How to Do Big Things

This is the most important lesson I learned and the one I forgot first. Well, here’s to remembering.

You will fall off. I fell off the bike twice on the trip. I never fell off at high speeds or when I was alone and high flying. I reserved my crashes for blundered starts at intersections with small audiences. Now, of course I’m being metaphorical here. The trip itself was metaphorical. There is no point in riding across country if the struggle and achievement can’t apply to other aspects of life (slow biking not being the most lucrative profession).

I fell off when I finished. I returned tired from wretched veggie burgers on the train, tired from the train itself, from sitting, from the awkward celebrations upon arrival, from repeating my story over and in brief until I came to hate it, from having to paint over the penises (penii?) that I am quite certain were not drawn on my bedroom walls before I left for Virginia, thank you chums. I was tired and I wanted to rest and I did just that until I lost all the dizzying traces of forward motion and my bones only remembered resting. I wrote my last thoughts on the trip but put them aside until I forgot about them. I forgot about the whole thing.

You get back on. This is obvious and yet there is a logistical paradox to work out. Getting on is much easier to do when you are halfway across a desert — it’s basically necessary. It is harder to get up when you are wrapped snug in the comforts of Home and the City — of sleep or reading the newspaper or good TV or just about anything you can trick yourself into believing is enriching or healthy or helping you move forward. The brain and body fidget when they are fallen and looking for excuses and they don’t look too far.

So you start. You must start to finish. To start and to restart and to start again when you stop and to stop only for sleep and only where restarting is easiest is to get closer to finishing. You need to move forwards every day and you need to go far enough away from home that retreating isn’t much of an option or at least a terrible inconvenience.

Start at the beginning. Do the middle next. Hit the end at the end. This helps with continuity and with (a false) understanding that there is no turning back. If a blank page is what you fear, begin with “It was a dark and stormy night” and leave a note to go back later and destroy the first couple of pages.

Don’t stop. Don’t stop in the middle of a hill, yes, but also don’t stop when you reach the Pacific. An oeuvre is bigger than a novel, isn’t it? Work on the next one when you’re done as chances are America is not ready for your script about killer hummingbirds.

Figure it out along the way. You have, you always will. If your big thing is a book that doesn’t have to be written out in longhand, you can go back and edit out all your earliest naivetys. If it’s raising a child, there make the second one better.

It is my experience that most hardships were really the result of poor planning and honest, personal stupidity. Bearing this — and knowing who is to blame — one can move forwards with confidence.

You remind yourself that you are particularly brilliant and that letting yourself down would be a loss to mankind and yourself as an exemplary member of the species. If you have to lie to yourself here, do so convincingly. I don’t.

You can’t worry about sleep. You can’t worry about where you’re going to sleep. If the thing isn’t five minutes down the road and nuclear, then there is no point in getting chuffed about it. You know you can solve any problem or dial-a-friend because you’re swell.

You finish. This is extremely important. I could easily have taken the ferry to Vallejo and floated into San Francisco; I can look back on my trip without regret because I decided to take an extra day and a humiliating meal at PF Chang’s so that I could end it as I had dreamed.

The rotten man could dismiss much of this as cliché or common sense. He’s probably right, although it was my hope that the yuks would keep this from discovery. Either which way, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s true (so far as I know). Remember it deeply as you begin your next adventure.

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