January has not started out as I’d hoped. I began 2016 filled with enthusiasm for the year ahead and the changes that it promised, but that enthusiasm was quickly replaced with the less-than-bright-and-shiny realities of the day to day.
Immediately after the glow of the holidays wore off, I found myself surprisingly unmotivated: sluggish, fatigued, even a bit depressed. In December, life was moving fast and I struggled to keep up, but the manic energy that it brought also seemed to serve as a sort of inspiration. Words and ideas flowed out of me. I had so much to say, and writing felt easy.
Not so, lately. Every day, I sit down to work on a new piece: a stage play I’m planning to produce in early summer. And every day I find myself frustrated, tugging at a narrative that hasn’t quite shown me how it is meant to unfold. Little by little, I’m getting there, but the progress has been a maddeningly slow one of scribbling words into my notebook and scratching them out, throwing out more than I’m keeping, writing and re-writing.
And then there was yesterday. Running out for groceries, I shifted my car into reverse, and heard something that sounded like a motorcycle revving its engine. Is that me? I thought. I turned off the engine and the sound stopped. Turned it on and there it was again. What in the hell? I had never in my life heard a sound like that come out of my almost stealthy quiet Prius. Exiting the car, I smelled gasoline in the air.
Calls to Toyota and Triple A revealed what had happened: someone had stolen my catalytic converter. Prior to yesterday, I’d never even heard of a catalytic converter, but it is amazing how quickly Google and a couple of mechanics with I’m so sorry faces can turn you into an expert.
According to Auto.com, “the job of the catalytic converter is to convert harmful pollutants into less harmful emissions before they leave the car’s exhaust system.” Without it, not only does your car become a major polluter, it makes a roaring sound akin to having a pack of Hell’s Angels riding shotgun. Not pleasant. As the apologetic mechanic at my local Toyota informed me, there has been a rash of catalytic converter thefts all over L.A., due to the fact that it contains valuable metals that are then melted down and sold. And as an external part, they’re relatively easy for an experienced thief to remove (by sawing them off!) within minutes. Now the kicker: because of the recent epidemic of these thefts, catalytic converters are on a national backorder and mine could take up to eight weeks (and cost thousands of dollars) to replace. Eight weeks? Without my car? In L.A.?
I suppose you could say that this was the punch in the gut that turned a disappointing January into an abysmal one.
Later, as I’m on hold with my insurance company, trying to figure out if any of this is covered, it hits me that it’s not just the money, or the hassle, or the fact that I feel stranded without a car that has left me so shaken. It’s the fact that for the first time in the nearly two years since I moved to this (mostly) quiet residential neighborhood, I feel unsafe. Yes, I live in a big, dangerous city, and yes my neighborhood is tucked away right off a busy intersection, but the street where I live is populated with nice people: young working professionals and families with kids and dogs. I know – and like – my neighbors. I walk everywhere, striking up conversations with friends and strangers alike. I don’t feel scared walking home at night. And yet, someone still came along and did this: hacked up a piece of my car in plain sight. It’s the car that has faithfully and reliably carried me around this city for eight years. The car that my mother gave me. I feel sick.
Through my living room blinds, I see the late afternoon sunset beginning to streak the sky pink. I get off the phone, take a deep breath, pour a glass of wine and go outside to my patio. I’m lucky, I tell myself, as I breathe in the sunset and try to calm down. This sucks, but it will be OK. Maybe I’m not supposed to drive for a while. Maybe I’m supposed to slow down and simplify and focus on my writing. Maybe I’m supposed to move – the thought creeps in without my consent.
No, I think, as the rosy glow of the waning sun fills in the blue sky behind the majestic, lone palm tree that towers stoically above my roof. I don’t want to move. I don’t want to run away, just because things are difficult. I’m reminded of a saying from Lao Tzu that I posted on the Facebook page for my blog only yesterday morning, before I knew about any of this stuff with the car:
Stop leaving and you will arrive.
Stop searching and you will see.
Stop running away and you will be found.
I was attracted to the quote because it reminded me of my writing, and my tendency to abandon long form projects whenever I get stuck or when inspiration runs out. But maybe there’s a bigger life lesson there. One about endlessly searching for something to make me whole again, and always coming up short.
This is not the start to the New Year that I wanted, not at all. But maybe, buried underneath everything that’s icky and uncomfortable, maybe there’s something in it that I needed. Maybe instead of running away in search of something better, this is where I will be tested, and where I decide to stand and fight. And maybe, in that fight, I will learn something about myself that I needed to know.
Maybe. Or maybe it’s just a really crappy January.
Until next time, friends.