Do you know what a tachometer is?
I only know because I played video games like most people breathe when I was a kid — and not only did I play them, I read about them religiously. Strategy guides and reviews. I had a subscription to Nintendo Power magazine. I read the instruction manuals with new games, for goodness sakes. And one of the racing games I played (It might have been Top Gear or something, before that was a TV show), of course, had the display that looked like a car’s console. This console featured, in addition to the course map, rearview mirror, and speed (the only thing a kid really cares about), the tachometer.
That was a long way of saying your eyes probably pass over the tachometer on your car every day. It’s that dial next to your speedometer that tells you how many times your engine is turning over in a minute. Ever step on the gas while the car is in park? The tachometer spins up even though you’re not going anywhere. It measures not how fast you’re going, but how hard your car is working. Which, by certain metrics, makes it a much more important indicator in your vehicle, though one we hardly pay attention to.
We watch the speedometer, because we want to know how fast we’re going. Or maybe because we want to avoid the flashing blue lights in the rearview mirror. Or because the guy in front of you is moving maddeningly slowly and you want to know EXACTLY how slowly because that information will surely benefit you, somehow. We watch the scenery passing by outside the windows, because that tells us where we are. Trees and buildings; keep those a safe distance from the side of the car. Other cars get to drift in and out of that space; all fine as long as they’re pointing in the proper directions. And of course, we watch the road ahead, because if we don’t pay attention to where we’re going we’ll never get there, and we may in fact fail to get there very very quickly.
But we don’t watch that meter that tells us about the vehicle we’re taking the journey in. Or, at least, we don’t watch it until we have reason to — when something may be wrong. When the engine’s overheating and we’re struggling to maintain speed, or the transmission has slipped and we can’t get out of a lower gear, or … I dunno. My lack of car knowledge betrays me, here, but you get the idea. All of a sudden, we’re just not GOING like we want to, and we check that little tachometer and, huh, holy cow, that thing’s pushed all the way into the red. That can’t be good. So you limp your car (or, given my luck lately, you more likely tow it) to the shop and find out it’s gonna cost a couple thousand dollars to get it fixed and you sit there and question your entire life leading up to this moment.
That’s when you realize how important the tachometer is. If you had noticed it earlier, seen the engine was working too hard before you ran it into the red, you might not have broken whatever you broke to find yourself here on the side of the road with a useless vehicle. You could perhaps have treated the problem or replaced an overworked component before the whole engine melted down. But you didn’t. And here you are.
Or rather, here I am.
For months I’ve been focused and wrapped up in all kinds of stuff. The play in production. The novel(s) I’m trying to write. Running and exercising every day. Day-to-day work and planning for my classes. Playing Mr. Fix-it around the house, or paying people to come in and do the same (or, sometimes, paying people to come to the house only to tell me that their contract forbids them from fixing that particular problem, so hey, you get to play Mr. Fix-It after all, less a couple hundred bucks). To say nothing of being a dad and husband who isn’t a complete jerk.
I was redlining, and I didn’t know it. Instead, I was paying attention to the road ahead (fraught with obstacles as far as the eye could see) and the scenery creeping past (moving not nearly as fast as I would have preferred). I just wasn’t getting enough done, and that shortcoming was all I could think about. Not enough words written. Not enough miles run. Not enough paperwork finished. Not enough.
Boom. Blowout. All of a sudden, I’m afflicted with some sort of creeping crud for the third week in a row: congestion and cough and all that good stuff. My heel goes haywire from some phantom injury and I can’t run. A week’s gone by and I haven’t even opened my novel. I’m barely making it out of bed in the morning in time to get the kids up and dressed and off to school, and it feels like I’m accomplishing nothing during my working hours.
The tachometer is a metaphor, then, for something on the body, I’m just not sure what it is. Maybe it’s your sleep schedule. Maybe it’s your blood pressure, or your stress level, or whatever else. Point is, whatever it was, it was out of whack with me and I didn’t pay attention to it and I spent a couple weeks with the car in the shop and taking the bus to get around, as it were.
I make a lot of noise about momentum and staying busy around here, but the fact is, I think I’ve been overdoing it and not being honest with myself about the fact. Residual stress from the move this summer. Frustrations at things going wrong (and costing us lots of money!) around the house. Unforgiving standards for my creative endeavors. Dogged insistence in my exercise habits. It all adds up.
But the play is over, as of this past weekend. And you know what? All of a sudden — the very next day, even! — I felt lighter, calmer, better. Just knowing that that particular source of stress was gone (for now, at least) made the next breath of air come in that much cleaner.
Maybe I need to find a way to relax a little.
And I definitely need to pay more attention to the weird little dials.