First, my friend Erika got hit by a car while riding her bicycle to a lunchtime meeting. Please join me in wishing her a speedy recovery.
Second: a whole lot of people’s favorite bicycling comic, Yehuda Moon and the Kickstand Cyclery, officially ceased publication as of yesterday. For the unfamiliar, the strip attracted a worldwide audience with its deep understanding of cycling culture, especially the range of different cycling communities, and how they so often disagree. The Cleveland-based creator, Rick Smith, announced a hiatus a few weeks ago, and then yesterday posted that the Kickstand was closed for good. Please join me in thanking Rick for years of insightful humor and engaging stories. Best wishes to him, as well.
For both of those reasons, I’m posting something happy. These are scenes from Clam Boy and Big Sister Kitty Begin: Or, The Forty-Ounce Puddle of Glass, a little children’s book I made, in which a boy and his sister go for a bike ride and come upon a broken bottle in the road.
As any cyclist or other human knows, a broken bottle in the roadway is not only an insult to the eyes, but also an assault on the the tires.
But the boy and girl don’t just leave it for someone else. By cleaning up the mess, they discover that they have super powers that can help make the world a better place.
I billed this as “two young patriots’ coming-of-rage story.” And sometimes it feels that way when you see a mess someone else made and left behind, tarnishing your neighborhood as if that didn’t matter. But really, it’s not a story about rage.
Really, this is about making the world a better place, and realizing that individuals–even little ones–have this in their power.
Raise your hand if you’ve had this feeling: You’ve taken responsibility for something–someone else’s mess, or some kind of communal neglect–and by taking responsibility, you felt empowered.
Riding bicycles has that effect, too: you take responsibility for your own transportation, and it helps you realize just how capable you are. You go where you want, when you want, without buying gas or waiting for the bus. You do something most people think is just too hard. But your secret is that it’s fun, and it makes you feel good.
No matter your station in life or your politics, when you ride a bicycle, you get out what you put in. You work harder, you go faster. Or you take your time, and you enjoy the scenery. You pour your energy into them, and out comes joy and transportation.
At least, until someone whacks you with a car.
But I hope Erika and all of us will remember that incidents like these are extremely rare. For most of us commuters, months go by without any hostile interactions with people who drive cars.
The empowerment we feel riding bikes helps us get back on them, too. We remember, I think, that we ride our bikes because we personally get something out of it. It’s not so much about saving the world. We do it for the feelings of balance and speed. The invigoration of exercise. The knowledge that we will not get parking tickets. The knowledge that we can get there all by ourselves.
And if by getting around on bicycles we pollute just a little less, so much the better.
That’s what Clam Boy and Big Sister Kitty are about: knowing you have the power to go, to be, to do. You put yourself at risk when you take responsibility for something, but the risk comes with rewards.
My kids invented Clam Boy and Big Sister Kitty as super heroes. I stole the characters and wrote their stories. This bike ride scene is from the second book–a prequel–which gives their origin: how they got their superpowers and assumed their new identities.
The first of their stories, Clam Boy and Big Sister Kitty Liberate the Tree and the Sun and the Moon and the Entire Landscape–is about how they cleaned up the scenery after one of those blue plastic grocery bags got caught in a tree (and stayed there, “tarnishing the sun, and darkening the moon, night after day, for weeks on end”).
These books are how I started printmaking. They’re both printed from hand carved linoleum blocks–separate blocks for each color–and bound by hand. You can find them –and learn the rest of the story–here.
All of us have super powers. It’s just a matter of using them. When was the last time you used yours?