Blind Spots and Fish

TDS_Image_17This weekend, I learned that nothing improves my driving like a 15 year old in the passenger seat. The girls and I took a road trip to Wesleyan and Victoria rode shotgun. She’s preparing to take the learner’s permit test so she’s paying attention.

Knowing that she was watching, and being on my best behavior so that I modeled only good practices…well, it helped me see my own mistakes through new eyes. I used cruise control to keep my speed within the posted limit. I only looked at my phone at long red lights. Hands at 10 and 2. No fiddlin’ with the radio.

I signaled any and every lane change and I looked over my shoulder for good measure, even if the mirrors showed all clear.  My mother taught me to drive and she made the point over and over that whatever was happening behind me was just as important as what was happening in front of me. She taught me about blind spots–how people will sometimes ride in that spot that the mirror doesn’t show. How it’s my responsibility to turn my head and check, even if I’ve already checked the mirror.

So…I’ve been thinking about blind spots a lot this week. About how easy it is to crash into someone because you’re cruising along in your blind spot and forget to look, forget to take the responsibility to check twice and really SEE the people around you.

It’s so easy to get convinced that the angle from which I see the world is not even an angle–it’s the center.

In 2005, David Foster Wallace gave a commencement speech at Kenyon College about the ceaseless challenge of living a life of empathy. The speech was later published under the title “This Is Water.” The title is taken from the opening story:

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”


Portrait of a fishI can’t get that image out of my mind–the difficulty of seeing that which surrounds us. The difficulty of seeing what we ARE IN from any angle other than where we are.

Blind spots and fish. They’re all tangled up in my mind with the idea of privilege and some of the verbal gaffes that have made the news this week (Giuliana Rancic insulting Zendaya Coleman’s locs, Patricia Arquette creating an “us/not us” dichotomy, a news reporter in Cleveland calling Lady Gaga’s style “jigaboo music”…good grief, people!). Sometimes we open our mouths and say things without checking to see if we have a blind spot. Talking can be just as dangerous as driving. It requires checking our mirrors, figuring our moves before we make them, then looking again over our shoulder, just to be sure.

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