A Note about Literary Catharsis and Adventures in Bicycling

Though the act of writing may not always be rainbows and smiles, it is often incredibly productive for the exercising of internal demons. Working on my memoir was an incredibly emotional experience from start to finish, and I knew the whole way through that a lot of emotional healing as well was brewing alongside the composition. When I cried while typing, it was because I was forcing myself to relive painful memories and then analyze them in a way that most grieving people don’t have to do.

So when I started writing this novel, which is 100% fictional and has no real rooting in my personal life, I thought I wouldn’t have to endure any of that emotional stuff. Of course, I was completely wrong there. It turns out that I still cry while writing, not necessarily for my own memories now but because I find that I must apply the Stanislavsky method of acting to my writing; in order to convey my character’s feelings onto the page in a way that will affect the reader I must crawl inside her head and feel for myself that which I am forcing her to feel. Sound confusing? That’s because it is confusing.

I am beginning to understand why many writers go nuts after spending much of their adult lives working on a book, because the lines between our own personalities and those of the characters we create have a tendency to blur. This experience can be pretty draining, too, so that I am only able to churn out a page or two each day before feeling the need to numb myself back up with some pleasure reading or a few episodes of Star Trek. But after I’ve become myself again, I feel cleansed and content—like I’ve done my duty for the day. Though the writing is always a joyful experience, what I feel afterwards is total bliss.

We’ve all heard the annoying writerly advice to “write what you know.” This can be a great starting point, but I’m convinced that it is through the attempt at stretching our creative muscles past the comfort level that we really grow as writers. To beef up the backstory in the early chapters of this novel, I’m finding that a blend of researched material, totally made-up stuff, and some of my own history is working well. I’ve created my main character’ parents to be an exaggerated version of several people who helped raise me, and I’ve had great fun writing some of their hippy-esque personality quirks into these characters. Even though this is fictions, it appears that I will still be doing a hefty amount of cathartic creative exercise during this project.

Today, my older brother, Dylan, came over to help me install a new showerhead (because I totally failed at this endeavor on my own and all of those Ikea-induced feelings of inadequacy came rushing right back). He also brought his puppy, who promptly zapped Mona of all her energy with their playing (excellent!), and a surprise for me—a bike. I’d wanted a bike so that I can get around without driving my car so much, and also to take my overweight dog for some light, sustained cardio as part of her multi-faceted weight-loss plan. I really had no idea what to get myself and relied on Dylan’s biking expertise, asking him to pick one out for me.

Now, Mona used to be afraid of bikes and very often chased after them, barking at their riders and the quickly-moving and flashing spokes, but Dylan and I have been helping her face her fears with short trips around the block. Dylan lowered the bike seat down to its bottommost setting since I’m wee-sized, and handed me a heavenly-designed Green Bay Packers helmet, which is so big on me that I need to wear a ski hat underneath it until we get some new pads to make it fit. He then said,

“So, you should probably think about what you’ll do if Mona sees a squirrel and takes off after it.”

“Oh,” I replied, “I’ll just let go of the leash and follow after her, she’ll tree it and then be done so I’ll catch up and off we’ll go again.” Sounds easy enough, right? Well, that’s not quite how it happened. After finishing my work for the day and after Mona took a short nap, the two of us headed out for the inaugural ride. I wanted to get her good and tired so that I’d have plenty of quiet time in which to do my evening writing. She trotted pleasantly alongside me for several blocks and with both our hearts pumping I even turned to her and said, “See—this is fun, baby. We’ve got the hang of this, don’t we?”

And then disaster struck. An opossum—the ugliest of all marsupials, in my opinion—defied its nocturnal tendencies and ran across the street directly in front of us. Mona jerked forward to chase it and instead of letting go of the leash as I promised myself I would do, I hung on for dear life hoping that the bike’s hand breaks and my own weight on the ground would be enough to slow Mona down. But my Mona is 82 pounds of muscle and determination, and it seemed that pulling my weight along with hers only encouraged her further. My hurried cries of “MonaMonaMona!” didn’t seem to be reaching her ears even a little bit.

The possum long gone now, Mona finally relented and I put my feet back on the pedals so we could carry on home, having evaded any real danger. Then a pole appeared out of nowhere, and Mona went on one side of it while I went on the other. I saw it coming from a few feet away but somehow could do nothing but kick my legs away from the pedals, shouting “Aaaaaaahhhhhh—nooooooooo!” Still, I held the leash so that the handlebars slammed into the pole, I slammed into the handlebars, and my shiny yellow Packers helmet slid down over my forehead and eyes with the ski hat covering the lower half of my face. I took the helmet off and looked around, hoping that no one witness my uncoordinated kerfuffle. Luckily enough, Mona was the only one who saw, and she looked embarrassed enough for the both of us.

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3 thoughts on “A Note about Literary Catharsis and Adventures in Bicycling

  1. This post totally reminds me of our bike/ski-skate adventure. I know it hurt, but I basically peed my pants watching you try to use those things! Stick with the bike – it will get easier!

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