I’m tired tonite. Even though it is a weekend and time to write should be greater than normal, I didn’t get great sleep last night, and have been dragging all day, that and I had other things that took priority today. I’m okay with that. Writing, creating, it can’t always be my number one.
I rode my bike this afternoon, and I think that is adding to being tired. The last two weeks I haven’t been riding nearly as consistently. I had a couple hiccups in life that threw my schedule off from its usual normal and riding has been one of the many things that have had to take a backseat for a bit. I was quite grateful for the chance to ride yesterday and again today and start to ease back into more time on the bike. While riding today wasn’t horribly hard, it also wasn’t easy and my fatigue is setting in hard. Let’s throw in the fact that the time changed and it is pitch black outside. Zzzzz.
Something interesting happened today. My ghosty showed up on the ride very early on, and I think it was for a couple reasons. 1. The route we did is one I haven’t done for a long time, and the last couple times I did ride that route I really struggled to keep up, largely because of the open exposure to the wind. Today was especially windy too. 2. Time away from the bike is time for fear to sink in. It took awhile to feel comfortable again on the bike today. I felt timid, anxious, unsure. It felt like I was a bit of an exposed raw nerve out there again. Not as bad as previous times, but definitely familiar old fears were creeping back in.
Yesterday I was writing about brand new starts - being a beginner and trying something for the first time. But today was another case entirely. My ghosty showing up because I have done this before, and I do know some of the risks, and I have counted some of the costs. Old fears resurface because now I know enough to be aware of my own previous struggles.
About mid-ride it dawned on me that writing is a lot like this too. I’m not a beginner writer. I’ve done it for years. I’ve done it enough to know my own personal ghosty that comes out to play. The fears become very familiar, almost rehearsed. When time creeps in and widens the gap between the last time and the next time, it can make beginning again that much harder. Because now you know what you’ll have to overcome to get going again, and you’re out of practice, you’re just not as sharp and in your flow. The awkwardness of a restart is rather unnerving when you know what a sense of ease you had gotten yourself to previously. Gearing up to throw yourself back into the work it will take can be a rather daunting endeavor.
Anyone who has ever started lifting weights again after a long time off can attest to this. Muscle soreness is real telling of how hard it is going to be to return to your previous status.
Today I felt timid for the first few miles of the ride. Cracks in the road seemed more deathly. Did i overdress or underdress? I wanted more space between me and the other riders. Going around curves through a neighborhood seemed sketchy. My hands felt tingly in my fingertips. Could I trust my bike, my handling skills, my fitness to do what it could do two weeks ago? Could I trust the people around me? Did I drink too much coffee and it was giving me too much anxiety? Did I even like riding bikes anymore?
Many times I have asked that question of myself - Do you even like riding bikes anymore? When my ghosty shows up as things starts to get hard, I start to give myself an out. If this is not what you want anymore, you don’t have to do this. I don’t want to burn out and then give up cycling for good, so I like to have these check-in points to make sure I am still having fun. Still riding because I want to.
These familiar fears today didn’t last too long. I remember at some point I smiled and said, “This is fun, and I’m okay now.” It was nice to see how they came and then went. I didn’t struggle nearly as much as I have in the wind on that route before. So even though I may be weaker than I was a couple weeks ago, I am stronger than I was the last time I was on those roads. And that’s not just an assumption or a hope. That is truth. I know because I have metrics to measure. The numbers don’t lie. The ride was faster than the previous rides I’ve done there and I had personal records today on different sections along the way.
I’ve come to think of these moments like the poet Rilke’s “widening circles.” It looks the same, but it’s different because I’m different. I’ve passed by this Landscape of the Abyss before, and so it only makes sense that memories associated with fears wave their hands up and beg for attention. But today I got to make a new memory, a more positive one than the last. I rode myself into my proof that I am improving.
With writing I have so many memories and familiar fears. The fear of getting behind. The fear of writing being too all-consuming in my life, meaning less sleep or poor eating choices or using a little bit too much of the margins of my life so that life felt rushed and chaotic. The fear of an audience and all that entails. The fear of asking why why why would I make myself so vulnerable as to share this publicly when I don’t have to. The fear of no one reading at all because it isn’t interesting enough to keep attention. A history of writing means a lot of bumps and bruises along the way. A lot of work that didn’t always translate into reward. As you do the hard thing and the fears start talking, you sudden remember how bit by bit it was easier to stop than it was to keep going. Fears and those fears coming true have a heavy weight to them. It’s hard to want to try again, again.
I found myself the last two mornings waking up and thinking, “Why am I writing again? After all this time, why did I sign back up for this?” I felt upset to my stomach, anxious that someone or no one was writing and that I was putting too much of myself “out there” where I can’t protect myself. But that hunger I spoke of yesterday, that hunger of desire, it is bigger and it drives me on. It makes me write thought my eyelids are heavy. It makes me ride though my legs feel like lead. It beckons me on though the tips of my fingers feel tingly at the thought. My chest feels tight too, but what am I going to do, quit? I don’t want to. I know there is something for me on the other side of this blog post, just like there was for yesterday.
Sometimes my ghosty feels like a hand extended beckoning me on a conveyor belt. The conveyor belt doesn’t signify blind action without thought or intention. The conveyor belt is a metaphor for continuing to move forward doing what you have to do. I knew I wanted to do this ride today, so instead of focusing on my ghosty that wanted to start voicing its concern, I focused on picking out shorts and a jersey and socks and shoes. I focused on the things I’ve done so many times I can do them without thinking. Charging lights and finding my sunglasses and clipping my helmet on tight. If I can just keep moving, I can get myself so far into something that I realize I’m no longer afraid and it is all so familiar again.
Next thing you know you’re 1321 words into a piece of writing that you thought you were too tired to even write.
There is one more thing I learned about fear today, sometimes I can tap into old confidence rather than old fear. What I mean by that is once you’ve done something long enough you not only start to have lots of familiar fear you also start to have lots of memories of overcoming that fear or having success. You start to ride (or to write) like someone that is meant to be there. Someone that has put in their time and learned some things and proved themselves. Someone that has some clout.
Feeling a little uncomfortable at the closeness of someone I was riding with today, mainly because I wasn’t as familiar with the route we were riding and desired some distance in spacing to account for anything unforeseen in the road, I found myself getting pushed further and further into a tight spot. I felt small, fearful, kind of like a wild animal being trapped in a corner and out of options. Instead of continuing to ride that way I readjusted myself on my bike into what felt like more of a power stance, my elbows a little wider, my grip more sure and I put my bike where I needed my bike to be to feel more comfortable. The person beside me adjusted accordingly. I have found you can do this on a bike as long you move slow and steady, not jerky and unexpected. Adjusting my position just a little and riding more confident like I could put the bike where I needed it to be, instantly made my ghosty flee the scene. This is something I never could have done as a beginner cyclist, but having ridden in tight spaces on faster rides, I have some experience now with navigating around other bikes. Sure I haven’t ridden quite as much over the past two weeks, but the muscle memory clicked in and I was able to pull on past experience to propel me over a current fear. That was nice.
And when a fear gets overcome, I trust my abilities a little more and the ride becomes more fun and I can relax and enjoy myself instead of being on so high alert. I have tot think the more times I do it the more times I’m racking up experience points for myself. The more experience points the quicker I can get the fear back out the door when it does try to stop in uninvited and stay for a long visit.
This is why writing stream of consciousness this month is so helpful for me because it is about getting reps in. Getting practice in. Getting words out, out, out, so I can see waking up each morning and feeling silly and vulnerable and exposed is just part of it. Eventually I can get enough muscle memory to just jump on that conveyor belt and keep moving forward rather than it putting a wrench in my plans. I can type with tired eyes and tingling fingers. I can ride with heavy legs and tingling fingers. I just have to show up, let the familiar actions get me moving and let the next thing lead to the next thing. Basically I have to just not stand in my own way.