Machiko Yasuda

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For now, I’m just going to enjoy where I am: beginning of a new contract, the rocket-takeoff learning curve, the exquisite terror of it, the straight-up ride against gravity into a trajectory not yet calculated.

The next time I drive down to the company, a fog hangs lead-gray over the bay. It lingers over all the East Bay cities. Then, where the freeway turns inland, the fog lifts and thins, and the sky turns a sheer glare-white. I race past the trucks, the hills shine deep green in the clear light, and for that moment, I’m just where I’m supposed to be: driving a fast car to a place I don’t know yet, where anything can happen.“ — Ellen Ullman, Close to the Machine

Something funny happened between moving out, moving around to a small town you never knew existed, where you don’t know anyone at all. I remember after the third, fourth, fifth day of coming home from work and running the same routine of dinner, radio, reading. We joked with friends we needed to “find hobbies” or something.

Fast forward many more days — what seemed like a dull small town was actually a blank canvas for learning and trying new things. I read over 60 books – or over 20,000 pages – nearly all from local libraries. I bicycled hundreds and hundreds of miles, up the steepest climbs on Highway 150, along the Pacific Ocean on the 101, along the Ventura River, in the video game maze of obstacles that is downtown LA.

I rode in a group of people twice, thrice my age (who are still much stronger than me). I once rode in a women’s bike shop ride – the “Serious Beginners” group. A serious beginner.

I committed to memory the names of bicycle frame parts. I looked at diagrams, wrote my own and made sure to incorporate the vocabulary into my speech. I rode every weekend. I had no expectations for myself – I was just exploring. I never thought of myself as athletic, this was just for fun.

Other things come from a combination of muscle memory, mnemonics and understanding the logic: right hand controls rear brake and rear gears. You have to turn your bike upside down and watch the derailleur move the chain up and down. And after a nearly-never-ending uphill ride, I still remember how my right fingers felt when I realized I had reached my lowest gear. After that hill-climb shifting fiasco, I read a book to learn gear ratios and strategies. I watched videos, got my hands dirty while learning how to fix a flat, fell off the bike as I learned clipless pedals. (I cried after the first time.) (I almost gave up. But I didn’t.) Something about that satisfaction of making it up a hill you’d never think of doing and getting over it kept me going.

If I learned anything at all, it was how to learn. Just start. Repetition, enthusiasm, curiosity. Don’t do it alone. Learn something, teach something. Find a good book (or two). Read some history. But most importantly, drop all expectations and anxiety and just start.

def print_hello(name)
  puts "Hello, #{name}"
end
print_hello('World')
#=> prints 'Hello, world.'