Sunday, August 26, 2018

Hamilton: A Glimpse Behind the Scenes of Genius

Mara here:

My path to discovering and appreciating the musical Hamilton was a start and stop windy road. For those of you who are not familiar with it, it was the 2016 Tony Award Winner for Best Musical. But long before the award ceremony that year, Hamilton had been making headlines for years.

Inspired by the book "Alexander Hamilton" by Ron Chernow, Hamilton the musical was the brainchild of Lin-Manuel Miranda. He was reading the book on vacation (yes, he's the type of guy who takes a giant book about the life story of Alexander Hamilton on vacation) and had the inspiration that the life of one of the least known founding fathers would make a great musical. Even more unlikely, it was going to be a rap musical.

Miranda had already had success with his first Broadway show In the Heights, which he wrote and starred in. The story of In The Heights was closer to his own about life as a Puerto Rican living in the Washington Heights area of New York. In the Heights won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2008.

Lin-Manuel Miranda was only 28 at the time.

Miranda's original idea for Hamilton was for it to be rap concept album known as the Hamilton Mixtape. Yes, you heard me correctly. He wanted to create a rap album based on the life of Alexander Hamilton.

If you're scoffing, you're not the only one. But Miranda was confident that the life he read about in Ron Chernow's book, which described the turbulent life of an immigrant fighter who came to United States, young, hungry, ambitious and full of words, could only be properly portrayed with rap—a music style where words are the key. Words are poetry and words are weapons.

Alexander Hamilton, like Lin-Manuel Miranda, was a man of words. The more you learn about Hamilton and the more you learn about Miranda, you can understand why Miranda saw the potential in Hamilton's story. He related to Hamilton's immigrant journey to America (Miranda's father immigrated from Puerto Rico) and to the way Hamilton expressed himself in his prolific writings.

So confident was Miranda in his idea that Hamilton's story could be told as a rap, that in 2009, when he was invited to The White House Poetry Evening to perform, and he debuted his concept. In front of President Obama and a room full of the country's foremost politicians and artists, he started rapping:

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore
And a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten

spot in the Caribbean by providence impoverished,
In squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

And for three minutes he rapped, with just a piano behind him, the introduction to the life of Alexander Hamilton. (You can see a video of the performance here.)

Jaws dropped.

Fast forward 7 years and Hamilton wins 11 Tony Awards including Best Musical.

But the years between 2009, when Miranda first introduced the world to the idea of the Hamilton Mixtape, and 2016 when Hamilton the musical was a worldwide phenomenon were filled with twists and turns.

Once you know the story of Alexander Hamilton, you wonder how it hadn't become familiar earlier. He was an orphaned immigrant who married into one of societies best families. He was the right-hand man to George Washington, and became the nation's first Treasury Secretary. His story includes political scandals, an extra-marital scandal, the death of his eldest son to a duel, and ultimately his own death by gunshot in a duel with Aaron Burr. In the prologue of the musical, in a song titled "Who Lives Who Dies Who Tells Your Story" it is eerily stated: "Every other founding father's story get told. Every other founding father gets to grow old."

I grew up almost living at my local musical theater, performing and working behind the scenes on the production side. But as I got older, I haven't embraced that many of the newer shows. There have been a few over the years, like Rent and Wicked, that have won me over. But otherwise for the most part, they've passed by me unnoticed.

However, with Hamilton, I was unable to ignore it. I had of course been hearing the buzz about this strange rap musical that was getting everyone's attention. But it wasn't until an acquaintance of mine was hired to be in it, that I really took notice. I started seeing her regular posts on social media about the show. She joined the cast as it prepared to open at the Rogers theater on Broadway. (For those of you unfamiliar with how a show gets to Broadway, it's a long process that involves shows being workshopped and previewed in theaters before it moves to Broadway.)

So I saw her pictures and her posts as she prepared. And then the show opened and suddenly I was hearing about the show on the news, and other friends on Facebook were posting about it. I was intrigued by the idea. The show went on to win the Tony Award for Best Musical, and the fervor for the show kept growing. But I still didn't bother to listen to it. There was almost too much hype. I was kind of overwhelmed with the idea of how much everyone seemed to love this show.

And then one day I turned on the news and the cast of Hamilton was on. The cast was at the White House and I saw my friend sitting with her castmates performing for the President and the First Lady. I texted her and said, "Oh my gosh I'm watching you on MSNBC right now!"

And although I had heard about the revolutionary concept of the show: a) that its a rap musical about 1700's American and b) that all the lead characters are portrayed by minority actors, the full impact of what that meant hadn't hit me until I saw them lined up on the TV screen.

I watched them perform. It was a concert-style performance, so they weren't in costume, but one song in particular hit me, like an arrow to the heart. It was the song titled "One Last Time" sung by Chris Jackson, an African American actor playing founding father George Washington. The song depicts Washington's decision to step down as President. It was a revolutionary idea at the time, from a new nation born from a history of monarchs, that someone would willingly give up their hold on leadership.

Lin-Manuel Miranda as Hamilton sings:
Why do you have to say goodbye?

Jackson, as Washington sings:
If I say goodbye,
the nation learns to move on
It outlives me when I’m gone

I was hooked.

I was watching an African American leading man singing about being America's first President, and singing it to Barack Obama, the first African American President of the United States. And it was in Obama's final year of his presidency. We were all preparing ourselves to say goodbye to him. I started crying. (You can see the performance here.)

I went to my phone and bought the Hamilton album and listened to it non-stop for a month.

I won't go into the all the reasons why I love the music, but it's masterful.

I won't even go into all the reasons the show is revolutionary, but it is.

And as I grew to love the show, I realized that what Lin-Manuel Miranda had done was the work of someone really special. He's unique. He's a genius.

And everything I've learned about him and the show since has confirmed my belief that he's someone whose genius will continue to amaze us for decades to come.

I recently discovered that I can borrow books through my local library that I can read on my Kindle or listen to on my phone. This was pretty exciting for me because I read very quickly, so spending money on books has to be carefully restrained. I stopped reading hardcopy books a few years ago, so my trips to the library stopped. But now that I have access to borrow digital books, I am excited to be able to read more books without the constraints of my budget. Ron Chernow's book about Hamilton landed on my list of "I'm interested, but not $15 bucks interested." But I could now borrow it.

So I typed "Hamilton" into the library search and a book about the making of the musical was the first item that popped up. I didn't even know it existed and I was immediately interested. I wanted to check out how the audiobooks worked with library so I borrowed the audiobook version and began listening to it as I jogged.

And the book gave me an amazing glimpse behind the work of the genius that is Hamilton.

When you watch a movie or a musical, you can see how special the work is. But listening to the detailed descriptions of how the musical was formed over the 7 years from the initial idea of a rap album to fully staged production is truly inspiring. And it's not only the genius work of Lin-Manuel Miranda, but the work of the team of people who created what became the worldwide phenomenon.

Reading, or listening, to the process of how people with gifts beyond my comprehension can create always amazes me. I love being able to get a glimpse of what's behind the curtain of masterpiece creations, because there's always so much more than what initially meets the eyes. Masterpieces have layers and layers of work that support them.

It's not hyperbole to say that Hamilton has revolutionized the musical industry and had a significant impact culturally. For the first time an almost completely ethnic cast, portraying Caucasian historic figures, has been embraced. Not only have they been accepted, they have been celebrated. 

It's a musical style that is complex, but is also alluring for young people. It's a musical that is inclusive. It's a mix of styles that include rap with traditional musical ballads. And it's historically accurate but also timely in its relevance to the social and political climate of today.

It's the genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda that made it possible.

If you are a fan of Hamilton, I would highly recommend the book Hamilton: The Revolution written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. There is also a great video documentary on Amazon called Hamilton: One Shot to Broadway.

For a video from the 2016 Tony Awards, so you can see what the fully staged production looked like, you can watch the video here.

I asked my mom this question:

Was there a show or music, like Hamilton, that revolutionized the genre for your generation?

In the generation before mine, it was Rogers and Hammerstein's South Pacific because it contained an interracial romance. As a child, I loved that musical and had the great fortune to watch some of the filming of the movie on the island of Kauai...but that's another long story.

In my generation, to me, it was the work of Steven Sondheim that revolutionized the genre, from A Little Night Music to Sweeney Todd to Into the Woods. His ability to take complicated dialogue with a huge number of words in it and then fit it seamlessly into his melodies was astounding. (Mara note: Miranda credits Sondheim as a huge influence—particularly his work in Into the Woods where the witch essentially raps as a way to convey a lot of story through song.)

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Imagining the Story of People's Lives

Mara here:

I'm not a person who generally goes out of my way to be neighborly. I try not to be unfriendly, but I am not the lady knocking on people's doors with plates of welcome brownies. In fact, just a couple of months ago I met one of my neighbors across the street for the first time in 14 years.

It's not that I'm rude. I've waved to him from across the way when we both happen to see each other in our respective driveways. But I am a private person. I don't want to be surrounded by people I feel obligated to talk to each time I leave my house.

But, despite my instinctive nature to keep to myself, I can't stop my imagination from creating lives for some of the people I see daily. It's like pareidolia, the syndrome where people see human faces in everyday objects. I create full lives out of the glimpses of some people I see on a regular basis.

It's not something that I do for every person I see. In fact, it's rare that it happens. I'm pretty good at just letting people walk by unnoticed.

The first time I realized it was happening was when my husband I lived in London. We lived near Notting Hill tube station. So every day I would get off the tube and turn left, walk by the fishmonger, and across the street there was a woman who would always be sitting in the Seattle Coffee Company window. She had a small laptop tethered to her cell phone, and she would be sitting typing.

First, she was a very pretty woman. She was petite, with brown hair. She was always dressed in what appeared to be business attire. And she was always sitting in the same spot. Second, having a laptop tethered to a cell phone was pretty technologically advanced. It was 1998. She was very high tech.

I was usually schlepping by in whatever errand running attire I had thrown on that day, with no cell phone (because we didn't have accounts in London) and no real regular routine.

So I noticed her. And every day I got more intrigued by her. What was she doing? Why was she there? What did she do professionally? Was she a writer? Was she a reporter? She looked wealthy, was she wealthy? Why was she in a coffee shop every day in the afternoon?

And in my mind I made up various stories about what she did, and what her life was like. I created an existence for her because I couldn't stop my brain from filling in the gaps of her life. I would create a boyfriend for her. Sometimes she would have a husband. I imagined she lived in a fancy flat, and worked at some executive type job. I imagined she would leave the coffee shop and meet friends at a trendy bar.

Seeing her everyday made her feel like a part of my life.

Twenty years later, the image of that woman in the window of that coffee shop is still one of my primary memories of my time in London.

Fast forward to now. And instead of a woman in the coffee shop, it's a woman who jogs around our neighborhood. We often jog at the same time, so we do the friendly neighbor thing and sort of wave at each other.

But this woman doesn't just jog. She runs. She runs at high speed—for hours. And she runs in circles through the neighborhood. When I was marathon training, I would run in big loops through the city, or go to the jog park and run laps around the mile track.

But my neighbor runs in loops through the neighborhood. So on my two mile jog, I sometimes see her three or four times running past me. And then I see her another couple of times because I walk my dog around the block when I get back from my jog. And then I'll see her again after I've showered and am in my car on the way to the grocery store.

So of course my first thought is, why? Why does she run so fast? Why does she run for so long?

She also rides her bike. Similar to her running, she rides at high speed. She always has on a backpack and, again, she loops through the neighborhoods.

In my mind, I've decided she's in the armed forces. I imagine that she exercises because it's part of her job. She needs to stay fit because she's in the military and it's what she does. When she's running, she really does seem very robotic about it, almost a terminator. There's nothing relaxing about it. She doesn't listen to music. She doesn't wear a hat or sunglasses. She's just out there running.

And I'm not sure why I think she's in the military. I've asked my husband (who also sees her regularly) if he thinks she's in the military and he said "no." So it's something I've made up. It's how my mind has filled in the gaps of why she does what she does.

And I know that I'm not alone in doing it. Books are written about it. Fortunately, unlike the protagonist in the popular book Girl on the Train, I have managed to not get dangerously obsessed with the people I get fixated on.

But I find it fascinating that there are certain people that, through the decades of my life, my brain has fixated on. I see dozens of people every day. And most pass by without making any real lasting impression. Even people I see regularly. I see them and think "neighbor" or "mom" or "guy." But there are those few who my brain latches onto. And once that happens, my mind seems to need to create a whole life out of the glimpse I get.

So I asked my mom if this has ever happened to her:

Have you ever created a story for someone and then met him or her and realized that your imagined story was completely different than the reality?

I've never made up whole stories of people's lives which, by the way, sounds like fun; maybe I should try it.

But...I have created stories of why people have behaved a certain way (often towards me!). The amazing thing is that I'm almost always wrong. When I attribute motives to why people have acted a certain way and then find out the real reason, I'm usually way off base. I'm finally learning that people can behave the way they do for a lot of reasons and that it's a waste of my precious time and also often a source of stress for me to make up reasons or worry about it.

For example, just the other day, a friend didn't get back to me about something she said she would. I thought she'd forgotten or didn't care enough only to find out that there was a completely valid reason for the delay in her getting back to me. Because, from experience, I knew that my assessment was likely to be wrong, every time a negative reaction about her would arise, I'd tell myself to "knock it off" and just be patient. I find that helpful. I've spent far too much time in life trying to figure out people's motives, only to be wrong most of the time.

The only thing I'd add to your piece is that I've noticed that no matter how boring a life seems from the outside, if you actually hear a person's live story, it's always interesting and full of twists and turns you'd never imagined. So your jogging neighbor may not be in the military, but I'll bet she's led a fascinating life!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Preparing for My Daughter to Leave the Nest

Mara here:

It's August. And for most kids around the country, this means that it's back to school time. There are the few lucky kids who don't return to school until after Labor Day, but most kids will be going back to school soon.

My kid is one of those kids.

And honestly, back to school has always been a love/hate experience for me. I like the routine of school. I like having a quiet house for a set number of hours each day. But the frantic flurry of activity that has to happen to be prepared for school to start is always stressful.

However, this year is Malia's senior year of high school. And even though, in so many ways, she is still at the beginning of her life, this is also an end. It's the official end of her childhood. It's the end of her being a school kid.

She'll turn 18 during her senior year, which means she'll legally be considered an adult, although in every other way, she will be the same. But once she graduates from high school, things will definitely change.

College will mean living away from home. College means not getting phone calls from her school if she decides to skip class. College means not knowing where she is most of the time. College means she's learning to figure things out on her own.

And that's good.

But it's also sad.

We will miss her when she goes off to college. The house will feel very empty. Family chats around the dinner table these days are often about what next year will be like. And while we're excited, it's hard to not feel apprehensive. For these past 18 years, it's been the Three Tyler's: me, Brad, and Malia. Like the Three Musketeers.

And for the first time, after a lifetime of fighting furiously for independence, Malia is realizing that she likes being home. She is starting to really appreciate us as parents, and everything we do for her. She's discovering that, for the most part as parents go, we're pretty cool.

And along with this realization, for the first time that I'm aware of, she's apprehensive about leaving home. She's appreciating and acknowledging how nice it is to have supportive parents, and to have a home where there's always food and parents who will make her dinner or take her to get ice cream.

While we've always felt very lucky that Malia was a great kid, it's been eye-opening to experience her shift in perspective from sullen teen to contemplative young adult.

I've never been a parent who clung to the idea of Malia staying a child. I've always wanted to her to grow and be independent.

But now, I am starting to feel the heavy pangs of sadness that I know are going to come at me like a wave next fall. I am enjoying the more adult relationship that we're cultivating with Malia. I'm cherishing the fact she now spends time with us because she wants to, not because she has to.

Brad has understood and appreciated this facet of our family dynamic longer than I have. I think I was always so wrapped up in the "doing" of parenting that I forgot the "enjoying" of parenthood.

But I'm catching up. Malia doesn't really need me as a mother like she did before. I'm able to step back and just be around her, not feel like I need to hover in a constant state of mothering.

And I'm grateful.

I think recognizing how lucky we are as a family is good for all of us. We are a stronger family for the fact we appreciate each other. There have been years we didn't feel as grateful as we feel now. There were years when Malia absolutely could not wait for her senior year of high school—she was ready to get out as quickly as she could. She stomped around wishing she was in boarding school. She threatened to hitchhike to my Mom and Dad's house.

There were years when Brad and I wondered how we would all survive intact because of the fighting and the tension.

But as happens, she's growing up. She's able to understand our perspective more. And we've also grown. We've adjusted and we're able to understand her more. And, of course, just when we're finally getting to place where we feel like we are all finally understanding each other, it's her last year with us.

And senior year isn't like every other year. This year is filled with reminders that it's the end: senior portraits, senior trips, senior prom, and graduation. A whole year of reminders that this is the last time we're going to be involved in her day-to-day life.

It's a mixed bag. But most of all, it's exciting. The curse of parenthood is working and hoping that your kids learn and grown and become independent, only to then miss the days when they didn't know how to walk, or didn't how to drive, or didn't grow up and move away.

But, mostly we're happy.

Malia's already way ahead of where I was when I was her age. I never appreciated where I was when I was younger. I was always blindly anxious to move on to the next step. And because of that, I don't think I ever was able to truly experience things fully. My mind was always moving on to the next thing before the current thing was finished.

Malia is not making the same mistake.

Malia has been blessed with the ability to feel gratitude in the moment. She is excited for college, but also determined to appreciate her final year of high school. She's eager to move forward, but she's smart enough to realize that where she is, is pretty great. And she's recognizing that she will miss it when she's finished.  And I couldn't be prouder of her for being so wise.

So I'm going to follow her lead and try and make an effort to really enjoy this last year we have with her. I'm going to remember to enjoy taking her back to school shopping. It's probably the last time she'll want me to go to the mall with her and pick out new clothes for school. I'm going to remember to pay attention to how joyful she is when we go to Staples and pick out a basket full of new notebooks and pens. (Honestly, school supply shopping really is the best part about going back to school, isn't it?) And I'll just try to remember that all the things that annoy me about her when she's in school, (grumpy mornings, late study nights, frantic searches for forms that need to be filled out) are things I will miss when she's in college.

Because that's the unfortunate thing about humans. We often miss all the things, the good and the bad, when everything changes. We usually don't know how much we appreciate things when we have them.

Next year, there will be back to school, but it will be fraught with a whole different set of stresses. She'll be moving. She'll be setting up a dorm room. Nothing will feel routine or relaxed. And once we drop her off at her university, Brad and I will come home to a quiet house. It will just be the two of us.  The three Tyler's will become two.

So this year I'm going to try and savor all the experiences one last time—the good and the bad. Because with hindsight, I know I will appreciate them for what they were: time with my daughter. And in the spring, she will graduate, class of 2019, ready for what comes next for her.

I asked my Mom a couple of questions on this subject:

What was your experience when Jamal was in his senior year? Were you prepared for the experience of having to let him leave the house?

I thought I was prepared for him to leave the house because, as you know, he'd had a steady girlfriend for four years so, in many respects, he was already on his own. For example, if he was upset about something, he tended to go to her about it. It made living with him easy. He was more like a roommate.

Or so I thought. Then your Dad and I drove him to college in San Diego. On the drive home to Northern California, I was crying so hard that, even though your Dad was driving, he didn't feel safe and got off the freeway. What was going through my mind was this: "I cannot live in that house without Jamal being there." I think he missed it too because, for the first few months, he'd call me and we'd often watch Johnny Carson together over the phone.

The change occurred for me after he came home for Thanksgiving. I don't know why, but when he left to go back to school, from then on, I was okay with it. So it took about three months to adjust.

I think you're going to adjust much more easily than I did because you're already preparing for the change. I particularly love how you're planning to savor each activity you'll be doing for the last time with Malia, such as shopping for school supplies. What I see is that this will be a year of you and Brad (and Malia) slowly adjusting and so, when the time comes, it won't be a shock.

Is there a Buddhist teaching that helps prepare for the inevitable sadness we feel when things change? It's obviously not the same as the death of a person, but in some ways it's the ending of a relationship. 

That teaching is right in what's known as the first noble truth. In the new edition of my book, How to Be Sick, I rewrote the chapter on that subject because I feel I understand so much better now what the Buddha was trying to teach us. I can't repeat the whole chapter here. Suffice it to say that the Buddha provided us with a list of unpleasant and painful experiences we'll all encounter in life and "losing what you cherish" is one of the things on that list.

Yes, it can refer to the death of a loved one, but it also refers to any kind of loss, such as the one that happens when someone you love moves out of the house. Knowing that loss is something that everyone will experience in one form or another (it comes with the human condition) is comforting to me because I realize that I share this painful aspect of life with everyone. This is why I titled that chapter "The Buddha Tells It Like It Is." I want to know what to expect in life. 

He then goes on to say that when we deny or resist these "truths" of life, such as the inevitability of loss, we make things worse for ourselves because we're adding more mental suffering to an already tough situation. In my experience, he's right. This has become my life's task—to learn to accept with grace what comes my way, whether it be pleasant or unpleasant, lovely or terribly painful.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Pedal, Pedal, Pedal...On Bicycles and in Life

Mara here:

If I was to ask you what the hardest sporting event in the world was, the Tour de France might not immediately spring to mind.

The Tour de France, or Le Tour as it's known in French, is a cycling event. Yes, bicycles. Cycling is not a popular sport in the United States, so it might surprise our American readers that the Tour de France is the 2nd most watched sporting event globally, behind the FIFA World Cup, with an estimated 2.5 billion annual television viewers.

And it's not just the viewership that is massive. The event itself is massive. It's a 23-day event, that covers thousands of kilometers of riding, through mountains and valleys, rain or shine.

It's almost impossible to fully explain the logistics required to put on this event that takes place mainly in France, but sometimes also ventures into neighboring countries. For an easy to follow overview of what is required to organize the Tour, check out this article here.

If you have ever happened to accidentally come across coverage of the Tour, you would probably watch it for a minute, see a bunch of guys riding their bikes and think, "Well this is boring," and turn the channel.

As some people have remarked, it's just pedal, pedal, pedal.

And when it comes down to it, it is.

It's 200 guys on bicycles riding for 5-7 hours a day, for 21 days.

But when you really start to understand the sport, there is so much more involved. It's a team sport, which is hard for most new cycling fans to understand.

This isn't an article about the sport of cycling, so I won't go into the details. If you are interested in learning more about the sport and the tactics, here's a good article that describes the team aspect of the sport.

July in our house means a few things: it's going to be hot; the 4th of July; Brad's birthday; and the Tour de France.

My history as a Tour de France fan began about 17 years ago. It was 2001. Brad had started cycling and so he decided to watch the Tour that summer. It's a 23-day event, that's broadcast for 3-4 hours every morning and then replayed three more times each day. I was home with a young baby, so inevitably I spent a lot of time with a baby in my lap, hanging out with him while he was watching it.

That first summer I didn't get it. I asked Brad a lot of (probably annoying) questions.

But by the end, I was able to grasp the monumental effort that went into what riders were doing. The only way I can think to try and describe the physical effort that the cyclists endure is to have people imagine that they wake up each morning for 21 days and run a marathon. Sometimes that marathon is on flat roads. But sometimes it's up the side of a mountain. And sometimes it's through tiny villages on roads that are hundreds of years old made out of cobblestones.

And if that wasn't enough, there's a good chance that you will injure yourself multiple times. Bicycle crashes happen regularly, and the riders often get seriously injured. It is a daily occurrence that riders are so seriously injured that have to withdraw from the race.

The early 2000s was the golden Tour era of Lance Armstrong and the US Postal Team. Most of you have probably heard of Lance Armstrong, and you may have some awareness of the scandal that followed him. Again, I don't want to get sidetracked into all of that. I only brought it up because it was a very exciting time to start watching cycling. And it was also when most American fans of the sport became enthusiasts.

For the first time, in a sport that has been historically dominated by Europeans, there was an American-sponsored team with an American champion. It was thrilling.

But the thing that really made me appreciate the sport was realizing it's not just a bunch of guys riding their bicycles. It's a grueling mental and physical test of endurance. After seeing my first group crash (it's called a shunt in the peloton), they're often riding at speeds of 20-30 miles an hour. Crashing is brutal. I couldn't believe that these guys were scraping themselves off the ground, their uniforms ripped, their skin bleeding, and then getting back on their bikes.

Because if they don't get back on their bikes, they're out of the race.

Once they're back on their bikes, injured riders will visit their team car (a car with their coach that follows the riders) or a race doctor (also following the peloton in a car) and, while coasting on their bikes and gripping a car travelling 20-30 miles an hour, they get patched up. They do whatever they need to do to finish the day's race. (Daily races are known as stages.)

Sometimes after the stage is done, it will be announced that a rider's injuries have caused him to pull out of the race. Sometimes you find out that a rider has broken bones that he rode with for hours, because the will of these athletes is so strong that they push through the pain, hoping that the injuries aren't as bad as they feel.

There are racers who choose to continue the race, broken bones and all. This year, there was a young rider who broke his shoulder on the first day. But he finished the race. I think he finished in last place—but he finished.

The Tour riders will ride for weeks through the pain because they've trained for years simply to complete the event of their lifetime.

And that's when I fell in love with the sport.

Because it feels like a metaphor for life in so many ways.

You pedal, day after day, you push through the hard times, and you survive. To anyone who might spot me on any given day, my life looks boring. I drink my coffee, I do my grocery shopping, I feed my pets. I pedal.

And when I fall, I scrape myself off the ground, usually more mentally bloodied than physically, and I get back on my bike. I don't stop. I keep going. And there are times when life does feel like I'm trying to pedal up the side of a steep mountain. It feels as if I'm working the hardest I've ever worked, but I'm still moving slowly. But there are also times that feel like the descent on the other side of the climb. I feel as if I'm flying.

But, regardless of circumstance, I don't stop pedaling. I pedal, pedal, pedal—and then wake up the next day and do it all over again.
And there are days when I wake up and see the stretch of road that needs to be covered that day, and it feels impossible. But if I just get up and start pedaling, I get there. Foot by foot, I cover the distance.

So that's how I see the Tour de France. The riders are warriors. And for the month of July we get to watch them fight their own limits to make it to the finish. At the end of the three weeks, they are haggard. You can see the toll the race has taken on them. Physically they are sunburned and weather beaten. Most riders will have lost weight and have patched up injuries. But the ones who finish know they have accomplished something monumental.

And that's how I want to feel at the end of my own days, years, and life. I want to feel as if I've accomplished what I set out to do. I want to know that I pushed myself to my limits and survived.

I want to know I kept pedaling as long as I could.

I asked my mom about her favorite sport:

I know you're a big tennis fan, is there something about the game that inspires you in your own day-to-day life?

Two things come to mind. (Great question, by the way!) The first one may not be obvious. Tennis is an international sport. It's one of the reasons I love it so much. There are players from countries all over the world, even tiny ones I have to find on a map. But when they're on the court together, it doesn't matter where they're from. They're united in their love of this sport.

And when the match is over, they often don't just shake hands at the net. Women who were opponents just seconds ago often kiss in that European fashion—a peck on each cheek. Both men and women often give each other heartfelt hugs. The winner often gives the loser encouraging words. 

This inspires me in my day-to-day life to remember that I'm part of the family of humans everywhere on this planet. The problems I have that I think are so important are, in the big picture of how most people struggle in this world, nothing I should be complaining about.

The second thing that inspires me about tennis is that, unlike almost every other sport, players are on their own on the court. There's no coaching. (The woman's tour has started to allow some on-court coaching so long as the player and the coach agree to wear a microphone—it's clearly for the benefit of the TV audience. But at the major tournaments, there's no coaching for men or for women.)

Because there's no coaching, the best players are those who are able to assess what's going on in a match if they're losing and, right then and there, on their own (because they can't consult their coach), change their game plan. I've seen it time and time again: players losing because they're unable or unwilling to change the strategy that they and their coach came up with before the match began (e.g. to hit from the baseline, come to the net, etc.). 

The greatest players—Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal—are those who, when they're losing change their game plan to suit the circumstances on the court. And that's a great life lesson for me. When one of my "life strategies" isn't working, I'm learning through tennis to make a change, even if I'm more comfortable with my original strategy. Change can feel risky but, in my experience, that ability to adapt to the circumstances we find ourselves in is a key to success and happiness in life.