Ride a bike for an hour today
It may not be fun
Your legs will hurt
Your heart will hammer
Sweat will fall into your eyes
And you'll wonder what possessed you
To put yourself through the experience
But wait a couple of days
And when you ride your bike again
The hour will pass much easier
You won't so much mind
The sweat that prickles on your forehead
And runs down the small of your back
Because it Will testify that you accomplished something
And if you ride again
There will come a day
When you feel yourself
Slicing through the wind
Faster and easier
Than you ever thought you would
As the miles
And the hours
Tick off all around you
Until you start to ride up hills
When, again, you will suffer
An uncomfortable burning
In your legs
And pedal in clumsy squares
Instead of perfect circles
You may even come to a stop when the road is its steepest
Because your mind will say 'it's not worth it'
As your heart hammering so hard you feel
It cannot take the strain
And will come to pieces if you go on
But if you find a way
to get back in the saddle again
There will come a moment
When the circles come back
And your your muscles cool down
And your racing heart
Feels like a motor,
Maybe early on a Sunday morning,
You will join a group
In a grocery store parking lot
And ride for three hours
with a hundred strangers
You'll be sore for two days after,
And walk like a man born twenty years before you
But the ride will inspire you
To find spare hours
To ride during the week
So that on the next weekend group ride
You'll be able to keep up
Where you'll chatter with the other riders
Who will be from all walks of life
And all ages
And different in a hundred ways
But all giddy and addicted
In the same way
You'll buy a new bike
Something in carbon
That weighs only a little more than your first child
And cost as much
As your first car
Oh, and you will wear Lycra,
And be willing to spend
Three times more than you could for
Wheels, bottle cages, pedals, shoes, helmets,
To shave precious grams from your bike
to match the pounds
That have melted
From your body
When fifty miles of riding feels like a good workout
And one hundred miles of riding
Is no more
Than a fun day with friends,
You will meet your destiny
in the entry form of an bike race
You'll soon be standing on a start line
With a pack of other riders
Sorted into your group
By age and potential ability
Some with more expensive and better put together bikes than yours
Who look emaciated and well trained
Who stare with focused anticipation
While you smile a little
To hide the fact
That you had to visit the bathroom
Three times before the race
To settle your stomach
You may be unceremoniously dropped
By the main group of racers
In your first race
Left shaking your head
As the rear end
Of the rider who was in front of you
Pulls his precious protection from the wind
Away from you
But when you race your bike again
You'll find a way to not let
That ten-foot gap
To open at all
And you'll finish
Deep in a group of other
And when you race once more
You may know the rush
Of sticking your nose
Into the wind
To lead the race
For even a fleeting moment
Trying to gain
Your own ten-foot gap
And if you race enough times
There will be a moment
When you will be the one
To raise your arms in victory
And scream the pure joy
Of the accomplishment
A week ago my wife, my son and I went to a used bookstore called Thrifty Joe's Books & Music.. I wanted to find a reference book to help me landscape the dozens of trees, cacti, shrubs and other fauna on our new property. But one of the great things about a used bookstore is that it’s a great place to discover something new.
My son and I were thumbing through a book called something like A List of Likes. And it was exactly as advertised; a book full of lists from a variety of contributors that all started with the words ‘I like....’
One contributor listed all the things they liked about their cat. Someone else listed all the foods they liked. It was a very simple premise but compelling because every list in the anthology came from an amazing space of appreciation. I resonated with it because I sometimes forget to appreciate the things that are good and great about life while I focus instead on things that are troubling me, or stressful.
I am a throwback. I like things made in the era when the solution to problems was resolved with mechanic ingenuity and not electronic or computer technology. Here’s one of those things I appreciate.
I write with a fountain pen. As difficult as it can be to read sometimes, I like the way my handwriting looks on the page. I like how it reflects the pressure and flow of my writing. I like that my writing has my personality, a style that is identifiable as mine. I like that this style has not changed as long as I have been writing. You can look at something I wrote in pen twenty years ago and compare it to what I'm writing right now and you would easily be able to connect the two pieces as coming from the same person.
I like sealed, disposable cartridges for my fountain pen. I like blue ink. I like the differences in inks from different cartridges, different production batches, different manufacturers; some vibrant mid blue, some watery and weak, some deep and dark. I like how sometimes when you start with a new cartridge, the ink color shifts over the first few hundred words; starting out dark, Indigo, night-sky blue then fading to whatever this cartridge’s normal tone is.
I like capping the pen every time I pause in my writing. I like the tactile, crisp, click of the pen’s cap seating and unseating from the barrel as I remove and replace it.
I like the simple but elegant engineering of a fountain pen. Ink pulled through a narrow channel along the nib through capillary action, rolling through the nib's tip, drawn onto the paper, pulling more ink through for the next pen stroke.
I like using a fountain pen for all writing, no matter how mundane. I like writing ten pages in my notebook as much as I like jotting short notes. I like how my fountain-pen lets me leave a distinct and permanent mark on Post-It notes, on scraps of paper, on reports, on bills, on notebook pages.
I love my modern fountain pen. It is made in Germany by LAMY out of aluminum and plastic and stainless steel. It cost less than $40. I love that it is a working tool and not simply an ornament. I love writing in fountain pen.
We live ten miles from an outdoor mall called the Westgate Entertainment District. It houses the Phoenix Cardinals football stadium, the Arizona Coyotes rink. an outlet mall with a hundred shops, a restaurant district and a movie theater. We frequent the theater because we're a fan of the large-format and 3D movies and they house the closest IMAX screen. Westgate is also home to Shane's Rib Shack where they make the best salad for miles (Chicken Tender with Apple Vinagarette). There's even a great outdoor space with a water feature for kids to play in and live music on the plaza every weekend that Westgate is a bit of a draw for people on the weekends (especially when there's an event at one of the stadiums).
My wife and I both in our creative space right now. I am working on a new story. She is creating art. We both share a passion for photography. Although we come at it differently and find different things interesting (she shoots people and animals and living things, I shoot objects and space and geometry), we spent an hour at Westgate at Sunset today as a way to share creativity.
It's been five months since I wrote consistently, since I finished the draft of my novel. I wanted to let it cool and have my wife read and give her feedback before diving into a new draft. I had hoped to work on a new story in the meantime but haven't started anything yet.
She finished reading and gave some amazing feedback. Most of it ripped open flaws in the story, the biggest of which is that the main character is too thin, too weak, too dependent on others for her to get behind. "I don't like him," she said. This is a big problem. If your reader doesn't care for the main character, nothing that happens too him seems important and the story has no chance of holding a reader.
She told me where things went wrong in the story for her. They match up with the point in the story where I stopped writing every day without an outline started to plot, plan and think my way to the end of the book. It is like I had two minds. One, the creative one, the playful imaginative, fearless, quirky, funny, dark one wrote the first one-hundred pages. The second, my intellectual, conservative, numbers-driven, working-man's mind took over and dug into the story to work out how to solve all of the seeming problems my creative mind had setup, only letting the creative mind open up for short bursts to fill out the words according to its plan. For lack of engagement, my creative mind went into hibernation.
I'm not angry about the feedback. I'm grateful for it. It helped me realize where the joy in writing lives; in that creative mind. I want to write from the creative mind. I want to explore what the creative mind is capable of. This realization leaves me with a choice to make about the current novel; re-write it or set it aside and let a new story come. And just so five more months doesn't pass without anything to show for it, I need to make that decision very soon.
To open myself to the creative mind and let it flow and fill pages, I understand that I keep the intellectual mind away until it's time to rewrite and polish or figure out how to find an audience for the work. The fact that I haven't working on a new writing project has been bothering me so I have been working on realigning myself with my creative nature; writing in my journal, exploring the world around me with a camera (the images in this post are from a trip to Richmond and Virginia Beach, Virginia my wife half for business and half to celebrate our anniversary), absorbing the world.
It worked. A story spun up out the things we saw and talked about on the trip. I started writing it today.
It's been almost sixty days since I last wrote something for this blog. Amazing. I can't account for the time. I remember writing the last post then getting distracted with the re-writing of my novel then typing in the edits then procrastinating the last few scenes I need to add and edit then second-guessing the story. And suddenly, I look back at my blog and the last post was dated almost sixty days ago.
Time is currency. You spend it to increase the value of your lifetime (the value to yourself, your experience as a human being, and the current state of the Universe).
When I was young, my perspective on a lifetime was different than it is now. A lifetime was this expanse too wide to comprehend; a desert or ocean of seemingly uncrossable distance that revealed nothing of what existed on the other side. I saw time as a limitless resource.
I never used to have the sense of suddenly lost time I just got looking at the date of my last blog post, that realization that some percentage of my life, has passed by and what I have to show for it doesn't add up.
When I was young, I was forward-focused. I was happiest imagining what was to come. I remember being seventeen and about to graduate high school and looking at a calendar and seeing the change of a millennium ahead. I knew that when we entered the new century, I would be thirty-two years old. An adult. Mature. As sold as my mother when I first took notice of her age. The age of a fully-grown person at the peak of realizing their promise. The millennium It was a flag in the distance, a marker of the future, an oasis that I imagined was surrounded by what I wanted my mature, adult life to be.
Today, I know that time is not limitless. I know that we live in an hourglass. Time is a mountain of sand we live on the top of. Every day, more of it falls away. Every day, we sink further to the bottom. One day, we'll have nothing left to stand on and this existence, the one I know as 'Stephen the writer' comes to an end.
The year 2000 is now as far gone as it was ahead when I was seventeen. I can see the far side of the expanse and know that my arrival there is inevitable. I have still yet to accomplish one of the goals I used to imagine I would have accomplished by now. Watching another two months slip by without anything to show for that time makes me sad. And angry. But neither of those emotions can sit at my computer and produce words that could march me towards my goals so I will have to set them aside and get back on the path.
PS: The picture above is from the 2012 Tour de France. Talk about looking back and celebrating the experience you accumulate during a lifetime. I have been a fan of professional cycling for as long as I have been an adult. I've worked in the cycling industry for more than ten years, many of them connected to websites and magazines that cover the sport. Yet 2012 was the first chance I had to visit the Tour. My friend Paul was turning 50 and put a trip together with five friends to ride in some of the most storied Tour de France terrain. One day, the Tour passed right by the small village where our bed and breakfast was located. An hour before the race passes by, there is a caravan of promotional vehicles, pimped-out rolling billboards staffed with smiling young marketers tossing trinkets and sweets. My friends and I parked ourselves on an empty stretch of road, spaced fifty feet apart, and collected a travel bag full of swag. The photo is of the Festina watch company's caravan vehicle. I can't remember what they threw out. It wasn't a watch. It was an amazing ten days. This was a wonderful moment.