Slothy can be good (but not at the DMV)


Fine, so none of our loyal reader (ahem) wrote in to say you’d love insights about the local DMV. I’m going to offer some, anyway, as well as a musing or two on the entire teaching-a-teen-to drive thing.

My family recently sat down to watch “Zootopia,” which is a terrific animated film whose title -- a riff on the word “utopia” and its fallacy of a meaning -- says it all. There is no such thing as utopia, and real life can resemble a zoo.

Come to think of it, so did the DMV, where there are an equal number of wild-eyed individuals as there are caged animals in the zoo. Additional similarities: Myriad languages are spoken. There are endless ways of dress. Lots of milling about (like the polar bears); dozing (like the cats); slinking (like the reptiles); hanging about (like the monkeys); and moseying (like sloths).

In fact, the sloths steal the scene -- if not the flick itself -- in “Zootopia.” Who are they in the film, you ask? Why, the DMV employees, of course! In the film, they speak at a clip somewhere around super-slow-mo; they even laugh -- “Ha! … Ha! … Ha! …” -- at the same speed.

Before my newly minted driver was newly minted -- and was merely a nervous-as-hell test-taker -- we entered the DMV and did as we were supposed to do: We ripped off a number from a little dispenser and found a seat. (We were among the wild-eyed.) We selected No. 350. A quick glance at the digital display indicated that current cient No. 215 was at the counter; our wait indeed would be longer than the amount of time we can handle visiting the (real) zoo.

Two and a half hours later, my daughter had her driver’s permit in hand and a great need for a shower (due to the nerves-inducing bullets she sweated during our stay in the starkly decorated DMV). But here’s the unexpected part: Like in the DMV in “Zootopia,” each employee with whom we interacted was very, very nice. They must be trained to not crack a smile, nor to move at a pace faster than a snail on hot pavement. But their kindness belied their appearance; we remain very grateful for how nicely the employees handled us … two of seemingly millions of teeming, needy residents, each with his or her own car-related story of woe.

Still, we had a very hard time at the DMV, sitting still and not glancing every two seconds at the digital display to see if it -- at long last -- had yet creeped forward toward our high number. People generally seem to crave efficiency and speed. Same goes for once you’re behind the wheel. But wait. A novice driver simply cannot go fast. In fact, approaching even the minimum speed limit not only is scary for the newbie at the wheel, but think of the passenger-instructor! My heart squeezes into my throat when my daughter approaches 25 MPH in the neighborhood and then 35 on the open road. Indeed, she only gets the privilege to practice her driving when we’re ahead of schedule or have none. Otherwise, I’d feel compelled to have her drive faster, which is a no-no for our current comfort level, not to mention the law. So despite my incumbent anxiety as my daughter takes the wheel, the exercise is a very good one because it requires we s-l-o-w t-h-i-n-g-s d-o-w-n (including my heart rate). By necessity we must go against our proclivity for speed.

The same zen approach works very well in writing, too. I counsel my students (and myself) to take t-i-m-e when faced with an assignment. Don’t while away that time not writing. Rather, get to the project right away; this allows time for seeking, say, any missing information and letting the words, sentences, paragraphs just sit (in your head and on the page or screen). Invariably, in my own experience, when I return to a piece after I’ve allowed it to hang a while, the final draft ends up being stronger for the forced delay. (When on a tight deadline, all this zen goes out the window.)

And avoid the DMV by any means necessary.

Nota bene: (I wrote the first draft of this post on Tuesday; Merridawn edited it Wednesday; I re-edited it today [Thursday], and I’m posting it now.)


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