Being with Other Writers

Before I can say anything else, you need to understand that I am an editor as well as a writer. According to several of my co-workers, I am a relentless editor. Which is, in fact, all a matter of perspective. I know how to take uneven writing and smooth it out. I know how to take good writing and make it better. I also know when someone is testing me, and if they can do it well, I’ll let it slide. But what makes people think me relentless, and perhaps rightly so, is my outspoken devotion to the text rather than the author.

This is interesting in the context of my writing circle. I’ve been part of critical writing groups before: a university-level creative poetry class and a short-lived, but intense writing collective. Both a long time ago. Before I was serious about being an editor, but in both those settings, I had permission to be critical. Every one of us was there to be tempered into something better. We had all asked for it, and so we were none too shy about taking our turn holding someone else’s work in the fire or beating it against the anvil.

What I am in now is different. The women of this experience have not asked for criticism, though that may come. For now, they seem to be just learning to make space for writing in their spare time, so every piece of writing produced is inherently valuable as having been produced. I do my best to listen and accept their work on this level.

But not without small internal struggles. Their work is understandably very raw, which the editor in me doesn’t have a lot of patience for. I chronically self-edit my work. Sure, I may freestyle for a while, but once the flow stops, I go back and review. Change a word, delete a clause, rephrase a sentence. Find myself where the words ended and start moving again. I’ve been doing this for years. So it takes a while for me to comprehend how someone would not edit as they write something to be shared with others. Seriously, how do you not edit??

The fact is I have the most writing experience and training of the three of us. I don’t remember a time when I was not encouraged to write. I identify as a Writer, and I have built time for writing into my daily habits. But that doesn’t mean I win. More rightly, it means that I have an obligation to look for the best and encourage as I have been encouraged. Whether I like the writing or not is inconsequential. At this moment, it means I must ask the right questions to allow the story to be told and serve the author rather than the sequence of the words.

Of course, I’m not quite so arrogant to think that I’m not getting anything out of the experience. This opportunity arrived at just the right time, and as I have engaged with these others, my own stories are starting to shift into focus. I have been reminded that the act of writing, while solitary, does not always function best in isolation. More than that, if I can gag the editor for the sake of others, perhaps I can silence her for myself on occasion.

What I Learned from Buying a Touring Bicycle

A few weeks ago, I bought a touring bike. This was not my first experience buying a bicycle, but it was the first time I was shopping for something with a small market (i.e., limited selection) and perceived as slightly atypical for women. I’m not going to lie: it was frustrating.

Here’s what I learned in this process.

The most important thing about buying a bike is being able to articulate what you want to do with it.

When I walked into a store and asked about touring bikes, the most common response was to direct me to a hybrid style bike that’s not quite for touring and not quite for road riding. This would get me a lighter, possibly faster bike more suitable for riding around town, but it might cost me on the durability/repairability side and it isn’t built for carrying several days worth of gear. I don’t blame the sales guys. I expect out here they get a lot of people who think they want to do serious bike tours and limit themselves to touring bikes only to be disappointed by the bulk and relative lack of responsiveness when used for daily riding. But I’d done my research and I knew what I wanted. That said, it took me a while to learn to say “No, thanks, just show me your touring bikes.”

If a bike feels like home, it is home, and you likely won’t gain anything by continuing to look.

I admit it: for part of my search, I got seduced by the prospect of a beautiful bike. I had seen the bike and spoken at length to a very pleasant sales guy about it, but they didn’t have a floor model ready to ride. So in the meantime, I went to another store and tried out their selection of touring bikes. One of them felt like I could ride all day – which should have ended my search. But Store A had the prettier bike and, for roughly the same price, would do a full bike fitting. It seemed like the much wiser route. Only it turned out not to be.

No matter how experienced/knowledgeable the salesperson is, you are the only one who knows how your body feels and you are the only one who can say if a bike fits.

Rivendell Bicycle Works has some amazing articles on buying a touring bike. The best advice I got from the site was to ignore anyone who said that I would need to get used to a bike that felt wrong. If a bike fits, you will know fairly quickly, even if you can feel a few minor adjustments. It is very important to pay attention to this instinct.

I probably knew within about 5 minutes that the geometry of the pretty bike from Store A just didn’t work for my body. In fact, despite numerous adjustments over the course of an hour, I still felt cramped in the saddle, off balance, and generally unhappy. This is the opposite of what you need in a bike you intend (potentially, eventually) to ride for up to 100 km a day for multiple days.

The more disappointing aspect of this experience was the sales guy’s repeated failure to listen to what I cared about in a bike. There was no question that he knows far more about bicycles than I do, but he didn’t know me or the way I like to ride and he took no trouble to find out. In fact, he repeatedly tried to tell me that I did not actually want what I thought I wanted. I can’t say this made me inclined to trust him. Through a whole series of other incidents which take more words to describe than their pettiness warrants, I abandoned Store A with some resentment.

Every frustration is worth it when you know you have purchased the right bike.

After many months of research and several weeks of active searching, I bought the bicycle that felt like home. I know this is the right bike because I can ride for hours on one day – uphill, downhill, rough road, smooth road – and I still want to get on it the next day. It is my partner in pushing my limits. I’ll learn how to maintain it and repair it with my own hands as much as possible. I know that I couldn’t have come to this point by any other route.

But I hope I won’t have to buy another bike for many, many years.