Cruising with the Spirit of the City

I’ve been told that for Shakespeare, England is always a character. England motivates and moves the action of the play.

I recently discovered a character, Tim “Speed” Levitch, who gives tours of New York City and who is the subject of an existential and metaphysical rant of a documentary called The Cruise.

He tells the story of his city, New York, from the same heroic perspective. The City is a character.

The title of the movie comes from his concept of the motion of life. It’s a cruise, a magnificent and glorious forward motion.

In the interview I heard with Tim Levitch, he brought up another kind of forward motion: the commute. The commute is when all parts of me are focused on the goal of BEING THERE.

When I am going to work, I am commuting and I want to be THERE. Especially when I am commuting home.

The streets in California–wait, the highways–have a complete character all their own. They have a life and a will that is implacable and must be reckoned with.

A consciousness, as I am beginning to see.

If I am in the city, and in the traffic, on my commute, and all I am focused on is BEING WHERE I AM NOT YET, then I miss so much of where I am.

The mindset of the commute robs me of my life. I am commuting so often, not only on my way to work and back, but also when I am at those destinations. I live in the future of when THIS project will be done, when THIS goal will be achieved.

I miss the now. It doesn’t even exist when I am so goal focused. I don’t even exist.

I recognize this in my life. I come in and out of that mentality.

I will get caught up in the goal, the desired end, and forget myself and forget who, what and where I am.

And my discomfort increases.

At which point I shake myself into awareness again.

 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help [psalm 121]

That’s what I see on my commute. Hills. And when I look up to my beautiful surroundings, I remember that my goals and my problems have a bigger context.

There is a whole world of beauty and love out there.

These roads are part of it too. The paint is just lines and dots. They are part of the city, not all of it. Even if they are the part I am most intimate with.

We are in this world together, agents of destiny. My desire is to add to the glory and beauty of this cacophony. With intention. Where I am.

I’ll get where I’m going in good time.

anonymous and the monomyth

I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman. -Virginia Woolf

It’s called the Monomyth, also known as the Hero’s Journey. If you’ve seen Star Wars, you know what it is. George Lucas was a big follower of Joseph Campbell, who wrote Hero of a Thousand Faces to outline how this same story has repeated itself throughout history.

Homer’s lliadBeowulf, King Arthur and Luke Skywalker all are doing that thing. That’s a big swath of history for one basic story to cover.

We know this story. I breathe this story. I read the hero stories–fantasy like Lord of the Rings. And when I watch movies, I pick the comic book hero movies.

This is how I like to see my life. Conquering adversity, be it a dragon or a self-serving government, and rescuing myself and my people.

Those stories have something else in common. They all have male protagonists. Where are the women?

What is it about women? Why aren’t we as frequently in the hero’s role?

Dorothy? When she went to Oz? Her return to her home was as uneventful as it comes. In the sequels to the first book, she is even treated for being insane for her journey.

That’s not a great example.

Alice following the white rabbit to Wonderland? Her journey was equally uneventful, in the book she wakes up in her companions lap, with the whole journey dismissed as a dream.

Why are the storytellers finding it so hard to see a female in this role? I don’t have a problem picturing myself as Frodo, travelling against all odds.

How much does it matter?

I believe it does. Because when I walk through the door, my shape and gender declare themselves as NOT the one who solves the problem no matter what.

Other people will assume that I am meant for saying safely at home to care for family and children.

Because it’s the other people, the ones who I am NOT, that are the heroes and the problem solvers.

I’ve been racking my brain for weeks. I finally thought of one:

The nightmare world of The Hunger Games introduced us to Katniss, who is a hero(ine) to rival Achilles. In a horrible dystopia she fights, first for her sister and her special knowledge spreads to bring salvation to everyone.


Can you think of a female hero?

Woolf had a point. Anonymous has had a big impact on our world. I wish she would come out of the closet. We need her help now.

curiosity cure

I am the girl who sits in the front row. I am the one who raises her hand, even interrupting the teacher to get my answer.

Yes, they will be impatient sometimes. But more often the teachers say “I’m glad you asked that question. If you thought of it, that means  other people thought of it too, but didn’t have the courage to ask.”

Believe me, I know I am providing a public service by asking the question. I can feel a wall of impatience and disapproval from the student body in the classes when I bother to break up the rhythm of the teacher’s presentation. I also know how people will come up to me after class and thank me privately.

I know.

I also know it’s who I am. I can’t not ask the question. It’s my mutant super power. And it’s often lonely in the front row.

This question-asking impulse doesn’t stop after I leave the classroom. I carry around this curiosity. My desire to poke the dark thing, or turn over the rock is not something I can turn off.

I’m always learning more, reading more books, listening to experts give talks on their expertise.

And this week, one of those books (Rising Strong by Brene Brown) named the pooch, my particular pooch:

“The brain’s chemistry changes when we become curious, helping us better learn and retain information.”

Yes! It is a public service! I have proof!

She goes on to say:  “But curiosity is uncomfortable because it involves uncertainty and vulnerability.”

That’s what is is. It takes courage to raise my hand, and admit I don’t know something. But that drive to know–to wonder–overrides the fear.

So this, this Weekly Wonder, is my current manifestation of the hand-raising habit. I have often wondered what I’m doing with this effort. Why do feel the need to write this every week? I do. It’s important to me, and I won’t give up on it. I started it seven years ago, like a blind worm grousing toward a shady destination.

I grew my list of readers, grateful for their indulgent consumption of my little art project. Even when they would reach out–thank you so much for reaching out!–to tell me they loved it.

But as Brene Brown explains it, curiosity is a basic function of humanity. And when we give up on curiosity, we lose the flavor of life and are poorer for it. It is a higher human need than I had recognized.

My wonder, and the sharing of it, give my readers a chance to remember their better selves.

My words, strung together in an email, gives perspective on our lives. When I write them, and you all read it, we see more than the little circumscribed box we grind away in. There is a wonder in the world.

This writing lifts our heads and broadens horizons, even if only a moment, and breathes fresh air into our thoughts.

Even more, it helps all of us to remember we are not alone.

This little project is valuable. It’s a small cure for the doldrums and the grind.

Wonder is worth it. You are worth it.


Explication on Failing

(This quote is from Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena”)

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. “

The thing about the critic in my life is that the external critic is by far the least prominent critic. My loudest critics are the Greek chorus inside my head. How much I point out that I stumble! Based on time spent, my favorite activity is pondering where I have stumbled, and where I am currently stumbling.

I have a bottomless appetite for looking for where I might do better

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, “

I’ve talked about this before. Action is so glorious! The darling of my heart to act, to DO, and strive valiantly. YES! I wish to strive valiantly.

But erring and coming up short? Oh no. Let us never never do that. If such a horror were to happen, I would paper it over with the same act re-taken, only THIS time properly, again and again to prove I would never never do THAT mistake again. See? Look how many times I did it right. Like a stuck machine, again and again, re-doing the mistake but correctly this time.

How pointless. How regressive. This shameful habit needs releasing.

“because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,”

The first job I had that I was proud of, the first one that counted (althought in retrospect, I am not giving McDonald’s enough credit), I was so terrified that I would screw it up, I carried a notebook with these words written large on the cover:
Show me a girl who makes no mistakes,
And a will show you a girl who does nothing

Doing nothing was worse than making mistakes. Barely.
I carried that notebook for years, and I still barely believe it. So most of my actions are careful careful don’t make mistakes actions.
But they are actions.

I am hungry for that high achievement in a worthy cause. I am so eager for it. It is the thing that gets me taking action in spite of the very very terrifying prospect of making a mistake.

The fear of making a mistake can set my heart racing, fear of that critic who I may encounter will clench my muscles, shoot acid though my stomach and rob my sleep.

What if the worst should happen?

“and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. “

There is that other saying, it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Or another pithy quote from John Stuart Mills.
“It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is only because they only know their own side of the question.”

It is better to take a chance, try for something big and to fail, or be dissatisfied. It is of value to try even if you don’t succeed. It is of value, in fact to fail.

Success requires failure. And trying, failing, and surviving the failure is valuable.

I’m not happy when failure stares me in the teeth. I would do almost anything to avoid it. Anything except give up on myself.

But let me tell you, there are times when giving up sings a siren song. It comes down to 1% more intolerable to give up on myself than give up.

So I keep trying. My life belongs in the arena, and when I fail–which I will and I do–I hope to fail in the right direction.

California Road Rules

When I moved to California one of the hardest things for me to get used to was the freeways.Seriously, in Alaska, we did not have the plethora of choices. Freeways and highways that intersect, merge and divide sending the populace to wherever they want to go.

Those kind of choices were not available where I was from. Dizzying choices that had to be made at 65 miles an hour! It was terrifying.

I enjoyed taking the bus when I could.

After a short time I realized that the highways were not always moving at 65 miles an hour. In fact, just when you needed to use them they were most likely to be going 5 miles an hour.

Or even completely stopped.

So the choices didn’t have to be made so fast. In fact, the choices–which lane, which route–could be re examined at length while staring at the dozen or so surrounding cars.

I quickly found a reason to be on the freeways a lot. I got a job. And I’ve had jobs that take me to the streets ever since.

There was this magic place on the freeways:

The HOV lane

HIgh Occupancy vehicle lane

You have to have another person in the car with you to use it. And in California that separate lane on the freeway was achingly wide open, with no one using it.

So many questions. So long to ponder this phenomenon. Why don’t people ride together? Are all the hundreds of cars in front and behind me really only one person to car?

For more than a decade I would spend hours every week longing for that lane.

Then a law was passed: Low emission vehicles could also ride in this exclusive lane. You could get a sticker and be set free!

Of  course, the low emission vehicles (varying degrees of electric cars) were too expensive. Should I really give myself such an extravagance?

My new job is the furthest I’ve ever driven. I got an electric car in March.

In the fashion typical of governments, the paperwork to get my stickers took a very long time to get to me.

Last week they arrived. My commute is now enhanced. I get to use the HOV lane.

I have never felt so priviledged. As soon as I got to use it, I renamed it the VIP lane. I can’t imagine a better gift to myself. I immediately thought about the things typically called VIP-bottle service at a bar, box seats. Sure, those are nice.

But THIS! THIS IS WHERE I LIVE. This takes my whole life to a new level.

What I love most?I love most that I don’t sit in the car questioning “did I make the right choice?”

Yes, sometimes the HOV lane is slow traffic. BUt it’s the BEST you are going to get on that lane.

And knowing that I’ve done the UTMOST to optimize this travel is like a warm blanket of assurance. This is it. I can let this be the right choice and think about something else.

Letting that worry go is a weight lifted. A weight I didn’t know I was carrying.

I love my new car.

I’ve never felt so *VIP* in my life