A Review of Bernadette Murphy’s Harley and Me
May 13, 2016 § 6 Comments
by Melissa Greenwood
Ostensibly, Bernadette Murphy and I have little in common. A mother of three, the author of Harley and Me: Embracing Risk on the Road to a More Authentic Life, is a tattooed associate professor who took up motorcycling in midlife. As for tattoos and children, I have neither. I’m thirty-two and check the box beside single/not married on my taxes each year. (I also have a grandmother who would faint if I showed up for Passover with body art.) As for motorcycling, I lack the risk-taking gene. In fact, you couldn’t even get me on a regular bike without the promise of an empty parking lot, hand brakes, and a tightly-strapped helmet. So why on earth would this book appeal to a woman who prefers spinning teacups to roller coasters?
For one thing, Murphy and I weren’t always so different. Believe it or not, she once “had contingency plans for contingency plans.” She believed that if she worried enough about something, she could keep the next “far-flung-but-certainly-pending tragedy” from happening. I can relate. Like Murphy, “what ifs” keep me up at night. But I have to confess, I’m a bit of a former risk-taker. Scroll back a decade to my twenties, and you’ll find a girl who was careless with her body and her money.
Each of us, whether we put ourselves out there physically or emotionally, understands that taking chances can be seductive. While Murphy is more of a daredevil than some, she isn’t suggesting we line up to skydive or that we have to be risky her way. On the contrary, she advocates for risk-taking in whatever way makes sense for the reader, claiming it has brain benefits. (See the term “neuroplasticity” in the closest dictionary, then bring the word with you to your next dinner party.) Murphy has limits. She couldn’t believe her daughter Hope wanted to bungee jump for her twenty-first birthday or that, as I write this, her partner Edmund is realizing his lifelong aspiration to climb Everest. Her openness to chance is elastic, moldable, and reader-specific. The beauty of this book is that we don’t have to be exactly like its author to appreciate the universal story here, which, at its core, is about personal transformation—for some of us, the biggest risk of all.
Murphy’s journey toward self-acceptance comes on the dawn of her twenty-fifth wedding anniversary and follows her father’s death. “Staring down the barrel of fifty,” she finds herself at a crossroads: “me or the fear?” As it turns out, her marriage has become uninspired, and the fear feels inescapable: divorce. Making strategic decisions that are in line with self-care, the narrator carves out a new life for herself, but with change comes discomfort: tiny guesthouse quarters, table set for one, empty bed. Her motorcycle becomes the companion she picks up entirely by accident while researching the hobby for a fictional character she planned to write about. On the motorcycle, she learns to make peace with her messy present.
This push-pull between the life imagined and the one lived resonated with me on a visceral level, and not surprisingly. Murphy’s ability to reach a diverse audience makes her the successful writer she is. You see, I live at home, in my mother’s basement. And by basement, I actually mean downstairs. And by downstairs, I really mean my mom’s room is directly beside mine with a mere decorative curtain separating our two doors (and that’s mainly on account of my dignity). Could I spend all of my time obsessing over my unmarried, childless, condo-less reality? Believe me, I could. And if I’m honest, most days I do: I choose unhappiness. But I have another choice: I can embrace my life exactly as it is and practice humility. And in reading Harley and Me, I suddenly found myself wanting a way in to this alternate path—to grace and acceptance. I suddenly wanted to be a little more like the bad-ass narrator, who, while not entirely fearless, is at least “open to the idea of yes these days”; whose new mantra is “Be. Here. Now”; who is finally experiencing her “wildness fully…[who is] willing to evolve or die”; who leans in to what scares her with all her might—throwing her body into that turn, even when it feels like it will kill her.
Melissa Greenwood has an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, where author Bernadette Murphy is both an alumna and a mentor. In her past lives, this LA-native freelanced for various entertainment magazines and local papers, taught middle school English, and even custom-fit women for high-end bras. When she’s not writing book reviews, Melissa can be found working as the communications officer at a local private school or taking and teaching Pilates.