Book Review: Racing to the Finish by Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Racing to the FinishI love books where I sense the amazing complexity of human experience. RACING TO THE FINISH, a memoir by Dale Earnhardt, Jr., NASCAR racer, is such a book.

Let me start by saying I’m not a NASCAR fan. I’ve never been to a race, although I’ve seen them on television. Who can forget the sight of those cars zooming around the track at the Daytona 500?

There are crashes galore in this book. For example Dale describes this one at the Talladega Speedway in Alabama:

“It started a chain reaction that would end up wrecking twenty-five cars…Tony got sideways, fell out of the lead, and slid helplessly up into our pack. He was hit simultaneously by two oncoming cars and flipped into the air…He sailed by me as I started braking to keep from hitting anyone too hard as cars were out of control and all over the place right in front of me. As we all kept sliding and other cars kept smashing into each other…

…When you’re in the Big One, you’re just like a boat stuck in a storm. You can react and steer and dig all you want, but really, you’re just praying for the best. You have little or no control. It’s just screeches and smoke and chaos. What you don’t want to hear is that crunch, that smack that tells you that you’ve been hit.”

What spectators miss is what happens next. Like heavy-weight boxers or professional football players, race car drivers are at extreme risk for traumatic brain injury. And, like other professional sports players, these injuries often go unreported for fear of losing jobs or being considered a coward or weakling. It’s a strange world out there.

The motto from his family seemed to be, “just put a washcloth over it,” or “tape an aspirin to it” and keep on racing. Dale was different, though, in that he started keeping a journal on his iPhone of the symptoms he was experiencing after these crashes that were considered part of his job.

Through the book the reader experiences both sides of his physical and emotional world: the extreme highs of fast-speed track racing and the aftermath of pain and confusion after a bad crash.

In journal entries Dale describes the post-race symptoms:

“Thursday I felt hung over and frustrated all day…Friday, I seemed to wake up really slow and feel groggy and not sharp…The three different hits into the wall that Sunday were 20, 13, and 23 Gs…There’s a lot of things I do today that frustrate me. Mid-sentence, not being able to find the words to finish. ..when in vocal conversation I choose the wrong word or can’t find the word to complete my thought, that makes me so sad and scared.”

Dale gets the help he needs to retrain his brain, but then re-injures it and has to start over again.

He was unstintingly honest about what he did, and why. When he eventually retired, it was to a celebration of people who loved him.

An uplifting book with a strong message for all of us. I thoroughly relished going along for the ride.

Cloud signals

picture of cloud signals

Sometimes I trip over my own feet, because I am staring at the sky.

This day, the clouds were giving some very clear signals. The background white ones were fair-weather clouds saying don’t worry, everything is fine. The lower, darker clouds, rapidly moving in, were saying, don’t believe those guys. You are in for some baaad weather ahead!

I’ve learned to pay attention the clouds. The weatherman may sometimes be wrong, but the weather never is. You just have to know where to look.

You can’t be
what you can’t see

~Gloria Steinem~

Keep on Trucking

keep on trucking

Every Thursday night our local Wendy’s donates their lot space to a classic car show. The guys (and it’s always the guys) arrive in the early afternoon, bring out their dust rags and start polishing ol’ Betsy for the show. Most of these vehicles get driven oh, fifty miles a month, back and forth to car shows.

My father-in-law, though, was a Master Mechanic during his lifetime. He had one vehicle, an old ’47 Chevy pickup, that he drove back and forth to work, on late night call-outs, and down to the parts store. He used to brag he’d never have a Ford in his driveway (Fix-Or-Repair-Daily he called them), but that he’d installed three engines in this Chevy and it was still running like a well-tuned watch.

He said that if you took care of things, they took care of you.

Recently, a family member took her computer in for repair, again. The tech told her that any more there is a “planned obsolescence” in computers–that if they last two years without turning into a boat anchor, you should consider yourself lucky.

I wonder what my father-in-law and his old truck would say to that.

I’d like to be a truck driver. I think you could run your life that way. It wouldn’t be such a bad way of doing it. It would offer a chance to be alone.
~Princess Anne of England

 

Barreling along

barrel cactus

This is a commercially planted group of golden barrel cactus, also known as mother-in-law cushions. I know this because no self-respecting barrel would choose to grow this close to another, just like a wise mother-in-law (without the thorns)!

Barrels have a single blossom in the spring. You can see the remains here. What I like is their representation of both the short-term represented by the fading blossoms and the long-term potential of life. Living beings often grow slowly in the desert, taking time to put down roots. Under the right conditions, barrels live to be over a hundred years old.

These cacti remind me that we do not need a reason to exist–sometimes it is okay to just sit there and look beautiful.

Observe the space between your thoughts.
Then observe the observer.
~ Hamilton Bordeaux

Wanting to fly away

West Fork, Sedona, Arizona

Bird flight is a miraculous event. I once had the privilege of watching two golden eagles in mating flight over the Red Rocks of Sedona. They swooped and swirled, and at the very last moment the female turned on her back in mid-flight and they joined, the male carrying both of them with his strong wings. That numinous vision has remained with me to this day.

I sat on the back porch at dawn the other day, watching the sparrows dive in to the feeder, while the hummingbirds performed aerial acrobatics overhead. Even the pigeons, so clumsy on the ground, soared and gyrated in the morning air.

As a species, humans have always wanted to fly. It’s the only motion of the animals that we can’t do ourselves: we can walk, crawl, swim, climb—but not fly. And we want to. But it is a particular type of flight—the flight of the angels. Not for us the flittering, bare-skinned flight of bats and pterodactyls.

No, we want wings! And feathers! Or better yet, nothing at all. Think of the magic when Peter Pan first shows Wendy how to fly, just by holding on tight. Or when Superman gives Lois Lane that first breath-taking ride over the city.

My heart stopped at that sword fight among the bamboo branches in Crouching Tiger, Flying Dragon. They had to be sorcerers, to stop time that way, in midair. Yes! That’s what I wanted, too.

We’ve tried to copy it the best we can, through airplanes. But traveling enclosed in a metal cocoon with windows that don’t open is like comparing a sedate freeway bus ride to swooping down Highway 1 along the coastline of California at 90 mph on your Harley with no helmet!

We know what we want: That startling adrenaline rush of being in total control of our own destiny. We yearn to soar through the air on the wax wings of Icarus, and yet we crash just as inevitably to the ground. We want the ability to fly. And that’s just what we can’t have.

Some people cope through complacency and forgetting. Peter Bruegel once painted a picture of Icarus plunging into the sea while a plowman nearby focused on his fields and the ships continued to sail by as though nothing important was happening.
Some people cope by dreaming. We fly only in our dreams, in our imagination, in our flights of fantasy and creation.

Maybe wanting what we can’t have is a good thing. And maybe that’s why we can’t fly.
That inability becomes both a lesson in humility and a rainbow to the future.

As long as that desire exists, the hoping and the wishing that is the most quintessentially human of virtues continues to vibrate through our species.

It pulls us forward, helping us to grow, allowing us to dream of the someday when perhaps we can fly!

Best 8 Books to nurture creative people in mind, body, and spirit

West Fork, Oak Creek, Sedona, Arizona

As a writer, I use the month of January to reorient my life after the craziness of the holidays. That’s when I plan what I want to do during the coming year and renew my resolution to be as nurturing to myself as I can be.

I visit these eight authors to find new inspiration for the coming year:

Julia Cameron Finding WaterJULIA CAMERON. To nurture my creative spirit, there is no one better than Julia Cameron. She has written a series of books, including one for women in transition, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond involving three techniques for self-growth: handwriting morning pages, taking a walk in nature, and making an “artist’s date” where you take yourself to someplace new.

She’s best known for her Artist’s Way trilogy, and my special favorite is Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance

Your money or your life

VICKI ROBIN. Even though each year I resolve  to lower my holiday spending, I’m not always successful, and as a result January can be depressing! That’s when I turn to Robin’s seminal work, Your Money or your life. It’s been called, “the best book on money period.” I like it because it is practical and not preachy. It talks about the best ways to get out of debt, saving money through being more mindful, living well for less.

My kind of advice!

 

 

Paul Wilson - Finding the quiet

PAUL WILSON. About December 24th I think if I hear one more rendition of Jingle Bells I’ll scream. That’s when I yearn for silence and I turn to Finding the quiet: Four simple steps to peace and contentment—without spending the rest of your life on a mountain top.

(Although the mountaintop wouldn’t be bad, either!)

 

 

 

Meditation on the Go
PADRAIG O’MORAIN. Meditation calms me down and gives me clear thinking, which is absolutely essential for good writing. O’Morain is a master at giving ways to be more mindful, even on days when I am crazy-busy. According to the author of Mindfulness on the Go,  inner calm can be found “on your morning commute, during your coffee break, or in line at the super market.”

And he’s right!

 

Strong Women stay young
MIRIAM NELSON. Strong women stay young. Sometimes when the words are flowing, I spend long hours hunched over a computer keyboard, barely breathing, much less moving. I get up hours later moving like a jerky robot!

I’ve found much better way is to intersperse—with a timer set way across the room so I have to move—periods of writing with short bursts of physical activity.

Strong women stay young describes just six exercises using a straight back chair and a set of hand weights that can keep you limber, strong, and young.

 

Simple Steps

LISA LELAS. When deadlines loom, marketing rears its ugly head, and there is just too much to do in my life, I turn to Simple Steps: 10 weeks to getting control your life: Health, Weight, Home, Spirit.

What the author suggests is a step-by-step way back to sanity when stress threatens burnout.

I’ve bookmarked several strategies, and use them often.

 

 

 

Omnivore's Dilemma

MICHAEL POLLAN. The Omnivore’s DilemmaI like this author’s common sense approach to eating.

I’m a stress eater and a comfort eater and a convenience eater when I’m on a roll, plotting a new novel. Set something in front of me and I’ll eat it. Especially if it contains caffeine or chocolate, or even better, both!

Michael suggests instead, “eat food, not too much, more plants.” I agree.

 

 

The healthy writer
JOANNA PENN

Finally, I’d like to leave you with a brand new one just out, The Healthy Writer. Joanna knows all too well the kinds of stress that creative people subject themselves to in the pursuit of their art.

Here she teams up with a medical doctor to give some practical tips for escaping the unhealthy habits we sometimes construct for ourselves.

A positive read!

 

And that’s my favorite eight writers on best practices that help me start my New Year in a nurturing way.

What about you?
Who are you reading for inspiration right now?