Wednesday, December 11, 2013

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Asking for Directions (Part II)

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Asking for Directions part I

I made a U-turn, and started driving back toward Lidskillet Road. And as we drove, I could see Mel’s eyes switching between the road and me. I could see that she wanted to say something. It was in the back of her throat. She wanted to point just before Lidskillet and say, “Turn! Turn! Right there.” But she knew that it might cause a problem. That I would get on the defensive. It was distracting. I keep looking at her rather than the street signs. I was getting frustrated.

A lot of this circles around to my sensitivities. I am really self-conscious about my directional inability, and I am not fully sure why. I think it has something to do with being a man. As a man I should know where I’m going. I should have a genetic understanding of direction. Right? But I didn’t know where I was going, physically or metaphorically. 

I never knew where I was headed in the car, or on foot, or on my bike. And getting lost in the physical sense reminded me of the fact that I felt lost in life. I didn’t know what direction I wanted to go with my career. I never really have. That was part of the reason I studied creative writing for nearly a decade. It felt like I was working toward something, a degree, or several degrees, but I was not necessarily working toward any real job prospects. I was working toward a short-term goal when I should have been working toward a long-term goal.
I didn’t know where I was headed as a father. I had no real fatherly goals like “help my daughter learn to read by X age,” or “become my son’s soccer coach.” Much like I did at the mall, I was just wandering, hoping to bump into where I needed to be. Yet somehow this has worked out for me. I wandered through my college undergraduate degree, knowing that I needed to get more practical skills, picking up what I could along the way. More or less, I just kept moving forward, hoping to bump into something. It took me five years to finish an eclectic degree that I am, to this day, still surprised they awarded: Bachelor of Science, in English, with an emphasis in Creative Writing, and a Minor in Power Line Technology.
When I got accepted to Minnesota State University for my Masters degree, I realized that I didn’t know where Minnesota was. I looked it up on a map and thought, “Wow. That is really far north. I wonder if it gets cold up there.” It did get cold. UN-American cold. 

Minnesota Borders Alfred Hitchcock
And after graduating with my masters, I applied nation wide, interviewed everywhere from Iowa, to Colorado, to Arizona, and somehow landed in Oregon, a state I once flew into on my way to Washington State.  But now that I live in Oregon, I love it.
Although my wandering has worked out, I feel that I should’ve had more direction because I am a man, and I needed to know where I was headed and why I was going there. But I didn’t, and it made me feel scared and lost and unaccomplished. And anything that reminded me of this defect in my person got under my skin.
“You passed it again.” Mel was really biting down now. Her hand was tightly gripped on the door handle, and I could see anger in her eyes. I wondered what she was thinking. Perhaps she was questioning why she married me. Or maybe she was just fighting to blurt out a long tirade of offensive names. One reason she was so angry was because this was an ongoing frustration. I’ve noticed that in marriage many arguments are never really resolved. Battles are won, compromises are made, but the war presses on. Mel and I have a few of these long term wars, ranging from the lesser and cliché arguments of putting down the toilet seat and who does more house work, to the more complicated arguments over sex, money, and free time. I long ago accepted that these arguments might never go away.

I pulled off to the side of the road to make another U-turn. As I did, I could hear Mel mumble something under her breath. I wasn’t sure what it was, probably, We’re going to be late or something to do with the pies we were bringing getting banged around in the trunk. But in the heat of the moment, I assumed it was something very derogatory, something like, you’re a moron.
Some people are known to “hear what they want to.” However, when I’m frustrated I tend to hear what I don’t want to. This is obviously a problem I need to work on.
“You’re the one who seems to know where we need to be. Why don’t you drive?” I said.
And in fact, she did know where she was going. She always did. She can look at a map, and with in a few moments, she knows what direction we need to go. She can do this in unfamiliar cities, strange rural areas, malls, wooded areas… anywhere, like she has a GPS in her head. She has an acute sense of direction that extends from the road to life.
I could ask Mel anything about her future goals, and she would have an answer: What does Mel want for a career? To be a greenhouse manager or perhaps a plant propagator. How many kids does she want? Three. Hopefully two girls and one boy. When we started discussing marriage, she pulled out a scrapbook with magazine photos depicting how she wanted her marriage to look, and a detailed budget for the wedding and reception. She’d created this long before we ever met. She has always wanted to live in a small house, in a small town, with a large back yard that includes a greenhouse with a banana tree and exotic birds inside. She has always known what she wanted. She has always had direction. I noticed this fact early in our dating and found it very attractive. It seemed to complement myself. 

However, my lack of direction drives Mel crazy.
Mel leaned her head back into the headrest and let out a long exhale. She hated when I asked her to drive. This was something I have never fully understood. She drives all the time. She drives Tristan to school each morning, drives to the store, drives Norah to dance class, drives the kids to the park, drives herself to school, an so on. In fact, she drives much more than I do. So it’s not that she is a bad driver, or ever scared of driving. However, if we were in the car as a family, it was clear that I should be the driver whether I am directionally handicapped or not. And I wonder if this, once again, comes down to gender roles.

Asking for Directions (Part III)

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Clint Edwards is a tutor coordinator at Oregon State University. He is also the former co-host of the Weekly Reader on KMSU and a graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State University. His writing has been listed as notable by Best American Essays, and has been published in The Baltimore Review, and through The University of North Dakota, Boston College, Emerson College, The University of South Carolina, and Minnesota State University.