A Little Bit of Wonder is where I journal about the somewhat roundabout way that I have been working to establish a career and a strong sense of self--I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about "direction" and "identity." I have a Master's Degree in Literature, but I'm no longer working as an English Professor; I'm starting the next step in my life as I work to establish a career as a writer in the non-profit sector.

At my companion blog, Little Wonder's Recommended Reading, you will find reviews for both books and other blogs that I enjoy. The two blogs are inter-linked, so you can access my reviews and reading challenges from the sidebar on the left.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Little Motor City Exhilaration

I am originally from Detroit – the Motor City.

Technically, I was raised in the sprawling middle-class suburbs of Detroit, so I can hardly claim to be from the ghetto. (I leave that kind of poser behavior to Eminem, who is also from a suburb of the city.)

Most of the time, I don’t try to claim Detroit. It’s not that I’m ashamed of the city, but rather that I’m as middle class and white as they come, and it really doesn’t give an accurate picture of my upbringing if I say that I’m from the neighborhoods downtown.

But when the subject turns to cars and driving, I feel like I can own Motor City, at least a little bit. Especially after having lived in Washington D.C., where you don’t drive so much as park on the Beltway. After a while of living amidst the terrible urban congestion in D.C., I almost forgot that those of us from Motor City like to drive – because when you live in Michigan, driving means your car is moving.

My first car was a ’92 Saturn SL1 that my brother and I inherited from our grandparents. Her name was Ella, and I loved the feeling of flying down the highway in that tiny little vehicle.

You could feel every jolt and bump, every gentle tug on the wheel – at eighty miles an hour, it felt a lot like a roller coaster ride. (Eighty miles an hour feels a lot different in a compact car than it does in a sedan or a Cadillac.) Now I drive a newer Saturn, a 2001 LS1 model that has a slightly bigger body, but it still gives me a few kicks when we hit eighty on the open road.

I’m not a thrill-seeker by any means – I avoid actual roller coasters with all the fervent motivation of any self-respecting gutless wuss – and so trundling down the highway in my little Saturn is about as exciting as I get. I love the feeling of driving along a curvy road or freeway ramp at fifty miles an hour, the gentle pull of the G-force tilting my body. You can see the curve of the road just ahead of you and anticipate the way that the next turn will lean your body to the left or to the right. But you can’t always see beyond that curve to predict the direction in which the ribbon of the road might curl next.

In amongst the hills of the Motor City suburbs and the Michigan country-side, its particularly beautiful and peaceful as you roll up and down, under the low-hanging trees and past the taller pines. In the fall, a drive will yield a thousand surprises – shades of orange and red that stand out starkly against bright blue patches of sky and unexpected lakes that seem to spring up everywhere in certain suburbs and in the outlying areas of the state.

I was thinking about all of this as I drove to work today, wondering why I don’t more enjoy the way that my life seems to curl like those Michigan roads, around through the hills, under the trees and past unexpected vistas. I think I remember a time when I was excited about all the possibilities that were open to me if I moved from one thing to the next, knowing that one decision might open up a number of unanticipated opportunities. I think the uncertainty of life was once something that I loved, not dreaded.

But as my husband and I have fought about – then more calmly discussed – the possibility of eventually settling down somewhere other than New York, I have pushed pushed pushed against him. After moving twice, I’ve lost my (already stunted, wussy) sense of adventure somewhere. Maybe I even left it as far back as Michigan.

But I’ve decided that I want my sense of adventure back, however stunted it may be.

When I was a teenager, I dreamed of living in Boston, in New York City, in London and Paris. I thought maybe I would try them all. I didn’t understand then how hard it would be to leave all my friends and family – I only had my eye on what I would experience and gain, not what I would loose.

The unanticipated severity of my loss stripped me down, made me want to curl up inside of myself and hibernate. I’ve gotten really good at hibernating.

But now I want to wake up and stretch – make the most of my years in New York, and yet also be excited about the possibility of retirement in North Carolina, Georgia or Florida. I don’t want to be so fearful of change, especially since its not something that you can really avoid, anyway. At one time, I think I understood that you can’t hold on to things too tightly – but after months wading through my grief and loss, I’ve been grasping too hard (clenching, really) onto the idea of permanence.

It’s futile, really; I’ve known for a long time that the best I can try to do is capture the memories of precious people and moments. That’s why I write – diaries, date books, blogs, hopefully a memoir. But in order for my writing to be worthwhile, I need to be recording something active, not passive. I need to be moving forward, experiencing the joy and exhilaration as I curve and curl with the road. I may only be trundling along in a little compact car, but don’t knock the elation that you can feel while riding in a little Saturn. There are still plenty of hills, plenty of unexpected and breath-taking vistas to experience along the way, even if you are only going at it with four horses.

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