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Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Clean Car Connection

Well, I guess it’s time to end-cycle on the political posts. Time to get back to more personal blogging. I think this is inspired in part—not only because I’ve run out my string with the Howard Dean stuff—but also because Dervala Hanley, just returned to North America from her amazing round-the-world journey—and is gracing us once again with some of the best examples out there of personal blogging. Her posts provide me with some inspiration to get personal again.

I always get more positive feedback from that aspect of my blogging than the political forays. Every once in a while, though, I’m forced to go political because I find myself so exercised by something that I find myself incapable of writing about anything else. Eventually, I get it out of my system and the urge to get back to the more introspective stuff re-asserts itself.

But what to write about when I’m not traveling or doing something else of special interest? That’s the dread challenge of the personal blogger. It’s like the bad old days when I was in sales and the manager would thrust his jaw forward in an unmistakably menacing gesture and inquire, “And where do you propose to get a sale today, Buster?”

I suppose I could attempt to emulate those bloggers who have the ability to start with an ordinary everyday activity and somehow manage to weave an interesting thread of personal reflection out of it—one that has relevance to a diverse body of readers.

So where do you start? With whatever you happen to be doing. It doesn’t matter. I’m just being experimental with it. OK, I’m washing my new car and meticulously cleaning every speck, inside and out. What do I do with this mundane incident?

Well, take a look inside and see what thoughts, memories, pictures, emotions, judgments, evaluations happen to be spinning around. There’s no activity in which you can engage where all these phenomena are not present--constantly creating an inner buzz.

We just tune it out, of necessity, nearly all the time. In fact, if we don’t, we’re in trouble. But that stuff is there to be tapped if you want to use it. That’s obviously one of the secrets of success for the best of the personal bloggers.

So as I’m washing the car, I notice the thought, “My Dad would be pleased.” Car care was the one area where I emulated the hell out of him. I rejected most everything else. But I bought his passion for automobile impeccability hook, line, and sinker.

In my youth, I tended to gravitate toward the nihilistic, anarchistic, beatnik crowd. These types sniffed their noses at my always-spotless car, dismissing it as a gross bourgeois aberration. This aspect of my behavior was a puzzlement to them. But I was never tempted to change my ways to gain greater approval. This bond with my father was too deep to be broken.

A lot of men say that the only times they had any real communication with their fathers was in rituals like tossing a ball back and forth or shooting hoops. I think that in my case, fixing up the car served that function. We would wash it, take it for a spin, dry it off in the shade, take a look at the engine, discuss driving tips, and, sometimes, if I was lucky, my Dad would let his guard down and wax personal.

When Jill and I were with Denise Howell this spring and I picked her up in my car, she exclaimed, “This must be a rental car. Nobody has a personal car that’s this clean!” We explained it away as simply being the result of not having little kids anymore. But the truth was much deeper than that.

People talk about personal blogging being cathartic. This has been a welcome example of that. From now on, when I’m washing my car—obviously a frequent activity on my part—I’ll think about the positive part of my connection with my long-departed father—rather than the warfare and the mutual disappointments--the heretofore predominant memory.

An overdue change, wouldn’t you say, seeing as how I’m getting rather long in the tooth?

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