depression, coffee, and an adrenaline rush

Years ago, a comment on my blog said something about how my writing had become more introspective since moving back to Tokyo. My mental response had been – I still remember it now – that when you’re in a shitty situation, you realize the things that matter most to you. 

I shouldn’t blame Tokyo, per se, for my lack of happiness. It’s more the combination of an inclination towards sometimes severe depression and the social ostracization of being different. The bike helped tremendously, until I got chewed out too many times at a bike shop for “being stupid.” I remember standing in the middle of a Tokyo street, crying so hard I could barely breathe, sending smoke signals in the form of desperate emails to two best friends. The bullying, the harshness of being different, of being too independent or foreign, the hints that maybe I should change who I am…it all sucked. A lot.


The bike kept me sane for a while, but this past winter, I hit a new kind of low. The kind that keeps you indoors and off the bike and barely above “slightly functional.” Save for those two short visits from Adam, I couldn’t remember how to smile.

I never believed that clinical depression was something to be proud of, because though the moments are sometimes too rare, I like to be happy. That’s the other side of it; when you can get your head above water for a bit, depression helps you realize what really makes you happy. It’s makes you a little braver, too, to tell the people you care about that you love them and that they make you happy. It encourages putting a song on repeat all day – no matter how pop-y – and to paint with food, if that’s what it takes to keep the monsters at bay. If dancing around my apartment to British boy bands, classic punk rock, and American indie rock between painting portraits of pro cyclists gets me out of bed, then that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Bikes still feed my soul, but these past few months, I remembered something else. When too many people are shitty to me and I start to break a little bit inside, I can always use music to patch it up until I’m good to go.

I believe there’s very little a good bike ride and a bass line can’t fix. When I need a second wind, good coffee and punk rock have always delivered. So let’s start there.

Subjects: Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, Joe Strummer of The Clash, and Tim Armstrong of Rancid

Materials used: coffee grounds


- The fact that Johnny Rotten's face isn't centered on that plate has been triggering my OCD like woah. 

- The smell of coffee really tested my gag reflex for a week after I did these. 

[More food art portraits can be found here and here.]

the happiness triage

"A cut, color and a...perm," I wretched out that last word through almost-clenched teeth a week before I flew out to New York. A part of me internally wept at the cost involved in getting my hair to look somewhat presentable, and the other side heaved a sigh pregnant with relief. After a move that involved buying too much furniture and a trip to Paris, saving money had turned into a favorite sport. The first thing to go was non-shitty coffee. After that, it was clothes, my hair, and waxing appointments. I couldn't decide whether to prioritize paying my coach over food expenses, but I knew that worn down chain - the one I've been meaning to replace since, um, June - would probably survive a few more weeks until I made it stateside. It just meant that I had to shift up twice in the back, then down once to actually shift up a gear. But like no big deal, right?

Because by then it was almost a game: to see how long I would last before I went completely insane and either shaved my entire head or went on a shopping spree for stuff I didn't want. I vented my frustration by tweezing my eyebrows a lot, even if that didn't change my messy hair, the boring, dated wardrobe, or the races I couldn't afford. I started to get really into it, nesting down in my self-created patheticness like a homeless junkie.
"But if I really loved racing, I should be willing to go broke for it, right?" I asked a good friend, while high on self-imposed poverty.
"No, I think that's called 'obsession,'" she said bluntly.
In that brief moment of clarity, I called my hair stylist. The hair triage I'd requested ironically cost less than a race [entry fee, transportation, lodging] would have, and less than what standard tune-ups go for, here. It felt like cheating. I still made an appointment to get waxed the next day.

And you know what? It hurt [my wallet], but it felt really fucking good. I even went so far as to mentally pat myself on the back for "totally pampering myself."
Less than a week later, I walked into my favorite bike shop in New York City to see my bike in a familiar stand, the bar tape rewrapped, wheels trued, front derailleur cable trimmed [I have embarrassingly large calves], chain replaced, cassette cleaned, frame polished, and that gross and yellow-ed chain stay sticker peeled off [there's a new, clear one on there now]. It was only then that I stupidly realized that I hadn't been pampering myself at all. I'd taken care of basic, personal hygiene; apparently something I'd unlearned how to do for both myself - and more importantly - my bike.

The most embarrassing part isn't due so much to how my bike now hums and purrs, instead of creaking and rasping. Or knowing that I don't have to do some DJ turntablism on my gears to get them to actually shift. Or how my frame is no longer covered in several layers of self-pity and misery. It's embarrassing because I finally realized how all those people on Hoarders slowly slide down the spiral towards a house filled with garbage, dead cats, and old bills. "I...I really can't let this one go," they always say, caught in that weird space between weeping hysterically and full-on panic, to the professional organizer/psychologist, while clutching a phone bill addressed to a family member from 1975. And that was totally me.
That might be a slight exaggeration, but the point is that focusing on saving as much as money as I could possibly squeeze out of my salary to enable my riding pretty much blew up in my face. In like, the worst, most humiliating, bukkake-esque way possible.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at the irony of how letting yourself go tends to bleed into the things you love, even if you're ignoring yourself in an attempt to keep them above the water line of flooding desperation. It still caught me by surprise, in part because I believed that it would work out. Unless we're talking about ex-boyfriends or frenemies, I don't actually believe that my unhappiness is a prerequisite for others to be happy. Sometimes, though, deferring the option of happiness appeared to be the lingering status quo. So instead of fighting it, I squeezed it to me. I wasn't just kind of dealing with a tight budget; I actively made myself miserable, as if I could use that to build up credit towards future happiness. And in clinging to that idea, I failed to realize what it was doing to the very thing I was trying to save.
The bike - clean, still pristine - and I are back in Tokyo. As odd as it might sound, it's always a struggle to adjust back to a place others would call my "home." The little things, though, like my bar tape, the derailleur cable that won't chew up my leg warmers, a new chain, are reminders that I really should let myself be happy. At least, you know, once in a while. That doesn't mean I won't wait a few weeks longer than I should to get my hair cut, everything waxed, or my chain replaced. It means that I'll try, as much as I'd feel guilty about it, to not settle [too, too much] for simply "content."

daily distractions

When I moved back to Tokyo two summers ago, my mother was growing about three different things on the balcony. A net supporting a curtain of leafy vines stretched from our second floor balcony to the roof, sprouting delicate flowers.
"I'm growing bitter gourd," she said.
"Is it working?" was my response.

As this is Tokyo, where a backyard is considered a luxury, my mother's horticultural experiments usually take place in giant, black planters that resemble witches' cauldrons. Appropriately, they seem to yield little that is edible. In otherwise bountiful moments of the year, my mother will put on an old, wide-brimmed straw hat, pull on rubber gloves and disappear with a large garbage bag in hand. She'll return an hour or so later with a corpse of a blueberry bush, or some other casualty of neglect half protruding through the plastic.
"Can you help me move one of the big planters? I'm replacing the blueberries with eggplants this year," she'll say. "Oh, but be careful, don't try to do it alone, I'll help," this 5'3, 85 pound, 65+ year old Japanese woman who pouts when a size 0 ends up being too big will add, "I know you're not very strong."

My response is always something along the lines of, "what....what are you doing?" Because between the plants, the dog, the house, and making sure that my father doesn't die of starvation because he barely knows how to use a toaster, my mother's made herself into quite the accomplished lacquer ware artist. There are never enough hours in the day two weeks before a deadline for a competition, but she will insist on swimming lessons once a week and social obligations I wouldn't bother ever penciling in. I don't get it; it's like she hates sleep.

I've often looked at my mother's never-ending list of things to do and simply shaken my head. I always preferred to focus sharply, obsessively on my loves, because I didn't want the additional worry of other distractions. I also wasn't sure if my heart had room for too many extra things, as if loving something else would signify some hint of apathy. In those moments when I can't stand to turn the pedals without sobbing, my natural inclination has been to simply smother myself with the bike. I don't know, it always seems like a good idea at the time.
Looking back on those crazed moments, what I ultimately didn't want to face was doubt shrouded as "other priorities" that might crowd in and push out the sweaty suffering. I remember looking at the mess of scars covering both knees after a week riddled with too many meltdowns. Why did I do this to myself, I briefly wondered. I remembered something my sister had said the first time I tore up my knees: "Ew," she had scoffed, "I hope it was worth it; you can't ever wear a skirt again." And that had been okay, because when you limit yourself to one love, it has to be worth it.

The funny, inevitable thing is that I caved and wrenched that stubborn heart of mine open, just a little. A few weeks ago, I clipped out of the bike, inhaled, and let myself get distracted away from my watts by designs, secret plans, and other half-formed things that are currently tumbling towards a doozy fixation. I made a dress that will hopefully always show half my tan lines and all of my scars. You wouldn't know it from the arid desert this blog has turned into the past week, but I wrote, too. I lost some sleep doing all of the above, lost more sleep to ride and watch the Tour, and was surprised to find myself happier for my multitude of loves.

Like the omnipresence of some degree of Kevin Bacon in Hollywood, you could easily trace all of my current daily distractions to the bike and therefore claim that nothing has really changed. I think that’s the point: true loves – like, the really real ones – should never be so limiting that they impose straitjackets, blinders, or simmering doubts of potential loss. They should, instead, usher you out the door on sunny days to ride and put a book, a keyboard, or a sewing machine in front of you on the rainy ones. They should do things like wake you up at 5am to insist on some quality time together, yet share you without guilt or jealousy, allow you to kill some poor, unsuspecting plants every year, and never, ever be your obligatory one and only. They should set you free, really, and kiss you always so you keep coming back.
Again and again and again.