(Art by Katherine Lamm) Last weekend I took my road bike for a spin, the first time since moving to the mountains. Road biking has a short season here—it starts as soon as the ski season ends and stops as soon as mountain biking begins. I've never gotten my act together fast enough to enjoy it.
I clipped into the pedals, coasted down the street (*ever-so-pleased* that skinny tires didn't feel scary after years on fat tires), and then I went to shift. I could shift up to create more resistance, but I couldn't see a lever shift down. I was going need that on my return trip, which would be uphill and against the wind.
I rode this bike for a good three years when I lived in the Twin Cities. For six months, I rode 45 minutes to and from work because I didn't have a car. My boss called my bike shoes my "Michael Jackson shoes" because they were silver and shiny.
But there I was last Sunday, coasting down Whiterock with the sun at my back and the mountain in front of me, and I had no idea how to operate my bike. Finally, my eyes zeroed in on the brakes. Maybe? Was that it?
I tapped the break handle to the side, and the gears shifted.
I laughed and pedaled out of town. I was a beginner again. Never mind that the only framed posters in my office are from ArtCrank. Never mind that I biked all over the Twin Cities, then fell in love with mountain biking as soon as I tried it. Never mind that I have a hut to hut bike trip planned at the end of June. I was, once more, a beginner.
We're all beginners, all of the time.
A yoga mentor once taught me that we are beginners every time we step to our mats. Different day. Different circumstances. She said it as a way to humble our egos, and it applies to many things in life.
In biking, winter forces me to take a break from riding. When the warming sun clears the streets of snow, I return to my bike with memories of last season, when I was fit and in the groove. But after a season away I find that I have to dredge the depths of my brain for the techniques I knew so well the the summer before.
In writing, I remember what it's like to finish a book-length work. What it is like to be stopped on the street because someone likes my article in Dirt Rag Magazine. I don't think about what it's like to start an article or a book until I sit down to do it, and then my ego pitches a fit because starting something new (or again) is hard.
Remembering that you are a beginner makes it possible to start new work.
When I embrace the beginner's mentality, I find it easier to to do the work. I approach my writing with humility and an open mind, the knowledge that it's the beginner who blossoms into the expert.
I've written before that you don't need to write every day, and you don't. But you do need to show up and do the work with some kind of regularity. You need to work through the beginning of a project, when you don't quite know what the story is about and you're not quite sure if you'll pull it off. Entering that phase with the mindset of a beginner makes it a journey and an exploration instead of drudgery.
It might feel awkward, but the simple truth is that the beginner is out still out there. The sun shining. Snow capped mountains lining the horizon. Lungs burning, legs pumping and blood moving. Breathing. Living. Alive.