I am kind of sucky at driving stickshift–I learned from a guy I knew freshman year in college, on his beat up decade old Ford Ranger that smelled like sweat and motor oil. About halfway through the lesson, which was situated on a hill, with expensive luxury cars behind us, he said, “Oh, and you’re learning on a clutch that’s broken.” His assessment was that if I learned in the Most Difficult situation, I would totally master the art of stickshift driving.
Thank you F*ckhead, I thought (because at the age of 18, I was dangerously polite and passive aggressive). I should have said it out loud. Today, I would.
I was freaked out. I was beyond sweating bullets, my hands were clammy. I was trying to get the truck out of a parking lot, up a hilly driveway, on a broken clutch, trying to figure out how to move that blasted stick into another gate, another gear, all while trying to coordinate the clutch and gas. Yah. And if I were to make a mistake, I’d roll backwards into an Alfa Romeo, a Mercedes, and a Porsche. There was too much at stake. I HATED him. I hated the situation. I got out of that truck, and never drove a stickshift again.
Not really. I did drive stickshift. I married a guy whose passion is sports cars and of course, driving stick shift (on race tracks!), who taught me how to drive a stick shift properly and gradually. (“Idiot!” he said, when I told him about having to learn on a hill. “You don’t teach someone to drive stick like that!”). And occasionally, I drive a stick shift–and understand this whole concept of shifting gears a whole lot better.
And these days, I have to downshift my own gears. What will happen? Downshifting makes an engine push harder, enables acceleration. I haven’t accelerated since my stroke. Well, I did try, but I would hit the wall and sit numbly for days afterwards.
I’ve got a thesis to write, comprised of several short stories (I can’t touch my novel yet), lots more work at work, and a Fall season stretching before me with greater social commitments. My day’s schedule is unquestionably packed–whereas before, I would max out with ONE activity a day (thereby rendering me in a zombie-like state), I’ve got 2-3 commitments now. I can’t avoid most of these things, like I have since January, sitting in recovery.
So it’s time for me to find inspiration and support. I went to my thesis director meeting the other day, and I had not realized how MUCH I had missed her. As a friend, as a mentor. She said the EXACT things I needed to hear, pointed out the EXACT things that I needed for my stories. I had known one of the stories had hit a wall-but I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. And voila. She pointed it straight out. I was so relieved. She told me, “Anyone can write a mediocre story,” and then pointed out how to take it to the next level.
And then–I went to Junot’s reading. He was SO funny and so energetic, and I had missed his presence in my life, too. I took out my blackberry and started emailing myself quotes from his Q&A session. So typical of him to have sooo many astounding sound bites and sage advice in what is usually a Q&A session that most writers spurt banalities. Not him. I typed furiously into my phone, not wanting to lose some of the gems, knowing that I would forget them otherwise.
I stood in a very long line in a very warm room (yes! it’s warm. the picture above is from Ocean Beach in San Francisco, where it was a balmy 80F–everytime I’ve gone to that beach, it’s been frigid), waiting for him to sign Oscar Wao. He gave me a big hug (two!) when I got up there. He was signing books, just standing up, no table. I mentioned that he needed a table. He said no, if he sat down he’d fall asleep. Yes, I said, he has a crazy book tour that must be so exhausting.
This week, I must be honest, I have been so goddamn depressed. On the way to the reading, I was overwhelmed by thoughts of failure and self criticism. The sun was setting on a hot early Autumn day–such that the light cast a blood red sheen over the world. I thought, “Blood.” I thought of death and pain and blood spilling over everything. I drowned in it. I fantasized about disappearing in this pool of blood.
Writing fiction is so hard now, harder than ever. But if I don’t write, who am I? Nothing.
But the reading lifted my spirits. My meeting with my thesis director fed me.
So there’s my inspiration and support. It’s got to feed me while I downshift gears. It’s not a lot, but I’ll take it.