Slow learner

This post has a certain self-help tone to it that may not be suitable for everyone. As a matter of fact, critics have called this post: "a coming of age story that tugs at the heart-strings." I warn you because I don't want to read comments about how I should put a skirt on, or about how I might be going through menopause (no offense to any female readers, particularly those who might be going through menopause.) If you don't want to read this post based on my warning, but still want some content today, you're in luck. Just for you, I'm including this picture of Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five, which features two Bud Light/Giordanna/Eddy Merckx jerseys.

Via Prolly

Happy? With that out of the way, let's all start our Enya CDs, get in a happy-baby yoga pose, and start reading....

I hate learning. Not in the typical classroom sense, or the type of learning that you do as part of everyday life in incremental steps. The learning I have trouble with, and have always had trouble with, is the kind that that makes you feel vulnerable while doing it...even if no one is really watching you during the process. It's this type of learning that I've struggled with all my life, and thus often turned my back on. It's hard to explain why I have such apprehensions about learning, and why I view the whole process in such a negative light.

World War III
Life in Bogota as a kid was great. From time to time I remember things that would lead one to think otherwise, but these memories are few and far between. Sure, there was paranoia in the air, but most of it (at least before 1982 or so) was largely unfounded. My cousins, for example, were driven to our school bus stop by my aunt and uncle. Their reason for doing this was not the fear of petty crime, oh no. Their fear was much greater. "When the World War III starts, we'll hear about it on the radio...and you guys will be walking to the bus stop, and you'll never even know about it." It was this kind of stupidity that surrounded me as a child, but due to a healthy upbringing, I was generally able to shrug it off and manage to live a pretty care-free life (at least before Colombia came undone). There was no healthy upbringing, however, that could help me deal with my stubborn aversion to learning.

From the living room window
As a kid, I remember sitting at home as other kids rode their bikes up and down our block in the Floresta neighborhood in Bogota. I didn't know how to ride a bike, and the prospect of learning frightened me to no end. It was during those afternoons, looking out of the living room window as other kids played, that I first felt true anxiety—a feeling I would come to know very well. Because of my apprehension and unwillingness to learn how to ride a bike, my mother had several stern conversations with me as I looked out of our living room window. I tried my best to explain my apprehensions and my insecurities, but I'm sure I did a terrible job. I couldn't explain my emotions, partially because I didn't fully understand them then...and still don't. "How do you think the other kids learned" my mom would ask. I had no answer, nor did I care. Their learning process was of no interest to me, and yet I assumed mine would be of interest to others....hence my fear of being mocked. Delusions of grandeur? Perhaps. Why would other five year-olds from around the block keep tabs on my learning process? They wouldn't. But the thought of not-knowing how to do something, and showing it by learning in public scared me.

Not knowing how to ride a bike on our block was tough. The father of the kid across the street owned a sizable bike shop downtown, and all the neighborhood kids were given great deals in Colombian-made bikes of every shape and color as a result. Alejandro, the son of the bike shop owner, would parade through our block with a different bike every week. I was the odd man out. To be fair, however, I should tell you that Alejandro himself was once the odd man out...when he took a brutal shit in his pants while riding his new pedal-driven car through our street. We could all smell it, we knew what had happened and were certain of it when his mom began to yell for him to come back in the house. Unable to get up from the pedal driven car because of the sizable co-pilot that now resided in his pants, he refused. Suddenly, from the window his mom yelled out one last time: "Damn it Alejandro, I know why you don't want to get up and come in the house. I warned you! I told you not to eat all that yogurt and all those peanuts! It happens every time!" Aside from that one time, I was usually the one left out, not Alejandro. I was the one not riding, the one creepily looking out of the window at the neighborhood kids. The thought of failing at something, however small, became my first fear in life. Sadly, it also went on to be a guiding principal in my life.

Years later, although I don't remember the year, I eventually learned how to ride a bike. The place where I finally learned is extremely indicative of just how self-conscious I was at the time. I learned to ride a bike alone in a tight, enclosed parking garage flanked by the windowless rear-ends of two tall buildings in Bogota's Northern suburbs. The multi-story apartment towers made the tight stretch of concrete dark and private. It was perfect. It was there that I taught myself to ride a bike. This, I later came to realize, was the way in which I would learn most things in life, not necessarily alone...but always in the shadows. In some cases, however, I would never learn at all. This was the case with swimming. Yes, it's true. I don't know how to swim. I don't even know how to tread water, and nearly drowned as a result on a vacation just a few years ago. I could certainly blame my inability to swim on the fact that I grew up in a city with cold weather and no pools. This could certainly be true, but how come my friends and siblings know how to swim?

Like with riding a bike, I sidestepped learning how to swim, but never found a dark, secluded place in which to finally learn on my own. The process of not-learning to swim, in retrospect, was actually more work than learning would have been. It involved months of excuses and work-arounds during the mandatory swimming lessons in school. Eventually, I managed to thwart the learning process (and the shame that would come with it) once again.

Perhaps the last such task that most of us learn as we get older is driving. Driving, as you might expect, would also prove to be a challenge for me. As every kid around me obtained his driver's permit at 16, I consciously decided I would probably never learn to drive. At the time, I lived in a city where choosing not to drive, was the equivalent of choosing never to leave your home again. It was a severe choice, to be sure...but I stuck it out. At least for a couple of years, which at the time felt like an eternity. The week I turned 18, however, I was arrested for stupidly spray painting nearly 60 school buses only blocks away from my family home. Yeah, I know...I was a genius. Upon going to court, I quickly found out that I would have to pay an extraordinary amount money to cover the damages which my artistic expression had brought about. The amount I had to pay in damages was so high, in fact, that the judge felt sorry for me and didn't give me the large mandatory fine. As quickly as the arrest happened, my mother sat me down and told me what would have to happen. I'd have to learn how to drive, buy my brother's old car (Dodge Horizon) and drive myself to a job...any order to pay off the damages. I had no choice. Up against the wall, and with the threat of legal repercussions hanging over my head...I bit my lip (hard) and learned how to drive behind an abandoned Levitz furniture store. My mom taught me, and I begged her to be kind to me during the process. After nearly a month of driving in the Levitz parking lot every other day, my mom finally asked me to try driving on the street. I pleaded with her not to make me do it, and we continued doing loops in the parking lot for another two weeks. I detested every single minute of it, to the point that learning to drive felt like more of a punishment than signing the endless stream of money orders that I sent for the next two years to the school board.

Adulthood, and learning to learn
From the time I was a kid, I deeply admired adults. Their composed demeanor led me to believe that all those who were older than me, were free of the insecurities and anxieties I struggled with. As a result, when asked "what do you want to be when you grow up", all I could answer was "grown up." I acted old prematurely, and always wanted to be old, not just older. As a kid, I was amazed when I saw myself in the mirror and didn't find a reflection of Ernest Borgnine looking back at me. I wanted to feel in control. I wanted to be above the insecurities and the pitfalls of life's endless learning processes. I wanted to be old, or at least older. I would soon find out, however, that adulthood never shelters you from life's problems. To the contrary, due to the rising stakes, as adults we are very much exposed, making the simple task of navigating through life difficult in its own right.

Having said that, age does afford us some luxuries. Learning new things, for example is no longer something we have to do. Don't want to learn how to rock climb? You don't have to. Don't want to learn how to play golf? Then don't. In theory, this degree of freedom should easily constitute my dream environment. I'm now finally free of the one thing that has brought about anxiety in my life for longer than I can remember. I am free. Oddly enough, however, I no longer want this freedom. For whatever reason, I want to learn, and suddenly want to experience the feelings I held at bay my entire life. I don't know why this is, and can't begin to explain it. Much like the day I somehow got the urge to learn to ride a bike, I can't help but see the similarities to the process I go through everyday when I ride my bike now. I'm no longer protected by the tall, windowless apartment buildings in Bogota...but riding alone brings some peace and security. I ride and learn bit by bit. I learn how my body reacts to certain conditions, I learn what I'm capable of, I learn how to dress for bad weather, I learn how to remove a tire quickly, I learn how to ride through traffic, how to climb, how to descend, how to clip in quickly, how to clip out quicker, how and what to eat, what kinds of gloves to wear and what kind of blinky lights won't fly off my bike when I hit a pothole. I know that these are not profound things. They are rather basic actually, but the process and what it's teaching me has been extraordinarily profound. Some of you may be laughing...because, after all, I'm just talking about riding a fucking bike. I mock those who talk about "epic" rides, those who see the world in black and white-style photography. I laugh at those who talk about the "soul" of bikes. And yet, here I am, spewing new-age garbage that would even make a crystal-shop owner blush. But I'm being honest, and this is how I feel. I'm learning to deal with my inhibitions, and thus hope to become comfortable in those moments when I'm vulnerable in life. I'm also learning to ask questions, and thus admitting the very fact that I may not know what I'm doing to others. This has been a huge revelation to me, and one that has been particularly tough. I say this because cycling seems to be replete with heartless pricks who hate the idea of fun, and who are more judgmental than semi-pubescent girls. So, while riding alone, I'm learning to deal with my vulnerabilities, my weaknesses, and finally learning to reach out to others (from time to time). These are all things that other people managed to learn as kids, but I'm only getting around to now. What can I say, I'm a slow learner.

From afar, I may not look like much...I'm just another guy on a bike. And really, that's all I am. But inside, the anxiety that filled me as a kid, is still there. I'm five years old every time I ride my bike. I'm learning, and I love it.

If you're concerned by the tone of this post, don't worry. I have pictures of Frank Schleck riding a tractor that I'll be posting soon. So stay tuned...if not for that picture, stick around for the one of Cadel Evans getting farted on.

Look, I fully realize that this blog is a bit schizophrenic (to say the least) in its voice and tone. But so it goes. Perhaps that's the identity it will have—it's generally schizophrenic nature. Hey, even Slayer had some slower songs.