“The more I read, the more I felt connected across time to other lives and deeper sympathies. I felt less isolated. I wasn’t floating on my little raft in the present; there were bridges that led over to solid ground. “ ~ Jeanette Winterson*

I’m currently reading a book called “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” It caught my eye on the library shelf and has delivered the promise a title so often doesn’t live up to. You may have heard of the author, Jeanette Winterson, who has written many other books, including several for children and a book called “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit,” which later became a three-part BBC series. Winterson was adopted by a family that would frighten the bravest of souls – she survived by pursuing her love of literature and writing.

“So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language — and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers — a language powerful enough to say how it is.” ~ Jeanette Winterson*

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do was to ride my bike to the library and load up with a basket full of books. I read voraciously. Like someone in the desert desperately searching for water, I’d lose myself in the oasis of books.  I’d tote a bag full of them back home and lock myself away in my bedroom for most of the day reading one story after another.

There was “Pippi Longstocking” and characters like Wild Horse Annie in “Mustang Wild Spirit of the West.” And there was “Charlotte’s Web,” “The Wind in the Willow” and “A Wrinkle in Time.”

I couldn’t wait to get done with one stack of books so I could run back to the library and load up with another. The ride alone was a treat — that feeling of independence that came from propelling myself to where I wanted to go.

I took my time getting to the library so I could explore different streets. When I was old enough to go farther on my bike, I rode to the main county library, where they had more selections and the bike ride lasted twice as long.

The ride created it’s own story. I was on horseback, riding out west. I was riding the Tour de France. Cloud formations became mountains, as I rode through the Colorado Rockies. Creeks were roaring rivers that I had to cross over on a rickety, swinging bridge.

Books and the characters in them were my friends, teachers, and role models. The main character of a story had difficulties, but they came out okay. They told me I would too.

As I’ve been riding my bike every day during the month of April, I find that bit of magic is still there. But it’s been funny. At work and even running in to strangers, when they see me or hear about my riding, their first question is often, “How far do you ride?”

I get a bit defensive, because I don’t ride all that far. So I’ll say that I don’t really know how many miles I cover. That I’m fitting in riding between many other things I have to do. That I’ve been sick a lot in April. And that the weather has made riding difficult. But really, a physical distance is not the point and those excuses draw me away from what I actually gain from my rides.

It’s not about time or distance or speed. It’s about forgetting, at least for a time, about the destination. And just enjoying the feel of legs going in a circle, the rhythm that propels me forward, the angle it takes to turn a corner and at what point I might take it too far, too fast, and lose my grip. It’s about different things at different times, but always being there to notice where I am, even if at times I’m making mountains out of clouds, motes out of bridges and seeing sea monsters in a river’s current.

As a person who has been and still is on the quest for understanding both happiness and normalcy, I was curious if Winterson ever finds both. I don’t believe there is actually such a thing as normal except in the human mind. For those on the fringes of acceptance – who have been bullied, were never popular, and even in adulthood, it’s pointed out how we aren’t quite right – we either can continue to feel bad about not fitting the correct mold or we can embrace what is normal for us.

I am embracing…
*All quotes are from Jeanette Winterson’s book, “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?”

I signed up for an event called “30 Days of Biking” that asks that you bike every day of April. I’ve made if for thirteen days now.

I didn’t sign up because I was thinking about goals to exercise or get out on my bike more often. What I was thinking was PHOTO PROJECT!

I was excited about taking a photo every day to document time spent on my bike. I wanted to experiment and make the photos unique by visiting various places and playing with lighting, motion and different angles to shoot.

I also expected (or hoped) that the photos would show the changing weather from the snowy start of April to (I hope) the emerging plant life by the end of April.

All of those expectations have been fulfilled, except maybe for the weather one. We were teased with some high 60’s, but last night the temp dropped to  25 degrees F, with a real feel of 9 degrees. WHAT THE…

Still, in some way, braving the weather has been the best part. I feel good about sticking to something I said I would do no matter what obstacles come up.

Which leads to the very cool, unexpected part of participating in 30 Days of Biking — I’ve been able to think about what has made this something I’ve been able to stick with and have fun versus so many of the other commitments I’ve made but not been able to go the distance on.

These are the reasons I’ve come up with:

Community: There are a group of people participating in 30 Days of Biking who are taking photos that they are sharing on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. With the hash tag of #30daysofbiking, it’s been easy to find other participants’ photos. I’ve seen a Colorado mountain biker coming down a rocky trail, people riding through snow, some cool sites of the city and countryside, and someone in Florida posted a photo of a sign on a mountain bike trail warning to watch out for alligators. And it’s not just bike riders in the USA, there are people from all over the world.

Giving Back: For every 30 pledges, 30 Days of Biking, along with Free Bikes 4 Kidz, is donating one bike to a kid in need. What an awesome thing for them to do!

Support and Encouragement: 30 Days of Biking Participants, friends and family have all been very supportive and encouraging. That means a lot and is a big incentive to keep going. It kind of fits in with the next thing.

Commitment and Accountability: I signed a public pledge. Surprisingly, even to me, that actually means something. Plus I’d feel really lame if I quit now. It helps that the pledge is to bike every day rather than 30 miles a week or 120 miles in a month or three days a week. Every day means that I don’t have to think about it. As soon as I get home from work, I change clothes and get on my bike. On the weekends, I make sure I get my bike ride in before dinner. If I had to go a certain number of days or miles in a month, there would be too much latitude. When I didn’t feel like riding. I’d decide to do it tomorrow. And if tomorrow was no better, I’d plan to go the next day. And pretty soon, I wouldn’t be bike riding.

Daily Photo Project:  It has been challenging to try and take a unique biking photo every day. Challenge equals fun in my book… Sometimes I’m not happy with the results I get, but I’m always happy with the process of experimenting. When something doesn’t work, it usually leads to an idea of what to try next time that might work.

Bike Riding Feels Good: No matter how much I want to skip my ride because I’m tired or it’s cold out or I just feel crabby, experience has already taught me that I’ll feel better once I’m on my bike and will feel less tired and crabby after the ride. As for the cold, there is always the promise of hot chocolate when I get back home (or on the way home).

Sticking To Something Builds Trust: I have discovered that keeping my word to myself is important. When I don’t keep my promises or do as I intended, I lose credibility. Why should I believe myself when I have said things in the past like, “I’m going to cut out sugar from my diet” or “I’m going to write for one hour every day,” only to lose my resolve after a few day? In fact, I have let myself down so many times that I don’t take myself all that seriously and figure I’m going to blow it as soon as “the promise” comes out of my mouth.

So sticking with biking every day for thirteen days, has helped me reconsider the idea that I NEVER follow through. It isn’t a total cure for all the years of not keeping my word to myself, but it has shown me that when I do keep my word, I feel pretty good about it and I respect myself for it. So now I want to do this with more than just biking.

I want to find a way to carry this experience over to some of my other intentions. I’m going to keep noticing what is working with my 30 Days of Biking and see if I can determine a way to apply the same kind of thinking to other areas in which I want to make a commitment and stick to it.

But for now, I’m just going to enjoy the ride!

I was looking at my To Do list last Sunday and feeling my anxiety rise. I’d already crossed off a few things – like ‘Make bread and yogurt’ – deciding I’d buy them instead. ‘Clean house’ was stabbed through with a jagged black line.

Sadly, this is how most of my weekends start off. Hell, this is pretty much my everyday life — lists of Too Much To Do. I’m not enjoying things that should be fun because I feel anxious about all the things I’m not getting done while doing whatever I’m doing.

That is no way to live. I know this. But how to stop it when there is so much to do and I always feel like I’m behind. And I don’t mean behind in things that can wait, I mean behind on things like paying bills, doing my taxes, trying to find whatever is causing the putrid odor in the refrigerator, etc.

But even more frustrating is that if I just try to knock off the things that NEED to be done, I don’t have time for the really important stuff, that which makes me Maery and happy — activities like writing, horseback riding, spending time with friends…

I wish I had a great answer to this dilemma. I could then be the next person out there who has sold a million books and is invited to do a TED talk. But I don’t have an answer. All I have is my experiments that I carry out to see if I can get closer to a less anxious, more fun life.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the idea of “fun” because I’ve noticed the lack of it in my life, even with the things I supposedly “love” and can’t live without — like writing. But I’m going to talk more about writing another day. For now, I want to talk about how I experimented with fun over the weekend, which basically meant paying attention and noticing when things were fun and when they weren’t, especially when I was doing something I supposedly “love.”

Sunday morning, I drove out to the stable to see Luke. Since my friend who owned the boarding facility and who was my trail riding and bike riding and skiing and consignment store shopping buddy moved away, my going to the barn has become harder and harder. There’s less to look forward to and I end up feeling lonely and depressed when I go there. So why would I want to go?

I thought about this and decided my happiness was being screwed with because I was focusing on how things had been in the past and seeing those conditions as the only ones that would make me happy. Things change all the time so that’s not a good mind set. I knew I needed to look for what was good about how things are now. Yes, I still miss my friend a lot, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy my horsey time.

There is a certain meditative rhythm to grooming a horse and running a series of progressively finer curries and brushes over a horse’s body from the tips of his ears to the long feathery hairs above his hoofs. It’s also very satisfying in the Spring  to see a sleek coat appearing as you run the shedder over the horse and pull off the globs of hair clinging to its teeth.

My favorite part of grooming is when I remove Luke’s halter and work out the hay he has managed to toss into his mane and forelock.  I take my time, carefully cleaning around his soft, dark eyes and getting the fuzz and hay away from his nose before he sneezes all over me. I worked a rubber grooming mitt inside the thick winter fur of his ears. Luke leaned into my hand, and I imagined how good this scratching must feel.

Luke is the gentlest, most patient horse I have ever partnered up with. He softens my snarls every time I spend time with him. He deserves to have an unrushed, pleasant partner.

When I began to wish I had gotten to the barn a half hour earlier, I drew myself back to being glad I was there now. When I began to think that things were taking too long and I would never have enough time to fit in a bike ride and a walk with the dogs, I stopped myself and focused on how great it was to be riding outside listening to the glopck, glopck sound Luke made as we splashed through the puddles, followed by the shllsh, shllsh, shllsh sound as he high stepped through the snow.

At one point, I started to think about how much I want to trail ride this year and how that means I’ll have to trailer my horse by myself, which means I’ll have to overcome an extreme level of fear (imagine going sky diving for the first time). I felt this terror last summer and wasn’t able to get past it and go trail riding even once. How could I make this year be any different?

But wait. Now I was thinking about the “future” and having that screw with my present time. I drew myself back, deciding I will deal with my trailer terror (which is actually fear of backing into a parking spot that is only about two feet wider than my trailer) later.

As I’ve played around with this idea of drawing my focus back to why I enjoy doing something and being there to enjoy it, this is what I noticed and will keep in mind as I keep doing my little experiments:

  • The moments I am most unhappy and frustrated are the moments when I am rushing to get to the next thing.
  • Comparing the present to a past that is romanticized by memory or a future romanticized by dreams is ruining my enjoyment of all the great things about “now.”
  • Thinking about what could go wrong in the future by doing what I’m doing, not doing what I should be doing, or because the future holds all kinds of scary, claustrophobic, shadowy spaces filled with who-knows-what? causes a crazy, somewhat insane amount of fear. Just the way I wrote that sentence scares the hell out of me.
  • When I do stick with noticing all the sights, smells, sensations and people or animals I am with at the moment, I am a much more pleasant person to be around. Or at least I enjoy my company more, and I enjoy what I’m doing because all of me is actually there doing it!

I know this is really long and rambling — blame all the noticing and thinking I’ve been doing. But I must conclude with this touching bit of beauty found amongst the music Terri Windling posts on Mondays on her Myth & Moor blog.

The song is called “Horses” and is sung by Dala (Sheila Carabine and Amanda Walther). It expresses the spirit of why animals have always held a special place in my heart.

“I saw horses from my window. They were watching all the cars go by. They don’t care that I am broken, close my eyes and run beside them.”