Monday, August 09, 2004

Drive Time

I’ve been manufacturing errands on the other side of town.

At first I chalked it up to run of the mill procrastination or a desire to buy hardware where rich people shop. My city is shaped like a comet. I live in the icy head, and a brilliant tail of retail extends out in one direction. I’m finding myself driving 15 miles to buy things that I don't really need. And sometimes I’ll make two trips out there in a day.

And then I realized a strange consequence of living two miles from campus: I’m not spending large blocks of time in my car. (In contrast, suburbanites spend a lot of time driving.) And now I’m pacing on a grand scale. Back and forth across town.

From August 2001 to June 2003 I put over 40,000 miles on my car. Back then I commuted. Those drives back and forth to work were my time alone. I could listen to a new CD without being interrupted or having it criticized. I could listen to what I wanted to on the radio. If I timed it correctly, I could catch some of Dr. Laura on my way home (guilty pleasure).

But more than that, it was a chance to clear my head.

My life was sort of fucked up when I was in college (whose isn’t?), but there was a lot more clarity to it once I got a car. I would buy my groceries and whatnot in a different town; I would drive for a while on the back roads and then turn around. I would go visit my parents even when I didn’t want to see them.

When I had a misery-inducing summer job in Maryland, I would spend many weekends in Virginia.

In grad school life started to sort itself out. I could keep things in order by walking.

But I couldn’t stretch that out forever, and I had to live in the real world which was difficult and complicated. And my first two “real jobs” were not in the city where I lived. As I drove back and forth I thought about the lecture/activities for an upcoming class. I would try to think about the direction I wanted my research to take. How could I get it back on track while working in a department where hardly any research was done — and none in my sub-field? I wondered if I wanted to continue living like this, spending so many hours in the car. And for what? And then later, was it wise to quit that job and pick up and move to somewhere that I’ve never even been to before? And each and every time I passed through the city where a guy I used to date used to live, I thought of him. And I hated that.

In moving I traded my old problems for some new ones. I have a long-term plan career-wise. But what to do now in order to keep it moving along? And what if things don’t work out as I’m hoping: what’s the back-up plan? Subtle, difficult, multi-part questions. Not the types of things that can be thought about in five minutes along city streets. To fit the pieces together, I’m going to need to figure out where I’m going.