Calling Riding Motorcycles “Wind Therapy” and Needless Guilt for Enjoying Ourselves

Each time I read or hear people refer to riding a motorcycle as “wind therapy” I roll my eyes. Sure, somewhat for the unforgivable corniness (and I’ve got plenty of dad jokes), but it’s more than that.

The thing I find irritating is that we have to brand something as “therapy” in order to legitimize enjoying it. We’re so caught up in both branding and preposterous guilt for enjoying the moments of our lives spent not working that we have justify the simple act of riding a motorcycle as “therapy.” It reminds me of the idea of food as medicine. Sure, some foods have a healing component, but are we really so far from simply enjoying a dish for its own sake that we have to call it medicine to legitimize its existence on our plates?

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Pretty sunrise earlier this week. I’m not going to call it a therapy rise.

I think having so much close technological access to working all the time plays into this. The moments when we’re not on our devices doing some sort of work, when our eyes are watching the curving road, hands busy throttling and braking, feet shifting and leaning, we’re too otherwise absorbed to possibly be working. And for this respite from work, to be in our own heads with our own thoughts, to be providing no financial benefit to anyone (except to the gas and tire and motorcycle companies…) we have to explain away our own enjoyment as “wind therapy.”

In the Midwest, two things we do a lot of is working and apologizing. Beginning a sentence with, “Oh, I’m sorry…” is commonplace. Our culture teaches us to be life-long martyrs for our work and therefore we must apologize for the moments when we’re not working. Calling it therapy is half apology and half hail mary claim that it’s necessary for our health. Nearly every act a person engages in that is enjoyable and not somehow detrimental is therapeutic. We don’t need to brand having a life outside of work as therapy. 

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I enjoy pretty mountain bike trails and don’t need to justify it. Neither should you.

I enjoy skimming the surface in a canoe, ice skating in lieu of cross country ski snow, riding motorcycles and mountain bikes – plenty of activities. Being active is good for my body and brain and soul and I don’t think that makes me unique. I enjoy plenty of sitting still activities too, like writing and reading and sitting in my chair in the dark and thinking, sometimes with jazz on the record player. Bowhunting will always be sitting in the woods listening to birds and hoping to spot a deer. I enjoy those acts simply for being alive and capable enough to do them. Sure, sitting in the woods with your own thoughts can have a healing effect. But I’m not going to start calling the moments I’m simply enjoying my time being alive “therapy.” I just call that having my own life and not being at work all the time – for which none of us should need the justification of a brand or a hashtag or an apology.

Dancing, Context, Music, Masculinity

As with most things, I stumbled onto the music of Kevin Morby long after everyone else had. It was by way of seeing the video (below) for I Have Been To The Mountain.

 

After awhile I bought the record, Singing Saw, and have enjoyed it, but while driving with the windows and moonroof open for the first time I was stunned by how the music didn’t capture the way I felt while watching the video. I realized, on the winding two-lane 55 bordered by hopelessly saturated farm fields, that the absent ingredient was the theatrical dance performance by Nathan Mitchell. Context informs everything, and my context for this song had been the playful, expressive, tattooed and dying character in the song’s video.

Probably a year ago, I received a wedding invitation that requested an RSVP with three songs that would, “Get you on the dance floor.” I agonized over that until I had to send back the RSVP. The problem wasn’t which songs, it was the idea that I would move my body in a way that might somewhat mirror my emotions. I don’t move with emotions. I’m a poet, a writer, sure I’m artsy with my feelings in a way, but where I grew up boys and men were never taught a vocabulary for moving expressively. We were taught to fight back when necessary, or maybe to throw something in anger (like dad), but never to be open with our bodies in any way. If anything, we avoided dancing (and feelings, surprise) until pulled onto the dance floor by a woman whose attraction we couldn’t deny.

Sketch of Fats Waller drawn from the Phaidon Century photography collection.
Quick sketch of Fats Waller drawn last semester.

My last semester in college I had all electives left over and took a drawing class. At first drawing made me anxious and frustrated because I could immediately see that I wasn’t good. I knew logically that drawing is a skill – like anything else – but I always expect a lot from myself. Once I calmed down, increased my dexterity, and found a groove, I was stunned by how emotional I felt while drawing. I’d be sitting in a class rendering the instructor’s arrangement of arbitrary bowls and cups and boxes and I’d nearly begin to cry. Moving to create or to feel seemed so alien to me that it almost drew me to tears for confusion of feeling. I am 38 years old.

The irony is that my 11-year-old is a dancer. Ballet, specifically. My kid doesn’t even walk anymore so much as pirouetting, or executing Grand Jete (more or less leaping forward with arms in the air – remember I’m not a dancer) from place to place. I never expected for a ballet dancer the way I’m sure my parents never expected for a poet.

When I was a kid the option was baseball, so I played baseball. And it was fine – old farm fields converted to dusty diamonds surrounded by developing cul de sacs. Not a place where men learn to express the language of thoughts and feelings. If anything, expressing yourself in those surroundings can put one in tangible danger of other men who lash out with a feral anger they can’t rationalize regarding expression. I think often of BH Fairchild’s epic poem Beauty deliberating on men expressing and encountering beauty; how radical to hear a man utter that anything is, “Lovely.”

As a child, never at any point did I have any clue what my dad was thinking or feeling, unless he was shouting in anger. He was like the brackish void up there in the driver’s seat, at the helm of the recliner with a newspaper, on the other side of the baseball I flung above the suburban lawn.

Sometimes I feel like an emotionally blind man trying to guide a child somewhere toward a vocabulary of feeling and assertion and communication. So I just talk a lot. By the time my kid was three I’d probably said more than my father told me his whole life. I don’t know what else to do, and that makes the most sense to me. I guess we’re both developing a vocabulary, if anything I’m probably at the handicap compared with the honesty immediacy of a child. Children will help you if you let them.

I looked into this Nathan Mitchell, the fella dancing in the Kevin Morby video, as I tend to do when stumbling on artists whose work makes me want to know more. Turns out (I gather from his Instagram presence) he rides motorcycles, goes fishing, doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously. Overall, not too different from me. The big difference being his mother opened a dance studio when he was two years old. We learn the environment we’re simmered within. The context. I wonder if he sits down to type and is stymied by linguistics, the way movement appears to flummox me.

A Poem About Men Talking

I typed this little poem quick on my phone while working. I kept overhearing these guys and it struck me, these men talking to one another candidly and without any sort of concern. How they felt their families, their jobs, their futures. Admirable.