“Do you have a demon? You gotta have a demon if you want to race.” Beard was asking Erica, who we’ve taken to calling “Hammerfest” if she had something inside of her that would push her in the pursuit we had just given her. Racing at Alpenrose next season. ” I don’t think so…” she replied. “If you don’t think you do, then you don’t” I countered. “But don’t worry it’s not really necessary, but it does help” I continued with a smile.
The subject of a demon had been coming up a lot at work around that time. In talking about racing, in talking about Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, in talking about the need to push beyond oneself. I had made the fact that I had demon clearly when Beard and I discussed the merits of Twight’s Kiss or Kill (a book that has been flogged to death on this blog). There was no need ask me about my demon. While its (some what) safe to acknowledge the burden you carry, it is not good to explain what that demon is. Well, not outside the confines of your shrink’s office.
These are the types of things that make the circuit through my head. In between the thinking about racing, training, writing, good fiction…etc. Then last week, as I read through my tumblr dashboard this sweet little nugget showed up, courtesy of the Paris Review.
A book can be represented as a conversation with one’s demon — Patrick O’Brian
I read it twice, then promptly reblogged it, adding that it was just like riding a bike or any other pursuit. Not quiet as elloquent as I would have liked, but I was suffering from a severe head cold and I was reading this between rounds of napping. I hope you’ll forgive the lack of eloquence.
Back in 2004 I told the first therapist I had that I love riding because I always felt like I was running from something. I theorized that if I just rode fast enough, far enough, or…recklessly enough that I could out run whatever was chasing me. At the very least I could stay away from it for a bit. Part of me still thinks that’s true. That maybe if I just put myself deep enough into the hole I’ll be able to out run…well my demon (remember we don’t talk out what it actually is).
During another conversation one of my co-workers said that he stopped racing when he “lost his anger”. I happened to walk into the office just then, so he repeated it for my benefit “You gotta be angry to race”. “Don’t I know” I said. All of this has me thinking about the role those darker parts of ourselves play in putting ourselves “in the hurt locker”.
I’m not a shrink and I haven’t taken a survey, but I’d theorize that without having that thing to fight against. Without having something to propel you into those moments when you must go harder, no matter how much it hurts. That hurt can be physical or emotional. It’s a common writerism that when you encounter something that is hard for you to write about you should double down and go deeper into that subject. That’s where the growth happens.
Of course, being in constant battle with that demon can also push you over the edge. See the late greats: Pantani, Fitzgerlad, or Hemingway, just to name a few.