Learning to Drive in LA

fear liar

When I was a teenager, I failed my driving test three times.

Yeah. 

I mean, even after I took a six-week driving course and had loads of behind-the-wheel practice. The reason? My utter and complete disinterest in precision. Like, turning into the correct lane, always putting on my blinker, not changing lanes in an intersection—you know, life saving factors. But, even when I managed all that on the second go, I could not parallel park to save my life. Or in this case, pass my test.

On the third and final shot, the instructor testing me was an older man who had not enjoyed teaching me over the course of my training. He’d — more than once — told me to get out of the car and walk off some steam, which, for a girl with a hot head, was like turning up a boiler.

I withered inwardly when he approached the car. Shit. May as well give up now. But, I was determined, and too stubborn, to ever go down without a spectacular fight. I got in the car. I would ace this test just to spite him.

I received two marks right off for technique. He goaded me with snide remarks, red ink on the page. Then, as you can probably imagine, my blood began to boil. By the time he was testing my parking, it took everything in me to keep going. And, unsurprisingly, I failed to parallel park.

I began to cry. I am an angry crier, but also I was deeply disappointed that the freedom attached to that driver’s license was out of my reach. I needed that freedom. I needed to be able to roll down the window and fly over country roads, my music blaring, a cherry limeade from Sonic in the cup holder. I had plans.

The instructor turned to me, took off his bottle-cap glasses, and rubbed his watery, gray eyes. Stop crying, he said. I’m going to pass you.

I furrowed my brow. Too suspicious to be happy. Still too pissed off to stop crying.

I can’t have you in my class for another six weeks, he said, and then he smiled. But please be careful. You are not a good driver. 

This was not kindness, and in that moment, I didn’t care. I got what I wanted, and he got the last word.

It was only years later, after multiple car accidents, after crying — and lying — my way out of speeding tickets, after having my ex-boyfriend and my brothers, my parents, my friends, fellow shitty drivers, and, yep, constantly myself, reiterate this declaration over my driving, that I realized how thoroughly I had internalized this limitation.

I was thirty-two-years-old, we were thinking of moving to LA, something I had dreamed of doing since I was a little girl, and I wasn’t sure I could handle driving in Los Angeles.

When I would imagine LA, my thoughts would trail, fast, to the honking traffic, the zipping between lanes, the confusing off-ramps, the millions of people on the road all fighting to get somewhere, maybe right where I was also trying to go. There was no subway like New York City, no tube like London. LA was sprawl reached best by car, and I was not a good driver. 

It had been years since I’d gotten in a car accident. Years since a genuine ticket. (Okay, there was that one for speeding where I rage cried at the police officer to no avail.) I was not a bad driver, not anymore, but still I believed nothing had actually changed. I was sixteen, failing my driver’s test and being given a pity license, all over again. I never should have been allowed to drive. I would never be a good driver. It didn’t matter that I was so much better now.

During the debate over where we would live, I was talking with my LA friend about my hang ups. I was not saying that I couldn’t drive. I was not saying that this, more than almost anything else, was why I didn’t want to go.

She asked me, point blank: Is part of your hesitation about having to drive in LA? 

Yes. Squeak.

You’ll be fine. You can drive as well as anyone else here. You’ll learn. 

Wow. What an asshole. How dare she state my fear out in the open like that and make it sound so completely surmountable? (FYI, this is what good friends do.)

Confronted with the truth about a lie I’d bought into for most of my life, I actually laughed. Out loud. Dismantling an argument you’ve been making for why you CAN’T do something is liberating. CAN’T should be a dirty word. CAN’T is the word that stops motion.

When we did finally move to LA, I knew I had to get in the car and drive. I had to use Siri for guidance and I had to take it slow, and it was okay that my hands were shaking. Only by DOING IT would I ever overcome. Whether I thought I could or not. And I did. I did it one little trip at a time. I did it over and over until I turned into one of those assholes barking at the idiot without their blinker on changing lanes in an intersection and speeding through a school zone.

The lie had been true long enough. Once I stopped believing it, I suddenly was actually a very good driver.

Here is what Learning to Drive in LA has taught me: The only thing stopping me, is me.

Get out of your own way. Let go. Drive with faith and when the fear paws at your mind, flip it the finger and get on with your journey.

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Hashtag 2017

The woods outside my house is shrouded in fog. It’s New Year’s Day and I feel just as foggy as the woods. Not because I stayed up into the wee hours, partying, clinking glasses, making promises to myself for the next year. I didn’t. I went to bed before midnight after tucking my son in his, kissing my husband, listening to the bang-crack of fireworks from near and far, faint and loud all around.

I woke up this morning and without even seeing the mist on the trees I felt the fog settle in. Cloaking. Touching my edges and sending me into myself.

New Year’s Days are made for wondering what will be ahead. They are hopeful, melancholy, whimsical creatures. They are wishes and they are wanting.

But they cannot tell you the future. They cannot promise the dream come true. That power exists in every day after.

If you had told me last year at this time how the future year would shape up, how much change would come, how much I would see, do, accomplish and uncover, I do not know if I would have believed you. I don’t know if you could have made me believe even if you gave me a glimpse.

As I lay in the dark last night, I tried to remember last New Year’s Eve. I couldn’t for a while. I confused it with two years before. I was certain it wasn’t that one three years prior. I had to go back and look on my phone, scroll through a year of pictures so much more brilliant than I was expecting. A year far fuller than seemed possible.

When I reached the videos I took of my son that night, he was little, he was Star Wars obsessed. He, too, has changed so much this year. We made churros and talked about the Force. We had no idea who we would be just one year later.

I scrolled to the picture I posted the next morning. My one statement for what I hoped my year would hold.

Hashtag 2016:

2016

2016 had eclipsed the end of 2015. I had done the thing I purposed in my heart to do:

Be curious and have adventures.

2016adventure

This year, foggy and hidden away as it has begun, I purpose to do the same. To put down on paper the hope of tomorrow. To promise myself I will live fully and bravely, be bold, but kind. I will win some battles and I will take some giant, frightening leaps.

And next New Year’s Day I will not remember what I did that final night of that other year because I will be full of hundreds of nights and many more dreams come true.

Hashtag 2017.

2017

No Excuses. Just Write.

I just spent a week in Hawaii, and it made me realize something:

I’m angry. Have been for a while. I don’t want to be anymore.

I have been writing in the hope of being traditionally published for four years, this October. I remember the moment with great clarity that I decided to make that my goal. And, in retrospect, that may have been my first mistake.

I was sitting on my stoop in Brooklyn, and I decided to discontinue the blog I’d started when we moved to New York City in favor of creating a writing-centered blog to begin building my author platform. I didn’t even have a finished draft yet, and already I was plotting my future as an author. Already, I was thinking about what kind of brand I wanted to create. Already, I was setting myself up for heartache.

This post will be inspirational. I’ll get to that part in a minute.

I did finish a draft. And then I revised. And revised. And revised. And every time I did, I wanted it to be the last time. I wanted someone to tell me yes, this book is no longer a red hot mess. I got a lot of feedback. That manuscript helped me make a lot of writer friends and industry connections because it was promising, but it was never quite right.

I got tired of revising it and around that time I finished my shiny new idea. I revised. I revised again. I sent it to readers and got fantastic feedback. I did a revise and resubmit with an agent. The resubmit went well, all signs pointed to Yes, and then instead nothing at all happened. The agent fell off the face of the planet. I never heard from her again.

Whether it was right or not, I got angry. Yes, I did the proper thing and acted cool. I told myself this was not my fault. I told myself this was just business. I force fed every line of positive energy bullshit I could down my throat. I faked a positive attitude. I began to query more widely. I got a lot of requests, fast, and there were a couple of weeks there in January where I was flying high.

But the Anger was still there. It had a higher threshold for patience than I did. As the months of waiting dragged on, it festered. It seeped into my heart and mind and creative force. I sat down to write, anything, and Anger distracted me with self-pity. I griped about the Industry, and Anger became more powerful in my disgust. I saw certain books become successful, books I read and didn’t love, didn’t like, didn’t get. I struggled to read at all. Agents requested, agents rejected, agents didn’t get back to me. I decided Agents could go fuck themselves.

I’m a bit of a potty-mouth. Anger made that worse.

I kept having accidents and injuring myself, and Anger managed to make even those about my failure as a writer. Because since I wanted to be published, since I had decided that publishing was my goal, the fact that I wasn’t yet meant my writing was bad. It meant I was clearly on the wrong path, and I needed to realize it. It meant my talent, my love of story, my imagination, was substandard. It wasn’t enough to know what I loved and get to do it — I needed to succeed. I needed to win. I should just give up.

This wasn’t happening without my knowledge. I am not a victim. Anger became my ally. It made me feel validated in my procrastination, or lack of perseverance with the manuscripts I had started, or querying some more, or deciding anything, ever about my career.

The week before I left for Hawaii I started a new project. Well, a reimagining of that first novel. The one I gave up on. The one I wrote because I wanted to get published. As the words poured onto the page, I forgot to be angry. I forgot to feel sorry for myself, or to hate the agents that said no or said nothing, I forgot everything because the words were more important, the voice was all that mattered. It was a small victory against Anger, and it was the first step in breaking that alliance.

On the way to Hawaii I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and saw another writer announce they had landed an agent. And I should have been happy for them — I was happy for them, really, deep down — except Anger reminded me of all the reasons I shouldn’t be. Of all that I deserved and hadn’t received, of all the wrongness. I shut my Twitter feed and felt tears well in my eyes. I was tired of being angry. It was making this hard thing harder, and in order to win, I would need to let it go. And winning would have to become something else. And everything would have to change.

This realization followed me to the Islands, where I looked out over the ocean and asked for clarity.

The real problem was me. And the only person I was hurting, the only successful victim in my alliance with Anger against the publishing industry, was me and my writing. Me and the thing that I love.

The clarity I asked for, I received. The Islands operate on a different wavelength than the rest of the world. They move at a different rhythm. I move dangerously fast. I hate waiting. I see time as a commodity I will never have enough of. I want everything. I want to be everything. I am pulled in a million directions by me and no one else because I am afraid of missing it. I am afraid of not doing all the things I am supposed to do.

Ultimately, I, not Anger, am my own worst enemy. And I don’t know if that will ever really change, but I do know that I have to forgive myself for not meeting that goal yet. I have to forgive publishing, and Agents, for not doing things the way I want them to. I have to forgive my writing for still being a work in progress. I will only have me to blame if I let Anger win instead of Perseverance.

In the end, the only thing we have power over, no matter what we’re trying for, is ourselves and our attitude. So, no excuses. Just write. And then rewrite. And then start again. You are never finished, but you are good enough in your unfinished state.

feet in water