Last summer someone gutted my new bike. Both wheels and the seat, gone. They left just the sad, lonely frame still locked to the bike rack, looking severely inadequate next to the other bikes. When I first came across it, I stopped walking and stared at it for a while, as if the wheels would somehow reappear and I’d be able to ride again. That never happened.
I found the crime scene after a long day of work serving pancakes in the hot sun of the restaurant’s patio. Before work I ride my bike to the L, lock it up outside, and ride it home when I get back. It’s not that long of a ride from my apartment to the station, less than five minutes, but that ride is crucial to my well-being. The feeling of action, more than simply walking, does wonders for my mind, which is usually so cluttered with thoughts and feelings that just a little bit of wind in my face helps move things around up there so clarity can start to poke its way through. So to see my mode of transportation – which to some extent is also my mode of meditation – rendered useless was at best difficult. At worst, it was devastating.
But life goes on. I was angry and upset in the following days for a number of reasons, yet it was a difficult anger to deal with because I had no specific person or thing to direct my anger toward. Certainly, I was angry with the people who stole from me but I had no idea who they were, so I had no way to let them know I was angry. I was angry with The Universe for letting this happen to me. I like to think I’m a decent person. I at least try to be. Why would a bad thing happen to a good person? It just didn’t make sense. And finally I was angry with myself. I could have done more to lock my bike better, or park it in a different, less accessible spot, but I didn’t take those precautions, so now I had to suffer the consequences.
And being the oftentimes too self-critical and self-destructive person that I am, I took my anger out on myself mostly. Whether it was fair or not, I blamed myself for the whole ordeal. It was an unhealthy way to release my anger, but it was the only way I could think of, until about a week later when I had my first day off since the theft. I unlocked the lonely frame, walked it to the bike repair shop across the square and left it there for a few hours while they fixed it up. To pass the time I hung out in a bar with a book, a computer and my thoughts. I was planning on reading because I had had trouble writing anything recently, but I brought my computer along just in case. As I settled in with the first few sips of my beer, I felt inspiration coming. So I took out my computer and began writing for the first time in a while.
A couple hours and a few beers later I had words on a page. And those words were in complete, coherent sentences. And those sentences were together in paragraphs that made sense and told a story about a guy who gets his bike stolen. It’s probably not a “good” story, but for me it is more than good because it was a positive outlet for my anger. Instead of bottling it up or bottling it down with alcohol, I let it out in a creative way that produced something worthwhile.
Not only did I let my anger out, but when I went back and actually read what I wrote, I realized I had just discovered my true writing voice. Nothing had ever sounded more authentic to me than what I wrote that day. The turns of phrases, the diction, the little quips here and there, it all sounded like me as I am in real life. It wasn’t the formal writing voice of my academic career or the disjointed, you’re-trying-too-hard voice of my post-college “career.” Instead it was the casual, sarcastic voice I use everyday, my genuine voice. It’s certainly a writing style and voice I will use again, but up until now I hadn’t figured out how to convey who I am in person to the page. I guess I just had to get really, really mad.
Most importantly though, the writing process helped me think through the cloud of anger that had dominated my thoughts and actions the previous week. I realized a bike wheel is just a thing that can be replaced, same with a seat. I can buy new wheels, put them on and ride again at any time. But peace of mind can’t be so easily replaced. You might have it one day, but the next it will be flipped and tossed around so much it looks like you’ll never see peace of mind again. But it is still there, you just have to keep looking for it. And for me, writing is how I look for peace of mind. I might not always get there, but I always try, which is all we can do sometimes. It’s better than staying angry.