Harley and Me – Bernadette Murphy

A day late, but at least ten dollars short, here’s the blog. Now for a jet-lagged nap.

I am exhausted, so bear with any typos, grammatical faux pas, and all the nonsense that comes with attempting to do anything with only 50% of one’s brain.

This week’s read (AKA: the Read o’ the Week) is Bernadette Murphy’s Harley and Me: Embracing Risk on the Road to a More Authentic Life. Yes, like most travel books it comes with a short title paired with a very long sub-title that gives you more of that sassy book flavor.

Revving my mental engine. Please hold.

Okay, this thing isn’t even going to turn over. We’re dead in the road, people. But we’re going to plow forward anyhow.

I enjoyed this book. This book was exactly what I needed to read this week. Murphy’s exploration of her life, her self-perception, and motorcycling was the mental lift that got me heading full throttle (*cough*) into… something.

It’s an uplifting book and an informative one. Murphy weaves her failing marriage, her divorce, her questioning of LAD (life-after-divorce) and womanhood into her newly found motorcycling activities, which is all highlighted and explained by various academic sources on whatever topic she’s exploring.

Two notes:

1. Only a small portion of this book is actually her on a long-distance motorcycle trip. The rest of it is her learning how to ride, appreciating riding, going on short rides, and being on an island in the South Pacific.

All of this is enjoyable, especially because Murphy is the kind of woman I would love to hang out with (judging by this book, at least), but this book isn’t the motorcycling tale of adventure I expected from the cover.

2. I found myself wondering why this book did not get more acclaim. She’s a good writer telling a good, relatable story that, at the very least, is armchair inspiration for women everywhere, if not actual actionable inspiration. It has blurbs from loads of notable people (e.g. The RumpusChicago Review of Books, Henry Winkler, Janet Finch, and even more when you go on the Amazon page). It clearly got the marketing it needed, but it did not have the overwhelming success I expected.

I’m going to venture a theory here. It may be incorrect (hence “theory”).

There are two parts to this book, though they run side by side. One part is her narrative, her thoughts, her story, her feelings. The other part is the academic quotes, the research, all commenting on the first part. Proportionally, they seem to split the word count down the middle.

It’s distracting. Not just distracting, but jarring. You’re riding along with her, everything is smooth, then you hit this speed bump and end up shooting down the side lane, watching the sunset you were heading for disappear to your left and you’re there, shouting, “HEY, I WAS ENJOYING THAT!!”

You (me) want to be spending time with Murphy, listening to her thoughts, and these other people (all very smart people, some of who I have read or watched speak) keep intruding. Yes, what they have to say is valuable and relevant, but it’s derailing.

And I have to look at the psychological nuts and bolts. Maybe she was putting all that in there to give her thoughts/feelings more credence. Maybe she was trying to guide the reader through her research journey. But, at least some of the time, it feels as though Murphy is taking a backseat to the academics because she doesn’t feel that she has the academic clout to speak for herself. And some of the time it feels like, “Well, we had to do quotes like this in school to back up our papers, so I’m gonna go put this right here.”

Those sections break the narrative. They detract from the power she is developing through the course of the book, as she is ceding power to others. And they’re far, far dryer than her writing.

So was it that? Is that why this didn’t go as far, market-wise, as I would expect?

I dunno, I’m just an intern.

(I’m not an intern, jeez. Stop taking me so seriously.)

And now for some quotes:

“No, we aren’t packing heat. We are packing Larabars, ibuprofen, lip balm, and hair scrunchies. We’re two women eager to see the country on motorcycles, aware that we don’t know jack about what we’re doing and that we might need to depend on others along the way.”

“I was recently challenged to name a book or movie in which a female character embarks on a road adventure without ending up raped or dead. This was harder than I would have thought. Think about it: Thelma and Louise drive off a cliff. There is no female Huck Finn, nor even Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty (characters from Jack Kerouac’s autobiographical novel On the Road). Women in road films are rarely drive by a pursuit of adventure–more likely they’re in flight from abusive males.”

“By learning to ride this motorcycle, I am utterly bewitched, all but seduced into an affair with steel and leather and speed, an affair as surprising as if I had fallen for an unlikely man, James Dean with dreamy eyes, slicked-back hair, and an air of defiance.”

“I want to feel all too alive, to chance encountering the divine. To feel fast and vulnerable, powerful and exposed all at once. I want to truly live while I still have breath within me.”

“We fly up the 210 freeway, a living organism made up of seven parts all moving and working together. Watching the  back of the rider in front of me I sense what he’s going to do next by the angle of his head and the way he holds his back. Before the leader even puts on his indicator to move over a lane, the rest of us are following suit, smooth and easy, a communication not of words but of telepathy, action, and grace.”

“I know women who would divorce only if they knew there’s someone better waiting for them. That’s not for me. If I strike out on my own, it’s going to have to be for reasons other than another man’s bed. I need to do this for me.”

“We fail to live up to our own ideals. Yet we succeed, every so often, in being fully human and alive, even when the pain of living feels as if it might destroy us. And with so much stacked up against us, sometimes all we can do is hit the open road. For me, it’s time to pack up and see what’s out there in the big, bad world.”

“Though I still fantasize of one day becoming the embodiment of pristine womanhood (if not sainthood), the truth rides shotgun with me this morning. For perhaps this one moment, the woman I am is exactly the woman I wish to be.”

“Any bookstore sells countless books on how to develop self-esteem, and women consume these tomes like Skittles. But confidence doesn’t come from a book, any more than self-esteem, self-love, or any of the traits that make us into whole and strong people can be achieved with our intellect alone. We simply cannot think ourselves into that space. If we could, I would have mastered self-possession decades ago.”

“When I act in a worthy way, I feel self-worth. Not because someone else anointed me with it. Simply because I know myself and what I’ve done. Likewise, I have a new ability to show up in this moment and to paddle for the sheer joy of it. My merits as a paddler have nothing to do with my worthiness. This is grace. I need not prove myself as valuable, but simply believe that I am.”