Coffee is necessary. It’s necessary every day, but particularly today. It’s Sunday morning and I’m signed up for a writing workshop. My pen and paper are packed and ready to go, but my brain isn’t. Or maybe it’s my courage that hasn’t woken up yet. It’d be so much easier to stay home and struggle alone, hoping my writing attempts were worthwhile, not exposing them to others, not letting them see my fear that I may never succeed at that which I love so much. Staring into my coffee cup, losing minutes to the image of not having what it takes, the clock crossed from catching to missing the bus.
“I’m not ready yet,” I said, adjusting the chinstrap on my brick red helmet. I’d chosen the color because it looked badass and because the guy who sold it to me said it was safer than the black. After sliding my leather gloves on, I kicked a leg over the back of Dan’s Vespa and made sure my boots were placed firmly on the passenger footrests. Making sure his jacket was buttoned so I’d have a tight grip on him, I finally gave him the thumbs up and we were off.
If only I hadn’t missed the bus. On the bus I would’ve been able to slip into a dream world with a book as Muni carried me to my writing workshop. But on the Vespa inattention wasn’t an option. Not because I needed to be hyper vigilant to each passing detail, because I wasn’t the one driving, but because it was in my blood to worry. Caffeine was also in my blood that morning, my scarfed down coffee creating an alert buzz. Coffee before a Vespa ride always meant I’d be extra anxious.
We never take the freeway when I’m a passenger, and speeds over 35 mph feel like terror-filled getaways. Which works out fine, because in a city that’s only 7 by 7 miles, there aren’t many places you can drive fast for long. My boyfriend is tall and his profound brain is protected by a very large helmet, which means my perch on the back prohibits me from seeing around or in front of him unless I lean around, and then I feel I’d tip both of us over. As we race past buildings and cars, I can’t anticipate the view until it is right next to me. I do a lot of self-talk during these rides: “Stop trying to drive, you can’t help, you can only hold on. Remember to enjoy the view. Look! A pretty door. Oh shit, that car almost hit us. Bad car.” I watch said car as if I could ward off their stupidity with my evil glare alone. “No, stop trying to drive. This is exciting, right? So fun. Remember to breathe and enjoy the view. Pretend you are not freaked out. Tell your body to relax. But not too relaxed because when we hit potholes you need to be able to hold on. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.” The fear subsides for thirty seconds at a time and I’m able to genuinely enjoy the ride. This is then followed by hyper alert shallow breathing as we pass through the Geary street tunnel and I have nothing to look at but wall.
I cling not just with my arms, having developed extra strong forearms through tight grasping, but also with my thighs and calves. I’ve learned to wear my sunglasses because the darkness sometimes helps in tricking my nervous system into calming down. But I still have to keep myself from visions of being sideswiped and spilled onto the road, unable to respond quickly enough to avoid being run over. I imagine myself springing up quickly and dragging Dan to safety. I picture the best way to fall off the bike to avoid being crushed. I try not to envision hospital visits and feeding tubes.
It should be noted that Dan is a very safe driver and again, we almost never go over 35 mph. My fear is not based on the tools being used. My fear is way more existential than that, thank you very much. It is raw and deep and has everything to do with not wanting to lose what I love, of not having what I love taken from me: my person, my writing, my life I love so much. And, being merely the passenger, having no control at all over any of that.
Eventually, finally, after many lane transfers and scary brushes with imagined death, we arrive outside my writing workshop. I remove my helmet and hope one of my classmates sees me: look at me, I ride Vespas. And then it hits me: the terror and courage, the holding on with everything I’ve got, is exactly what I need for writing.
You write, you start a sentence, a paragraph, a short story, a novel, and you have no idea if it’s all going to turn out okay. You draw a character and if you are lucky they become something way beyond what you have conceived for them. You plan an outline, and if you work very hard, a story emerges that exceeds any idea of where it could go. “What you can plan/is too small/for you to live,” writes the poet David
Whyte. The tiny image becomes a telescope into your interior world, revealing what you really want to say.
When it’s going well, you don’t really drive. You trust the thrust and hold on tight, making sure not to miss a thing. And while I don’t always enjoy a Vespa ride as much as I should, I always love having ridden.
-refers from Daniel Romo’s artwork Commute