Life is like a dead car in the middle of winter


My car died recently. On the coldest winter day, it suddenly refused to start. Since it had been running fine the day before, I suspected it was not a major issue. It was probably something I could have eventually fixed myself, which was just as well because I didn’t have money to have it towed to a shop, and in any case I tend to view auto shops with a suspicion that makes John Mearsheimer look like Forrest Gump by comparison. However, street parking, a rapidly approaching major snowstorm, and the relentless onslaught of General Winter’s troops caused me to throw in the towel, so I found my crunchy granola stick-shift Subaru a fitting resting place supporting the fine programming of Minnesota Public Radio. It was probably a poor financial decision, but it was so easy. Afterwards, I felt like how Atlas must have felt when he found someone to watch his globe for a bit while he ran off for a bathroom break.

My current theory, developed after I got rid of the car, is that I fouled the spark plugs by flooding the engine while trying to start it, which, if true, would have entailed a disappointingly easy and cheap fix. I think the reason I flooded the engine in the first place is that the spark plugs already had some carbon deposits due to the fact that I rarely drove, and only for short distances at low RPMs. A good old Italian tuneup may have done some good. Basically, as I see it, my car died because I wasn’t driving it much. A car wants to be driven.

My mind wants to be ‘driven’ too, so in this story of my car I see a cautionary didactic tale. The use my mind gets at my job seems to me like the equivalent of your grandma driving three miles to the pet food store in her gold 1998 Buick Park Avenue, and my time spent outside of work is not much better. Am I fouling up my brain with the low RPM demands I place on it? Will I meet a similar demise on the cold, snowy streets of Saint Paul? I was okay with getting rid of my car because it was old and I wasn’t really using it, but I do need my brain to be there.

I often think back to my last year of college as a contrast to my current state. I remember this as a vaguely unhappy period in my life, but also as the time when life felt the most colorful and substantial. I had outlets for creative expression through playing in a band, drawing comics, and writing a weekly column in the college paper. Back then, if you threw a rock, you would hit a person having a creative idea. Classes were easy and fun, and something electric seemed to be in the air. Who knows how accurate any of these recollections are, but the memory of this time in my life still stands out for me as a sort of Platonic ideal.

There are some things I find helpful in my current life, such as writing this blog and meditation. But I’m still looking for that wide open highway, or at least a decent Italian tuneup every now and then.

What I’m most afraid of is that, 10 years down the line, I’ll find that whatever ability I have to be creative will have atrophied, replaced by the ability to be productive. The more the universe resolves the details of my life and blesses me with comfort, the more this fear in me grows. I guess this is another way of saying that I can always find something to complain about. So instead let’s focus on the bigger issues facing society, and I’ll hopefully find ways to take care of myself. Thanks for reading.