Driving Lessons

There's the car down at the bottom.

My husband launched his car off this cliff a half an hour before hour wedding. Some of you already know this little story, but for those of you who don’t: Relax! No one was in the car, no one was hurt (save an olive tree that was split in two), and our wedding was pret-ty perfect after that. As the Jewish side of the family was quick to point out: “What’s a wedding without a little broken glass?”

I bring this up now because the car we bought to replace the wrecked one is a stick shift. And I have never driven a stick shift. So the time has come for me to learn.

I take that back. When I was fifteen, a boy I had a crush on gave me a lesson driving his car in a parking lot. I don’t remember what kind of car it was (junky, red) or even how it happened that I got him to agree to teach me. But I was so fearless—popping the clutch, grinding the transmission—I didn’t even know how fearless I was. He was cringing in the passenger seat, then scowling, then yelling at me to get out of the car.  Never worked out between us, in case you were wondering.

Fast forward to this weekend, when Jason and I decide to go out to the desert (where it is flatter than hilly LA) for a couple of days so I could get comfortable driving a manual car. So there we are: out on the open road, entering the surreally beautiful Joshua Tree National Park.

Healing waters at our hotel in Desert Hot Springs

I take the wheel—and suddenly, I’m terrified.

Do I look nervous?

Why was it so much harder than I remembered when I was fifteen and didn’t even know how to drive at all? Maybe, I realized later, because I was fifteen and didn’t even know how to drive at all. This weekend, that fearlessness I felt at fifteen seemed impossible. Not when there were cars honking and flipping me off at four-way stops, not with all the false starts and shuddering shut-downs. Jason, it must be said, was patient as a little saint. I was the one growing more and more frustrated. Yes, there were some tears.

The trope about teaching old dogs new tricks kept springing to mind. But come on, I’m not that old. The premise of one of my favorite childhood movies, Defending Your Life, was starting to make sense in a whole new way. Is it possible that the older we get, the rarer—and more difficult—it becomes to pick up a truly new skill? Do we have too many excuses and too many reservations? If all that’s true, then what’s the quickest way around fear?

I was thinking about this when we left the desert yesterday (with Jason driving) to head to a reading and signing at the Borders in Long Beach. The passage I read was from the prologue of the novel where Luce is at her most fearless with Daniel.

It blew me away to see so many people turn out for the reading!

After my driving lesson, I wanted to focus to this brave opening moment in Fallen, and I realized I want to write more and more scenes like it in the books to come in the series. Maybe there’s even a bit of hope that some of this bold impulsiveness will rub off on my life off the page. It’s what’s so beautiful to me about teen stories. It’s why young adult writers get to focus on falling in love, and leave break-ups and baggage to adult books. Because vaulting oneself into something new and unknown—whether it’s driving a stick shift or falling in love—is much easier with a little bit of fearlessness.

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8 Comments

  1. Love this post!! Yes, you do look terrified and I remember the feeling. I know how to drive a stick, but it is no easy task! I still get scared on a hill when someone is close behind me. The Hot Springs look great, second best but great 😉
    Love you and J!

  2. Love the post and driving a manual is easy just takes practise, says me who drives an automatic!!! So wish I could be at one of your readings:) THe look on your face was priceless I know that feeling !!!

  3. Yesterday I was browsing at the book store saw Fallen and flipped it open to a random page and started reading just a little. I was hooked! I didn’t want to put it back on the shelf. then I was dissapointed because I just bought a book and can’t buy another for a while 🙁 so will have to wait to read it (my library doesn’t have it yet). Came home and looked you up and was just really taken with what you have to say about writing for teens, that’s what makes me want to read them and write them too. I just started writing and love to hear about why people write. So thanks! Can’t wait to read Fallen.

  4. I loved this.

    I was thinking the other day about how I am not quite as fearless as I was when I was 16 or 17. We would speed down the road completely carefree… hike to the top of a mountain and lean out over a cliff to get the best view… Not so much anymore LOL!

    I learned a stick as a teen, but still get freaked out if I have to stop while driving up a hill, I ALWAYS stall out, and without fail some idiot decided to drive up as close to the back of my car as they could.

  5. My husband plans to teach me stick shift this summer. I’ve got to bookmark this post so I can read it before my lesson, lest I chicken out.

    That signing looks FABULOUS. Beginning to wish I lived in CA.

  6. This blog was a pleasure to read. I’m 18 but I’m learning to drive at the moment. I think you just described me driving my friends car in this blog. Quite funny.. I just realised reading it, that in the future, when I think back to how i drive at the moment..i will be appalled by my own shamelessness on the road. I don’t even think that’s a real word. 😀

    Also I’ve had three dreams this week that I was Luce! I find it strange that I’ve only read Fallen once (and my favourite parts a few times), but in my dreams, it’s like i seem to remember all the dialogue perfectly… I think in my dream I’m Acting the part..I’m not sure. sigh. but they are good dreams..

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