I came back to my car after a short visit to the grocery store but it just wouldn’t start. The messaging system in the dash blinked several messages, all equally confusing “Traction control disabled”, “push brake to start car”, tire pressure low” and “car key not found” which was my favorite as I was holding the car key in my hand (it’s a keyless system) and ultimately even pushed it in the key slot. The navigation system started without prompt telling me how to get to Boston, and all I found myself thinking was “this is my car gone mad”. Was it my own charge of confused energy that the car was sensing, I found myself thinking while at the same time marveling at my creativity at work to find a way to blame myself for this electromechanical problem.
For more than 20 minutes I tried all kinds of strategies: getting out of the car and restarting the whole process, talking to my car, deep breathing and calming oms and finally popping the hood open to see if I could identify some loose wires and check the spark plugs. Staring at the closed black plastic box that held the motor, I surrendered and called the tow truck.
I missed the days where I was able to take my small motorcycle apart and fix almost every hick up and disconnect. Both my motorcycle and later my car were purely mechanical and, thanks to my father teaching me everything about motors, I felt a deep sense of ownership of my motorized vehicles and the freedom that came along with this understanding.
I don’t like the feeling of being trapped in the space of helplessness and not knowing. When the process of creative problem solving, the question of what if, asked from all possible angles and yet lead to a dead end road, I can’t shake off the feeling that I am missing the obvious solution that’s hiding in plain sight. The questions of what’s happening and how I can fix it turn into a wondering of what I am missing and how else I could approach the issue.
It turned out that my battery wasn't holding its charge and needed to be replaced. Nobody was able to explain why the car messaging system failed to alert me. This complete breakdown of my car could have been avoided so easily if I had known.
Even an electromechanical issue became a bigger problem due to miscommunication.
As much as my outdated yet clear understanding of mechanics leaves me feeling empowered enough to at least know what questions to ask, to identify the limits of my understanding and ultimately who to call for help, I am acutely aware of my blank stare at the figurative black box when it symbolizes sociopolitical forces and systems.
What are the questions to ask? Where is the entry point? How can I identify the connections and paths signals take, where does the spark transfer to the spark plug and where is this force taking me anyway? My car failed to communicate the state of its weakened battery and instead gave me all kinds of dramatic sounding messages that were completely disconnected from the physical reality.
With the car key in the key-slot while reading the message “car key not found”, I knew that the message wasn’t the actual problem. This reminds me that a careful observation of physical realities, of body postures, facial expressions (especially eyes), sound of voices, breathing patterns, often hold more information than any messages that might appear on the dashboard of a car with a drained battery. Once again, I am reminded of the expressive power and truth our bodies and our physical realities hold.