This blog has been effective at turning over the rocks from my childhood, dreams and half-realized works. The Young Chronicles in particular has been telling as it reveals my lack of identity; I distinctly remember having clarity when I was eight years old and then none on my hitchhiking trip eleven years later.
I was always on edge, unsure of where I was, scared to camp alone, scared on the side of the road, scared of riding in stranger’s cars. I wanted to be somewhere else and, when I got there, somewhere else again.
I am a kinetic thinker. By that, I mean that my brain works best when I am doing something active, moving in some kind of direction. It is this motion that helps me though problems of not only day-to-day concerns but, more importantly, the logjams and black holes of writing a book. I often can’t figure out what a character is going to say or do until I get moving.
Living in New York City, I am most often compelled to use the elliptical machine or stationary bike to give my brain the illusion of going somewhere, just as the father, John, does in an earlier work, Black Ice.
John liked this part – pushing the red switch, climbing on, setting the program, everything the same – 200 pounds, Level 5, 30 minutes, Mountain Program – the dread in him strong. He knew himself in the bright little room, not alone, but inside himself and ready. His knees felt weak, nerves, how it came out of him. He could feel his breath coming up, deep, hollow, the sweat leaking out, itches dotting his forehead and across his face, already at Nine, serious about it, his breath getting hard, eight minutes, 210 calories, 765 feet and feeling good, flushed, not touching his skin, a perfect heat, his.
His feet were cramping, wanting to come in, up and down with the silver and black piston, he was into the Seven, fast too soon, scared at that, the hill and speed ahead, sweat streaming into itself, down the edge of his nose, from his eye and falling, into the Three, fighting, nothing but his sweat, wet stars dripping on the rough black, dripping into a messy constellation, pooling down the sides, and only if he pushed harder, knowing that, that he could. He was at the top and coming down, the hill little, his legs tired, ready, the back of the Three and Five just ahead and the Seven and Nine. He would make it.
I have also biked across Europe a number of times and found that the ideas can flow very well, especially on the long tough uphill climbs. I wrote about this in autobiographical trilogy entitled Buzz.
The Sierra Nevada Mountains loomed. Buzz was sick of the wind and wanted the climb. He attacked the first ascent, eyes straight down at the road, standing all the way, up to the switchback and then sitting, gearing down and settling in. Trucks toiled past, not another cyclist in sight. Nobody dared the ascent over Paseto de las Pedrizas. He would be the first. He drank, finished the bottle; sweat streamed through his sunglasses. He would make it to the rise. It was just ahead, just ahead, after the next switchback, the next. It didn’t matter where it was, another hundred switchbacks, he would make it, back and forth, climbing, climbing. And there it was, too soon, the sign, Paseto de las Pedrizas, 780 metres. He slowed, leaned forward over the handlebars, stretched out his back and held his legs and arms taut as he glided around the first bend and down the steep slope between sun-bleached rock.
A car and another and then nothing, the air still, the sticky speckled asphalt foaming past, he leaned down, his thigh tight against the crossbar, stomach and arms flat, stretched out, face tucked into the handlebars, beside the singing wheel, the silver hub still, forever like this, his hand to the ground. He would never fall, faster, toward everything, around another long bend and a tunnel – a tunnel! – darkness, screaming cool, insane into it, faster, and for a moment nothing, not the road, not the bicycle, and out again, heat and light, a hurtling thing, flying into another tunnel, singing into the heat and light, a sheep and more, everywhere on the road. He braked, swerved, toppled over, a complete somersault, into a bush, a fence and lay still, his face against the ground.
The best place for an active mind is hiking. There nothing else but the trail ahead, albeit the occasional creeping fear, as evidenced in the second section of All In.
I went along the trail and then stopped at a cliff and leaned over to see anything in the mist and trees. I went back on the trail and then followed a water pipe that went up the rocks. It was starting to rain. Water was dripping and then running down the rocks. I stepped up again and looked through the bushes. There was something green on the ground, a green shirt tag. I went around a hollowed-out stump and into the underbrush. The sun was pushing through the clouds. The forest arched down, and there was a crow coming up from the ridge and then through the gap in the trees. The path curled off into nothing. I was moving quickly, going up toward the cliffs, and I was back on the trail going toward the saddle before going up to Crown Mountain.
There was a chain hanging down part of it. I was feeling better here. I knew the bears wouldn’t bother with this steep rocky part, and then I heard a sudden crash, like a tree being snapped up, and stopped. I went along the rock edge to a small muddy section by a pair of bent trees, their roots bulging up against the rocks. It was a bear, staring back at me. It wasn’t big. It looked more like a dog. “Hey! Hey!” I clapped my hands, and it sprinted down the ravine. It was gone; I couldn’t hear it anywhere. My legs kept going ahead; it was just automatic. I was almost at the saddle, and it was getting darker in the trees, going down to where the bear might be.
I have a conflicted passion for hiking alone in the mountains, simultaneously reveling in and terrified by the solitude. This Aqaara excerpt reflects that:
It was clear ahead, the sky suddenly bright, all the trees gone. The summit was close, the trial suddenly steep. A small tree acted as a handhold and then a shelf of rock. It was unavoidable to not kick the edge, to not let it gouge into my ankle and thigh. The pain was almost good. It wasn’t a surprise to see it not there, to see more trees ahead, that this was just a blow-down, the trees twisted into a brambled heap, like a massive hand had swiped through. I watched my hand reach out ahead, pulling me up, watched the sleeve rumple up and flatten down again, over and over again, like I was a machine, reaching, pulling, moving ahead, a marvelous, thoughtless thing, moving on, knowing there were miles yet to the top. It was good knowing that it would not stop, that my legs and feet would have to not stop, that the path would wind ahead to the next false summit and I would turn and find more ahead. There was something on the horizon, far off through the trees. It was coming, slowly at first, seeing me move away, and was then moving faster. That feeling ground into me, about to be eaten, as I returned down the trail, jumping rock to rock and then climbed up into a tree, breaking the branches. The beast was still far and yet it wasn’t. It was awful how it crept closer, watching my ridiculous attempts to climb further, knowing what I would do, more than me, dreadful. The thing was still coming, methodical. It looked like a lion but stood on its hind legs and looked at her like something else, with awareness. I broke the final branch and clung to the peak, but the only escape was jumping now, and that is what I had to do, except the thing grabbed me by the neck and held until I stretched out like a cartoon, and then shook myself awake, and lay there, still, the images still hard and real.