joanne lee


It was thanks to Tanja Barazon’s call for papers (almost a decade ago) for a publication on ‘soglitudes’ (thresholds) that I first thought seriously about the in between spaces that now preoccupy Pam Flett Press #4 Vague terrain. Barazon has now launched a website devoted to threshold thinking, for which she invited me to contribute a text. This time she proposed ‘The body needs thresholds too.’ She asked contributors to consider the thresholds in walking, dancing, playing tennis or football. If we focus on how the body moves, do we lose track or do we focus better on what we are doing? Does the mind disconnect from the body when we are playing sports, or dancing, or singing, or when we are having sex? When the body moves, does the head follow or does the body disconnect from thought for a while in order to be able to organize space?

She asked us to write 100 words on one of the following:

MUSIC - do you think while you sing?

DANCE - do you think while you dance?

SPORTS - where does the mind go while you play?

SEX - where does the body go then?

I chose to think about cycling. Getting immersed in the task of writing, I ended up with more than one hundred words. The edited 100 word text is available online here; you can read the whole thing below.

The betweens of cycling

The old bike beneath me has a slightly awkward saddle upon which I have to shuffle to find comfort; it strikes me that maybe it’s my ample bottom that’s the problem here. I’m not a lycra clad racer, but a plodder making steady progress on a workaday vehicle that gets me across town.

When I cycle I’m aware of a loose bit of plastic from the saddle abrading my inner thigh. I think each time how I should have taped it flat with gaffer tape and try to remember to do so when I get home and stow the bike. I know I’ll forget. Again.

Thanks to its ‘vintage’ thumb shift mechanism, I have to time the change of gear correctly; I feel the clank and clatter of chain/pedal/gears if I’m out of sync. Occasionally, as I drop to the lowest of my three meagre gears on a hill, there’s the sickening lurch if the chain slips and pedals turn ineffectually. I have to jump down to avoid falling.

Pushing up inclines I can feel the tightness of muscles – a sort of heat – and my hard grip on the handlebars as the effort makes me pull back. On the flat, as momentum builds, there’s rhythm and breeze, especially as I take the cycle path by the sea; with the wind behind me, I’m momentarily a speed merchant; when it’s in my face I’m resistant and heavy as a stone. Downhill, there’s the excitement of acceleration without effort, and then flashes of anxiety as the bike wobbles and I fear I’ll skid or fall. If the traffic is with me, there’s the pleasure of riding a sweeping arc from the main road into a broad side street without having to slacken my pace.

I’m too unfit to lose myself in the activity for long: my breath brings me back to myself, and to the world. I calibrate the length of this hill, and the next. I scan ahead for the changing pattern of traffic lights, or where the route dips and I will find a moment to rest.

This bike has thin tyres and I feel every inch of the road – the loose gravel, smooth tarmac, areas where the surface is pitted, the bump of painted road markings, puddles that might be deeper than they look… I’m repeatedly in and out of attention about the traffic, about pedestrians stepping out and not looking, about a dog loose from its lead, and about the sometimes perilous state of the road: in between, there’s that state of ‘flow’ where my body is just getting on with what it’s doing, blood is pumping, I’m inhaling and exhaling. I’m not thinking. I’m doing. I’m simply being, if only for a moment or two before consciousness nags me back into noticing the everyday around.