Archive for the 'driving' Category

“Home, James, and Don’t Spare the Horses”

February 6, 2014

Someone in my family of origin used to say that as we got into the car after some sort of trying time — either what we were going home from had taken a long time and been arduous or unpleasant, or we had had to park far away and it had taken us a long time to get back to the car, perhaps in inclement weather, or we needed to get home quickly for some reason.  In any case, it expressed relief.

I can’t remember who said it.  I suspect it was my mother, and I suspect she said it regardless of whether my father was driving or he was not along on the excursion and she was driving.  It contained no condescension or disrespect, the way it was said and used.  As I said, it expressed relief.

It’s quite a different scenario from what Charles Blow describes in his column about his daughter trying out a princess routine when she was 7.  The role she had cast him in was unacceptable and so was hers.  He put an end to the script.  But the contrast of these two scenarios, along with others I have experienced, got me thinking about calibration, about how we are each calibrated emotionally and how that factors into how we perceive a situation.

When everyone’s expectations are the same, we probably don’t bother analyzing driving arrangements.  Sometimes one person prefers to drive and the other to navigate, and “who’s to navigate and who’s to steer” (Dan Fogelberg) is quite clear to both.  Sometimes one person supplies logistical support and the other supplies tactical support of a less concrete kind.  One drives, the other analyzes how to navigate difficult career situations.  In others words, there is specialization within the realtionship, and driving is just another specialized task.

Willy drove.  I did most of the snow shoveling, leaf raking, and lawn mowing.  It was not a “princess” deal.  But I’ve had people react to providing a ride for me, regardless of whether I’ve provided them with something else of equal or greater value, as if it was quite presumptuous of me, as if I were acting entitled in a very unattractive way.   For them my expectation felt that way.  For me it made sense.  For example, if it had been their idea to go to the event and I was coming along to keep them company.  No, I’m not going to do that and drive, too, especially if I don’t really have the time to go, I’m not all that interested in the event itself, and going will result in some amount of physical difficulty for me.  But they sincerely thought my expectation that they would drive was wrong.  It’s hard to argue with that.

Finally, people with narcissistic qualities regularly perceive any help they are asked to furnish, that does not profit them more than the person being helped, as an imposition.  That I’ve learned over the years.  They, too, I think, truly process a request others would find eminently reasonable, as an imposition by a selfish person.  Their well is dry, and that’s that.  What can you do?

So I try now to let go faster situations in which I and the other person don’t see the driving issue the same way.  If they don’t see that I contribute, or have contributed, something to their benefit and this driving would be a contribution to my benefit, well, then, I guess I goofed in thinking we could be on the same page.  That’s on me, disappointment or not.  I don’t berate myself for “allowing someone to take advantage of me,” either, I figure there might have been a way in which our interaction has served the greater good, whatever the likes and disappointments of my ego may be.

I did a lot for Willy and he did a lot for me.  We never weighed it out and discussed it, it just worked.  In retrospect, I can see it was probably more unusual than I had realized that it worked without discussion — I just took it for granted that it was the normal way people interacted with one another.


Driving directions

January 10, 2014

I had a really good example the other day of how our reliance on technology can be misplaced.

I needed to drive to an office I had never been to, I got driving directions online, but I also got one of those human internal “messages” to call to see if there was anything I should know about getting there.  Sure enough there was.

Not only would the exit ramp off of Route 128 be very long, but when I got to the light, I should get into the middle lane and take the right that is not the hard right.  Follow that road down and up a hill, then it’s the second of three brick buildings on my left.

Those directions worked like a charm.  My printed directions had me taking all kinds of turns on about 4 different roads in quick succession.  And nothing about a series of brick buildings.

I like being able to look at directions online — it’s quick and convenient and private.  But the directions can be, as I’m sure most people know, misleading, and the sense that one now knows enough to get to the destination successfully can be misplaced.  (By the way, when I thanked the receptionist for her great directions, she told me that the GPS experience is no better in helpfulness than the online directions in this case.)

I can see that with enough data input, technology could mimic humans in giving directions in these kinds of situations, but I want to know why that’s a good use of human energy.  Why not have a human interaction?  Why not train humans to give better directions, if human unreliability is a problem?  Or make it a valued skill so that it’s more readily available, if difficulty in finding someone to give directions is an issue.  The human interaction was a nice touch, too, I thought.  (She also told me the staircase I would see in the building would not take me to the third floor, where the office was.)

I think my point is something related to “unintended consequences.”  We see the advantages to a new technological application and leap into its use, but we may not realize we have lost something, too.

Social Security Numbers

December 22, 2013

There was a time government and private businesses (like medical practices) routinely asked for and used our Social Security Numbers — for our drivers licenses, our university ID numbers, our identifying information in our files.  Then they were told not to, and they stopped, and life as we know it did not cease to exist on the planet.

I feel that way about N.S.A. practices, that there has been insufficient attention to what’s really needed and to engaging in the least intrusive practice possible.

Maybe people who work in intelligence are actually more interested in demonstrating their power than their own intelligence, but that is one approach I could see taking to challenging the N.S.A. to come up with a better system:  this is really kind of crude, just grabbing everything, like a teapot collector trying to buy every teapot ever made.  They could be challenged on the grounds that this is not a very “smart” system.

I am also not convinced that even if it weren’t overly intrusive, it would make a lot of sense to engage in this system.  In some ways, it reminds me of doctors ordering tests in order to cover themselves in the event of a malpractice lawsuit.

Without knowing much about national security myself, I would say that preventing terrorist incidents looks to me like a modern-day reenactment of the myth of Sisyphus.  But maybe that’s the point, to help even more people see that our tasks are just tasks, not some sort of mission we can ever accomplish once and for all.  With that in mind, maybe we take better care not to damage others in the process on the justification that we will be able to claim, if we do, to have actually definitively accomplished the mission.

What does it mean?

August 21, 2013

My mother was telling me about how a scenario she had always wondered about had come to pass today.  It involved needing to go into her house to get money, in this case, smaller bills, in order to pay for a cab ride, while the cabbie waited outside.

Last Friday I had been holding forth to Jordan, as we drove through Lexington Center, about the need to drive really slowly through Lexington Center because of all the crosswalks spanning Mass. Ave.

Today (Tuesday) I was about a block behind a pedestrian accident that occurred in a crosswalk in front of Arlington Town Hall.  I didn’t even realize what it was at first, as it was happening — I thought a bundle had fallen from the roof of vehicle ahead of the vehicles I could see.  I will say no more, not out of callousness but because I don’t really want to write about how horrible it was — obviously for the pedestrian but also for the driver, who immediately exited her vehicle and ran to the person in the road.

What I wanted to ask is whether there is a connection between these concerns of ours and their occurrence in our lives.  Why do we worry about them and why do they occur and are the two at all connected, even in a very loose way, such as that both the worry and the occurrence indicate that we have something we need to learn about these scenarios?

At the RMV

August 17, 2013

This is my little contribution to the reality of getting all those government-issued cards — IDs, driver’s licenses, learner’s permits, etc.

Jordan and I went down yesterday, at his request, to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, and it was crowded.  His wait was said to be one hour and 50 minutes.  We settled in, prepared to complete the transaction.

Well, the window he needed to use was proceeding s-l-o-w-l-y.  There were about 21 people ahead of him in his category when we came in, and after 45 minutes, I realized they were taking over 10 minutes to process each person’s transaction.  I did the math, and the wait for us would be about 3 hours at that pace at that point.

But a woman dressed in a pretty flowered dress and classic cardigan sweater, wearing an ID, had come in.  She addressed the crowd from the front of the room.  She apologized for the wait, urged people who could do their business online to leave and do that instead, and encouraged those of us whose business wasn’t urgent, to consider taking a “no wait” card and coming back another day.  She was the Registrar of Motor Vehicles in MA, Rachel Kaprielian.

At first Jordan didn’t want to take a rain check, but when I pointed out the slow pace at his window, he decided to go up to where he could get the “no wait” card.  And while he was on line there, the window he would have needed to use seemed to shut down entirely — its screen went dark and no one new was called up to it.

Apparently the problem yesterday at the Watertown RMV was staffing.  Yes, it was the busiest RMV office that day, but the difference from usual was that they were short-staffed, we were told.

What made me urge Jordan to take the rain check was my realization that we could wait three hours and be told he wouldn’t be processed because time had run out — I don’t think they were making sure they could accommodate everybody they were allowing into the various queues.  When I came once with Jonas years ago, they weren’t going to give him his card, until I intervened — he had all the necessary documents, they just kept giving him a run-around.  When I went up and said I was his mother and what was the problem, suddenly there was none.  I had a similar pattern with him at a hospital ER — he wasn’t examined until I insisted, everybody else in the waiting room who had been there when I had left to pick up Jordan from school had been seen, and he had had a neck injury.  Small white woman walks up and cross-examines them with some intensity and all of a sudden the African-American young man gets the service he was entitled to in the first place.

So this is part of why I personally don’t see voter ID cards as a neutral thing.  Getting a card from the government, I believe, can be difficult for some people, through no fault of their own.  These systems don’t always work as advertized, and it can take multiple tries and much effort to accomplish what it is said should be easy to do.


March 7, 2013

I did finally respond to the woman who was like a second mother to me growing up, who recently got back in touch with me.

What I ended up doing was to write her a letter, as she had to me.  I think snail mail has its advantages.

After thanking her for the words of sympathy and condolences, I described my reaction to the card (first joy, then concern) and talked about the consequences to my family of not having them in our lives after Willy died.  And how I took a different approach to my life instead, how I am grateful to the love she and her family shared with me while I was growing up, which allowed me, I think, to be a person who could take the approach I have.

And then I said I was trying to think of a way of re-connecting that I would be comfortable with.

Then I wrote of how I think of her fondly when I drive and talk to other drivers as she did when I knew her [she taught me how to drive, in her large and yellow station wagon;  interestingly, my mother-in-law drove an even larger yellow station wagon when I met her — maybe it was the fashion then, in the late 1970s, early 1980s], and then I closed with something again about trying to figure out what to do, and in the meantime, Love, Diana.

I have no idea how what I wrote will come across.  It was honest, it had affection in it but also wariness.  And no, I don’t know what to do.  But I didn’t want to not respond; when somebody puts themselves out there, I don’t want to hurt that vulnerability.

It’s her call, of course, how she reacts to my response.

Providing a handle when asking for help

November 26, 2012

The point of departure is that stereotype of guys who won’t stop and ask for directions when they’re driving and lost.  It’s probably an outdated stereotype, what with GPS and Google Maps.  But my point is the dynamic between the person asking for help and the person who could provide it.  That process often goes awry.

I think each party to the helping dynamic needs an emotional posture that works for them and also is conducive to the other partner responding in a constructive way that furthers the transaction and the relationship.

Damsel in distress and knight in shining armor is one, not necessarily to be emulated, example of such a dynamic.  Nowadays in our culture, there seems to be a posture taken by families selected for extreme home makeovers, or fund-raising drives, or the like, that facilitates people’s wanting to help them.  Between student and teacher, patient and doctor, client and social worker, there are dynamics that work and those that freeze, fizzle, or even explode.  If the helper has no ego needs involved, there is, I think, more allowance for unhelpful postures on the part of the person being helped — a “saint” will be open to trying to help regardless of how the person needing help presents themselves.  I think all this also goes on in relationships among family and friends, but I think it’s more subtle and so more difficult to see.  I can even imagine social programs, whether public through government or private through charity, being engaged in this dynamic.

What people require people who need help to do can be a serious impediment to getting a helping transaction or relationship started.  Needing to strike a pathetic or pitiful pose, or to have the right combination of strength and weakness to be judged worthy of help will screen out some people who need help and don’t do those things.  But it might turn out to be the case that people who need help might, as a practical matter, and “unfair” as it may seem, need to give potential helpers, who may be limited in their own ways, a point of access to them.  The tussle may actually be over vulnerability (how much vulnerability must the person needing help show or admit to) or even “bending at the knee,” but I am thinking that those issues may be transformed into something else, maybe even through humor, into issues more acceptable to the person needing the help.  I do think, though, that a person needing help makes it more likely they will receive it if they give the person who could help them a leg up, a hand-hold, a handle to grab — some point of access.

The person who needs the help may have the opposite need — the need to have their situation acknowledged as being intrinsically and objectively worthy of help and of having their view and emotions validated.  And of not budging an inch off of where they are emotionally to get that help.

Finding common ground between the two sets of needs doesn’t always happen.  But maybe a little more awareness of the dance going on would make it more likely that some common ground is found.

Closing off

June 2, 2012

“He hardens himself on the outside in order to protect whatever is left of the finer self within.”

This line from a David Brooks column some weeks ago has been bothering me ever since.

I’m thinking, “Isn’t this the definition of a narcissist, closing off the authentic self and using a persona?  People are promoting this as healthy?”

I knew a man once who was exceedingly self-protective (also wouldn’t cross in the middle a quiet street with no traffic).  I knew from the relatives through whom I met him that he had an emotionally overwhelming mother and a difficult father.  I kind of figured these factors were relevant, and wondered whether his mother had also sought from him emotional support his father did not give her.  I wondered if he had decided his only way of handling his context was to close himself off and this had become a habit.

I’ve known men who were exceedingly self-protective who probably had been sexually abused as children, and a couple of men who had been traumatized during their adolescence by war and/or the death of family members.

Today I was thinking about self-protection from outside events that have produced feelings of guilt.  There’s an old spiritual story about the equivalent of the boy taking his girl for a spin in his father’s car.  He even has permission to use the car.  But there’s an accident and his guilt leads him to try to close himself off emotionally.  And not get into that family car again.

In a spiritual “car,” one needs to be open in order to drive, because driving is done through the strand of the self that is the subconscious or the divine.  So the two reactions are really one and the same: no spiritual driving.

The sad thing here is that the boy blocks out the fact that he knows how to drive.  His girl recovers, and on her prosthetic legs, walks over to his house and asks him to take her out again for a ride.  He says he doesn’t drive, he says maybe later, he says people shouldn’t drive, he says a lot of things.  But it’s ultimately about fear and guilt, I think, which paradoxically could be lessened and dissipated through openness.


November 29, 2011

I am trying to figuring out what lies behind the apparent fact that sometimes when we’ve experienced an emotional transaction with someone else we try our best to avoid doing it to others, and why sometimes, whether intentionally or not, we wind up repeating the transaction but with ourselves in the other role.

So, for example, I’ve received very unhelpful condolence notes myself and I make an extra effort not to do the same myself when it’s my turn to write.  On the other hand, I resented that my father refused to teach me how to drive (someone who was like a second mother to me taught me instead, including how to talk to other drivers), and I’ve taught neither of my children to drive (my dad did teach my older sister), although for very different reasons.

I suspect this has to do with how the life lesson needs to be taught, perhaps like the difference between reading about something in a textbook and doing a hands-on project.

So, I titled this “Oppression” because I am wondering how people who grow up feeling oppressed deal with that as adults, whether they try their best not to force others to conform, for example, or whether they visit oppression on others in some other form or guise.


Plan B, or maybe G

November 23, 2011

I have a neighbor up the hill who used to tell me how frustrated she was that her life seemed to be going according to not even Plan B (the first alternative), but Plan C or Plan D or beyond.  I think her concept was that we’re all, collectively and individually, on some sort of Plan G in the world right now.

For myself, I have no idea how my life relates to lives I might have had.  I tend to see the sense I sometimes have had that it could have gone this other way as like a pencil study that precedes the eventual painting.  I love Richard Shindell’s language (in his song “Transit”) of Sister Maria having to stop to change a flat tire on her way to her gig leading a prison choir, because I have the sense that I spent from my early twenties until about thirty years later fixing something that needed fixing before I/we could go on with the traction necessary for making forward progress — I think it was a lot like fixing a flat tire, but I think it was not unexpected, that there was really no definite expectation that Plan A would work.

It took me a long time to change the tire — the tire did not want to come off, despite the fact it was flat, so to speak.  It took me two separate attempts.  And I sometimes think that, in the metaphor of the song, I’ve arrived rather late for my gig.  I also suspect I’ve arrived in a state as if I got hit by a car while I was changing that tire on the side of the road, probably multiple times, in fact.  And, given all the factors such as how long it took, how imperfect, perhaps, the repair, how extensive the damage to me and others, I think our Plan G, or whatever iteration we’re on, is a bit of a compromise, kind of a kluge maybe.  But I can also see it as being a beautiful fit for the circumstances, maybe because it calls on us to dig deep into ourselves, to get out our best clothes or our best dinnerware (it’s almost Thanksgiving), so to speak, and not keep them stored away in mothballs for another time — to be our best, our most thankful, most giving, most loving, and least selfish, selves.