Today, as I was driving I had two experiences that lent themselves well to the thinking I’ve been doing about writing lately. First, as I was coming through DC this morning, the Washington Monument before and the Pentagon beside me, I was in a terrible traffic jam (for those of you in D.C., this probably was just normal). We were moving about 100 ft every five minutes, and everyone was getting edgy (This was obvious by the incessant weaving we were all doing trying to see ahead into the congestion – like we had x-ray and super-distance vision).

As I settled in for the long haul, I began employing my newly developed driving strategy – give people some space. I have this theory (that has no science behind it, so be kind) that if we all just gave each other a little room and didn’t run up on each other all the time, we would actually have less congestion or at least would keep moving forward instead of inching ahead at the speed of light only to stop dead again. I would let the car in front of me get about 300 feet ahead, and then I would roll forward to meet it. I was quite content moving along this way until I looked in my mirror.

Behind me, in a red Jeep-like vehicle, a woman was gesticulating wildly and clearly at me. While I could not hear her, I imagined she was saying something like, “Why don’t you move ahead, you dumb moron? You keep letting people get ahead of you. We need that 300 feet because it’s the most precious territory on earth. If you don’t move ahead, I am going to run over you and take your six feet as well as that other 300. Did you just learn to drive today? I have a very important hair appointment to get to, missy; now move on.” This kept up for about ten minutes until she pulled into the lane to my right and got left behind while I moved on ahead into the open highway (I see this as driving justice).

My second insight came as I pulled up to the college where I tutor. The car in front of me was sporting one of those bumper stickers with tiny writing, you know the ones where you have to pull so close that you could just have them pull you ahead. As I crept up to get a closer look, I saw that the sticker read, “How about a nice cup of shut the f— up.” You can bet I backed off a little after deciphering this one. No need to make this woman mad. She might gesticulate wildly at me from the front this time.

These two driving incidents reminded me of an important lesson about writing. No matter what you say and no matter where, it can come back to bite you. As writers (and people), we are always on display – as tiring as that is – and so we must be accountable for our words. We must be sure that what we say – or what we mouth from the privacy of our own glass-surrounded cars – represents who we really are. Otherwise, we run the risk of being labelled as “the crazy woman in the Jeep” or “the grumpy person in the sedan.” Of course, these descriptions do not convey in any way the beauty and complexity of these two drivers, but since I will probably never see them again, this impression is set. (And now I’ve set it in print.)

Be kind with your words. You never know who may be reading them from a car away.

Our Words Will Change the World