Style & Heart & Honesty

Janette Sadik-Kahn by Tanya Snyder courtesy of DCStreetsblog

Janette Sadik-Kahn by Tanya Snyder courtesy of DCStreetsblog

One of our big goals here at Pedal Love is to become great storytellers because we feel it's key to truly engaging our audience. We also hope it will inspire you to share what a bike means to you with us, and share the Pedal Love message and the focus of Women on Bikes California with your family and friends to help spread the word.

So yes style (of course!)  has been on my mind as I've pondered what to write for this first themed blog focused on "What My Bike Means to Me," but also courage. For me great non fiction storytellers get to the heart of their subject matter through honesty, and to be truly honest takes courage, courage to face situations within society and within ourselves that others have shied away from. Because it's only by facing these situations squarely can we ever hope to possibly begin to heal them.

This weekend I watched the brand new TED talk video of Janette Sadik-Kahn on "New York Streets? Not so Mean Anymore" which I highly recommend.  Over the past six years, as the the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, she has been an elegant, funny, candid and always on message spokesperson for the recent evolution of New York's streets that were once so very mean, and so very car focused, into places where everyone is far more welcome - whether you're walking, taking transit, riding a bike and yes even driving a car.

Mayor Bloomberg, and Janette have not flinched in the face of criticism, but have said patiently time and again - let's see if this works, the streets are for everyone and we want them to be calmer, safer and more attractive places to be.  And they now are - and Janette has the numbers to prove it. They are also more financially successful for the local merchants, which is a piece of the street calming story that really needs more attention.

Janette is such a beautiful example of how being great at storyteller also takes style and artistry to be able to hone your story down to its most captivating essence. How you craft your language to have the most impact and appeal, and then if you are called on to deliver this story live in interviews or talks, how to  speak your message clearly and with integrity so that it remains consistent and appealing time and again.

If we are going to become a state where bikes are truly welcome as a form of transportation we need a fleet of spokeswomen as well prepared as Janette - and that is one of our big goals for the Women on Bikes California initiative. We're now working on a concept for a series of trainings focused on new media and leadership skills for public speaking, writing, being interviewed and more. Our very clever and always gracious "License to Ride" blog columnist Maria Sipin has even come up with a great name for the trainings "Active Living Plugged In." Stay tuned for more on these soon.

So yes, it takes courage to face an ill in society, but it takes perhaps even more courage to face an illness or fearful issue within oneself and share about that with the same honesty - but we very much need this kind of personal journey stories if we want to get more people out on bikes. Those who are already comfortable riding a bike are already out there - now we need to engage those who long to ride, but need some help taking the next steps.

That's why I'm so very proud of our newest creative team Charis Hill who gave us the idea of all writing on the theme of "What My Bike Means to Me" and then went on to write such a fresh, fiercely honest piece for her new "Movement is Crucial" blog column. At 26 she is dealing with a rare (and for me unpronounceable) arthritis type of auto-immune disorder that is slowly and painfully trying to fuse her spine along with creating other very painful ills.  I'm saying trying because I refuse to believe that Charis isn't going to find a way to keep this from fully happening. If anyone can it will be this dynamic young woman.

Charis's unflinchingly honest approach to her first piece for us gave me a shot in the arm of what I like to call "A Permission Slip from God." That moment when something someone else does gives you an "aha" moment and you realize it's okay to be more of who you are, and do what you long to do. 

That is what my bike has meant to me over the past four years, a permission slip to blossom into my own potential. It has been a time full of these kinds of "aha" moments as I've been inspired to find a way to share the concept of incorporating a bike into ones daily life in as beautifully and engagingly as I can image, and this has opened up whole new worlds for me not only here locally in Long Beach, but on a regional, state and national level.

And I'm so excited we're here now taking the next steps. But it hasn't been easy.

If  you have been a reader of our previous website and project Women on Bikes SoCal you know that there has been a several month delay in getting this website up. I too deal with an illness and in my case it's chronic tension headaches and migraines (which are now considered a neurological disorder). This summer and fall have been very challenging as I've tried different approaches to reducing the amount of medication I take daily to deal with the pain, because the very medication that helps with daily pain also causes more frequent headaches and migraines that can last up to 72 hours. 

My first goal, back in June, was to stop taking ibuprofen daily. I take 200 mg. three times a day (much less than I used to, but still it's daily use). I had read that one can stop rebound pain on ibuprofen by going cold turkey without it for one week. I've been on it for a long long time, and feared it would take longer for me to see results, but I decided to give it a try. I made it almost two weeks (alas with reduction and rather an increase in pain) and then fatigue at the level I haven't dealt with in a decade reared its head followed by one of the longest, head in the toilet frequently, worst migraines I can remember.

I tried another round to the same results. It took weeks for the fatigue to fade back to what I'm used to handling. Next I tried stopping taking the muscle relaxant Flexeril - daily and much of the same thing happened.

And on top of all of this came pain in one breast (which I thought was probably just stress related but needed a mammogram and then an ultrasound to make sure - I'm still waiting on the final word) and the dreaded hotflashes of menopause (which run through my body like an electric shock) and are at their worst the more stressed I feel.

Fun! Not!

Finally I faced the reality that I am only going to make progress getting better the way I have since the migraines first became an almost daily thing 14 years ago - by taking very small baby steps. By inching my way along to healing. So I cut the Flexeril in half, and then after about a month, in quarters. And that's where I'm at today. I'm feeling better, moving slowly but steadily, and I'm back to feeling confident progress can be made. In everything.

While I was going through all of this I was both being the Summit Coordinator for the California by Bike summit and trying to put together this new Pedal Love website and the launch of the new Women on Bikes California initiative. Amazing things were happening, such as the beautiful images Lisa Anderson was getting of our creative team members, and a video shoot with Allan Crawford and Lisa Anderson and starring Kellie Morris so that we can compile our first "Pedal Love" video.

But the challenges continued...for every wonderful step forward there were steps back, like my computer crashing with a terrible malware virus. It took over a week to fix and it's still not back to where it was. And these steps backwards would bring up fear that I was being crazy in my vision for Pedal Love and especially for the Women on Bikes California initiative. Who am I, I'd think, to even imagine I have the energy and skills to help make this happen?

Happily the truth is that I can't do it all alone. I am getting better and better at asking for help. From the very get go Women on Bikes SoCal attracted such wonderful people to the cause, and this new website and initiative continue to do so. I am humbled and grateful by the talent and generosity of who is showing up and I can't wait for all of them to share their stories with you.  And for you to share your story with us.

So what does your bike mean to you? Every time I take my bike out for a spin I'm filled with the same joy of being self propelled that I had as a child. How about you? And I feel so fortunate that it's a healthy way to travel, a way that helps build and maintain my strength even as I deal with other health challenges, that keeps me so well connected to my neighborhood and my city.

Read Melissa's "Bike Minded Market Watch" blog archive.