Graceful receiving is one of the most wonderful gifts we can give anybody. If we receive what somebody gives us in a graceful way, we’ve given that person I think a wonderful gift. –Fred Rogers, “Remembering Mr. Rogers“
Cycling is a way for me to receive the gift of today, and feel grateful for all who make it possible. One aspect of cycling I really love is how it connects me to the present moment. It helps my concentration. I call this power ‘the now of cycling’.
It is a lot like making music in a way. Movement creates a sense of continual creation, a free flow of energy mixing in the present. If I dial up the intensity in cycling there is increased focus and concentration. Similar to when Leo Kottke gets into the chorus of his song “Orange Room” in the video player above, it really draws you in for the ride.
It’s liberating! It also helps me get dialed into the landscape, to pay attention to what is around me. I love taking pictures while out riding. This one above is from Buffalo, N.Y.
This one is from Denver in a light rain December 2020.
The beautiful Rio Grande looking across to the Sandia Mountains
John and Sam on Sam’s first ATM (around the mountain)
Valle de Oro in Albuquerque is connecting the traditions of the Tiwa People to the present day in a wildlife refuge that is also a critical resource for the community.
This mural in Moab is part of the “Shared Horizon Many Visions” community art project.
Another mural at Valle de Oro. It has been fun watching this place take shape. Their visitor center opened Sept. 10, 2022.
University of New Mexico, Albuquerque
Near Geyser Pass in the La Sal Mountains, Moab, Utah
Looking towards the Sandia Mountains from Tramway Road. Sometimes these blooms peak over a few days, and the lighting makes each moment unique. Cycling makes me feel like I’ve lived each day and is part of what makes my days whole. More fun rides!
How is it that the search to overcome our alienation from ourselves can also open up the possibility of deeper, richer relationships with all living beings, with all of nature? The hope with contemplative practice is that any healing that takes place within us can in turn contribute to a larger healing. –Douglas Christie, “The Desert Within”, from The Sun Magazine, January 2022 edition
During the first winter of the pandemic, my wife and I started visiting the wildlife refuges to the south of us regularly to rediscover a sense of wholeness and peace. Although we have been making such trips since we moved here seven years ago, I think we fell in love again. Even though the human world seems a mess sometimes, the power of nature can remind us we are living in beauty. Just pay attention to it!
We drive our car down there, but it is only one leg of the journey. The real adventure begins when we step out into the bliss that is this landscape all around us. We climb out of the car and stand on our legs again. You feel the breeze on your skin. Even a cold winter’s day the sun is like an eye in the sky, shining its warming light everywhere on the earth. You hear the cranes calling. Our senses expand outward into those vast spaces listening to all that is around us. We are filled up with nature again. A subtle symphony of sound, but also with clear distinct voices. We’ve escaped from distractions.
Even though our worlds are so different, it really is all connected. The water at the refuges is part of the same system of water that runs through our city. That we drink from our faucets. That we sip now as we wait quietly for sunset sipping our hot tea.
It’s that same sky that is above Albuquerque, though the ambiance is a little different in each particular place, at different elevations, with local rivers, mesas, and mountains. At some of the refuges I can even see the same mountains we see from Albuquerque, the Manzanos and the Sandias, though they are between 20 and 60 miles away. We see the same sunset. There is a symmetry there between worlds.
On one visit we arrived a day after winter storms blew through. The crystalline sky still had moisture in it, made visible by the clouds, and the air was so clear with all the particulate matter having been ‘rained’ out. You could feel the connection with that storm even though it was a day later. Just like the drying sunflower bulbs echo the summer season that blossomed, and will bloom yet again.
Standing there observing nature, we are learning to be still. Our awareness is trained by the action happening around us. And moving through us. A sense of love bubbles up. I think these trips to where nature abounds is restorative. Of course we all deserve to have this right at home too. To build our world in a way that places us in the beauty and recognizes that we need it like we need love, rest and recovery.
I got my legs back in Chicago. When I visited my father in downtown Chicago last May, I walked everywhere, since the city is set up that way. Walking is the fundamental way of going places in downtown Chicago, so you do it naturally. After a year of rehabilitating my stride–recovering from a hip injury in 2020–I finally didn’t have to think about the whole process of walking as a deliberate action. I just thought of where I wanted to go, and got up and went there, usually with family. That was an awesome corner to round.
Our pandemic ‘breakout’ trip of 2021 included travels to Chicago to visit my father, who lives downtown in a high rise building, just a few blocks from the lake. Staying in Chicago was special. Downtown is such a high density place. It was magical to see my dad, and he put us up in a guest apartment on the 30th-something floor in his building. It happened to be right across from the “Shirley Ryan Ability Lab“, which was very interesting to me, because I had spent two weeks in a rehabilitation hospital healing my hip. We also had a great view of the street below, so I could observe traffic flow and how everybody walks! Every day out of the morning silence the street would come to life with pedestrians, people being people.
My dad actually walks everywhere. He likes to swim too but walking is the main form of exercise and transportation. He walks to restaurants, around neighborhoods, to many of his medical appointments, and he walks to the Chicago Symphony. When we were there he walked us to Millennium Park, Navy Pier and more of the tourist trails. It was a low stress and easy way to get around. Just put on your shoes, grab water, and go.
The hardest part of the visit was actually getting downtown. The drive in was tough, with stop and go motorized traffic, but once we parked the car and put our feet on the ground, we recovered quickly soaking in the richness of our surroundings. I brought my bicycle with me, thankfully! Every morning I would get up and go ride for a couple hours on the Lakeshore Trail and beyond. This was delightful exploring the city on my own two wheels, and served as a nice routine of self-care. Cycling daily helped me relax and settle into place, so I could really focus on enjoying the time spent with family. It was like my morning meditation, albeit a rolling one.
I seem to be shy when it comes to taking pictures of people, but the actual people presence in Chicago was something! It is so different than where I live in Albuquerque, or in a place like Phoenix, where you can drive through the city without hardly seeing anyone. Being downtown Chicago out with others walking felt like an ’embodied community’, where the physical form, shape and movement of people is the fundamental reality. Maybe this is like seeing the river system and Lake Michigan and trees growing toward the sky in Chicago’s dense urban center, seeing nature’s infrastructure underneath all of our buildings and other creations and systems, and as a canopy overhead, and in fact running through everything, flowing through us.
It was fun to travel and reflect on it all. I felt safer walking Chicago, perhaps because there were so many people out. I felt less self-conscious and like people walking garnered a higher level of respect, perhaps because everyone walks there, so the community is reflected back in the everyday landscape. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch. Cars are allowed almost everywhere so you’re still exposed to car traffic most of the time. The noises and smells were not always pleasant, and the tall buildings obscure many views. But when I got going on my two feet, I felt unbounded freedom!
We also did some suburban walking when we visited my sister’s family in the Chicago suburb of Lombard. There they have the “Prairie Path” trail system, which traverses their community, and connects their suburban home to main street in Lombard. We walked the soft surface path to Lilacia Park to see the flower blooms in May. It was a great way to get a sense of their community, the place where they make their home.
That visit to Chicago was really a turning point in my recovery. It had become a chore to track my movements all the time, to have to make a special effort to walk. It was all prelude to what happened in Chicago, when I found my stride naturally. It was wonderful to see so many people out helping themselves with a little exercise, and helping each other. Shirley Ryan Ability Center says their patients travel “six times further” in a one-hour therapy session compared to other facilities. I remember from my rehab stay the first thing they do–after the basic rest, food, and hygiene routines–is help you get moving again. Everyday they helped me get up and walk. Sometimes we take it for granted, but moving under our own power is the first step in living our lives, determining our own destiny. It is good to see this happening on a community scale in a quintessentially American city such as Chicago. Really appreciate visiting dad there!
Traffic (people moving) is an artful choreography and public dance in a way, and being a part of it is how we relate to the world, and that felt good, getting along with all those Chicagoans and other visitors. There is something about walking especially that sets a level playing field. I also enjoyed the public art works such as murals I discovered on the ways. When people move through the world with grace and compassion it is very therapeutic. Good for the soul. Glad that place is set up for walking. It’s accessible for all.
“I realize my humanity in proportion as I perceive my reflection in the landscape that enfolds me.” –N. Scott Momaday, Testimony, 1996.
After breaking my hip last year, what I found I missed so much was going outside and into the mountains on a bike ride. As soon as I could get back to it, I did. Being outside pedaling into the mountains I felt so grounded, back in touch with nature’s healing powers.
Cycling out of town and getting into the mountains is a joyful exercise. It’s almost like you’re re-establishing contact with sacred ground. Riding my bike into the mountain forest feels like I’m entering nature with a whisper, my own breathing the main sound, along with wind sifting through the trees. You tune into the dynamics of light. Your attention to nature is rewarded, the world sort of invites you in. It’s seductive.
In this calm you are startled by the bustle of nature! During a bike trip last Fall, deer appeared suddenly in the Aspen grove I had stopped to admire. But when I looked at them it seemed like they were always there, like all of eternity was present in that moment of quiet.
My doctor told me to “ride my bike like crazy” when he saw me for my six month check-up from the hip surgery. The circular motion of the pedal stroke works wonders for breaking down the scar tissue. My physical therapist told me I was doing a good job helping myself by riding my bike. It felt good to receive the encouragement, and also felt awesome to get out into mountains that overlook town and soak up that energy.
One of my friends sent this article from the NY Times about a photojournalist stuck at home during the pandemic. The photojournalist just started documenting his rides in the local landscape. “It’s brought home the truth that you don’t need to board a plane and jet off to the far side of the world to experience a sense of travel or the romance of difference. It lies waiting on your doorstep — if you look” (Roff Smith). “These images, though, aren’t meant to be about me. They’re meant to represent a cyclist on the landscape, anybody — you, perhaps” he goes on to say. One of the gifts of this pandemic is more people are finding the necessity of outdoor adventure and making it local, sustainable travel, that anyone can do. Wonderful! As someone once said, cycling is contagious.
“And when I push off down the street, the world becomes big again, the way it used to be when I was a child: rich in detail, ripe for discovery” (Roff Smith).
And so I pedal on, continually looking for the next adventure out my front door. Things are different now. I know how fast things can change. If anything, I appreciate cycling even more. Grateful for the healing and a return to wholeness, I keep looking for ways to open more doors for more people, so they can get grounded on the bike too.
When you get out there on the bike and pedal, you realize the world is more beautiful than you think. You have to experience it. Feel it. I am so grateful to have more cycling to do. My sincerest thanks to everyone who has helped me get back on my feet.
“Love flowers best in openness and freedom.” –Edward Abbey
I believe the activity of cycling itself is the best communication tool for advocating for cycling and all its benefits, the connections cycling builds to health, nature, and our communities. Along the way I’ve realized we also need to do more than just ride. We need to create structural support for cycling and related self-powered mobility activities such as walking and rolling devices such as wheelchairs. We need to build safe, inclusive environments. So in 2013 I dove into the holistic side of cycling advocacy, and was really surprised to learn that some people who were advocating for cycling were divided. Some people say that cycling needs to be separated from other vehicular traffic, such as automobiles. Other people, usually experienced cyclists who know to go anywhere you need to use the system that’s been designed to connect places–our streets and roads–you need to deal with other traffic. I think this is a false divide, and I advocate for a dual pathways approach, meaning we can cycle on both separated paths and regular, inclusive streets and roads. Cycling is diverse and versatile.
“Someone else doesn’t have to be wrong for you to be right.” –Aileen, a New Mexican cyclist
An important aspect of designing for human movement is focusing on where our travel paths come together. The term we most often use for this is “intersections” but there are no intersections in nature. Things flow together and there are relationships. When we think about travel relationships we have to think about power disparities and relational equalities, and creating an encouraging environment for those that may feel disadvantaged. The easiest or common way to think about this is manners–such as when someone is at a disadvantage for opening a door, whether it be they are pushing a baby stroller, carrying bags, or are older and more frail–we offer to open it for them. For a lot of reasons we need to understand better, in our normalized travel environment of the public road, we sometimes forget our manners, and the more powerful users take their advantage. This goes against our values.
The secret is to respect each other. This begins with uniting the cycling advocates, and probably is dependent on people who are cycling valuing themselves and their own activities. Self-trust. Most of all we need a culture of encouragement where people feel safe and supported. Every person is a cycling advocate, since cycling is a public experience. It is part of our shared world.
It helps me to empathize with what people are feeling and experiencing. We need to improve safety on the road for cyclists and all travelers, so I empathize with people who prefer to cycle on multi-use trails and paths for safety reasons. And for people who cycle on the road, we need safety improvements made for our sake too! We have feelings and sensitivities! We love life!
In reality most of us cycle on all kinds of facilities, from roads to trails. They are not mutually exclusive. I like it all. The key is to have a choice to be able to cycle where you want to, to feel free to do so, and to be inclusive. Every single person can feel welcome to bicycle.
“That can be me.” –Hilena Tibebe in The Washington Post (link at top of this blog post)
“I love the sensation of movement” –Ned Overend on why he rides, from Outridebike.org
Last evening the fragrance of the forest rolled down the mountainside into town where it filled my senses. On my bicycle today I follow the trails up into the origins of those smells, the beautiful evergreen forest canopy gracing the mountains, in the shadow of the rainfall. Evidence of last night’s rain is all around, banks of sand washed over the ground in rippling forms, still trickles of water braiding in rivulets beading down the barks of trees and through all the meandering canyons, infusing the air we breathe and carried on the wings of the breeze.
Roots Farm Cafe in Tijeras, NM is delicious before, during, or after a ride
I’ve been waking up to the beauty of movement lately, thinking of all the special places I can go on foot and on bicycle. I don’t take that for granted anymore. Especially as I see more people take up the habit of exploring our world and being healthier and living life via walking and cycling. There is nothing more beautiful to me than people out moving naturally on the earth.
A favorite destination is the High Desert, where I can practice finesse on my ‘road bike’ and get a feel for the land
“Enlightenment is not some good feeling or some particular state of mind. The state of mind that exists when you sit in the right posture is, itself, enlightenment.” –Shunryu Suzuki
I think there are many ways to go places in this world, and just like love can be expressed in all vocations from farming to carpentry to management, we can tune in and pay attention whether we are moving, on foot, car, truck or bike, or standing still. But for me the bicycle has been revolutionary. Cycling extends my range but manages to keep me connected at a human scale.
I love cycling up a climb like La Luz. Even though I’m moving, my mind stands still and I become concentrated on my breathing. I’m like a swinging door, breathing in, breathing out, aware now I’m interdependent on the oxygen in the air. I have to work at the pedal stroke, but somehow that relaxes me. Two legs make one motion. When I get to the top of a climb satisfaction flows into me. Somehow my thirst is quenched. I feel replenished. From home I climbed up into the mountain light. I receive insights and perspective. And I can turn around and draw a line with my bike, a connecting thread back to my home. We need movement like the Earth needs water.
Almost monsoon time
“That is why Buddha could not accept the religions existing at his time. He studies many religions but he was not satisfied with their practices. He could not find the answer in asceticism or in philosophies. He was not interested in some metaphysical existence, but in his own body and mind, here and now. And when he found himself, the found that everything that exists has Buddha nature.” –Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
As I reflect on all the people pedaling around our city environs, and realize there is a mixed record of land uses and varying impacts on environmental quality we experience while cycling, what Barry Lopez had to say in his book Horizon gives me a hopeful perspective. The fact that today exists means there is hope now. And even in these landscapes that have been altered so severely, often times for only one reason, the possibility still exists to see things whole and in the big picture. There is still a lot to work with in the here and now, and all the time in the world to create our next dreams. Every time I go for a ride, or see other people moving with natural grace, I feel like I am part of that, like I’m experiencing today the original creation, unfinished and ongoing, unfolding like a a flower. When I’m on my bicycle I feel open to all this.
“Even in this logged-over landscape, soaked and gleaming, contradicting the apparent desolation of the clear cut, where stillness now accompanies the silence, I can imagine something like the original creation however mythic that thought might be. Or the blueprint of another creation, unknown and unplanned” (Barry Lopez, Horizon, p. 129)
A young cyclists pedaling in to Bike-In Coffee at Old Town Farm, one of Albuquerque’s unique gems off the Bosque Trail
“A highly developed art of urban design is linked to the creation of a critical and attentive audience. If art and audience grow together, then our cities will be a source of daily enjoyment to millions of their inhabitants.” –Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City, 1960
As I bicycle and walk around our city, I enjoy paying attention to the landscape. Here are some photos I took of murals and other art created by the city’s inhabitants. Most of these pictures are from Albuquerque, and a few are from other towns in New Mexico. I’ve pulled out some quotes from readings that I’ve been thinking about as I look around.
“At the heart of successful human navigation is a capacity to record the past, attend to the present, and imagine the future–a goal or place that we would like to reach.” –M.R. O’Conner, Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World, 2019
“Your initial goal, unrealistic or mistaken though it may be, encourages you to make an effort in your practice. The practice becomes easier, less stressful, less painful. You develop a deeper appreciation for it. The goal becomes doing the practice every day.” –Norman Fischer, Our Grand Delusion, in the Sun Magazine August 2018
“Slow streets, overnight, transformed our family life and the lives of our neighbors. We had struggled to find a place to teach our daughter to ride her bike up until this point. It always seemed like such a production. Easier to just scoot along the sidewalk and put it off. But the minute the streets opened up, we got our helmets on and headed out. About an hour later, we had a bike rider on our hands. I’ve heard similar stories from so many parents across Oakland. The only thing that may be as reliable as toilet paper selling out during this strange era is kids learning to ride bikes.” –Courtney E. Martin, “Slow streets are the path to a better city“, Curbed, 5.19.2020
“We can easily afford to conserve what we’ve been given and to wait patiently for a wisdom that so far has eluded us, a wisdom that will enable us to convey this gift, not simply consume it.” –Barry Lopez, Testimony, 1996
“Or maybe wayfinding is an activity that confronts us with the marvelous fact of being in the world, requiring us to look up and take notice, to cognitively and emotionally interact with our surroundings whether we are in the wilderness or a city, even calling us to renew our species’ love affair with freedom, exploration, and place.”–M.R. O’Connor, Wayfinding: The science and mystery of how humans navigate the world
“In The Need for Roots, the French philosopher Simone Weil claimed that ‘to be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.’…Weil defined rootedness in an interesting way, not as lineage or birthplace but as participation in the life of a community that preserves ‘certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future'”. –O’Connor, Wayfinding
“We move in space through constant contact with the contours of our environment. We are in touch with our world at a visceral level, and it is the quality of our ‘being in touch’ that importantly defines what our world is like and who we are.” –Mark Johnson, The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding, 2007
“Through his studies of automobile drivers and airplane pilots, [James] Gibson came to the conclusion that perception and behavior are a single biological phenomenon, and both humans and animals directly perceive their environment in an act of knowing or being in contact with it. We are not minds stuck in bodies but organisms that are part of our environment. Gibson called his theory ecological psychology and it led to a new understanding of navigation.” –O’Connor, Wayfinding
“History especially is illuminating, because where we are today is a product of ideas that we’ve inherited often from hundreds of years ago. So you dig back into the origins of these ideas and it helps illuminate why we have the habits of thought today which might not be adjusted to current experience.” –Elizabeth Anderson, MacArthur Fellow, Class of 2019
A few terms defined:
Vernacular–built by necessity, local, temporary, not necessarily fashionable, improvised. Examples of the vernacular in downtown Reno can be seen in watching the people live in the street. Skateboarders improvising transportation routes through corriders built for automobiles and walking pedestrians.
Establishment–much of the vernacular arises around the establishment’s landscape, but uses it in a way that is was not intended for. The establishment represents law, order, property, rules, architecture. It’s carefully thought out by planners with certain motives in mind. Much of the built environment in downtown is representative of what the establishment were thinking, what their tastes are, what their education and expertise is emphasizing. –my Geography 314: Cultural, field methods journal, 2001
“Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?” –RW Emerson, Nature
As more people are discovering freedom on two wheels and the joys and benefits of self-powered locomotion outside, we are reminded how essential cycling businesses are for supporting basic transportation. Some public health orders were not clear on whether bicycle shops were designated as ‘essential businesses’ during the current public health crisis. Bike shops are definitely providing essential services to families and especially our children. The first rule of cycling safety is maintenance and a pre-trip inspection. In addition to maintenance, bike shops do repairs, match us to appropriate equipment, and provide a host of services from bike fitting to route finding and local expertise.
as a professional truck driver, I inspected my truck every day, and at every stop, certifying it in my driver’s log;
“One of the principles of health promotion is to support an individual or community in taking control of their own health.” –BCCHC (Bernalillo County Community Health Council, March 2020 announcement)
Many of the workers we rely upon use the bicycle to commute to work, such as doctors, nurses, food workers and more, plus the bicycle is used for deliveries and essential errands. It’s important to ensure people have the assistance they need to make sure their bicycle is safe to operate. This ‘basic bike check‘ is the first step before any ride.
Bicycle shops are foundational to healthy communities. They provide the equivalency of services that automotive shops do for cars. As we review things with fresh eyes, we are recognizing bike shops as essential service providers for transportation safety for all. Don’t let the simplicity of the bicycle fool you–it’s incredibly effective at making seamless work of uniting our basic needs for health, community, and sustainable mobility for perpetuity.
Resources to get (and keep) riding safely:
The community network of bike shops, instructors, orgs., etc. in New Mexico by the LAB, can be of assistance if you are started riding. I’m listed as an instructor. Drop me a line
PedBikeSafe is a resource about road design elements that citizens can use to be more informed and understand proactive safety measures, risks and hazards, and countermeasures. http://www.pedbikesafe.org
“Empathy: emptying our mind and listening with our whole being”–Marshall Rosenberg, NVC
Cycling has been a path into the greater world that has opened up space for me to live, learn and breath. It’s enabled me to give up the stories I clung onto, and build up empathy. Cycling works a lot like music or poetry or visual arts in this way. It encourages us to be present to both ourselves and to the ‘other’ dimensions of the world, the material, the numinous, the interrelations.
Though the bicycle is an extraordinary tool for exploring the external world, what’s also interesting is the way it shines a spotlight, very subtly, on our own being. As we cycle more and more, we discover that our powers are small and limited, but at the same time they are strong and sufficient. And when we apply our focused selves through the instrument it is amazing where we can go and what we can achieve.
It’s a long journey! And it is both a social and a solitary one. Sometimes when I go somewhere the simple goal of returning home is a monument. You’re out there in the weather, that relentless summer sun, digging into the breeze, looking deep within yourself to muster up the strength to get back home. Adrift and alone in a precarious situation! We have to measure our energy stores, use our planning faculties and read the topography of the land.
It’s exciting to stretch your limits little by little. Like a yoga class, we work into those postures gradually. We recognize the form when we see it in our teachers and classmates, and we know we can picture our body getting there. But it takes time and continual practice. Once we put our minds eye on the destination we begin the process of figuring out how to get there. It can be as basic as cycling to work or school or the grocery store.
I’ve experienced several disruptions in my cycling life, but each one has been particularly useful. When I started driving a car somehow I dropped cycling. I loved the range motorized transport brought me and the scale at which I could view the countryside. But when I came back to the bicycle I found the intimacy and detail wonderful. All of a sudden it felt like I lived in the places I was moving through. The way the bicycle opened my whole being to listening in a way and activated all my senses. It’s a mystery the way the world becomes incorporated into our being, but from what I can observe, a lot of that process is happening directly while cycling.
“What is true is that the world has a great deal to tell us…” –Cormac McCarthy in Nautilus
The social part of cycling for me is about the communion we can build with other people. Cycling is a lot like a community of artists, or scientists, or any profession, wherein the practice is a joint learning enterprise. There is a collective knowledge and experience that forms the cultural foundation and shapes the education and expression. Cycling culture reminds me of the way Luther’s reformation re-introduced congregational singing of vernacular music into church services, therefore enlisting the broader community in an active role in shaping the spiritual scene. When I participated in the Slow Roll 505 ride in Albuquerque, or the Iron Horse, it is like being in the middle of a church choir song in nature’s cathedrals.
And so I keep circling back to our cycling traditions, the faith in its power to restore our empathy with individual selves, our families and communities, and all of nature grows stronger. In Barry Lopez’s interview with The Sun magazine in December 2019, he suggests what our present situation really requires is attention to stability and justice. “Who provides stability in the chaos of modern life? It is people living in a prayerful way” (The World We Still Have, p. 15). In a metaphorical sense I recognize the force cycling brings into my daily life. It is so plain, mundane and ordinary and beyond compare.
Yes, we all experience terrible things… I like to see it as this is our species-wide endeavor. How do we change what happened to us into how to live better. That’s the great great conundrum. –Ocean Vuong on PBS
Every year I read the MacArthur Foundation awards. The writer Ocean Vuong was amongst the class of 2019 MacArthur Fellows. Over a series of a few days I watched the two or three minute summary videos posted for each fellow. Ocean’s stood out to me, but it wasn’t until a few months later when I came back to it, and found more interviews with him that I started to understand why his work resonated with me. There were parallels to the way he was trying to write about a new way of being in the world to what I have been trying to do here, write about cycling as a way to live that is powerful and vibrant.
In Nevada my friend Dave and I rode the horse trails across the Humboldt Range after getting our bikes lifted to the start on 4-wheeler by his father Burl
Ocean’s novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, is a lot of things, but a central theme has to be American masculinity. What does it mean to be a man? On the bicycle I discovered I had strengths I didn’t recognize before, and one of those was a loving heart. The heart literally drives your motion on the bicycle. This is so powerful to let your light shine this way but somehow rather than celebrating it universally our society can sometimes be critical of those who ride bicycles.
Writing helped me understand, that although you can technically be a victim…whether you live in victimhood is up to you. We can’t change what happens to us. But we can change how we live in order to have a successful life. I think one of the great powers of writing is when you can take your story and present an alternate future of where it is headed, you can take control of your life. —Ocean Vuong
There is a wisdom to accepting what happened is beyond your control.–Ocean Vuong
What I learned from these refuge women is you don’t have to talk it out. That is the great western myth. That you got to talk it out, get a therapist, lay it all out. –Ocean Vuong
A lot of the times I ride it out, and work it out by using that energy to try and understand where people are coming from. One of the great gifts of cycling is it helps cultivate self-empathy if you let it. And starting with self-compassion, you can expand your awareness more to what is going on with others, who are unique, and also not so different from us.
One of the greatest joys is riding with my family
What they can do is say regardless of what happened, I care for you, and I’m going to find a way to keep caring for you. —Ocean Vuong
Recently my mother told me to keep riding my bike. This kind of verbal encouragement and acceptance of what I do, of who I am, means a lot to me. It starts here, creating that culture of encouragement between our loved ones, within our families.
Rage and anger are energies. They are raw energies ready to be recycled and reused. But if we use them, anger is a force that extinguishes the wielder as well as the world. I’m more interested in using the energy of compassion and understanding. I’m at my best when I say, I’m angry about this, but I need to know why you are doing it to me. —Ocean Vuong
It is true we are all alone in this world, but equally true we couldn’t do anything by ourselves. Vuong gives ‘the ten books he needed to write my novel’ here at Literary Hub. I’ve tried to document my sources of inspiration here on this blog, including the first hand experience that I am having on my everyday rides with my friends in our community. The really beautiful and exceptional thing about cycling is everyone can embody this identity and experience the world in this way. That’s why I keep inviting people to join the fun fun fun. We can actually do what Thoreau urges us to do, and experience the world through each other’s eyes, like what literature does. Hope to see your light shining on a ride!
What a man leaves behind is what a man is. –Toni Morrison, “A Mercy”, quoted in The Sun Magazine, March 2020