Sometimes – well quite often – I come across a little film or piece of writing that identifies something I’ve long felt and articulates it better than I could. This piece from the School of Life, on what some time behind the wheel on the open road does for you, encapsulates why I’ve come to find driving therapeutic. It’s one reason I’ll sometimes choose car over train for getting to fieldwork.
The narrator comes from Belfast, like me, so it even sounds like me.
Neglected parts of one’s inner life emerge on the road …
Driving is an unexpected tool for thinking.
In staccato, interrupted, inchoate daily life, a long drive can provide an island of continuity, flow and control. The “cocooning effect” he mentions rings true – though I probably don’t exactly emerge as a butterfly at the end of it.
There is also a less life-affirming side to life behind the wheel, which was in evidence in a particularly grim six hours I spent last month on a stretch of the M6 en route to fieldwork in Wolverhampton: http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/m6-likely-remain-closed-most-10835662. I never made it to my workshop on ‘big data’, emerging from the traffic jam only at 10pm, some four hours after the workshop session had been due to start. We were lucky the good folk of the Black Country agreed so readily to come back a few days later. Much luckier than the poor driver who joined the choir invisible on the M6 earlier that day, the source of the gridlock. But even then, once the evening was lost, the panic subsided; and released from M6 imprisonment, I experienced a fecund few hours of thinking as I slipped back along the M40 home.
I used driving-as-therapy quite deliberately just before the arrival of my daughter back in 2012. My wife and I agreed I could be spared for a day, a few weeks before time, and anticipating the intense months ahead I drove to the Brecon Beacons – briefly walked up half a beacon – and drove home again. It was beautiful. I just let my mind wander wherever it wanted to go; I followed whatever roads seemed interesting. I returned home refreshed and ready for the domestic whirlwind. Even listening to Man City snatching the title from United with the last kick of the season, as my Toyota Prius rolled out of the Welsh hills, failed to spoil the healing glow of that late Spring day.
The School of Life, by the way, which made the film, is worth checking out. Started by philosopher and writer Alain de Botton among others, it’s a great resource for thoughts, books and courses if (like me) you’re interested in how life can be more satisfyingly lived, but religion isn’t your thing: http://www.theschooloflife.com.