Writing emotion. Or, how to turn on a car.

I feel like I’m behind the wheel of a car and I can’t figure out how to turn it on. Maybe there’s no ignition, or I just can’t find it. Maybe it’s one of those new cars with the silly push start button, and because I have a predilection for anything that was made before 1970, I can’t wrap my mind around this shiny new contraption. This is how I feel most of the time.

Every now and then, I have a moment of euphoric clarity, where I suddenly exclaim, “Ah-ha! I’ve got it!”

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I turn the car on, the engine rumbles to life, and then–

Struggling to breathe, it chugs, groans, and then dies. And I glance down as if in a nightmare, only to realize that the ignition has disappeared, or I’ve lost my keys.

Is it the fuel filter? Where’s the restriction? I can fix this. I can fix anything. I’m a fixer— my whole life, fixing things, making things better, or at least believing I could when I was really attempting the impossible.

A couple of days ago, I sat down to write a poem, and instead I wrote three pages of something I couldn’t find a name for– prose, maybe? The title: Love and Rape. I read it and reread it a number of times, noticing something different about it, something I didn’t usually see in other things I’d written. What had I done here? The writing almost embarrassed me, and I began to wonder if I could show it to anyone. Was it worth something? Could it help people? Could it be useful to other women– and men –who have been through what I’ve been through?

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Me on the short-lived Lincoln Tech Race Team

I sent it over to a colleague, a fellow editor and friend whom I respect a great deal. And she told me that those three pages was more emotion-packed than anything else she’d read of mine.

“Ah-ha! I’ve got it!” Somehow, I managed to get that car to run. I think of everything in terms of cars, and it’s been that way since I was a kid, all the way back to the days when I didn’t really understand how they worked, but I sat in my room and put together models, carefully slipping on tires, fitting on doors, checking under small hoods.

I always want to know how things work. Long before I went to school for automotive repair, I was fascinated with it, and I researched things like “capacitor” and “how engines work” just for my own amusement. Why? Because, deep down, I want to fix things. And I think I wanted to fix myself, which was broken, and had been for a long time.

I always wished I was a car, a vehicle I could take apart and put back together. “Ah, here’s the trouble. We should have seen it all along. She’s got a bent axle. And here, look– warped rotors. We took the clutch apart, and it’s all but disintegrated. Her flywheel is warped, too. Poor girl. And all this time, she had no idea what was wrong with her.”

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I’m getting closer. Since I realized something was missing from my writing, I’ve been doing a lot of deep thinking, trying to figure it out. I always consider those nightmares I have where I’m standing in front of a mirror, and I realize my face is covered with bruises and scratches. I touch the tender flesh and wince, not remembering how it got that way. And when I wake from the dream, I rush to the bathroom and check to make sure I’m okay. No bruises, no cuts, no black eyes. But underneath– deep down, buried, are wounds that haven’t healed.

And I can use that in my writing, if I can just figure out how. It seems I’ve done it with those three pages I wrote. Now if I can just apply that to everything else I write, I’ll be in business. I’ll reach my full potential.

I’ll figure out how to turn that car on.

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Track races at Palm Beach International Raceway

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