SOL 17: A Strange Experience in a Car

I am officially stuck. I spent a good chunk of time this morning trying to process my notes from yesterday’s Saturday Reunion at TCRWP. I had an idea about how I could demonstrate a suggestion from one of the staff developers using Margaret’s innovation theme for DigiLit Sunday, but I ended up with a tangled mess that needs more work.

My cold has gotten worse, which may be part of the reason I couldn’t get my other idea to come together. I did get some rest this afternoon, but then had some family obligations that had to be addressed.

Those tasks have been crossed off my to-do list and here I am. It’s 9:39 and I have no slice. I have ideas. I always have ideas. It’s just getting them to work that’s the problem. So I turned to Naming the World and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston, which I wrote about here. As I knew I would, I’m resorting to a prompt from this book’s last chapter, “Daily Warm-Ups.” It contains lists with titles like “Spend five minutes describing…” or “Spend five minutes listing…”

The first item in the “five minutes describing” list is “A strange experience in a car.” At first I thought, “Keep reading.” But then I remembered an afternoon drive home from a doctor’s appointment many years ago that had a surreal moment to it.

I was living in Orono, Maine, home to the University of Maine where I was a student. Orono is a small town with a huge university. The downtown consists (or it did almost 40 years ago) of a main street a few shops and Pat’s Pizza. For everything else, we headed to Bangor. 

The highway was the quickest way to get to Bangor, and this is the way I went if I was going to the mall. But on this day, I’d been to the hospital for some tests. The hospital was (is) on Rt. 2 , right by the river. It was a beautiful spring day, so I decided to take the scenic route home.

I hadn’t driven this way very often, and I was still quite an inexperienced driver. I don’t remember if I even realized the train tracks ran parallel to the road, between it and the river. As I rounded a curve, a train came into view, heading south. For a moment, it seemed like the train was headed straight toward me. “That train has gone off the tracks,” I thought as panic rose in me. “I’m directly in the path of an oncoming freight train!” Pressing my foot on the gas pedal, I tried to speed away. At that moment, the road veered away from the river, and the tracks curved back toward the river.

Of course the train wasn’t off the tracks at all, it was just an illusion caused by the bend in the road and the track. But in the split second before we both steered in opposite directions, I was sure I was going to be crushed by that train. “What an idiot,” I admonished myself.

I’m sure I was too embarrassed to tell anyone about this when I arrived back in Orono. I’m not sure I ever told anyone about this experience.

Sometimes I worry that what I’m writing doesn’t have a bigger purpose or some aha moment. This feels like one of those pieces. But maybe its about perspective and that things aren’t always what they seem. Or maybe it’s about staying calm (I really wasn’t calm, though) in the face of something frightening. It could be about becoming more empathetic when students’ tell me they’re stuck. Or maybe it’s about spending five minutes writing about a strange experience in a car.

 Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

8 thoughts on “SOL 17: A Strange Experience in a Car

  1. I was feeling anxious as I read your train story – wow! I am certain there is some deeper meaning to that experience. Although you wrote many, I was thinking about your medical tests or your life as a college student. Living as a new adult facing career and medical decisions, maybe there’s a connection. From a writing perspective, thanks for naming the paradox of, “I always have ideas. It’s just getting them to work that’s the problem.” I have roughy eleven drafts sitting in cue on my blog, because I can’t make them work. I loved your ending – the last comment, “Or maybe it’s about spending five minutes writing about a strange experience in a car.”

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  2. Or maybe, it’s about all of the above. So many things going on in this moment. This prompt pulled on some powerful writing muscles. And, who knows where it could lead. Thank you for the ride.

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  3. Julieanne took my response, maybe about all of the above. I think you did stay calm, though you didn’t feel it. Thank goodness you didn’t swerve off the road as so many do when encountering a deer or ? You’re a good writer, Catherine, and I’m glad you found that prompt. It has be wondering what I would write?

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  4. I’m curious about your Innovation post. Sorry it didn’t work out. You stayed in the struggle and ended up with a post. That’s all you need to do. Just keep writing. I never told anyone when I had a similar experience. It was night and I really thought the train was coming straight for me. I slowed almost to a complete stop before I realized it was an illusion.
    I bought Rip the Page after you recommended it in a post. Do you write in the book or save it to use with students? I can’t decide if I should write in it or not.

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  5. I laughed after reading Margaret’s post above, as Rip the Page entered my Amazon cart immediately after you recommended it. Just now I was just thinking about how often you have a book or a mentor text to reach for when you get “stuck.” Your library must be incredible, but even more incredible is your ability to use it deftly to support your work–and you student’s work as well, I’m sure. Lucky us, we get to benefit from it, too! Loved your persistence in writing and this wonderful slice that emerged. I especially like your final paragraph as I often find myself wondering about the point of my writing. Thanks, Catherine, and feel better!

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