Photo by Gabriel Romero

Bicycles and Burning moms
Gwendolyn Alley’s range of interests is almost as impressive as her commitment to them. As founder of the San Buenaventura Art Riders Bicycle and Social Club, she’s working to simultaneously boost bicycle culture and interest in visual art. Every first Friday in Ventura, she and her band of gypsies dress up according to a predetermined theme and ride their nifty bicycles from gallery to gallery to experience art together. It’s a perfect marriage of Alley’s background in environmental studies and the arts, with friendly political undertones added for good measure. The group recently spoke up at City Hall in favor of a bicycle master plan, many of them without any previous experience as activists.

“We call attention by dressing up and riding together so people remember cycling,” says Alley. As a longtime participant in Burning Man (her first year was 1992), Alley is no stranger to the concept of attention-getting. This year, she will travel to Blackrock City with her 7-year-old son, Reed, to provide childcare for one of the head honchos.

It won’t be the first adventure she and Reed have shared. Earlier this summer the two travelled for 30 days and 4,500 miles in a Volkswagen van to explore West Coast wineries.

Write what you know
As an educator, poet, author and serious blogger, Gwendolyn Alley is no stranger to the rigors of writing, and one of the first rules of professional writing is “write what you know.” While she knows many things, there are few she enjoys as much as wine. Her authentic passion for wine, combined with her talent for blogging, landed her a somewhat accidental reputation as online wine expert, which in turn has led to some interesting, even coveted, alliances. When Alley was attending a bloggers conference earlier this year, Internet entrepreneur, innovator and former CEO of AOL Barry Schuler began following her on Twitter. Schuler, who is dabbling in winemaking, invited her to a party where he was introducing venture capitalists to his pricey wines. The big-money atmosphere was “a little intense” says Alley, but the $300 wine was “transcendent.” Alley is working on a book about winemaking with the emphasis on story rather than mechanics. “The basics of tasting are relatively simple — the difficulty is coming up with the words,” she says. By telling the stories of the wine — its origins, the people and the evolution of it—she is better able to connect people to the subject and give deeper meaning to overused terms such as “sustainability.”

In the wee hours
Every August since 2001, Gwendolyn Alley has been setting her alarm for 3:15 a.m. to write poetry. No, she’s not a masochist — thousands of people around the world do the same thing as part of the 3:15 Experiment, a global poetry project. Once upon a time, an invitation was required for such torture, but today it’s open to anyone willing to exit dreamland, grab a writing instrument and spill some uncensored thoughts on a page. Initially reluctant due to previous experience with sleep disorders, Alley managed to participate sans negative consequences. Last year, however, it became a taller order when, on July 30, her mother, Suzanne Lawrence, passed away. The next evening, Alley awoke and wrote:

“Now it is
the middle of
the night
& barely morning
and I am
wide awake
with my loss”

“I gave myself permission not to do it. I thought I was asking too much of myself,” she says, “but my mom did performances even if she didn’t feel like it, and I thought, OK, let’s just set the alarm.” Having lost a dear poet friend the day before her mother’s passing, Alley’s pain was acute and devastating. Her book Middle of the Night: Poems from Daughter to Mother — Mother to Son is a poignant, raw representation of the female heart at its most vulnerable. It is as joyous as it is sorrowful. While waking in the wee hours every night to write might not seem congruent with such trials, Alley actually found it useful. “It was definitely part of my grieving process.”   

Gwendolyn Alley will be signing her book on Thursday, Sept. 15, 7 p.m. at Bank of Books in Ventura. To join the Art Riders, receive writing assistance or read Alley’s unique take on the world of wine, visit www.bikergogal.wordpress.com, www.thewritealley.com, www.winepredator.wordpress.com, or follow her @artpredator.