Sunday, October 10, 2010
“Seeing yourself in print is such an amazing concept: you can get so much attention without having to actually show up somewhere.” – Anne Lamott, from Bird by Bird.
If I asked long enough, my mother would tell me the story of how I taught myself to ride a bike. It would go something like this:
“You were about four. One day, you just decided it was time for us to take the training wheels off of your big girl bike. Once the bike was ready, you went out, by yourself, on our back patio and practiced and practiced until you finally figured it out. You didn’t want any help. I’d look out of the kitchen window and there you'd be, with no shirt and your face redder than your hair. You kept a towel around your neck to wipe away the sweat and tears. After a couple of hours, you’d accomplished your goal with absolutely no help from anyone else.”
I never really took to bike riding. I rode some as a child, of course, but I’ve always preferred to walk, or better yet, to ride in the air conditioned comfort of an automobile. But, this isn’t a story about my learning to ride a bike. It’s a story about how I’m still learning who I am and how I’m made. Although my 60-year-old self happily applauds the tenacity I displayed on that summer day so many years ago, I've had to sit back and ponder my early-age decision to learn to ride a bicycle on a small patio, instead of a sidewalk, a playground, or a parking lot, with no instruction or advice from others.
After 56 years, my pondering is just now offering what could have been a helpful glimpse into my future, a foretelling of things to come, if I’d just been more alert as a young child. And if I could have just taken what would have been my very own four-year-old sage advice, I might have saved some time in becoming who I was ultimately going to be anyway.
I'm just now realizing that learning and doing and creating have, seemingly, always been a personal and private thing for me, just as it was on that day on that patio. Looking back, I see that I’ve never been one for study or support groups; sit-ins and love-ins have never interested me, neither have sing-alongs or group hugs. Although I appear to be outgoing and chummy, I can only hold on to that facade for a short period of time.
I’ve come to believe that many introverts become life of-the-party class clowns in order to survive until they can go home and be with their very best friends who just so happen to be their very own personal selves. I do like people, in small doses, and most of the time, people like me, probably because I don’t hang around long enough wear out my welcome. I wouldn’t want a world without other people as I need to have them around to edify, entertain, and then irritate me to the point where I can wish them away.
And this is where writing comes in. After a work day or a dinner party or even a family outing, I need to go home and process my thoughts and feelings, by myself, after I leave others behind. And, as Anne Lamott points out for many writers, I do enjoy the attention that writing sometimes brings as long as I don't have to be present when it's given.
And so, it seems that I'm a writer and not a cyclist, not because I’m a great thinker or a particularly talented wordsmith but because writing fits who I am and how I navigate the world from my own little personal space. Unless you are Salman Rushdie, writing is safer than bike riding, although it’s hard to experience much of life from behind a computer screen.
Therefore, I'll try, as always, to heed my mother's advice, taking "all things in moderation." I'll endeavor to get out and do things, be with people, and even take some risks. Except for bike riding. That I'm not going to do unless there's just no choice, and, if I do have to ride a bike, I'd prefer the experience to take place on a small patio with nobody watching and no help from anyone. And, if that happens, I'm definitely going to go home and write about it, even if it takes 56 years.