Standards of Measurement

I’ve been driving stick since 2003, when I bought a new Ford Focus with a manual transmission. Ford wanted it off the lot and I wanted a cheap car, so things worked out for everyone until it suddenly fell apart and I sued them. Whatever the case, I’ll never go back to driving automatic again. There’s something so visceral about a stickshift – downshifting into second at 40mph, balancing on an incline in first gear, peeling out at a stop light before the guy to your left even has his foot off the brake – it’s magic, I tell you. Magic.

Most of the time, I feel good about driving stick. Like, it makes me feel like some kind of a talented person. I’ve gotten very adept at parking on the hill outside our apartment, and hill-parking a stick is a skill not everybody has. I drive, and I feel confident. I drive, and I feel in control. I drive, and yes, I feel good about it.

My mood barometer used to swing against whether or not I would sing in my car. I used to decompress during college by taking 12-hour rides through the Adirondacks – I’d start out quiet, contemplative, but by the end I’d be belting out show tunes. If I wasn’t singing by the end of the drive, I knew something was really wrong.

I don’t sing in the car so much anymore, and that’s OK, but the other day I caught myself not feeling proud to be a chick who drives stick. Sure enough, later on that evening I was besieged with raw panic after convincing myself I’d contracted a computer virus while downloading a YouTube video. I mean, this was some crazy shit, right, like, the world stopped making SENSE for about four hours. I slept through nightmares that night, and woke up with a migraine-level tension headache. I went to work, I did what I had to do, but it was like walking through a swamp with lead gloves on.

My new therapist is all into Zen as a means to alleviate this kind of episode. Diaphragmatic breathing and all that. If I tell you I spent 36 hours this week simply focusing on respiration, I would not be lying. If I told you it helped, that might be an exaggeration. In fact, drawing attention to my thoughts only made me realize how circuitous, haphazard, and cacophonous my thoughts really are. So, on some level, it actually made things worse.

We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world. (that’s the Dhammapada, not me.)

Sometime yesterday afternoon, I was finally able to stop thinking. I was able to breathe. And I parked my car on the hill outside our apartment, pulled the e brake, and – almost – smiled. The cloud always lifts. Eventually.

One response to “Standards of Measurement”

  1. I love this post. “Sometime yesterday afternoon, I was finally able to stop thinking. I was able to breathe.” Fairly recently I started sharing a workspace with someone who actually pays attention to me. My husband and I now have our desks in the same room. About a week into this arrangement, I learned something about myself for the first time: That I stop breathing when I think. It turns out that while working, strange sounds (I’ve never noticed before) come from my throat as it tries to breathe but I don’t let it because my energy is focused elsewhere. These sounds seem to bother my husband while he works and usually result in something like “BREATHE, dammit!” coming from his desk. Since this started, I’ve been working on it, but I’ve only been able to do one or the other: think or breathe. Any chance your therapist has input on balancing both? I’d hate for my coroner’s report to say Auto-Intellectual Asphyxiation.

    PS — I think it’s infinitely cool that you drive a stick. I do not, but I’m too lame to drive at all.


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