Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Learning to drive

My first evaluation driving lesson was driving in snow!
I've been thinking about this post for a little while, just as I've been learning to drive (and still don't have my license) for a little while longer than expected.

Let us start with the fact that I'm a 35, soon to be 36 year old man, and still don't have my drivers license. I know I'm not the only one, but people can still be surprised at that. For a long time I had a canned and ready answer: my parents didn't have the money when I was 16-18 years old, and about that time we moved to the centre of Versailles, and Paris shortly after, I didn't need it living in a big city, and when I started earning enough to consider learning, I thought spending elsewhere would be a lot more interesting. I spent it on holidays instead, basically.

Thinking about it, I hadn't learned to drive all this time because truth be told I'm just not very interested. I've never cared much for cars, and driving seemed to be a hassle. I love to leave my mind to wander while I'm traveling in a vehicle, and to me that seems more important and worthwhile than having to pay attention to the road.

So far learning to drive had stayed in the department of unfulfilled good intentions, though moving away from Singapore to the South of France I knew I'd need to learn, and this was also part of the reason for the move back. I don't think I'll be a full time city-dweller my whole life so until teleportation becomes available cars unfortunately seem to be the best - or currently most popular - option.

I've written a few times in this blog that I've been enjoying learning new skills and trying out new activities in the past few years, such as Thai massage, scuba-diving, or home brewing beer. This year so far is about learning to drive, and it may well sound surprising if you've mastered that a long time ago, but for me it has been pretty tedious and difficult.

Early this year, I was with my little brother Morgan's car in the countryside lanes surrounding the vineyards, to try out and learn the basics. I sat behind the wheel and it felt pretty odd.

I put my hands on the wheel and said something like: "Wow this is weird, I can't remember the last time I was behind a steering wheel..."

Morgan looked at me, raised an eyebrow and replied: "You've never actually sat behind a car's steering wheel, have you..?"

"Well now you mention it... Nope..."

And then he taught me to start the car, and given right in front was an incline, spent time starting it again and again going up a slope - which I learned later isn't necessarily easy. At least I gathered that I could do it.

I began the official process soon after with a local driving instructor. The theory test was easy, that's comfy territory: learning stuff and regurgitating has never been much of an issue for me.

When it came to the driving lessons though it became a little tougher, and recently I've been talking with friends about why that might be, which was interesting. I realised I have a thing going on that I panic if I feel overwhelmed - particularly anything to do with physical coordination.

You can ask me to learn something by heart or type on my laptop while having 5 people yelling different things at me and I'll generally be fine. Add the same people and ask me to cook under pressure and I'm almost guaranteed to hurt myself (I'm a decent cook, just not a professional one).

Last week I burned myself making coffee because I was at a friend's place and unfamiliar with their coffee machine. I messed up making a first coffee, felt embarrassed at myself (no need for the 5 people), panicked somehow, and then burned myself making the second coffee...

In the past few months I've had a bunch of driving lessons, and improved enough to take the test in late May. I thought I was relaxed and confident before starting, and then failed spectacularly. I had all the best conditions for the test, including a really cool examiner, but accumulated mistakes. I've never stalled so much in barely 20 minutes. And apparently stalling in the middle of a busy roundabout is not acceptable...

While I was looking at what had happened, it's interesting to notice that the physical skills I've learned in the past few years more or less require slowly focusing on one thing at a time. It's not that I'm desperately clumsy (not that much, anyways!), though  if or when I feel there's too much pressure and too many things to coordinate at one time, I panic. And hurting myself or failing tasks then reinforces the idea that I'm awkward altogether as a truth.

I'm sure there's a part of talent, and driving is unlikely to ever be an area of expertise for me. That said at the same time it's allowing me to realise that it's mostly a question of practice - there's no particular physical reason for me to be worse than most drivers. In the end, identifying my panic reactions as they happen letting me catch myself in the act, relax when I realise it's silly, and get over it, lets me be present to what I'm doing - driving in the case of this story.

It looks like I won't have a new space to take the driving exam until September, I'll be in touch about the results of the next test. Cross fingers for me. If you have one, please send a 'Don't Panic' towel!

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