Thursday, September 27, 2007

Driven to think

I've noticed recently that I'm two for two in not posting for a week, then posting twice within 24 hours. I just freeze up, wanting every post to meet up to the absurdly high standard I hold myself to. (Every post must somehow be profound, must be unified in tone, must... I'm not sure I can even articulate to myself what that platonic ideal is.) In the beginning, I just left posts in my draft folder, eventually deleting or completing them. Now, I'm down to a couple or so drafts that I'll probably scrap.

No, I need to just get over myself and post. It's a blog, not the next great American novel. Onward, then.

The first few weeks of the semester swept me up faster than I could process. Heck, I'd be lying if I said I'm not still overwhelmed. But I've started to feel some twinges of nostalgia for my old campus. I miss the friends I made there, the profs I interacted with, the sense of belonging to a community that was the highlight of grad school. There's a lot I don't miss, too, like the structured learning of formal education, the courses that finally made me lose faith in and excitement for grad school, the commute...

I clocked my commute at 58 miles each way. I certainly don't miss the gas costs, but I preferred the convenience of living in the city, not a town where typical weekend activities either included bar hopping or a trip to the local Wal-mart. The drive was nearly all highway, past fields of ragweed, past about three gas stations, around several curves that were frightening in the winter, past the places where the cops hid as they ran radar (four years and not a single ticket, thankyouverymuch), past the strip clubs that belie middle America's wholesome image, past the requisite tractor supply store. It was a drive that dragged some days, while on other days, I'd be surprised to find myself suddenly on campus. In the winter, I'd often leave my house before the sun was fully up. Oh, I did my fair share of grumbling about that, but the drive offered some consolation in my viewing some of the most striking sunrises I probably wouldn't have been awake to witness otherwise. Some mornings, there was low-lying fog that obscured all the surroundings, creating a sense of driving through a misty tunnel. Whatever elements the temperamental Midwest threw at me, I drove through them, thanks to a campus that wouldn't cancel classes for the Apocalypse itself.

One semester, I commuted with a colleague. It cut costs, but even more importantly, it gave me much-needed social contact. We talked about a lot in those hours, from what aggravating things our students did, to the social undercurrents of the English department, to personal matters. Sometimes we didn't talk much, and that was fine, too. We bought each other coffee and shared music, from 311 to My Chemical Romance. We both felt the difference when we had to go back to driving alone, last spring semester.

That was the only semester I drove with someone, though. The other semesters, I drove alone. It was rough sometimes; some cold mornings, I would roll the window down just to keep myself awake. Sometimes I drove in silence, sometimes I listened to Democracy Now!, but mostly I listened to my music. A commute may not be much fun, but you can't deny the appeal of driving on a mostly open highway with the music cranked up, whether it's the crooning vocals of Muse, the symphonic quality of Nobuo Uematsu's Final Fantasy VII soundtrack, the fist-pumping energy of Rise Against, the screaming of On the Last Day. It helped pass the time.

Regardless of what I was listening to, though, I tended to tune out a lot of the time, tuning in to my own thoughts instead. I went through spells; sometimes, I'd be preoccupied with matters of work, other times I'd be bouncing around ideas for fictional pieces that rarely ever made it onto paper, sometimes I'd be thinking over a reading for class, and for a spell, I was obsessing over tough metaphysical questions. I can't say I'd readily embrace another commute, especially an hour-long one, but I do miss the quiet solitude.

Now, I have a much shorter commute. I'm on the highway for a short spell (and that can be avoided, if I so choose), but all of my driving is within the city. I don't like it as much. The other drivers get on my nerves; I understand the rush of morning traffic is no one person's fault, but I do still get irked when I'm driving at what seems like a snail's pace behind someone who brakes every 30 seconds. It's an impingement upon both my autonomy to move as I please and my ability to tune out a large portion of my surroundings. It's more efficient, but it feels like something's missing.

At least I still have my music. And my thoughts.

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