Lessons Learned from the Bike, Part One

balance-balance-motivational-1310443928I’ve been riding a bike since May 2012. Not very long. I love it, though, and I’ve found that no matter what is going on in my life, it’s all made better by time in the saddle. There is a sign on a bike trail in Fort Collins, Colorado, that my daughter pointed out to me when we went riding a couple of months ago. It reads “Let it all go.” That’s so true. In the saddle, I can let it all go and just focus on the ride.

I’ve learned a few things while on the bike, and I think they apply to so-called “real life.” Let me say right here that these are my own lessons learned. They may not apply to everyone, and they may not be true for every cyclist. Here’s a few in no particular order.

1. Any ride is better than no ride. Sometimes my mind will trick me that I don’t have enough time in one single chunk to do something. “I can’t write–I only have 20 minutes.” Biking has taught me the fallacy of that. Only 20 minutes? No problem. I can still get a very short three-mile ride in. While that isn’t much, any ride is better than no ride. And writing two paragraphs is better than not writing at all. Grab what you can when you can.

This also applies to exercise. Riding a bike is great exercise. And while you may at times feel that you can’t spend enough time to make it worthwhile, or that you don’t go fast enough nor far enough, remember this: you are lapping everyone who is sitting on the couch.

2. When confronted with the choice to go uphill or down, choose uphill. I’m all about options, and generally speaking, the more options you have, the better. If you choose to go downhill, you have eliminated the easy option, basically leaving you with no options. If you choose uphill, you can always change your mind if you really need to. Going uphill has a lot of benefits. The first, of course, is that eventually, you’ll go down the other side, wind rushing through your hair, joy flooding your exhilarated body. Second, the view is better from the top. You can look back at the hill you’ve just climbed, the accomplishment you have achieved, the challenge you have conquered and say, “Wow, I did that!”

In child development, if the parent does everything for the child, the child never achieves a sense of accomplishment and learns instead to be helpless and dependent. We develop self-esteem and self-confidence only by conquering the difficult. Choose uphill. Say yes to the challenge.

3. When going uphill, go small. This goes along with the one above. If you’ve chosen to go uphill, there are going to be times that you are sure you won’t be able to make it. That’s especially true in life. Some challenges feel unconquerable. In that case, it’s best to look at the short distances. As the joke goes–how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Don’t look at the whole hill; focus instead on the few yards in front of you. Look ahead a little ways and pick a target. On one hill that I used to regularly ride, I would pick my target and give myself permission to turn around when I reached that target. I never turned around. I always without fail picked another target and kept going.

I read an article recently by Kimberly Turner about resolutions for writing, and she made this point. Looking at the big picture is necessary so you know where you’re going, but looking at it too long can be overwhelming. Get the big picture, the big hill, in mind and then make smaller goals. Instead of saying, “I’m going to write that novel this year,” break it down and say, “I’m going to write chapter one this week.” Instead of saying, “I’m going to lose 25 pounds this year,” say “I’m going to eat healthy today,” and “I’m going to lose two pounds this month.”

4. Keep moving. Life is movement. It pushes forward, struggles, surges, creeps. It is never still. Growth is movement. To stop moving is to become stagnant, to die. To ride a bike is movement. You can’t ride a bike and be still at the same time. If in life you feel you are stuck, move. If you are depressed, move. If you are uncertain which path to take, take one. MOVE. As Winston Churchill said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.” Nothing lasts forever. If you are going through bad times, they will not last. Keep moving.

I wish I could say that you will not fall off your bike if you keep moving. You no doubt will take a spill at some point while biking. But it is a certainty that you will fall off if you don’t move at all.

I live in Colorado, where I can look out my window at any given moment and see the mountains. And they are beautiful, majestic, breathtaking. But my heart longs to be on the beach with its ceaseless movement. Life is movement. Growth is movement. Learning is movement. Biking is movement.

5. It’s all about you. When I first started riding, I would approach this one hill and kill myself trying to maintain my speed. It took a lot of the joy out of hitting that hill, because I just couldn’t ride it as fast as what I thought I should. I have riding friends, and I was judging myself–a fledgling rider–on their distances and speeds.

Sometimes in life people will judge you based on their own standards. Sometimes you will judge yourself based on how they live their lives. But the truth is, no one sits in your saddle but you. No one resides in your skin but you. No one rides your path but you. That’s right–it’s all about you. Shinedown has a song called “What a Shame.” The first line of the chorus is “What a shame, what a shame to judge a life that you can’t change.”

Don’t let anyone else’s judgment change who you are–either when you’re riding or in life. We in the church are famous for doing that to others, judging them without knowing their lives, motivations, choices, challenges as if we had the right. I will write more about that in a future blog post.

6. Announce yourself. While it is all about you, recognize that you are part of a community. When you are on a bike and are approaching a pedestrian, you are supposed to announce yourself. “On your left.” This keeps them from unwittingly stepping out in front of you and hurting themselves, you and your bike. So it is in life. Announce yourself. This doesn’t mean that when you walk into a party you have to throw your arms open wide and belt out “Here I am! Embrace me!” It means say hello. It means reach out to someone else. Greet people. Smile. As a pastor at my old church used to say, “Be kind to everyone you meet, because everyone you meet is carrying a heavy load.”

I don’t just announce myself to the pedestrians on the bike path. I have a bell on my bike and I love ringing it. It’s a happy sound, and God knows we could use more happy sounds in this often sorrowful world. I ring the bell at other bikers. It’s a recognition that we are in a special community, that we both know the joys of pedal pumping. I saw a little girl one time and I know the joy on her face matched my own, and when I rang my bell and she rang hers in return, I felt like I’d met a sister, even though 40-plus years separated us.

There’s the first set. One final story–not because it fits in any particular category, but because it makes me happy when I remember it.

Squirrels are always something to watch out for. They’re fast, they’re unpredictable, and they always think they can beat you. Not long ago, I was riding on the street (sometimes I like to avoid the bike paths because I can build up better speed that way–no pedestrians to worry about), when a squirrel darted in front of me. I braked and it got by me. But there was an accelerating SUV on the other side, and I was pretty sure the squirrel would be flattened roadkill in no time. But if the driver didn’t see the squirrel, he no doubt saw my look of horror and my shoulders scrunched up by my ears in preparation of impending squirrel doom, and he braked. The squirrel made it safely to the tree on the other side of the road, and as the driver passed me, he gave me a huge smile and a thumbs up.

Community, a simple shared moment, happens even in unlikely circumstances.

Until my next bike post, wear your helmet, look both ways, settle in the saddle, and ride on.

I Used to Be …

In reviewing how things have gone this past year, I could focus on all the bad things that have happened, and there have been a number of them, both personally and communally. However, since I have struggled with depression lately, I’ve decided that focusing on the negative isn’t going to help anyone, me included.

So I thought instead about some positive personal events and a purchase I made this last year that have had a good deal of importance for me. First, the purchase. In May, I bought a bike and named her Baby Blue. I had a bike when I was a kid but I never rode it, because I walked everywhere. But a friend of mine talks a lot about biking, and so I thought I would give it a try. I fell in love. Biking has become not just something I do, but someone I am. I am a cyclist. I don’t go extremely fast nor extremely far. I’m working up to that. But there is a feeling when I’m in the saddle that is unlike almost anything else. It calms me. It frees me. It helps me to refocus. I plan on writing a post in the very near future called “Lessons Learned from the Bike.” There have been many, and I’d like to share them with anyone who cares to read them.

One thing that I’ve wanted to do while riding is get to the point of being so comfortable with it that I can lose myself to everything else and think about my writing, that as the pedals turn, so will the creative wheels in my brain and I’ll envision scenes with great clarity.

I have been able to take a couple of trips this year, trips I call my “walkabouts,” most of them to beach areas. I love the beach. There is something about the ceaseless movement of the tide that speaks to me. I’ve had the good fortune to watch the sun set on the water, and I saw a moon rise that made me feel incredibly joyful to be in that place at that moment.

One thing I have done on my walkabouts is write. Well, that’s always been the plan. This year has seen very little writing. There’s something in the back of my brain that whispers, “You used to be a writer,” and I feel the sadness, the longing in those words, the tug which is as ceaseless as the tides. I used to be a writer. I created worlds and people and events. I miss it.

I have my suspicions of where the drive to write went, of how this particular writer ended up on a death bed. I won’t discuss that here other than to say I’m aware of it. I’m not sure it can be overcome or resurrected. There’s no going back to who I was before, so I need to find a way through it. Perhaps that means just pushing through until I tap that creative spirit again. Perhaps it means writing something different, becoming a different sort of writer. I’m hoping that writing this here will make me accountable to something or someone.

I have been unable to finish much of anything. I have the beginnings of several novels and a few short stories, and I can’t seem to find the motivation, or maybe the sheer guts it takes, to finish. I will briefly summarize the plots of various manuscripts I have begun. These are characters I have created who deserve to see the light of day, to see a finish to their stories.

The Mikes (5 chapters finished as well as numerous random chapters) is about one woman’s sexual journey and exploration. i started writing this because I knew it would sell and I’m tired of writing “literature” that no one wants. So I wanted something steamy and fun. I started it long before 50 Shades of Grey came out, and it is much, much better, even in its infancy. Like 50 Shades, it deals with the BDSM lifestyle, but unlike 50 Shades, this manuscript has actually been researched. After reading parts of 50 Shades of Grey, I have to wonder if she did any research at all or talked with anyone who actually lives this lifestyle. However, her book coming out when it did knocked some of the wind out of my literary sails. Like a sucker punch. Even if I get it published now (well, if I get it written, that is), mine will look derivative. Redundant and regurgitated.

The Sin Eater, two chapters in. It’s actually untitled so far, and while it isn’t about an actual sin eater, the concept is close enough. My main character is Moth, a young but ageless woman who does what a sin eater does–bears the sin of others as they prepare to die. My secondary character is Jasper, the sin eater in training, so to speak, except he doesn’t want the job and his drug addiction keeps him from doing what he knows is right.

The Salvatore Series, book one. Another untitled one, two chapters in. This is another one I started in order to be commercial. My plan is for it to be a series of action/romance novels, and the front for the rescue operation is Salvatores, an Italian bakery. There are hot men, sexy women, etc., etc., etc. Or there will be, once it gets out of my imagination and onto the computer. I like my idea, like where it’s going, like my main characters as well as the characters who will come later in the series.

Framing of the Shrew, comedic murder mystery, Eight chapters finished. Woohoo! Eight chapters. That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Certainly compared to the others. But it dug in its heels and refused to go further. I know what the problem was. A character came in uninvited and wants to be the romantic interest for my main character, who is a college professor accused of murdering one of her students. I didn’t want him to be the romantic interest. I had someone else in mind. So I wrote part of another chapter and promptly lost all interest. (Sidebar to any writers out there–don’t make this mistake. Let your novel go where it wants to go, because like a mule, it won’t go anywhere it doesn’t want to go.)

Finally, there is the screenplay for my novel Justified Means. I’ve got about the first 25 minutes, and it’s rolling along pretty well. Except that I stopped working on it. Yes, even now sitting here writing all this, I’m thinking a great big WTF? There’s no reason I shouldn’t be done with any of these. Russell Crowe as God. It’ll be fabulous!

I’ve got a couple of others, but these are the ones that I ache for, the ones that if I abandon them, there will be a yawning, engulfing hole in my stomach, like a healthy pregnancy that’s been aborted.

I’m telling you about them so that every now and then someone might say, “Hey, are you working on that novel? You know, the great one about …” Fill in the blank. Hold me accountable. Make me feel uncomfortable with the question. I dare ya. Read the chapters that I start posting on here and either tear them to shreds with criticism or beg me for more. Oh, and if you want to vote which one I should pursue first, feel free to tell me.

I promise I won’t ignore you the way I’ve tried to ignore the little voice inside that says “You used to be a writer.”