Gear Shift

Image by RambergMediaImages on Flickr.com

You guys, I did a thing yesterday that I’ve been wishing I could do since I was about 18: I drove a car with a manual transmission on real streets for the first time, and got to my destination without stalling/bucking/breaking/crying.

Hold the sarcastic applause. I get that it’s not really a big deal kind of a skill. (In my defense, it’s not a strictly necessary skill here in the US – most cars are automatics.)

The big deal to me was the learning process, particularly as it intersected with emotion: mostly feeling overwhelmed and then feeling frustrated. Such a big deal, in fact, that the post about it became ludicrously long. So I split it into two sections:

  1. The Stick Experience
  2. Learning from Learning

The Stick Experience: Learning Process

The precursor to the learning process was my idly wishing for the result without any intention of putting in the effort. My dad had a manual but sold it before I asked to learn. Then my cousin had an old manual beater, but it fell apart before I could ask for a try. Then there were no opportunities for a while… until my boyfriend–>fiance–>husband arrived in my life with his ’01 manual.

My husband knew of my idle wish to drive a manual. With his encouragement,  patience, insight, and car, I took the first steps toward learning. My first efforts were tentative and nervous, with no real hope of driving a stick competently. I was crawling up a mountain. Cleaning a gymnasium floor with a toothbrush. Knitting a parachute on 1s. Typing out War and Peace with two fingers. It’s sort of miraculous that I even started. Thank you honey!

We went out to various parking lots at night fairly regularly. With repeated practice and effort, I made progress. I could often make the car go. I started developing a feel for when it was about to stall or buck, and what I could do about it. And I did not, as I had feared, forget how to steer in the midst of demystifying the clutch.

car rolled into pond - oops

Image by mre1965 on Flickr.com

I gained some confidence that I could do it, and some hope that maybe I could venture onto a street someday. But then I started screwing up again. It was so ridiculously frustrating to feel all confident and then stall out the car again! One afternoon, after stalling out near the end of an otherwise good practice session, I quit on the spot and had J drive us home. 

And then three years passed. Three! First it was too soon after feeling all those horrible emotions – I didn’t want to go back to it. Then I was distracted with other, more fun, more promising things. Then I was pregnant and nauseous/cranky/excited/nesting/asleep, and then there was this baby all the time and my MA and teaching and everything else, and now here we are nearly three years after I quit.

We went out again yesterday because the little ’01 car is likely near the end of its life with us, and I’m running out of time to learn on it.

I thought I’d be back at square one, but I wasn’t. My skill level hadn’t dipped very much, but my attitude was really different. And I don’t just mean that I superficially swapped out a sad face for a happy face. I was more engaged with and accepting of the process of learning, and I really think that that made a huge difference. More on that in Part 2 later this week.