Jan Maher’s story in RIDE 2:
“The Persistence of Memory”
I’ve tried to make it known, on social media, that I’m actively looking for stories outside the “racing hardman” genre, outside the male gender, and outside the straight-white-young-male genera generally. That’s not because I’m trying to avoid that kind of story—on the contrary; I’d love to get more of them—but because it’s harder for me to find the other ones. Post a notice for “bicycling stories” without saying anything else, and you’ll get stuff about young men racing.
But to most people who ride, bicycling isn’t about racing; and to most bicycles, what rests on their saddles aren’t the Lycra-cupped jewels of Vuelta aspirants.
So it was with absolute confidence in her muscle memory and abilities that Marie confronted her great-granddaughter’s bicycle, kept in the garage for Celia’s occasional visits. She’d been told she was too old to be on the road, and had her license taken away. Not by the state, mind you, but by her own child. Her son Matt had actually hidden it from her. He knew she was too crafty not to have a spare key, and he knew she was a stickler for obeying the law. Without that, she wouldn’t dare take her Hyundai into traffic. California had no problems with her abilities: they’d issued her most recent license good through her hundred-and-first birthday.
I don’t give preference to any genre or gender; my only hard-and-fast criteria are that a bike or bike culture be featured, that it holds together as a work of fiction, and that some definable thing about it makes me go: Yeah, this one! So I don’t bias toward non-white-male stories; but I do try get as diverse a submission pool as I can, and then pick the ones I like best from that. I don’t know how well it’s worked—I have no idea which of these stories I’d still have received if I’d just said “Bike stories wanted!” a couple of times, and left it at that—but five women and five men contributed to RIDE 2, and there’s one more female protagonist than male. (And to date, the youngest character has been seven, and the oldest—”The Persistence of Memory’s” Marie—is in her nineties.)
Diversity in every direction. Bicycles don’t care whose freedom they serve.
And just as a side note: I’ve never been sent a women’s racing story.
Jon Billman (“Dert”)
asks three questions of
Jon: I just taught my daughter to ride recently and could vividly relate to the opening of your story in a fresh way. What was your own experience in learning to ride?
Jan: The Christmas I was not quite seven, my sister and I wanted bicycles for Christmas. We’d been told in no uncertain terms that our parents couldn’t afford such extravagance, and steeled ourselves for cheaper, more practical gifts like sweaters and socks, yet there they were on Christmas morning. They were shiny and green, hers a 26”, mine 24”. I wanted training wheels, but my parents said I didn’t need them. I vaguely remember my father huffing and puffing, running alongside the bike till I got the feel of balancing it. I believe this must have been when I was first assured that once I learned to ride, I’d never forget how to do it. I have borrowed and tweaked these details for my story. We got an off-brand, not Schwinn; my father didn’t have the lung capacity to shout encouragement because he smoked too much; and it was undoubtedly my mother who scoffed at training wheels.
Shortly after that we moved to a rural area and I spent many long hours riding the dusty country roads, sometimes in the company of friends, but also often alone.
Jon: The title “Persistence of Memory” of course alludes to the Salvador Dali “melting clocks” painting. Dali was a big cycling fan and even did some graphics work for the Tour de France in the ’50s. Why do you think the Surrealists were so drawn to the bicycle?
Jan: I’m delighted to discover this about Dali, and must confess that prior to your question, I’d never given a thought to why Surrealists were so drawn to the bicycle. Thanks to the miracle of Google, I can, however, note that Dali wrote in his autobiography, “I should have liked the whole of France to get on to bicycles, everybody pedalling and dripping sweat, climbing inaccessible hills like impotent fools, while the divine Dali paints. Yes, yes, the Tour de France on bicycles produces in me such a persistent satisfaction that my saliva flows in imperceptible but stubborn streams.” I found this quoted in several spots, including this blog. I also discovered this bicycle blog, which offers several images of surrealist bicycles, including Dali’s “Sentimental Conversation.” “The Persistence of Memory” was not my first or even second working title for the story. It came to me after the story was written. I think the title appealed to me because, in addition to the way it recalls the old saw that once we learn how to ride, we never forget, it alludes to the melting, mangled shapes of post-crash bicycles. I note in my Google research that this is indeed a theme in the work of some Surrealists.
Jon: I certainly hope to be riding when I’m Marie’s age! What place does the bicycle have in your life as you mature?
Jan: The secret to bicycling for me at this point in my life is the mountain bike. Their wide tires are the bicycle equivalent of sturdy walking shoes. I try to go for a ride at least once a week when the weather permits and I’m in upstate NY, which is where my bicycle resides. I’m helped in this effort by my husband, who routinely commutes via bicycle and is happy to accommodate my very non-Marie pace in order to see me pedaling. I’ve had some hip alignment problems, and bicycling helps. I’d not ridden in decades when I bought my bicycle five years ago, and I’m happy to report that since then, I haven’t crashed at all. I know where the brakes are and I’m not afraid to use them.
Next week: Jan’s three questions for K.I. Hope.