Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Rat Hard vs. Driving Hard

Once, I had a year from hell. So did everyone around me. That was one of the things that made it so hellish.

I had to finally learn to drive during that year, because Damon was too sick to do it and we couldn't afford to be dependent on our friends - who were also having hellish years and none of whom lived within a mile of us - for rides to the doctor. I found it enormously difficult, but I operated on the presumption that if I had to do something, I could do it, so I took driving lessons.

During the early part of that year, our cats, who are the worst hunters in the world, double-teamed a rat, chased it all over the house, and mortally wounded it. This was all deduced from forensic evidence - I had to clean up the rat blood. At first we assumed that the rat had eventually gotten away, but in a few days we realized that it had been mortally wounded. And died. Somewhere in the downstairs hall closet where Damon keeps his comic book boxes.

Damon at this time was bedridden, so while he slept I got into old clothes and rubber gloves, gathered "shovels and rakes and implements of destruction," and started taking the closet apart. Cleaning up deceased animals has always been Damon's job because I am a wimp, but I told myself I had to do this, so I could do it, so I gritted my teeth and got on with it.

And then I found the rat. And I couldn't.

I tried. Honest, I did. But it was as if a physical force field went up between me and it. I tried till I cried and I could not make myself do it. I couldn't even make myself use one of the long implements, much less reach into the closet with my rubber-gloved hands. After the first glimpse, I couldn't make myself look into the closet. I finally had to admit to myself that I had reached the limits of my strength and there was nothing to do but ask someone else to do the job I couldn't.

So I called M, our old housemate, who is completely unreliable about daily things like taking his turn at the dishes and getting his junk out of the high-traffic area and showing up on time for - anything - but who is completely reliable about responding to anyone he can interpret as a damsel in distress. M, I knew, would be delighted to clean up a dead rat so he could be my hero, if he happened to be at home. Which he was not. And his wife, who might or might not have been able to deal with a dead rat under normal circumstances, was home with the baby and a cold. But his brother happened to have dropped in on her, and he cheerfully came and cleared out the rat for me and I never had to look at or smell the thing again. And I had a new term in my personal vocabulary. A thing that is "rat hard" is too hard for me to do, even when I have to, and when I run up against that, then there's no point beating myself up about it. I just have to find another way.

The day after I discovered my limits that way, I had a driving lesson. We were getting down to the wire on the number of lessons I had left, and the instructor was teaching me to parallel park. This is a crucial skill to learn when driving in Texas, because if you can do it, you'd pretty much have to run over somebody to fail the rest of the test, and if you fail that, you fail the whole thing. Parallel parking is the first item in the test procedure and if you fail it they stop the test right there and you can go home to practice parallel parking some more. So we were out there in the empty parking lot with the cones and the imaginary Mercedes on either side and the problem was that I can't see straight.

It was before I learned why I can't see straight, but I'd known for years that I can't and it's one of the reasons I'd never bothered getting my license. However, I'd been walking under the influence of this peculiarity for most of my life and I found that most of my compensatory habits served me just as well in the car as when walking - until it came time to go in reverse. I was hopeless at going backwards. I couldn't tell when I was straight, I couldn't tell when I was turning, I couldn't tell where the bumper was, and I hit one or the other imaginary Mercedes every time. We spent half an hour just working on reversing and I just couldn't do it right.

At which point I put my head down on the steering wheel and told the instructor about the rat, ending the story with: "But this isn't like that. This is something I can learn to do."

And eventually I did do it, though it'd be a bit much to say I learned how to parallel park. I took me three tries to pass the driving test and I still can't line myself up parallel to and within the correct distance of the curb without someone outside the car giving me hand signals. In the eight years since then I've parallel parked "in the wild" exactly once - but I did it without hitting the other cars and that was all I asked of myself.

So that was another addition to my personal vocabulary. Impossibly steep learning curves are only "driving hard," and at the end of a horrible spell of failing and trying again and crying with frustration and failing and trying again and failing and crying and failing eventually, if I don't throw in the towel and declare defeat, I will get it done.

So the first question I ask myself when faced with something that's too hard is, Is it rat hard, or only driving hard? Because if it's rat hard, I need to stop wasting time and find the way around it; but if it's driving hard, it's time to move on to the second question; which is, How bad do I want it? Is it worth the effort and frustration and stress of learning to do it? Because if it's not, I need to stop wasting time working at it; but if it is, I need to get on with it.

I have never met a creative problem that was more than "driving hard."

Whether this story and this distinction do you any good, I don't know. Here they are for what they're worth.

1 comment:

  1. That was very eye-opening and quite helpful, thanks Peni! (A long time reader and fan.)