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.




Filed under Life, Writing

8 responses to “Shifting

  1. this was awesome. thank you.

  2. Lamberakis

    Yay! Jade saw Diaz.

    Sounds like you had a vision, too. It is yours, Jade, your vision. Take comfort in that. :o)

    Your friend….


  3. arirang: you’re welcome, though I have no idea what I did! Just bummed out and trying to get inspired and sharin’ it.

    Lamberakis: Yes, I did! It was so good to see him again.

  4. You are very lucky to have such a supportive and wise thesis advisor. I was disappointed to find no useful feedback in my MFA program that I left half way. It was low residency, and I wonder if a regular program would have been the better choice.

  5. Thanks muchly for the shout out.

  6. the individual voice: ugh–I think MFA programs are hit and miss. I think that people spend SO much time nurturing relationships with their peers, and fail to nurture relationships with professors who are maybe too intimidating or too busy or whatever, to be accessible. Also, the classes differ, too–the class I began my MFA program with, and the class above me, were very generous with feedback. I can’t say the same for the other classes, which for the most part, are very “me me me” with feedback and such. In sum, I don’t think there would have been much diff between low res and a regular program. My friend goes to a low-res program (Warren Wilson) and says she loves it.

    But then again, I may just be speaking out of my ass. 🙂

    And Kevin: You’re welcome! Your site,, is awesome. I had no idea it existed until I wondered when Junot would be coming to town, and a friend of mine pointed me to

  7. Jade, just checking in and catching up. You know, I found myself making the same stickshift analogy to my occupational therapist last week after a session at the grocery store (!). There’s another side to downshifting before accelerating. Sometimes the driver downshifts to prevent stalling out. Stalling out means a roll backward on a hill (lost progress), or missing the green light (your opportunity to go forward, however fast or slow). And it’s awfully frustrating!

    Being somebody who prided herself on her ability to ignore my limits–I thought if I just worked harder, faster, stronger, I could do anything–it’s been a little strange to constantly remind myself to
    go slow and steady, more like the turtle and less like the feisty hare, who, after all, lost the race.

    Set yourself up for the win, even if for now you’ll have to operate at a different gear than you’re used do. I’ll be cheering you on.

  8. Joyce: thank you for stopping by! I hope your recovery is going well, it sounds like it is, and that you have a good therapist who is offering you insight. (Thank you for that, too–I’m recovering blindly on my own, though my progress is rapid).

    And thank you for the good advice. For impatient me, it’s good to be reminded to go slow and steady.

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