Metaphor Monday – PBV Syndrome


Since buying our van a few years ago, and having now driven it all over, I’ve noticed a phenomenon. It’s not tied to me, as far as I can discern — rather it’s a phenomenon that occurs in other drivers that seems to happen when I’m around.

I call it PBV (Passed-By-Van) Syndrome.

The phenomenon is this:

We’re driving in the van, and we approach and slowly overtake another vehicle. Before we can fully pass said vehicle, it begins to speed up, matching our pace and disallowing our passage. It continues to match our speed — oftentimes in great excess of its original speed — sometimes for miles. This continues until the driver decides that they really don’t want to be going quite so fast and they fall off. Occasionally, though, the opposite will happen: the other driver will speed up even more to pass us again, gaining a little buffer of roadway in front of us before it returns to its former speed and the process begins again.

I should note, too, that neither I nor my wife drive at particularly excessive speeds. At most we go maybe 5-10 miles over the posted limit, which by Atlanta standards means we might as well be standing still, given that speed limits in Atlanta are more often taken as baseline minimums to be left behind at the earliest opportunity than as legal maximums. Yet still we pass people, and still they try not to let us pass.

I have yet to conduct double-blind studies, but the most frequent afflicted seem to be trucks and SUVs. However, any driver of any sort of vehicle seems to be susceptible to PBV — I’ve seen it in fancy sports cars (why are they driving slowly enough to get passed by my hulking van?), ridiculous little Smart cars (if the purpose is good mileage, why are you trying to “beat” me anywhere?), and even other minivans (what happens if two drivers afflicted with PBV find themselves passing each other? Does spacetime disintegrate and collapse on itself?).

The phenomenon isn’t limited to my van, either — before we upsized, we had a tiny, sporty little Toyota Yaris, and we’d get the odd pacer there as well. Nothing like what we get with the van, but significant enough to notice.

Motivating factors are difficult to fully determine, but the assumption is pretty simple: some people just don’t like getting passed by a pansy vehicle like my minivan. Because we still live in a society where, somehow, your status on the road and in your vehicle is inextricably fused to your notion of self.

In other words, if you’re getting passed, it’s because the other guy has a bigger, uh, engine than you.

WHICH CANNOT BE ALLOWED TO STAND.

Treatment: well, none, really. Perhaps a bit of introspection. A little consideration of why your foot tends toward the gas when you see a minivan creeping up from behind. Do you really, suddenly and for no discernible reason, just feel like getting more quickly to wherever you were headed? If so, why weren’t you driving faster in the first place? Did my van somehow make you realize you were running late?

If it’s about “beating” the van somewhere, that’s foolish — we almost certainly aren’t going to the same place. And even if we were, the difference in travel time from me going a few miles per hour faster will make a difference in arrival time measured in seconds, not minutes. Ridiculous!

If it’s about a van going faster, then why get uptight about a van over any other sort of vehicle? Again I fall back on the perception thing. Vans aren’t “manly” (but what is “manly” anyway, when it comes to cars? Truck and sports car commercials would have you believe it’s about horsepower and maneuverability, towing capacity and “sleek lines” whatever that means, but again I say: if you are drawing more than a modicum of your personal identity from the vehicle you drive, you are probably a bit of a jerk), therefore getting passed by one makes one ultra-unmanly. Of course, that assessment comes up short, too, because I’ve seen a fair share of women afflicted with PBV.

So.

It’s Metaphor Monday and all, and that means I’ve got to tie this weird phenomenon to writing, and to life in general.

But it’s not that hard to see, is it?

You’re driving on the highway. You see this dinky little minivan creeping up on you, about to pass you, and something in your lizard brain says “DON’T LET IT HAPPEN.” You’re paying attention to what the other guy is doing instead of focusing on the road in front of you, which is all that should really matter anyway. You’re comparing yourself to somebody else when no comparison even makes sense. You don’t know where I’m going. You don’t know if there’s an urgency for me that doesn’t exist for you, or vice versa. You don’t know if I’m late to a meeting for backyard lawn darts enthusiasts. (My new backyard would be so choice for lawn darts.) You just want to beat me there.

And what’s the internet, but a big ol’ information highway, with writers to the left and the right? Internet’s lousy with writers. Some of them driving souped-up muscle cars and churning out thousands of words per day. Some of them puttering on mopeds, coughing up maybe a thousand per week. And you look at somebody’s website — let’s call it, I dunno, a minivan of a website — where she talks about having a full-time job, two kids, a spouse, all those things that you have. And he further claims to be getting two thousand words a day.

You just got passed by a minivan. What are you gonna do about that?

You’re gonna stomp the gas, is what — after all, they have nothing going on that you don’t have, and they are getting it done. You deserve everything they have coming. And you need it now!

Except, as my dad used to tell me (or maybe it was merely a construct of my dad as I tell myself I remember him — you can never tell), it ain’t always that simple. Sure, the stuff you can see is comparable, but you don’t know what’s going on in their life, what’s kicking around between their ears. In short — you don’t know why their minivan is going faster than you. It just is.

As long as you’re writing, you’re making forward progress. You spend the unmitigated bulk of that time slaving away in silence and solitude anyway — what kind of good does it do to compare your slaving to somebody else’s? It’s a good way to burn out. Get frustrated. Get disillusioned.

And when your brain gets disillusioned or frustrated or burnt out, well, your whole vehicle breaks down, dunnit? And when your whole vehicle breaks down? Everybody passes you. Even that grandma scooting around on her moped.

The point? Don’t give in to PBV syndrome.

Stay in your lane. Eyes on your own road.

Let the minivans pass.

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Sparks! (and spiders)


Yesterday I wrote about the occluded flow of viable ideas making it from my brain to the blank page. Here’s why I think my particular eclipse might be waning:

In the past twenty-four hours I’ve had a couple of ideas penetrate the mental fog, strike me as amusing, and stick around for more than a few moments (of late, the ideas strike and then vanish again into the ether like Batman knocking out a criminal and disappearing into the night). Both spurred by simple real-life situations that could easily have been left alone and forgotten about!

Situation 1:

I’m at work. I get no cell service in my building. So if I receive a text, it doesn’t usually land until I’m in the parking lot, leaving school. As it turns out, I receive a text from my father as I’m pulling away from the building. It’s time-stamped around 2:00: “What is happening?”

I reply “not much” and don’t think of it again until the following morning. A response never comes. Now, it must be asked: who sends a text to ask “what is happening” without that being pretense for actually asking something more significant, a la “let’s get together for dinner” or “are you going to be available on Saturday” or “do you still have the shovel and duct tape and garbage bags and lye that we used for that one thing that one time, I kinda need them right this minute”? Nobody, that’s who. You ask somebody “what’s happening” so that you can talk to them about something else and you don’t know how to begin the conversation without a banality. And, by the way, you say “what’s happening” like a human, not the more formal “what is happening” like a robot.

But there it is. Just that question — “what is happening?” — and nothing to follow.

Right around the time of the eclipse.

Then, in my head, the scenario plays out: the eclipse has come, the sky is dark, and my father rushes out into the yard, beseeching the heavens (and then also texting me, because of course he would do this): “WHAT IS HAPPENING?”

Read with the proper inflection and emotion, this makes perfect sense. All it needs is a second question mark to fit perfectly — ooh, or perhaps the saucy interrobang. The world needs more interrobangs. Doesn’t it?!

Ahem.

And why no response? Well, that’s easy. He was taken by the lizard men, obviously, and spirited away to their space station on the far side of the moon.

This is much more palatable than the probable actual truth, which is that he just sort of wanted to check in with me.

Right. Situation 2:

I was out for a run this morning. Gorgeous one, actually. Starry sky in full glory, perhaps trying to make up for being overshadowed (haw) by the eclipse yesterday. I’m plodding on, eyes skyward, when I tear through this massive spider web.

And I do mean, massive. The web happened to be strung across the gap between a football fence and the bleachers behind it: a four-foot gap, and right at head-and-chest height. I’ve got strands in my mouth, on both shoulders, even trailing the tops of my knees. I’m pulling webby gunk out of my eyebrows, off the back of my hands. The dog is freaking out because I’m stumbling all over the place like a drunk trying to pick a fight with a bar stool.

While we’re on the subject, have you ever run into a spider web while bald? I can’t say I recommend it.

Of course, I don’t stop running while I’m trying to de-web myself (NEVER STOP RUNNING, the demons will catch you). So about fifty yards later, when I’ve collected my thoughts a little bit, the real horror strikes. What’s unpleasant about spider webs is not the webs themselves, but the spiders they conceal. And now I have to contend with the possibility that a spider is on me right now. Worse than that, massive, human-sized spider webs are not woven by tiny house spiders. This web was a doozy, which means the responsible spider is a doozy by proxy and I know spiders don’t always just sit in the middle of their webs but SOMETIMES THEY DO OH MY GOD HELP.

But I can’t feel the spider, despite lots of swiping at my face and neck and back and various other parts.

And I figure that means I’m okay.

Unless the spider is one of those weird anomalies of nature like that parasite that takes over an ant’s brain and drives it onto the top of tall grass at nightfall to be devoured by a cow. If it were, couldn’t it conceivably have wiped out the past twenty seconds of my memory, when it crawled up through my nose and buried itself in my brain, and only made me think that I hadn’t found the spider?

Couldn’t it, then, be driving me around like a meat puppet right now?

Could I really be the spider right now? Thinking spidery thoughts that just happen to be the thoughts that spiders would think if they found themselves embedded in human husks?

We can’t be sure that I’m not.

So I’ve spent the past several hours wandering in and out of a dreamland in which my father was abducted by eclipse-riding lizardmen and I was being piloted by a mind-controlling spider. Which is a weird headspace, but not a narratively unfertile one.

Still, it’s got my brain percolating, so that’s good. Even if a spider is to blame.

(Spiders are usually to blame.)


Metaphor Monday – The Creative Eclipse


As Neil de Grasse Tyson pointed out on twitter a few days ago, the hubbub over the eclipse is a bit overblown. Solar eclipses happen every two years or so; they’re just not common in your area thanks to orbital trigonometry or some such sciencey nonsense.

Still, it’s a hell of a thing. And but for the things we know about science, it could be thought to be a magical thing. Certainly for many it’s a spiritual thing: a reminder that we live in a world of wonders where the strange and unusual not only happens from time to time, but is actually guaranteed to happen. For those of us in the right place, at the right time, we get treated to a celestial light show that only comes around once or twice in a lifetime.

But it’s funny, isn’t it? All the attention we’re giving to the sun in the past couple of weeks and days, just because the math happens to line up for a tiny subset of the population of our pale blue dot. For the sun, after all, today is a day not a speck different from any other. And for 90% of the planet, today is a day not a speck different from any other.

When was the last time you even considered the sun? Aside, perhaps, from wishing it didn’t shine into your eyes at precisely that angle on your evening commute? When was the last time you thought about when it would be at such-and-such point in the sky, or where the moon was in relation to it, or how bright it might be, or how long you could look at it and with what protective eyewear?

You didn’t, that’s when. The sun went about its business, and you went about yours, and the only time you cared about it was when the sun wasn’t going about its business, which is to say, when it was blocked out and day became night and the lizardmen roamed the earth and every bird everywhere flew into the side of every house in hopes of escaping the impending apocalypse.

But the sun didn’t know, or care, that today was an eclipse. The sun shone down on our insignificance today like any other day, and it was only through the luck of our particular geolocation that we experienced anything unusual at all. We only noticed anything was unusual because our perception of the thing got interfered with.

In other words, the thing was working fine; we only noticed it because it seemed not to be.

Which is basically the perfect metaphor for the writer’s brain.

Your brain, your creative engine, the beating heart of your imagination — it’s a glowing orb of nuclear fusion burning brightly away between your earholes. It’s always there, always kicking ideas out, always doing what it does. (This, I’m pretty sure, is why I’m always having off-the-wall thoughts that I immediately dismiss, i.e.: what if the cars just started floating off the highway right now? What if we all suddenly forgot what words meant and we had to start over from scratch with current technology? What it there was a guy who could literally see time? (For some reason, my creative stream-of-consciousness sounds a lot like my stoned college buddies.)

All of which is fine and good for the writer working on projects and having all the time he (or she, obviously) could want to give vent to those ideas. Like the sun spraying out heat and light and radiation in all directions, the brain just goes on creating.

Until something gets in the way.

Like your job. Or your much-delayed move. Or a shattering sense of unworthiness and self-doubt. These things get in the way of the flow ideas, much like the moon moving across the path of the sun, and screw up the daylight. And then, all of a sudden, we’re like “why isn’t my brain working? Why can’t I get anything done?”

When of course your brain is working just like before; the radiation of ideas just isn’t penetrating the morass of goop gunking up the rest of your head.

And how do you de-gunk the goop?

Well, if I had that answer, I’d have a lot more work done on my current WIP than I do, and I wouldn’t have lost nearly the productivity I lost over the summer. Like the moon drifting through the path of the sun, I tend to think it’ll happen on its own. But also like the drifting moon, it seems to happen in its own time.

Which is a bummer, to be sure.

But — one last thread to connect this metaphor — even a sliver of the visible sun is enough to bring daylight to the world, and even a sliver of creative energy is enough to get you writing again.

In the meantime, get yourself some shades and enjoy the light show.

So, just wait. It’ll pass.

Eventually.

I think.

 


It’s 2017, Why Do We Have To Even Talk About White Supremacy?


I get it. You voted for Trump.

Well, no, I don’t. I don’t get it. It’s not like Trump hid who he was at any point during the race or during his first (sigh) 200 days.

But you wanted a Republican agenda, and you were disgusted at the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency, and you pulled the lever for the orange one. You held your nose and voted. Lesser of two evils.

Maybe you wanted to believe his shenanigans were an act. His stir-the-pot, say-something-outrageous-and-watch-the-media-jump antics were a means to an end, and not just an end in themselves. Seven-dimensional chess. The real point was that he was going to make America great again. Shake up the system. Drain the swamp. Lock her up.

And maybe it was possible to hide behind all that. “I wish he’d act more presidential, but…” Point to healthcare instead. (Oh, wait.) Point to his wall instead. (Hmm, maybe not.) Point to the Republican-controlled congress and all the progress they’re making. (Yeah, about that…)

But you can’t hide behind that anymore, can you? You can’t, with any ounce of dignity or plausible deniability, say that you “wish he’d act better.” Because he has now laid out on the table exactly who he is for everybody to see. It doesn’t get simpler than condemning white nationalists. It doesn’t get easier than saying “those dicks over there? The ones flying swastikas on the streets of America? Yeah, they’re not okay.” You don’t have to wait two days for “the facts to come in.” (When does this guy ever wait for facts, anyway? He’s got a tweet locked and loaded for anybody who rubs him wrong on literally any other topic, but literal Nazis? Nah, let’s make sure we have full information.) You stomp on it. Set fire to it. Throw it over the fence. Put as much daylight between you and that ideology as you possibly can.

But he can’t (or won’t) do that.

I can’t say I’m surprised, and really, nobody should be. But maybe you are. Maybe it’s possible that you thought this was all an act, that he courted the support of these people to further his political ends.

But you see that’s impossible, right? This ridiculous stand for the wrongest thing possible is costing him politically no matter how you look at it. There’s no reason for it other than that he supports these people, or at the very least, doesn’t think they’re a problem.

And that’s a problem.

The president should be unifying us, but instead he’s dividing us more and more at every turn.

He should be supporting and protecting the lowest among us, and instead he’s empowering the worst among us (to be clear, those would be the Nazis and white supremacists) to prey on and intimidate everybody else.

The Trump train is heading for a catastrophe. Let’s not kid ourselves: already it’s a catastrophe, but now it’s a catastrophe heading for calamity.

One is dead in this conflict, and he can’t call those responsible by name.

And they’re planning more rallies this weekend. One in my home city. And worse than the fact that they’re doing it to begin with is the fact that now they feel empowered because the president (who they clearly identify as one of their own, and he doesn’t seem to want to decry that characterization, either).

Decrying his bad behavior is no longer enough. Republicans coming out and condemning white supremacy in the wake of this — that’s, like, less than the bare minimum. Condemning white supremacy is the default position for a human. You shouldn’t have to announce that you don’t approve of it, and yet doing so is somehow seen as a brave stand by those who have hitched themselves to Trump’s wagon for 200 painful days.

It’s not enough. Talk is cheap. It’s time for the people who held their noses and voted for Trump to stop blindly defending this old, racist monster. And stop supporting the cowardly Republicans who won’t stand up to him.

You can’t pretend anymore.

It’s time for him to go.

Past time, really.

But there’s no time like the present.


Metaphor Monday: Flower on the Vine


Our new house has this great, spacious backyard. Gently rolling, wide open, grassy (even if that grass is a bit aggressive and strangling), fenced. Sort of ideal if you have little kids who like to play outside — and surprise, we do! — which made this little feature not insignificant in the buying of said house.

But there’s a corner of that backyard which isn’t quite in step with the rest of the yard. Here, our idyllic little plot of land is beset by vines and leaves and weeds that spill over the fence from a neighbor’s yard and threaten to engulf that little corner. Which is metaphor enough for the writer’s soul: a mostly pleasant little suburban yard with an untamed corner at war with itself. But it’s even more better than that!

I headed back to that corner a few days ago with shears and Roundup in hand to assess the situation, ready to clear out the offending growth and banish it from my little private Idaho. But I noticed a thing:

wp-image--245996620There, in the midst of the encroaching green, a tiny little bloom. Brilliant and red and proud, striving for the sun from the clutches of the thicket.

All around it, a sea of green. Worthless, ugly, and choking out whatever else might try to grow there. Spreading like a wildfire across the drought-blasted California countryside. Threatening to completely eclipse the very fence it took root in, that held it up to drink up the sun and the rain. Running roughshod over everything in its path.

And out of that voracious scramble to consume, to grow, to dominate? This single flower. A speck of beauty in a cavalcade of ugliness. A spark of radiance in an ocean of banality. A glimmer of vibrance in the blank expanse of mere existence.

But why? Why just the one flower against the whole wall of leaves?

Bearing in mind that everything I know about plants and horticulture and the science of growing things could fit into the table of contents of your average Pete the Cat book, a few thoughts occur to me:

Leaves and vines are easy; they’re the engines of their own creation. (Leaves photosynthesize sunlight to make fuel to make more leaves, repeat ad infinitum — aka why 3/4 of Georgia is covered in kudzu.) Flowers require a dedicated effort to create which might or might not pay off. (Certainly the flower doesn’t help the plant itself survive.) Not for nothing, then, it takes a ton of leaves and vines and sundry greenery to muster the resources to create even a single flower.

The other side of that coin, however, is that the vine’s entire purpose is to create the flower. The vine can grow all the leaves it wants, it can engulf my entire fence and maybe even my entire yard, but the vine will never escape this one geographical space, this one spatial-temporal neighborhood. To truly spread — to cover the world in its overflowing verdance — it needs flowers, which create pollen, which hitches a ride on a bee’s butt and finally stands a chance of sprouting anew miles away.

Without the flower, there’s no point to the vine. Without the vine, there’s no hope for the flower.

And so it goes for the writer, right? (Writers write, right? Hopefully, writers write right, right? Or even, right writers write right, right? Right.)

You can write an entire fence’s worth of absolute crap, utter tripe, hopeless drivel without ever seeing a single flower emerge from the bramble. You can bang your fingers to bloody nubs against the keys, churning out words upon words upon neverending waves of words, and you may well engulf your entire yard in viney, leafy growth, before you see the bloom that means something has taken light.

But the flower is why you write. Just like the flower on the vine, the flower of the perfect story, the perfect idea, doesn’t just spring fully-formed into the universe. It needs the framework and the support of a field of ivy — an expanse of drivel — to have a prayer of blooming. You can’t get to the perfect story without the drivel. But drivel for its own sake is pointless — you need the flower that breaks through to keep the vine truly alive.

All of which is to say that I’m not cutting back the ivy on that fence. Because even though I don’t know much about biology, I know that it’s rare for a thing to bloom on its own, out of nowhere, and all by itself. Where there is one flower, there may soon be several. Where one idea blooms, another may soon follow.

Even if you have to hack through a forest of drivel to find it.

Metaphor Monday is about pointing out how things are like other things and appreciating the interconnectedness of all things. Got an idea for next week’s post? Let me hear it in the comments.


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