Writing into a Tree
Bicycles, Writing and Getting Unstuck
by Jennifer Paros
Life is like riding a bicycle - in order to keep your balance, you
must keep moving.
When I was a child, my parents tried to teach me to ride a bike.
Although I assume they must have tried more than once, all I
remember is the one time I got on and rode into a tree. After that,
I remember feeling that all my efforts to learn were a failure. It
seemed like I didnít have any belief in my ultimate ability and so
each attempt ended up serving as evidence of that initial
But our street was filled with kids who rode bikes and it was
something I very much wanted. I wanted to be able to ride a bicycle
and yet I saw myself as someone who could not get it.
And so I was in an argument with myself. An argument characterized
by humiliation and distress - an argument that seemed to go on and
Sometimes when I write I go through a similar dynamic. On occasion
I write right into a tree. And although there is no one there to
witness it, I can easily find myself feeling inadequate. I might
even mope a bit and talk about how poorly I think I did that day
writing - as though itís indicative of a bigger problem with me.
If, as a child, I had taken that one tree moment, as just that Ė
only one moment- I would have allowed myself to move on and do
what I most wanted a whole lot sooner. But I told myself a story
about that experience and what it meant about me, and I told
it again and again. And every time I reached for my goal it seemed
farther away and more difficult to obtain.
That story haunted me, consuming my energy and attention. And that
was energy and attention that needed to be going in to the fine art
of bicycle riding. Because bicycle riding requires attention.
Writing requires full attention too, which means my attention cannot
be funneling into some upsetting story about my capability or
perceived lack thereof.
Although I am a world of one while I am writing, I sometimes make
the mistake of stepping outside of myself and working from the
outside-in. I guess at what other people might think of what Iím
Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2010
doing. And that is when one moment of hitting a tree can
become a moment of feeling stuck indefinitely. In fact, it might even
be the cause of the mishap in the first place.
time he saves who does not look to see what his neighbor says or
does or thinks.
Back when it was all about bicycles, I resolved this issue by one
day borrowing a very small bike from a child across the street.
Because I was so absolutely close to the ground I was able to let go
of any feelings of insecurity I had while riding. And although I
was self-conscious of the fact that I was riding a bicycle several
sizes too small, I was willing to do it in the hopes that I might
one day build up the courage for riding something right for
me. And I did.
In doing this, I gave myself a chance to begin again. What I wanted
and the freedom to do it became more important than any vendetta I
was holding against myself. I refocused my energy off the
tree story and how I compared or might look to others, and I
rejoined myself and my goals on the inside. Now, I was a
world of one again and all that mattered was what I wanted to learn
and do. And how much simpler life is when thatís the focus rather
than a particular outcome or what other people might think. How much
easier it is to keep oneís balance and navigate tricky terrain when
we let ourselves take whatever steps necessary towards what we want
in the moment - without comparison or judgment.
What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. It is always
the same step, but you have to take it.
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Jennifer Paros is a writer,
illustrator, and author of
Violet Bing and the Grand House
(Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle.