Monday, February 8, 2016

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

This picture is an homage to one of my favorite singers, Johnny Cash, author of the song, "Folsom Prison Blues". I chose that song (and thus this picture) because it is a sad song, appropriate for this post. The picture is of me and from 1968 on a bike ride with one of my fellow Modesto Roadmen from the city of Sacramento to the California State Prison in the town of Folsom, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Then as now, we were Johnny Cash fans and thus when we saw the sign and thought of the song, the picture was a must. I am playing an harmonica in the picture, because that is what prisoners do. Ask not why I have an harmonica on a bike ride. I am wearing a wool Bianchi Pirelli jersey, wool shorts with a shammy lining made out of an actual piece of leather shammy, a cotton cycling cap (helmets, such as they were, were only for racing), and shoes with cleats designed to work with toe clips. I put my feet into the toe clips and tightened the leather straps. At that point, the only way to remove my feet from the pedals was to reach down and manually release the straps; woe be me should I need to stop quickly! This is what all racers wore back then, from the Tour de France to the Tour de Graceada.

A bit over a year ago, I reached my 100th Post and I used that occasion to review what I had done. Among the stats I collected was my success at achieving the one post I week I had promised in my first post. I found that I had succeeded in a weekly posting 86% of the time, and gave myself the grade of "B" for that effort. This is my 135th post, and for these last 35 posts, I have dropped to making my weekly post goal only 50% of the time, for a grade of "F". In fact, last month I made no blog posts whatsoever.

Why has my posting regularity deteriorated so badly? Is it because I am lazy or have fallen into alcoholism, drug addiction, or some other such degeneracy? No, that's not it. Is it because I have stopped cycling and I am ashamed to admit it? No, not that either - I don't ride quite as many miles as I did at my peak, but close to it, and I ride quite regularly. It is the case that my cycling has become somewhat unimaginative such that I sometimes feel like I have nothing to blog about. In the past, I have noted that there is a connection between how my riding is going and how my blogging is going; I think the lack of imagination in my riding and the lack of inspiration for blogging are connected, but perhaps not by a simple cause-effect relationship. While it is true that there is only so often I can blog about riding around the Rice Track, it is also true that the same life events that keep me riding at the Rice Track also interfere with my blog posting. So what are these events? 

At last we get to the title of this post, an homage to one of my favorite science fiction writers1. This blog is supposed to be about my cycling. If something is impeding my cycling, that should be what I blog about. In this case, however, privacy considerations preclude me from doing so. In the past, I blogged about about how caring for my ailing (now deceased) father interfered with my cycling. Dad didn't mind, in large part because there was no reason why he should mind. Such is not always the case, and is not the case now. So as much as I need to scream about what is keeping me from blogging, I cannot.

That Which Must Not Be Named comes up. I cannot ride, or I cannot ride when I would like or for as long as I might like. I get discouraged and feel like there is no point in riding at all, I might as well quit. But I have not quit, at least not yet. Every day I can ride, I do. By necessity, I pick rides I can do whenever I am free, a constraint that eliminates most group rides. It is sometimes mentally difficult for me to start a ride, so I pick rides that have a low barrier to starting and that have little stress, thus my boring cycling schedule; should it be Braes Bayou or the Rice Track today? But, as difficult as I often find it to start riding, I am almost always glad when I do. And it is not just the virtuous feeling that comes from maintaining a healthful habit. It is true that I take satisfaction from meeting physician-recommended exercise recommendations, but beyond that, as apparently boring as they may seem from the outside, my rides are nonetheless fun. Putting on my cycling clothes is hard. I look at the weather and find plenty of excuses as to why today is really not that good a day for a ride. Maybe I get outside and find my bike has a flat tire that I need to change before I can start. It takes all my willpower to throw my leg over the bike and push off. For the first few minutes, I feel miserable and part of me argues that there is nothing preventing from turning around and returning to the comfort of home. But, with each passing minute, each passing mile, misery fades, to be replaced first by acceptance and calm and then, slowly but inevitably, by happiness. There is joy from being outside, from seeing the world, from the hiss of the tires, and from the pushing of the pedals. Not always, but almost always, by the time I approach home, I think "that was fun! I sure am glad I rode today."

1) The title of this blog post is the title of one of my favorite short stories by one of my favorite authors, Harlan Ellison. It tells the story of the last human survivor in a distopic future who is being eternally tortured by an omnipotent computer who turns him into a mouthless slug-like creature. Like that creature, I urgently wish to scream (post), but cannot do so, at least about one subject.

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