White Knuckles

I encountered a phrase a few years ago that I think should be used more commonly. Where I saw it, though, I do not remember. It appeared to be a typo, but if it was written like this on purpose, it looked like an artful accident. The writer described a learning experience as a “learning curb.” A great word pair.

I wish I could claim credit for this one, but I can not. I wish I could credit this writer—but does he or she know that there were was this epic phrase in their post? As I said, it looked like an accident, a typo. In the context it looked like they thought they had typed “learning curve.”

Many of my learning experiences did not have gently sloping learning curves or even steep learning curves; indeed, many were “learning curbs,” on which I banged my forward progress to a sudden stop or flipped my (metaphorical) vehicle.

Learning to drive, of course. An easy example, the road, where Reality introduces itself to its longtime foes Analogy and Metaphor.

My first driving teacher was my father, and he is still with us and I am still here, so he was a blazing success at it. (I no longer drive, because of my spinal muscular atrophy; more than once I have watched my right leg move when I thought I was moving my left leg, and the other way around, too, and I have also watched as neither leg moved when motion from either one would have been good, which sucks and is sufficient to keep me unambitious about driving again. There are cars with hand controls, though.)

My only remaining memory of my father teaching me to drive was from the day he decided to teach parallel parking. He selected an unreasonably steep hill in the City of Poughkeepsie (Noxon Street) to test my parallel parking skills, which had not yet been acquired in theory or reality. It was smart in that it made the lesson difficult and it made his point: For my dozen years as a driver, I successfully avoided every and all parallel parking situations. I parked across town and walked to avoid parallel parking situations. Oh! and I still have dreams in which I fall off the City of Poughkeepsie. (Not “out of.” Off.)

My next driving instructor was a coach at my high school, and he made me aware of something that I have struggled with my entire life, and not only when driving: I am a control freak, to use that overused expression. He gazed at my white knuckles pushed against the steering wheel, my fingers spread wide to enclose as much of the wheel as I could hold in my hands at once, and said, “Relax your hands. Those cars have drivers, too. You can only drive this one.”

I failed my first driving test. Of course. Sixteen years old (or whatever age) and a white, preppy-ish, suburban kid, like the boy-child I was? If anyone reading this is a driving tester, I hope you please flunk anyone matching my description, at least once. I earned my license on the second test, which my memory tells me I took later that same day, but knowledge of how things actually happen on Planet Earth tells me that this could not have been so.

I am a control freak. And I usually fail the first test, the tests in life where any coincidences between information in books and the facts in reality are revealed to be rare or nonexistent. (Any script that any retail manager has given me, no matter how well I have memorized it, has been blown up by the first real customer on the sales floor, who inevitably asked me something that did not appear anywhere in the script. Like if I knew the location of a bathroom.) But life has given me more than my share of second chances at these tests, more than I deserved or expected, deserve or expect. Eventually I learned that you can drive your vehicles far better than I can drive yours for you, as long as I pay attention to mine.

Not every learning curb is a step one.

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This is a re-write of a column from September 2014.

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