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I should really buy a helmet
On writing, getting a little older, and biking along the canal
The day I tested negative for the coronavirus I biked along Canal Saint Martin. This was on a Sunday morning which meant the streets were car-free, relatively safe enough to bike in for someone who didn’t own a helmet (yet). While on the road, pedaling, thankful that my body didn’t feel too weak from the lack of exercise, a thought came to mind: I was so busy filling my day with the things I should do now that I don’t have the coronavirus when I could focus on one tiny pleasure at a time, like watching the road ahead of me while biking along the canal. It is a meditation of some sort—the same reason I like to take long walks or why my sister likes walking the dogs early in the morning or why a man I had come across twice or thrice while running in Buttes Chaumont likes to get a coffee to-go while walking leisurely around the park. It is safe to assume it is a little ritual of his own. Some of us are horrible at sitting still and meditating in complete silence and so we revert to these active versions, which seem to work just fine.
After a week of télétravail, video calls, and obsessively googling symptoms and which supplements worked best to combat these symptoms, the first few days post-COVID-19 consisted of introducing myself to the simple things that give me pleasure. Biking on Sundays. Lengthy conversations with friends over a drink or a meal. Buying myself flowers. Getting coffee à emporter like the man I would bump into in the park and then drinking it, slowly, walking around an area I don’t know too well yet. Life in Paris has turned into honoring these rituals. Coincidentally, writing about simple pleasures was one of the prompts given during a creative writing workshop I attend from time to time on Monday nights. It is nice to be exposed to different voices and the different things these distinct voices find pleasurable in their day-to-day lives. I also get nuggets of wisdom, pieces of writing advice like not having to spell everything out for the reader or writing faster than you can edit, which is what I’m trying (and failing) to do now. External pressures make writing harder, even if they are imaginary. And when I want to relieve myself from these pressures, I tend to seek comfort in the bottomless pit that is Instagram, avoiding doing the thing I know I love the most.
It was so much easier as a child, when you didn’t care about whether your writing was going out into the world or not. My journals growing up consisted of made-up short stories and boys I had crushes on. When you’re older and still haven’t gotten rid of the urge to journal, contemplating on the idea to become a writer, the act turns into creating that link between your inner world and the outside world. This essay by Vivian Gornick beautifully captures the writer’s block that comes with the decision to pursue writing as a profession. I will leave you with one block quote but there are many, many more gems in the essay:
I had known from the age of eight that I wanted to write; writing was fun and the teacher always praised my compositions. Within 10 years I knew that writing was not play, it was work; and work, I had come to know, was the basis for a serious life, a thing I thought I dearly wanted. Yet I grew into a compulsive talker who could not stay put at the desk for more than one hour in 24. There were days, even weeks, when I didn’t sit down at the desk at all. In short, although I moralized endlessly about living a serious life, it seemed I could not take the act of working seriously enough to do it.
Last weekend I turned 28, an age I assume I would have all my shit together when I was in high school. I certainly did not predict that I would be living here in Paris, still figuring things out. As each birthday passes, I’m getting closer to the assumption that we might never figure everything out, and that we should work towards accepting the mystery that is life, welcoming it and the excitement not knowing brings. Come to think of it, maybe there is some logic behind how things should be done au feeling, a phrase friends and I have received too many times from French men. Or not.
After a night of drinks with people I’m happy to have formed genuine friendships with, I had the same impulse to bike home, knowing that I had to pass by the canal. It wasn’t that far anyway, the way many places here are at a walkable or bikeable distance. And so I did just that at 3 AM, spending a pocket of quality time with myself on a bike after spending the day with people, absorbing the fact that I was newly 28 as the wind hit my face. I am typing the number until it no longer has meaning to me: 28, 28, 28. Okay, maybe that part was a bit dramatic. To be honest, the numbers don’t matter as much anymore, and the apparent shifting of time during pandemic may have contributed to this feeling. There were also futile attempts at making plans, and then the humbling realization that things don’t always go your way. Yet at the same time, I get a thrill whenever someone makes a comment that I’m still very young.
Thinking about it now, it might not have been the best idea to bike that hour. But I made sure to text friends the minute I got back, telling them I was home. We may not have everything figured out but having good people around you makes the ride smoother.
A few interesting essays for your consumption:
Not Your Gilmore Girl: A Meditation on Being Mothered by Sunari Weaver-Anderson
Insomnia by Molly Beth Young
I’ve Been Told I’m So-So In Bed by Estelle Hoy