I was asked the question, “how was the bike ride?” For me, it’s more a question of “what did I learn?” and because it’s germane to both my art-making as well as my existence in society, here’s a sort of ramble on the topic.
What did I learn from 11 plus days in the saddle? In the suffering and the duration?
My granddad died from Parkinson’s. I’m told by a woman I know who has the condition that it’s not hereditary. She also told me that exercise helps her dampen the tremors that are one of its central, physical manifestations.
There’s also a story on Radiolab about a woman who used running to stave off the seizures that were taking over her life. She ended up with a chunk of her brain removed, but also being an amazing long-distance runner.
What I’ve learned is that long-distance, multi-day rides allow me to sidestep my inability to relate to people, to hold fully-formed conversations. Instead I engage in repeated and repetitive chats at gas stations, campsites, diners – about distance, duration, diet, flat tires and sleeping – these I happily repeat.
There’s comfort for me in repetition. Not dissimilar from the slow accretion of KMs and hours, or the rhythm of the cranks spinning around the axle. Being on the road and in the saddle reduces conversations to rote, to a sort of contemplative cyclical system, like a chant or mantra. Gone (or diminished) are free-form conversations where I’ll embarrass myself or others, or run out of things to say and end up in awkward silence. I’m really quite good at long rides as well as idle chit-chat. I’ve never been good at long-form conversations.
After those days in the saddle I found myself at a bar in Savannah, with a book – a book about a detective with Tourette’s Syndrome, a condition with tics and repitions that bare some parallels to Parkinson’s – perhaps making others feel awkward with my head-downedness. Yeah, I travel to another city, sit at a bar and read a book. Sigh.
And then on the train and then the bus and then back to Toronto, where inevitably there’ll be a book or sketchbook with me as I go through my routines of, for example, drinking an Americano at the same coffee shop in Parkdale (I do like routines, and the very deliberate breaking of them). Or, working on these many small, same-sized drawings while listening to a canon of movies on repeat.
This project (the black and white ink drawings) is about trying to find secret worlds within what we consider our quotidian existences. These are, I suppose and hope, worlds that make a bit more sense, and ones in which I might feel more at home, more “true to north” and spend less time wondering what a real person might do in any given scenario.
But please don’t ask me to explain this to you one-on-one. I just can’t do it. I’ll stop short, avert my eyes and start thinking about gas station breakfasts and the sunburns that a bike helmet gives you, rumble strips and climbing gears.
And now back to the making of art.