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Sleeplessness

Sleeplessness due primarily to self-righteous anger.

A smarter friend once said depression is anger turned inward.  Is this state of mind (and full body assault) then depression turned outward?  That final snap triggered to the unreasonable, irrational, illogical catharsis?

For years I’ve attempted to chronicle exactly this situation (with fictional twist) and even now I’m thwarted.  I’m living it, I’m experiencing it, I’m watching so closely yet this is the point where writing gets hard.  I don’t know what to say or what to write and as I try typing out these words, the ones you’re reading right here, the anger recedes from the overboil to a bare simmer.

And its in these unobserved moments I find that little bit of hope and optimism amid the swirling ugliness released.  That I can do this.  That I can make this work.  That it will all be okay.  That I will survive and thrive, and that one day I’ll look back on this and think “yep, that was the right move” – or think “yikes, screwed that one up” — but still I fight regardless of the regrets or affirmations.

So while I may have hit extreme burnout, and while this anger causes trouble and underconsidered or ill-advised action, tomorrow will be different.  Starting tomorrow, it’s all mine.

In Praise of Quitting Your Job

This is my constant struggle, but said much much more eloquently.  Original by Ben Pieratt, available here; shamelessly reposted by me; comments in blue are mine.

Update: just as a little bit of background, I’m back in the interview process for a few different positions, one of which I’d kill (or seriously maim) to have.  To be perfectly frank, I believe it would be perfect for me, especially considering this post below.  Too often I’ve worked with those who weren’t inspired nor inspiring.  This position, company, and people I’d work closely with would radically change that experience – already I’m inspired and thinking and the job isn’t mine (yet).  Regardless of what happens concerning the job, it’s affirming to know that I can still be inspired by those I work with AND that I’m appreciated for my skills, talents, and abilities, and especially for my creative, problem-solving mind.

Now back to your regular programming:

In Praise of Quitting Your Job

(Alternate title: The New Work Ethic)

I wrote this email to a friend a few weeks ago, and then the topic came up again last night with an old buddy who was frustrated with his work. He seemed to appreciate what I had to say, so I figured it might be worth sharing:

– – –

Thinking about your comment at the end our call. Thought I’d put some words down. Apologies in advance for the presumption.

The reason I’m so supportive of you quitting your job is that I’m intensely empathetic to your situation and I believe that you’re doing everyone a disservice by sticking around.

I’ve worked for a handful of companies over the course of the last 6 years. I started all of them with a fair amount of enthusiasm, but within 5 months of each I dipped into a depression. By 7 months the work was having a tangible effect on my mood and outlook, and by nine months, I’ve quit almost every job I’ve held. The longest was 12 months at [Redacted], and that was only because I wanted my options to vest. I handed them my resignation on my 366th day.

I always feel like a waste of space in these situations. Part of the depression stems from being so useless. Why do I hate this job so much? What is wrong with me that I’m so entitled? People the world over have jobs they don’t like, why am I unable to stick this out?

I could wax on this for a while (and I did, but then deleted all the paragraphs), but I think it comes down to the fact that, for some people, work is personal. Personal in the same way that singing or playing the piano or painting is personal.

Totally agreed on this point, and I beat myself up about this (and how I shouldn’t take it personally) each and every day. Every. single. day.

As a creative person, you’ve been given the ability to build things from nothing by way of hard work over long periods of time. Creation is a deeply personal and rewarding activity, which means that your Work should also be deeply personal and rewarding. If it’s not, then something is amiss.

Okay, small point of disagreement: things are not built from nothing.  It comes from something existing (usually many things), but re-ordered or re-expressed or re-done or re-concepted in a new, inventive, innovative, creative way.  Usually these “things” are solutions to problems; the more complex the problem, the more nuanced the solution(s).  Creative folks relish the fact that there isn’t just one way to do something – there are millions.  Don’t believe me?  How many poems, songs, paintings, books, expressions are out there with the singular goal of telling someone that you love them?  I rest my case.

Creation is entirely dependent on ownership.

Ownership not as a percentage of equity, but as a measure of your ability to change things for the better. To build and grow and fail and learn. This is no small thing. Creativity is the manifestation of lateral thinking, and without tangible results, it becomes stunted. We have to see the fruits of our labors, good or bad, or there’s no motivation to proceed, nothing to learn from to inform the next decision. States of approval and decisions-by-committee and constant compromises are third-party interruptions of an internal dialog that needs to come to its own conclusions.

I’d like to state for the record that I’m not anti-committee and approval.  In fact, I need others’ feedback regularly in order to keep the process going.  It’s a struggle to balance out the need for stimulation (creative partners and decision-makers) versus the need for isolation (to actually get something done) however, and I do agree that interruptions in the process are creativity killers, especially when surrounded by morons who either can’t wait for an idea to develop and see a drafted product OR who can’t make a decision or provide feedback.

Your muse can only be treated as the secretary of a subcommittee for so long before she decides to pack up and look for employment elsewhere. If you aren’t able to own the product and be creative, then you aren’t able to do your work, and if you’re not doing your work then you’re negating a very real part of your personality, which is no good for anyone. No good for you and certainly no good for your employer.

I’ve come to terms with my own inherent work issues simply by recognizing that my weaknesses in one context are strengths in another. When I am able to own a project or product, I work hard and I work well, and I like to believe it shows in the results. Not everyone can do this. Not everyone is willing to spend stupid amounts of hours on a project simply because they believe in it. This is worth recognizing.

My strengths: problem-solving.  Give me a challenge, something complex, and let me run with a white board and several marker colors.  Once we’ve got it figured out and approved by necessary parties, I’ll oversee the implementation, but if you don’t give me another problem to solve, I’m gonna get bored.

My weakness: when I believe in something, I pour myself fully and entirely into it.  I’m not a typical 9-to-5 employee; I don’t leave my brain in my desk at work, and when I’m faced with something where the solution we need isn’t clear, I’m probably not gonna be at my desk.  I’ll likely be outside, or running at the gym, or drinking coffee and watching people, or listening to music or driving or drawing – something that requires just enough attention to let my brain focus on what I’m doing physically and not  overanalyze a problem or possible solutions.  Amazingly, my ideas percolate best that way.  And if I have no ideas initially, research research research in the veins of good art is copied, great art is stolen.

My point is simply this. From what little I understand of you and your situation, I feel like I can empathize. I would guess that you’re juggling a handful of self-loathing with a justified sense of entitlement. This is something that I came to peace with after I left my last job, and I get the sense that you’re still struggling with it.

Bingo.

I suspect that eventually our culture will catch up with our evolving understanding of work ethic and the personal nature of work in creative fields. In the meantime there’s going to be a lot of wasted talent pushing too much effort in the wrong directions. It is clear to me and anyone who interacts with you that a misplacement of your energies is at everyone’s loss. I hope that you’re able to recognize this fact and move forward accordingly.

It’s encouraging that not only am I not alone in these feelings, but that this other blogger gets it, publishes it, and makes it less my fault.

~ HUGE thank you to Ben Pierrat!

I Think This is ‘Writing Face’

The ‘Blog Face’ – I’m gonna need some voodoo-style wrinkle cream in the next five years.

For a day that’s been fairly productive, I’m now wading through the muck with ‘Travels with Molly.’  Trying to write the beginning – and going back to the original music I listened to during the development of the original idea back in 2005-2006.

[Yes, I can chronicle my music autobiographically.  Yes, you can call me Rob Gordon (though I also make obsessive lists, I have little need or desire to revisit past relationships – once was probably more than enough for me).]

The time period was full of genre jumping – but what I remember most was the commute to work in the mornings.  I was a cool kid: I had a first generation iPod (god, how did I live life before an iPod…oh wait – with a MiniDisc player), and I’d listen to it all. the. time.  I rediscovered music, wallowed in favorites, branched out and found new and different tracks, provided gratis from my fine musician and audiophile friends.  Vinyl was still a cherished medium, don’t get me wrong – but now I could stand outside in sub-freezing temperatures, waiting for the train, dancing along to Jet and the Black Eyed Peas and the Caesars…you get the point.  It was a big deal, you whippersnappers.  It brought color and vitality to an otherwise frigid grey day met with dark icy night.  It brought reprieve to the lab job I worked (read: slaved); brought sanctuary to the cubicle job I held (read: became disillusioned with); brought joy and gratitude with each play of Ok Go’s “Invincible” and “Don’t Ask Me” and “It’s a Disaster” – among several hundred other favorites.

That iPod met its untimely death when I dropped a 20lb weight on it at the gym.  It was pitiful.  I cried at Boston’s only Apple Store (and couldn’t show my face there again…until I bought a Nano in January 2006 – which still accompanies me to the gym).

But I digress.

It was January 2006 I remember best: standing on the platform, waiting for the train at Davis Square, stressing as both the train and I were to be late yet again, sick with anxiety, wondering how many other people waiting there on the platform were in devoured in their own personal hells as I was.  I’d known for three months I couldn’t continue as I was; I’d applied to a full-time law program; I’d applied to a variety of new jobs, new hopes, new titles, new responsibilities: and I waited, the clock ticking. slowly. in. my. head.  There was one particular day I got to work early, stimulated by an idea of Langston Hughes – I’d woken before my alarm, thinking of dreams deferred – and without a glance or word to anyone, sat down in my cubicle, opened my laptop, and searched.  These were the days before absolutely everything was on the internet, and I couldn’t find it.  These were the days before coffee (my birthday, September 2006).  This was a day that I gophered above my cubicle, looked over at a co-worker’s empty chair, and made an executive decision: I’d be right back.

And to the Boston Public Library I went.  To the expertise of a librarian, through the stacks, to just the collection: and there it was.  A dream deferred.  And then I wanted to see Allen Ginsberg.  And then Kerouac.  And whisked away through the byzantine library, surprisingly populated for a Tuesday morning.  I absorbed and analyzed and lingered and with sycophantic pleasure, I pursued, now on the hunt for just the right written words.  The clock in my head stopped ticking, the clock on the wall finally flying after months of dreary monotony.

I returned to work the next day without explanation, I think.  I’m sure there was some laconic excuse – there usually was.  It wasn’t worth sharing the truth, that finally I’d pieced together together the puzzles of my despair.   It wasn’t appreciable, not in such a raw, pornographic form.  All I shared was a singular idea, just before leaving in May.  I thought I’d never feel as free as I did that departing day – turns out the albatross evaporates with every good decision, every good move, every personal stand and victory.

And I love it.

Next anticipated date of freedom: maybe July 30.  Maybe August 8.  Maybe sometime in September.  Consider me in full state of preparation, just like the old days, from here on out.

Scratching a Spine

I’ve got an idea coming together at warp speed and I’m electrified by it.

Though I’m not sure I can fully explain.  I’ve been reading (sneaking, much like candy) Twyla Tharp’s treatise on creativity and suddenly I’m exploding with new thought patterns, processes and more.  In the book, Tharp speaks passionately on the need for scratching together a whole and the need for spine in an idea.  I’ve got the itch and the spine and the boxes of notes and information and reminders and lightening impulses – now I just need time.

Ignore the man behind the curtain for a moment – the story I’m writing is a cross between the myth of Narcissus, the Wizard of Oz, and the death of David Foster Wallace.  Throw in a little bit of ‘you only see what you want to see – and little more’ and a dash of exploding obsession and a hint of revolution along with a few spoonfuls of generational angst dedicated to Carl Solomon – and we have a book.  A book built on the construction, destruction, and renovation of a dream in the present grasp of the fetishized generation.  Falling in love with a vision of yourself can only lead to an obsessively brilliant death.  Simply, from Dostoevsky:

“She looks at herself instead of looking at you, and so doesn’t know you. During the two or three little outbursts of passion she has allowed herself in your favor, she has, by a great effort of imagination, seen in you the hero of her dreams, and not yourself as you really are.”

It’s time to write.

Zola the Chopper

For the first time ever, I was on a motorcycle this past week. Allow me to introduce Zola, a beautiful fiery red chopper, and her owner, Stephen:

The experience was incredible.

And that’s all I’ve got for you at the moment – it was incredible.  We traveled through Grapevine, opening it up out on the access roads paralleling the highway, crossed Grapevine dam, wound our way through downtown.  I got into my car the next morning and something was off; the car wouldn’t respond or go like Zola (nor its driver) did.  I found myself speeding excessively, windows down, in a subconscious attempt to feel as open and free, thrilled and submissively trusting – as I had the night before.

It’s still riding on my mind, the wind through my hair, forcibly filling my lungs and etching my face.  And that type of submissiveness – to the driver, to the bike, to the elements – yet still maintaining a dominant presence.  Hmmmmmm….

It’s a perfect experience for a shift in a person’s outlook, if not being.

Hmmmmm…

Act Two: At the Sea

I came to the little house on the sea about four pm or so after driving – how long now, four or five days, maybe. Small little houses lined the rough asphalt road, forlorn and empty, longing for the summer sunshine, families and kids, dropped ice cream cones, barbecue grills, sand in the bedsheets. Instead the salt sprays blew against the exterior, warping the siding and etching the paint. I’d followed my nose, that prickly salty seaweed scent from the highway, turning the car down long stretches of houses, the leaded windows rolled down to catch the breathy breeze. I’d never seen the ocean, but knew its smell instantly; there was nothing else ever like its funky clean odor.

The little house sat at the end of the road, its front door bathing in winter light, its back porch sitting tall on stilts. Any of the houses would do, I supposed; I hadn’t seen any sign of people for the last half hour, and this one, just like the others, had wooden shutters hiding the windows, no newspaper at the foot of the drive, no flowers or shrubbery. Just a wind chime hanging precariously at the front door. I turned the car into the graveled drive, pulling it as far from view as I could, around the side of the house, a thousand points backward and forward. And then I sat, I don’t know, maybe ten minutes, just staring out over the dash, the sea shining gold in the afternoon sun, waves tickling the shore. I thought I’d gone deaf when I’d turned the key, silencing the car motor; I thought I’d lost all my senses, my body numb from the vibrations, my knuckles no longer white, my nose crusted full of a salt, my eyes glazed in awe of the water everywhere, drawing and pushing itself in and out again and again. It was the tinkling of the wind chime to restore faith in my ears, the touch of sand just outside the car door to restore touch to my fingers, the final exhaustive sigh of the car to crinkle my nose.

I opened the car door, slid from the seat and stood on wobbly legs at the head of the boardwalk leading down to the beach. Already sand irritated my skin, caught under my watch. I removed the watch and my shoes, rolled up my trousers above the knees, unclasped my bra, discarding it in the back seat. How long since I’d walked more than a few steps from the car – five or six days, maybe – as I stepped onto the creaking boards in my bare feet, my heels only grazing the splintered wood. It was twenty-two steps downward to the sand, another sloping eighteen to the cold wet slush. I hesitated, bracing myself for the unknown. Four tentative steps and water caressed my ankles as I gasped, my feet covered with icy water, goosebumps electric up my legs, across my arms, shivering in response. I stood there dumbstruck with the slushy sand sucking my toes, looking out, an irrational voice cajoling me to another step and another step, and one step more, as the water raced around my legs pushing toward the shore, sweetly singing for just another step into the depths. I couldn’t feel my legs or feet as they took another step, soaking my trousers with the next great rush, again grabbing my breath as they stuck to my thighs.

It was then I turned just slightly back to the sand and the speck of a little house, happier now with the tiny car in the drive, all of it rising above the dune, above the waves soon to overtake my hips. I waddled out, my mind now racing with glory – how incredible the ocean! – shivering uncontrollably, my legs heavy and stupid with cold, my feet thudding up the boardwalk. I peeled the trousers from my legs, tossing them haphazardly atop the car hood, searching insistently for an open door or window, a blanket or towel. One window, the last I’d tried along the back porch was unlatched and I, with the grace of an elephant, crawled through, my body hitting the wood floor with a bruising thump, laying there for just a moment to take in precisely where I was – and for the dust to settle.

Though the exterior of the house was uniformly plain, the interior I can only describe as a forgotten mausoleum by the sea. Pristine dust layered across each surface, yards of cobwebs laced the low ceilings; furniture vintaged by age overpowered by mold; orange and green rust pocked metal hinges and appliances; the walls pale blue – maybe? – decorated with water stains; beams of light seeping in from cracks in the shutters . Vacation houses and time-shares were supposed to line these the beach, yet no soul had crossed the threshold in years, only the wind, the rain, and the sea. It was then I worried: would I find earthly remains in the adjoining rooms? I reconsidered everything, from taking the car to the trip to stopping here and breaking into this house, close to tears for the obvious insanity of it all, my heart pulsing through the floorboards with untempered fear and unwilling curiosity. “What happens now,” I whispered, a grain of hope for no reply.

The Echo Chamber

DoOneThingTodayThe other night I couldn’t sleep.  While this isn’t an uncommon occurrence, it was bothersome: something big was on my mind, something amorphous and seductive.  Call it meta-curiosity, but I got out of bed, threw on some clothes, unpacked my laptop, and sat waiting.

I’d read Seth Godin‘s compilation of What Matters Now (if you haven’t downloaded this free inspirational ebook, go and do so, then come back) earlier in the afternoon, picking it out of the mess of my Twitter feed.  I went through at a high-level, looking through the eighty-something pages of ideas for 2010.  And on first read, I thought to myself “Self, why aren’t you putting something like this together?  This is what you do best – what’s different about you?  Why haven’t you done this?  Why haven’t you written your manifesto?  GET TO IT!”

I put it aside for a few hours, roiling with discontent – and unfortunately taking it out on the sweet boyfriend.  He went to sleep and I laid there, listening to him breathe, asking myself what I needed.  What did I need to make it all happen, to calm that ambitious voice in my head?  Am I screwing around, or is what I’m doing the right path toward what I want to do?  What do I want?  How do I get that?  I know I’m not happy right now, but is it a necessary unhappiness to realize something later?  Why put off this happiness any longer?

Then I realized I’m in the echo chamber, caught in a crowd of voices parroting the same thing over and over, louder and louder, bouncing against nonporous walls.  And oh to countervail the crowd, even if faceless, nameless, and comprised of an unknown number.  I slipped out of bed, tiptoed into my office, and sat at my desk with my head in my hands.  What to do now.  What to do now.  What to do now to stop the voices all around me crowing of instant success while I languish in apathy.

Weeks passed before I found a true answer.

Simply to take it a day at a time and make one small step forward each day toward the motley grouping of goals.

I’ll keep you posted on progress.

Bar Scene, Travels with Molly

“A nickel for your thoughts.”

“That valuable?”

“Inflation.”

She looked through the wall, slightly upward, in a moment of personal reverence. The windows across the room had clouded due to the incoming humidity and body heat in the small cafe. “Opportunity.”

“Opportunity?”

“Yep.”

He gave her his lop-sided grin. “See, that’s why I love you. You can condense the last two hours of thought into a single concept. An amazing ability, and now I’m even more interested in whatever it is going through your mind. Mostly ’cause it goes straight across your face too.”

She protested. “We’ve been sitting here listening to jazz – three incredible musicians – which is why I can say, in a single idea, what I’m thinking. It’ll cloud up, it’ll get messy, but I can bring it all back to a single theme regardless of whether I have other people along for the ride. A full knowledge of the rules with the impetuousness to break them. So,” she said authoritatively, “conclusion first: opportunity.”

“Break it down for me.”

She almost sighed. “Okay. Opportunity asks two things: that you listen, for one, and for two, that you then accept or reject it. I’m good at the listening part – maybe too good. The accept/reject part I really need to get straighten out. Look at us – we’re both drowning in potential. It drips from our pores constantly. But we need to either accept or reject the opportunity that comes from this potential as it shows itself. The mealy-mouthed, half-assed, one foot out the door isn’t gonna cut it anymore, or we’re never gonna get anything accomplished. We just need a little courage.”

Her voice gained smokiness. “And lately I’ve been in a ‘chase the dream’ mentality, maybe because everyone around me are all so unhappy with their present condition. Dreams deferred in the face of opportunity? I can’t do that anymore. Opportunity should be second fiddle to the dream. Not the other way ’round.”

He sat there in the black leatherette booth, his arm across the back, eyes narrowed, looking upward to the tin ceiling, thinking through the thought.

“Or maybe I just need to grow up. Somehow though, I’ve lived my life with opportunity coming first and I don’t think I can live like that anymore. I envy those who can, don’t get me wrong. I get that I’ve slapped in the face with the silver spoon. But I can’t force myself through this life anymore.” She looked through him, her eyes fiery. “I just can’t.”

More on Molly

(Meanderings mostly)

She opened her eyes, a gradual process. The morning light was shaded by shabby blue cotton curtains, but provided enough to look around the room. A ceiling fan hummed above her; the white walls appeared grey; tumbled stacks of clothes lined the walls; books were piled at the baseboards; hats hung in a row above the closet; jazz records framed on the wall; a saxophone and an ironing board leaned against a door. Two stained wine glasses on the table, clothes strewn all over the floor, and Molly’s cold nose suddenly pressed into her foot, nuzzling it. She blinked several times, trying to piece everything together. Then something next to her moved, groaning. Conrad. It all came rushing back.

They’d closed the cafe together, the two of them talking about their dreams. Over a few glasses of wine, they’d sat on the wood patio, introspectively staring out across the dunes and into the waves. Molly behaved herself, lying next to her chair, watching the two of them interact. It had been comforting smiles, not laughter. After hours had passed, Conrad took her hand, led her back to his bungalow, wine glasses in hand, neither of them speaking. Silently they’d walked, and on arrival, didn’t bother to turn on lights. They stepped through the house, out to the deck, he still leading her, Molly joining. The wind had picked up and clouds hid the moon, and he spoke only a single word: sit. The wine glasses and bottle were placed just so between two vinyl camp chairs, and he returned inside. And she sat, listening to the wind blow around the corner of the house, like a woman humming softly. The ocean appeared navy against the smoky colored clouds, churning. And then the serenade of a saxophone from inside the house. She listened, absorbing the music of the sand, of the water, of the wind, and now of the melancholy sax. It had been his dream to play.

And he played for hours and hours, speaking to her as a friend, a lover, a confidante, through the open windows of the bungalow. And she understood, still looking into the swirling abyss of water, sand and wind. And finally – she smiled, slowly breaking into a grin. The saxophone faded and collectively the world sighed. Several minutes passed before his shadow hung in the doorframe, his fingers outreached to her. Molly was first to enter, prancing and wagging her tail. Elly rose from her chair, taking the glasses and bottle into her hands. He immediately took them from her, setting them on a nearby table. Then took her by the waist, his arm resolute, his hand splayed against her lower back. The wind gusted, enveloping the two of them in their embrace, drawing their bodies closer to the other. This time, though, only the two of them sighed.

Wanderlust: It’s Time

So I got the fellowship.

And I got the time.

Now to sit down and write.

I’ve been thinking lately about wanderlust, mulling over the intricacies and necessary elements to satiate the desire to travel, comparing my own experience with several “historical” (classical?) travelogues. (Yes, I’m speaking of Steinbeck and Kerouac and Bryson and Frost and many others.)

And I’ve been considering a conversation years and years ago (May 2005), saved for this exact occasion:

Anne: do you ever have moments where you just want to run away?

Katherine: run run run run run run
yes

Anne: only i want a really fast car.

Katherine: having a rough day over there?

Anne: see, if this were a movie of my life, i’d head outside and find a classic car sitting outside, keys in the ignition, doors unlocked, essentially waiting for me.

i dunno – it was a very sudden realization.

and i’d drive out to the pike and to seattle

start a new life in a coffee shop out there.

Katherine: ok, but could there be an adorable puppy in the back seat of the car to whom you can make witty and sardonic comments

Anne: and my entire music collection would already be in the car, loaded into an mp3 player (or i’d have a 60GB ipod i could just plug in)

i’d get in the car, find an adorable black lab puppy in the back seat, call the dog molly and tell her we’re going on a trip.

then, “born to be wild” on the stereo as i leave tire tracks across the quad,

and that’d be all my co-workers would ever know of me ever again. i’d be urban legend here.
(and there would occasionally be flashbacks of my job here to slowly explain why i left)

Katherine: I love anne fantasy land

Anne: oh yeah?

Katherine: it’s very plot-driven

Anne: now i’m thinking anne fantasy land needs to be a book. a smart, witty, cut to the bone book with plenty of socio-political commentary and critique and perhaps a quick stop back to my roots in northampton.

Katherine: a la Citizen Girl?

Anne: ’cause when i hit the two hour mark i may be thinking it’s time to turn around – instead, i’ll stop in northampton, come face to face with the ghosts of wanders’ past and realize i need to do this not just for myself, but for all man/women-kind

(and that if worse comes to worse, i can always turn it into funny cocktail party banter when i get back to boston – the “oh, you remember the time when…” type of situation)

the book will be called “travels with molly”

Katherine: I’m liking this

Anne: yeah, i am too.

hmmmmm…. looks like i have a new project


And so I say now, more than four years later: it’s time.

Here’s the vehicle to success as well:

This car needs a name: ideas?

This car needs a name: ideas?