Thursday, July 2, 2015

Results of the Motorcycle Skills Test

Yesterday, as we went round and round the motorcycle training course, I thought, I really need one more day of this to solidify my skills.

And now, I will get that day.  I'm trying to see the events of yesterday in terms of getting more training with no extra charge, not as a failure.

There were moments yesterday where everything went well, and I could see why people love riding a motorcycle.  There were many more moments of frustration and times when I couldn't remember why I thought this class would be a good way to spend my valuable vacation time.

I do think it was easier to learn during a class than to try to learn on my own.  I am amazed at what I was able to learn after just 2 mornings on a motorcycle.

Unfortunately, it was not enough to pass the skills test on the bike.  The written test I passed with flying colors.  I'd have been really spooked if I couldn't do that.

Fortunately, I get another session of training and another chance to pass the test.  The trick will be finding a good time to do that, and soon, before I forget what I've learned.  I'll call later today to schedule it.

We had a practice time just before the test.  We worked on our own, with no input from the instructor.  I did most of the activities almost perfectly.

What went wrong during the test?  Partly, I overthought things too much.  It's a habit of mine that I recognize.  If I could just get out of my own head, I'd get out of my own way more often.

I have no problem recognizing these thought patterns, but I have not yet learned how to banish them.  Sigh.

I was also a bit spooked because we had had a morning of spectacular crashes--all unintentional.  Happily, no students were hurt, but it left me unsettled.

Then, during the test, I thought the instructor motioned me to demonstrate a fast stop.  It's a small course, and it was hard for me to get up to speed, then apply brakes and shift to first.  I did, and perfectly.  Unfortunately, the instructor wasn't actually ready for me.  So I had to do it over again, and I goofed.  I shifted up to 3rd instead of second, and downshifted to second, not first.  Why didn't the bike stall?  I don't know, but probably because I was so desperate to build up speed and so wanting to do it correctly.

If that had been the only mistake, it wouldn't have been enough to sink me, but it wasn't.  I got progressively more flustered--again, my head getting in my way.  And my physical state didn't help either.

The test was held at the end of a long, hot morning of training.  My hands ached from squeezing the clutch and the break.  My feet ached.  My body burned from the blazing heat.  I tried to stay hydrated and sunscreened, but I suspect that my physical state led to diminishing returns which led me to not passing the skills section.

My instructor said that even if I had passed the skills test, she'd have begged me to come for one more training session.  I'm just not ready.

She's right. 

I will come back and get more training and hopefully pass the test.  Then I will keep practicing on less-traveled roads.  I can't imagine how I will get up to the level where I will feel good about getting out in real traffic with lots of vehicles.

Perhaps I won't.  But at least if something happens to my spouse while we're out on the same bike, like if he breaks an ankle or a wrist and we can't get a cell phone signal to summon help, I could get us back home.  That was one of my goals.

As I was struggling, I thought of all the students through the years, mine and those who are taking classes with faculty in my department, students who fail for all sorts of reasons.  I thought of their frustration and wondered if karma is catching up with me.

But of course, that's not the reason why I had trouble.  And it's not the reason why our students have trouble.  Some subject matter is just hard and doesn't come to us in the time period that we had scheduled for it.  That's not easy to hear.  It wasn't easy for me to hear yesterday.  It's good to be reminded of how it feels to be on the receiving end of that info.  It's an empathy-creating experience.

I will shake off these feelings of inadequacy and failure.  I tried my best.  I'm not where I need to be.  I can get there. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Lessons from Day 1 of Motorcycle Riding Class

My first day of motorcycle riding class went well.  If all continues to go well, today will be my last day, and then I'll have the certificate which means I can update my license--a trip to the DMV, hurrah!

It was an interesting class:  1 guy, 5 females, and me.  Our two instructors are also female; they commented on the unusual gender balance of the class.

I felt bad for the guy, who has already been riding several years.  The state of Florida now has a law that to get your motorcycle endorsement, you need to take a class like the one I'm taking, and that's why he's here.  He must be terribly bored.

The rest of us had never ridden before yesterday.  It's amazing to me that you can take a group of people and after 4 hours, have them riding.

There was only one real mishap--and it was mine!  At the end of one exercise, we were supposed to line up.  I was slowing down, braking--and I'm not sure what happened.  Suddenly I speeded up a bit.  I bumped the guy on the bike in front of me.  Happily, it was at low speed, and no one was hurt.

I'm still not sure what happened.  Our instructor tells me that I let out the clutch, but my instincts were right--I immediately put the clutch back in.  I suspect that I thought I was in Neutral, but was really in first.

I learned a lot yesterday.  Here are some of my insights:

--What I assume would result in catastrophe may not be that big a deal.  So I zoomed ahead and hit a parked motorcycle--no one was hurt and the bikes stayed upright.  In some ways, it was a success, since I didn't get spooked and stop.

--We learn a lot from mistakes.  I knew that, but it's interesting to learn it again, to see it firsthand.

--We would try to master a riding lesson, and then we'd analyze it.  What did we learn?  What did we do right?  What are we still working on?  It's a good way to solidify ideas in our head, and it seems like a process that can be used in other aspects of learning.

--The body and the bike will go where your eyes are looking.  I first learned this lesson from swimming, but I've heard many an instructor across disciplines remind us of this basic fact, from yoga to spin class to boot camp class.  It seems true on a metaphorical level too--where are we looking in terms of our creative lives, our spiritual lives, our work-for-pay lives, our relationships?  Again and again, I'm reminded that I need to change my vision.

--It's good to be a complete beginner.  I think that all instructors should force themselves to learn something completely new every few years.  It's good to remember the terror.  It's good to remember that most things can be broken down into a series of processes.  It's good to see other instructors in action.

Today after learning more skills and theory, we have a riding test and a written test.  Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Technology Miracles Old and New

Yesterday was delightful.  I worked on my angel Gabriel poem and accompanying documents (writing process, updated bio, picture), while also working on the online classes which started yesterday.  My brother-in-law popped by for a visit while he was on call, and I worked on a quilt while we chatted.  And at the end of the day, I got the mail that told me that Atlanta Review accepted a poem of mine, "Coracle of Prayer."

I thought about how I would likely not have written that poem without the Internet and blogging.  I came across this post and video that Dave Bonta posted.  In pre-Internet days, perhaps I would have come across the facts about coracles--but would I have been as intrigued and inspired if I hadn't had the video to watch?

My purple legal pad where I write poems shows me that I was playing with the Gabriel idea before I saw this post of Beth's art that she posted in January.  I had the idea during Advent, the mingling of the thought of John the Baptist as that homeless guy under the overpass, the idea of God coming where we least expect to find the Divine, and the godlessness of South Florida. 

But when I saw her post on a day when I saw other images, I wrote a blog post about the poem I was trying to write.  That blog post led to an electronic conversation with Beth, which has led to a publication opportunity, about which I will say more later.  It's another opportunity which I wouldn't have had without modern technology.

Or perhaps I would, but at a different pace.  I could have written a letter, after all.  But without the Internet to distribute information, I would likely never have seen her piece of art from her studio in Canada.

It's a theme I return to again and again, how technology has changed our lives.  I thought of this in a different way as I set my oven to self-clean yesterday.

Note to self:  it's better to clean the oven during cooler weather.  Having the oven self-clean at a high temperature on a sultry summer afternoon is not the wisest approach.  But the result seems miraculous.  No noxious chemicals!  No scrubbing!

I wonder what technology that's just now being tested will come to seem like a miracle to future generations?

Now it's off to motorcycle training--another technology which once seemed miraculous.  I will bring a book to read during down times, if there are any--an old technology, which still seems miraculous.  I will use my reading glasses--yes, another miracle.

The world is full of wonders, if we had but eyes to see.  What poems will I weave out of these ideas?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Summer Vacation, of a Sort, Begins

This week will be very different from the past few weeks.  Our school has Friday off as the 4th of July holiday, and a few weeks ago, I decided to take my motorcycle training class on Tuesday and Wednesday, since there's a discount, and I didn't want to spend a week-end doing that and then trying to be functional at work.  And then, I thought, well, why not take the whole week off?

People assume I'm going somewhere, but I'm happy to be staying at home.  I've got unfinished  projects the way one does when one has hectic weeks:  I need to do some cleaning, some laundry, some banking, some cooking.  I've got online classes starting and shifting into high gear.  I've got a writing project due date.  There are non-school friends I want to catch up with.

I feel that strange tingle of nervousness--we're halfway through the year, and I've taken half of my Paid Time Off--what if I get sick?

But I also don't want to get to December and need to take the whole month off so that I don't lose my PTO.  So, it's good to take days here and there.

Plus, I've been feeling so exhausted, between school issues and Vacation Bible School--I've had lots of signals that it's time to take a few days off to regroup.

I'm hoping also to have time to read.  I've finished Kate Atkinson's A God in Ruins, and I can't stop thinking about the characters--it's almost enough to make me want to go back to reread Life after Life.  But there are so many books I haven't read yet.  Next up:  The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer.  It's hard to believe how many years it's been since I read her first novel, The Dive from Clausen's Pier.

Now it's time to make some homemade granola bars (recipe in this blog post).  I have trouble envisioning how motorcycle riding classes will go.  Will I need dry clothes to change into?  Will we have snacks provided?  I'm fairly sure lunch is not provided.  Will I need to bring all my own water?  Will there be an air conditioned place to leave my lunch/snacks or will I use my car for storage?

Regardless of the answers, my homemade granola bars will be just fine.  And so will I.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Salads Salt and Sweet

A few weeks ago, I went to a restaurant planning to get some happy hour snacks to go with some wine.  I wasn't planning on eating dinner.

My friend and I got ourselves settled at the bar to wait for the others who would join us.  It was fairly early, so there was only one other person at the bar.  She waxed euphoric over the salad.

Yes, the salad.  She had a bottle of wine and some other goodies--but it was the salad that made her so deliriously happy.

So, of course, I had to order it--plus it sounded good:  grilled peaches, prosciutto, goat cheese, on top of salad greens with a honey lemon vinaigrette.  Were there nuts on the salad?

For days, I wanted to go back--but the salad was a special, so I doubted I could get it again.  But how hard could it be to make?  So the other day, I stopped at the grocery store.

I got nectarines, which I like better than peaches.  I added some cherry tomatoes.  I got chopped romaine lettuce, because it was on sale.  I got a log of goat cheese and prosciutto.  You can mix it all in the proportions that you like.

For the vinaigrette, I used 3 lemons, but it was almost too tart.  I used 4 T. of honey.  I mixed in a cup of good olive oil.  It still didn't taste quite right--too tart.  So I added some balsamic vinaigrette and some ginger preserves.  I just kept mixing in small amounts until I got it close.  It still wasn't as good as the restaurant version.

But then I let it sit in the fridge for a week--it got so much better.  I made another version of the salad.  When I didn't have grilled peaches, I made the salad with chickpeas--not quite as good, but more protein to be sure.  I love the mix of salt and sweet.

I think I'll explore the whole summer creating salads that celebrate that mix.

This past week, I've been pouring the vinaigrette on non-salads too.  I had a can of chickpeas that marinated in the vinaigrette--delicious mixed with goat cheese.  I also poured it over a leftover pasta with tomatoes and olives pantry kind of meal that I put together when I was out of most fresh foods--much tastier than the original pasta meal with parmesan cheese that I first served.

I liked the vinaigrette so much that I made another jar full.  I used 2 lemons this time.  It was almost not tart enough.

In my younger days, when I had lots of unstructured time and a kitchen (think grad school), I kept a variety of sauces and vinaigrettes on hand.  I had forgotten how transformative they are. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Love Wins, and History Marches On

It has been an interesting week in terms of social justice progress.  Even as I have marched through a very tiring week, I've taken moments to let myself feel awe at the news I've been hearing.

The event that most of the nation and future historians will remember from this week will be yesterday's ruling on gay marriage.  I listened to this story on NPR yesterday about the man who wrote a paper as a law student arguing for the rights of gay people to marry; he wrote it in 1983, and he's spent the time between then and now working on that goal.  I thought about how few of us see our goals and visions so thoroughly accepted.  He will go to his grave knowing he's been a success in what he set out to do.

The conversation covered the idea of whether or not this change has come quickly or slowly.  He said that his younger colleagues want to change the world and they get discouraged at how long it might take.  But here we are, in quite a different landscape than the world we inhabited in 1983.

I think of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's.  I used to think of it as a social movement of the 1960's, but my college teachers explained how much groundwork had been laid in the 1940's, 50's and earlier.

Both of these social justice movements show that the changes seem like they're happening very quickly, but what often happens quickly is laid on a bedrock of thousands of acts of smaller resistance and consciousness changing and tinier legislative wins than the ones that were sought.  And then, at some point, boom--it seems as if the whole nation decides to change, all at once.

I'm also thinking of the issue of the Confederate flag.  I lived in South Carolina for many years, and I have heard various sides of the arguments around the flag.  I remember after a week or two at my small college in a small South Carolina town and thinking, some people here act like the Civil War was fought last year, not 120 years ago.  That wound seemed so fresh.

I was surprised when South Carolina moved the flag from the State House (or was the state ordered to do it?  how can I not remember?).  There was the compromise that it could stay on the grounds in an area that celebrates the Civil War.

I remember walking to the State House grounds during grad school.  I loved the statue that celebrated the courage of Civil War women--it was a statue of a woman struggling to lean forward to protect the children in her skirts.  I would touch the statue and wish for similar courage.  I would scold myself:  "You think grad school is so tough; it's nothing like the Civil War."  Something about that statue steadied me.

But I digress.  In short, I thought nothing would change people's minds about that flag--and for some people, this is true.  But the shooting in Charleston may have propelled the flag off the grounds altogether.  We shall see.

We also had Supreme Court decisions on health care and fair housing.  It's been a fascinating time to watch the Court.  My spouse keeps saying that the decisions are less interesting than the fact that it is this court that made those decisions.

Early this morning, I went to the grocery store to help my friend who has had hand surgery with her groceries.  I bought some groceries too.  I put my cantaloupe on the conveyer belt.  I thought of my mother's quip whenever she cut up a cantaloupe:  "Cantaloupe without a man!"

But now we can. 

I wish I had a more satisfactory conclusion--but I suspect the coming weeks/months/years will be like this:  small moments when we realize what a different world we're leaving for our children.  Some of the changes I like, while others make me mourn. 

I think of a law student working on a paper, someone we haven't heard of, don't expect to hear from--how will the world be changed by ideas that are only being formed today?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Painting with Children

Last night's adventure with the children, creativity, and Vacation Bible School:  we explored paint.

Well, only one kind of paint:  watercolor.  Years ago when I was first the Arts and Crafts director for VBS, I asked my sister about the activities I thought about doing so that I could have a sense of what would work and what wouldn't.  My sister said, "I've never met a kid who didn't love to paint."  Now, after years of VBS, I can say the same.

She gave me great tips that non-caretakers of children wouldn't think about:  make sure the paint is washable so that it comes out of clothes.  Make sure it's non-toxic--I always check, although I want to believe that all art supplies that children might use are non-toxic.  Make sure every child has his/her own set of paints; sharing is not everyone's strong point.

On Tuesday, we made objects out of air dry clay.  We painted the objects last night.  We used watercolor paint.  A few years ago, I gave the kids both kinds of paint:  tempera and watercolor.  I was surprised that watercolor worked so well with clay.  It's easier to set up and clean up, so last night, we used only watercolor.

I also gave everyone paper plates and paper, if they wanted a different experience.  And we had another successful evening.

I was intrigued by what elements captured which attentions.  Some children intently worked on their clay pieces with great precision.  A few went right to the paper plates.  Some preferred to dip their paintbrushes in water to watch the water change colors.

As always, I am happily surprised at the enthusiasm of the children.  Not one says, "Forget it.  This is stupid.  I'm not doing this."  No one said to me, "You're stupid, and I can't believe you're making us do this."  These are reactions I expected when I first started doing this work with VBS.  And year after year, the children enter into the activity:  some are meditative, some cautious, some enthusiastic, but all are willing to try.  There's not a lot of judgment:  very few children reject their creations.

I don't think I have a better group of children than elsewhere.  I think that we lose that quality along the way.  We lose it for a whole host of reasons.

Some of us are lucky as we recover some of that spirit along the way.  But so many are not.

I think about the way the world would be transformed if we could all be like my VBS kids.  I want to think about the ways we could make that possible.