The Passenger Mentality

 “From the margins, the world looks different.”

-Kim Addonizio

I have lived the majority of my mobile life with a passenger mentality.

Passenger Mentality n.:

1. The state of mind connected to riding in the passenger seat of a vehicle.

I never really gave a thought or glance to those who drove me or how they drove me (excluding instances of blatant errors or extreme recklessness). It only mattered that they were moving me, that we were going somewhere else. In the meantime, I kept to my windows and the world wandering by them, I indulged in the music and more often than not, conversation. I would ask questions and tell stories, quote concepts I had learned and stray factoids, always attempting to engage the driver in my ceaseless thoughts. Naturally, while blathering on and watching out the window, I would also try to share the sights I saw with these drivers. Of course, that usually merited the exasperated reply of “Lauren, I’m driving.” However, despite the frequency of that response, I have discovered that this state of passenger being also extends to licensed drivers when they themselves become passengers. My brother directs attention to peripheral skies while my mother motions to the shoulder buffaloes and exclaims, “Oh look! They’re out!” There seems to be something infectiously speculative about being a passenger, something so mentally encapsulating that it closes off any recollection of the driver’s seat and its rules.

Passenger Mentality n.:

2. A mental state of being in which a vehicle’s passenger asks the driver to look at, do, listen to, or understand one or more things while the vehicle is in motion, neglecting to recall the complex, involved, and focus-mandating nature of operating a motor vehicle.

What makes the phenomena so fascinating for me now is how thoroughly and even defensively, I embraced it. I knew there was a state beyond it, one more conducive to my natural demeanor, but still I refused to relinquish my seat and the skies that chased it. I am a perfectionist with exactingly specific standards and a near non-existent tolerance for any failure to meet them once they are understood. Yet, there I sat, contentedly absent any control, strapped into a metal cage careening down the asphalt at upwards of 65 MPH. Why was I okay with this? I suppose it comes back to fear, to a carefully crafted cowardice. Initially, driving was the adult thing, and like a job, I had no need to worry about it let alone do it. But gradually, it became a peer thing, a thing I was required for the sake of normalcy to do. Then suddenly, kids almost a decade younger than me were doing it, and their eyes quietly questioned me when my baby brother boated me about. But still, I did not want to do it, I could not do it; I did not want to give up the soothing psychological block, I could not give up the protection of my passenger mentality. If I wasn’t the one driving then nothing bad could happen, not when someone else was in control, not when I didn’t have to act or think. Like my parents who had made my world move for years, like teachers and babysitters, like engineers and civil servants, the Driver was an infallible guardian angel with safety net wings and unblinking eyes.

Passenger Mentality n.:

3. A state of denial in which the passenger loses touch with the realities of riding in a vehicle and relinquishes complete control to the driver.

The human brain is impressively fond of clinging to superstitious delusions for comfort. A locked door will only ever be unlocked by family members late at night. Sirens are never used by bad guys. Doctors know all the answers and never miss the mark. The driver of your car knows what he’s doing. What’s truly impressive in my case, is that this protective barrier of passenger belief survived one rear-ending, two black ice spinouts, one mirror-mangling sideswipe (with my window down), and countless collisions with snow banks. I clung to my uncharacteristically firm faith in The Driver like an Old World talisman. That is until, after a hundred visions of death and dismemberment, a thousand excuses, too many years and too little practice, I passed my driving test on December 7, 2012 and was forced to transfer that foundationless faith to myself. Needless to say, something that intangibly fragile did not survive the move. It dropped and cracked open, exposing how hollow it had always been.

Passenger Mentality n.:

4. The antithetical state of being of a driver.

It did not help that the test was dangerously simplistic. No driving on the highway, no U-Turns, no navigation, no parking (let alone parallel), no advanced maneuvers of any kind. After a two and a half hour wait (with an appointment) it was just ten quick minutes down the street, into a neighborhood and back again. I was as relieved as I was appalled. In a generational age of constant phone calls and tenacious texting, an age absent Driver’s Ed. in schools or adequate parental instruction outside of them, this was all the D.M.V. tested would-be drivers on? This was all it took to gain a license to operate high-speed, multi-ton machinery on a road with hundreds and thousands of other drivers every day? No wonder so many advocate defensive driving; the highway has become a battlefield of well-armed but poorly trained soldiers and friendly fire abounds.

Driver Mentality n.:

1. The belief of a driver that no one around him or her knows how to properly operate a motor vehicle.

Paradoxically, I have managed to take this in stride (mile markers). I have begun applying the same exacting perfectionism and control to driving as I do to the rest of my life, ritualizing it into reflex. Open the garage door, slip into the car, place purse on the passenger seat and phone in the cup holder. Turn engine on and simultaneously put seatbelt on, check gas level and tire pressure while releasing the emergency brake, and if it’s night time, turn on headlights. Glance in the mirrors and over a shoulder before backing up and continuing to look in the mirrors. Shut the garage.  A dozen tiny tasks woven repetitively into a fluid blanket of habit.

Driver Mentality n.:

2. The mental state of making a machine’s movements match the driver’s.

Practice breeds perfection. I am not a great driver, but I am a good driver who is getting better. I still can’t parallel park (even with a co-pilot), backing up is like going through the looking-glass in a hall of mirrors, and I require a two-car-sized cushion of empty space in front of me at all times. The tension is ebbing, though and it’s getting easier. I don’t make thoughtless mistakes that would make mother’s gasps turn to taut shrieks. I don’t forget the little things, like turn signals and checking both ways. I don’t grip the wheel so tightly that my fingers pulse when I finally release it. I don’t turn the wheel when I check my blind spots. But most of all, I don’t hate it. I actually like driving alone, thinking and moving alone. So long as I know the roads and which way to take them home, I don’t panic, I don’t fear, I don’t feel any differently that I did before I buckled up. Time is eroding my passenger mentality, making it into something more tangible, more fluid and adaptable, turning the rigid rocks of false belief into soft sands that can roll with the tides.

In a way, I think it’s fitting that my first completed goal, my first learned life skill, was obtaining my driver’s license. After all, driving is all about movement, about momentum, about going forward and controlling the car and yourself. So here’s to having the drive and knowing what to do with it.

Driver Mentality n.:

3. The mental state in which a driver takes control of the vehicle and uses its momentum to move towards his or her intended destination.

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Communicating Connections

“Fill up on language; gorge on it, then give it back as nourishment: new poems, better than Halloween candy.”

                          –Kim Addonizio (Ordinary Genius) 

Sometimes I think about teaching, about my Yaya and what remains of her in me. She was a teacher, an English teacher. My thoughts seek her out when I correct things, outwardly and inwardly. The number of times I debate asterisking corrections to peoples’ posts online is likely unhealthy in the most obsessive of ways. I wonder at her when I offer feedback or advice. For me, explaining is not a choice, not really. Explaining, explicating, extrapolating, exemplifying, expounding, exposing, expressing, teaching: call it what you will, I will do it. I cannot help it or stop it, it is compulsive and explosive, bursting free with bold insights and reflexive repetitions; the only things that bridles the desire are disinterest or exhaustion. If I know a topic, I will offer what I can to inform others about it. There is no single subject for which this is a greater truth than that of English, of writing. I could write about writing and read about writing until my fingers and eyes fall free, fleeing from the abuse of constant over use. I muse often over what words we, my Yaya and I, would weave together when speaking of writing, had we but the time to do it. Maybe someday, in some dream or some life yet to be lived, we will. We’ll rant and ramble, cutting each other off at every curb-clipping turn, one bombast racing the other to the finish line of every point about language and literature that we could link into one conversation. But then, that’s what communication is all about. That’s what language is all about. No, not beating one another to answers known by both. It’s about those links, the things that tie each individual thing to everything. It’s about connections.

What connects this self-indulgent post to the point of this supposedly narrowed blog? The obvious answer is me, but more specifically, my recent readings, my recent goals and dreams, a year set on progress, on becoming adult-esque, on reading and writing and being an editor. What connects this post to this blog? A group I joined today on Facebook, endorsed by fellow blogger Veronica Haunani Fitzhugh, focuses on critiques for writings of all kinds and what’s more, it actually guarantees feedback within 24 hours. Astounding, no? Stranger still, I felt more like giving critiques than getting them. It was refreshing and relaxing to reveal my thoughts on works with encouraging advice and questions. It reminds me why I am intent on being an editor and reinforces my claim to Yaya’s language-loving lineage. But again, why does that matter to this blog? The answer is hiding in the question. It may not matter for this blog, which is why I’m considering starting a new blog dedicated to writing, reviews, and editing, leaving the rest of my life to this one. Please, let me know what you all think, feedback from friends, family, and the far reaches of the Internet’s population is craved far beyond simply being welcomed. As it says below, I’ve shown you my words, now show me yours.

Edible Language

 “Reading is like food to a writer; without it, the writer part of you will die—or become spindly and stunted.”

                                       –Kim Addonizio (Ordinary Genius) 

I know I promised that driving post ages ago, but rather than forcing it and grinding out another insipid, Frankensteined mess trying to pass itself off as legitimate writing, I thought I would go with the flow of inspiration and offer up what greases the wheels of my mind today.

Contrary to popular belief, I am chronically under read. As I mentioned in Endless Academia, I hated reading for the better part of my childhood and was a miserable failure at it after that point. Now I adore it, but unfortunately, passion is still not enough to push speed and comprehension to the levels too many studies say someone like me should be at given my education. However, despite my deficiency, this year, I’m going to correct the failings of my literature-lacking past and catch up to the expectations that have always surrounded me. I intend to read one to two books a month (I wish I could manage more, but I doubt I will so rather than disappoint myself, I’ll stick to something feasible), at least three blogs a day, a minimum of a chapter a day of one of the far too many books I’m reading presently (the current count is seven), one short story, and four poems. As the introductory quotation states, reading is necessary for writing, though honestly, the relationship is more symbiotic than Addonizio suggests; without writing there is no reading and without reading, why write? Yet her point remains: reading makes us want to write. I am never so energized, so positively charged with the Olympian lightning of Muse-molded creation as I am when I’m reading. Naturally, not every book or blog will bring me to life-like that, but those that do move me internally and externally in turn, until emotions make a mask of my face so ecstatic that the psych-ward is suddenly on the table, until a hand puts its pen to parting pages with ink, unapologetic as it lewdly spreads them in a lusty smear of ideas. Yes, each action of inspiration happens in turn until my mind is emptily exhausted for the effort, but bathing in the afterglow of words well spent.

Today I read five blogs and one article. Several of the posts came from Eating the Pages,which I found Freshly Pressed. His words worked their way into me and birthed more of my own, both in comments and on one of the sites he references: Good Reads. On this website, a user can mark books they wish to read, read the reviews of those books written by other users, mark the books they’ve read, rate the books they’ve read, write reviews for them, note the books they own and even the editions. I spent a good deal of time going through it, though I am by no means finished. This is my accountL. Alexandra’s Good Reads’Profile. I intend to start writing reviews for the books I’ve read and those that I will soon be finishing, which will help me as both a reader and writer (“To learn, read. To know, write. To master, teach,” I’ll take two out of three and then pretend this blog constitutes the third). Not to mention that, frankly, I adore analyzing things and am indeed, the student that gleefully beams with appled-cheeks and eager eyes when a teacher announces an essay.

Literature-based analyses and essays are my favorite and when I take Lit. classes, I try to read all the books once through before the semester starts just to experience them as they are, then I read them again with a more analytical appetite as pages and assignments are doled out like daily rations. The rereading allows me to look at the complete work, rather than at its story and catching lines alone, it allows me to examine it without the impatience of “But what happens next?” There is something fulfilling about looking at a book again and breaking the whole into malleable pieces that become the playthings for inference and personal perspective. If you have never tried to analyze a literary work, I highly suggest it, especially if you do so through a lens (Feminism, Marxism, Deconstructionism, Symbolism etc.). You will gain more than previously possible just by prying open the words and peering at the implications that anchor them. Are there reoccurring themes? How many times did Nabokov refer to Humbert Humbert as an ape or beast? Where does Angela Carter’s root system in “The Smile of Winter” lead? What does the protagonist’s love of the sky say about his life? The best way to find answers is to ask questions. So please, go read, go write, go analyze and offer insight. When you’re done, why not come back and share what you’ve learned?

Changing Choices

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

                                                                                                      -Winston Churchill

Change happens like a clockwork calendar, days ticking by, indifferent to life’s little turbulence, weeks moving steadily into months until eventually, bloated by the gathered time, the year breaks open and births the next and we’re left reminding ourselves to write 13 instead of 12. One number takes the place of another and the days go by without a thought for those that came before, save for the small smudge where we erased the old date and deepened the new, denying the mistake.  But change isn’t always so simple, it isn’t always this to that; sometimes it’s this and that, sometimes change is gaining and growing without giving up what came before. Sometimes change is progress, an evolution into more that sacrifices only what hinders, what is no longer needed. I often speak of change and progress, preaching their power like a hypocritical zealot who believes in but does not bow to the doctrines of their religion. This fallacy can no longer sustain me. As trite as it is, the time has come to practice what I preach.

In the beginning, I told you that this blog was conceived to motivate me on my mission to be better, to break the cycle of the Boomerang Generation and to gain the skills to claim independence. But I failed to specify how. Recently I mentioned an epiphany, a revelation about the direction of this blog, the focus that would help me, and maybe even others, find my way. After the ado of absent attention, I offer now my intention to change.

Starting today, I am going to channel the Zeitgeist of the New Year, the spirit of resolve and resolutions that comes with the new, that comes at the beginning. Every two to four weeks I intend to learn a life skill that will ready me for battle with that repulsive monster known as “real life.” From changing my oil to taxes and tracking expenses, I am going to train in the trades of adulthood. Every time I accomplish one of these tasks, I will report the experience and offer advice on it here. The weeks in between will be filled with progress reports and the same types of posts as before, thoughts on the present and past and how they are woven into a transparent tapestry of my future-to-be. I welcome any and all comments, suggestions, and questions on the endeavor or anything I might bring up. It is my hope, that eventually this will become a community of Boomerangs and those who would guide us.

I have yet to decide what my first learned life skill will be, but once I do I’ll post an announcement and my thoughts on the topic before tackling it. And given that driving constitutes a life skill, a milestone of maturity, I’ll be posting my long-awaited adventure at the DMV sometime in the next few days. For now, I’m going to crack and peel my way out of last year’s battered skin, cleaning off the wasted wants and broken promises, the items uncrossed on too many to do lists and procrastination pushed too far, in favor of trying on something new, something sparkling with dids instead of didn’ts, something stained in what I will learn and sewn to witness the changing world and what my Will will make of it.