Monday, September 14, 2009

the sun gets in your eyes

Today I drove 8 hours for a two hour meeting. The last time I did this trip I said I'd never do it again, but I did. What a long time in the car that is. I listened to Morning Edition and All Things Considered, I marveled once again at the shuffle feature on my iPhone, I listened to podcasts of The Splendid Table and KCRW's Good Food. I called a friend to say happy birthday and to tell her I love her. I listened to the hum of the road and my own thoughts. In eight hours I could have driven halfway to my friend's house in Muskegon, Michigan, or to the beach, or to IKEA and back, or to my dad's house in Ohio. Instead, I drove to and from Raleigh, with the sun in my eyes in both directions.

My brain traveled at least 8 hours, too. It's pretty amazing the thinking you get to do on a long drive. I thought about other road trips I've taken - recent ones, like the three trips I made to Ohio in July to help my dad before and after surgery - and ones further back in my past - like the incredibly long drives between Athens, Ohio and Decorah, Iowa, where I spent my first two years of undergrad. Decorah was like the frozen tundra to this Appalachian girl, and I drove there and back in my 1980 VW Dasher. That car was a tank - it had alternator problems so we had to push it, a lot, and the thing weighed a ton. It didn't have power anything, didn't have a horn, only a couple of the doors worked. I loved that car though.

I thought about my marriage, my relationship with my husband, how we met nearly 8 years ago. We met 11 days after September 11th, when it seemed like the world was completely chaotic and different and frightening. I thought about my little girl, and having a sibling for her, and whether or not I feel ready for that. I thought about the new camera I'm about to get, and about how totally indulgent and fun and new it is to shoot pictures purely for the purposes of illustrating my writing. It is so wonderful to let my mind wander to things I want to write about, and to imagine the photographs I want to take to illustrate it. It's like brain candy.

I had some moments where I was so incredibly tired while driving, I called my husband just to stay awake, and got to hear Dora singing the theme song to The Muppet Show. I had lunch with some colleagues, whose camaraderie is, in fact, one of the things that actually keeps me in my job. I had some moments that felt very sad and desolate - stopping at a gas station in the middle of nowhere (sort of), watching a guy pay for gas with a pile of change that included a lot of pennies. I relished the beauty of Coldplay's Viva La Vida while barreling up Old Fort Mountain, the yellow glow of sunset peeking out from behind ominous gray thunderheads as my wheels hugged the curves.

I wonder how long I would have to drive to come up with all the answers. Because we all drive so much, we can do so on autopilot (scarily, you can even drive in autopilot mode on Old Fort Mountain). You can enjoy the scenery, or listen to NPR, or marvel at the web like patterns of thought your unbridled brain creates, and all of a sudden it's an hour later and you've missed the I-40 bypass around Greensboro. I feel as though there is so little time in which I can really concentrate on just thinking - or concentrate on nothing enough to allow my brain to just do it's thing - that the only time I get some really solid thinking in is on a car trip. Perhaps that's why I feel so exhausted right now, because my brain has finally gotten the workout it's been looking for.

Driving home tonight, thinking about things I wanted to write about, I found myself wishing there was a way to write while driving (now that really is scary). I find that if I can't get my ideas down right away, they stagnate or mutate into something else, and the original idea is lost. If only I could write anytime the thought came to me, I wouldn't lose these ideas. At lunch, my friends and I were fantasizing about passenger rail from Asheville to Raleigh. How incredible would it be to sit down, hook up the laptop, and relax for a few hours, all on the way to the two hour meeting? Facebook and snacks, my friend Josh joked. Just like work, I replied.

Although I'm exhausted and ruing the resources wasted by my travels today, I'm thankful for the time I had today to think. If I want to be truly creative, my brain has to have some space to exercise. That open space is just as important as the time spent hammering out the words on the keyboard, like the way the empty space in the frame is as important as the subject of the photograph. So, although it would probably increase my efficiency and protect some of my unique ideas from extinction, I'm thankful there isn't a way to write while driving, and thankful I resisted the urge to use the voice memo function on my iPhone to record my thoughts aloud. I'm so tired of driving I-40 from Asheville to Raleigh, but it's familiarity is a blessing when some good thinking time is needed. It's a good reminder to me to seek out that kind of intellectual open space on a regular basis, and to resist the urge to always be doing something. Viva La Vida, indeed.

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