The Velodrome (My New Spiritual Home)

Two dernys in the sunToday, while the Christian world spends their time in quiet contemplation, recognizing the events that lead up to their Saviour’s passing (and resurrection), there was a different kind of gathering taking place in South London, at a not too dissimilar spiritual realm, the Herne Hill Velodrome. For if sport was ever a reflection of someone’s beliefs then cycling ranks right up there with the likes of football, cricket and rugby.

This was my first visit to the only remaining facility still in use when the Olympics last visited London in 1948. And at 64 years of age, the velodrome still knows how to draw a crowd.

Having undergone a massive refurbishment, the track itself having been re-sealed, the public interest in track (and cycling as a whole in the UK) has noticeably increased as we head towards London 2012. Thinking that the facility very nearly went the way of the dodo was a real threat for the surrounding community in 2011. But a campaign called, Save the Herne Hill Velodrome brought it back into working order (and is in need of continual support). It only takes the purchase of smart cycling cap to show you care!

With the Good Friday Meet already underway, I arrived at around 1pm on my bike, having cycled through London from Paddington Station – just in time for the second-half of the day’s events. I love cycling through the streets of the big city, and while you have to have your wits about you at all times, the experience of riding around Hyde Park and Marble Arch on a bright, spring day is something not to be passed up. Consider what you’re missing when you head below ground to take the subway next time – there’s quite a lot to be seen!

The sight that greeted me as I walked through the archways had me feel at home in a heartbeat. Bikes, of all shapes and sizes, fixies, single-speeds and geared varieties, were all around me (I even saw Ned Boulting, struggling unlock his kid’s bike, at the end of the day!) And for good reason too because finding a place to lock up was a challenge. But as one spectator said while helping me hold my own bike to the railing above me, “there’s little risk of anything getting knicked here today,” I knew I had arrived!

Track cyclists in a bunch Now I’m not too familiar with the variety and format of many of the races, but I am learning the difference between such events like the ‘Devil takes the Hindmost’, the Scratch races and the Kierin. The Sprint events are my favourite, and so are the Devil endurance runs because each take as much brains to ride as they do physical strength.

Neovite Super Kierin Race WinnerThe meet itself was a smoothly run-affair, the commentary was spot on and the atmosphere was fantastic. With jumble sales of vintage tops and old race programmes, DVDs and books to browse through you could easily forget that there was racing to watch! But what’s even better than that is when you can spend it in the sun with friends and fellow gear-heads.

Now that’s a great #30DaysofBiking Day!

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Grind it out (#30daysofbiking)

It’s no secret that I am “mad for bikes”. As this blog grows and develops (aiming for eventual world domination) cycling will factor increasingly more into my posts.

I can’t quite pinpoint the time or place cycling first took hold of me when I was little, growing up on the Prairies of Canada, but it definitely took hold of me for good (again) two (coming up three) summers ago. It was something like a re-awakening. Besides, I had always wondered why on Earth I rode a heavy mountain bike on the straight, deadpan flat roads in the Prairies…

In 2010, I had completed a long-distance walk from London-to-Oxford, with friends, navigating the route by following the River Thames. Walking against the flow of the current felt quite apt, seeing as I trained and suffered, and got myself into the best shape I have ever been in (in recent memory), so I was grateful to be going against the flow. I blogged along the route (with the help of my iPhone) , if you’re interested. My fellow Publishing Men Together comrades and I smashed our fundraising target for a book charity that helped support literacy skills in young boys. It was after this event I bought my very first road bike.

A 2010 Specialized Allez Elite, colour red…

It was a thing of beauty, moved quick, felt light and had me feeling more and more confident in myself the more I rode the 15-miles between my workplace and home. As my time on the saddle increased and the miles in my legs grew, the bike and I became inseparable. I even gave it a nick name – The Big Red Express, and would refer to it constantly on Twitter. It still serves me well, albeit it in a slightly different form (after I got knocked by a car last Fall), but Big Red still remains and you would be hard pressed to find me without it in some way.

Which leads me nicely into the current challenge I’ve taken on: 30 Days of Biking Challenge.

Bike somewhere every day for 30 days—around the block, 20 miles to work, whatever suits you—then share your adventures online…

It’s pretty straight-forward, spend every day for the month of April, ride your bike. It doesn’t matter for how long or to where, just get out and ride!!! Cycling is beautiful in its simplicity and this challenge, created by Patrick Stephenson and Zachariah Schaap takes that mantra and lives it to the fullest extent possible.

So far, so good 3 days in. Here’s brief recap of what my first three days of my challenge looked like

Day 1 – A Local Time Trail

I couldn’t believe my luck or the weather we had this past Sunday. Having found out about a local TT taking placing and knowing a fellow member of my club was taking part, I couldn’t just sit idle and not watch. I’ve not done a TT before, but they look excruciating, and as any rider (pro or amateur) knows when it’s just you against the clock, you will dig deep and dig hard.

With a prompt start at 9am, the riders left in 1-minute intervals racing the “Long Hanborough Hilly“. 23.7 miles in total, and three laps of the circuit. With 21 riders, of all shapes and sizes I considered doing it myself but not having dressed appropriately, I decided to ride the course backwards, picking out good spots to watch the riders bend around the curves and “grind it out” up the hillsides. It certainly gave me the taste for TTs in the future, so with the idea of shedding more weight, a new bike (or two…a time trial bike would be great) and improved technique I may just be on the starting line by the end of this season!

What ended up did taking place was a lot of shouting and cheering on my part, at times I was the only spectator because at 9am in the morning, with a chilly start to boot, you won’t find many spectators (save the volunteer Marshalls) standing on the roadside. But each rider had a smile on their face as they zipped by. If that isn’t a masking of pain, I don’t know what is, but with a reverse circuit under my belt and a few pictures snapped that brought Day 1 to a close.

Zappi cyclist climbing up White Hill

 

Rider bends into Coombe Corner

Day 2 – Not your average ride

Yesterday (Monday) was a dress-up day on my bike instead of the usual dressing into my regular cycling kit. I still managed to strap on my cycling shoes, but because I had a pretty important meeting to keep I wanted to be ready as best I could (and not arrive to the meeting tired and sweaty). Stuffing my trousers into my socks I made quite the sight as I cycled the 3.5mi to my local train station to catch my train into the city so that I could make my appointment. Again, it doesn’t matter the distance you covered, or what you wear, so long as you are on your bike it’s a win for you. A win for the planted and just maybe someone else will decide cycling is for them after seeing such a ridiculous sight.

Cycling shoes, smart suit and purple socks

Day 3 – Bike by Bus

Today (Tuesday), I had to collect Big Red Express after a late night in Oxford watching a local theatre company’s production of The Odyssey. In an effort to minimize the weight of my packed bag, I zipped up and pulled on the bib shorts and rode the bus to the train to collect my bike. Funny looks galore, which are always entertaining. I love to wonder how people may be thinking of me dressed up in my garb, or potentially judging me for doing so. It’s entertaining because I don’t really care and like to have fun with it at all costs.

The way I see it, I’ll do whatever I can to get on my bike and ride. Stay tuned for further updates over the next month, I can’t promise one a day, but I’ll do my best!

Meanwhile, as Luka Bloom says “get up on yer’ bike (and pedal on!)

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Turning up the volume (on introversion)

I got to spend an hour today pretending I was at a TED conference. In reality, it was the final few days of the Oxford Literary Festival, but more importantly I got to listen (and meet) perhaps one of my newest favourite TED speakers. Next to Brené Brown.

Susan Cain makes a connection that lets my heart sing and my soul shake. Together these two woman touch on topics that I’ve started to find unique and fascinating. Not only within myself, but society at large. They are topics that don’t get talked about all that much, if at all; and in a way touching on the parts of ourselves that we only whisper about and try our best to ignore, but these are conversations we need to have with ourselves and with each other.

Shame, vulnerability and introversion, I believe, when acknowledged can help us all lead more fully-involved, connected and authentic lives. So while the mute button still feels like it is on, the volume ought to be turned up a bit more; and for me personally that is about to end.

I consider myself a closet introvert – who wouldn’t? You’re kind of in the closet already…but if you’re like me, you may have felt a certain way (or taught yourself to get by, by not fully embracing your introvert) when in a room full of people. It’s taken me most of my life to understand that I like solitude. I like doing things by myself, in my own company. It doesn’t really matter what: going to the movies; listening to live music; attending public speaking engagements; or my biggest passion – cycling. But equally I like doing these same activities with friends as well.

So I wanted to write about this “condition” I have. In fact, I know I’m not alone because according to the talk Susan Cain made at this year’s TED conference, one-third to a half of today’s population share this with me.

Society has got us in a catch-22. It shows us that the loudest people in the room, are the one’s that typically get heard the most. But are they the ideas that need to be heard? Would we be in “this mess” (e.g., global financial crisis, unemployment, cuts to public services, etc.) if those leading from the front had been more introverted from the start?

Every aspect of society that we know has been impacted by the “he (or she) who shouts loudest gets heard”, that’s nothing new. But Susan Cain is challenging that precept, with this manifesto, inviting us to join the Quiet Revolution. What are we not allowing to progress if our children, our colleagues, even our leaders in business and politics are told they must be extroverts? Have we disconnected ourselves from solitude, and if so can we re-embrace it?

In my experience “this shouting” lessens the contribution I feel I can make. There have been times in my life where I believed I had something to contribute (an idea, an insight, whatever), but I haven’t done so because someone else was speaking louder than me. My parents always told me that it was rude to interrupt, so while I felt what I had to say may have added value, I was never confident enough  to speak up and I let the moment pass. That’s not to say that I’m not a team player, I feel I am, but the continued need for collaboration and “group think” can get in the way of the time that might be better spent in independent thought. One’s desire to be alone, to have solitude, in a world full of extroverts needs to be recognized. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

A few takeaways Cain made today (amongst many) really resonated with me and my own work:

  1. A sense of community comes later, only after the passion/activity has been found.
  2. The response to stimulation, how it occurs for different people and why there is an extrovert ideal between cultures.
  3. You don’t suspect the introverts around you.

I’m really looking forward to diving into these more with my coach Jeffrey and to begin reading Cain’s book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”  in detail.

Finally and after getting my copy signed by Cain, I got to ask her further about the idea of dedicated practices, through an introvert’s lens and the possibility of richer integration. The insight she offered me, as I knelt down beside her was that it is one of managed practice, being sure not to take on too much at once. That really clicked with me, because in my own seeking I’ve tried a number of different techniques, but I can serve myself (and my community around me) better once I discover what practices work best for me.

It may only be one, and it may be a few, and I’m committed to finding that out…

Signed Title Page of Quiet

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For the city I used to live in (Oxford)

A curious thing happened yesterday, it wasn’t planned nor expected, which I typically like, but all the same, I found myself speaking up for a city I no longer live in.

When I first came to England five years ago, I had no plan in mind (much less an idea of where I would settle), but Oxford turned out to be the place where I landed. Situated in the central-south-east of the country, this city grew to be my home – but not without its share of (continued) growth. Moving house four times, spending an average of a year-and-a-half (sometimes less) in several different areas of the city, I’ve come to appreciate Oxford’s offerings, the variety of people I’ve met and the activities I get to do within it.

I notice that wherever I am, whatever I do, and who I get to know to along the way, I am loyal to the city, cause or people I surround myself with for that particular amount of time. Oxford happens to be one of those places. As well-known as it is for its beautiful buildings, winding rivers , legendary dreaming spires, pristine college quads (and the awesome amount of privilege and power the university gives and holds), rarely do visitors see the parts of the city that lie outside of what I’ll call the “tourist zone”.

These are the areas where the real heart of the city exist, you might think the heart is typically at the centre of whatever body it is part of, but outside the bubble that is the university and its presence in the centre of the city, there is much, I believe that exists outside the centre than within. And it’s taken my moving away from the city to get clear on that. I’m not that far away at all these days, only 10 miles to the west of Oxford, and I still visit it often, but I actively create intentions for what I want from my time while there, because eventually I have to get home to my new community, tucked quietly away in the Cotswolds.

I want to share a recent conversation I got involved in online (that I hope my friend won’t mind, and I’ve taken the step of removing the names), but our recent meet-up, on a Saturday afternoon prompted my comment on his Facebook page:

With all that said and the varying experiences Oxford holds for a great number of people, the city has grown on me, or I have grown to be at peace with it. Where I once didn’t really have much feeling towards it, I now see it for what it is (and always has been). A community.

And where people get that feeling varies greatly and it matters greatly to me . I don’t have any plans to scurry away from Oxford (or England) for that matter, but I urge anyone who visits the city to venture beyond the open-top bus tours, colleges and museums. Walk down Cowley Road, the student-centric corridor, but where the flavours, language and smells of many ethnic cultures collide; or travel up the hill to the local shops in Headington with its narrow passages off the London Road and quiet pubs that make you feel as much a part of the countryside, as they do a bustling city; and Iffley Village with its quick access to the riverside.

These are all areas I’ve lived in one time or another, and each part contains a little bit of my own story for me.

What might they hold for you?

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E-rotica in Fiction (and Encyclopædias? )

It’s the end of print as we know it!

Where have I heard that before? Well, in too many places (book conferences, pubs or otherwise) to actually care anymore, I’m afraid…print isn’t actually going to die, it’s the mutation and occupancy of both the physical and the digital that I’m more interested about.

So if you haven’t heard the news, the Encyclopædia Britannica is ceasing its almost ageless print run. All 32 volumes are now available online via a subscription database. A pretty handy business model if your primary market are schools and academic libraries, and one increasingly being used in STM (Scientific, Technical, Medical) publishing.

But what does this have to do with e-books and erotic fiction?

Well, “e-rotica” just happens to be one of the fastest growing segments of the e-book business, and if it’s all down to the fact that you can read it comfortably on your e-reader without anyone knowing then more power to you (and whatever else happens to float your boat). If you’re a publisher, it’s a market worth capitalising on (if you can do it right). Outside of the stable of Mills & Boon, Harlequin Romance Novels and Black Lace, HarperCollins now appear to be getting into bed (pardon the pun) with an e-only erotic fiction list, called Mischief Books.

According to the Wall Street Journal (via the QuillBlog), Editorial Director, Adam Nevill said the e-books will offer all the “private pleasures with a hand-held device.” I don’t think it’s that hard to think of other hand-held devices that may lend themselves to the seeking of pleasure, but I admire his association!

But all this leaves me wondering and curious to know what the real motivations are behind reading sexed-up, lusty literature versus, say, watching pornography. Are there any distinctions to be made there? Does it only really have to be about the narrative (in writing as opposed to the lack of dialogue (and acting) in videos)? And could “reading porn” be just as damaging to women as “watching porn” is for men?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but if it gets you thinking, please let me know. I only have my experiences of reading and watching pornography, both of which are nil and “not for a very long time” respectively.

However, the conversation over at the Good Men Project is always one worth following…it’s not my intention on this blog to raise these sorts of issues – I only saw a potential correlation worth flagging.

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Doing it electronically (reading that is)

I’m going to jump in feet first here and start talking about what I see as a potential career path for me. Currently I work in publishing, academic books to be precise, as a Commissioning Editor here in the UK (or Acquisitions Editor for my US friends). I tend to like the former and I also like my job, the freedom I have with it and the relationships I get to co-create with my authors everyday. Realistically it’s all e-mail based, of which there are hundreds of conversations on-the-go, but there are those moments when picking up the phone, scheduling a Skype call, or meeting up for a (very rare) coffee is in order. I get to listen to people’s ideas, help see how they might fit my company’s list, champion them at Editorial Review Meetings, and hopefully, contract their book. At the end of the day that is what gives me that all mighty tick in the “job satisfaction” box.

But I want more…

Even saying that sounds risky, because I have to admit that doing what I do now, while interesting as it is,  isn’t how I see my career developing. And that got nailed home for me in a conversation I had with a more senior figure in my workplace recently, he said (and I paraphrase only slightly):

Once you get on the commissioning track, you’re on it. Publishers build companies around good Commissioning Editors.

Do you have any idea how much that scares me? It’s making me take a good hard look at where I see my career in publishing going, and the more I look, the more I see the future (and even the present) is in the digital. Kind of what this blog is aiming to be about, and slowly that is coming together.

I used not to be an avid reader, still don’t really consider myself one today, however when I got my first e-reader, the Kobo, I was hooked. It flicked a switch inside me. This ability to access any book you could think of (and provided it was available in your territory – more on that later, I’m sure) you could download it direct to your device and off you went. E-books re-ignited my love for reading and learning – I kid you not. So that is why I want to work not only in publishing, but digital publishing to be precise. To see how publishing is becoming more digital, or vice-versa, I recommend this piece, published on the Chronicle of Higher Education – a profile of Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg.

If I can have that kind of re-awakening towards reading, I want to help other people have that too!

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Getting clear (or so it would seem)

This weekend was truly a glorious, sun-filled weekend here in the south of England. It took me outdoors on both days, first a 45-mile bike ride around Oxfordshire, and today a 10-mile tramp over the footpaths dotted about the Cotswolds. I had some homework given to me by Jeffrey after our call on Thursday, which the walk gave me ample time to listen to.

It included listening to a podcast of a show I’m already very familiar with, and it was good to check back in with The New Man Podcast again, hosted by Tripp Lanier. Episode 80 with Reuvain Bacal: How to handle a breakup or loss.

After listening, I immediately sat down to free-write how it felt for me, whatever came up and from my call with Jeffrey. There are memories of an old, very serious (to me) relationship that still live with me. And this is what came out:

I sit beneath a big tree, cross-legged, breathing in what I’m feeling as I hike around the Cotswolds near my home. Then it hits me. A dull, yet sharp twinge in my lower back –  I get it all the time when I’m sat on the ground, unaided, with nothing to prop me up. No support. Support is what I had in my OLD relationship with my first-serious girlfriend, a few years back. And it’s not there any more and I’ve based each subsequent relationship on that, which is not very healthy. How does that make me feel?

*         *          *

Sad. Scared. Lonely and wishing for her to be back in my life in some way both intimately and in friendship. But what for? What possible reason could I want, no, need her back in my life? Because with her I felt safe in being me and who I was (or who I was trying to be for her at the time).

I spot two large raptors, flying high overhead in the clear Sunday afternoon sky, riding the thermals, higher and higher together. At this moment that symbolises the togetherness I seek; I know companionship is what I want in my life. But is it killing me being alone at this time in my life? Being a single man? No. Not. At. All.

My ex (going on three years now) and those memories still linger because she accepted me for who I was when we first met. All 250-plus pounds of me, a relative stranger in this new UK-land and  culture that surrounded me. She made me feel seen, wanted and appreciated. Show me someone who doesn’t want that kind of connection, and I’ll show you someone screaming to be heard.

I’m not that way any more now: 30 pounds lighter, a broken smoking-habit that only numbed me to the riches of this world, and now cycling like a man possessed.  This is who I am! I set targets, cracked many goals, and I am loving the ride and being in touch with my emotions this way, and in some way I imagine I’d be alone even in her company as I feel now; it’s a way I could never be with her. Out of the fear that she would leave me. Well, she left me and no matter how much I want to show her how I’ve changed, I can’t.

I’m noticing that a part of me really wants to show her how far I’ve come, in a spiteful way, rubbing her nose into it just a little. That sounds horrible, and it isn’t who I am day-to-day, but that feeling is there and even when I had the chance once before, I couldn’t even hold it together long enough to say so. I was nowhere near as secure in myself (and growing) as I write this then when I last saw her. I collapsed into a leg-shaky, arm-twitchy fool of a man, unable to hold my own space because of the effect seeing her had on me. That’s why I feel I need a second chance, I think I deserve it…but the only way you can escape the past, is by jumping the fence and leaving it behind.

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I’m new here (kind of)

Not long ago (yesterday, actually), a friend reminded me while sipping soup inside St Pancras Station that I don’t need a specific angle for this new blog I’ve gone and created. Its name, I thought, meant it would need to have an agenda for topics, news and other related bits-and-bobs. It might take a look at the increasing impact the digital world has in our real lives, or it *could* have been a space for me to cover the digital issues my profession (book publishing), but instead I’m just going to write what comes up naturally and let the rest sort itself out.

Welcome to Digitize We Must!

Tonight, I began a relationship. A relationship with a life coach I’ve hired for the next two months.

Why have I hired a life coach? I’ve hired a coach because I was curious about what this kind of relationship could offer me and my life as I am living it now. Are there certain aspects of my life that I feel need to be looked at? Of course. Don’t we all have things we want to look at more closely, but might be too afraid to do so, or keep running the same old patterns that never allow us to start in the first place? I think so.

There are four areas I want to look at: deepening relationships and connections with my family, friends and lovers (new and old); my personal fitness and nutrition; my career; and noticing old habits and behaviours that no longer serve me and getting shot of them.

I’ve been on a personal growth/self-development “kick” now for about 18 months. It’s hard to explain, which is what I hope this space will allow me to, but quite frankly I can’t get enough of it! It hasn’t cost me a whole lot of money either. A few books here, a training course or two there, and at the heart of it new connections with friends on similar (but equally different paths). Along the way I’ve discovered more about who I am, why that matters, and what I can try and offer the world. It’s the most amount of time I have ever spent trying to figure this stuff out for a very long time. More importantly, I’ve been noticing that I’ve gone as far as I could go on my own. This is why I’ve hired a coach.

I had my first call with Jeffrey tonight, a 90 minute, one-to-one call (save for a wonky Skype connection), where we set out to look at the things that were most important for me right now. Keep in mind this was only the second time we’ve actually spoken to one another face-to-face.

So far I’m feeling pretty excited and quite charged up about the possibilities Jeffrey and I will explore together for me and my life. Starting the call eager and ending the call feeling clearer was a good way to start. I’m sure it could have been a lot more difficult or I could’ve felt like it was a waste of money – not so.

I think over the coming weeks I’ll begin to write more freely about what we discussed, but for now if I’m going to keep my intention around my current fitness plan, based on the Strength for Life, by Shawn Phillips (note to self: write up a review for that), then I best sign off for now.

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