Colliding and Reflecting

The Saturday of Labor Day Weekend, I was involved in the first car accident since the State of Michigan granted me a driver’s license decades ago.  Fortunately, no one was injured, other than our vehicles.

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My car was towed to the insurance-covered body shop for assessment.  At first, I thought it was totaled.  I could not open the driver’s side door, and my wife and I exited the vehicle through the front passenger door which opened only about a third of the way.  However, the insurance company saw it otherwise, and thus began the extensive work – a process which took five weeks to complete.

Five weeks without a car. We became a one-car family, which left me feeling like a grounded teenager.  I would take my wife to work early in the AM in order to use the car if I had to appear in court.  I wasn’t about to risk adventures outside those required, which meant missing the Kerrytown Book Festival, the Wayne State University Literary Walk, and a gathering of writers reading from their works at the home of my instructor/editor.

To make matters worse, my mother-in-law passed on September 13th.  We purchased this property with a second, one-bedroom home on it, in order to provide a more comfortable living arrangement for her versus a nursing home.  It was intended for a much longer duration than the first 152 days of ownership.

Needless to say, the combination of the two events provided me with a great deal of time stationary at home, to write, read, and reflect.

I was more productive in writing.  In August, I had begun to apply a plan I adopted from Gail Sher’s One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers.  Within, Sher identifies the Five Pillars of Writing (Brainstorming, Journaling, The Draft, Enriching and Refining, and Rest Period) which I have turned into a regular writing plan covering two hours a day, segmented into four periods of composition – two of fifteen minutes in length; a thirty minute segment; and an hour.  The two hour per day routine, even when disrupted, provides for a certainty that something can be done every day, even if it is just one of the segments.  This September I wrote almost fifty percent more words than last September.  Progress is being made over a variety of projects, including producing eighty-five pages of the novel I am currently at work on.

But there was a deeper understanding that I came to during this period about writing.  Though I enjoy attending events in the presence of other writers, a writer must write.  It made me aware of the  distractions that can become a way of life, keeping me away from writing.

I look at this blog, for example.  There are months where I’ve posted regularly, and months where there may be only one or two entries.  During the month of June I had tried to maintain some regularity with the blog, but found myself stretching and ticking time away trying to come up with something worth writing about.  This forum is purported to be a tool to build one’s platform.  Yet, it has become a distraction.  I do not believe that my blog has convinced any one of its few readers to purchase my novel.  If I have something to write about – like a donut on the window sill – then I’ll do so.  And the soccer fans seem to enjoy my Detroit City FC posts.  But it makes little sense to me to try to snare a reader by writing a blog post when really, who has the time to peruse the internet and explore unfamiliar bloggers?  My time would be better served researching or revising a short story that would find itself published within a literary journal where readers, editors, and agents are interested.

Another distraction is Facebook.  It’s taken some time and I’m still trying to assess its purpose.  Is it a place to hold conversations?  Debate politics and religion?  Show off our kids, dogs, or cats?  Take surveys to find out which character from which fictional world I am?

I find the most challenging aspect of Facebook is seeing the posts of people who have fallen for the divisive canards such as Obama’s country of origin, climate change deniers, and the like.  A wise person once told me not to argue with crazy.  Too often I have.  I’ve done so partially to get clarity on why I hold the opinion I do.  In the end, however, crazy isn’t rational enough to change its opinion based on any argument I may make.  And maybe I’ve been crazy to think it might.

What’s worse is the anger that fuels those who believe in the divisive canards.  Anger arises out of a fear, and brewed hot enough, leads to hate.  I try to remember the Buddha’s words:

The worse of the two is one
who, when abused, retaliates.
One who does not retaliate
wins a battle hard to win.

Saṃyutta Nikāya 1.188

It is a battle I’ve lost often by retaliating with hatred.  Most often it comes in the sports arena.  Teams that I dislike, you know.  I try to rationalize it by saying it’s only sports, but sometimes that dark emotion begins to consume me in ways that don’t make me the nicest person in the room.  It causes me to engage in speech that would not be of benefit to those listening to my rant.  But let’s not confuse hatred with taunting.  “Fuck Ohio” is a taunt.  Or am I rationalizing again?

The anger, though, of those spewing and perhaps even believing the divisive canards is far from taunting.  It comes from a viciousness that makes me wonder about some of my fellow humans.

My best option is to observe them like the negative thoughts that arise in my mind from time to time, and try to be gentle with them.  Facebook as a meditation on the collective thoughts of my friends and what thoughts and feelings they bring up in me.

The other thing this period brought to my attention was transportation.  We spent a week in New York City and did not drive the car once.  Here, in Metro Detroit, that is a dangerous proposition.  I considered the walk from my house to Meijers, were I to need to pick up groceries.  The distance of the walk would have been no farther than what we traversed on Manhattan pavement from subway station to book store destination.  However, the walk here is far more dangerous.  The Meijers is on the corner of 23 Mile Road and Gratiot.  Both roads at that point are five lanes – two in each direction and a left hand turn lane.  They are wide streets.  And heavy with traffic.  The two-lane road that would lead me to Gratiot has sections that provide sidewalk, and sections that don’t.  Not the most pedestrian friendly excursion.  This for groceries, mind you.  Without a car, from where I am, there is no short walk or easy mass transit to a book store!

I’ve never considered myself a car guy, even being from the Motor City.  But when the body shop called and said my car was ready for pick up, there was much rejoicing.  Seeing her again, sparkling and unblemished, perfumed with the new car smell within, I wanted to hug her.  However, I remained calm and appropriate with the service rep standing nearby.

It’s funny, you know.   I recently wrote about how September, not January, signified the New Year in my life.  (Ironically posted a few hours before the accident).  With the accident and my mother-in-law’s passing, it truly is a new year, a new chapter, and new awareness.

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