Hello! I’m so glad to be blogging here, and as I was thinking about what to write about today, I thought about change. Writers need to change, even if we think we shouldn’t have to or don’t want to. I went from writing women’s fiction to writing romance to writing nonfiction. As my latest romance INTIMATE BEINGS comes out, I find that I’m writing personal essays. We must adjust to new editors or changes in publishers. We have to consider marketing trends and reader desires. But most people I know hate change. We want things to be the same, for goodness sake! You’d think that buying a new car wouldn’t be that must of a struggle, but it certainly did present some interesting challenges for me, most about my difficulty with change, with what is “new.”
About one month ago, I drove out of the MINI dealership lot in my new pepper white, black top, black interior MINI Cooper S. I was lurching a little, still unused to the manual transmission. The last manual I had driven was my former spouse’s 1972 VW camper van—a car I only drove under duress–and that beast is a story in and of it. Let’s just say I would get in the far right lane on the freeway and stay there for as long as I could, ignoring the honks from other cars and praying hard and fast for no inclines to rev up over. When I saw the film Little Miss Sunshine, I went into VW Van flashbacks, wincing every time the Hoover family’s van’s horn blared because the sound was exactly right, a horrid, tinny whine of VW pain.
Back to the MINI. I drove it home, parked it in the garage, and there it was, the first car I had ever bought on my own. Every car before had been a car I bought with my husband or a car my mother had given me. There had been the 1968 Buick Sportswagon and VW Squareback (my mother’s gifts) and then the Volkswagen Bug, 1985 VW Van, Toyota Camry, Dodge Caravan, and Volvo X70 (cars with my husband). This car was mine, bought with savings and book royalties and very good credit. It was brand new, shiny, cute, and zippy.
I wasn’t sure I liked it.
I closed the garage door, shaking my head. What was wrong with me? I had spent hours researching and considering cars. The only two options for me were the Toyota Prius and the MINI, both somehow better for the environment, but the Prius just not what I had in mind. The Prius felt too much like the good girl car, the right thing to do, and for about three years, I hadn’t known really what the right thing was. All I had been thinking about was what was the right thing to do.
So, I thought, the Prius can be my next car, maybe. From the get-go, the MINI was going to be it.
Michael told me that when he bought his BMW–his first new car since his marriage ended–he had the feeling of true freedom. He felt as though he’d let go of his past, his marriage, a lot of baggage. Almost a ton of baggage, literally.
Before I went into the house that first day of my new car, I walked around my MINI slowly. What did this thing mean to me? I wasn’t sure, but as I stared at it, I started to immediately think of things I missed about my Volvo. The power seats. The expensive leather. The feeling I was driving a comfortable couch down the freeway. The Volvo had a lot of power, a great stereo, and room to drag home fully set up gas barbeques and other equally large household objects. I had used it in several moves in recent years, packing it full of my belongings and carting myself off to the newest abode.
And the Volvo said something about me that had been true. I was a person with people to move around. I was not alone. I had places to be and people to care for and the room and seatbelts to do it.
The MINI has a different story. It is small, close to the ground, fast and darting. Potholes and I have a new relationship. Every part of the road is always apparent, nothing covered up. When I drive around in this tiny thing, I feel small, slightly insignificant, a head in a piece of tin. I am an adult Fisher Price toy.
In my old car, I was planted on the road, solid, firm. I was “there.”
In this car, I was like a wriggling child trying to get off Grandpa’s lap.
I kept driving, and then a few days ago, Michael asked, “Don’t you love your car?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer him because I felt the answer was full of so many other questions than simply the one about my MINI. I waited a minute, sighing, and then I said, “No, not really. I like it a lot. But I don’t love it.”
He was quiet for a moment, and then he said, “That makes me sad. I wanted you to love it. “ Then he went on to talk about all the good things the MINI had to offer such as traction and turning radius, gas mileage and wonderful air conditioning.
Everything he said was true, but what I’d said was true, too. Admitting that my feelings for the MINI were mixed, I released the notion that I was having a perfect love relationship with my new car. And then, saying it, I was able to talk about my old car and how I had loved it. Though the Volvo had been worn and breaking something important every other service or so, costing me hundreds if not thousands of dollars, it had been comfortable and sturdy and known. I missed the ease and familiarity. I was used to its heavy girth, its wide stance on the highway.
That car had been the literal vehicle for many memories—family vacations, book tour jaunts, rides with the entire family to events, my mother squashed between the boys in the back seat. This was the car my former husband and I drove up to Olympia, Washington to drop off my oldest at college, the last long trip we’d make in that car. So much of my life had happened in that car. I remember a drive down to Bakersfield with my friend Julie, crying the whole way because I knew that my marriage was failing. She and I went to a couple of bookstore readings, and then on the way home bought a flat of strawberries, eating them as the miles went by.
Julie said something to me that drive that I will never forget. She said, “You will do what you are doing until you don’t need to do it any more.” There was no judgment of my plans. She just listened, and we drove along Highway 5 toward home.
My friend Keri and I drove to LA, staying in Westwood at the W hotel, and going to a writer’s faire at UCLA. We met up with a number of my former students, and pretty much laughed the entire weekend. Except on the way home, we listened to a really stupid relationship tape for a while, and then argued with it for the rest of the drive back to the Bay Area.
So many years in that car—driving my sons and their friends. Driving to appointments and classes. Driving to work over and over again. The Volvo was my chariot, my stead, the one piece of machinery I truly counted on.
The MINI was a clean slate, fresh turf, virgin soil. No vacations. No long drives down Highway 5. No book tours, not yet. Nicolas and his girlfriend have been in the car. My friends Julie and Elizabeth and Kris. Michael. And that’s it. A car with no real history.
And I have to work so hard to drive the MINI. I’m shifting, I’m figuring out the gauges, the settings, all the computers in the car. I don’t yet know how to turn on the radio. Forget about the CD player. Everything is effort. I have to learn how to feel about the car, and it is sometimes a struggle. After my first day of teaching this semester, I walked out to the parking lot at the college, and I couldn’t find my car. I kept looking for my golden colored Volvo, but there was only this strange toy like contraption. And yes, it was, in fact, the car I was going to get in and drive home that day.
Each day, after scanning the lot for my Volvo, I see the MINI parked just where I left it, this tiny white and black thing. My new car.
Saying all of that aloud, admitting my disenchantment made me feel better, and of course I started to see the metaphor right away. My old car was like my old life.
Comfortable and known and sturdy and easy. My MINI is like now, shiny and new and scary and irritating and often unknown. It’s much more work than I’m used to.
When I was first with Michael, I often wondered if our relationship would get to a spot of ease and comfort. But then I worried that we would. I didn’t want to lose the feel of this new relationship, the sharp edges, the new discoveries. But I also hated the new discoveries. Once found, I had to deal with them, understand them, try to live with them.
It was like wanting a new old car.
When I first left my husband, I wanted all the new and nothing of the old. But at night, alone in the bed that threatened to swallow me up, I wanted the old because at least I knew what would happen.
It was like wanting the old car and not caring that it didn’t run any more.
In the next few days, I let go of having to be in love with my MINI, and it was a relief. And in the letting go, I started to enjoy my new car more. I loved the feeling a clean, solid shift from third to fourth, the way the turbo charged engine pulled me along the highway. I started to use the dual sun roof, letting the wind flow all around me. I figured out the tachometer and other little tricks on the mod control panel. After work, I would walk around the car and appreciate its short, sleek profile.
I even read the manual to begin to figure out the radio and CD player.
Without calling them forth or wanting them, there were sudden moments of joy when everything seemed to just work. Watch me! I thought. Watch me go.
By saying I didn’t love the car I was allowing myself to feel more about it. And I don’t know if I ever want it to become known. I want the wildness under me, the new feeling, a different ride than I have ever had before.