Day 106: WLwC and how not-driving has changed my brain

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Had dinner with some pals on Saturday and the subject turned to this blog and cultural notions around transportation. My big concern with friends (and it’s happened a couple of times already) is that they may see my project and questions around transportation as an inherent judgment on car drivers. Of course I do!!

This WLwC project is all about becoming aware: aware of alternatives like mass transit, walking, biking–just thinking differently. I may get rid of my car at the end of the year…but I may not. As it is right now, I hardly drive anymore and my poor old hunka metal just sits gathering more dust every day…so it’s clear I could live without a car, but I need more info, about a year’s worth, so the jury’s out.

So, we got to talking and I was trying to explain the fundamental changes in my brain that are happening as a result of little to no car driving. First: I’m simply more relaxed–just overall relaxed. Life has become simpler. I don’t feel a great need to go anywhere and get anything (no wonder They want to keep us driving!). At the same time, I’m going downtown much more often–approx 16 miles RT.

What’s up with that? Well, it’s easier. Instead of a stressful trip, I now read on the bus, I enjoy the water taxi when that’s the transportation choice, I love the bike ride to the dock–all things that keep me in touch with the world around me, with the community and are pleasant. And I don’t have to stress over traffic, parking, gas, etc–all things that make me feel generally worse about my fellow human beings and my days in general. So I’ve removed a huge piece of stress and replaced it with something enjoyable and more worthwhile and my brain is happier.

Next, the “getting” part. This is sort of embarrassing but really, I used to think of my days in terms of getting in the car and going and doing something. I rarely thought in term of staying where I am and working with what I’ve got (which is a lot, by the way). Now, that’s addiction, pure and simple: my daily sense of self relied on my going somewhere else, getting something else and doing something other than being still. And it was as mindless and compelling as any addiction I’ve dealt with (and yeah, I’ve dealt with one or two 😉 ).

As a result I’m so much more focused and quiet–though my life is totally and undeniably richer than when I was in the “gotta-go-gotta-go-fast-gotta-get-there-and-get-something” mind set. My head is clearer. My overhead is lower. I’m just plain happier. Probably I can’t lay all this at the door of MLwC but a lot of it, for sure. My day used to be defined by going, and now it’s not. It’s that simple–and it’s that profoundly different.

I’ll still be mulling this over and again, who knows how this project will end. I can say that my partner is becoming more interested in the possibility of different forms of transportation and possibly ditching the second car but we’ll see…have to give this a year of observation. Another friend and his wife are considering ditching both cars to get a prius. There’s lots to think about….

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Daily Stats (Saturday/Sunday)

Car: 0
Bike:0
Foot: approx 6 miles
Bus: 0

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2 responses to “Day 106: WLwC and how not-driving has changed my brain

  1. Hey Seacat, I know exactly what you mean. How we choose to get around — whether for work or recreation or just to get around for the sake of getting around profoundly affects our state of mind.

    Personally, since moving back to the States from Europe in the mid-90s I have gone back and forth — sometimes being non-car centric and sometimes getting sucked into the general laziness and mindlessness of driving most places, even when I didn’t need to. (Is there something in the water in America that brings it on? Or is just because that’s how I was brought up? Or are the cultural forces pushing us toward consumption and mindlessness simply so powerful that they are very very difficult to resist or get around/through?)

    It has always puzzled me why I get sucked back in to the path of least resistance, as when I am in a “minimize car driving” phase I am generally more energetic, in better physical condition, feel better about my self, and am just a nicer person to be around than when I am feeling torporous and lazy and driving everywhere. Maybe it is as you describe it — like an addiction, and I just lapse sometimes.

    The 2 years I didn’t own a car in the mid-90s (before I got married and had a kid), I was biking everywhere for work and recreation, including 1200 wonderful miles one summer here in the Pacific NW when I cycled from Seattle to the San Juan Islands to Vancouver Island and back through Seattle down the Pacific Coast to San Francisco: (http://www.flickr.com/photos/briburt/sets/72157594166235901/)

    When I finished that trip I felt as empowered and happy and physically fit and generally at peace with the world and myself as I ever have before or since. I didn’t necessarily have contempt for all the motor vehicle drivers I saw while doing all that riding. I think what happened instead was that I just almost completely lost an understanding of why people would be that way and want to drive everywhere, when this way was “obviously” so much better for the body and soul and earth.

    On interesting thing that happened was that I would often be a point of curiosity at various rest stops and restaurants and campsites and such. Non-bicyclists would often strike up a conversation with me, and almost invariably I would hear two things from most of them: 1. “How far do you go in a day?” and 2. “Oh… I could never do that.”

    And, as I had a lot of time on my bike to think about these conversations, I got to thinking about why people kept bringing up these 2 particular points, and here’s what I thought: their focus on physical distance (to “get” there to their destination) is very rooted in consumer culture; the journey itself often had very little value in itself, and they were more focused on getting to a place rather than on the process of getting there, which is actually the most enjoyable part of any trip for me — probably because they were going too fast and thus were feeling too stressed to really enjoy the process of getting there. The very act of slowing down to 10-15 miles per hour on your bike REALLY makes you see the landscape differently and to realize how much of it you miss when you whiz through in a motor vehicle at 60mph.

    And as for the second point of “I could never do that” — well it is just plain old disempowerment. Their motor vehicles literally disempower them — paradoxically, the exact opposite effect of the promises of empowerment in all the cultural messages people get from car ads and the like. I remember telling some of my fellow travellers, “you know… unless you have some major physical problems or disease, ANYBODY can do long-distance bike touring.”

    As Seacat’s post astutely points out, it’s just a question of thinking a bit differently about the world and knowing what the possibilities are and then finding the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.

    Anyway, sorry about the length here, but your thoughtful post really sparked something in me.

  2. Pingback: Day 107: MLwC, comment from B2, and the loneliness of the long distance business traveler « What it’s like

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