Writing & riding

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If people ask what I’ve been up to this summer, I have to hesitate. “Writing,” I say sometimes. “Riding,” at others.

The past few years I’ve grown very fond of bicycle riding, ever since I bought a lightweight, carbon fiber Trek Madone. I bike twice a week with Meetup groups, one of which I lead, for short distances of 10 to 20 miles. And bike solo or with one or two others on the weekend, generally for longer rides of 30, 40 miles or more.

Perhaps I should respond to inquiries, “Writing and riding.” Can I have one without the other?

Sinclair Lewis, another Minnesota writer like me, professed the secret of his writing success was “Sitzfleisch,” a good German word, he explained, for putting the seat of his flesh in the seat of the chair. Of course, this is a comic exaggeration, but it presses a point: most of a writer’s success may owe to his ability simply to sit and pound out the words.

Philip Roth would isolate himself in the Connecticut woods and begin his writing day by exclaiming into the mirror, “Attack! Attack! Attack!”

A Trek Madone 5.2, very much like mine.

When you put your Sitzfleisch on the saddle of a bike, you balance and distribute the flesh. You put your “sit bones” in the saddle in such a position they will not be worn out or ground down too quickly. They will enable you to mount the bike and fly down the road or the trail with maximum ease and minimum distress.

When you can fly like this, biking is not only excellent exercise, it’s exhilaration.

When you can fly in writing, your Sitzfleisch disciplined in the chair, your thoughts racing, your fingers typing out what the brain suggests, almost as fast as the brain suggests it, you and your readers too can experience exhilaration.

The body gives motion and moment to the mind, and the mind requires this constant commerce with the body.

“Writing and riding,” I say. It’s not an either/or but a both/and.

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