The Robot

I thought I was the Robot, but I was wrong. I was younger then and invested in the idea that I was tougher than most. It turns out, once you start drilling down on that idea of toughness, you find out it’s a bottomless well, and there’s always someone tougher, someone dumber, someone pushing on the idea just for the sake of it. You find out it’s an ego trip.

So I am not the Robot, except when I am.

Readers of Red Kite Prayer will recognize it as my pen name, but that’s more an accident of time than anything else. When I first started contributing to RKP, I was still in thrall to my own bullshit. I didn’t honestly expect to be writing about all this more than a decade later. I didn’t do all the math on what that by-line would feel like down the road, and I didn’t know I’d outgrow the idea of myself I had then.

In my defense, my given name is John Lewis. If you use that as a by-line, you disappear into the internet’s swamp of poorly parsed information. I might as well write all this on paper, set it on fire, and watch the ashes blow away in the wind. In a previous career, as a soccer writer, I used my middle name, Emlyn, but all my readers assumed I was a woman. That’s not a problem, in and of itself, but I grew tired of needing to correct the people writing to me to say how clueless I was about another of the sports I’ve spent a lifetime obsessed with. Sexism is real, by the way.

Still, Emlyn Lewis is as good a name as any, but that’s not how the Robot thing happened. Here’s how that started.

I worked in an editorial office, not in the bike industry. I managed publishing projects, and so I was surrounded by writers, editors, designers, and proofreaders, many with advanced degrees. They were, in large part, regular office people who drove cars or took the train to work. I was the office bike guy. It’s easy to look tough in a setting like that.

I’d roll in, soaking wet or with snow on my shoulders, and my colleagues would shake their heads and chuckle. In winter, they’d say, “Don’t you feel cold?” And I’d say, “Not really. You get used to it.”

My brother, who worked there for a stretch too, is the one who said, “Robots don’t feel cold,” which, in retrospect might have been a dig about the way I go about my life as much as a compliment about my physical fortitude.

I started saying it too, when people commented on the weather (all) that I was willing to ride through. And I puffed myself up with it. When the chance to write for RKP came along, I dragged the stupid name along with me.

When I left publishing, it was to work in the bike industry. You find out pretty quickly, in a building full of cyclists, that you’re not the fittest, fastest, most experienced, or toughest. You’re just another misfit toy on bike island. I’d never felt so at home, or so dumb for thinking I was something special.

The ego check was sudden and sublime. That inflated sense of self is just extra baggage to haul around, and what I’m after, like you, is that feeling of the self disappearing entirely, of moving along through space and time, weightless, in perfect flow with the bike. The bike is the robot, not me.

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