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Stalling out, shifting gears

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Staff writer Abby Hollingsworth is a junior English writing major.

I have absolutely no desire to learn to drive a stick. In fact, my disinterest in the whole ordeal may very well be filed under an extreme phobia of the process. I have trouble even comprehending why, as long as there are cars available that do that gear shifting business for me, I would ever need or want to engage in such a stressful and distracting activity. In my five years of driving an automatic, I’ve noticed it is mostly the male folk who enjoy the more manual method of travel, yet even my most feminist bone has no desire to personally challenge this stereotype.

To be perfectly honest, I am just terrified of stalling out. As a former passenger to a stick-driving amateur, I know how scary a stall-out can be. I have felt my stomach in my throat as the rest of me inches backwards down a fatally steep hill. I’ve experienced the cold sweat of watching helplessly while the driver shifts frantically, praying she can get it in gear in time to save both our lives and those of the wide-eyed passengers behind us. This fear is real. I get nervous just writing about it.

By this point you are thinking, so don’t drive a stick Abby. It’s not like anyone is forcing you into the driver’s seat of a malicious manual car. In this day and age, you can avoid your phobia with much less effort than those of us who are scared of something imminent like small spaces, commitment, or anything that comes in clusters. You’re right, of course, and I’m not asking for pity. I’m learning something important just by divulging this fear to you, and I wanted to share it.

It turns out my fear is a bit deeper than the literal stress of driving a stick. I have figuratively stalled out recently in several other areas of lif; the same cold sweat accompanies these crises. After two years of enjoying the lifestyle and experience of this college shindig, I feel the crunch of its impending end. I’m stalled in the middle of the concrete past and the future that vaguely resembles an amoeba. This feeling of temporary suspension carries over into relationships with friends and family, ever changing plans for the next chunk of my life and my handle on my feelings towards all of these. There are weeks when I go from feeling stuck in the rut of routine feelings and actions one day to accelerating with zeal and adventure through the next three or four.

Which is better – experiencing bits of life as they fly past or digging in and dwelling in those stalled-out times? A year ago I might have opted for a life of only smooth travels with the windows down and sun shining in, avoiding at all costs extended times of uncertainty or fear. After a few more stall-outs than I could have predicted, I see the perspective they can bring to what is right, what is important. Nothing can match relief both driver and passenger feel when the car finally kicks into the appropriate gear and fear is replaced by the laughter of another close call. This same relief can accompany the end of a time of emotional stalling when it is spent intentionally.

I’m preaching to myself when I say I doubt we can live our fullest lives if we are too afraid of stalling out. Often it is in the uncertain that truth is revealed; the sudden jolting halt of a change of plans can prove to be the catalyst for true understanding. It is important to take the cold sweat and stomach lurching feelings as signs of something to be savored, appreciated, or at least briefly contemplated before jerking  into action. Whether in relationships or future plans, sometimes it is OK to stall out; then you can get moving again knowing your break from neutral had purpose and intention.

This does not, however, mean I will be attempting to drive a stick anytime soon. Fear not, and drive safely.


Sept. 13 , 2007

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•Slow down, breathe
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•Stalling out, shifting gears

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•Damien Rice
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•Bruin Club