This is the first part of two posts. To skip to part two, click here.
Six summers ago I rode my bicycle across America with my friend Les. It was a life-changing adventure. I remember exactly where I was when I knew not just that I wanted to write a book about it, but that I needed to.
It was the Christmas of 2008, approximately five months after I’d returned home from the ride. I was sitting in my grandma’s livingroom sipping coffee and nominally watching football (which is about the most generous way to describe my interest in football) when the front door opened and in came my great-grandma, Elsie (at that time the age of 102). “Grandma Elsie,” as she’s known to everyone in the family, was beautiful, chipper and all smiles and witty remarks as she hugged everyone who stood to greet her. After my embrace, I returned to my seat. Soon, she came to the couch to sit next to me. I tried with effort to make small talk with her, knowing her hearing wasn’t what it used to be. She asked me how I was doing and how my job was going, to which I responded with the normal good and good. Grandma Elsie nodded and then leaned back. Then she turned and said, “Hey wait a minute, when are you going to write the book about your bike trip?”
I was a little embarrassed. I’d told many in my family that I’d wanted to write the Tour the U.S. story. I looked at Grandma Elsie sheepishly and said, “Well, it’s coming. That I promise you.”
She looked mildly contented to hear that, but then leaned in close. I could smell her perfume, the same scent she’d worn since I was young. “Well,” she started. “I want to be the first to read it, and you better hurry up, because I ain’t gonna be here forever.”
I wish I could say I jumped right to the writing of my book after Grandma Elsie commissioned me, but sadly, I didn’t. Many things over the next six years would go on to get in the way: grad school, more bike touring, a few career changes. But more than anything, life got in the way. My twenties would be a roller coaster of learning what I stand for and who I am, and generally a blurry amalgamation of fast, frivolity and fear. My book felt this effect––over the past six years, writing it was a haphazard action of picking it up and putting it down. I’d go through writing binges, often weeks-long and always re-reading everything I’d written to remind myself. The voice of Paul Simon would dance through my mind as I would re-read and write: Hello darkness, my old friend / I’ve come to talk with you again / Because a vision softly creeping / Left its seeds while I was sleeping.
Over those years as I grew as a writer, my writing style must have evolved three or four different times, causing my book to call for what my friend Katrina swears I suffer from: excessively bathing my writing in my over-editing. Editing my work over and over and over and over, though, was (as I’ve accepted) part of my process of growing and changing. I later came to realize that this excessive revising has been a fitting symbol for my roller coaster twenties.
Finally, though, upon moving to Los Angeles when I was twenty-eight, I got really serious about the book. I began for the first time in my life regimenting time to write. I enrolled in a few writing classes to keep my brain and writing hand consistent. Most mornings, from a nook in my downtown apartment on the corner of Los Angeles and 7th Street, I began to see my book come out of a cocoon and emerge as something wholly unexpected. Instead of simply an adventure story about two guys trying to figure life out on the road, it became a memoir including a backstory and dozens of “creative nonfiction” qualities (I’ll save the details of these qualities for when you read the book!).
Today, I’m months from my thirties and I can finally say the book is basically finished. It’s in the process of being edited professionally and I have been researching ways to fundraise in order to print it. Grandma Elsie will be so proud (she is still alive by the way; she’s 108). Like my editing, finishing the book, regardless of whether or not I actually sell a single copy, has also become a symbol. It has come to represent new passage, like turning a page to a new chapter in life; like me giving myself licence to finally step into adulthood. Upon the book’s release, I see myself breathing, thinking and walking around in the world differently. The days of fast, frivolity and fear are almost memories, I often think.
But, I’ve come to realize something about this second symbol. Finishing the book, a symbol of my chains being loosed and my supposed freedom abounding, has become an image of my exaltation. Or in other words, I think I’ve become convinced to the point of obsession that when I finish it I will be a new and better person.
To be continued…