In the category of Things I Never Managed to Learn is something that many, if not most, people, get a grip on in childhood–riding a bicycle. Yes, yes, it’s true. I was a klutzy kid and I grew into a klutzy adult and somehow, along the way, riding a bike eluded me.
So finally, this year, through a combination of persuasion and circumstance and just gritting my teeth and telling myself to get on with it, I signed up for a one-to-one lesson. My husband found the instructor through a local bike shop. I rode up and down a rollercoaster of emotions: eagerness, embarrassment, even terror (that is to say, in the old-fashioned, personal sense).
The instructor, Susanna, and I met in a parking lot by the ferry terminal in downtown Victoria. She was patient. She broke everything down for me, step by small, slow step. Until I was in the seat, and worried about falling. Minutes of accidental control and seconds of utter panic. At that point she said, “Don’t look down. Look at where you’re headed. See those flags with their pretty colours? Just head over there.”
Of course! I could feel myself sitting up straighter. Didn’t I know how to do this already? It works when I write. It is something intuitive and known, an experience that feels familiar whenever I circle back to this stage of each new book. It was also something that a former tai chi instructor used to say. Look at the horizon. Find the momentum.
By the end of the 90 minutes, I was looking at the flags at either end of the parking lot, and I was riding toward them, trusting that I knew how to stop when I needed to, that I had my fingers poised, ready to stop anytime I needed to. It worked. It worked.
It works the same way with words. I need to trust that I will know when I am done. I will know when I need to stop.
A good teacher knows when to guide and when to back off and let practice take over.