On the Value of Long(ish) Car Rides

When the pandemic hit, one of the big changes I went through was that suddenly I stopped driving around the state. Up until then, I had a number of meetings I’d drive to on a regular basis, and since I live in a fairly remote spot in the state, those drives were typically an hour or more, one way. For church, I had a 1.5 hour drive 2-3 times each month. There was another one of the same for the university library system, a 45 minute one for MLA, and then multiple one off meetings that would be scattered here and there. All told, I was in the car for around 8-10 hours a month, I’d guess. Almost always by myself.

Big deal, right? The pandemic just meant I was in my home office for looooooong stretches by myself every day, so that shouldn’t have made a real difference. Except now that I’m getting back into the groove of having some work-related driving again, I really do notice it.

There’s something for me about sitting in a car, driving, that’s almost meditative. I have all that time when my brain is occupied, but not to the point that I can’t sit and think about other things. What do I think about? All sorts of stuff. From what’s going to happen next in my latest novel to how to handle tricky work situations to what I can do help my kids. I think up blog post topics, or think back on different experiences I’ve had in life.

It’s different than sitting alone in my office or at home, mainly because any time at just around the house or at work, there are other things that I should be doing. Simply thinking feels somehow far less efficient, and I typically feel guilty for not being more effective. But when I’m in the car, that’s time that I can’t be doing anything else. No guilt involved!

And really, just thinking shouldn’t be looked at as a waste of time. Don’t get me wrong: there comes a time for thinking to end and action to begin, but taking the time to properly think through a problem can save so much time and effort compared to rushing in with your gut instinct. I have acted differently and changed my mind because of some of the thoughts I’ve had in those car rides over time. They were a time to clear my head and make sure I had a handle on everything going on around me. Losing out on that time made it easier for me to feel harried and out of sorts.

But didn’t I have that same time when I was stuck in my home office? No. It didn’t feel the same, probably because I felt like I should be doing something other than think. Again, it’s the difference between feeling like I’m spinning my wheels (see what I did there?) and actually doing something worthwhile.

No doubt the same could be said for other ways to pass the time. I’ve talked to knitters who say the same thing. Hobbies like painting likely scratch the same itch, too. Anything that puts your mind into a relatively restful state, allowing your thoughts to go where they want.

Anyway. Just a thought that occurred to me this morning that I thought I’d share.


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