There are a lot of reasons to take care of something — like a plant, or a car or a house. It can be a source of purpose or passion or peace or simple satisfaction. Today we’re exploring how taking care of something can be a form of self-care.
Host Anna Borges talks with Jené Etheridge — music producer, DJ, community organizer, and an avid cyclist — about how caring for her bike Butter feeds her mental health.
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Anna Borges: There’s this old book that I’m willing to bet at least some of you found formative. It’s called The Care and Keeping of You.
And I hope some of you just went OH, THAT BOOK, but you know for the uninitiated, The Care and Keeping of You is this illustrated American Girl guidebook and it was the first real introduction a lot of us got to our bodies and how to take care of them. It covered everything from how to sit when inserting a tampon to you know proper armpit shaving technique.
Legions of preteens referred to that book like a user's manual, myself included. You know, learning as much as we could about maintaining these weird changing bodies that we did not know the first thing about. Understanding what was going on with my body and like the ins and outs in taking care of it made me feel — I mean I don’t want to oversell it but it did — it made me feel like confident and grown up and empowered, or at least more capable of handling the horrors of middle school such as like changing in the locker room and wondering why my boobs looked so much different than everyone else's.
These days, I’m kind of still chasing that high if I'm honest. Like shockingly, huh-huh, taking care of myself as an adult is hardly as satisfying as The Care and Keeping of You once had me believe.
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But as I grew up, I did discover that there are a lot of other things that I can take care of, other than myself, and some of them even come with the step-by-step instructions that I was craving. And it turns out, the care and keeping of something else can be as satisfying as the care and keeping of us.
Hey, I’m Anna Borges, and this is Mood Ring, a practical guide to feelings even when you’re feeling less than capable of taking care of yourself.
I’ve probably said “care” enough times for you to get that we’re talking about care today. Care for ourselves. Care for some thing. And caring for ourselves by way of caring for that something.
If you haven’t guessed, I’m on the lookout for something new to take care of because honestly I have not been that great of a job at taking care of myself lately. And sometimes, when we lose trust in our ability to take care of ourselves, I don't know, we need to find ways to prove to ourselves that we still can.
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At least, that’s where I'm at lately. There are a lot of reasons to take care of something for our mental health, whether it’s by giving ourselves a source of purpose or passion or peace or simple satisfaction.
So what are we taking care of?
There are the obvious suspects: things that rely on you for nourishment and support, like pets or plants or children. But we can also find meaning in caring for nonliving things too - things like our homes, cars, beaches, sneakers, closets — and in the case of our guest today, bikes.
Our guest today is a woman of many talents. Jené Etheridge is a music producer, DJ, community organizer and an avid cyclist.
She tells us about her relationship with her bike, how she cares for it as she travels the world with it. And how it in turn feeds her mental health.
Anna: I would love to just hear how you got into cycling. I just never really got into it. It kind of scared me, but what's your story?
Jené: Yeah, so I was in college at The University of Washington in Seattle, and I just needed a way to get around. Also I had a friend um who rode with me like casually. We would go on casual rides and I told him I would have a new commute from U district to SoDo, which is like six miles.
And he was like, yeah, I don't think you can do it. And I was like, oh, you don't think I can do it? and basically I was like, I'm gonna do it. It was like motivation for me to, you know, prove him wrong.
Anna: My favorite type of origin story.
Jené: [laughter] Yeah. This is like a theme throughout my life. It's like, if people say I can't do it, I'm like, oh, okay…
Anna: Watch me.
Jené: [laughter] I'm Gonna do it then. Yeah. So I just started commuting to work to work, that's how I got started. I just, you know, just did it out of necessity to start and then it just grew from there.
And then when I moved to Portland, you know, it's like a really big cycling city, so it was really easy to get plugged in. And then I started learning more about Does this bike fit me? Like What kind of gearing works for the riding that I do? and, and things like that. So yeah.
Anna: When did it go from, cuz it sounded like it went from like transit to something you enjoyed pretty quickly with all the sight seeing, but when did it become your thing or one of your things?
Jené: I would say just you start craving it when you don't do it for a while.
Jené: I also did have more community in Portland and I think that definitely helped me like realize it was my thing because it was mostly like women, trans femme, people of color in Portland who rode bikes, which is like a very small community, but they're very empowering and I would just be like, I don't know if I can do this. That sounds crazy. And they're like, yeah, you can. Why don’t, why do you think you can't do it? You know?
Anna: Absolutely. So speaking of the bike, tell me about your relationship with it.
Jené: Umm okay yeah it's cream colored. I named it Butter because um.
Jené: The first time I rode it, I'm like, this is so smooth. Like butter, like -
Anna: If you were to describe what Butter means to you, how would you describe that?
Jené: [laughter] Um I would say the feeling of like autonomy. Just being able to like leave and go whenever I want to.
Jené: I don't know, it becomes an extension of you when you only have one bike for like everything, you know, your body gets accustomed to it. [laughter]
Anna: I love the idea of like the bike is an extension of you.
Jené: Yeah I mean you really have to be aware and just like aware of your surroundings. And so I'm trusting like my body a lot
Jené: And also my bike to get me through like just to get to the destination. [laughter]
Anna: Oh man. I relate to that in exactly one small way. Cause before this, I was talking to my producer about how, I had an opportunity to get ages ago, um, a motorcycle license and I thought it'd be like a cool thing to do.
And I almost didn't pass the test because to swerve, you have to like throw yourself to the side. Like you're gonna like throw yourself down to the ground.
And then like yank it back up. And so you can kind of like jump around whatever you're swerving around. And like I did not have that trust.
Anna: I did not have that trust in myself to pull myself back up. I did not have trust in the bike to not just like—poooffffff
Jené: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. You have to like lean your way into it. Like you really have to like trust. Your capabilities and the capabilities of the bike too, to just like get through these situations.
But I don't know. It's like when you, um, do something kind of scary or dangerous and then you make it out and you're like, oh, okay. Like I know, um, I know that wasn't as bad as it looked or at least like I know a little more about how to, you know, handle the bike better next time. So I feel safer. That's a good feeling.
Anna: I love that. So it’s — now I'm just like Oh, you grow with your bike! I get, I get like, feels about like literally anything.
Anna: So, don't mind me just sitting here, like with heart eyes. But let's talk about care then.
Like how do you care like how do you take care of your bike?
Jené: Okay. Well, I mean like there's normal bike maintenance, right? Like you take it to the shop, you just make sure like the chain is looped up and all the, you know, components are working right.
But I think part of taking care of it is like trusting other people to take care of it.
Jené: Like having relationships with these bike shops, so basically when they see the bike, they already know they're like, oh, that's Jene’s bike. And I think that's, like having that relationship established can help with the care process, if that makes sense.
Anna: Yeah. Totally. And I'm like metaphorical, cuz if we're talking about, you know, taking care of, um, like things to take care of ourselves, trusting other people to take care of us too.
Jené: Yeah. yeah.
Anna: What does it what does it look like to travel with the bike? Does that require different maintenance?
Jené: Yeah I mean I basically have to deconstruct the bike, so I have to like take the wheels off, like un- unscrew a lot of parts so that they can break apart essentially. And then they fit all snug in my bike bag. Um, and then I'll put it back together once I get to wherever destination I'm at.
And if I can, I'll try and get like a tune up or just have a bike friend look at it just to make sure everything's running smoothly.
So , but it's like, it is crazy. Like it’s taken — it’s broken apart essentially. I put it together myself and then I'm like, all right, here we go.
And just [laughter] you have to like trust that all the screws are tightened and everything to start riding so
Anna: Totally so when you're like breaking it down and putting it back together so much, is that a ritual that you enjoy or is it more kind of just something you have to do when you're traveling?
Jené: Yeah I like it. It's like very empowering to be able to take it apart and put it back together and then just start riding immediately.
Anna: After the break, we talk more about how Butter and Jené care for one another.
Hey, welcome back to Mood Ring. I’m Anna Borges. Before the break, we were talking to cyclist Jené Etheridge about her relationship with her bike and how taking care if it helps build a sense of trust in herself. Let’s dive back in.
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Jené: Yeah feel like when I first moved to Mexico city, um, I didn't know anyone at all.
Jené: When I got there, it was January, 2021. So we were like still in like pandemic, deep pandemic mode.
Anna: Oh and moving to a new place during a pandemic too. Ugh.
Jené: It was, it was so quiet.
Jené: It was my second time in Mexico city, but it was, I remember I was just happy to be there because it was sunny and being from Portland in January, there’s no sun.
Anna: No. Gray skies forever.
Jené: Yeah. Yeah. And so, um, I mean, I was kind of lonely. I would just kind of ride a lot, uh, in the beginning and
Anna: Yeah like what was your relationship to your bike like at the time?
Jené: So I moved there for six months in the beginning and for some reason I didn't bring my bike.
Jené: I don't know why.
Anna: Oh my god
Anna: You were separated from Butter.
Jené: Yeah. And so being reunited, I was like, oh my God, this is like the best feeling. Nothing feels like your bike when you're riding, like it's just completely different.
And, so it was just nice to finally have that and like be reunited and be able to take care of it and like, make sure everything was up and running smoothly.
Anna: I love – and like something familiar when you hadn't found your people yet in a new city.
Jené: Yeah, Totally.
Anna: Oh I love that
Jené: Yeah. Yeah. It was super fun.
Anna: We were talking about how, um, just like the concentration that is required to be on a bike is probably the closest thing that I will get to meditation because then I can't be in my head, you know?
Cause I have to like think of what to do and how not to die. Maybe that's a dramatic way of thinking of it, but —
Jené: Mm-hmm yeah. I feel that for sure.
You can really be out of your head when you're riding. Like I would say a lot of the, you know, the to-do list and every day small things kind of just, you can't be thinking about it cuz you're riding. Sometimes we're riding for like hours, but then you start kind of getting into this more meditative mode that's like just reflecting on things on like a deeper way, because you have less distractions.
Like you can't be really looking at your phone, uh, once you get out of the city and you're just riding, you know, know on more secluded roads, you're really just like with your thoughts.
And then also you, you get really close to the people that you ride with because you're talking for literally hours.
Anna: I did enter, you know, with a hypothesis around taking care of things, being, you know, good for our mental health and I’m — how much do you relate to the idea that taking care of something can benefit your mental health? Like does that resonate with you?
Jené: Yeah and it's like, I put it through a lot, you know, like we'll be just going on these trips in Mexico. You know, we take charter buses and you just have to put it in the back in the back of the bus or under the bus with all those suitcases and stuff.
And so you're like kind of risking a lot or when I'm doing gravel rides, like you're just riding through this crazy terrain
Jené: And maybe falling because that just happens like when it's rough terrain.
And so being able to like to bring it back to life or just like, you know, travel with it and then get back home and be like, okay, Butter. I know I just put you through a lot.
Jené: We're gonna go to the shop, make sure everything's good to go.
And then, you know, to be able to do that is nice. Um, and yeah, you're just like, you know, building a relationship in some way.
Anna: I love that so much. I'm like grinning like an idiot.
Anna: One thing I did want to ask, does your bike take care of you in any ways?
Jené: I mean yeah It challenges me every time I ride it.
Jené: I'm like focusing on making myself stronger.
So yeah. At the time, yeah, Am I suffering? Yeah. Yeah. It definitely sucks.
But most of the time I feel great after the ride, you know, and I never regret going, um, unless I crash or something but [laughter] yeah.
I would say like, it takes care of me just through challenging myself and I'm having to trust this machine to get me like hundreds of miles sometimes to a destination.
So that definitely feels like care cuz I guess it's the medium to, to travel and to get to the destination, um, in a way that's like a little more intimate than taking a plane or a bus.
Anna: [laughter] Yeah. I don't think I ever wanna think of taking a bus as intimate in my life.
Anna: But uh, thank you so much for sharing and for having this whole conversation with me and letting me pick your brain about your bike.
Jené: Yeah of course
Anna: Thank you so much for, for chatting with me today. I almost want to get a bike, but probably won't be.
Jené: No, I think you should.
I mean, to each their own, like I said, but, um, I would recommend it definitely to anyone who just like, wants to get outta their comfort zone, explore places that you would never see by car, by train, by horse even [laughter]
Anna: Absolutely. I'm sure there are plenty of listeners who are like absolutely. Actually going to go out and do this.
Jené: But like, fuck the horse. I'm gonna get a bike.
Anna: When I think of how empowered Jené described feeling by her ability to take care of her bike, I couldn’t help but think of that like oft-repeated idea that you can't care for others until you care for yourself. And I know that’s true in some ways but in a lot of ways I know so many of us who have the opposite experience too. Like, taking care of other things teaches us to take care of ourselves. Or you know, at least inspires us to.
My cats remind me to take care of myself all the time—just last month, I remembered I was due for a visit to the doctor because little Francis needed to see the vet. And I was like oh I guess I need to see the vet too. The people vet.
Meanwhile, one friend of mine always remembers to hydrate when she's watering her plants and then another pours themself into like keeping their Jeep in pristine condition whenever they’re feeling like out of control or overwhelmed.
All of that is to say, I like wouldn’t be surprised if you already have things in your life that you take care of, even if don’t really think about it that way.
So if you’re up for it, I have a challenge for you. Actually, hey, a challenge for us—I think I could probably use this right now, too. Alright. Let’s think of something we’ve taken care of, past or present. Like pet, a friend, a plant, an inanimate object, a space, anything. Whatever it is, let’s take one small way we’ve shown that something care or love or tenderness and offer it to ourselves, too.
I’ll report back what I wind up doing on Twitter and Instagram—my handles in the credits per usual. Meet me there and tell me what you tried. I look forward to hearing all about it.
Until next time, everybody take care. Quite literally take care. Of something. Ah…
Thanks for listening to Mood Ring, a production of APM Studios and Pizza Shark. We’re a new show, so it really helps if you rate, review and share this episode with your friends.
You can even tag me if you’re really into it — I’m @AnnaBroges on Twitter – that’s Anna B-R-O-G-E-S … because Anna Borges was taken. We want to hear from you. You can get in touch at Moodringshow DOT ORG and click “Contact Us.” Or follow Mood Ring Show on Twitter and Instagram. You can also call and leave us a message at 833-666-3746.
Mood Ring was developed by Kristina Lopez. Our executive producers are Maria Murriel, Isis Madrid and Beth Pearlman. Our story editor is Erika Janik. Mijoe Sahiouni is our digital producer. This episode was produced by Isis Madrid. Our technical director is Derek Ramirez. And as you know, I’m Anna Borges and I write, host and produce this show too.
APM Executives in charge are Chandra Kavati, Alex Schaffert and Joanne Griffith. And finally, our music is by Mat Rotenberg.
Thanks again for listening, and I hope to see you next episode!
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