Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Blogging and Biking

Long before I began Blog-By-Bike ... or at least in the few years prior (long is a relative term) ... I often lamented that some of my best writing is forever lost in the streets of New York City. I would be strolling in Manhattan or clinging to a pole in the subway and the perfect assortment and order of words would drift through my head. Despite silently repeating my self-acclaimed profound thoughts over and over, they were often lost before I could get pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard. I began carrying a miniature notebook in my purse just for that reason, and Helen now carries one on her bike. I will be, too, this summer in the hopes that less of my best writing will be forever lost with the ghost of my pedal strokes across North America.

In my first blog - dedicated to my journey of becoming a New Yorker - I wrote my opening post on July 1, 2006, when I was a month away from my big move to New York City. I had no apartment. No job. No corporate connections. I still felt like it was ok to order pizza from Dominos and had no knowledge of bodegas or that a hero is both Derek Jeter and a sandwich. No substantial comprehension of the subway. No Duane Reade card. I  All I had was the hope that comes with knowing what you want. While some wondered why, I instead wondered the scarier question of why not?

In a book I read recently, Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now, there is an entire chapter dedicated to what Gordon Livingston, M.D. considers to be life's two most important questions: "Why?" and "Why not?"

"If people are reluctant to answer 'Why?' questions in their lives, they also tend to have trouble with 'Why not?' The latter implies risk," Livingston writes. "Steeped in habit and fearful of change, most of us are to some degree risk-averse. Particularly in activities that may involve rejection, we tend to act as if our sense of ourselves is fragile and must be protected. One would think that these fears would improve with age and experience; the opposite is usually the case."

Livingston goes on to say, "When presented with new things, the operative question may be 'Why not?' but people frequently defend themselves from disappointment by asking 'Why?' This can lead to the creative of endless excuses for not taking [chances]." Though he is specifically referring to intimate relationships in this chapter, one can apply this valuable insight to a variety of scenarios in life.

I'm a planner. I'm organized. I make lists. I use Microsoft Excel outside of the office to systematize an assortment of elements in my personal life. I did not go to a four-year university with the intention of becoming a "glorified secretary", but I think I'm now a decent corporate-NYC executive assistant because organization and planning come naturally to me. I enjoy paying my credit card bill in full each month. In fact, I kinda get off on not being in debt. I have a diversified portfolio of mutual funds (modest in value though it may be), I contribute the maximum for company-match to my 401(k), and I had an IRA before I graduated from college. I wear sunscreen daily from May to September. I have a vitamin regimen that involves supplement intake three times a day. I've never been bungee jumping, and I'm reserving sky diving for my 70th or 80th birthday - when I won't be quite as disappointed if my parachute fails to open.

On the surface, I do not live an incredibly risky life. But I've never let risk stand in the way of something I want. Maybe it's because I had incorporated Livingston's declaration of the final and controlling paradox even before I read his definition on page 54: Only by embracing our mortality can we be happy in the time we have. It closely resembles my own personal vendetta with "time" -- fueled by my secret fear that I won't get to do everything I hope to do before I die -- that we must be grateful to be given the years of which others are denied so that the few they might have been granted were not lived in vain.

While reading Livingston's chapter on why and why not, I wondered why we are often more protective of our sense of self than we are of the time we have. We treat our feelings as if they are more fragile - when in fact "time", which is far more delicate than our ego - is finite and incredibly, relatively limited. Is science not indirectly teaching us that our lives are nothing more than a blink of the cosmic eye in the vast, immeasurable universe?

Just as I fended the "Why?" questions that proceeded my move to New York City in 2006 - often with a shrug and a smile - I have also faced the raised eyebrows and wide eyes that have followed my announcement to cycle across North America in 2010.

I'll continue to approach most things in life with a "Why not?" attitude, but this summer - in this blog - with each pedal stroke and each published post, I'll be specifically answering the "Why not?" question of cycling 3,629 miles in 50 days. I suspect that it will have many answers. Those answers may not convince anyone else otherwise of my "Why not?" mantra, but it will be my own personal record for reflection. I'll stop as often as I can to jot my thoughts in my little notebook, and I hope most of them make it to publication on my blog. Even if some of my thoughts are forever lost in the space and time between Oregon and New Hampshire, I know that the basic message to myself will not be.

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