rest of the way home. As I said, I was a block from my house, revving up the rpms to get the permanent speed sign by my house to flash because I thought it was funny to speed on a bike, and then the little white dog ran out in front of me. I’d tried to simultaneously brake and pull my feet out of the clips. I was going too fast and we collided. And then I woke up in the ambulance.

It was scary. I always look back to that day with the thought that I could have died at that moment and never have known it. (If there is no life after death, that is.) Only blackness–a void of time–fills that space between the crash and waking up in the ambulance. I must have hit the road forward, for I had road rash on my face. After observation at the hospital, and a few CT scans, it was determined I had had a concussion, but that I was generally okay. I had a piercing headache for two days after, however.

I’ll never forget when I got home and found my helmet left in my yard by the police who had apparently arrived at the scene to my unconscious body. It had a huge dent on one side. As I held that helmet in my shaky hands, I thought, “This could have been my head.”

The dent in the helmet is forever engraved in my memory. I will never forget the way it looked. That helmet may very well have saved my life. It definitely saved me from more serious brain injury. Since that day, I’ve never gotten on a bike–any bike–for any length of ride–quick or long–without wearing my helmet. You just don’t know what could happen along the way. I wear a helmet on the towpath with the Beast; I wear a helmet to take my bike two miles to the library; I wear my helmet to test ride my bike down the street. All it takes is two seconds for something unexpected to happen. Two seconds could be your life.

So it was all this in mind that encouraged me to start wearing a helmet while skiing. I can’t believe I let my vanity rule all those years and I never wore one. Especially since I quite often will force myself down a hill on which I’m not comfortable because I like the challenge. With my speed starting to increase with confidence, I know that I increase my risk. I will always wear a helmet now–especially in light of this Natasha Richardson incident–because my brain is one of the most important things in my body (the heart probably being a close second). It’s the control center for my life. I just have too much to lose by exposing it to injury.

It’s really hard for me to imagine that someone could injure themselves fatally while taking a lesson on a beginner hill. I wonder what kind of hit she took to the head–it must have been pretty hard. Or maybe it just happened that she hit it in “the right place.” Life is so fragile. And it’s sad that because of one two-second decision she could have made–to not wear a helmet–it affected the outcome of her life. And because head injuries are so weird–you may feel okay immediately after it–she refused medical help the first time around. That’s very sobering. Who hasn’t done that? When we fall during any activity, most of us just get up and try to get over the embarrassment. We pat ourselves down and if nothing is immediately hurting, we don’t make a big fuss. In her situation, would I have sought medical treatment? I’m thinking not, if I felt okay. This incident really makes me think. I might become a total hypochondriac every time I take a hit to the head now and show up at a hospital for examination!

Richardson’s story also brings to mind my recent skiing trip to HV where my friend R took a pretty hefty hit to the head when she fell at high speed on an expert run. She was wearing a helmet, fortunately, when her head hit the pipe of a snow machine. Like Richardson, she got up and after the initial shakiness in the aftermath of a fast fall, she said she felt fine. We skied back to the lodge and had lunch the whole while. None of us thought to take her to the hospital at that particular moment nor did she want to go. She actually wanted to continue skiing out the rest of the day!

R didn’t end up skiing the rest of the day–she was sore by the time we finished lunch. She did have herself checked out by a doctor a week later, but for Richardson a week was too late. Was the helmet the difference in these two cases?

I realize you can take all the precautions you want when participating in athletic endeavors. Ultimately, though, random chance has the final say. If you take a hit to the head in just the “right” spot or just the “right” series of events takes place, everything can go so wrong so quickly. I think that’s the thing that scares me most about life, that you can be as safe as you want but it still might not matter because shit still happens. I’ve had to battle the depression of this fact every day since Mike died. Stories like Richardson’s case just pushes the thoughts back to the surface. And I realize just how scared I am of random chance.

It’s not going to stop me from doing the things I love, though. I could die skiing or I could die driving to work in the morning. Or I could get cancer or MS or diabetes. I just don’t know what’s up the road. I can do everything I have the power to control to make it harder for ill fate to befall me, but at the end of the day, I have to submit myself to life and just accept what is to be. That’s really hard for me to do.

Anyway, I reiterate that wearing helmets while cycling, skiing, riding motorcycles, rollerblading, etc, is vital. It isn’t a free pass to safety, but it will at least make it harder to seriously injure your brain. I cringe every time I see a cyclist out there without a helmet, especially when they are on the road where falling from your own mistake is the least of your worries when you’re sharing your route with cars. I cringe when I see un-helmeted toodlers on the Bike & Hike as well. You just don’t know what lies around the next bend in the road/path. Even at low speeds, you could hurt yourself in an unexpected fall.

I’ve seen more skiers take to helmets in the recent years as well; when I started skiing, barely anyone wore them. I think we’re all beginning to realize how important safety is in these activities. Maybe Richardson’s tragic accident will help to make other skiers aware of the dangers of skiing without a helmet.

In saying this, I definitely do not minimize the sad outcome of this story. In some ways, I think I empathize too much with the situation, being a widow, and I think about how events like this change everything forever. I can’t pretend to know how Richardson and Neeson’s marriage was–they are famous and almost on another plane of existence from us common folk–but I’m still brought into the situation by thinking of my own. One moment, you’re life is going pretty good; the next, everything is gone. Sometimes it’s really not your fault at all (as was the case with my husband). It’s not what you were expecting when you got up that morning–that the whole world would change within mere hours. The unexpected is what knocks you over in moments of just plain living. The desire to change the outcome once it’s occurred is overwhelming, the “what ifs” can drive you insane. And I bet somewhere in Neeson’s thoughts–or the thoughts of Richardson’s other family members–is something along the lines of, “Why didn’t I ask her to wear a helmet?” or “Why did she have to go skiing?”

What’s done is done. Mistakes cannot be undone. And in the end, really, it is no one’s fault. Sometimes shit just happens. No use ruminating about whether she should or shouldn’t have worn a helmet because it’s too late–there’s no sense in entertaining the “what-ifs.” My heart goes out to Liam Neeson, Richardson’s two children, and Richardson’s family. Just because they are famous doesn’t mean I can’t empathize. It just goes to show you that we’re all marooned on the same island of Random Chance. No one is immune.

More bad television commericals

I’m really sick of the commercial for McDonald’s where the two guys are sitting in the coffee shop reading when the one says to the other, “You know, McDonald’s is serving cappuccinos now.” And then the guys devolve into all the grunting male Neanderthal stereotypes that are supposed to make us women swoon–t-shirts, no glasses, football. General anti-intellectualism. Yep, that’s what I surely want for mate: a man who sits around watching football, belching and high-fiving his buddy after each touch down. Yay.

This commercial makes me mad because it suggests that guys who read or participate in poetry or literature are something less than a man. Personally, I’d pick a guy sitting at a coffee shop reading a book over a football-watching, beer drinking guy. I love baseball, but if I had to pick between an intellectual man writing or reading poetry and a baseball-obsessed guy, I’d go for the poet. But I’m not all that attracted to our society’s stereotype of the “manly man.” I love emotional and sensitive men who don’t feel that these qualities compromise his masculinity. Just as a woman can embrace the traditionally male qualities in herself without compromising her feminine side, a man can exude manliness and sensitivity.

I’ve never been one of those girls to date a guy who is really bad for me. I’d like to say that every man I’ve ever dated has had a sensitive side to him and that was the side I liked the best. I’m just not into all that macho crap other girls seem to be attracted to. Male chauvinism is a total turn off to me. I expect to be treated with dignity and respect and I will return the same. I don’t know how I know how to pick men, maybe I’ve just been lucky. But I’ve never allowed myself to get into a relationship with a scum bag. Nice guys complain all the time that only the bad guys get the girl, but I can never understand this statement because I’ve never had a desire to date a bad guy. I refuse to think I’m the only girl out there who seeks the sensitive male.

In the commercial, incidentally, I think the guy with the glasses is the cutest. He can keep those glasses. I just wish he’d kept the sweater on–it looked way better on him than his t-shirt. He looks like the kind of nerdy guy I’d go for. I have trouble believing, as a viewer, that his character is the typical football obsessed male. His friend, on the other hand, seems like the typical jerk every nice guy seems to have as a friend.

I don’t know. The commercial just really irritates me, much like those stupid Jared commercials I bitched about last year. I hate how the marketing capitalizes on this insipid popularized image of how society is “supposed” to be. It’s some backward view of gender roles and gender expectations that still seems to be stuck somewhere in the 1950s. This is the 21st century; surely we can invent new societal expectations for ourselves. Preferably a modern one.

Bike haiku

Black beauty on wheels
Perfection between my thighs
High speed ecstasy.

Inspired by my first ride on my road bike last night. I forget how good that bike feels. It just fits me perfectly and to pedal it, even up hills, is almost effortless. Really, folks, you think I’m fast? It’s all my bike. Going up Truxell Road on Black Beauty was much, much easier than slogging it on the Beast. I can’t even explain it. Don’t get me wrong; hills are still painful. It just feels like my road bike allows me to put the effort where it’s needed in getting up the hill rather than weighting me down. I’m forever devoted to road bikes.

It’s so weird how as soon as I got on the Beauty, everything felt right. It was literally like a high. I couldn’t stop focusing on how everything just clicked. Maybe the sexual suggestion in the poem is because the bike and I seem to gel together in perfect symmetry like lifelong lovers.

Okay. I think I need to get a life now.