Road to Nowhere

I have difficulty living in the moment more than the average person.

I’ve always been a planner. I used to schedule certain things down to the minute, though I’m much better now. I often worry about things that haven’t happened yet, and I often worry about things I’ve said, because maybe it didn’t come across the way I intended to the person on the other end of the chat. I try to script out future conversations in my head sometimes, which probably sounds almost as ridiculous as it feels to type.

I’m that person who can be having a great time and then suddenly will realize that it’ll be over soon, making myself melancholy for the rest of what would have continued being a great time had I not played my sad trombone all over it.

(I wish I had a dollar for every time that one of my friends has looked at me in my moments of despair over some good thing coming to an end and exclaimed, “OH MY GOSH, STOP.” Actually, I wish my friends had a dollar for every time they’ve said that to me. They deserve it!)

If I’m having fun or “taking it easy” (quotes intentional because taking it easy is often very hard) and there are tasks for my job or household chores to be done, I’m usually thinking about whether I need to get back to work. At the very least, I’m doing some light obsessing about how I’m going to make up for lost time when I get back to it.

Now would be a great time to mention how much therapy is helping me. I started in February and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. I write that in the interest of helping to normalize talking about mental health, by the way.

Anyway, my therapist recently asked me for examples of when I live in the moment. I had a hard time coming up with much, because SEE ABOVE.

I have been taking time in the mornings to drink a cup of tea while doing a couple of German lessons on the Duolingo app and then watching a chunk of “The Today Show” in its first hour without thinking about what’s ahead of me that day, which is lovely…so that was a check in the box. Also, I love cooking dinner while Jim is practicing his guitar. Having the kitchen to myself while I’m only focusing on putting together something (that is usually but not always) delicious feels really good. Those were the two main examples I could come up with on a moment’s notice.

Later in our conversation when we were onto something else entirely, the subject of driving came up, and it was a real a-ha moment.

I love to drive. In the before-times I loved road trips, even solo. I’ve driven to New Jersey a few times, which is about 13 hours each way from Chicago and 11 from here, by myself. Just me and the open road with the stereo blasting: it’s one of my favorite things to do. I sing along at the top of my lungs, I don’t worry about the wind blowing through my hair. Especially when I’m by myself, I feel free to stop and take a picture or check out a store that looks interesting.

Unless I’m on a hard deadline for arrival at the other end, I love taking my time and enjoying things like autumn leaves on the trees, cows and horses, run-down barns, funny or odd billboards, and sometimes depending if I get to drive through a big city, interesting skylines. I pay special attention to the road itself, not just for safety but also because there’s something about the aesthetic details of the open road: they fascinate me. I love freshly painted lane lines and of course, a newly paved road is fabulous. I love when the road ahead of me is empty and framed by trees, especially if there are no power lines present; it feels like I’m driving in a fantasy world. There’s potential in an open road, and lots of it.

When we started locking down last spring, driving was a way to escape the house while still not being around other people. I jumped into my car almost every day and drove around randomly, through nearby subdivisions for 10 or 15 minutes, just to see my part of the world and get a little fresh air.

Once I got my convertible last summer, I started going out to drive a lot. Instead of 10 or 15 minute adventures, I’d cruise the back roads for an hour, and when I had the time, even longer. I have never paid more attention to the weather forecast in my life. “Sure, it’s going to rain today, but I think there might be a 16-minute window when I can get out with the top down!”

Driving, especially in a convertible, feels like total freedom. I have a few favorite routes to follow, but a lot of the time I just follow new-to-me roads to see where they go. As a reforming obsessive planner, this feels amazing. And just like on my road trips, I sing along to my favorite tunes, pull over when there’s something I want to photograph, and smile a lot when I see the roads framed by the trees, which happens all the time on the back roads of East Tennessee.

Basically, I’m living in the moment when I drive. Once I figure out how to do that more often when I’m not behind the wheel, I’ll be good to go. That potential I see in the open road: it’s something I’m happy to work on.

“Well we know where we’re goin’ But we don’t know where we’ve been
And we know what we’re knowin’ But we can’t say what we’ve seen”

“Road to Nowhere,” Talking Heads