I can ride my bike with no handlebars

Look at me, look at me hands in the air like it's good to be

By Jesse Mostipak in blog

April 26, 2023

Note: this was originally published in Weighted Tangents, my Substack newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.

I am an unapologetic fan of the Shitty First Draft. I’ll walk around with a sentence in my head, working and reworking it until I’ve convinced myself that it is the epitome of literature itself, only to write it down and realize that it doesn’t belong in a particular piece, or that it doesn’t actually say what I want it to say. Which is, of course, the whole point of the shitty first draft—to get the words out of your head and on to the paper so that you have something to work with.

Shitty first drafts are generally meant to be private, but after a brief pass to remove the absurd I will happily share mine with the world. Sometimes the feedback I get is a kick in the teeth, but more often than not there’s a kernel of usefulness in there that I can learn from.

I’ve picked at the following essay enough for it to exist in editing purgatory, that space between a shitty first draft and something ready for publication.

The next time you find yourself stuck, paralyzed by the fear of writing and the existential dread of wrestling your thoughts onto the page, go outside and ride a bike. I’m serious. “The sky is spitting sleet!” you object, but I think this is one thousand times better than riding between the sunbeams beneath a bluebell sky. Do you know what kind of people are outside in this kind of weather? The ones with stories.

When you’re riding a bike you take people by surprise. They don’t have time to prepare for your coming, to fix their hair and pull their face into an expression of cool nonchalance. You pounce on them from around the curve, catching them in a vulnerable tableau, forever frozen in time against the backdrop of rolling hills and corn fields.

There’s a family alongside the trail, the father and grandfather on their hands and knees, cracked hands worrying the dirt with a spade as the grandmother purposefully pans a metal detector across the frozen grass. A young girl clad head to toe in a retina-searing pink toddles your way before going airborne as she’s yanked back to her mother’s side. Whirring past, you briefly lock eyes with an astute German Shepherd before you’re over the rise and off to the next scene.

You don’t have to wait long before you find him, this unkempt and gangly man with a weekend’s worth of stubble smudged across his jaw. He’s slouched forward in an oversized trapper hat and red flannel jacket, his neck cranked at an impossible angle to stare up into the trees. He announces with his whole body that he has no intention of acknowledging you—you do not exist in his world—and as you fly past you glance up to the branches and see nothing of note.

Stopping to snap a photo of a lone tree blossoming white amongst the redbuds, an elderly trio stops to ask what you’ve seen. You mention the baby black-capped chickadee that hopped across your path earlier, and they tell you where to find killdeer.

“I once photographed a nest of red-tailed hawks the moment they hatched,” the gentleman on the right shares, and you trade him a look of awe in exchange for the rest of the story. “I climbed that tree every day for weeks just to get that photo. And later, when they were out of the nest, one hopped right up onto my shoe and looked me in the eye. They knew me.”

And so it goes for as long as you can pedal, the road and people along it unfolding their stories just for you.

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Until next time!


Posted on:
April 26, 2023
4 minute read, 654 words
weighted tangents cycling newsletter creative writing
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