Sometimes I have to laugh at myself. One of the things I’ve been occupying myself with since I got back is the restoration/rebuild of this little 1968 Yamaha 180 twin that I acquired (complete with parts bike).
As a project it’s coming along nicely but I’ve run into a hitch where I have to wait until next week to get the cylinders rebored, and then wait for two weeks (or more) to receive replacement overbore pistons and rings from the states.
Honestly, it’s killing me. Day after gorgeous days passes, each a little cooler than the last, and I’m so hungering for a motorcycle road trip. In fact I’m obsessing a little about it, dreaming of buzzing down a lonely Island road, autumn leaves skittering across the pavement in front of me.
Considering my recent cruise up the west coast I’m quite surprised at this; my earlier restlessness has not abated, not at all. And the ennui that I described on my last post has transformed into a hunger to take off again.
What a fool I can be. And the worst part is I know it. I’ve been in this place before, back when I lived in Abbotsford, in a dreary suburban lifestyle. I owned a bike back then (a Yamaha XS650) and took off whenever I could just to feel the illusion of freedom. I know it’s a joke and yet cannot seem help myself. My rational mind knows it’s simply running, and yet I’ve been raised in a culture that glorifies such things – think of the 2008 film One Week. To an immature and addled part of my mind, these machines speak of freedom and adventure. The fact that they need money to buy, keep fueled up, require insurance and licensing and maintenance means that there’s nothing “free” about them.
It’s true that riding them can be a great deal of fun. Unlike any other form of transportation, a bike becomes an extension of yourself, one with a great deal more physical power. It allows you to travel down the road feeling part of the environment, rather than external to it as in a car.
But true freedom goes slow and on foot because it doesn’t need or want any object to encumber it, and because going slow allows much deeper observation.
The time and money going into this bike will be a good investment, but that’s not the point. I’m feeling tied down and part of me is rebelling. Even my west coast cruise didn’t help because of the money involved and the expensive, complicated equipment that needed such great care. In retrospect I needed something simpler, and the bike really is one step above walking. The fantasy of moving over the face of the earth enjoying the coolness and rich smells of autumn, camping here and there and feeling part of the world outside, without the anxiety about rollers and depth and reefs and true wind and immanent gales. Piloting a yacht is in itself a big responsibility, especially in new and unexplored areas. The experience can be wonderful, but stressful too.
The theme of responsibility keeps coming up. After 9 months of banging against it, my business is in a good position right now, and yet it feels like a gun to me head. The very fact that my shop exists, that I have plans arranged for the next number of months feels like slow death, and a part of me is looking frantically for escape. So I buy a motorcycle and restore it as fast as I can so I can take off and pretend I’m free.
There’s a saying: how do you know you’re a writer? Try doing something else. And that certainly seems to be the case for me. Time and again I move out into other things lured by the siren call of money, and usually I can make it work –for a while. But sooner or later my heart rears up in my chest and refuses to go any further. But being an egotistical fool I push ahead because I never give up, and by the time everything is done and the dust clears away the collateral damage is pretty high.
I did it for a number of years in Abbotsford and the consequence was such that it took me at least two or three years to get over it here in Victoria. Maybe I’m not even over it yet. It got so bad that Tracy and I almost broke up again. All I was doing was trying to be the good father and husband, and yet by playing that role according to generally accepted ways, it made me so very, very unhappy, and much worse father and husband than ever I wanted. If I ever had it to do over again I would be the person I am, and model to my children the joy of being real, rather than the role I played.
So I know I can stick with it. The problem is I know where it’s going. Tracy is worried already. Being a drama king I can see myself pushing until it all goes completely to hell so that even if busted and fucked up I can raise my head out of the dirt and say that I gave it my all.
I might not be what the egotistical part of me thinks society expects of a man, but nobody will be able to say that I didn’t try. Perhaps it’s only through self-destruction that I will be able to accept this limitation, and God knows society approves of the man who destroys himself in the name of work. But what a waste of time and effort that would be!
Tracy’s pressure made me question my masculinity, and my ego defended itself it by working like a demon and making good money. To back down now would be to admit defeat. The way my socialised brain perceives it, and creates the trap I find myself in, I can be a man or I can be a writer, but the two are exclusive. Until that distortion changes, this cannot have a happy ending.
I know I’m not at all alone in this: I’ve known a great many people who cannot write or practice their art because they do not believe in it, they have been taught it is foolish, they have no talent, etc. When I was a young man I was a very strong visual artist but it never occurred to me – not once – to try and make a career out of it. In my world such a thing wasn’t done. The only reason I eventually found myself working as an artist was because I had tried for decades to not be here, but nothing I did satisfied the ache inside.
If ever I had the chance to advise a young person, I would say do the arts. They might suffer under poverty, they might never be successful (whatever that means) but any pain they feel for having followed their muse will be less than the pain of denying themselves.