battered old trek bike bicycle
much-used, much-loved at some point


December 7, 2010

Infamous day, and I don’t mean Hanukah. So many holidays fundamentally at odds with one another. All religions are one. Except when they’re not. Which is all of the time.

Hell, even single religions are not one. One is overrated. Daoism, for instance, is always at least two, yin and yang, and always changing. I think that’s the proper way to think of tian, the heavens: as a constant circulation of air, as clouds shifting, curling, growing. That is “the way of heaven” we are supposed to mirror, the way of constant, unceasing change.

Trek ten speed outside the window of the campus coffee shop. The bike is as scuffed as a well-used Jeep. Missing chips and scrapes of white paint, old cotton tape wrapped around the diagonal strut like a soiled bandage, a lock cable that is segmented with black circles where the plastic has cracked.

It’s too beautiful a day to feel like Finals week. When I think of Finals, I think of that first, freezing term at Wooster, walking to my Calculus final in the dark and feeling the pervasive sense of tension all across the campus. That was when I formulated my pheromone theory: that the student body was giving off a cocktail of anxiety whose underlying message was that we should flee for the trees, that the dark was full of angry, waiting predators.

The problem with yin and yang is that it becomes something we can rattle off so easily, the insight we repeat as proof of our spiritual whatever, without having any sense of how to apply it in our day to day. To turn it into a fact or even an insight is to miss the point. Yin and yang do not exist apart from specific instances. At its best, it serves as a reminder to pay attention, not as an abstract explanation or generative principle.

In the long history of Chinese thought, you could find plenty of examples that don’t fit with my summary here (and of course, plenty that do). But this is how it best works for me, in my life: as a reminder to attend to what moves.

So in this instance, what’s salutary is the opposite of recognition. That’s why the dao is nameless. Once you’ve turned into something static that can be named, codified, recognized, it is no longer dao. Roger T. Ames and David Hall’s philosophical translation of the Dao de Jing has a nice discussion of wu-ming, a naming that does not assign fixed reference. It would be good for me to have another look at that.

The Trek is torn up in a way that inspires affection. Cracked Brooks leather saddle, cotton handlebar tape hanging in shreds from the bare drop handlebars, twine whose original purpose eludes me wrapped round the stem that falls from the handlebars to the front wheel fork. The rear fender has a tear peeled back like a giant hangnail. One of the brake cables is about 18 inches too long and forms this giant loop over the handlebars.

And yet the whole thing is carefully locked. I get the sense that, in spite of the neglect, this bike means something to someone. It is something that is used in an unconscious sense. The opposite of a commodity on display.

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