Are you never going to write anymore? I really miss your writing.
I’ve wondered this, too! And of course I’ve written things and not posted them. I’ve written a few things I kept for myself. I’ve written with pen and paper and thrown it away, burned it, forgotten about it, even folded it like a high school note and just left it on a bench. I’ve written countless paragraphs on Word documents called “worksheet” and “free writing” and “the junk pile.” I also got a new job! I started racing! I fell in love! (The good kind!) So there’s been a fair amount of living going on. And a fair amount of grappling in the background with what I want writing to be for me.
My best friend said something to me once about an important literary connection I had made; she said, “you have six months to capitalize on this person caring about you before they lose interest.” I retreated into that sentiment. I decided on my own terms that six months wasn’t long enough to accomplish anything worthwhile, so nothing would ever be accomplished. I’d very successfully defeated myself. I was never good at asking for help anyway.
And the accolades for the book, god they were painful. The book, to me, was and remains an enormous failure. That book was a literary participation ribbon. Nothing demeans me more than gold stars for losing. There’s a new line of thought that suggests congratulating your children on effort rather than success would grant them more happiness and self-pride, but I saw plain and clear from the moment I felt competition in my tiny pale hands that winning was better than losing. The gifts were given to the gifted. And even when my parents were proud of my efforts, there was still an implied Ivy League application on the table.
I didn’t get into one.
Failure, or simply being unimpressive, always left me in a state of want. I was addicted to the validation of success. And in need of a fix, I would drop failed hobbies and sports in the hunt for something I was immediately good at. Math, great. Singing, great. Skiing, good. So you can imagine how detrimental to my well-being the access to quantitive validation was. Likes, reblogs, stars, purchases, followers, kudos, shares, and the crushing of what I loved most about myself by the numbers.
But something different happened when I found myself on my bike on the road. I wasn’t losing the audition to someone else, I wasn’t finishing six paces behind, I wasn’t opening the mailbox to thin envelopes or pathetic royalties, I was just staring down roads that went straight up, toppling over and unclipping in defeat, walking up the incline pushing my bike on my toes, head down whispering to the road, “I’ll come back for you.” I went back for Paseo Miramar. I went back for Baldy. I went back for Route 74. I went back for Las Flores, Sullivan Fire Road, Piuma and I went back for several of them again and again before I rode them confidently, with power and determination. And there are still more: Grand View, Big Rock, Tuna Canyon. The more I hunt, the more I search, the more roads I find that break me first so I can come back and break them better. I leave the house not looking to win any sort of award, but looking for something that can make me fail so I can make myself better, break myself better.
Failure on the bike feels like a reason to fight. Failure on the bike feels like a challenge. Failure on the bike feels like the perfect incentive to get back on the bike next day and try again to do what I love so much. “Sorry, can’t go out tonight, gotta get up and ride,” with a sly smile on my face, bike already cleaned and ready for the dawn. The failures of the road have shown me a commitment within myself I never knew I had. It’s not that the failures felt conquerable, it’s that even attempting to conquer them sounded fun.
But the page is not a road. Writing became so diluted. It just felt like another placard to hang on the wall, another line on the resume, another piece of nothing to stack on the digital shelf of bullshit that makes us compare ourselves to other people. Another way for people to judge my worth for me. Even if the judgment was good.
It was a nice effort, as they say.
I still love writing. When I find the song that makes my fingers dance on the keys and the world around me blur out like a filter, it’s the only place I find the same flow I find on the bike. I keep wanting to come back, but every time I do, I care too much about the wrong things. I care too much about failing. I care too much about how I look when I fail. And like on the bike, when I care too much about winning, it makes me hate it. It makes me climb up the final ascent to the finish and yell to my boyfriend, “I’m never doing this again,” because comparing myself to others wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted the battleground to be within me, not outside of me. So I reframed racing to not be about the podium, but about the conversation I had with the road and who came out being the one covered in tire marks.
And now, I need to reframe the conversation I have with the page. I need to remember how to let it break me so I can break it better.