Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Riding and Writing Life

I awoke Sunday, just as I did Saturday, knowing I would ride.  It’s a comfort, this riding, the will to ride.  It’s an old friend I return to.  I started the day with bike church and met another Triumph rider named Andrea.  And I met Julie, who plans to take an MSF course next month and is thinking of getting a Triumph.  Her smile and eyes danced with anticipation for the class.  She’s been wanting to learn for a long time.  She’s met lots of women who ride and thinks they are sexy and strong and cool.   Its seems to me that some of her yearning to ride is connected to her observations about those women.

When my mom talks about her career as a nurse what she says is that the work is what gave her a sense of herself as a strong, capable, intelligent woman.  I am in my sixteenth year as a nurse and what I know of myself so surely arises from that work that I can’t identify all the ways it has informed my sense of myself.

There was a time early in my nursing career when I would meet someone who asked me, “what do you do?” and I would answer, “I am a nurse.”  After a time I found myself too identified with the nurse role and started telling people “I work as a nurse,” when asked the same question.  This represented not only a change in language, but a shift in perspective that gave me more room to cultivate other aspects of myself.   Those parts that make me feel “sexy and strong and cool.”

Today I felt equally pulled to write and to ride.  I felt that if I rode, I’d shake loose some thoughts and free them up to write about them later.  So I climbed on the bike and headed south.  Last Fall, Dick took me out to his shooting club.  On the way there I found myself on a short stretch of curves that I thought’d be fun on the bike.  Today, as I passed 100th street off of M-37, I decided to turn toward the club to see if I could find that winding road again.  Within a few minutes I spotted my favorite road sign- the yellow sign with the curving black line on it- the one that signals twisty roads ahead.   I continued on, turning again and again, guided by instinct. 

Finally, sunburned and slightly tired, I headed back toward Grand Rapids to my favorite bookstore so I could write.  As a result of the ride, my thoughts had slowed down and words had risen up from within, asking to be heard.  This is how writing is for me.   Just as some of my best rides come from turning onto roads that seem to call out to me, rather than following familiar roads, so too, does the writing start with words that just fall onto the page without a clear idea of exactly where they are headed.  Sometimes I ride to get where I want to go and sometimes I ride to find where I need to be.  This is writing, too.  Sometimes I write to say what needs to get said and sometimes I write to find out where I am. 

I have written on and off for most of my life whether journaling, completing homework assignments or for work projects.  Still, there have been times when the idea of writing was more alive for me than the writing itself.  I would dream of a life that was filled only with the writing, where I was paid to write and loved the freedom the writing offered me.   It was at those times that I often was not writing, but rather dreaming of the writing life.  So the will to write was not always connected to the actual writing itself but what I thought about it, or what I thought it might mean for me.  I think Julie is there, too, thinking about riding and what it might mean for her.  

These days my writing is steady and I return to it often and consistently.  I’ve written my way into the writing life and it looks nothing like I thought it would when dreaming about it years ago.  This shouldn’t be surprising- I never imagined that those first tentative rides on the Dirt Squirt, would have lead to friendships, vacations and a wardrobe driven by a passion for motorcycling.

Today the writing and my life feel a little aimless.  There’s no sure path, there’s no direct line, no end point visible.  It’s hard to write this way, or rather hard to let the writing be just this, without trying to make more of it.  This too, is life.  Sometimes I don’t know where I’m headed.  I can’t see where the road leads, I’m just turning at each intersection, refueling when I need to and continuing on.  I think I’ll know when it’s time to stop.  I take stock now and again but I just keep pushing on, not sure of exactly what’s next for me.

This is the real work of writing and the real work of life, too.  It’s being willing to be lead by an inner compass, without the assurances of where it’s going.  I was dating someone once who told me how wonderful it is to be in a relationship with someone because you always know, “no matter what, you’ll always have each other.”  I didn’t agree then and I still don’t.  There is challenge in relating deeply with another- I’ve often found myself pushing against someone rather than aligned with them.  It isn’t always us against the world but rather one of us against the other, trying to find the best way and knocking each other over in the process.  And the kind of writing I’m talking about now is just like this.  I don’t know what the writing wants of me, I don’t know what direction it’s taking me in and I don’t know if I’ll like what it shows me once all the words are out on the page.

What I do have now, that I didn’t have ten, or even five years ago, is experience.  My women friends would call it wisdom, even.  It’s a trust in the process and in myself that I can do this, one word at a time, just like I take the riding one road at a time. 

Sunday, while following these twisting roads around through farmland, it felt like I had entered another world.  I’ve ridden alongside farms before but something was different that day.  I found myself riding past acres of farmland as far as my eyes could see.  Undulating fields, with neatly plowed furrows were dotted with white farmhouses and red weathered barns.  Beyond every turn was another field,  another farmhouse, another barn.  There was a familiarity to the scenes rolling out before me and yet it was new at the same time.  Even though I didn’t know where I was headed, I trusted the images, the scene, and the roads to get me where I needed to go.

A few times, I found myself with tears caught in my throat as I tried to make sense of all the feelings arising within.  I don’t know what’s caught there and I don’t know why.  I want to know both.  I hope I find out.  And soon.  But for now, I’m just going to keep writing until the tears dry and the way is clear.