Trailer: Learning to Drive

Posted on July 10, 2015 at 3:54 pm

Writer Katha Pollitt found herself learning how to drive for the first time when she was 52.  She wrote about it ruefully in an essay that provides the title for Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories, which has now inspired a movie starring Sir Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson.

Here is a brief excerpt from the essay, which she discussed on NPR.

“Observation, Kahta, observation! This is your weakness.” This truth hangs in the air like mystical advice from an Asian sage in a martial-arts movie. “That, and lining up too far away when you go to park.”

The clock on the dashboard reads 7:47. We will role-play the test repeatedly during my two-hour lesson. I will fail every time.

Observation is my weakness. I did not realize that my mother was a secret drinker. I did not realize that the man I lived with, my soul mate, made for me in Marxist heaven, was a dedicated philanderer, that the drab colleague he insinuated into our social life was his long-standing secret girlfriend, or that the young art critic he mocked as silly and second-rate was being groomed as my replacement. I noticed that our apartment was becoming a grunge palace, with books and papers collecting dust on every surface and kitty litter crunching underfoot. I observed-very good, Katha!-that I was spending many hours in my study, engaged in arcane e-mail debates with strangers, that I had gained twenty-five pounds in our seven years together and could not fit into many of my clothes. I realized it was not likely that the unfamiliar pink-and-black-striped bikini panties in the clean-clothes basket were the result, as he claimed, of a simple laundry room mix-up. But all this awareness was like the impending danger in one of those slow-motion dreams of paralysis, information that could not be processed. It was like seeing the man with the suitcase step off the curb and driving forward anyway.

I am a fifty-two-year-old woman who has yet to get a driver’s license. I’m not the only older woman who can’t legally drive — Ben recently had a sixty-five-year-old student who took the test four times before she passed — but perhaps I am the only fifty-two-year-old feminist writer in this situation. How did this happen to me?

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