November 11, 2020 § 7 Comments

A friend sent me this amazing aphorism after I told him that my life plan was, over the next five years, to exit the practice of law and become an itinerant bicycle minstrel of medieval Chaucerian poetry who supports himself through blogging.

I don’t think that would make it as a corporate mission statement.

If you think it sounds ridiculous to read, imagine how ridiculous it feels to be the one saying it. And then imagine the chills you get when someone shoots you a quick aphorism from a giant like Bukowski to remind you that the magic is in the crazy, or, put better, in the fear.

The desperation.

I’ve written it elsewhere, but the great criminal defense lawyer Michael TIgar used to say this to his 1L students: “A trial lawyer is a giant mountain of ego teetering, terrified, at the edge of the bottomless chasm of failure.”

I had occasion to talk about this today with Tahverlee Anglen, who does a monthly podcast called “Bike Talk” for The idea of a practicing LA lawyer pulling up stakes to live life on his bike was one that she wanted to find out more about, so I obliged.

In short, a lot of what we do in life is driven by axes of fear. In my own case, one axis was rooted in childhood, another axis was rooted in family problems, and a third was the axis of making it, of being successful, of fitting into the mold of a winner. With some hard reflection it appeared that each axis had led to trouble and hardship, for me and for those around me. Whether it was too much alcohol, a propensity for conflict and dispute, or plain old irascibility, my conclusion was that those fears were the source of my troubles and that they needed to be eliminated.

What I found when I started living life on my bike was something very different from what I had imagined. Instead of being free of fear, I had instead replaced one set of fears for the daily desperations of “Where will I stay? What will I eat? How will I endure the day’s hardship?”

Unlike the socially constructed fears of “Am I making enough money? Am I acceptable to those around me? Is my life a success?”, the daily desperations of food, shelter, and endurance were easy to understand and tackle. And even though each day the same desperations cropped up, I found that I, like all humans, was perfectly evolved to handle those three stresses, so different from the psychosocial pressures of status, job, social media, news media, and of course the car stresses of commuting from place to place in a vast metroplex like Los Angeles.

I also found this: Desperation works.

It makes you think and act in ways you never, ever could from the comfort of your home, your couch, your SUV, your bed. When your back is a few steps from the chasm, you push harder, you struggle more violently, you call on deeper resources than you ever can when the street you live on is named Easy. And for me, having to declare something as absurdist as “Watch me bike and blog and recite poetry all the way to my grave” is about as desperate as it gets.

This is a contrast to a guy I know who is an extraordinary artist. He has all of the magic in his elixir except the desperation. He lives on his parents’ estate overlooking the ocean, he doesn’t have any pressure to do anything at all, let alone paint, and the sum total of his artistic life at age sixty-something is a smattering of mediocrities–this from a person who could by now have created a towering, endlessly erupting volcano of life-and-mind altering art.

The things he could have done if only he’d had to do them.

My hero is Geoffrey Chaucer. In middle age, in the Middle Ages, he woke up with nothing. No job, no home, no family to speak of, and no security. He didn’t even have the possibility of a literary career, because those hadn’t been invented yet, not to mention the little things like literary agents, publishing houses and, oh yeah, the printing press.

From that rubble he wrote something that was known only to a few in his lifetime, but that, within a century or two, earned him the sobriquet “Founder of English Letters.”

My goal is hardly that grandiose. The English Letters have been found. The Great American Novel has been written–everything since The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a postscript. But even with goals as modest of mine, there’s solace and inspiration in looking at other people who faced desperation and used it to create things that gave meaning and pleasure to others.

The moral? Don’t think the magic will strike you on the couch.

In a few days I’m undocking and heading east. It’s 2,000 miles to Houston and more of the same back to LA. I got ready to plan out my trip yesterday but after half an hour looking at maps and reading on the Internet I gave up. Who the fuck knows where I’ll be at the end of any given day? Who wants to chart a course with timelines, deadlines, safe houses, refuge, hotel reservations, and the security of THE PLAN?

Not me.

I’m too desperate for that.


Strunk & Bukowski

January 30, 2018 § 11 Comments

Remember Strunk & White’s epic manual on good writing? I do, and time hasn’t rusted its guts, not even a little.

The other day I reached under the table and pulled out a book. I keep all my unread books under the table. There’s a bunch of them. “What do you do with a book once you finish it?” you may wonder. I either donate it to the library or pass it on. The only thing worse than a house full of books you’ve already read is a house full of dead bodies. They both get in the way and smell funny.

This time I pulled out Charles Bukowski’s “On Writing.” It was published in 2015, many years after his parts fell off, and it is a collection of his letters that have been edited so as to only contain his opinions about writers, poetry, and writing. I think that once you combine Strunk with Bukowski you wind up with a pretty good manual and one hell of a name.

Way back in 2017 I set off on an arduous ten-week journey to redesign this blog and make it prettier, to make it more appealing to more people, to put it in synch with the 21st Century, to give my fake news the flash and flair it deserved. After all, as one critic put it, “Your blog is just filled with words.”

At the time I replied, “Well, it is hosted at a place called WordPress.”

But as the criticism mounted and the urge to do something new and modern pressed down, hard, I gave way and did the Big Redesign. Several people emailed to say they liked it. Several more subscribed. But several other people said they didn’t like it. “Where are the words?” they asked. “We don’t give a rat’s ass about the photomag layout,” they said. “We don’t like the way it’s organized,” they said, among other diplomatic phrases.

Mostly, though, they wanted to know where all the words had gone, and why.

The new design really never had a chance. It was slower, clunkier, and required more IQ points to operate than I have to spare. It had various security wormholes that let ordinary folks wander into the nether regions of my dashboard and scrawl graffiti on the handles, knobs, levers, and dials of the blog itself. All of that freaked me out, naturally, but what really laid me low was the assassination of my carefully assembled writing rules according to Strunk & Bukowski.

In that writing manual, you are encouraged to say “fuck” if “fuck” happens to be the right word and to get straight to the point, but to do it with innovation and imagination and flair. Even if you fail, and even if your straight ends up being crazily crooked, like Bukowski’s, that’s okay. The point is to eschew the trite and the predictable and the saccharine.

So imagine my personal hell when, at the bottom of each post, there was a little “Yoast SEO” box that rendered a grade for each and every post. It didn’t say things like “Your post sucks!” which would have been reassuring, but rather it pointed out stylistic shortcomings and algorithmic solutions to my butchered paragraphs so that Google and Goggle and Boggle and Hornswoggle could index my ranting, slap it up high in the search rankings, and make me a billionaire or at least the premiere Internet destination for all the people doing searches for “crazy gay biker porn south bay nutjob pedalbeater wanker.”

Ye olde Yoast SEO had word limits per paragraph, limits for number of times you can use the passive voice, suggestions for how often to use the “key word” (something I never even had), and requirements that you use the key word in the title and in the subheadings. Subheadings? Who needs subheadings? Doesn’t the text flow well enough without a giant signpost saying “Hey, Dummy, New Idea Coming Up”?

In any case, I thanked my expert web dude for his hard work and begged him to give me back my old boring plain text. It’s uncool, it’s never going to make the big time, it’s a steaming pile of word manure on most days, but you know what? It’s my fuggin’ manure pile and it reads exactly the way I wrote it, without criticism, guidance, or ratings from some sorry ass algorithm search geek who couldn’t write a literate sentence if all he had to do was add the period.

In 1918 Strunk said, “Vigorous writing is concise.”

In 1966 Bukowski said, “Whatever I write, good or bad, must be me, today, what it is, what I am.”

I’m pretty sure I don’t need a fancy web site to do that.

bukowski on writing

Light it and run!



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About Cycling in the South Bay: This the all-things-cycling blog about cycling in the South Bay and cycling in Los Angeles, maintained and authored by me, Seth Davidson, Torrance-based bicycle lawyer, bike racer, and personal injury attorney.


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