I've officially biked for long enough where I've earned a nice pair of bruised rashes between my thighs. (Yay me?) And what this means is, I can now talk about biking with some (very little) experience, but really, what you find below will be pictures of my bike in various locations with short captions. I've found that much like meditation and hiking, biking has become a space of acute awareness for me. When I'm on my bike, I'm noticing things about the world that I'm pretty oblivious to during my waking life, i.e. trees, leaves, the sky, people I pass by, general feelings of being present, bugs, birds, and other critters; you know, the good stuff. This page is an attempt to share that space, or that moment with you, via pictures with my iPhone.
August 19, 2019
For my first ride in a little over a month, I had two ambitions: to ride fast, and to listen to David Berman. I set out with fresh-pumped tires, no water, no I.D. (this, I usually pack in case of an emergency), no helmet; just me, my headphones, and my phone with the entire Silver Jews discography. The ride started out not great - my knees felt stiff, my ankles were tight; not riding in a month was already catching up with me as David sung, "Time will break the world" at the 1:29 mark. But I persisted, and as I rode down Harris Avenue, I picked up speed and my legs started to loosen; my mind however, not so much.
David Berman committed suicide on August 7th, 2019, and he's been on my mind pretty much every day since. I admit, with a slight wince of shame, that I hadn't heard of Berman until the news of his passing, when an outpour of love for him flooded my Twitter feed. As a long time fan of the band Pavement, I'm not sure how I missed hearing anything about Silver Jews, and as a writer, I'm not sure how I missed hearing anything about David as a poet. In the early days of Silver Jews I was four, six, eight, and eleven years old for their first four albums, then fifteen and eighteen for their last two; when I was eighteen in 2008, I was still digging through deep cuts of Dylan, Miles Davis, and Led Zeppelin, and not paying much mind to the current scene. Jump to August 7th, 2019 – me, twenty-eight; David, forever fifty-two - and random screen-shots of poems, quotes from lyrics, and Youtube links to his music start popping up on my Twitter feed. Some quotes immediately grabbed my attention, like, "In 1984, I was hospitalized for approaching perfection," and poet/musician Sara Renberg sharing David's response to a fan letter, "I'm always glad to hear from another nervous person who doesn't think they have all the answers." These words were written by someone who saw the world like me, I thought, and that kind of scared the shit out of me. So, curiously, I clicked over to Youtube and the first song of David's I heard was "That's Just the Way That I feel" off the new Purple Mountains self-titled album. By the time he sang, "Of course I've been humbled by the void," I was hooked.
On the ride, my full tires felt good against the smooth paved blacktop outside of my old elementary school. In the distance, looming above a tree-line, the sun ducked behind a set of clouds and threw arrows of light upward, like spikes of a golden crown. As David sang,
"And I remember me
The sunshine walking inside you
And the man you could see in me"
I started to think of suicide – his, my uncles, and mine.
Ever since my uncle took his own life in March, 2014, the fly of suicide ideation has been buzzing around my head. When they, the thoughts, first started in September of 2016, I didn't know where they came from, but took them very seriously. Soon, I was facing daily panic attacks, emotional breakdowns, etc. The only thought on my mind was "I'm going to kill myself. No I won't," on loop, 24/7 for weeks. Eventually I broke down and got help. But I consider myself lucky. Because even though I experienced minor depression, I was diagnosed with O.C.D. (specifically Pure O.) and General Anxiety. It turned out what I was experiencing was intrusive thoughts, not suicide ideation, but it felt all the same to a panic-induced mind. Once I had a name for it, I started to get better. I began practicing meditation, and gained some space between myself and my thoughts. To this day, the thought ""I'm going to kill myself" still finds its way into my brain from time-to-time, but it passes, doesn't cause panic, and I move on with my day. However, this changes when a suicide is in the news. The days that Robin Williams, Chris Cornell, Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Chester Bennington took their own lives, I felt as if I was losing my uncle again and again and again and again and again. I wondered if that was how it was going to be for the rest of my life; and learning about David Berman on the day of his death, answered my own question: Yeah, I guess so.
Crossing Rt. 28, I felt a surge of adrenaline; sweat made my cotton t-shirt heavy. The sun still hid away. As David Sang, "Room Games and Diamond Rain", I started thinking how strange it is discovering an artist's work after you learn they have committed suicide; it puts a new bracket of context around everything they've ever done. Like how I did with my uncle, you start to look for signs in the work, red flags, warnings, evidence on how they got to the point of taking their own life. After Bourdain, I got really into Parts Unknown, even got to the point where Pho is now my favorite food; after Cornell, I listened back to old Soundgarden tracks long forgotten from my queue (I now listen to them on a regular basis). I also learned of David Foster Wallace's suicide after I had read from his collection 'Girl with Curious Hair' and went on to read his work obsessively, underlining passages in Infinite Jest, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and Oblivion (especially the story Good Old Neon). So, often I ask what is it that leads me to obsessing over these people and their work? Was I searching for things that lead to suicide, so I could avoid them? Was I making up for not completely understanding my uncle's suicide? Was I looking for the ways I connected to those people and their work, to somehow self-loathe? I seldom found the answer. But in David Berman's discography, I found it. It's all there – the despair, the pain – and it's being sung earnestly, directed right at you over a catchy pop-country ballad. It was refreshing blunt honesty. His pain was the world's to see and not something kept hidden; David was incredibly brave for that. So, in a way, David wasn't like the others; because instead of trying to find the ways in which I was like him, like I had done with Bourdain, and Cornell, and Foster Wallace, Berman told me himself that I'm not like him at all. He showed me that I didn't know the depths of despair, that I was free in a world where he felt trapped. Through his vulnerability, I found confidence in my own; and for that, I'm so grateful to him and his music.
Towards the end of my ride, I bombed a hill that snaked the side of the duck pond I used to ice-skate on when it would freeze-over during winter, and followed the curve of the road around to cross a wooden plank bridge that shuttered beneath my wheels. I felt euphoric. The wind held my hair back as sweat ran down the length of my face. To anyone who passed me, it probably looked as if I was crying, but to them I would say, like David Berman sings on the track 'Horseleg Swastikas': "I wanna be like water if I can, 'Cause water doesn't give a damn."
July 9, 2019
This poorly taken photo was shot on a bridge over "The Duck Pond" in Middlesex, New Jersey. I couldn't fit the entire bike in the frame and had to rush the shot because I felt awkward taking a picture of my bike in front of the three or four people about to cross the bridge. But, after I got the picture, I looked up to see the falling sun directly between the two aisles of trees and reflecting down the river. It was then I took a breath and felt inexplicably present, just content in a moment where I felt my arms soak in sweat. Whatever stresses that were on my mind before that didn't return for the rest of the day.
May 22, 2019
Somewhere off of the East Coast Greenway, on a bridge between the trail and Colonial Park in Somerset, New Jersey. I took a break to walk my bike across the bridge and set it against the railing to get a sip of water. I was listening to the Other Ppl Podcast and snapped this to remember the moment. It was a good ride and a good episode. I can't really remember much else. Check out that podcast, seriously.
April 28, 2019
Not a picture of my bike, but of my two friends Sarah and her fiance Dan at the National Mall in Washington, DC, where they live. They gave me a bike tour and afterward, we ate poke bowls at Momo Fuku. It was my first time seeing all of the monuments and the history of it all had practically stunned me into singing the Star Spangled Banner. Although, I couldn't help but have an unsettling feeling in my gut in regards to the current state of America. But these two friends are very kind and made that one unforgettable weekend.
September 23, 2018
Also not a picture of my bike, but of a horse, which one could argue was the original bicycle. This was in the rolling hills outside of Pereira, Colombia. It was my first time riding a horse and my first time visiting my mother's home country. One thing I remember from that day trip on horseback was how nervous I was beforehand and when I started, I felt like I really had to focus my movements to direct the horse. But after a while, I seemed to control and ride the horse with ease; it was as if I let my fears go and the horse let its guard down. By the end, I felt connected with it.
August 24, 2018
One of my favorite bike shots so far. This sexy scenery is at the Ashokan Reservoir in Upstate New York. I was visiting my friend, Ben, who is also a writer, and he took me on a ride in the reservoir, showing me various nature spots. Not much to remember about the ride except the views and that I was pretty short of breath the entire time—not from the ride, but from nonstop, great conversation. Ben is one great dude.
July 29, 2018
This is the first picture I took of my bike on my first long ride somewhere outside of Princeton, New Jersey. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I rode across this at first without realizing it. But, when I looked up at the last second of the bridge, I noticed the view and had to turn around and soak it up. This is the moment where I knew I would be hooked on cycling. Shortly after this photo was taken, my girlfriend (who then was a crush after 2 or 3 dates) had called me and told me about how her brunch with her friend was. I remember laughing and flirting with her over the phone, excited for the next time I would hang out with her; it's funny, I kind of knew she was also something I would become hooked on.