The Value of Missed Exits


I was going to be teaching a workshop on Bainbridge Island, which meant I had to catch a ferry on a Saturday morning, which also meant I had to get to the terminal early enough to catch the boat I wanted but not so early that I caught the one before and wound up stranded on Bainbridge for an hour with nothing to do. So I pushed it a little – it was a Saturday morning in January, after all – which maybe wasn’t a good idea since I hadn’t been to this terminal in years and was unclear about exactly how to get there.

Still, I had GPS, so there should be no problem. Until there I was heading down Union Street where it forks after 1st Ave and the GPS was telling me to take a slight right but it couldn’t have really meant that because the slight right didn’t even look like a street – and it was too late. I was already mounting an onramp for the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a Kafkaesque no exit, mini-freeway abutting downtown Seattle, and there below me the street that really was a street heading straight for the terminal that was now disappearing in my rearview mirror.

“No!” I howled. In my mind I had already missed the ferry. Traffic raced southward like a river to the ocean with no tributaries. “No!” I yelled again, and pounded the steering wheel. Where were the exits? There were no damn exits! I pounded the steering wheel again for good measure. If I could have I would have broken it.

Then, after I’d finished pounding that wheel a third time, after I’d sworn every curse I knew, I had this thought: “This’ll be a good story.” I was still furious with myself and Seattle and the GPS, but I already knew that my fury was exactly what would make it a good story. I was two people at once, Author and Character, and the Character was still irate, but the Author was thinking, “Keep it up, friend. All the better when you make the ferry.” Which, of course, I did. There was an exit, and I took it, and my GPS brought me easily to the terminal. No sooner had I pulled into line than I had begun composing my little tale of directional hubris, missed exits, fury, and redemption. I even told it to the students in my workshop.

I never want to suffer a moment in my life. I never want to be late, or rude, or bored, or angry, or tired, or scared, or depressed, but I do love to tell stories, and I wonder sometimes if I keep throwing myself into the occasional fit of worry or outrage just so I’ll have new material. I’ll never know for sure, but I go to bed most nights feeling like more of an Author than a Character, my life behind me a spool of yarn for my weaving.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.