on swimming and systems.

A thing I think about a lot is the amount of invisible infrastructure needed to support our highly specific lives. Like tonight, I went swimming. It’s a very simple act that requires a highly technical and complicated system of chemistry, physics, math, mechanical engineering, and a huge amount of oil and coal to manufacture and run it all. The bus that takes me there and runs back, on asphalt roads, rubber and tires and a diesel-electric hybrid engine, with focus-grouped patterned seats in an indestructible fabric woven out of plastic. The pH balance of the pool, the chemical composition of the grout holding the tiles together, metal halide lamps, the polyester spandex blend of your suit, the little grippy patches along the pool lip to hold on to while you discuss with your swimming partner the news of the day. Who could invent all this by themselves, given a blank slate and all the materials? Tiny inventions, one by one, building upon each other like coral, and we take it for granted. Just so I can get some uninterrupted thinking time and exhaust myself deliciously before bed.

We grew up swimming in lakes and occasionally dams. Water, mud, sky, plants, fauna. Don a suit (or not) and wade in: algae, leeches, slimy muck engulfing your toes, seaweed groping your legs, and in one case, a rusty nail in a 2×4 that made my vacation rather more exciting than scheduled. I can’t say it’s any more fun, but then I don’t swim for fun anymore, other than the enjoyment of having exercised. (I am telling myself that I enjoy exercising; having utterly resisted all attempts at gamification, my brain is easily fooled by the simple expedient of telling it what it likes or doesn’t like.) So the complicated city swimming uncomplicates outcomes; and the simple country swimming ends up in a trip to the ER on the weekend of your grandparents’ 50th anniversary, an ER that may or may not still exist out Canora way. More examples of infrastructure humming away under the edges of your life, HVAC systems and healthcare scheduling and sterile bandages catching you, propping you up, sending you back out.

on cranking things out.

I’ve been doing a lot of driving lately. I hate it. I also like it. I hate that I like it. You know why I like it? It’s easier. I can lock all my stuff in the trunk. I usually can find a place to park. (Yes, even downtown.) Impulse purchases fit in it. I have air conditioning. Of a sort, the car is 17 years old. The infrastructure is made for it. It’s easy to drive, it’s easy to park in this city.  I don’t have to plan routes going around spots where other people may try to kill me. I’m not really afraid of other motorists hitting me, unless they’re in an oversize vehicle. (Again, it is 17 years old. You want to trade paint, go right ahead, I have nothing to lose.) I can wear what I want and not be sweaty when I get somewhere. I can carry my gym clothes, I can go to the mall, I can go for lunch all in one trip and not have to carry everything with me. Also, I fit in. I am sure most of us can identify times when you’ve stepped even fractionally outside cultural norms and felt an immense weight on the back of your neck. I don’t think I know anyone who bikes regularly in this city who hasn’t been met with a diatribe or defensiveness from ordinary drivers.

I hate it. Hot car smell is the worst. I have to go back and move it whenever I meet someone there and we want to go to a second location. It costs a lot of money to maintain. I feel like a lump when I get home, a road-raged lump who hasn’t stretched their legs. You know how you get, when you are avoiding doing a thing that you must do, and you get irritable and bitey and mutinous and you Do Not Want To Do It but at the same time you know you’ll feel better once you’ve done it? (I was brought up with a strong Protestant ethic which wars continually with my strong procrastination ethic.) Anyway, this is me, driving. I hate that it’s easy and I hate that I’m doing a lot of it. If you want to ask me why I’m killing the planet etc. etc. and voice out loud the thousands of criticisms I am already replaying on a loop in my head, please do so on Twitter so I can tell you publicly it’s for health reasons, health reasons that are sadly aggravated by cycling at this juncture.

However. I have lived in this city since 2002. In that time my transportation profile has morphed wildly. Mode choice is not inevitable; it is not fate; and it is subject to change. There were several cycling summers where we used the car maybe once a week between April and October (the year we got the cargo bike was especially gratifying.) I had two years where I roller-bladed almost everywhere, and in my spare time between classes. In first year university I didn’t start taking the bus until well into my first year here, my previous experiences with buses being the large yellow rural kind that have only one route.

I know enough about bikes now to intimidate some people, but I can assure you I didn’t express the faintest interest in getting to know bicycles from 2002 to about 2008. I had an old, entirely too large mountain bike that I oiled with chainsaw oil and locked up with a $15 cable lock. I rode it on the sidewalk with grocery bags hanging off the handlebars, despite having a very good rear rack. I did this for six years! Six years. I had other priorities (boys, mostly, and Smirnoff Ice, although if my parents are reading this, school.)

People would ask me how I biked to work every day. It was quite easy, I didn’t decide every morning. When I wake up and start to negotiate with myself things like how I am going to work, or even if  I am going to work, I have already lost. I get up and I go. This is how I started biking to work regularly. I missed the bus and was late. So I got on my bike and went. Then I just kept doing it. This also applies to things like going to the gym or flossing my teeth. I negotiate, and all is lost. I skipped an awful lot of class in university (hi Mom) by not realizing this about myself. Deciding every time whether I have to do a routine thing exhausts my willpower. So I make it non-negotiable, which frees up decision-making bandwidth for whether I should get sour jujubes or peanut M&M’s.

I really would like to live to see the day where you can just bike somewhere here and nobody comments on it. Sometimes when I cycle or take the bus to meet someone I’ll gloss politely over the fact of how I got there, because I am tired of the pessimistic bromides. In the end it doesn’t really matter what I am using, I am just a person trying to get somewhere. In a reasonably non-sweaty fashion.