I typically confuse actions with feelings. I say, “Man, I’d love to go for a ride right now,” or “I really need to sit down and do some writing,” but what I really mean is that there are feelings I want to have, brain states that frighten and soothe. I want flow, and I want progress, and I want forward movement that mostly lives inside me and only looks like moving through the world, sometimes on a bike, sometimes at a keyboard, sometimes not moving at all.
I want that bursting sense of possibility I get when I hammer out of the driveway and up the slight rise at the end of the road, the launch of a new ride and its palpable feeling of freedom, of escape, a buzzing in my guts as adrenalin collides with serotonin up in the old brain box. I fairly sprint for the top of the hill, the faster to get out into the world.
The first minutes, fingers to keyboard can be the same, escaping into my thoughts, spewing pre-formed phrases out onto the screen, bits of language that have been tumbling around temporally for hours and days. Sprinting to get them all out before the flow falters, before the dependent clauses dangle off the ends of their sentences and break, like a slipping chain, like a mental mis-shift.
I want to feel the desperate equilibrium of a long climb, the way head and lungs strike their fragile bargain, teetering there between capacity and rhythm, hovering in that magical place where I can’t seem to do more and can’t seem to do less, legs screaming but not loud enough to be heard, breathing heavy but not too heavy to lift, every track beneath my train of thought fully occupied by forward movement, and everything melts away but the climbing, the up.
I want that well worn spot at the end of the couch and a book in my hand and coffee cup perched there beneath the lamp, the clock’s ticking inaudible and unimportant, nowhere to be but fully inhabiting the ideas bound in ink and paper, racing through the pages, synapses singing, warm and wholly calm, every minute a moment and every hour an eternity at the same time. Timeless. Mental.
The frenetic moments off the front of the ride/race/ramble, when I marvel at my strength, wonder what I should do next, doubt it will last. All of it thrilling, even when it ends, like a solar flare of energy, accidental and necessary.
Or the post-ride feed. Sitting around a table with friends, cups steaming or ice jumbling against sugary salvation, the food arrayed before us like a trophy cabinet, and the inquest begins. Everyone did either more or less than they actually did, as suits their ego and the careful arrangements among friends. The mind capers in triumph at having done something worth doing, at having earned the reward.
Action and feeling are inseparable, the one leading to the other and back again in a tight loop of motivation and energy, and the cruel truth is that the same actions don’t always lead to the same feelings. The recipe is never so neat and easy. The rabbit is not always to be found in the hat, but sometimes only out in front of us, hovering in the mind’s eye just out of reach, and each of us a greyhound at the track, loping madly in circles.
Image: Matt O’Keefe
I try to keep things simple. I ride my bike, and I write about it. That seems to be the one and only “technique” that works for me, and when I’m true to it, it’s true to me.
The problem comes when the motivation to ride everyday wanes, when getting out the door requires more mental calculus than my tax forms. That’s where I’ve been lately. Unlike past winters when I’ve ridden into the teeth of the wind, smiled, spit and rolled on, I’m finding it cold this year. My hands hurt. Rides aren’t leaving me satisfied and inspired. They’re leaving me trashed and tired, ragged and spent.
And the harder it gets, the worse is my rider’s block, the harder it is to get out the door. I am only really commuting now. Every other week or so the guys from the office drag me out for a trail ride, but I’m forcing myself. Even with a new bike, I’m forcing myself.
Fortunately, I’ve been this way before, and I have faith in the bike and faith in the process of riding and writing, and riding and writing, over and over until I’ve crossed all the invisible finish lines and rolled out of all the imaginary start houses and climbed all the unrated climbs and arrived at all the destinations that weren’t the point, because it’s the journey, right? Always the journey. Keep riding. Don’t stop. Find the rhythm.
Is it working? I’m riding everyday, or awfully close to it, and I’m still writing. I’m just not in that beautiful unconscious place you get to when you’re fit and motivated and every hill is a dragon to be slain and every ride is a deposit in that Swiss bank account in your soul. I’m faking it to make it. I’m muscling through, instead of finessing it.
In the past, when I’ve had conventional writer’s block, I’ve employed this basic method. Keep writing, or perhaps more importantly, keep reading. Find the inspiration. Write through all your bad ideas. Go back. Revise them. Make them worse. Start over. Put them in an envelope. Seal it. Light a match. Move on.
What I can’t figure is, the weather has been kind to me. It’s mid-January and we’ve had a dusting of snow. That’s it. The cold hasn’t even been very cold. Al Gore’s got his thumb on the thermostat, I guess. The conditions are right for success.
I must be one hard road ride away from salvation. Or maybe one day of trail flow, stump hurtling, switchback slaloming flow. Or maybe, just maybe, a few hours of wrenching will put me right.
I’ve done the hardest part. I’ve identified the problem. That allows me to accept ride invitations despite serious misgivings. That allows me to get out of bed before dawn and pull up the bib straps. Ride the bike and write about it. Keep it simple. Ride.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International