The Automatic Papercut

I traded in my manual transmission. It was a great move for the environment, since I picked up a used Civic Hybrid. It wasn’t a huge monetary loss as I was able to trade my manual transmission Civic with a minor exchange of money. I even got a 2008 for a 2007 (albeit with more miles). All of these things are good. But if you know me, you know that there is a symbolism that goes with trading in my manual transmission. It is a T.S. Eliot whimper. It is another papercut. Why do I even care about this? Why does giving up the manual transmission even warrant commentary?

A manual transmission requires two hands and two feet. It requires ears that can hear the rev of the engine, and a sense of touch that feels the right gear. While it isn’t rocket science, a manual transmission requires engagement with the road that says, “put your feet on this ground and pay attention.” I love driving this way. I feel like I can maximize the capacity of the car. Undersized engine? Get the rpm’s up. Need to bring the speed down on ice? Downshift before braking. Listen to the engine, and feel the speed. Decide the appropriate gear (the more the merrier in my book). Engage your hands feet, ears and eyes, and notice the ride moment by moment. Driving a manual transmission is about the drive from the time you get into the car to the time you have arrived.

Automatic transmissions let you float above it all. They are mindless. You don’t need to pay attention to the sound and feel of driving, because the decisions are made for you. You get to take driving for granted with an automatic. Just shift into drive or reverse and go. One foot. One arm. Eyes on the road and feel free to drink that coffee, apply that makeup, go “hands free” with your cell phone. An automatic encourages you to drive without realizing what you are doing, no attention needed, and no real sense of the moment until you look up and you have arrived. You lose that time and space that got you to this place.

So, my inability to drive the manual is another papercut, earned without trying, on my Dis Ease journey. I just cannot make my left foot go down anymore with the authority necessary to disengage the gears, and I cannot bring it up with the finesse required to ease out the clutch so that my passengers don’t get jolted. The manual transmission is ease when done right. It is grace and it is a prop that forces attention. Now, I need to put my attention past the automatic, to find a way to stay engaged with the road, in spite of a vehicle that encourages me to just let it happen. Physically, it is one more papercut on this very short and human journey. But emotionally, it symbolizes a giving up that requires tremendous energy to overcome. All of us face this, we just don’t always pay attention.

This is a new attention. Time to get moving. I’m going to go out to my “new” Civic Hybrid, and put it into gear and let it take me where I will go. I’ll try not to shift it, even though my well trained left foot will want to. I’ll try not to pay attention to the rpm’s and wish I could nudge them up just a little. I will keep bringing my attention back to the road, remembering what the manual transmission has taught me. The road is as interesting as the destination, and every time I get on it, I might just learn something new, even in a vehicle that encourages disengagement. But I won’t put on makeup while driving!