The back roads between Bantry and Glengarriff
This weekend, I biked 56 miles and wrote 3700 words. I’d like to, in solidarity with other writers, say that the 3700 words was harder, but truth be told, the cycling was the thing that did me in. Thirty miles has been my upper limit for awhile, and doing two days of that in terrain more mountainous than I’ve ever attempted was, well, painful. By my second day on rollercoaster back roads, I was making sad, pathetic sounds whenever I saw another hill.
This is very pretty but I assure you it was also long, and steep, okay?
I’m not in the habit of finding my physical limits anymore. Even when I did push myself to that shaking, gasping place, it was mostly because I was too out of shape for field hockey tryouts. Feeling my arms and legs tremble, being ready to kill someone for a banana, ending the climb back up the house I was staying in with the mantra You don’t have to do this tomorrow - it was terrible, but it was also kind of awesome. It was a revelation: OK, at the moment, this is what I can do.
The guidebook did not mention this 7th.century Christian pillar was in a field full of cows.
The physical endurance revealed other things. For instance, how awesome it is to stop. Every historic thing, I stopped at it. The ancients liked to put things up on hills, but that was okay. I was not climbing that hill on my bike. I couldn’t stop myself from having an automatic “Let’s take a million pictures of this!” response, but after awhile I remembered that I should be, like, experiencing Ireland and sat down. The views ceased to be scenic, the monuments ceased to be historic. It didn’t matter that my ass hurt. I was there, in a place where people a really long time ago thought maybe it might be good to feel humble, or at least to pay attention.
Standing stone, post-marching-through-bog, pre-noticing-goats. It points right out to sea.
I don’t know what people thousands of years ago were thinking. I can be 100% sure they were not thinking, Why did I not put an easier gear onto my bicycle? But part of my fascination with old stuff is how it transmits a broad, garbled message to the effect of “This is important.” I have no idea why these places, or stones, were important. They might not even have been that important. And sadly they are important to me because someone very long dead found them important, so my own reaction is equally garbled. What I do know is, I’m glad I heard all the bumblebees and smelled all the cowshit on my way up, instead of passing through the landscape in a car. When I sat down, I knew where I was, and I knew I should be grateful to be there.
Writing: way less exciting in every way.
I don’t mean to knock the 3700 words. I made a near-impossible deal with myself that I could go abroad to Ireland if I still worked on my novel over the summer. I’ve been keeping up this bargain, but the writing has been unpleasant teeth-pulling, squeezed in around class at times of the day where I tend to hate, like, my face, let alone words I’ve produced. So the other half of this weekend was renting a stupid nice room in a gorgeous house** via airbnb and working all morning. I took time to read over old parts of the book and re-orient myself. I finally had time to digest the critique and advice I got at Sycamore Hill over a month ago. By the end of the weekend, the book had reverted back to being mine. A thing I need to keep making no matter how long and dumb and stupid the process is. Which is really long, and dumb, and stupid. Accomplishing what I actually want to accomplish is currently beyond my limits. But it was so pleasurable to work, and also to stop, and take a look around.
*I did read Wild this weekend. The book was both totally my thing and totally the thing I want to be way more than it actually can be. Definitely worth reading if you like fantastic moments of lady toughness.
**If you would like to see more pictures of cows, and also some teenagers staring at prom pictures, I made a set on Flickr.