OK, so one of the challenges of my life is that so many, many things interest me. I’m like a butterfly, flitting from flower to flower sometimes – and this is especially true of my art. Art making, so it’s been said, is the anchor of an artist’s world; it’s something an artist – and perhaps rather importantly, his or her audience – can hang on to as some sort of constant. (“Oh! That’s the fellow who only paints with black house paint, right?”)
Somewhat frustratingly, that has never been a constant in the history of my own artworks. For a time I had a reputation as a plein air painter in oils; others know me as a studio watercolor painter of intimate dining scenes; still others are only aware of my black and white photography. And, off and on, I’ve been experimenting with a variety of forms of collage. “Oh, and aren’t you that guy who draws?”
The point behind my rambling is that I have a tough time focusing on any one thing sometimes. I need some external stimulus to help keep me centered.
Used to be that my long drive to work provided the means for that focus. As a captive behind the wheel, and hating traffic, I would get lost in my thoughts. Using a hand held recorder, I’d “jot down” everything, out loud, as ideas and concepts might occur to me. Often, this led to long, rambling manifestos, diatribes, rants, or what I refer to as “philosophizations.” Just as often, I might never listen to that recording again because the very act of getting my thoughts out was cathartic. It helped me to concentrate and prioritize. Sometimes I’ll go back to the recorder and search for a specific one of my “notes” because I recall a particularly salient thought, an especially cogent idea upon which I feel it necessary to further expound.
For many years, riding has provided the best possible forum for me to find such balance. Cycling – beyond the very obvious – is in fact an almost perfect metaphor for “balance”.
True story. Some years ago I was diagnosed with Diabetes. Without getting maudlin, suffice it to say that I was devastated, my world turned upside down. No longer did I live a life of illusion where I was bullet proof, invincible. My physician prescribed pills and insulin injections and I was told that once one began taking insulin, one rarely got off. In fact, the body’s dependence upon insulin would grow and additional daily injections would eventually become necessary.
This was more than I could accept. With a rigid dietary plan and an even more rigid exercise plan (of which cycling occupies center stage), within one year my doctor pulled me aside and told me, “This is remarkable! Few people are able to pull something like this off.” And she took me off insulin.
The balance is delicate. I am ever aware of the balance of carbohydrates to proteins that I ingest, my fat and calorie intake. Too many carbs and my blood sugar goes up, too few and I bonk. Daily, prolonged exercise is the other part of the equation. Miles of walking (which I love) meets my needs, as I’m sure running would also do if I didn’t hate running so much. To be sure, the bicycle is a marvelous thing. It’s beautiful and mechanical and relies on the “engine” (i.e., the rider.) I find time to be contemplative when I ride – and yet, at the same time there is a heightened awareness of one’s surroundings, an ever changing panorama of landscape and road and weather. The aesthetic experience of riding a beautiful – and in my case, classic and vintage – machine, coupled with the sense of place… well, words simply fail me.
I ride alone, rather than on group rides, because I jealously guard those precious moments. It’s “me” time. Alone time. Time for big thoughts and no thoughts at all: a purge. Sometimes a ride is as short as fifteen miles and other times I may be gone for hours, lost in the “zone.” It’s a lot like getting into a particularly engrossing artwork: I can suddenly look up and discover that an entire afternoon has passed and – golly, I’m hungry… did I really miss lunch? (Did I really write “golly?”)
On my bike, pondering the world’s ills – or just the crap that took place at work that day – I can solve all of the problems confronting me and mine. Rather than taking a swing at a lamp or kicking the dog, it’s incredible how frustrations seem to evaporate at the end of a hard, perspiration-soaking ride.
I don’t mean to imply that I ride to eliminate frustrations, by the way. Most rides just begin with my eagerness to be out on the road again. What I love about these moments is how it provides me with the opportunity to let my mind run free, to think wild and creative thoughts. How often do we give ourselves permission to just day dream?