Archive for the ‘cycling’ Tag

Bleeding For My Art   Leave a comment

So there I was, bleeding at the War Memorial in Kensington.  arn

My front tire had hit a ridge where the pavement gives way to the planking of the Memorial and I went down in an inglorious heap. It truly was an inelegant moment in the history of cycling.

My first thought was of my ribs – I had a fall last summer and broke a rib on my left side (#8, I believe it was). Let me tell you, that hurt like stink. So I sat there and although my hip hurt and my arm was bleeding and my knee was bleeding and my ankle was bleeding, at least my ribs seemed ok.

Small mercies.

My second thought was of the precious cargo on my bike rack. This cargo was the point of the journey, after all. Ten copies of my novel The Piano Teacher destined for Pages in Kensington book store. The books seemed fine and so I breathed a sigh of relief.

But I remember thinking at that moment that this was a situation unique to self-publishing where you have to do everything yourself. Maybe, just maybe, when I finish my next novel I’ll shop around a little more seriously to find a publisher who would do such things for me.

Then there was a lovely moment as a person of the street came up to me and helped my on my feet and got my bike up and make sure I was all right before sending me on my way. It was a little act of kindness, generosity of spirit, that took some of the sting from my minor injuries and put things in perspective for me.

So my book is now available at Shelf Life Books, Pages in Kensington, Owl’s Nest Books, and Reid’s Stationers, all in Calgary. If you are further afield than this, you can order it from which is a print-on-demand service that I use. They put out a nice product, their books are virtually identical to the ones I have printed at Blitz Print here in Calgary. (The direct link to Blurb is here:

If this seems too much for you, for whatever reason, let me know and we’ll figure out a way to get you a copy of the book.

I’m happy to report that The Piano Teacher was #3 on Calgary’s best sellers last week. (As of September 12.)

Finally, I have arranged to give a reading at St. Mary’s University in south Calgary, where I am the writer in residence, on October 9 starting at 7 PM, but more on that anon.

I hope you enjoying the transition from summer to fall. It’s beautiful here in Alberta, but as we discover year after year, all so brief. Enjoy the colours while they last!

Thanks for reading . . .


Object 10: Skyway Single Speed Bicycle by MEC, 2009.   2 comments

It's a beauty.

It’s a beauty.


This, the final object I will talk about in this mini series of my life, is a little different from the others because it actually allows me to get out of the apartment where all the other objects can be found. But in going through this exercise of telling my story through 10 objects, it would be impossible to talk about the last four years or so without talking about my bike.

It’s a 30 cm single gear Skyway from Mountain Equipment Co-op with fixie option but I’m not that crazy. As with most of the objects on my list, there’s a story about how it happened to come into my possession.

Three and a half years ago, I was struck by a car as I was crossing 17th Avenue, which is a busy thoroughfare in my city of Calgary. I was a pedestrian, crossing in a crosswalk on a green light. A car came up the street behind me and turned left. The driver never saw me. Suddenly I was crawling off the busy street towards the sidewalk in the rain, in an awful lot of pain.

He hit me hard enough to etch the insignia on his vehicle’s bumper into the skin of my back through a light ski jacket. I sustained cracked ribs and some damage to my left hip and elbow as well as whiplash.

It all happened so fast. There I was, minding my own business, on my way home to do my laundry and the next moment, flying through the air above 17th Avenue. How quickly and dramatically our lives can change.

The doctor at emergency was convinced I must be in seriously great shape to have taken such a hard hit and walk (or limp, at least) away from it. It didn’t really seem all that grave at the time. I even had enough wherewithal while at emergency to flirt with my nurse who had actually seen a few of my plays and thought I was kind of a big deal. But there were lingering implications.

The physical effects weren’t all that bad, really, although cracked ribs are hardly a walk in the park in springtime. Yet after the ribs had healed and I could turn my neck again, I found myself sinking into a kind of funk, a lethargy that nonetheless was tinged with a  sense of panic if I had to too much, especially if I had to do more than one thing at a time. I consulted a friend who knows about such things (ie, a shrink) and it seems I was going through some manner of post traumatic stress disorder.

I was growing rather soft and spongy, physically. All of which was surely leading to a low-grade depression, which I am prone to at the best of times.  A friend of mine, one of those extreme-sports-iron-man-triathalon lunatics, got fed up with just sitting by and watching this happening. He came up with a form of therapy that worked both physically and emotionally: I needed to start moving around again, and a new bicycle would be just the thing. (My own bike had been stolen a year or so earlier.)

And so we went over to MEC one day and he very generously bought me this one.

The first summer I had it, I was honestly too terrified of the traffic to use it much. Plus, I couldn’t turn my neck far enough to see what was behind me which is simply not a good idea when riding a bike in a busy city. But I’ve always loved riding a bike, and so I kept pushing it and little by little, day by day, rode more and more until now it’s become second nature.

This in part led to the decision that after 40 years of having a car, I no longer needed one. The decision was partly financial as I really don’t make enough money to justify the expense. It also had to do with my health and general well-being. I didn’t like being spongy. At my age maybe there’s only so much you can do, but everyday I’m out there I figure that by riding, I am  making things a lot better than they would be if I wasn’t out there.

And finally, the decision to opt out of the whole automobile-gasoline dependency addiction that most North Americans suffer from has been one of the most liberating things I have ever done. I’m hardly militant about it , but sometimes when I ride past or through a traffic jam and see the looks of frustration or anger or despair on the drivers’ faces, I can’t help but feel a little smug.

I’m not the only writer of a certain age to turn to a bicycle for solace and companionship. Henry Miller famously wrote My Bike & Other Friends (1977) and if you’re interested in cycling and literature, this is a very good book to read. I found this wonderful photo of Miller which I wanted to share with you:

Funny to think that the author of Tropic of Cancer ended up here.

Funny to think that the author of Tropic of Cancer ended up here.































To answer a question posed in earlier posts: if my house were on fire, which object would I take? I don’t really know for certain, but I would certainly make a speedy getaway from the flames on my bike.

And who knows, maybe once I got out on the street, freed from the tyranny of my possessions, I’d just keep going and never look back, free as a bird.

One of my favourite musicians, who is also an avid cyclist, happened to write a song about burning down a house, so that seems like a good place to end this examination of my life through ten random objects. Enjoy.

Thanks for reading!

A Year With No Car   16 comments

Not your typical walk, but a walk nonetheless.

It’s hard to believe it’s been a full year since I made the epic decision to live my life with no car. Last November 1, my car lease was up and my insurance was due and my plates needed to be renewed and so I decided to try going without a car for a while.  I didn’t know at that time if it would be possible, especially in a city like Calgary which is hardly a pedestrian’s paradise. It’s the heart of the oil and gas industry and the city has been designed, for want of a better word, for people to drive and to drive a long way, everyday.

Because of the rapid growth of the city, these vast amounts of space that need to be driven for most people to get to work and home again typically become so congested and backed up that there’s now a terrific amount of waiting and idling and burning gas involved in the commute as well. And yet it seems most people here never even consider the alternative.

A car, or worse, a pickup truck,  is one of the many things people seem to think they are entitled to here in western Canada.  I grew up east of here in Regina, Saskatchewan and like most of my friends had my license at 16 and have had a car pretty much continuously ever since – 40 years! – without ever really thinking about it. (Except when I lived in Toronto in the 1980’s.) Last year, I spent three weeks at the Stratford Festival where I had no car. I walked a lot. I felt better. I lost some weight. When I got back to Calgary all the circumstances were in place to see how it would be to do the same here.

At first it seemed odd.  There’s a tremendous amount of convenience and a certain amount of status that comes from having a good set of wheels. And yet, when I got used to it, and started taking public transportation and accepting the occasional ride from friends, it found it surprisingly easy. By the time summer came around and I was able to ride my bike, I hardly thought of it anymore. I soon stopped defining myself from this deficit position – a person with no car – and started to look at those with cars as people who hadn’t yet seen the light.

And then, as I wrote a few weeks back, car2go magically appeared in Calgary, and suddenly, there’s always a car there for me if I feel I really need one. In this whole year, I have borrow a friend’s car twice, used car2go twice and taken three cabs, so by and large I’ve gotten by without a vehicle.

A few whimsical statistics . . .  in getting to the C Train to go to places I work and tramping back and forth to my favourite coffee shops and shopping etc. etc. I figure I now walk on average about 10 km a day, meaning I walked the equivalent of Calgary to Montreal in the last year.

This isn’t exactly true though, as I also cycled almost 2,000 km (or from Calgary to Denver), and so on the days I cycled I probably didn’t walk quite so far. Still, you get the idea.

I have to admit, especially when you cycle, it’s hard not to get sanctimonious and even militant in your view towards drivers and their vehicles.  But other than a few little scares, I have to admit that I found drivers in Calgary very respectful and courteous. (This is a rare view, I know. Other cyclists have horror stories, and maybe I was just lucky, but I have no complaints.)

After a while, your view of the city changes. You start to see the city as an endless series of parking lots joined by conduits of impatient drivers. You realize that the city was designed for the convenience of vehicles, with very little regard for human beings, let alone those of us who have no vehicles. And when you start feeling that, you start to see the whole place as a giant waste of space and time and resources.

Don’t take my word for it, try it. It will change the way you think of your city, wherever you live.

I’ve come away from the experience with a prayer: Lord, before I die, let me live in a city with no pickup trucks. Especially those driven by little shrimps trying to compensate for obvious deficiencies in certain parts of their anatomy.


Thanks for reading!

A section of the bike path I took to work in August and September. Not bad!

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