Tuesday, June 1, 2010
eyes on the prize (and off the canoe rack)
Jabber is learning to ride a bike. A real bike.
"With no training wheels," he says.
So the boys get out the toolbox and dismantle the second-hand bike we got him last summer, and soon he's wobbling across the back yard, back and forth, more feet on the ground than are strictly allowable for actual bike riding but with a lot of bravery.
I take a video or two, and at the beginning of each "take", Jabber solemnly speaks to the camera. "Riding a two-wheeler is easy, once you get into it," he says, and then staggers off across the bumpy green expanse, grinning a big boy grin.
I learned to ride a bike when I was six--a red, banana-seat bicycle with a white plastic basket and a little silver bell with an American flag on it (which I've mentioned before). My stepdad figured it would be easier for me to learn with a little hill to get me started, so he took me to the spot where the driveway rambled down the peninsula toward the lake, the gravel turning into grassy ruts. "Just keep your head up and pedal," he said, giving me a little push.
At the bottom of the hill, near the beach on the left-hand side of the path, there was a giant wooden canoe rack. I think there was a canoe or two or three hanging on it...that part is fuzzy. All I remember is that I was terrified of crashing into it. It loomed in front of me, and I couldn't take my eyes off it.
So of course, I crashed into it. Hard. Picking me up from the dust, checking me for more serious maladies than the ever-present skinned knees and assorted bruises, my dad told me it was time to try again.
"But I'll hit the canoe rack," I cried.
"No, you won't. Just steer away from it."
But every time I went down the hill, I found myself transfixed by the canoe rack, inexorably drawn to it until I was painfully tangled up in it.
My dad was frustrated, but he didn't know what to do except to tell me to steer. How could I steer, when that gigantic, painful obstacle stood right in my way? (except, it wasn't in my way at all; it was way off to one side of the harmless grassy path my bicycle was supposed to take...)
Finally, crying and ready to give up, I explained how my bike just gravitated toward the canoe rack, and Randy taught me the trick of bike-riding: you will always go where you look. "Look away," he said. "Keep your eyes on the path."
Magic. I sailed down the road (okay, okay, I still crashed, but not into the canoe rack; that's the important part.)
I've said it before, about writing...there are so many ways to fail, so many reasons to give up, to keep your eyes locked on that scary canoe rack. To crash. To get hurt.
I'm not one who believes that positive thinking is a magic spell that will lead to my success, but there's something to be said about keeping my eyes on the prize and off the canoe rack, about setting goals and pedaling toward them. When I have my gaze fixed on the things I fear, it can feel like I'm hurtling toward them, out of control. A voice in my head tells me to steer, but how can I, transfixed by the giant failure in front of me (or maybe it's really off to one side, completely off my path)?
My book is out in the world. I'm trying to look in another direction, trying to fix my eyes on a grassy path. Trying to wrap up the school year and plan for my summer and keep my house from smothering us all in its filth. Trying to keep pedaling.
Last night Jabber braved the alley. There's a little hill, a long straight stretch. Rows of garbage cans. He's brave, much braver than I was at six, and he took off without a push, without any directions from me. Still, I shouted after him. "Keep your eyes straight ahead, Jabber! Keep looking forward!"
He rode straight down that alley, just like a pro.