Say it in Your Heart
I recently taught my son how to ride a bicycle on a dead-end street in New York City. Nothing about it resembled the afternoon, thirty-five years ago, when I climbed on my bike—or rather, my brother’s old bike, a 1976 Evel Knievel Huffy with star-spangled fenders; a red, white, and blue banana seat; high, flared-out handlebars—and was pushed down the gentle slope of our front yard. In this memory, as in many of the untrustworthy recollections of my childhood, the landscape is sun-drenched, ideal: twenty yards of plush, green grass, my only obstacle a utility pole. Of course I hit the pole—as if it were magnetized, pulling the bike’s steel frame inexorably to it. My son didn’t have any grass to soften a fall. Turned out he didn’t need it. I had read an article about first removing the pedals and allowing a child to learn to balance by “scooting and coasting.” While he pushed himself along, trying to steady himself and his slightly too-big bike (handed down from a cousin; some things never change), my son kept saying something to himself, a mantra that matched the look of fierce determination on his face. “I believe I can do it,” he was whispering. “I believe I can do it.” When it was time to put the pedals back on the bike, before attempting his first ride, my son looked up at me and asked, “Can you say in your heart that you believe I can do it?” When I assured him that I had been saying that from the very beginning, he pushed off...faltered, regained control, and pedaled down the street.
I don’t think I was ever in possession of that much self-confidence when I was young, nor did I have the self-awareness to ask for support when I needed it. The truth is, I didn’t teach my son anything; he already had all the skills he needed to succeed. I just helped put him in a position to use those skills.
Don’t worry: I’m not trying to serve up a lame metaphor for the role of the agent in a writer’s career (well, actually, too late; there it is), but rather a reminder that good, simple advice can have a big impact. I’m not in the habit of reading articles about something as basic as teaching a child how to ride a bike, but I’m really glad I did. This issue, and every issue of the magazine, is filled with practical advice, expert tips, inspiring anecdotes, and more that I think you’ll find helpful. Nothing about the writing life is as easy as learning to ride a bike, but there are steps we can take, examples we can follow, and stories we can read that will shed a little light on the process—and help us on our way to new, exciting places.