Pacelining, Profanity and Dogs

There is a little bit of background information crucial to understanding today’s vignette.  I promise to be brief if you promise tolerate a little cycling terminology.  I know it’s a lot to ask, but I have faith in you.

To begin with, let’s talk about the term ‘pacelining’.  Pacelining basically means riding very close together in a single file line at a uniform speed.  This means the person in the front of the line works the hardest, takes the brunt of the wind, watches for obstacles, etc.  And in an unofficial paceline, the person in the front sets the pace.  The riders in the middle make sure to keep close to each others’ wheels to ensure maximum efficiency.  The person in the back calls out approaching traffic, stays close to the person in front of them, and basically kicks back to enjoy the work done by everyone in front of them.  In real pacelines, there is a lot of “peeling off” which involves a constant rotation of the person in front moving to the back, but that does not apply to today’s story.  The thing you need to know is that it is never, ever, EVER acceptable for the slacker in the back to tell the person in the front to go faster.  Is is bad, bad form.

The second thing you need to know is I rarely use profanity.  I happen to think that I sound stupid when I curse.  Believe it or not, I try to avoid sounding stupid.  On the rare occasion that I employ a naughty word, it is NEVER done seriously.  I don’t curse when I’m angry, frustrated, or any other time I might actually mean it.  The sparse profanity is saved for humorous outbursts and a select group of people who share my slightly off sense of humor.

So, now that we’ve covered pacelining and profanity, let’s get to the story.

On Monday, I went cycling with my friends April and That Laura.  We rode out to beautiful Igo and then took a spin out to Happy Valley.  I was in the front, April was in the middle, and That Laura was in the back.  I was quite enjoying our pace and the interesting scenery that is Happy Valley.  For instance, we passed a house with a white flocked Christmas tree standing proudly in the front yard.  Hey, I had a pole in my Christmas tree stand, so who am I to judge?  There is also the house that is a shrine to Coca Cola.  Everything Coca Cola has come to die there.  Me, I prefer Dr. Pepper, but to each his own.

Anyway, we were happily pedaling along when That Laura yelled from the back of the paceline “Faster!  You have to go faster!”

Did she just tell me, the Paceline Leader, to go faster?  The audacity!  The moxy!  The cajones!  That Laura deserved nothing less than a sarcastic tongue lashing.  The words “You get up here and go faster, bi*ch!” were just about to launch themselves out of my mouth when Laura said these terrifying words, “Faster!  You have to go faster!  He’s gaining on us!”

He?  He who?  I looked back and running uncomfortably close to That Laura was a black dog, the kind that herd sheep and other smelly animals.  The owner was yelling at the little black blur, but the dog was obviously mesmerized by our tasty Spandex clad legs.  This dog was way too close for comfort.  We cranked harder and the dog turned and ran back home.

If you’ve ever spoken to me for more that five minutes, you know I’ve had several incidents with animals while on The Rocket.  I’ve raced with a turkey, been pooped on by a bird, hissed at by a snake, and was spooked so badly by turkey vultures that I almost wet my Spandex.  Never, ever have I been chased by a dog.  And never, ever have I been so frightened on my bike.  After the dog retreated, my heart pounded against my ribs.

So, the next time my friend, That Laura, tells me to go faster I will not think of sarcastic tongue lashings to deliver.  I will tuck my head down, spin my pedals extra hard, and go faster, bi*ch.

The Nose

The other day a friend saw a photo of me and exclaimed “Oh!  I see your mom’s face in this picture.”  Now a lot of you might have fearitude about becoming your mother, but if you’ve ever seen my mom, you know that her face is beautiful.  Her eyes are emerald green and her nose is one of those perfectly straight, sleek ones.

I do not have my mom’s eyes or her nose.  I have my dad’s bright blue eyes.  And I have my dad’s nose.  The Wheeler Nose.  All of my siblings share The Nose as do all of my cousins, nieces and nephews on that side of my family.  It is a genetic wonder.  Everyone, I mean everyone, has The Nose.  The Wheeler Nose is known for being a bit bulbous and very springy.  Nothing straight and sleek about it.  It’s quirky.  Unfortunately, the quirkiness of The Nose sometimes leads to people pressing it like a button.  Sometimes they even make sound effects like “Bing!” or “Boop!”  I really have to work hard not to run away yelling “No touchy!  No touchy!  NO TOUCHY!”  Anyway, other than the occasional unwelcome nose poking, I’ve come to terms with The Nose.

Did you know that your nose never stop growing?  I don’t know the name for this, but I think it should be called Pinocchio Syndrome, don’t you?  I accept the fact that my nose will one day take up a large percentage of the real estate on my face.  Fingers crossed, maybe, just maybe, as The Nose expands it will straighten out and I will have the sleek nose of my mother.

For now, friends, appreciate the nose you have.  Be nice to it because one day it just may swallow the entirety of your face.  The good news is that your ears also never stop growing, so you’ll have a pair of Dumbo sized ears to match your honker.

Rolling the Seed

I have a slight phobia of speaking to groups of people.  Ok, it’s more like debilitating terror.  I sweat bulbous drips of anxiety.  My hands and voice tremble out of control.  My heart threatens to drum straight out my throat.  It’s bad, people, really bad.

But I’m a tough chick.  I ride bikes.  I once had a root canal without anesthetic.  I drink milk after the expiration date.

I really shouldn’t be so paralyzed by speaking to groups of adults.

Last summer I decided enough is enough.  I was going to conquer my fear.  This was my plan.  Each time I was asked to speak in front of a group of people, I forced myself to say yes.  I’m not eloquent or well-versed enough that I had people beating down my door or anything like that, but I did get to speak a few times on the subject of writing.

I love writing.  I love teaching writing.  I love reading what others have written.  I love reading what others have written about writing.  I love writing about what others have written about writing.  You get my drift.

So this fall a colleague and I put together a workshop on how we teach writing and why we love it so, so much.  Easy, no?  We met twice to discuss what we each wanted to present.  I left both of those meetings hugely excited about presenting.  So excited that I actually wanted more speaking time.  This has never happened to me.  Ever.

After our second meeting, I went home to “fine tune” my notes, accompanying slideshow and to work on pieces of the handout.  I made good progress on the handout and added new photos to the slideshow.  Then I set to work on revamping my notes for this particular audience.  As I was typing, I came to the conclusion that every single word was moronic.  I re-read my notes and panic struck.  The workshop is only two weeks away and I don’t know anything about teaching writing.  I don’t know anything about teaching at all.  Why did the curriculum director approve this?  Doesn’t she know I don’t know anything?  None of this presentation works.  Especially the end part.  And the middle.  And the beginning.

Just as I was about to click the entire caboodle into the trash, my husband walked in and convinced me to take a break and watch a movie.  Throughout the movie, my mind kept wandering back to my presentation.  Then I began to think about apricots.  Yes, really.

You see, when I eat an apricot I devour all it’s sweet, fleshy goodness and then pop the seed into my mouth.  I don’t eat the seed.  I roll it around my tongue, hold the sandpapery pit in my cheek, clamp it between my teeth, flip it over and back, over and back again.  Sometimes I do this for hours.

After my meltdown about my presentation, I held the seed of it in my mind.  What do I love about teaching writing? I let the seed roll around.  What makes my students view themselves as writers? I flipped the seed over and back in my mind.  How can I best show other teachers how to take the next step? I mulled over my presentation for hours, days even.  Lo and behold the seed sprouted.

I chose a handful of texts to highlight.  I wrote a handout on the usefulness of each one.  I wrote down easy steps to help students gather words and foster word choice.  Most of all, I thought back to when I was a new writing teacher.  Back then I knew I was stuck, but I didn’t know the next step to take to get unstuck.  I thought of the ways I’ve changed as a writing teacher since that time.  All of a sudden, my presentation was coming together.

Now I’m not going to kid myself into thinking I’m presenting new and revolutionary ideas about writing, but surely within the audience there will be teachers who are stuck.  Teachers who are looking for the next step.  I’ve been there.  I hope to give them ideas to roll around in their mind, ideas to flip around as they please, ideas to clamp down on and make their own, ideas they can use to improve writing in their classroom.

I’m sure that while I’m presenting, I will have hula hoop sized sweat rings in my armpits.  I’m absolutely sure that my voice will tremor.  Undoubtedly my hands will shake.  The thing is, I’m just not that afraid anymore.

I’m a tough chick.  I’m a tough chick who loves writing.  I’m a tough chick who has students in love with writing.  I’m a tough chick with a seed to share.

Tension & Resolution

One of the thousands of reasons I love riding my bike is that is gives me opportunity for reflection.  Tonight in spin class, I cranked and cranked and cranked the tension knob until my quads were bands of fire.  Then my spin instructor told me to crank it up some more.  Just when I thought my calf muscles would burst, he said, “Good job.  Now take it down.  Way down.”  I cannot adequately express the relief I felt when all the tension was released.  I was so happy I was seeing white.

It’s appropriate that I was reflecting on tension tonight because I was teaching a lesson on that very thing today.  Our focus during writing was how to create tension in fictional pieces.  We talked about pushing the problem to its absolute limit and then providing a satisfying resolution.

As I conferred with students, I was thrilled with their desire to add layers to their conflict.  I was equally pleased with the thought they were giving to word choice and expression.  They wrote with consideration for their audience and it showed.

They were truly crafting stories.  All year long I’ve been cranking up my expectations, impressing upon them the skills and habits of writers.  Lessons on voice, word gathering, developing setting, creating tension, word choice.  It all came together today.    Today my sweet six year olds internalized the most important lesson of all.  They are writers, real writers.  I couldn’t ask for a better resolution.

How To Come In Last, Dead Last

Frank and I rode cyclocross this morning.  As I’ve mentioned before I am horrible at cyclocross.  When I do cyclocross, I come in last, dead last.  And yet, I love cyclocross.  It is so much fun.  No, really, it is.  So, I thought I’d take a moment to impart to you the tricks of coming in dead as a doornail last.

1.  Wear lots of layers to stay warm.  On the top layer, make sure you wear a jersey that instantly lowers expectations of your cycling skills or lack thereof.  I like to wear my Fat Cyclist jerseys because people think, “Oh, she’s a fat cyclist.  She’s not going to be very fast or very good.”  Under no circumstances should you wear a jersey emblazoned with words like speedy, racing, or any other macho phrases.  It’s better to give people a realistic picture right from the get go.

2.  When encountering sections that are too technical, too scary, or otherwise icky get off your bike and walk.  I walked a muddy the first time and rode through it the second.  The second time was way more fun.  By avoiding technical, scary, or icky sections you’ll also avoid doing an endo over the handlebars.  My friend, Nick, did not adhere to this tip and ended up landing on his noggin and cracking his helmet.  (His crash did make a really super photo.)  Instead of crashing on the dangerous sections, save your falls for perfectly flat, slightly muddy surfaces.  You’ll look like an idiot when you lay your bike down, but other than a few bruises and a scratched up ego, you’ll survive unscathed.  Honestly, I think this was just Frank’s way of showing me who the boss is.

3.  Ride the track by braille.  Go slow enough that your glasses will be perpetually fogged.  This will make the track impossible to see.  Instead you’ll know you’ve veered off the track when you start running over large bushes.  When you hit a bush, turn your wheel the other way until you hit another bush.  Or a tree.  Or the caution tape marking the course.  Riding by braille is way more exciting than actually seeing where you’re going.

4.  Ride slow enough that you get lapped by the leaders.  Better yet, ride slow enough that you get lapped by everyone.  Including the kids.  If possible, ride slow enough that the leaders lap you twice.  That way when time is up, you will have only completed two laps and everyone else will have completed three or four.  They will finish looking red-faced, muddy, sweaty, completely pooped, and ready to hurl.  You will finish red-faced, muddy, sweaty, but with plenty of energy to drink a slug of hot cocoa and scarf a banana or two.

5.  This tip comes from Mrs. Bike Mechanic, Amy.  She is way faster than I am, but I thought this was a good tip anyway.  In the morning when you’re carefully pulling on layer after layer of Spandex, do not put your toe warmers on.  That way when you’re standing around waiting for the race to start, your toes can freeze so completely that they will be void of all sensation.  When the race starts, you won’t be able to tell whether your feet have connected with your pedals or not.  This will allow you to pedal the air a few times without actually moving your bike forward.  Genius, Amy.

6.  Be a martyr.  At the end of the race, ask people how their race was.  Hopefully they’ll answer “Well, I didn’t come in last.”  Then you can swoop in and say “That’s because I came in last.  You’re welcome.”  It’s important to let others in the race know how much you’ve sacrificed on their behalf.  Only a benevolent martyr such as yourself would be willing to save everyone else from coming in last, dead last.