I washed my car last Friday night.. and when I say washed, I’m talking old-school, bucket-and-rag-in-hand WASHED the vehicle. For those of you who “know” me, you understand that this is quite the deal, and it was honestly a PRETTY involved endeavor — way more than I imagined it would be. Without going into excessive detail, here are 3 quick lessons that I learned while soaping, scrubbing, and rinsing the sweet and stupid, dingy-looking Neon:
- When you’ve allowed dirt and grime to build up on your car for three solid years, attempting to hand-wash said vehicle with COLD soapy water is not as effective as you’d like for it to be. Save on some elbow grease by opting for soapy, scalding hot, burn-your-skin-right-off agua next time.
- When you first enter the car washing business (as I did last Friday), you’ll discover that your not-dominant hand is pretty much useless, and you’ll also find that your primary hand tires out really early on in the game.. so make sure that you have scheduled a friend/bf/gf/spouse/stranger you hired on Craigslist to be on stand-by and ready to jump in during the particularly painful moments when your wrist feels like it’s possibly-to-positively broken.
- Don’t wait another 3 years before you wash your car again. It’s so stupid to wait that long.
So.. now that you know that I washed my car (yes; that is the overarching “theme” of this post), let me give you some back story on this.
9 years ago, I was 15 years old and living in McCalla, Alabama. I was one of those socially awkward home-schooled kids at the time, so life was pretty drab and uneventful for me. I had just picked up the guitar, so during times when I wasn’t schooling myself, skateboarding around the neighborhood, or reading about Jesus (I was a hardcore christian at the time), I was teaching myself to play the guitar. One afternoon, during a slightly underwhelming one-man-christian-rock-band practice session, an announcement from my mother broke up the relative predictability of my day.
“Hey Rose,” she peeked her head into my room (which, I’ll note, was painted a dreamy light blue), “Micah and Amy called a few minutes ago and told me that they have something they want to give to you. We’re going to meet up with them in Atlanta on Sunday.” She smiled mysteriously and then dipped out of the room in a flash.
“Wait, what?” I called after her, still holding the guitar in my lap and continuing to gaze at the doorway. “Something? What are Micah and Amy wanting to give me that would require us driving to Atlanta?” Suddenly, it hit me: “A KEYBOARD!” I yelled a little louder, setting my guitar carefully down onto the floor and running into the kitchen (where I knew my mother had scurried off to). “It’s a KEYBOARD, isn’t it?” I repeated, beaming. The whole family knew that I was, at this point in my life, a developing musician, and it was also public knowledge that a keyboard had been on my radar for quite some time now.
“You’ll just have to wait and see,” Sierra smiled mischievously.
“Ahhhh.. now I know that’s it,” I shook my head at her, “because otherwise, you wouldn’t be smiling like that.” Pleased by my own quick detective work, I settled back into the pleasant monotony of the day, ending my guitar lesson a little early and grabbing my skateboard out of the bedroom closet. Full of adrenaline, I flew out of the house and ran all the way to the main road, taking a victory ride down the rough, uneven roads of my little country neighborhood.
Sunday rolled around and Padre, Sierra and I packed ourselves into dad’s Grand Marquis. I brought my MP3 player and a journal with me so that I could be all quiet and introspective and teenager-y during the 2-hour drive. I watched from the backseat as an endless backdrop of trees rolled by and could just barely hear, above the sound of my favorite christian rock bands, the muffled and indistinct murmurs of Padre and Sierra as they chatted on-and-off. As per usual, it didn’t take very long for me to become car sick.
I voiced my discomfort and Sierra, always prepared, handled the matter instantly. “Here you go, sweetie,” she cooed consolingly, extending her arm into the backseat and placing a Ziploc bag full of saltine crackers into my hand.
“Want me to stop for a Sprite?” Padre offered, catching my eyes in the rear-view mirror. I was 93-pounds and slightly anorexic at the time and, in my estimation, every calorie counted. I knew that a Sprite would be chock-full of them. “No thanks, dad,” I answered quickly, smiling at him. “These crackers should do the trick.” And they’re bad enough, I thought to myself miserably, overestimating the number of calories they contained in my mind and then wondering how many laps I’d need to walk that evening to make up for them.
We arrived in Atlanta, Georgia, at around 4 PM. Dad pulled off of the main road (West Peachtree Street) and brought the Marquis to a halt in the Mellow Mushroom parking lot. Mellow Mushroom? I perked up in my seat. Their pizza is AMAZING! I instantly realized how hungry I was and remained firmly seated as my internal calorie counter began cycling out of control and screeching, threatening to combust. “Oh fuck it,” I sighed defeatedly (except, at the time, my internal dialogue was probably a bit more kosher — something to the effect of, ‘ohhhhh gosh!’). “I’ll just eat salad for the rest of the week,” I decided.
We entered the restaurant and immediately located Micah and Amy (my aunt and uncle) and their son, Christian. They were seated on couches in the waiting area. After walking over to them, exchanging hugs and inquiring on how everyone’s trip went, we all sat down together at a table for 6 and placed our orders. I can’t remember what everyone ordered, but I know that I chose the tofu sub (which I believed would be at least a little less fattening) and Micah opted for a pizza. We waited for the food to come and then, when it did, we enjoyed it. I nibbled at my sub somewhat nervously, eagerly but anxiously anticipating that golden moment when the shiny, black-and-white keyboard would be presented as mine. “A guitar AND a keyboard? I am so blessed,” I sighed inwardly (insert praise hands).
We wrapped up the meal, trekked outside, and – once the conversation began consisting of more spaces than words – Sierra commented on how late in the day it had gotten. Everyone in the group consented that it was time to return home. “Before we do, though,” Mike spoke up quickly, “Amy and I have something we’d like to give you.” He caught my eyes and smiled.
Ahhhhh, here we go! My heart started thumping a little harder and faster as I smiled back at him. It’s about to happpppppen! I am going to sound like MOZART.
Mike motioned me over and gestured for me to extend my hand. I did so, and then he dropped what appeared to be a car key in it. “Just walk over to that blue car over there,” he pointed about 15 feet away from where we were all standing, “and open the back trunk. Whatever’s in there is yours.”
I sprinted, taking those 15 feet in virtually 3 steps and reaching my destination quickly. I used my shaking left hand to insert the key into the trunk. The key locked into my place, I turned it to the left, and it flung open to reveal —– nothing.
I tried to hide my disappointment, immediately thinking: Oh no — they forgot it! And they’re going to feel soooooo bad! But it’s so not a big deal. Just visibly make it seem like it doesn’t matter. RIGHT NOW.
I turned around, faced the group, and laughed a little. “Awwwww.. it’s empty,” I offered lightheartedly, still wearing a smile.
“It is?” Mike looked genuinely worried. He walked over, bent down and took a survey of the trunk himself. “Well bummer,” he murmured sadly. He paused. Everyone was quiet; the silence was uncomfortable. I itched to make it go away.
Just before I was able to crack a joke, Micah shrugged his shoulders dramatically.
“Well,” he concluded, his voice rising a little, “since we forgot to bring the keyboard, I guess you’ll just have to take the car.”
My heart stopped.
For the first time in my oh-so-predictable and uneventful life, I had just been taken by COMPLETE surprise. For a few seconds, I couldn’t even form the words to speak, to ask, to confirm. Finally:
“The.. car?” I was crying. Everyone was smiling, except my cousin Christian, who was laughing, good-naturedly, at my emotional display. I looked over at Sierra and she was flashing a beautiful, toothy smile, with tears streaming down her cheeks, too.
Mike wore the proudest smile on his face. I looked over at Amy and she was beaming.
A car! I was on cloud 9.
There you have it. At the age of 16, my aunt and uncle treated me to my very first automobile: an electric-blue, 1999 Plymouth Neon. It was so unexpected. I didn’t come from a family that was “well off,” so I had NO expectations of just “getting” a car. I had assumed that it would be one of those things that I’d have to work for, but it turns out that I used that car to commute to my very first job. I rode in it when I moved away from home — traveling from Florida to West Virginia, West Virginia to New York, New York to New Jersey, and then from New Jersey all the way down to Alabama to marry Christopher. The Neon enabled me to get to and from college; it held up nicely on road trips and work trips; it helped me make it to the courthouse back in November of last year when I filed for a divorce (it was one of the worst days of my life), and for two years now, it’s carried me safely to and from late night music gigs, beautiful parks, and local coffee shops.
And for the last 6 years, I’ve been waiting for the old clunker to break. Year after year, though, it’s continued running with minimal maintenance and very little love.
For the last 3 years, I haven’t even bothered to wash the damn thing.
As I was leaving band practice earlier this month, Chris walked beside me as I carried my guitar over to the car. I popped the trunk and he ran his finger across the top of the hood of the car, remarking on how incredibly dirty the vehicle had become. “Yeah,” I laughed a little at his observation, “a co-worker actually asked me, last month, if I would wash the car if they gave me a gift card to some local car wash.” He laughed. “Are you serious? What did you say?”
“I said HECK NO!” I answered in a high-pitched voice. “It’s been three years, dude.. I’m not even going to give it up now.”
“Why are you so weird about this?” Chris asked. “Like, why don’t you want to wash your car?”
“Because,” I answered simply, looking the vehicle up and down, “it’s a waste of my time. Once I have a car that I give a damn about, I’ll wash it. Every week. Hand-wash. I’ll keep it as nice looking as my bike.”
Chris shook his head at me. “You know J, you really SHOULD give a damn about this car. Think of everything it’s seen you through. Like.. four years ago — when the front tire blew out on the interstate and we were on our way to Florida to visit your family; remember how we had to walk all the way to that auto store to get a spare?”
I remembered. “Yeah — I was soooooo glad you knew how to put it on!”
“Yeah,” he nodded his head, looking far away, remembering the same event I was. “I know that you think it’s just going to break down on you any day now,” he continued, “and from time to time, you WILL have to replace the tires, change the oil, and have it looked at.. but it’s actually holding up really well. Even though you don’t give a shit about it.”
I reflected on what he’d said. “Honestly,” I answered him quietly. “You’re so right. I DO give a damn about this car, Chris. I LOVE this car. It has literally been with me since I was 16.. I never would have had a car otherwise.” I rested my hand on the roof of the car, affectionately, and distinctly felt the hardened grime on the inside of my palm, rough against my skin. I removed my hand, grimacing a little. “You know what? I AM going to wash this car. Because it deserves it. And I want it to know that I love it.”
Chris rolled his eyes and smiled.
So I washed it as soon as I got home from work last Friday night. Check out the before and after pics!
And this whole car-washing-business got me to thinking about (2) things: gratefulness and investment. Gratefulness is easy to expound on; I’m sure that, right now – off the top of your head – you’re consciously grateful that you have..
- a place to stay,
- a job or school to report to,
- a means of transportation,
- food on the table,
- some coffee in your mug, and
- a little bit of blow money in your pocket (and I’m not talking about drugs.. I’m saying, money you can blow.. on like, burritos, outer space stickers, or cool old stools that you happen to find at the thrift store. I’m talking about spare change, you guys).
Okay. NOW, with “the obvious stuff” out of the way, think about the things that you might overlook.. the things you may easily take for granted but that you can also be grateful for. In particular, I’m thinking about your relationships with people and your relationship with yourself. Who do you love having in your life? What do you love about them? How do they motivate you, support you, and challenge you to become a better person? Do you take the time to actively tell them and show them that you’re thankful for them — their time, their attention, their presence? Turning your gaze inward, what are the characteristics and aspects of yourself that you appreciate? In other words, what do you love about yourself? It isn’t vain to think about these things — it’s actually GOOD to take a “personal inventory” every once in a while.. to notice and appreciate the things that you like about yourself. If you haven’t viewed yourself in an openly positive light before (or just haven’t done so recently), it may seem a little awkward at first, but try it out anyways. Type out a bullet point list in Word. Hand-write delicate, affirming sentences into a journal. Whisper your truths out loud. Just find a way to get them out there. If you feel like sharing what you come up with, please do! Post it as a comment below.
For me, physically speaking, my favorite aspects of myself would be my hands, my wrists, my scarred knees, and my collarbone; for some reason, they are my favorite parts of myself. I think it’s because, when I look at them, I see a boy.. not a girl. And it isn’t that one gender is better than the other; it’s just that THAT is what feels right TO ME. Now — my face, my chest, my hips.. those are not my favorite physical aspects of myself. But I’m learning to, beyond downplaying them, accept them.
Spiritually and internally speaking, my favorite “things” about myself are these:
I love that I love life. That, behind my mind, my eyes, and my perspective, even the simplest outings, assignments, and interactions are transformed into small (or really, really BIG) adventures. It’s something I learned as a child, and I’ll never, ever forget it: life is a total adventure. Every single day of it.
I love that I am driven enough to pursue the things that I want. For example, writing about it has it at the top of my mind: I’m very proud that I took the time to teach myself to play the guitar when I was a teen. I remember how absolutely convinced my mom and dad were that they were wasting $200 at Guitar Center that afternoon, but I knew, deep down on a soul level, that playing the guitar would become more than just a hobby for me. Although I’m nothing close to Mozart, once I learned to stop comparing myself to other people (as far as intelligence, looks, or talents are concerned), that fact ceased to bother me. Music is one of my great loves, and it’s also free therapy! I put in the time and effort 10 years ago, and now I’m able to enjoy playing, creating, and sharing music with others whenever I want.
I love that I schedule time to have fun on the weekends, and that I spend a large portion of that time writing. Words are one of my most favorite things in the whole entire universe. They are, in just three words: magical; healing; powerful.
We’ve touched pretty heavily on gratefulness, so here’s a quick thought on investment.
I went on a hike with a friend last week, and this is a brief excerpt from our conversation (I’m recalling from memory, obviously).
“Have you ever experienced an ego death?” He asked me out of nowhere.
“What the hell is that?” I answered him, keeping my gaze on the trail, lazily scouting for any interesting and colorful rocks that might be on the ground.
“I honestly don’t know,” he admitted.
“Well, it sounds pretty profound,” I offered.
“I think it’s where,” and here, he began gesturing with his hands, “everything you perceived about yourself just sort of.. crumbles. And you’re left with something completely new.”
“Oh — then yes. Definitely,” I answered him quickly. “I experienced an ego death last year when I realized that I was gay. Yep. Before that time, I had defined myself by my gender, my ‘christian lifestyle’ and my marriage. I may have dipped out on religion two years before then, but when I realized that I was gay, it felt like everything I’d ever known about myself or associated myself with and everyone I’d ever known just flew right out the window.”
“And what did that feel like?” He asked quietly.
“It was very strange,” I responded. “Surreal.”
We were both quiet for a minute.
“Was it sublime?” He queried.
“Definitely,” I nodded, quickly flipping through old memories in my mind. “It was a thrilling time period, really — just, invigorating. Where I had been deeply rooted before, I was now suddenly in this terrifying state of suspension. I’d effectually stripped away, in one fell swoop, everyone’s expectations of me.. including my own, so there was no longer a model to pattern myself after, or a mold for me to try to fit into. I had to come up with something new now. I was able to become something new now. But it was also unsettling.. losing my grip on everything ALL at once. It felt like my identity had just gone up in flames and I knew that everyone thought I had completely lost my mind. It was a rough time period because I had to learn how to rely on just me. I didn’t really realize, before, that I had been relying on other people so heavily. But truthfully, I was, subconsciously, in the habit of viewing and estimating my own “self worth” in light of how I felt other people liked, loved, or hated me, and I was constantly gauging my own abilities based on how I believed THEY assessed and valued me, and what THEY thought I was capable of. Because I wasn’t accustomed to loving or trusting myself, it was a rude awakening to discover that I only had myself to count on. That only I could support and see myself through this.”
I paused. “Damn. So yes; I have definitely experienced an ego death.”
Then, our conversation drifted off into the topics of transitioning (which I’m still NOT going to, btw, in the traditional sense of the word) and body modification. We discussed that transgender people aren’t the only people who feel trapped in difficult, contrary bodies.
“Absolutely not,” I voiced in agreement with him. “I mean, the list goes on. Women often feel like they need breast enhancements because they feel like the boobs they were born with aren’t good enough, because they don’t resemble or stack up with what they’re seeing in cinema and magazines. And then, I’m totally playing off of a stereotype here, but so many men haul their asses to the gym and work out constantly to achieve this ideal, ‘masculine’ image which is ALSO portrayed to them in the media.. like that is what they’re supposed to look like. Me.. I buy into that shit, too.. to a degree,” I followed up quickly. “Like, I had to pierce my ears and ink up my body to feel more ‘correct,’ and ‘masculine,’ and you.. you’re on hormones.” We looked at each other, shrugging and nodding.
“We’re all just doing what we can to feel more at home,” I concluded softly. “Some of us take more drastic measures than others, and then some people just don’t even bother with trying to change a thing; who’s to judge any of us?”
We invest in these bodies because we want to feel comfortable in them. Right? Well, that stream of consciousness led me to thinking about my car and how it took me three whole years to wash it.. because I thought, for that length of time, that it wasn’t good enough — it wasn’t worthy of being washed. And then, I thought about my house. I let that place get messy as hell ALL week long and then rush to clean it and make it look “presentable” RIGHT before each showing. Why? Because I want the prospective buyer to enjoy how nice-looking it is. I want them to think: boy, I’d LOVE to live here. But why isn’t it enough for me to keep the house clean so that I can enjoy how nice-looking it is? And why do people feel the need to get top-surgery, douse on make-up every single day, work out obsessively or lose a never-changing 5 pounds? Is it so they’ll look more presentable to the world so that the WORLD can “enjoy” or approve of them, or is it just so they’ll feel better about themselves?
And since you mentioned make-up..
I saw a meme on Facebook a while back that was a real game-changer for me. It was a picture of an old, Romanesque statue — specifically, a nude sculpture of a woman. She had her arms raised and, in the picture, someone had photo-shopped a phone into one of her hands, making it look like she was posing and taking a selfie. Tons of people had begun posting comments stating that “women who take selfies are so vain” when one wise person, who really caught my attention, stepped up and said something to the effect of:
“Oh.. so this sculpture was originally made so that men could enjoy looking upon a nude woman. Right? So they could enjoy her beauty. And society says that THAT is okay. But god forbid that a woman should look at herself and also see beauty.”
That struck me as being very true. Simply recognizing the beauty inside or outside of yourself and appreciating that beauty does not make you vain. At all. It was crazy; this person had, with less than a paragraph, caused me to change my mind on something I’d always taken a firm stance on. Why? Because it made sense. I had just always been wrong.
For years, I’d thought of make-up as being nothing more than a stupid waste of time. I believed that women who wore it were vain; they they were just wasting money trying to cover up imperfections, and that they were stupidly obsessing over their appearance. And do some women do that? Obsess over their appearance? OF COURSE they do. And so do some men. But make-up isn’t the issue, and I realize that now. Moving on.
Before ‘making’ this realization, I had actually brought the matter up with a friend during one of our usual, candid discussions.”Well what about you?” She asked me very seriously. “You like to wear boys’ clothes, spike your hair up, and tattoo your arms. You wear those two captives on your ear and that pendant around your neck every single day. And you do all of these things, I’m assuming, because they make you feel comfortable in your body and because they make you like the way YOU look. Right?”
I stood in her doorway with my arms crossed, arching my eyebrows at her. “Yeah?” I answered. “And?”
“And that’s exactly what WOMEN are doing when they put on MAKE-UP,” she breathed out quickly, looking exasperated.”They want to LIKE the way they look, too, and make-up helps them achieve that.”
“Yeah, but are they really doing it for THEMSELVES, or are they doing it because they feel like they HAVE TO in order to compete and keep up with other women, or to at least look presentable to a world that dictates how they’re supposed to live?” I paused, and before she could speak again, I held up my hand. “Like — okay; you want to wear make-up for YOU. Cool. I agree with that. Wear it because YOU like it. That’s empowering and great and awesome and whatever.” She shook her head at me, filling the air with quiet disdain and listening along in silence. “BUT,” I continued, “if you’re doing it because you feel like you HAVE to.. because people will think you are ‘letting yourself go’ if you don’t.. then I don’t respect that. Only do it if you’re doing it for you. Having any other kind of motivation proves you to be unauthentic and it’s just a stupid waste of time,” I concluded, raising my hands in surrender and backing out of the room, watching as she continued to shake her head and catching the hint of a smile on her lips.
Full of so many dumb opinions that I treat more like facts,