My right knee was covered in road rash. My left thigh is still sporting a huge, multi-hued bruise.
(When a bruise actually shows up on a black person, you know it must be bad.)
Anyone who’s read my blog for while knows that I ride my bicycle a lot.
I’m a cycle-commuter – I ride 8km roundtrip to work every day, as well as on various errands and social outings in and around Vancouver, where I live. With the proper outer layers, Vancouver weather is rideable 95% of the year.
But what about that last 5%? Hailing from eastern Canada as I do, I’m well aware that black ice is a thing – a transportation hazard by car, foot, and definitely by bike whenever wet roads are subjected to temperatures right around the 0°C mark, plus or minus a degree.
I also knew black ice was a thing on this particular day two weeks ago because the morning traffic report was jam-packed with news of accidents on account of it. So too did I recall the advice of the bike shop employee when I used their compressor to top up my tires another two weeks earlier.
“You don’t want to inflate them too much,” he said. “It’s good to have a bit more traction in winter.”
Screw traction. I wanna be able to go fast! I didn’t say this, but it was more or less my thinking as I proceeded to inflate my tires to, at most, a hair less pressure than I usually do.
But I wasn’t riding fast on the day in question. As I signalled my right turn to the oncoming vehicle waiting to turn left on an otherwise deserted street, I was going so slowly, it seems impossible I had no forewarning of what happened some three seconds later.
I felt no flash of panic. My mind exclaimed nothing along the lines of Oh shit, I’m sliding, I’m falling! I didn’t try to recover because I wasn’t aware anything was occurring that I should try to recover from.
Literally one moment, I was rounding a corner and the next, I was on my back in the middle of the road.
A method to my madness
I’ve written before about my experiences with method writing – that it to say, the adaptation of the Stanislavski Method of acting into my writing life.
This involves drawing upon my past experiences and emotions to guide my portrayal of a character. It’s my go-to practice for both understanding my characters thoughts and actions and for figuring out the proper language to describe them.
I find myself especially applying the Method to negative experiences, even ones I have no immediate intention to parlay into writing.
Some people, when faced with emotional or physical pain, turn to their Bible or write in a journal. Me, I often ask myself, how would I describe this in a story?
My response to my unfortunate cycling accident has been no different.
“What can I observe about this experience that could be useful in my writing?” I’ve been asking myself since it happened.
As previously mentioned, the incident happened unbelievably fast. So much so that it’s only after I was already horizontal on the asphalt that I’m able to catalogue the sequence of my thoughts in the moment.
It went something like this:
I’m on the ground. Holy crap, I fell off my bike!
Did I hit my head?
(Always important to know when a cyclist has an accident, although, as always, I was wearing a helmet.)
My knee hurts. I hit my knee.
Did I rip my tights?
(I was wearing a skirt and tights at the time, and yes, I did rip the tights, although not too badly.)
Ow. Is my knee bleeding?
(Again, yes, but because my tights were black and only slightly ripped, I couldn’t tell at the time.)
I should get up off the road.
(This thought only now occurring to me, and only because the driver of the car waiting to turn left called out his window asking if I was okay, which reminded me where I was.)
Ow, my thigh hurts too. And my hand.
Oh no, my soup!
(This in response to seeing my bike lying on its side. Inside my pannier was a glass jar of soup I’d packed as part of my lunch. Assuming the jar hadn’t shattered from the impact, I worried the contents had spilled since the jar lid tends to leak.)
Oh, there’s my handlebar end plug.
(This is a tiny piece of black plastic about half an inch in length that I noticed had come loose from the impact and was lying on the road.)
A lesson in little details
One of my most notable observations about the experience relates to the way I returned awareness of myself, as presented above.
It’s shocking to me how was disjointed, fragmentary, and at times nonsensical it was, beginning with an incredibly close frame of focus before eventually recognizing my broader surroundings and persisting danger I was in.
(Heaven be praised it happened on a more or less empty street.)
To others, perhaps, this understand is nothing new. But for someone like me, who’s never really been in an accident and experienced the sort of blackout often owning to such, the discovery was a revelation.
So how can I use this in my writing?
Well, right off the bat, it made me think about being in a fight. A fight where someone just got their butt kicked.
I mean like seriously kicked. The kind of fight with brutal force and just this side of deadly intent. A fight where the losing opponent just got clocked six ways from Sunday.
In the next novel I plan to write, I have a fistfight scene in mind, told from the point of view of the person who loses. It’s a key scene plot-wise – one that occurs near the climax and has important repercussions for a number of characters.
It’s also what’s sometimes referred to as a candy-bar scene, meaning one I’m really excited about writing but purposely won’t until it occurs naturally in sequence. However, to maintain my writing motivation and encourage ongoing progress toward it, I will fantasize about it endlessly.
Falling off my bike has done wonders in helping me flesh out a lot of enhancing details of this scene in my mind – not only in the immediate aftermath of the character being dealt a finishing blow, but also afterward during the various stages of the healing process.
During my own healing, I’ve noticed things I never would have expected otherwise, such as how, because I had injuries on both legs, for days I couldn’t sit with my legs crossed in either direction.
Like how, in the first week, I could still bend my banged-up knee no problem. But during the second week, as new skin and scabs formed over the wound, it got progressively harder achieve the full range of flexion.
Like how the wound in turn would feel hot, cold, would sting, would throb in time with my heartbeat, and at times feel like it had reopened with blood pouring down my leg all while I was just sitting doing nothing.
And how the bruise went from red to blue to black to purple to back to red again before finally starting to fade, which was very educational indeed for someone who’s never had a visible bruise before.
To be sure, I’ve definitely learned my lesson about cycling on wet roads in near-zero degree temperatures. But I’m also glad that the experience – like almost all personal experiences, one way or another – will play a role in helping make me a better writer.
Have you ever adapted something bad that’s happened to you in your writing? Something good? Do you consider yourself a method writer? Tell me about it in the comments.