My mind is a tightly clenched fist, most of the time. It curls and tightens around itself, cutting off its own air supply, causing itself to asphixiate in its own neurotic grip. I’m a very reactive individual, mentally. I’ve struggled with anxiety throughout my life. With every awkward social interaction, with every task completed imperfectly, the fist tightens, until I feel I can’t move. Can’t think. Creativity? Ha! A caged brain is a boring brain. No room for creativity here.
What I need is to unwind that knot of a fist, pry the dendritic tendril fingers apart one by one and relax.
Just RELAX, they say.
Sometimes they yell it. “Why can’t you just relax?! JUST CALM DOWN.”
Just calming down isn’t a thing I can do on demand, and sometimes that fist-knot is just so tight, has such a death grip on my psyche by the time I realize it, well how do you untangle that?
I’m not a cyclist. I tell my man this all the time. He used to be, has all the old accoutrements of the lifestyle: the expensive bike, the no-nonsense gloves, the padded shorts that feel like a diaper. I put on all these things, strap a helmet on, climb on the expensive bike and text him “I’m going for a ride.” The part I leave out of my text is an addendum. “I’m going for a ride, but feel silly because I’m not a cyclist. I’m a plebe riding on a bike that’s too expensive and too fancy for me. Wearing this helmet and these pants, I look more like those Serious Cyclists who ride by on weekends, rather than the college kids who glide by on cruisers, wearing flowing skirts and flip flops, their 70s-free-love-cult hair flowing in the wind. But I’m neither. I’m a poser. Neither an artist nor an athlete. I should just stay home, but today, I’m not.”
I’m not a serious cyclist. I would remind the man, but I have so many times before. The fist insists I remind him, insists on reminding me. You are dressed like you mean business, but you are only dabbling.
I tell the fist to shut up. I don’t care what I look like, I need to untangle this knot it has created. The fist is silent.
I am not a Serious Cyclist, but I do possess relatively muscular thighs and a desire to get there. To get where? Well, somewhere, I guess. To the top. To the place where I can look down and see all the other places. To the place where I am everywhere. Where I am nowhere.
Plus, riding a bike is one of only a few things that can untangle this mess, leave my brain knot-free. As I glide down the back roads, my butt bone burning despite my diaper pants, I am at first unsure if it is working.
This is hard. I am terrible at this. I look like an idiot. Everyone is looking at me and thinking “Why is she on that expensive bike? She is obviously not a Serious Cycist! But she’s not an Arist, either! She is an IMPOSTER!”
And then, I feel a finger relax, just a little.
I’m rushing by houses! I smell hamburgers on grills! I hear birds calling across the way, see horses in their prisons (sorry, horses!) I fly by glistening, flushed runners. Motorists give me wide berth, nervously. But I am not nervous! I am free! I take my hands off the handles and peddle.
(Yeah, look ma, no hands!)
I rush by a motorcycle gang. They wave. I wave back. We’re all on two wheels! We can all feel the wind in our hair! Your mode of transportation may be way scarier, but you waved to me. You thought I was cool enough to wave at. Maybe you thought I was a Serious Cyclist? Maybe you didn’t care. Maybe you confused my bike for a pegasus. Maybe you thought you saw me flying.
And then another finger loosens, and another. Just a little bit, almost imperceptibly. But then a rush as the fist gives way, the hand unfurls.
I rush around the corner, ideas for essays, for poems, for stories, rushing through my brain. I can do this! I think. I can make metaphors! I can make connections! A group of chickens who have wandered out of their yard stand on the shoulder of the road and cluck at me irritably. “Life is like a gaggle of chickens,” I think to myself, testing out the newfound surge of creativity. “It wanders all over the place, and picks grubs out of the neighbor’s yard, and…” Well, ok. That one doesn’t work.
But what about the turkeys on the other side of the road, who puff up at me so threateningly when I deign to near their driveway? “Life is like a turkey,” I think to myself. “If you get too close, it will probably bite you in the ass.”
Alright neither of those make sense, but it’s ok, because that fist has been crushed under my wheel and I am free.
Freedom isn’t permenent, but it is precious. And every second I’ve caught it is worth the price of admission.
Freedom can be bought with wheels but it can also be bought on a mountain. The man and I camp up in the Catskills, where our cellphones lose service, and there is no WiFi.
I’m a very technologically connected person most of the time, but this break is necessary. It pries the fist loose. Every internet argument I don’t witness, every superflous article I don’t read, every time I DON’T check my e-mail, is an unwinding of the knotted fist.
Every time I say no to consuming and just be.
When we lay in our sleeping bags at night, close together under the thin tent, I am sometimes awakened by the man’s awakeness. And the snuffling of a bear.
I’m not afraid of bears in the daytime, but when we’re lying in that tent, I start to have flashes of the horror stories I’ve read about bears dragging people out of tents by their feet and eating them like candied ham.
I spend the rest of the night in uneasy half-sleep. The fist never totaly unclenches.
Sometimes, I power my way to the top of a hill on the bike, only to walk it down because I’m too scared to let go and just ride.
And sometimes, as I ride the bike down a hill, the wind whipping loudly at my ears, I sit back, spread my arms wide, and smile.
Look ma, no hands.