That is what we all are.
we can be more.
We are heroes.
We are monsters.
We are mice.
We are flamingos.
I believe we forget
we are all alike.
We may not have the same hair,
But our skeletons are similar,
and our hearts are the same.
No matter what,
at the end of the day,
we are all
When I was in the start
of my mental illness problem,
I exhibited physical movements
which bothered me,
because I thought they
but now, some forty years later,
that what I was doing
was mental illness yoga,
which was the body's way
of trying to cure me,
and the first yogic movement
that I did
was rocking back and forth
as I was sitting,
I have tried it
and my internal music
along with it,
and it becomes
so my mentally ill mother
used to tap
on her legs
one at a time,
so I have tried that
and synchronized it,
and a friend
used to pull down
on his sideburns
in a kind of stroking manner,
so that's a good one,
and another friend
stroked his legs
back and forth
just above the knees,
and that one is excellent,
so I move my legs
in opposite directions, fast,
back and forth,
and that one works well,
so I roll my head around
and that actually is
a yogic practice
called head rolls,
and I move my head
back and forth, sideways,
like Stevie Wonder,
and that works great,
so I would suggest
that if you have
any kind of eccentric movements
to develop them
and turn them into yoga,
because it just might be
to many problems.
A bicycle is the most efficient transportation machine. A little input and I’m gliding, moving a useful measurable distance but more than that. I like going fast enough so the wind in my ears is louder than my thoughts. On a tough day I like riding until I can be grateful again; sometimes that takes a couple hours but every ride is a good ride.
My youth’s independence was a banana seat Huffy pulled from an under-appreciated pile of rust in the back of St. Vincent’s Thrift Shop. No school bus meant riding to school, the first 45 minutes of every day in all weather. Afternoons were exploring detours; summers were expeditions to the city limits, sometimes beyond. I needed an upgrade for high school; I found a spotless antique 3 speed Raleigh, the cultural English workhorse collecting dust in an unlikely garage for $50.
I kept it through two foster homes. The first one kept me busy with farm chores, but the second was back in town. There, I had the bike back, and as an aside, they had a phenomenally sophisticated wall sized sound system: reel-to-reel and amazing headphones. I would forget myself in records: Sgt. Peppers, Genesis, Yes, etc, and another favorite. Just a guitar and piano instrumental album with a simple melody called Bricklayer’s Beautiful Daughter. Something about that one song in particular I heard faint glimmerings of contentment that was denied to me. I would replay it to cling to this hint of a simple happiness I didn’t understand; that if it was in the song, it was somewhere deep in me.
Without a car for 10 years, one used 10-speed or another got me to various eccentric jobs.
Fast forward to the life-changer, after a divorce. Needing to reconnect with myself, I searched for a decent bike. I found it hanging dusty in the back of a cluttered boutique shop smelling of tire rubber, quiet with racers’ confidence. They had a Lemond thoroughbred on consignment, assembled custom 5 years earlier to race. It was slightly outdated, but a dent on the top tube put it out to pasture. It was steel though, so rideable enough for me. My entire $300 savings and it was mine. Then I discovered the special pedals needed special shoes, so another month saving for those. I wasn’t going to wear those silly spiderman outfits, until I started to ride more than 10 miles and my butt demanded it. And those pockets in the back of the shirt were handy. I met a friend who taught me how to draft: my skinny wheel a few inches behind the bike in front at 20 mph, to save precious energy in the slipstream. Truly dangerous, vulnerable, and effectively blinded; but he pointed at the ground with various hand signals to warn of upcoming road hazards. I was touched by this wordless language of trust and camaraderie. This innate concern is essential to the sport, even among competitors, so it seems to attract quality people I liked. My new life expanded with friends.
I discovered biking exercise could stabilize the life-long effects of brain injury, lost some weight, grew stronger, and started setting goals. First longer group rides, then a century (100 miles in one ride), then mountain biking: epic fun in nature, unadulterated happiness. Then novice racing, then the next category up with a team, then a triathlon. It became an admitted obsession but I won a pair of socks or bike parts every now and then. Eventually tattooed two bike chains around my ankle, one twisted and the other broken. I loved the lifestyle, and had truly reinvented and rediscovered myself.
A 500 mile ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles with fellow wounded veterans helped dissipate the old shame from the military. I had joined the ride to raise money for a good cause. I respected the program and knew personally that cycling had changed my life. They turned out to be inspiring, helping me more than I could have helped them. Some had only just started riding a bike for only a few weeks, some were amputees fit with special-made adapters on regular bikes, some had no legs using hand cycles. They all joined on to the task of riding 500 miles. No one whined, and helping each other finish the day was the only goal. While riding with them, I began to open up about my experience. I found a few others who also had TBI, and we could laugh about similar mishaps. The other veterans didn’t judge me about anything, like when I was injured, the nature of my disability, how much I did or didn’t accomplish. I had signed up just like them, had to recover back to a functioning life just like them. It was the first time in my life that whole chapter in my life was accepted; I wasn't odd, and they helped close the shame on that old chapter. (Thank you, R2R.) The next year I took a 1500 mile self-supported bike trip through western mountain ranges with my husband and soulmate, whom I had met mt. biking.
There was one late Spring day, finally warm after a long winter, when I just wanted to ride for a few hours by myself. No speedometer or training intervals, just enjoy the park road winding under the trees. I had downloaded some new music on the IPod, a sampler from the library. I felt happy. Life is Good. Rounding a bend by the river, coasting through sunbeams sparkling the park’s peaceful road, my earphones unexpectedly played Bricklayer’s Beautiful Daughter. I hadn’t heard that simple guitar tune in three decades. My God, time suddenly disappeared. I was right back in the forgotten foster home, listening for the faint silver threads of the contentment I was feeling at this very moment on the bike. The full force of this sudden connection, the wholeness of the life and unity of myself in one epiphany, brought me to tears. I found myself pouring my heart into praying hang in there, girl, hang in there, you’ll find it and I felt my younger self hearing echoes of birds singing in new green leaves.
Rewind this memoir back to my first foster home. I’m reclining on the couch in the living room watching Superman, a whatever's-on-tv-saturday-afternoon-movie. "Give A Little Bit" played from the soundtrack. The Supertramp song reached out from the screen and into my own complicated teen-aged life. Oh the words of that song blindsided me, hit me hard in the chest with a sad yearning, an emotion I had ignored forever like that elephant in the room too big to push out the door. Because life was so hard, too hard, and lonely on and on, and the world gives only just enough that you keep breathing, but you wonder why. Yes, please someone give just a little....
But at the time I hadn't known anything else and I just stuffed that overwhelming sad lonely feeling. Too much need wears out a welcome in someone else's home. It seemed most everyone else had family, security, some money for perhaps things like a pair of cleats to run in school track if you have the desire. Its called belonging or opportunity and I was acutely aware I wouldn't have it.
Fast forward 25 years; business for my glass art studio is rewarding. I live in Cleveland, or what I called Purgatory. I like the city though; I think the motto should be "Its Not That Bad." A tough steel town, unpretentious to a fault, tenacious, it inspired the Clean Water Act because the river was so polluted it caught on fire. People who live there just don't quit, except that the biggest export is young people. The streets are eerily empty, the quiet steel mills are epic sculptures of rust. But its not that bad. Now they make a tasty beer called Burning River. Sometimes they gamble on unconventional ideas because they've reached the end of status-quo. One can even surf there, when the wind blows a Nor'easter in the fall, just before the lake freezes. The wave break is nicknamed "Sewer Pipe"; one can imagine why.
I biked with a club there; cycling part of my life-blood. Life was pretty good, blessed with measures of contentment and happiness and family, even through so many challenges. Except I'm stuck pedaling a trainer in the basement most of the long winter. It was during an endless, gray February that I was inspired by an idea: a Velodrome. Its one of those banked tracks people in America only see during the Olympics. Cover it, and people could have a bicycle park all year-round with palm trees in the winter, in Cleveland. Its a blast of a sport with serious American heritage. A velodrome is a place where all a kid has to do is show up and with enough heart he or she can make it to the Olympics. They wouldn't need money, just 100% heart. It would be the kind of opportunity I didn't have when I was a kid.
So I decided to take on the responsibility to build one... not to be afraid of the price tag, or how to do it, or let a label like "disabled veteran with a head injury" daunt me. I figured my role was to get the project started and motivate others to do other parts. I decided not to discuss my shortcomings, introduce myself with that label, or use it as a disclaimer. As many times as I wished I had a chalkboard sign around my neck saying, Please excuse the mess, I had to tell myself it was not an excuse.
There would need to be many others; but the fact that I knew only a dozen people on the planet didn't stop me either. Two people inspired me. Kyle MacDonald had a dream to barter a paper clip for something better, trading that for something else, anything else, until he had a house. I thought I could start with an old laptop, a couple thousand dollars, and my idea. I'd work to leverage each bit of progress, not knowing what they were yet. Thats how anything gets done, right? Erik Weihenmayer is a blind alpine mountain climber, conquering even Everest. He didn’t let anyone convince him what he couldn’t do, and didn’t let impairments keep him from his goal. He didn't let blindness, the fact that he couldn't see the top as well as others, make the goal any less enjoyable for himself. Also, there’s no way he could have done it without help.
There are no business plans for a Velodrome or someone else would have built more of them already. I'm good at figuring things out, what with having to relearn things all the time. I don't quit because that has never seemed to be an option. Resourcefulness is my middle name, having to put my life back together every year or so. Certainly the project was eccentric but as an artist I've never really cared about what others thought. I certainly didn't have a reputation for sanity to maintain. Professionally, I’ve had experience with so many factors of development: from paperwork at the back end as a Project Assistant, to designing it as a Mechanical Drafter, to constructing it as a Steel Detailer. I understood this project.
Every time I discovered something needed to be done, I'd figure out how to do it. I took an online tutorial and put together a website, attended communication seminars for better speaking skills, learned how to recruit a Board of Directors, took classes for fundraising, won a few grants, and started a non-profit. I had to buy a couple of suits for meetings. I kept hoping someone who knew what they were doing would take over, but that never seemed to materialize. What I thought would be a few months turned into several hard years of work, learning new things on the fly like politics, business etiquette, computer programs, how to understand and write financials and business plans for stadiums.
It felt like cramming for finals, taking exams for classes I never attended. I didn’t just burn my candle on both ends, I was torching it in the middle too. Every challenge I had ever gone through seemed like it was a preparation for this one. Many times I wondered if it was all for nothing; so many dead ends and frustrations and years where the project was barely on life-support. Mistakes and wrong turns making people mad, losing faith in me. Would it ever really happen? I kept imagining what my bike wheels would look like under my handlebars as if I was ridiing on the track, listening to the same particular songs on my ipod for motivation.
A small tangent here, a digression back to the fifth grade and my favorite teacher. He was about as tall as his students. Mr.A (our nickname for Mr. Anderson) was a barrel-chested little person but I didn't notice it till years later because he was so cool. He was the first teacher, the first person actually, who encouraged me to be myself. I was a little kid, a couple years advanced and bright enough to be skipped again. Tthat would have been ridiculous since I was already too small. I would get my work done early in class, and he would let me spend time doing whatever, encouraging my creativity. I distinctly remember making little scale models of parks out of construction paper. I would start by making a rectangular tray, and then fill it in with ponds, benches, and oval or figure-8 tracks for bicycles, elevated roller-coaster paths for walking. It was my way of creating a whimsical place that felt good in my difficult life. No lie, I was building bicycle tracks when I was 9. That memory faded away until I was several years into the actual Velodrome project, trying create a light-hearted park on the edge of a ghetto. This was my life's ultimate Art Project; made with wood, steel, and tenacity. It made me wonder about a life's purpose... still just a what if... but cruel if there wasn't anything to it.
There is a necessary role for the dreamer. Visionaries help to break status quo, introduce new solutions. Sorting through the banal with unique perspective, the random is reassembled into intriguing newness. What is creative nature? Is it obsession to improve things, the need for approval, resourcefulness within limits, or perspective outside boundaries? Is it tenacity to the point of obsession, focus to the point of selfishness?
Thankfully, a few devoted people did take over after a few years and worked hard to raise the serious money. In 2012, Phase 1 of the Cleveland Velodrome opened to the public. Presently they are raising funds for Phase 2 to cover it. By chance I was there the day the track was finished and got a chance to ride it. All I wanted to do was one thing: listen to those songs on my ipod and see my wheels under the handlebars on the track... in reality. I didn't want to race or be recognized at some celebration. I just wanted to ride a few laps, happy just to have a role in building it. In less than a year there are already training programs, youth cycling classes, and teams competing. Through community grants and volunteers, its all free to anyone under 18.
Not to be forgotten, some thanks should go to one supportive teacher who helped a scrappy kid dream. Schools measure math and science so valuable, for good reason. But this favors one brain’s side of thinking. Initiating and working for the construction of an urban renewal project and improving a neighborhood is traceable to the exact same idea assembled with clumsy school scissors, white glue, and construction paper, during 5th grade free time.
I can't wait to hear the news of some tough kid from East Cleveland getting to the Olympics.
"I see your hair is burning
Hills are filled with fire
If they say I never loved you
You know the are a liar"
I used to be a girl who had very close relationships with eccentric women who talked to themselves & sang to kitty cats, birds, dogs, & who sometimes got cranky with squirrels who climbed into birdhouses. Women who had laughter follow them wherever they went. Who teased me but never made fun of me. Women who were much older than me, came into my life at various times, who moved in & out of it, fluctuating in immediacy but always loving me totally, always keeping in touch, never a hateful or spiteful glance. Women who saw me not as something to deal with, but something to help. I wasn't a chore. They were people who introduced me to things, included me in everything. Women who lent me books. Who played battleship, scrabble, cards, word games, catch, and pranks with me. Who invited me to watch movies, cook supper, pile wood, play in the sandbox or garden, walk on the beach with them. Women who spent time talking to me & doing things with me; both focusing on who I was & who I would be at once. Women who were grams & aunts & adopted family and who were not my mother.
I met an eccentric fisherman today
He was five foot five with a beard
Seven foot seven
As gant as the pole in his hands
And more bronze than my shower taps
He had a salty grin and six black teeth
'Ye fancy fish, interior boy?'
S sounds whisled
'Aye got one ere for ye then lad'
It floundered in my tender land hands
It's gills flapped open like window blinds
'Relinquish me boy'
'Wet my skin in the waters of home,
And I'll trade a desire for my freedom'
I gazed at the fisherman
He had disappeared
'Release this fish and I'll grant
The deepest wish for ye, small ant.
For my power is great'
I'm hungry, powerfish
I haven't eaten for days
Could you give me that?
'A simple wish, a gift most easily given
Drop me boy and you'll taste heaven'
Water splashed my face as the fish
Swam away from the shore.
Where is my meal, oh powerfish?
'Fool hearted boy, simpleton left hungry
Never trust fish or else ye angry
Enjoy the hunger lad
I'm the tastiest fish you could have had!'
These sunny, summer days remind me of you.
They remind me of the wonderful days you spent
in my arms and in my heart.
Oh, I would give anything to make this explosive
nostalgia reality once again.
I need only one more day with you;
But, hell? who am I kidding?
One day is not enough.
A lifetime isn't enough with someone who amounts
to such an incredulous beauty as
I can't help but miss you dearly.
I can't help but to cry.
I can't help but ponder on your permanent departure
from the physical realm that we know
I should be proud of you -- well, I am -- but my arrogance
tells me to mourn; so what do I do?
and I mourn,
and I mourn some more.
I am struck by the mourningful remembrance of your eccentric
existence and of my experience with it.
But I know that one day all of these memories will bring upon
the polar opposite of the feelings they
That is Happiness.
I will be happy.
As a matter of fact,
I am happy.
I am happy that your everlasting fight was began, was
endured, and was ended with a smile.
I am happy for the cease of your suffering.
I am happy that you are no longer a victim for the trauma
that comes with living.
I am happy for the infinite hearts and souls that you touched
with your aspiring inspiration.
I am happy to have, at a point in time, been one of the few and
only who you encased in your affectionate
passion, and ,with a bit of luck, changed my
But to speak the least,
I am happy for YOU
Breathe Easy Alexandria
No one will tell you
Being "deep" has a diminishing return
After a while you're just
Because you've gone too far
Shallow people don't want "deep"
They just want "deep-er"
Truly insightful people,
Great minds and intellectuals
Won't tell you the other part
About how if you keep digging
You'll go too deep
And you'll bust the bottom out
And the whole damn well
Will spill out
And then you're nothing
Just an echo.
I live for eccentric nights
Lost summer breezes
With fragrant passion
Intercepted from the days
Of long before.
Subtle alcohol induced
Frenzy mistaken for love
In the moment
Always wanting more.
Here, waiting we watch
as my son plays, glancing I note
you're posture perfect,
with a smooth alabaster face
by a rose pink painted tight jaw smile
that you regimentally pull back each time it weakens.
Your scent of opulent flowers floats
amid thinly disguised wafts of camphor
and ill fitting teeth tinkle as you nod and startlingly say;
''his eyes; just like my husbands..who is....no
would have been 97 today''.. ..
and in the sad silent moment that follows
we both hear the slap of your teardrop
hitting the tortoiseshell clutch held tightly in your lap.
Your name is called and you stand, tall;
the felted fur leopard print hat no match
for the turquoise gaberdine mac and red patent shoes.
Gifted with, you exude an eccentric elegance
that politely ignores the damp seat you leave
instead your smile shines its goodbye through
perfect powder blue eyes
matched by veins on delicate fingers
that kindly stroke his chubby cheeks
as you pass on your way.