The Amateur’s Mind

I’m having an out-of-body experience this week… hopefully not a literal one!

For the past 20 months I’ve been zipping around and bothering the Balinese volcano gods on a 155-cc Yamaha N-Max. It’s an automatic motorcycle, which a few of our shipmates have been quick to point out is little better than a souped-up scooter. The N-Max is nimble in traffic and can carry two up a very poor excuse for a dirt road, but with only hand brakes and no compression braking it is downright frightening on a steep downhill grade.

My nightmares smell just like my brake pads.

I can drive a stick-shift car just fine, but I never learned to operate a real motorcycle. That’s been on my TODO list for ages, certainly since we got to Bali. It’s an easy can to kick down the road.

So for my birthday last weekend—which happened to coincide with the renewal date on my bike rental—Natalia organized a one-hour motorcycle lesson for me. And after an hour of what amounted to learning how to juggle loaded shotguns, I cruised out of there on a new bike with the same engine displacement as the N-Max but a much cooler vibe and twice as many manual controls to keep track of.

The Amateur’s Mind

Chess enthusiasts of a certain age will recognize Jeremy Silman’s 1990s classic The Amateur’s Mind, sadly unavailable for Kindle. The key concept in Silman’s book, which revolutionized my chess game and bled far into my life beyond the chess board, was this: What you SEE is a consequence of what you THINK.

Think different thoughts, and you will see different things.

This is unremarkable to me in my 50s, but then this is the point, is it not? On the greyer side of 50, I am at home with the idea that different people will witness a very different motorcycle crash. In my 20s, I still thought what I saw was just what was.

How sweet. BUT…

What hit me right between the eyes this week is that Silman’s observation is a double-edged sword. I did a lot of zipping around on that N-Max, to the point where it was easy to arrive at Warung Pantai, a little bar I like down on Ummalas Beach, with little memory of the 15 minutes it took to get there. I’m an expert on that drive, and repeated pattern recognition has practically erased it from my experience.

But NOW? Now I’m an amateur again. Getting to Warung Pantai on the new motorcycle requires twice the manual dexterity and infinitely more actual decisions than on the N-Max. They aren’t all good decisions—juggling loaded shotguns, remember—but they are all deliberate ones.

My 15 minute drive now takes more like 20 minutes, and I am hyper-aware of every inch of the road. And while that hyper-awareness is more than a little nerve-wracking and probably a little silly, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I also find it deeply interesting.

Compelling by definition.

This will fade. It always does, right? Soon I’ll be zipping around on the new bike and handling my clutch just as smoothly (and with as little conscious thought) as I do with four wheels on the road.

But I think I’m onto something…. and I wonder what’s next.

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