Yesterday I drove from upstate New York, where I had spent the weekend visiting my parents, back to Boston. Usually when I make the two-plus hour drive across Massachusetts, I’m not alone. My husband is by my side, and he’s doing the driving. It’s an unspoken agreement Jean-Paul and I have had for years — he loves to drive, and I don’t particularly enjoy it, so he drives. I’d rather be able to relax and look out the window without paying attention every minute to the road.
But what I realized yesterday was that if you hand the wheel to someone else too often, you’re no longer driving your own life. For example, it had been a long time since I’d listened to my own music. Jean-Paul and I have very different musical tastes. I grew up loving folk music and classic or folk rock. Jean-Paul, who is a talented electric guitarist, spent his youth in new wave and heavy metal rock bands. He loves to crank up the volume, let loose a bit of waaaaaaaaaa with the lead singer, and show that hand gesture that heavy metal fans use; I think it’s called the “sign of the horns.” And of course when the guitar solo starts, the world stops turning until it’s over.
Let’s just say Jean-Paul is not into the Indigo Girls.
But I am. I am very into the Indigo Girls. And Ani DiFranco. I love U2 (my friends know I have a bit of a history with that band), and heaven help me (or should I say “Heaven Can Wait”), I will dare to admit that I have that old Meat Loaf CD “Bat Out of Hell” in my car. I have also been to more than one Grateful Dead show. Jean-Paul would rather stand outside in the middle of the New England winter and have ice-cold water poured over him than listen to the Grateful Dead.
When Jean-Paul and I drive together, we do sometimes listen to music. We compromise on the bands we both like or can tolerate. I can handle a little Def Leppard, he can handle a little Crosby, Stills and Nash. We both like Led Zeppelin. We work it out — or we just drive in silence and enjoy the scenery, and now and then, talk to each other.
But when I was driving alone, with nothing but the highway in front of me for a solid two hours, I realized that I could listen to whatever music I wanted to hear. So I loaded some Indigo Girls, Ani, Meat Loaf and U2 into my six-CD changer and listened to music that I like. It had been much longer than I’d realized since I’d heard those old songs.
The experience made me think about how easy it is to lose yourself. We lose ourselves, or part of ourselves, in relationships, groups, or professional paths we feel we have to take for financial reasons. We lose ourselves because of pressure — to make a living, to conform, to be a “good ___” (fill in the blank…wife? husband? worker? example?).
When I’m writing, it’s sometimes hard to establish, or re-establish, who I am. It gets hard to resist trying to write “this way” or “that way,” or about this or that topic. It’s easier to stay in the comfort zone of what is expected, or what I hope will get a positive response from editors, readers, etc. That kind of thinking bleeds into my life sometimes, and it’s a death knell when it bleeds into my writing. It’s the old story — no matter how tough it is, you have to find and stick to your own voice.
Sometimes, like after a long drive alone on a highway, I get too tired to fight myself. And maybe that’s a good thing.