Where I’m From: The Danger of Writing

“Lascaux 2” by mageist.net

Public art has been around for a long time.

“A Portion of the Berlin Wall in Mountain View, CA.” by Victor Grigas

Public art is sometimes commissioned, sometimes it is not. Graffiti is used to transmit political, personal, and artistic statements with or without permission of the property owner. Graffiti is powerful because it is unsanctioned, but it is also uncomfortable for a street theorist because it is beautiful and illegal–what is the political stakes of studying it? But this art form is all around us in Brooklyn. Our students see graffiti—tags, stickers, murals, advertising— in the place where they dwell. My interest in graffiti is in the way that it is a form of personal writing, a form of consolidating one’s identity. Writing one’s name on a wall says many things, but at the very least, it says: I exist.

Mark and I have had the good fortune to be able to work with a local artist, José Parlá, who writes in his beautiful book JoséParlá: Walls, Diaries, and Paintings(2011), that:

Historically, walls have exhibited the voice of the people. My earliest paintings were made on walls at night. My thought and impulse behind the gesture was as primitive as that of cavemen marking and drawing in their dwellings to assert their existence in a place and time. As my works evolved, be it paintings, signatures, or even the documentation of these early ephemeral artworks throughout city walls, the works
took on the nature of personal journals based on empirical experiences. The organized black books and photo albums also became my diaries. […]  As a result, these works are time capsules, mixed documents of memory and research.”

José Parlá could almost be talking about General Education; Gen Ed is a process of mixing memory and research within (sometimes against) the maelstrom of the college student’s total experience. I have tried to turn both my fascination with Parla’s extraordinary art and my desire for my students to write what they know and what they need to learn into writing assignments. One such assignment involves their writing about themselves as a collage of information. The walls of Brooklyn have helped me with this assignment.

Nevins-Street_Jargon copy

“Nevins Street Jargon,” by José Parlá
I have not been able to find out if this plywood fence is a found artwork photographed by Parlá, or if Parlá had a hand in it. Either way, it is a palimpsest of neighborhood signatures–a local cryptography.
Then I saw this installation at the corner of Fulton and Adams–where a Shake Shack burger joint is going in. Here, on these black walls, the point is not to deface. Instead, the point is to put your own message next to your neighbors, to read other desires, to engage,  to create a community “mixed tape” of memory and research and performance. Several times, I have added my own writing, my own tags, my own effort to say that “I exist.” And I plan to go back often. I encourage you to take part in the performance of the “Before I die…” installation.

Installation at the corner of Fulton and Adams “Before I die,” photo by Sean Scanlan

For the next 15 minutes, let’s create our own memorials to this seminar, to City Tech, to our own small groups, and even to our own identities.


Each group collaborates to make their own “Jay Street Jargon.”

Rule 1: each writing must overlap another writing, even if only a little.

Rule 2: no erasing.

Rule 3: there are no rules in graffiti.


1. Write down three academic words in your field that you hate. (vertical)

2. Write down three academic words in your field that you love. (diagonal)

3. Write down the your nickname in big, bold letters. (upside down)

4. Name your favorite teacher. (left handed)

5. Name your favorite moment in this seminar. (in a circle)

6 a. Write this phrase and fill it in: My job rocks cuz ___________________. (in all caps)

6 b. Doodle. (no shapes, just wriggly lines)

7.  Write this phrase and fill it in: Before I die _____________________.

8. Who is your favorite artist? (backwards)

9. What is your favorite number? (then scratch it out)

10. Ruin at least two of the answers or writings on your wall that you like. (because)

11. Are you looking forward to the shared lunch with Karen and John? (in another language)

12. Favorite food? (inside a rhombus)

13. Doodle. (shapes!)

14. Write this phrase and complete: Where I’m from __________________!


Thanks for reading, and feel free to share this assignment widely!

Sean Scanlan, PhD

City Tech, CUNY

Serious Bike Poetry for Bikers (and nonbikers)

Not Forgotten

Support this poet!

by Sheila Packa

I learned to ride
the two wheel bicycle
with my father.
He oiled the chain
clothes-pinned playing cards
to the spokes, put on the basket
to carry my lunch.
By his side, I learned balance
and took on speed
centered behind the wide
handlebars, my hands
on the white grips
my feet pedaling.
One moment he was
holding me up
and the next moment
although I didn’t know it
he had let go.
When I wobbled, suddenly
afraid, he yelled keep going—
keep going!
Beneath the trees in the driveway
the distance increasing between us
I eventually rode until he was out of sight.
I counted on him.

That he could hold me was a given
that he could release me was a gift.

“Not Forgotten” by Sheila Packa, from Cloud Birds. © Wildwood River Press, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

Grabbed from: The Writer’s Almanac. May 18, 2011.


I dedicate this poem to my daughters, Katie and Clara. The older of the two (Katie) can ride without training wheels and has exhibited a small hint of what the poem above describes. The younger of the two (Clara) will probably learn to ride without training wheels this summer. I think she is a bit young, but she is committed to doing what her sister does.

Will I let them race bikes in a few years. Not a chance. No way.

But, seriously folks, what choice do I really have in the matter?

Next thought…should I get the new super-awesome saddle with carbon-braided rails, or should I save my money for when my daughters ask me to buy them carbon-braided rail saddles?

Peace and end-of-semester grease.



Should I mention that I raced in a real bike race last week? More later.

Prospect Park (Found) Poetry (Possibly) about Biking and Racing

The pomp of colors

though dank now

Soon aching greens sprout

Muscles upward and out-

[A map of Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York]


Nor the Slope

Nor the falling temperatures dint my course

Allow me to intimate my plan for the season

of pain, beautiful pain-

Five full training exercises have I blessed

This year

How resurrect my ashes from the forgotten form

Of last August-

A question or a statement


By laps not time not distance

But by the 3.39 mile loops that guide my wheels

And not a Heart

Not a Rate

And not a Monitor shall encroach upon my path

My brain is fingering the road

Past the runners the joggers the baby strollers

I bide my time my sweat my Accelerade

Pass me dear titanium dear aluminum dear carbon

Leave me to train to dream to provoke my own knowledge

Of the coming storm of spring classics

In far off lands

I deny myself the urge to sprint

So that I can calibrate my afternoons as they

Bleed sweetness into the sore legs

Legs that will not only bless this park

But will bless the summer races region-wide

Where I will

Triumph again and again and again

As I crush and crush and crush all metal out

Of my frame

These five rides have begun what cannot be undone

And there is much to do

Before I sleep before I race before I die

(note: I found this poem written in precise script with a blue Sharpie on an abandoned water bottle in the gutter of Prospect Park West three days ago–ed.)



Prospect Park State of Mind

Can you believe all the things that there are to do here, in this city, the largest city in the US. How big? Over 8,000,000. The next largest city? LA: 3,500,000.

So, it follows that several biking events are on offer in the summer. For example, a month ago Bike Snob read from his book at Rapha Bike Shop. And recently, David Herlihy read from his new book The Lost Cyclist at Bicycle Habitat.

You can go on an organized ride seven days a week. You can find a well-organized century tour every Saturday and Sunday in September and October.

During the summer there are races at Central Park (Manhattan) and races in Prospect Park (Brooklyn). Luckily, I could not race in any of these late summer races because the fields were full (whew!). Also, I don’t have a license. And I generally don’t know the system here yet. But, I learned that if you really want to, you can talk your way into the Cat. 5 field. So, as usual, I just didn’t want to race.

On August 14th, I wrote the following and have been remiss in publishing it.

Here it is:

I showed up at 7 am to check out and ride around Prospect Park. I sorta knew that there was a race this morning, but it started at 6:30. Registration was at 5:30! Ouch. Anyway, it was a beautiful morning and I got on the wide bike lane (almost four full lanes wide!) and started soft pedalling. Then the Pro-1-2-3 group passed me. Ker-pow! That was cool. Full field at 90 riders.

I stopped by the start/finish to get the skinny. First, I was amazed at the large crowd and all the different teams and bikes. I saw sweet rigs: Ciocc, Van Dessel, BMC. And I saw a Scattante with Cosmic Carbones! Well, I learned that if I had my head screwed on right, I could have raced today. I would have needed to re-up my license online and then wait in line until 6:15, at which time the stand-by riders would get a chance.

The best kits were, by far, the Mexico New York City Cycling team. A close second was the Major Taylor kits. Also saw Kissena, G.S. Mengioni and Ride Brooklyn kits. Very cool scene.

I saw the finish of the 4 race. I don’t know any names but this freight train of a guy from Major Taylor led out two of team mates and I think they went 1, 2, 3. Very sharp riding.

One of the race organizers, Anthony VanDunk, told me to race tomorrow. But after 6 laps, I was weezy. Anthony runs the website: http://newyorkbikeracing.com.

Maybe I’ll head out to Floyd Bennett Field near Coney Island for the evening race. Just as I was about to leave, Anthony looked at my Goosetown Racing kit and said “it looks as if you might need to join a New York team. Give a call when you do.”

Did he say “might want to” or “might need to”? At any rate I will take in the positive sense.

I will end this post here. The problem with this place is that there is simply too much to report, too much to look at, too much to do and experience. It can be stultifying to try to write about even little slivers of New York. So, in order to start up the blogging engine again, I will submit brief reports, instead of my usual, longwinded palaverings.


Scraps (in BK)


In Iowa City I could lock my bike with this chain:

Or, with these chains:

But in Brooklyn, I was told that I had better get something along these lines:

Wait. I am getting ahead of myself.

Where have I been? Why am I mentioning Brooklyn? What have I been doing?

Ohhh, nothing much….just getting a full time job with benefits and moving to New York City!

But so what, right? New York is, like, whatev…Readers want to know this: been riding?


Been skiing?


Been reading?

Yes: apartment listings in the BK (BK stands for Brooklyn. I am using this lingo because now I am so tight with my nabe).

Is that poor showing in all three areas gonna change?


Can do…just give me a few days. Right now I have to figure out how to sort the recycling in Brooklyn. Also, I just got told to move my bike from the stoop. It was more like bikes. None of my neighbors could climb over my heap of properly locked bikes.

Stay tuned for more Brooklyn adventures.


The Bicycle: Crime Destroyer or Freedom Machine?

A NYC bicyle policeman seizing a runaway horse, from "Collier's Weekly," 23 April 1896.

From this angle, it looks like he’s riding a Fuji, or maybe a Univega. But that would be impossible, no? Why am I interested in bikes and culture? Because I think that the bicycle ushered in the modern, technical, industrial age.

Two anecdotes.

David V. Herlihy reports in his excellent Bicycle: The History (Yale UP, 2004) that “perhaps the most important specialized use of the bicycle (during the turn of the century) was for police work. In 1896, New York City assigned bicycles to five officers who patrolled Central Park. The experiment proved so successful that the squad was soon expanded, and other cities, including Chicago and Buffalo, followed suit. Theodore Roosevelt, then a New York police commissionner, recalled the ‘extraordinary proficiency’ of the cyclist officers who reigned in runaway horses and chased down speed demons known as ‘scorchers.’ One officer even managed to catch up with a carriage as it fled a crime scene. To the great surprise of its occupant, the policeman vaulted from his bicycle into the vehicle and promptly made an arrest.”

Now it would be fair to say two things in regard to this wonderful paragraph. First, the police officer must have been insane, bored, or loaded–or all three. Second, the gear ratio must have been crushingly huge…I mean they had no derailleurs, so he must have been on a honking big chainring.

Nevertheless, it seems obvious that in this case, the bicycle was a means of maintaining peace and order: it was used to help THE MAN.

But check this out.

Herlihy also says that the bicycle gave speed to youths and to women. It gave to ordinary citizens freedom, utility, and pleasure. All these things sound a bit suspect to moi. Not only did it offer exercise and adventure, it offered escape for adolescents to meet in clandestine locations out of the range of parents. Herlihy says folks could “flee the commotion of the city and take refuge in the countryside.” Yeah right! It was a way for kids to flee parental supervision and neck. Bicycles = heavy petting! It was the beginning of the destruction of civilized order. In sum, the bike was against THE MAN.

You decide.



FEELING LITERARY: William Gibson and the future of bikes

Is this a bike book or a sci fi book with bikes in it?

FOR YOUR READING PLEASURE, I give you a glimpse into the future of bikes and messengering:

“Sometimes, when she rode hard, when she could really proj, Chevette got free of everything: the city, her body, even time. That was the messenger’s high, she knew, and though it felt like freedom, it was really the melding-with, the clicking-in, that did it. The bike between her legs was like some hyper-evolved alien tail she’d somehow extruded, as though over patient centuries; a sweet and intricate bone-machine, grown Lexan-armored tires, near-frictionless bearings, and gas-filled shocks. She was entirely part of the city, then, one wild-ass little dot of energy and matter, and she made her thousand choices, instant to instant, according to how th traffic flowed, how rain glinted on the street-car cracks, how a secretary’s mahogany hair fell like grace itself, exhausted, to the shoulders of her loden coat.

And she was starting to get that now, in spite of everything; if she just let go, quit thinking, let her mind sink down into the machinery of bone and gear-ring and carbon-wound Japanese paper

But Sammy Sal swerved in beside her, bass pumping from his bike’s bone-construction beatbox. She had to bunny the curb to keep from going over on a BART grate. her tires left black streaks as the particle-brakes caught, Sammy Sal braking in tandem, his Fluoro-Rimz strobing, fading.”

from Virtual Light by William Gibson (New York: Bantam, 1993).

Let’s analyze this.

• near frictionless bearings = √

• gas-filled shocks = √

But, where are these things?

• Fluoro-Rimz (with strobe lights!)

• speakers built into the material of the frame

• carbon-wound Japanese paper frames

• Lexan-armored tires

• particle brakes

OH, sweet future, sweet technological bliss, please come to me now!


Birkie/Korte 2010: What Went Wrong?


Scraps Near the Korte Finish Line.

First, let me hang my head in sadness. I did not win the Korte.

Second, let me add that I never promised to win.

Third, ’twas a beautiful day:

Just after the 1st Wave has left.

Fourth, I was harassed by three teenage 7th Wavers for 20 of my 23 kilometers. I got hung up in traffic on a hill, and could not catch them again. They beat me by about a minute….or so.

Fifth, without the wonderful company of these youngsters, without their camaraderie, without their cajoling, I would never have ripped it like I did. Thanks guys!

Sixth, I love the 7th Wave! Passing people is an art and an obligation. Proper technique and etiquette must be observed.

Seventh, I love Hayward and Cable, but most of all, I love Spooner!

Eighth, the flats were fast, but the hills were sugar and mashed potatoes and day-old rice. Pick your carbo analogy!

Ninth, you still don’t know how I did, do you?

Tenth, I clocked 1:22:40. That’s good for 12th out of 57 in my age group (40-44).  You can check the Iowa results here. Or, you can check the results here. So, that means that I crushed my goal of placing in the top half of my age category. And that means that you, my dear readers, must buy me that rib trophy that I mentioned a week ago. Huzzah! Did I mention 3:36 per km? Ker-pow!

Eleventh, back down on earth for a sec… the race was not an unmitigated success. I could have gone faster. I spent so much energy passing people, weaving in and out, stopping for falling skiers, that I really believe that I skied an extra 4 kilometers.

Twelfth, I have to thank my sponsors: Dot, Clara, Katie, Geoff’s Bike and Ski, the waxers. Then there’s my travel partner Brian–who kicked it live in the Birkie Classic: from 8th Wave to 2nd Wave–double Huzzah! Thanks to my training crew: Wayne, Hodge, Brett, Rock, Steve, Finn, Grant, Jason, and all the other Ski Punks at Ashton.

Thirteenth, I want to think Angler’s for being such a ski-friendly place:

Miss Birkie and Crew Operate the Shotski at Angler's

Fourteenth, don’t forget to put on the storage wax.

Fifteenth, how do I ride this thing in my garage with two skinny tires? What is it called again?

Sixteenth, forget the bike! I’m gonna get some v2 rollerskis and start training this weekend for next year.

Peace and Wisconsin Cheese,



A Picturesque Shack next to Telemark Lodge in Cable, Wisconsin. I recommend Telemark highly.

Hot and Fast at Telemark Lodge in Cable, Wisconsin.

The snow was a bit warm: 25 F.

The trail was very firm: you can use your tiny baskets.

The crowd was amped: and who wouldn’t be?

Brian and I took a 5 km spin to check wax.

And the results were confidence-building. In a word: DIALED!


But let’s talk competition:


It is hard my friends… my readers.

But you must drive toward the thing that makes you anxious. You must do so in order to conquer it. Mastering that which seeks to crush is the way to heaven…or to the finish line. I am not fast, I cannot sprint, I barely know how to V2, and I don’t know how to start with that churning mix of V1 and whatever. But I did it anyway. I was not trying to win. I was trying to put the hurt on mine enemy: anxiety.

And I made the podium: Third out of a field of three.

The roar of the crowd was deafening.

Bouuuyah! Did I spell that right?

I love skiing.

See you skater fakers. See you tomorrow Korte pretenders. I love you and I will crush you… in a kind and loving way.



Birkie Time!

Well folks, it is now time for the Birkie.

Or, in my case, the Korte.

If I can’t win–and I can’t–then I will try to score style points this weekend. I might go for Tord’s low-rider-skier look:

Maybe this look helped Tord come in 28th place in the pursuit

Or, I might just go for the low-rider-slider look:

What kind of wax do I use?

Or, if you really want to meld Biker to Skier…and yet take athleticism completely out of the picture….then you might consider this soon-to-be-an-Olympic sport: Motorsnowcling:

Motorsnowclists always recycle their oil and wax

I hope to have fresh stories and pics and vids soon.

Pax and Super Flouro Ski Wax!