My favorite French word is flâner. Originally defined as “the act of being lazy, avoiding chores,” this term became a rallying cry for Modernism. In the 19th century, poets and scholars redefined what it meant to be a flâneur. Charles Baudelaire put it this way:
For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home.
On the Northside, those who commute by bike are also flâneurs. Baudelaire’s sentiments ring true to me, especially when it comes to inspiring creativity in my work and life. On my bike, I experience the push and pull of detachment and investigation.
These days, I spend 70% of my day answering emails, discussing details, organizing calendars, scheduling social media posts, and pushing pixels around. The most important and most difficult thing I do is solve design problems. In order to actually make things, it’s important to have a clear mind. And that’s almost impossible.
My mental health and creative productivity are directly related to whether or not I am taking time to ride.
My stream-of-consciousness during a ride:
Stage 1: Guilt What are the things on my to-do list I should be doing instead of riding?
Stage 2: Short-term Goals Well, I’m already on my bike, it’s too late. What are the things I need to do when I get back?
Stage 3: Panic Man, I love riding my bike. I h ave to quit everything and become a professional bike-touring human. Where should I go? Probably France. I miss France.
Stage 4: Long-term Goals Moving to France is unreasonable right now. I should just ride my bike more. What are some other things I want to do more of?
Stage 5: Outstanding Problems How am I going to solve this design problem that’s been stuck in the back of my mind for the last week?
Stage 6: Calm and Appreciation Kentucky is beautiful.
As long as my ride is at least an hour long and I’m by myself, all of these stages occur without fail. If I can reach that point of flâneurie, I know it has been a successful, worthwhile ride.
It is as if I spend the week in a library taking books off the shelves and reading them, highlighting things, making notes. And then during my bike rides, I look at all the books, put them back on their proper shelves, and my brain starts to function much more smoothly. I am quicker to respond to problems because I’ve had time to wade through all the other things that were clouding my thoughts.
There’s a quote by Jose Gasset that keeps popping up in my reading recently, and probably for good reason.
Tell me what you pay attention to and I will tell you who you are.
At first, it can be uncomfortable to be alone with one’s thoughts. You really have to confront yourself. Internal truths. Face the difficult questions you’ve been avoiding. But once you’re there, you can think clearly about the challenge at hand.