Annie Sollinger is a total dreamboat. She works as a visual resources librarian, which basically means she gets to look at pictures of art all day. She is also an artist who takes gorgeous pictures, makes enchanting zines, and constructs beautiful collages. Her own art is about ecology and feelings. Most recently, she has been thinking about the public domain, as well as how to be a better feminist/human being/friend/person.

A native and current New Englander, Annie has lived in New York and Los Angeles and Austin, where Barbara met her and basically decided on the spot that they must be friends forever. There they rode bicycles & took walks & carpooled, and talked about art & collections & databases & museums (& boys), and may even have passed notes in class.  

Part 1: Origin Story

Legend has it that a motorcycle fell on me when I was a baby. I asked my father recently to confirm this story, and he winced: take that how you will. I don’t remember the incident, but I remember his bikes. He had a small collection of vintage BSA motorcycles, at least one of which ran. His baby-blue racing leathers, a vestige of his younger, faster, skinnier days, hung in our attic.

Photo from my dad:

Although I idolized my dad, It never occurred to me as a kid that I could ride one of those bikes. My mother and sister had no interest, so it just seemed outside the realm of possibility. My best friend rode dirt bikes with her brother, but I never saw it happen. I don’t remember the first time I saw a woman on a motorcycle, though, who wasn’t just a passenger.

After college, amid a crumbling relationship and the financial collapse of 2008, I moved from New York back to Vermont, where I hadn’t lived since I was 10, to my dad’s house in the woods. I spent a lot of time with my dad, who is still a gearhead, in between looking for jobs and day-drinking. He was down to one project bike then, a 1965 CB160. It ran, but was far from street legal. I realized I wanted to learn to ride, and so he taught me. I did figure eights and rode down the long, dirt driveway to the main road and back. I thought about going to safety school so I could get my license. But then it was winter, and then I got a job, and a boyfriend, and then I got into grad school.

Photo credit: John Sollinger.

So here we are, seven years later. I’ve got a real job now, and this spring, I decided I wanted my very own motorcycle. I amazed myself by signing up for a weekend safety course, passing it, and getting my license. I decided to buy a new bike, talked with my dad to pick one out, and we went to a dealer where I said, “Ok, I want it.” More paperwork, then more paperwork and phone calls to get it insured and registered.

I am an anxious person, and I hate phone calls. There are so many points in this process where I could have finished one task and then been too exhausted to complete the next. But every time I was in the car and saw a motorcycle, I’d remember how much I wanted it. I hate driving: I get road rage, complete with cursing like a drunk sailor, and I feel immense ecological guilt for using gasoline to drag my own carcass around on four wheels. I usually take the bus to work, but my partner was driving me to the bus stop every day, and the bus ride is slow in the summer, and I get carsick on the way home. I had a list of very practical reasons, reasons of autonomy, that made me fight through the anxiety and the embarrassment of a learning curve. Once I realized that I wasn’t going to be saving any money on this venture (improved gas mileage is much tempered by expensive safety gear), I had to admit that also, riding a motorcycle is 100% fun.

My bike is a silver Suzuki (Metallic Mystic Silver, to be specific). I named her Roberta, and I love her.

Photo credit: Trevor Powers

Part 2: Look Where You Want to Go

Calling a machine “her” can feel sexist. Motorcycling does seem to be a gendered thing-not inherently, but you know, patriarchally-and I have considered how that feels, and maybe how it looks. To me, riding a motorcycle does not feel masculine; it feels human. I feel occasionally what it must be like to have male privilege, but only when I do something risky, or entitled, or cocky (like speeding up to swerve around a jay-walking lacrosse player. Maybe that is more patently misandrist?). Mostly, though, I feel very, very cool.

A wonderful thing about learning to ride, particularly through a course, but also by means of common sense, is that there are lessons that provide beautiful aphorisms for living. The central lesson is look where you want to go. This means when you are turning, turn your head; if you want to avoid an obstacle, don’t look at it. Your body and your bike will follow your gaze. My friend Paige Mazurek, who has been riding for a couple of years, made a beautiful artists’ book with this title-Look Where You Want to Go-around her photographs of her motorcycles and her experiences with them. To me, the phrase echoes my experience (and hers, too) of keeping my eyes on the prize throughout the process of learning and buying and learning some more.

A big chunk of my anxiety centers around making decisions and choices. These don’t come easily to me. I am always terrified that I don’t have enough information to ask the right questions, which often leaves me stuck. I quickly learned, to my infinite surprise, that when I’m riding, I know what to do. I feel a kind of confidence that comes from autonomy and experience. To be honest, this feeling also lays bare a streak of internalized misogyny, which immediately extinguishes itself. When I realize that I have done something with skill or finesse (like speed up to swerve around a jay-walking lacrosse player), then it’s clear that a woman has done something impressive on a loud machine, and that woman is me. If I can do it, so could any number of other women in the world.

My favorite thing about riding (after going fast, obviously) is being outside. I’ve had a lot of new kinds of interactions with birds and new experiences of weather. But what might be the best thing is being seen by little kids, especially little girls, and watching them realize that I’m a girl, too. They might say to their parents, “That’s a girl!” Little boys like to give me thumbs up. I hope they realize that I don’t need their approval.

Song: Helen, “Motorcycle”