This column explores the myriad ways we can — and maybe should — engage with our creative process beyond actively writing.
There is no wifi here, which shocks me. People linger all around me, waiting for their problem only a professional can solve—two people by the windows as it rains outside, separated by tables; one with a lunchbox opened in front of him but untouched, with a banana and water bottle peeking out, another a woman in a turquoise tank top with her gray bag and a paper coffee cup growing cold as she scrolls her phone. To the left of me, three people sit in oversized black leather chairs as the television oscillates between HGTV renovation shows that they aren’t watching. The only sound besides unoffensive oldies music is the various silver chains slapping against the chest of a middle-aged woman with graying, silver hair. She sits at the front desk and greets people as they walk in; she seems almost born with the job in mind.
Everyone is talking about the rain. “It’s raining again.” “Look at them out wandering in the rain.” “Why would he go outside? It’s raining.” For a Western New York summer, at the least the twenty-five I’ve known, this seems normal, expected. And much better for someone like me, who is already thinking about fall.
I’m here, sitting, waiting for my mother. But I’m here at the dealership because my tires are leaking again. Ever since I got my 2019 Subaru Outback, I’ve been battling tire pressure. The front two are quite dramatic, and drop below their required 35 psi at least once every two weeks to the point where, like a Spidey-sense, I’ve begun to feel in my body when it should be happening soon. For a few months now, I’ve just accepted it as part of my driving experience. I’m only at the dealership now because the car has also began making a rattling noise. Which was enough to push me over the edge—that and deciding two dollars for air was getting ridiculous.
My car before this one was thirteen years old and, much like my situation now, routinely drained its engine at the most inopportune times. Like the Albany-Rensselaer train station after I was in New York City for the weekend. Like a new-to-me town’s grocery store in the middle of winter. Like Target’s parking lot after I finished a late-night shift. Or that time my left back tire ruptured on the thruway; I watched the deflated body whizz past in the rearview mirror.
I’ve gotten acclimated to car jargon, to waiting patiently in waiting rooms orchestrated by unidentifiable clangs and clanks of metal. I’ved joked about knowing every AAA worker in the Upstate New York area. I’ve looked at cars without their wheels and realized they’re just beasts of plastic and metal innards that we trust every single day (if you’re from an area like mine that is unfriendly to people without vehicles) to keep us safe and alive. If there is a positive to the habitual maintenance my two cars have required, it’s that I’ve become more knowledgeable, a better caretaker—though my father would certainly disagree.
When I dropped my car off, I mentioned I’d been here twice before, already, for these tires, hoping that would trigger a response of we won’t make you pay for this (it did). And I asked the man—the same one I get every time who makes me feel as if I’m being sold something despite knowing they do not receive commission here—why this keeps happening. It’s not that I want to pay for new tires, but I want this cycle to run its course. To be finalized, perhaps perfected, at last.
“Sometimes it’s just the salt that wear tires down,” he told me. “If there’s a nail or something, that will be a new wound. But sometimes tires just break down.”
It is not lost on me that this is the third time I’ve had my tires re-sealed (at least at this Subaru dealership, there were countless other times at an old-school car shop in downstate New York when I lived there), and my third take on my memoir draft. And though I know I will most likely go through this all over again with my tires, in a perpetual conflict with sealant that just won’t hold, I finally feel as if a light has switched on in my writing. I’m not sure how best to explain it, but there’s a sort of physicality now present in the work I’m doing. As if I’m turning it inside out; as if I’m remembering how to write again. And it kind of feels like this is it. But I’ve said that before, so who knows for sure.
I’ve also settled into the knowledge that writing a book will not be a quick, easy process. And that I wouldn’t want to publish something that only took me a year anyway—much less drive on a car that routinely runs out of air. So I’m sat in this dealership and I’m observing. I’m listening to the voices around me, watching as the rain falls outside the window and playing a game with myself, testing where in the sky I can see the outline of each throng of water as it falls. Later, around three, I’ll pick up my car and the tires and the rattling will be fixed. And for a while, it will feel as if nothing can break again. But it always will.
There will always be some minor detail, some minor kink, to work out and through.