Like Driving a Car at Night

Writing and Driving and Life

E. L. Doctorow once said that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

This passage from Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird came to mind while driving with my 15 year old last night. We were talking about growing up and making choices. There are those in his world making great choices, and those sort of swinging wild.

My youngest, Bean, has been my philosopher his whole life. From a very young age, he was whispering deep mysteries and pondering the deep thoughts all on his own. He is just predisposed to wonder.

Some of his more notable philosophical declarations

  • “If we didn’t have love, we would be lonely and we wouldn’t have any picnics! Bean, age 5
  • In the back seat of my husband’s truck, Bean was telling part of his life story, when he said, “and then, my life changed.” His older brother said, “Your life didn’t change!” To which Bean replied calmly, “Ben, my life changes everyday.” Bean, age 4.
  • At the bus stop in the morning, both boys and I would do a huddle hug. Bean mumbled into the middle of our hug one day, “This is my favorite part of the day!”
  • While taking down Christmas decorations and nesting them into boxes, Bean said quietly, mostly to himself in a singsong voice, “Most people must really like themselves.” Bean, age 7. I remember thinking the world would be such a healthier place if this were true.
  • Whether this is philosophical or not – I love where his mind goes… “Sharks poop a lot, and Beavers don’t fold clothes.” Wisdom from Bean first thing in the morning, age 4.
  • “Aliens have their heartbeat in their feet!” First deep thought of the morning from Bean, as he came in for snuggles and hugs, age 5.

Somewhere along the line, I stopped claiming his comments and conversations with me as philosophical, so it’s harder to search for them, but his mind has always been this way.

As we drove the other night, and he was remarking about the friends making good choices and those making more challenging ones, he said something about them making their way in life the best they know how and they’re probably going to be just fine at some point.

Just this morning I was thinking about the idea we sometimes have of being broken, or having parts of ourselves recovering from brokenness. But that’s not looking at it right, I don’t think. I think we all have fissures. We have these cracks and redirects, but if we can look at it from a whole-hearted life sort of way, we are like marble.

And that brings me back to the quote. Writing a novel, or living life, can sometimes feel like we’re driving at night. We only see just what is visible right now, and maybe we worry about the bend in the road, but we can’t see it. We only get right now, with the lights shining on the path ahead of us. That’s probably all we need. Any more would be overwhelming.

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