Commentary

Drivers in That State Are the Worst

Something magical happens as soon as we cross state lines: The drivers become horrible. It doesn’t matter where you’re going or why, but that other state always has worse drivers. When I was a kid coming up from California into Portland, it was the Oregonians. “They drive live maniacs in the rain,” relayed my white-knuckled parents from the front seat.

Moving to Nevada, it was the opposite. “They don’t know how to drive in the rain,” earnest Californians told me. (Meaning Nevadans actually slow down when Mother Nature asks them to.)

Californians themselves do not escape notice. My wife, no stranger to the gas pedal, told me with some awe that she had been mercilessly tailed by semis and school busses alike on a recent trip to the Central Valley. At one point, she only evaded being rear-ended by doing her best Steve McQueen impersonation and taking a left-hand turn at 50 MPH.

Yet, however much those of us in the western US may disparage the driving of our neighbors, the debate is ultimately unwinnable. After all, we all know which state truly has the worst drivers: Florida.

Commentary

I Miss All the Crying

For the last month, I’ve had to travel extensively for work, coming home only for the weekends. Inevitably, in the security line or at the gate or inside the plane, there will be a family with a child about the same age as mine. The child will be crying or on the verge of tears — flying, after all, can be scary. The parents try desperately to shush the child. All those emotions are fine, the say, but can you please express them quieter?

I don’t mind the crying. I used to, pre-parenthood, but not anymore. I see those kids and I just miss my own. Usually in life when we miss something, our brains conveniently edit out the most uncomfortable or negative sides of them. It’s why we keep drinking one glass of beer too many, forgetting the hangover that follows. It’s why we keep getting back together with the ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend who’s no good for us.

So, it’s a powerful thing when we can see one of the toughest aspects of parenting — comforting a child who can’t be comforted — and say, “I miss that.” That’s real love.

Commentary

Making Assumptions from Behind the Steering Wheel

Last week, somebody driving by our house called Animal Control on us. They reported that our dog was outside without any water in his water bowl. Animal Control came out to find not only a full water dish but also my family playing with him. Clearly, our adopted dog, who we took with us all the way from Florida, is not neglected.

But someone assumed he was. They couldn’t see a water bowl so assumed it wasn’t there. They didn’t know we work from home and have an open-door policy with our dog, allowing him to come inside or go outside as he pleases (just a bark is all we need), so they assumed he was outside by his lonesome all day.

We often assume the worst about other people in daily life. We don’t have the facts, so we make them up to form a narrative that makes sense to us. And our narratives, like our television and movie plot lines, veer into dark territory. The guy in the car accident was probably drunk. The married coworker without the wedding ring is probably having an affair. And the dog outside in the daytime is probably neglected.

It’s impossible to understand others’ lives — the ones they live 24/7 — by observing for a few moments as we drive on by.

Commentary

A Review of (Insert Film Name Here)

I was going to write about this awful movie I saw this week. I wanted to share how dreadful the lead performance was, to decry its syncopated plotting, to shake my fists at its ham-fisted ending.

But then I decided against it, not because my opinion changed, nor because I think people should watch it.

I decided against panning the film publicly because all of these people — the actors and writers and director — were trying to come together to make something fresh and thoughtful and entertaining. They didn’t play it safe, but went for something unique. It just didn’t work out as they planned.

On social media, we love to criticize others’ efforts because it makes it easier to push down our own creative impulses — to never try. It’s much harder to be generous to the artist(s) and say, “I see what you were going for” — even if it doesn’t get there. And while there’s plenty of room for art criticism, it doesn’t need to come from all corners of the internet. More feedback is just adding another body to the dog pile…and I’d like these artists to be able to get back up, shake themselves off, and try to make something fresh again.

Commentary, Tips for Writers

Writing Is Hard

If given the choice, I’d rather not write. It’s hard, day after day, to come up with something out of nothing. Better to edit — that way, there’s a starting point. You can take something that’s already on paper and make it better or even completely change it. There’s a catch, though: To edit, you have to write something first.