As in Biking, So in Booking

For the last six months or so I’ve had two scraps of paper taped to my bedroom wall. Every now and again I consult them, and feel reinforced, and go on with the writing.

The first is a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke’s creative classic Letters to a Young Poet:

I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into an answer.

The second clipping is from one of Bruce Weber’s dispatches for The New York Times last summer while he was bicycling across the country. (Which if you haven’t read it, the whole series is great.) It’s from the column “After 500 Miles, Hitting a Wall:”

In bicycling, the term of art is “bonking.” To bonk is to hit the wall, to feel the strength drain out of you, to suddenly lose the wherewithal to proceed…

During the most rugged part of my afternoon, I sat in the mottled shade of one of the few roadside trees we encountered that day, my head bent over and held between my legs to recover from a bout of dizziness. Not surprisingly, I had gloomy thoughts about this cross-country enterprise, namely: How the hell am I going to make it?

I also thought: You can’t stay here by the side of the road, deep-breathing with your head between your legs. Now, in 5 minutes or 10 minutes or an hour, you’re going to have to get back on the bike and pedal the final miles into town. And I did, and I recovered, and I was ready to ride again the next morning.

This is a process I’ve gone through before on this trip and on previous ones, and it’s instructive in the same way every time, drumming the basic philosophy of long-distance cycling into my head: Moving forward is the cure for all ills. Keep pedaling.

The more I think about that, the more powerful and human a message I find it to be. Maybe because I’m on this trip I have to think of cycling as a metaphor, but it’s clear to me that Samuel Beckett understood bonking: I can’t go on, I can’t go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.

As I’ve said often to friends, thank dog I didn’t know how long it would take me to write this book or I never would have started. But I’m so glad that I did. And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go on.

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