2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for my blog. I was really active while I was on the road on my bicycle. I’ve been pretty sporadic since. I intend to write more frequently in 2015. Perhaps I can fill the Phoenix a few more times.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Livia & Steve Russell upper stage at the Phoenix Theatre holds 135 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2014. If it were a play at the Phoenix, it would take over 81 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

You Can Only Find it if You Look

Susie and I went to see Wild today. It’s the new movie starring Reese Witherspoon as Carol Slayed in the true story of her solo hike of the Pacific Coast Trail. The story resonated with me because I kept relating her experiences with similar experiences I had while cycling cross country. I loved the movie but realize I’m biased by my recent adventure. Susie liked it too, so I guess it is a good movie.

An experience like this definitely changes a person. I believe each one of us has some experience that we can benefit from having. For me it was the bike ride. For others it’s a long hike, or a meditation retreat, or an Ironman. I don’t know how many experiences qualify. It has to force you to be alone with yourself for an extended period of time. You’ll be forced to use some of that time to get to know yourself, and then you’ll be forced to wrestle with things about yourself that you try to ignore most of the time. And finally, if it’s the right experience, you’ll have to forgive yourself (and others). From that moment on, you’ll be a noticeably different person.

I have a great neice, Vivian. She’s about two years old. She has never liked me. If I’m in the same room, she runs to hide behind someone else. If I talk to her she starts to frown. If I touch her, she screams inconsolably. On Christmas, I was sitting at the table when Vivian and her mother arrived at my sister’s. I called out to her from across the room so she would be sure to notice I was there and could maintain enough distance for her own comfort. Vivian ran acros the room with her arms wide open and jumped into my lap. She gave me a kiss and began to babble at me in her two year old language. The room went completely silent, which is a neat trick with my family. Vivian and I get along swimmingly now.

The next day, I went with Susie to feed Nike, the Helmuth’s rather anti-social cat. In the entire time they’ve had Nike, he’s never stayed in the same room with me. In fact, he wouldn’t even stay on the same floor of the house. This time, he ignored Susie and came over to rub against my leg. He let me reach down to pet him for a moment.

These two events reminded me of something my Big Mama used to tell me: Babies and animals are excellent judges of character. I don’t know if I ever believed that statement, but the response I got from Vivian and Nike made me feel like whatever changed in me when I was on the road has become permanent to some degree. A big enough degree that the babies and animals can tell.

I enjoy the world so much more now. It was during the movie that I realized what it is. I have been telling people that I discovered during my ride that I liked me. Actually it was during my ride that I found the strength to forgive myself, and that allowed me to forgive others. Now instead of collecting and cataloging grievances, I spend more time noticing good and beauty all around me. You can only find it if you look.

My Search for a Path

PathGrowing up I was always one of those people who had a plan. I never realized it until recently. My plans were the kind that consultants call “100,000 Foot Plans.” In the Air Force they described these as “Commander’s Intent.” I think most of you would define them as dreams rather than plans. They didn’t have specific steps as much as they had general outcomes. But nonetheless I had them, and over the years many of them came to pass without me ever getting to the specific steps. I like to think that I handed them off to my subconscious and it went to work while I did other things.

In the past 16 months since I quit working, I haven’t really had any semblance of a plan. I have greeted each day with wonder about what might happen. I’ve given a speech in Maui. I’ve ridden across the country. I’ve done some coaching. I’ve read and written a lot. I’ve shared my experiences with a lot of people.

Recently I’ve been reading heavier books. A year of fiction novels gave me a desire for something meatier. The last couple of books I read have been rather philosophical. In the most recent, Waking Up by Sam Harris, a phrase caught my attention:

We need not come to the end of the path to experience the benefits of walking it.

That captured what’s been going on with me lately. I’m just experiencing the benefits of walking my path. I don’t know where it’s leading me, but I’m enjoying the stroll, and the people with whom I’m strolling.

Define Yourself

Fourteen months have passed since I last worked full time. Everybody around me told me that I wouldn’t last six months before I was going crazy and had to jump back into something. Most were sure I’d start another business. A few thought I’d rest in corporate America for a while. None thought I’d be content to remain gainfully unemployed.

At the six month point, I was in the middle of training for my cross country bike ride. The thought of finding work never entered my mind. People told me the bike ride was a distraction, but I’d still be jonesing for a job once I got back. Not so much.

One of the things I discovered during my 45 day ride is that society puts a huge effort into defining us. Marketers tell us how much happier we’ll be when we own a new whatever, or how sated the new burger will make us, or how we’ll never find our soulmate unless we wear their clothing. Our family and friends also have definitions for us. These are usually less manipulative, but forceful nonetheless. They want us to be the person they need us to be. Oftentimes we are that person, which is why we are a part of their lives. Often we force ourselves to be that person just like we buy the whatever or eat the burger or wear the clothes.

The corollary to the societal defining forces is you. You should be the person who defines you. I have had several conversations with myself in which I challenged my happiness without a job. If everyone tells me that I should be miserable without work, then what is wrong with me that I’m not?

Zig Ziglar called that Stinkin’ Thinkin’. I decided to write my own definition of me. That definition includes my being able to be happy without working for money. I’m not just sitting around wasting my time, or hiding my candle under a bushel. I just fast-forwarded to my end game. I’ve become the Mexican fisherman. And you can too.

I’m not suggesting that you quit working and start doing the things I do. I’m suggesting, imploring, that you define yourself instead of letting others do it for you. You might find that leads to more fulfillment without changing anything about your life but your attitude. You might find yourself riding a bicycle across the country.

The Mexican Fisherman

Mexican FishermanAn American tourist was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna.

The tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.

“Not very long,” answered the fisherman.

“But then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the tourist.

The fisherman explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The tourist asked, “But what do you do with all your time?”

“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs…I have a full life.”

The tourist interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra money, you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers.

“Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant.

“You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles, and eventually New York City! From there you can direct your huge enterprise.”

“How long would that take?” asked the fisherman.

“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,” replied the tourist.

“And after that?”

“Afterwards? That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the tourist, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can sell your stock and make millions!”

“Millions? Really? And after that?”

“After that — and this is the best part — you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, catch a few fish, take a siesta, and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends!”

Friendly is an Option

Man wavingI lived in Los Angeles in the mid-eighties. One of the first things I noticed when I moved there was the way in which people would go out of their way to avoid having an interaction with strangers on the street. I’m talking about crossing the street, or ducking into a doorway, or even changing direction to avoid the possibility of having to speak to someone. It didn’t strike the people who had been there for a while as odd. In fact, many of them admitted to having done it. I assured them that no one in Indianapolis did anything like that.

Flash forward to 2014 and I’m sad to say we’ve become more like the Angelinos of the 80s. I walk a lot. In fact, I suspect that walking is my primary mode of transportation these days. I started an experiment a few days ago as I walk around downtown. I go out of my way to interact with people I pass on the street. My first goal is to get them to make eye contact. If I can manage that, I give them a smile and some salutation. I’m sad to say that less than half of the people in my experiment have acknowledged me. A few have taken the active step of crossing the street or changing direction to avoid me.

Have we become so distrusting that a simple hello is a risk? Try it out. See if you can get over half of the people you pass on the street to respond to a greeting.

Hurry Up and Slow Down

Slow Down signI walk with my mother several days each week. Over the course of the summer we’ve worked up to a little over a half a mile. That’s not bad for an 89 year old lady. I have such a good time talking with her as we stroll along. She’s told me stories this year that I’d never heard before, sometimes even about relatives I didn’t know about.

In addition to the truly good conversations we share, these walks remind me of the value of slowing down. My motto from my bike ride is, “Life looks different at 12 miles per hour.” That’s easy to forget when you jump back into everyday life. Walking with my mama remind me of it. First, it takes more time for me to get there than we spend walking so the whole idea of speed and efficiency are already defeated. Then, no matter how much of a hurry I’m in when I get there, I have to slow down to her speed. In fact, I have to slow down more than that because even she gets caught up in hurrying and has to be reminded that we aren’t racing anybody.

Most of the time I ride my bicycle, sometimes I drive. After each of our walks, I find myself moving slower and noticing more of my surroundings as I head home. The other day, I became a traffic hazard by driving only 5 miles per hour over the limit. One lady was honking and waving and screaming as she swerved from lane to lane around me. I couldn’t help myself when I caught her at the next stop light. I looked at her and laughed. I really wasn’t laughing at her, although I’m sure my amusement added to her bad mood. I was laughing at our cultural need to be in a hurry. Most of the time it’s so we can do something similar to waiting at the next stop light.

I Love a Revolution

icon_58797I read a post on CityLab the other day describing how bicyclists should rejoice in the new word bikelash. It appears that we’ve moved to step three in the battle for acceptance in American society. First is ridicule, and we’ve certainly been there for a long time. I remember my high school social studies teacher, Mrs. Ryan, stopping me in the hall to ask where I parked my horse. The second stage, the one for which bikelash has been coined, is the stage of violent opposition. Now I don’t know about the new term, but I’ve also been experiencing violent opposition for a very long time. I’ve had all manner of foodstuffs and food containers thrown at me from speeding cars. I’ve been called, as my mother used to say, everything but a child of God while pedaling along city streets. I’ve even been run off into a ditch on more than one occasion. Nonetheless, with the coining of bikelash, we are officially in stage two. What comes next?

Acceptance. I must admit that I feel less anxious riding these days than I can ever recall. I covered the entire US this spring without ever exchanging harsh words with another individual. I did have a few arguments with the wind, the hills, and a lot with myself. Even still, I don’t think we’re close to acceptance. For one thing, we still don’t play well with others. Yes, I said it. Bike riders need to get better at sharing the road (and staying off of the sidewalk) before we can expect to be accepted by the non-riding public. I know my bike riding friends will tell you that it’s those trouble making, fixie riding, Jimmy John’s delivery people that are giving bike riders a bad name. They do, but every one of us seems to do our little part to alienate the non-riding public. I’m first to admit that I’ll run a red light on my bicycle, which I’d never consider doing in my car. And I blow thru stop signs like they don’t exist. If it suits me, I’ll ride on the sidewalk in order to go a block or two in the wrong direction on a one way street. I justify all of those bad behaviors by pointing at riders who do worse things. But every time I do those things, I’m expanding the chasm between riders and non-riders. icon_15423

The bottom line is that we shouldn’t be so excited about bikelash. Riders should start doing what they can to reduce it, rather than relishing in its existence or passing more laws to make it harder to share the road. Yes, three foot passing people. I’m not on board.

I do so love a revolution, however, I think we can get thru this social change without one. If we bike riders start behaving better, then drivers and pedestrians will look bad when they don’t do the same. Until then, get ready for a few more new words.

Bicycles designed by Giulia Malaponti from the Noun Project