All-wheel Drive

As I get older, I think of all-wheel drive (AWD) as increasingly important to me. [1] And I’m not thinking about driving. I am thinking about how best to live my life.

When I wrote about this before, I imagined myself in a sailboat, but becalmed. [2] Since I want to go somewhere, I am alert for the slightest breeze so that I can orient my sail to catch it and move me toward home. This is not a traction problem; this is a propulsion problem.

But today, I am having un-sailboat thoughts. You guessed that, I suppose, when I AWD 1introduced all-wheel drive. I am one of the world’s worst in understanding mechanical relations and most of what I know [3] I learned from ads for cars featuring AWD, but what I get is a marvelous metaphor if traction is the problem. It doesn’t help you choose the right destination. It doesn’t help you avoid drunk drivers. But it is said to be really good when the surface you are driving on is slippery.

The surface I am living on is slippery. This is not one of those far-fetched analogies.

I am going to imagine a car with an ego. The ego is the part of us that is responsible for the executive functions. Imagine the CEO of a company, if the Freudian division into three parts [4] doesn’t call up a clear picture. The CEO decides what is important and how projects ought to be pursued. The executive function of the car does the same thing for the problem of traction. Not much of a problem if all the wheels have good traction.

But when some do and some don’t, decisions are going to have to be made about which wheel is going to get the power sent to it. Since I am the “executive function” in “the car” under consideration, I can stop talking about drive trains and wheels and start talking about resources for living. If I am trying to go somewhere and am not able to, then “traction” is exactly the problem I am having and if the places where my life meets the road don’t all have the traction I need, then I need to rely particularly on the one that does. That is the virtue of AWD for my life.

To begin to get serious about application, let’s imagine that I have four (only four) wheels. [5] What are they? What are the places where my rubber meets my road; the places where I can get the traction I need?

AWD 2Exercise is one wheel, for sure. And it’s not just the cardiovascular stress, although that’s nice. It’s also the sheer moral satisfaction. At a very deep level, I feel that exercise is “a good thing” and it makes me feel good about myself. Not to knock the cardio, but I really believe that the surplus virtue I accumulate is more important in providing the traction that makes that wheel move. And if that is the only wheel with traction, it is the one I ought to be relying on.

I feel that way partly because I used to get a lot of the same feelings by cleaning out the garage. That worked for me so often that I still call that kind of task “cleaning out the garage” even though I no longer have a garage. It’s work that has to be done and that I have been putting off and that I’m going to feel good about myself if I get it done.

Writing is another wheel for sure. There are times I am so out of sorts or so locked into some condition or other that writing is about all I can do. Blogs were made for people like me. I write about things that interest me and things that irk me. I formulate structures that can contain ideas that normally just cancel each other out and I can put these anti-ideas in touch with each other. I like that.

I write serious ideas and playful ideas. I write about religious and political ideas—separately, mostly. I write about societies and individuals and how they relate to each other. I write about getting old and about staying in love. The first of that pair is about gravity; the second much more about levity. And if writing is what has the traction, that is where the power goes.

Getting together with friends who know me and love me anyway is the third wheel. [6] I AWD 3am very fortunate that Bette, my wife, is one of those friends. I know it doesn’t always work that way. But there are others, some family members, some long time friends whom I can contact. Just talking to people you can afford to be candid with helps give me traction.

Pattern-breaking is the fourth wheel. It doesn’t seem to matter a great deal what pattern I am breaking. When I am not going anywhere because none of the other wheels have traction, I begin to think in terms of larger patterns. And the violation of those patterns, somehow gets me moving again. I could take a trip to somewhere I always wanted to go. I could buy something I have been thinking about and have never really decided to buy. I could ride a Tri-Met bus I’ve never ridden and go on that bus to some part of Portland I’ve never been to. I could decide suddenly to go to the coast and stay for the night and walk on the beach or just get rained on.

It doesn’t really matter much, as I said, what pattern is being broken. Once the pattern comes to seem to be part of the problem, breaking it helps me get moving again and go somewhere I really need to go.

AWD 4People who know me as religious person are going to wonder why at least one of the wheels doesn’t refer to my own faith. The long answer is way too long for the 4WD metaphor, but the short answer is that all of them are religious. (Maybe not “cleaning out the garage.”) My own faith is a part of who I am when I have no traction at all and it is part of my choice about where to send the power. What part of my life—again, maybe the garage—is not part of my commitment to hear what God has to say to me and to respond to it as wholeheartedly as I can? That’s why there isn’t a wheel I call “faith.”

If I’m moving along well on dry and solid surfaces, none of this really matters. Two-wheel, four-wheel, all-wheel. Ehh. But when only one wheel really has any grip—when, to say it another way, I have mostly lost my grip—it is a great help to find the wheel that still has some purchase and direct all the power I have to that one.

For me, the hardest part of all that is being willing to notice how many of the wheels that I ordinarily rely on are simply not getting me anywhere. But when I notice that, finding the one that still works feels really good.

[1] It is possible that what I am talking about should he called “intelligent all-wheel drive.” If there is a difference, that is the one I am referring to. I am going to continue to use 4WD because i4WD would look like an Apple product.
[2] The boat is becalmed. I am not. Particularly as time passes, I am not.
[3] Not ALL of what I know, because my son Doug has persisted in trying to teach me more so I could write this essay without embarrassing myself.
[4] I’m thinking of something like “Homo mentis est omnis divisa in partes tres.” That does sound familiar, doesn’t it?
[5] I probably should take the time to say that I understand that I have more than four. I could turn whatever the number is into four categories, but I think it would be clearer just to pick four for today, understanding that they might be different ones next year.
[6] “Know me and love me” is not a casual reference. The formulation I most often use is one I found in Snell and Gail Putney’s book, The Adjusted American: Normal Neuroses in the Individual and Society. The formulation they use is “an accurate and acceptable self-image.” These friends have an “accurate and accepted” image of me, which is why they are so important.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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