Soulcraft

You could watch the above with a rational heart and announce “what a load of crap”; I couldn’t argue with you in any logical sense. Still, I’m willing to admit I have cried watching Speed Racer in the past. There’s a scene in the end – and unfortunately not on Youtube – where the car dies and he needs to restart it, ignoring the Grand Prix around him and just listening. Feeling. There is something to these vehicles that transcends the mere logic of metal bits moving about and propelling us forward.

I never understood, having a younger sister, why girls liked horses so much. They are, to my mind, ugly plodding things that emit noxious fumes and are generally impossible to control. They are uncomfortable to be on or around and grossly underpowered compared to the vehicles in the stable’s parking lot. But there is something – and I haven’t experienced it myself – that I assume happens: you become one with the horse and it stops being two free-willed animals attached to each other and starts being one machine, one connection of control. I look at my car, at my seat that fits my back and the steering wheels that bears my thumb prints and I can’t help but think that sometimes it is an animal of it’s own. Somehow, these parts come together and create something better than a mere metal sculpture.

My car (above, photo taken by my father before I was born) is not impressive to most, boasting a whole 70 horse’s power when new (and surely many have run away in the meantime) coming from the ’88 E16s 1.6L engine. It was my parent’s car when they were first married and will be an antique next year. It was a car that I rode in the back seat of as a small child and the one I learned to drive standard in, eventually just buying it outright. I love her.

I’ve mentioned numerous times in the past my love for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and I just started Shop Class as Soulcraft yesterday – two books that compliment each other really well both in terms of message and application. I don’t yet own a motorcycle, although the lessons transfer to not only other vehicles but life itself. That’s why they’re in the philosophy section of the bookstore, I suppose. The medium of machinery is a very good metaphor for the machines that are us, the being of human. I appreciate that in both cases the underlying text is that we as people have sort of detached, like a rider and horse, into separate beasts. Mind and body and white collar and blue collar and emotional states and our very perceptions of things are all in these broad divides. I think the case they’re trying to make is that we need to mount the horse or get in the driver’s seat and become one with ourselves again. That we almost look at the things around us with that same cold calculation that we look at cars as just hunks of metal when really, they are a thing to experience and identify with.

The scene at the end of Speed Racer is the perfect metaphor for our internal, personal divide. The protagonist asks of the car, “What do you need?” and although getting no explicit response, proceeds to listen and to know. To be intuitive about the smallest things. I think we ask ourselves this every day and find ourselves frustrated when we aren’t in tune enough to find the answers. We don’t trust the gut enough to act on those little, unspoken ideas and feelings that pour forth.

Is it silly that I treat my search for a new car much like I’d treat the search for a new stallion or a good German Shepard? Maybe. Is it silly that my eyes get a little watery over the course of a kid’s movie? Yeah. Will I sob violently when I have to say goodbye to my darling Pulsar? Definitely.

But I do think, and I say this as an extremely logical, meticulously practical person, that we need to simply feel and listen more and act on those gut instincts. That we can look at ourselves and know things are wrong much like a mechanic on a motorcycle can feel when the gas mixture is too lean or when a spark plug has build up. The sounds and smells and vibrations are all there, but we have to not only learn to identify with them but to act accordingly and fearlessly.


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