As many of you know, for the past year I’ve been living a bohemian life in Mexico and more recently, in Indonesia. This began with a personal illness, followed by a global recession, during which time my career opportunities bottomed out. I decided to embrace adventure and teach, thereby honing my skills as an English speaker and as a writer. Moving overseas, my intent was to continue editing One Block North and ultimately have it published this spring.
Teaching abroad is life-changing. Immersed in several third-world communities, I cycled up Mexican mountains and across deserts; I became a known landmark in Jakarta’s Car Free Sundays, and a recognized advocate for clean air and intelligent commuting. I met some outstanding human beings riding neat bike designs and engaging in imaginative sports, all generally doing good work. I loved and was eternally grateful for how these communities included me and offered me roles to play. As of January, my plans were to head to Moscow to continue teaching English as a second language. So, what happened?
A couple of things. Personally, my health took a bigger hit, pounded by very bad air and noise pollution, combined with an almost non-existent healthcare and a nutritionless diet; my Indonesian contract was (thankfully) cut short by a worried manager. Worse, it became apparent early on that transferring money overseas would be a challenge. When the language barriers and financial institution trust issues stalled a payment for five weeks, my editor understandably stopped work. Queries to my Russian contact did nothing to alleviate future fears: pollution is just as bad in Moscow as in Jakarta, and transferring money is not considered a simple task.
I landed in Toronto on December 10, intending to trade my bathing suit for my cross-country skiis, and then fly out again in early January. Almost at once, my body did a reset. Immediate and constant access to things we take for granted, like clean air; outdoor exercise; and organic, local foods, made me appreciate what I had here. I became unwilling to risk my health further. More importantly, the book project heated up almost instantaneously. I ran into several interviewees, so eager to hear how things were developing. We all have a lot invested in this project, which has an undeniable life of its own. And suddenly, there really was no place like home
So, for better or worse I’m back. The editor and I have been working on the last few chapters and massaging the glossary. I’ve met with the book designer, and we have some target dates and a solid idea for direction. I’m considering including a map, and a few generic illustrations of bicycles, so readers can understand the technical elements described in some of these stories.
I’ve alerted Moscow of my decision and am now in the throes (as they say) of both apartment and job hunting. And every day, I’m writing, optimistic of a spring release.
Travelling has had an unexpected impact on my writing. I`ve lived third-world cycling, and advocacy. I`ve come to understand firsthand how other cities` views differ from Toronto`s; how diverse geographies, economies, politics and cultural issues impact on bicycle choices; how those things form a cycling community`s response. Considering I started out not knowing what a fixie was, my experiences abroad should give me a little credibility.
In the next month, I hope to contact each of my interviewees with a final chapter for their approval. The editor has been very strict about book length and approach. Some of these chapters will be included in the book, while others will be used as teasers on the blog. And just like the funny buzz I got from placing my first business card on a beater bike in Kensington Market, this amazing journey into the Toronto cycling world continues to inspire. This road really does continue one block north, somewhere on a Toronto back street. I’m home, world. Home, and writing about it with more determination, more respect, a truly global perspective.