Friday, December 6, 2013

clipped in

Today's prompt comes from Kat McNally:

What was the greatest risk you took in 2013? What was the outcome?

For the past three years, I have been competing (I use that term very loosely) in a gritty, grueling, beautiful, often muddy event called the Vermont 50. It’s a 50-mile mountain bike race over singletrack trails and dirt roads, with 9,500 feet of elevation gain. Finishing the race, regardless of time, is always a huge accomplishment for me. But this year, the accomplishment was twofold: I finished the race, and I stayed clipped in.

By this I mean that, for most of the race, I kept both feet clipped into my pedals. A few years ago, after much coaxing from Bryan, I made the switch from platform pedals to “clipless”—a misnomer, since these pedals require you to clip your bike shoe right into the pedal itself, so that you become, quite literally, one with your bike.

As you can probably imagine, there’s a learning curve involved in making such a switch. It’s a mental game. My first few tries were disheartening. I didn’t fall, but that was only because I didn’t take any chances; I was too afraid I wouldn’t be able to clip out and put down my foot if my bike started to go over. I was ready to give up, to go back to platforms. Why switch now? Bryan suggested I try multi-release cleats: these cleats have more side-to-side motion, allowing the rider to clip out more easily. I decided to give these a try (despite the fact that our local bike shop won’t even consider selling them, the implication being that they aren’t for “serious” bikers. Fortunately, they were easy to find online).

These pedals helped. Somewhat. Slowly, I was able to (gingerly) clear obstacles I had only tackled on my platforms, without thinking, constantly, about my feet. The first few months were tough. Any time the terrain became remotely technical, I clipped out. And in my first two Vermont 50 races, which were colossal mud-fests, I spent almost the entire race with one foot clipped and one un-clipped. I had to have one foot at the ready—you know, just in case.

“It’s a confidence thing,” Bryan assured me—which, of course, I already knew.

It’s more than confidence, though. It’s commitment. It takes determined commitment to be “all in.” I have always been something of a “commitment-phobe.” This is due, in part, to the fact that I am not a planner, and don’t do well with itineraries, therefore commitment to any kind of schedule has always been daunting. But it’s also due to a subtle insecurity, one that has plagued me my whole life. And while I wouldn’t necessary refer to myself as “risk averse,” many of my decisions are overshadowed by timidity.

Being half-clipped makes it hard for me to consider myself a “real” mountain biker. I hear the snooty bike tech’s voice in my head: “We don’t even carry those clips.” He added, when I asked if he could order them, “I would suggest going to a parking lot or a grassy park and practicing clipping in and out.” As if I hadn’t already ridden hundreds of miles on my clipless pedals.

I have been thinking about this propensity for being “half-clipped” with regard to my writing. For years, I have been working on a collection of short stories. Every summer, I send one or two of them off to literary journals or other publications, and last spring, I even had some success. But I’ve never been able to call myself “a writer,” and because of that, I’m only clipped in with one foot. I can’t commit, especially when there’s laundry and dinner and dogs to walk. How can I justify spending time writing when I don’t have the “cred,” as my writer friend Kathy calls it, to back it up?

Kathy, as it turns out, has been a tremendous influence on my willingness to consider writing a legitimate form of “work.” She’s got the cred—she published a novel last year, is working on her second, and has published in a number of journals. But in order to get that cred, you’ve got to be willing to let go of the “shoulds,” and clip both feet into your pedals, if only for an hour at a time.

Kathy, like me, teaches composition, a time-consuming profession. “How on earth do you get any writing done during the semester?” I asked her recently.

Her response was matter-of-fact: “I schedule it in.” Such simple logic. “Instead of saying, ‘I am off on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, I say, ‘I work from 9-12 on those days.’ I consider myself to be at work, and I don’t schedule anything else.” She’s clipped in with both feet.

This seems easy enough, and I have been able to implement this strategy to a certain extent, but there is still risk involved: seemingly trivial risks, but risks nonetheless. The risk of being called “self-centered,” because while I’m writing, the laundry and dust are piling up, so instead of being called a writer, I’m called a neglectful housekeeper. This name-calling, I should point out, comes from my own head, not from anyone in my family. I risk resentment from my dogs, who sigh and stare at me while I’m at the keyboard, or who take their frustration out by wrestling and knocking into my chair.

And there are risks that come later: now that you’ve called yourself “a writer,” you need to show something for it. What have you produced? Who’s interested in reading it? Where’s your cred?

Cred, of course, needs to begin with oneself. If you don’t think of yourself as “legit,” then no one else will, either.

I should note that even though I finished the VT 50 with both feet clipped, I stuck with my multi-release cleats, despite the disdain of Bike Tech. And I don’t feel bad about it, either: if the cleats give me confidence, make me feel more like the rider I was on platforms, then who cares?

I’m going to have to take the same approach to writing. Obviously, I can’t always devote large chunks of time (though that would be lovely), but maybe spending a few hours a week at the keyboard, and referring to it as “work” rather than thinking of it as a hobby, will allow me to clip all the way in, maybe even jump a log or two. That is, if I can keep from getting injured along the way.

1 comment:

Kat McNally said...

That's such a legitimate conundrum to ponder: how do I legitimate my self? How do I authorise my self to claim the title of writer/cyclist/artist/whatever when my journey and experience do not resemble other people's?
Something I grapple with every day.
Sticking up for ourselves and our passions is not as straightforward as it sounds, is it? x