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Things Cyclists Wish Motorists Knew February 26, 2015

I watched as the truck came to a screeching halt and stared at me. I had the right of way, but it was clear he hadn’t seen me. It was also clear that he was more upset about not having seen me than I was about not being seen. (I had seen him and was able to stop well in advance of our anticipated collision.)

As I continued my ride, I began to contemplate the many things that I wish motorists knew about cyclists. (Like that we don’t all get angry just because you didn’t see us. After all, sometimes we don’t see you, either!) With that in mind, here are the top entrants on my personal “wish you knew” list:

1. Just because I’m small, doesn’t mean that I can’t (or don’t) move very quickly. I’ve been riding for a while and can easily keep pace with most residential traffic. The result is that if you suddenly pull out in front of me, you’ll be risking a collision. It may take a cyclist less time to reduce their speed than is required for the driver of an SUV, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take time. The faster I’m moving, the more time it takes.

2. My skill level is not evidenced by the clothes I wear. I’ve seen some amazing cyclists who wear street clothes and a backpack and some incredibly inept bikers who wear a full riding kit. Don’t presume that just because someone is on a road bike and wearing a jersey that they have the skill to stop or reroute themselves without getting hurt or hurting someone else.

3. Cycling laws don’t always mirror traffic laws. That means (at least in my State), that I get to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights like stop signs. It also means that I can ride on the road or the sidewalk. If you see me hopping onto a sidewalk, to avoid falling prey to a light or claiming a lane to preserve my safety, it isn’t necessarily because I’m a dangerous or impulsive rider.

4. Sometimes traffic laws are in conflict and it leads to conflict between those using the road. We’ve both dealt with the turn signal that goes green at the same time the crosswalk sign lights up. The pedestrian has the right to cross the very lane that the driver also has a legal right to cross. It isn’t your fault because you’re a motorist. It isn’t my fault because I’m a cyclist. It just is what it is.

5. There are good cyclists and bad cyclists… and sometimes good cyclists do bad things. Just as with motorists, our differing skill levels, degree of fatigue, and whether or not we had a good day at the office can influence our alertness and ability to react. While many of us are good at following the law, that doesn’t mean that we don’t occasionally “run a red”. Show us grace when we do.

6. Sometimes I don’t see you. You may be bigger. You may be louder. But that doesn’t always mean that I know you’re coming. Just like motorists don’t always expect to see me on the sidewalk, I don’t always expect to see you dashing between those two oncoming vehicles.

7. I don’t ride to thumb my nose at people who drive. Yes, I like to ride because it provides me with exercise, saves me money, and helps to preserve the environment. But I’ll tell you a secret: I also own a pickup truck. I recognize that just as I have reasons for two wheels, you have reasons to get around on four. My choice of transport isn’t a judgment against those who choose another form.

So there’s my short list. To sum it up: mutual respect and a measure of grace can go a long way – regardless of the size of our vehicles!

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Eccentricity, the Ant Farm, and a Jar of Spiders February 19, 2015

Filed under: Ants,Pets — acgheen @ 12:00 am
Tags: , , ,

I have long held to the view that the difference between eccentrics and ordinary people is not their activities, but the mindset that leads to them. Where ordinary people get overloaded and have mental breakdowns, eccentrics have reserved the right to determine for themselves where, when, and how they will lose their marbles. Eccentricity is the ultimate declaration of independence. It states in clear terms that while circumstances may be beyond my control, my reaction to them is not.

So when things get stressful, I go fly a kite. I don my Slytherin robes and watch an episode of “Dr. Who”. I pull out my Star Wars coloring book and a box of crayons. I try brewing a new beverage in my carboy or growing mushrooms in the storage closet. I buy an ant farm for my desk.

I’ll admit that the latter activity did raise some eyebrows. It wasn’t that our staff hadn’t brought pets to work before or even that some of those pets weren’t unusual. It was just that only two of us had ever selected insects… and both of us selected our particular pet at nearly the same time.

Mine was, in my opinion, the most rational. I had an ant farm growing up and remembered how relaxing it was watching the little creatures dig their tunnels through the sand. Each day, I would carefully tap the plastic to knock all of the ants of the lid, then open up the tiny container to add some flake food and a drop or two of sugar water.

Ant farms have, of course, advanced since then. The only option (which I located only after some seriously hard looking), was the Illuminated Ant Farm Gel Colony by Uncle Milton. Moist and filled with nutrients, it eliminated the need to provide my new pets with food or water. It also had a somewhat alien appearance which was enhanced by a small light at the bottom of the farm. But it worked… and it bothered my colleagues far less than the pet being kept by my coworker in the office next door.

The only thing endangered by an unanticipated escape of my pets was the rotting fruit that my office mate insisted upon storing beneath his desk. My coworker’s pet, on the other hand, had the ability to kill us all. It had come in on a plant shipment and, despite its clearly non-native status, had readily been adopted. (Most of us think it was an act of sympathy towards the egg-sack it was protecting.) Carefully tapped into a mason jar retrofitted with air holes, the large black widow had become a permanent fixture on the book cases. What would happen when the eggs hatched was anybody’s guess.

Over the next few weeks, both pet “projects” progressed. Occasionally, my ant colony required supplementation (a task made easy by the native colony raiding my officemate’s food supply). Her black widow required its own supplements: a diet consisting primarily of moths who had the misfortune of blundering into the greenhouse. But while my pets merely sustained themselves, hers grew.

Then, one morning, it happened. We walked into the office to find her jar swarming with newly-hatched black widowlets, many of which were tiny enough to escape through the make-shift air holes. It was quite clear to everyone that if something weren’t done, we were all going to die.

Reluctantly, my coworker removed the jar and took it outside. She was gone for a while and when she returned she explained that she hadn’t actually thought through what she would do when the babies hatched. When we asked about her solution she replied quite simply that in her panic over the grossness of the jar’s contents, she had done the only rational thing she could think of; she had dug a hole and buried it.

My ant colony fared much better, surviving well into the winter. They dug their winding way through the gel until, un-sustained by a queen, the last of my industrious workers bid us adieu. With sadness, I packed the farm away, nestling it in a drawer from which it would emerge the following spring.

True eccentricity is marked by a curious ability to see a pending disaster and reroute it before it can do any harm. It is a safety valve which helps to preserve one’s health, career, and relationships wholly intact. I am and always will be a proud eccentric. My coworker, on the other hand… well, she was just plain crazy.

 

Humor and the Unexpected: Relaxing Your Audience and Yourself February 12, 2015

It was an impromptu presentation. Sixty seconds before presenting, each participant was assigned a topic. The time was insufficient to do much more than draw a deep breath before stepping to the front of the class. I did, however, have a trick up my sleeve – a brief, well-prepared introduction entirely unrelated to the subject.

Gazing out across the room, I smiled and began. “I had hoped that I’d be asked to speak about the dissolution of the Thai parliament and its economic impact upon APEC. Instead, it appears that I’ll be sharing a bit about goldfish.” The entire room burst into laughter and I launched into a three minute discussion on fancy goldfish and their superiority over other forms of aquatic life.

A few weeks later, I was called upon to speak again. This time, I began my presentation with a more foreign flavor. “Ahlan, SabaaH al-khayr. Ismi Anna.” I bowed my head ever so slightly to my audience, then turned to my instructor, who was smiling to himself, clearly doing his best to ignore the exhibition. “I’m sorry,” I apologized. “Did you want the presentation in English?” He nodded and the room burst into laughter. I then proceeded with a presentation entirely unrelated to my ability to introduce myself (rather badly) in Arabic.

The truth is that humor is a highly useful presentation technique, even for those of us who lack an inclination towards the lifestyle of a standup comedian. Brief, witty, and unexpected, it can serve to set both the audience and the presenter at ease. It breaks down barriers and builds a sense of camaraderie (even when it’s clear that the presenter understands something that the audience doesn’t). What follows are a few tips for using humor to introduce a presentation:

  1. Make sure you understand what you’re saying. No matter how hard we try, most of us are incapable of hiding the body language that accompanies discomfort with our subject. Be familiar with the topic of your humorous introduction before you share it with an audience.
  2. Listen to your vocal tones. Our voices, like our bodies, can betray our ignorance. Make certain that your tones reflect confidence.
  3. Practice your timing. Getting our timing right can be a challenge for those of us who are of a less humorous nature. Make sure that you’ve practiced your delivery before you go on stage.
  4. Keep it brief. People can tell when someone who isn’t funny is trying to be funny. A short humorous remark at the beginning to relieve tension and relax your audience… if you aren’t a natural comedian, leave it at that.
  5. Let the laughter sink in. Once your audience is laughing, you have their attention… but that doesn’t mean you need to plunge right into the presentation. Enjoy the moment, then plunge right in.

Humor can, of course, play a more significant role in presentation style, but since I’m not much of a comedian, I’ll leave it at that. Go out, give it a try, and see whether it works for you. And whatever your results, be sure to stop back by and share them with our other readers!

 

Social Media: An Invitation to Community February 5, 2015

Filed under: Social Issues,Social Media — acgheen @ 12:00 am
Tags: ,

I admit to loving technology. Anything with an “i” in front of it excites me and social media gets me kind of jazzed. It isn’t that I can’t live without these things (I did for the entirety of my youth and for most of my young adult life), it’s just that they make connecting so much more convenient. They allow me to connect in ways that would otherwise be impossible given the pace of our modern society. (After all, how many of us really have time to have a face-to-face dialogue with most of our friends on a regular basis?)

Recently, however, I found a new use for this technology. For weeks, many of us had watched the final stages of our friend’s journey through life. In the end, it was through his Facebook page that his family notified us of his departure. And it was through his Facebook page that many of us who had never met, had the opportunity to share in the memory of a singularly extraordinary life.

There was something cathartic in the experience as individuals scattered across the country began to post their memories. Pictures, stories, and comments on each other’s reminiscences drew us together. In a sense, the page became a portrait of my friend’s life, a testament to an impact which I’m not sure he realized he’d had while he was still with us. Each “friend” shared the tale of a life changed because of his presence. And we found a sense of community as we grieved his loss together.

For some, this modern form of connecting via social media is a tragedy. It is viewed as a substitute for substantial and meaningful relationships. It is a medium through which anger, hate, and ignorance are too easily channeled. It is a place to express the narcissism and emptiness which are so common in our world today.

For others, however, social media is an invitation to community. It is an opportunity to play a significant role in the lives of others with whom our paths rarely (if ever) cross otherwise. It is a chance to build up, encourage, and support those around us as they share the joys and tragedies which so often go unmentioned in normal social settings.

Which is true? I would argue both. Social media in and of itself is neutral. Like time, money, or an education, it can be used for evil or for good. It can destroy or build up, bring doubt or faith, portray ignorance or knowledge, deepen the sense of isolation or create a connected community. Which of these it does is entirely up to us. And I choose the latter.

 

 
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