The car has broken down again, refused to start, leaving me stranded in the Red Rooster carpark on Plenty Road. The RACV are about half an hour away. The things I was hoping to do this afternoon, the little after work chores that fill the end part of my day are now an impossibility. Instead I’m being forced to sit in the passenger seat and think, listen to music, stare out at the traffic, and perhaps write a little bit.
I don’t know why the car won’t start. The stereo and the lights work just fine, which leads me to believe that the battery isn’t totally flat. I’m entertaining the idea that maybe it’s the starter motor, something that exists to me as a name only. I don’t know where it is or what it looks like. When it comes to engines I have no idea. This has been the case for my entire life, ever since I realized getting sent out of engineering class with my friends was way more fun than staying inside and doing the work. I’ve come to terms with it – there’s a reason why I pay the extra for roadside assist.
While I enjoyed being sent out of engineering class, I never felt the same way about English class – indeed, some days English (or its immediate cousins, Drama or Literature) would be the only class I would attend. I’ve always been in love with language, with the manipulation of words, with stories and poems and essays. Eventually I began writing outside of school, spilling my guts into a journal, then into a zine, occasional opinion pieces, then eventually into this blog. I’ve been writing for nearly a third of my life, I guess.
The problem with writing, however, is that it’s essentially an attempt to describe the indescribable, to put into language things that are beyond language. I’ve always thought that the glory lay in the attempt, that writing that resonates with us does so because of the passion or skill of the writer simply trying, rather than because they’ve been successful. It’s an extension of the Platonic ideal, I guess – we have the ability to envisage perfection, but not achieve it, and it’s that vision that drives us to continually reach for it.
I thought, when I started this blog, that it would be interesting to write about music, because, as some famous guy once said, writing about music is like dancing about architecture. It was an explicit attempt to challenge myself, to attempt the impossible, to see how close I could get. As time went on and I started writing more and more about cycling I found that while the subject had changed, the challenge was the same, that it’s just as difficult to describe the physical exertions of the human body as it is to describe the creative exertions.
Recently, however, under the guise of still writing about cycling, I’ve been trying to write about bigger things. You may have noticed. And it’s when I’m writing about these bigger things that the words feel particularly useless, that my attempts feel woefully pathetic. It’s like I’m groping around in the engine of a car with absolutely no idea of which bits go where. I’m undoing bolts and doing them up again, removing and replacing the same parts over and over again, getting grease all over my hands, fumbling with spanners and wrenches, convinced I’m doing the wrong thing. Even this paragraph, this obvious allegory, has taken about half an hour to write – probably a blessing, given the circumstances.
Eventually the RACV arrive. It is the starter motor. I can either get a tow truck and have the car towed to my mechanic, or sit and wait another hour or two for the RACV parts guy to come and replace it on the spot. Either option is going to be expensive, so it’s more a matter of convenience. I opt for the latter.
This, I guess, is where the allegory falls apart. When the car breaks down I can simply shrug my shoulders, close the bonnet, make some calls, and two hours and two hundred dollars later the problem will be solved. But when the words break down, I’m left staring into space, incapable of doing anything other than simply feeling, grinning like a fool or crying like a baby.
The RACV call. They don’t have a replacement starter motor in stock. I order a tow truck and arrange to have the car dropped off at my mechanic. He’s a good guy, my mechanic, and this development will probably save me a bunch of money. The money was never my main concern, but I don’t mind saving a little bit, and besides, it’s nice to be dealing with someone I know.
Maybe that’s where the allegory comes back together again. Sometimes my first instinct is to go with the easier option, to bring the parts to me, to get someone else to turn the wrenches and get their hands dirty. I’m like that with words too, using a joke or a couple of swears or a story to make difficult things easier. But maybe I should just shut the hell up once in a while, learn to concentrate on the feeling, to actually feel it rather than attempt to describe it. Words are all we have, sure, but they’re not all we are. I should probably remember that sometimes.
The tow truck eventually turns up. The guy loads up my car and lets me sit in the cab with him. We drop the car around the corner from my mechanic. I make an envelope out of a page torn out of my diary, with my name and the location of the car on it, and slide it underneath his door. I’ll ride my bike to school tomorrow and call him during the day to discuss the damage. He’s open late on Fridays, so hopefully I’ll be able to pick it up then. That’d be ok.