I had a driving lesson today. At 29, I’m preparing to take my final test, and step into the world of cavalier, unthinking skill where one simply puts the key in the ignition and drives. Sounds marvellous to me. No restrictions on how many non-family members I can take along, no underlying worries about my unworthiness in the eyes of Insurance, no adjusting or re-sticking of a fickle green magnet, proclaiming to the world that I am still a Novice. Finally, (if I pass the test next month), I’ll be like all those other cool kids in cars, freedom and adventure at their fingertips.
Well, mostly like them. I came home in tears, because the unthinking part, the part psychologists like to call ‘unconscious competence’ and us plebians call second nature, has so far eluded me in the quest to drive.
I know it’s there. I know this because when I stop thinking about driving, it happens. I’ve been behind the wheel sporadically for at least six years now, running my brother to the emergency room at 3am, navigating the curves of a rainy Sunshine coast highway, nipping in and out of traffic on the shopping mecca that is Vancouver’s Fourth Avenue.
I well remember my first year of highschool basketball, drumming the pavement behind our garage, and driving our elderly neighbours crazy with my incessant attempts to score a basket. I thought about every move, every physical action, every muscle and sports theory. I was a benchwarmer.
My second year went much better, mainly because whenever I stepped onto the court, and got near enough to the basket, I tried to think about something else, anything other than the complicated and seemingly impossible physics of getting a rubber ball into a raised hoop. It worked, this emptying of my mind, and I became a decent basketball player once I forgot that I was playing.
But how does one forget, safely, that one is driving? How, when you’re attempting to merge at full speed onto a highway of onrushing death machines, do you relax and not panic? This is not the time to think about one’s happy place, or some puppies playing in a field of daisies. This is driving we’re talking about, not yoga.
I think, in most aspects of my life, I overthink. Don’t get me started on human interaction. One of the writing ideas I’ve had the most confidence in ever producing over the years has been a yet-as-unwritten book entitled “The Awkward Manifesto.” I am the person who will walk away from a casual encounter, after a casual goodbye, and must use all my willpower to keep walking, and not rush back to ask a thousand questions about what just happened. Whether I said goodbye casually enough. Showed enough warmth and friendliness, but not too overly enthusiastic, because that would be weird. The questions follow me down the road: did I overshare? did I undershare? Should I have sat on the other side of the table? Was there something more or less I should have said? Why did I have to mention toenails at that particular moment in time? And on and on. The puppies chase their tails.
I know this running commentary on social interaction is a product of coming late to the party, an overdeveloped power of keen observation coupled with insecurity. My two years at high school taught me the basics, but never killed the background noise.
And so the same with driving. While other kids were rushing out on their sixteenth birthdays to qualify for the road, I was wandering through a village in Africa, writing in journals and riding on the back of rule-breaking scooters. And I am still miles away from that lucky teenager I spotted the other day, getting pointers from his dad while behind the wheel of his dad’s Porsche. Nice.
Perhaps it’s not a matter of not thinking at all (the horrors of driving without a single synapse to keep you safe are plain enough), but easing up on the accelerator a little. I fixated on the few criticisms my driving instructor had of me, and had no trouble instantly forgetting his willingness to keep me behind the wheel of the car for two hours, or the fact that we didn’t die.
I’m kidding about that last bit, sort of. I know I can handle a car. I know I’m a safe driver. I know that the road is the least of my worries, and that while bad things can happen to good drivers, the odds are I’ll continue to drive like a careful old lady well into my senior years.
It’s not a matter of forgetting everything, whether it’s navigating the bumpy road of human relationships or gassing around town. It’s a matter of remembering. Remembering that I’ve actually got some pretty high mileage out of the skills I do have, and have gotten myself and others safely to some amazing places both in friendships, and on four wheels.
Road trip, anyone?