The car I bought when I was eighteen was cheap, used, and manual transmission. It was the only vehicle I could afford that would drive my ass to the San Francisco Bay Area to attend university. It was also a pale yellow and I had given it the endearing name of Banana-Mobile. I had no idea how to drive a stick. My Dad taught me how to drive this car and I spent countless hours with him seated in the passenger seat sputtering around an empty parking lot launching forward, killing the engine, and restarting again. It was so difficult to learn how to get the hang of the push-pull of using the gas pedal and the clutch simultaneously. I remember being infinitely frustrated because I still needed a car to get around so I often ended up borrowing the family car (an automatic transmission) before I left for college and practiced the "feeling" of using the clutch while driving by mimicking the movements, "pretending" to shift just so I could train myself.

It took me a while to learn the fluid motion of driving a manual transmission. Mastering the space between shifting from one gear to the next wasn't something that was natural for me. There's something about that edge between gears where the engine goes idle and for a moment I grind the gears or kill the engine altogether. And once I had moved to the Bay Area I quickly learned that starting my car on the steep hills of San Francisco required even more mastery of that idle space in between gears.


The hardest part about it is that drop in between the gears. There's an acute level of awareness that has to happen in order for your reflexes to kick in and it to become muscle memory. I'm finding that, in this human life, that inevitable shifting happens too. It's automatic, but I intensely detect it. I profoundly feel that drop into idle, that rough spot, and some grinding of gears, and I feel myself in an almost panic trying to move out of it. It's a very uncomfortable space for me. Funny how I feel I've lived most of my life in this drop, trying to decipher whether I'm shifting up or down, but always fighting in that space and desiring to move out of it quickly. It feels like a rushing of survival, a flailing into the unknown, a grasping at whatever I can find in order to stabilize, balance, and get my bearings.

I want desperately to learn to be in this space in between. I feel like there's something it can teach me, but I can't beat the feeling that I'm losing momentum. I fear losing control. I fear having to down-shift. I fear killing the engine, again.

If awareness is the first step into true knowing, then I'm there now. Right now. But I'm flailing and trying to be calm. Right now I'm grinding and I'm feeling that automatic shift happening. I'm just not sure whether it will move me forward or kill me.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


  1. I remember my first stick shift. I stalled it a hundred times in line at a drive in theater before I adjusted to the new clutch. My second stick shift car I learned how to mesh the gears perfectly without even using the clutch, My point is that what you are going through now becomes easier, second nature even, until you are so good at it that you don’t even remember why it was difficult before.

  2. Beautiful post and analogy between this life we all share and your mastery of learning the intricacy of a manual shift. I believe we all feel "in between" in this ongoing learning process we call life. Its amazing and fascinating watching our children grow up. Having a parent that has almost passed away twice in '18 and now facing other medical issues this process of growing older is extremely stressful. I feel like I am in no man's land with my mom and how she has handled her medical care and decisions since. I guess all we can do, grind it or not, is to just keep on shifting.

  3. Down shifting can be exciting. It is the down shift that allows the R.P.M.s to rise and advance you forward faster than previous gear. You down shift to get up hills and down shift to safely get down hills. Down shifting can be a very positive experience. To go faster quickly we must down shift. To go down a hill quickly we must down shift. The down shifting while going down hill allows you to keep your foot off the brake. The brake is the enemy most of the time.


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