Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fitting In--or Not, and Cycling Resources and Distractions

I love words.

It is at the core of my nerd-dom--my comic-book collecting, sci-fi affinity, my book hoarding, and my incessant pecking out of my own writing daily (and moment-by-moment in my crowded, ceaseless mind).

Many years ago I was reading a critical book about William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying (a tour-de-force of Southern brilliance, a brutal unmasking of the South, a word-fest)--Recalcitrance, Faulkner & the Professors: A Critical Fiction (Austin M. Wright, Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1990). I was struck by the word "recalcitrance," but I had no idea what it meant.

Then, I discovered it was the perfect word to describe what I am at my core--recalcitrant.

Next, just a few years ago, I was at a teachers' conference in Myrtle Beach with a colleague and several teachers-to-be from Furman. I have been shaving my head for about 15 years now, which is often a topic of interest to many people (although I am puzzled by that), but I have also been shaving my legs for most of the past 27-28 years (a really disturbing fact for my daughter when she was growing up and discovered that was normal for women, but not men).

Well, at this conference, the topic of my leg shaving came up, and I explained that professional cyclists shave their legs not for aerodynamics (the usual assumption among non-cyclists, confusing cyclists with swimmers--although in the water I guess it is "hydrodynamics"), but for the likelihood of crashing (shaved legs are a slightly better defense against sliding on pavement and for dressing the wounds after crashes) and to accommodate daily massages. I then added that recreational cyclists and Cat-racers are far more likely to have shaved legs purely from peer pressure--for fitting in.

I told them that once any new rider joins a group of "serious" riders, those serious riders will take a glance at the legs--shaved, OK; hair, skeptical.

One of my former students, Steph, was mortified. She is an angry soul like I am, and she is also a wonderful personification of "recalcitrant." I had disappointed her greatly, and she still brings this up often.

I think it's a Groucho Marx line, but I heard it in a Woody Allen film--I wouldn't join any organization that would have me as a member. But I am not just a member of the cycling community, I love it. I thrive on it. I have ceded my basic nature to it--shaved legs for the cause. It is a rare badge of my acquiescing.

And I offer this here on the Assaults blog to say that there is something bigger than just training and cycling and getting ready for the Assaults.

Cycling the way most of the Assaults participants do it is our distraction, our escape, our challenge to ourselves. Few of us get paid; in fact, this is damned expensive.But not an investment because it is money spent in a way that is usually unlike the rest of our financial lives.

This all flooded into my mind when Mark (as we call him, "Mark from Charlotte") emailed the link to The Rules. I have read these before, but the occasion to read them again made me laugh and smile harder than I remember from before.

I think it struck differently this time because I realized The Rules are essentially the old-school rites of passage--why and how the cycling community allows people in.

And why and how we revel in giving each other hell at any given moment.

At some point along the way, cyclists started turning their stems up instead of parallel to the ground, and bicycles came out of bicycle shops with the hoods turned up instead of parallel to the ground. Few things could make me more concerned about the fate of this planet.

. . .

Except when cyclists have their real wheel skewers closed with the releases pointing backward at the other riders as if not a single other human on the planet matters. . .

Web links for your amusement:

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University

twitter: @plthomasEdD

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