Personal story: How to tell the story of our car explosion

We’re doing fine. I’m sitting in a bar in Zaragoza, watching an old man waiting, a glass of brandy in front of him. He looks at his watch. The Chinese children on the bar are yelling, and the television plays football. It is eight and I am here to write. Words are increasing their subjective value by not coming easily. I suffer pleasantly from the silence in my head.

All I wanted to do is recounting, perhaps for therapeutical reasons, the story of how our car exploded last Thursday (or was it Wednesday). We were on a mission to find wonderful rural places to settle down, to create communities, to live the “good life”, a way of life for which true sustainability is non-negotiable. We had big and wonderful dreams. Don’t worry: All dreams are still there, although some of them have reverted to the pillows for the time being.

How do I tell this story? Do I give a factual account of the smoke emerging from the bonnet, how I pulled over, how we got the baby and some small bags out, and watched how it burned like a piece of cheap fireworks, popping its windows, hissing and whistling, exploding its tires, launching objects and producing a thick column of smoke. The police couldn’t do more than keep us at a distance and watch the show, but was very kind afterwards, issued a report, even negotiated a discount in the local hostel: The owner of which justified his granting the discount with a story of how he once had a positive experience in the Netherlands, the entity of which I had an unburnt membership card still in my possession.

Or do I first whet the appetite of the dear reader, for example:

How do you get from this:

To this:

That would likely have the advantage that readers are “dragged” into the story and will read subsequent lines carefully in search for answers to their questions, such as “were there any casualties?”, “how could this happen to a car without any external impact?”, or “do they also think the picture with the baby is very powerful and artistic?”

Another way is to treat the Event as a metaphor. We had been enveloped by a cocoon of safety, that had put us in comfort zone but in doing so, blinded our eyes for the Real life happening out there blah blah blah. It would have been a Dantean Purgatorium, or the Buddhist letting-go of material attachments blah blah blah.

I could also use a similar device as Alfred Döblin did in Berlin Alexanderplatz, offering a careful and numerically precise listing of incinerated objects:

2 suitcases with baby clothes, among which some presents of dear friends, unfortunate
1 rechargable pocket light cheaply bought at 4.5 euros in a thrift shop in Utrecht
1 passport, necessitating an estimated 2.5 days of paperwork
2 sleeping bags, comfort temperature about -1 degrees Celsius
1 baby seat, adjustable for baby’s until 18 kg
8 boxes of matches, that strangely didn’t burn completely


Another promising idea is to fictionalize, for example by adding in the element of crime. According to one mechanic who was present at the time of the accident, it was most likely caused by a failure in the wiring. We could fictionalize this by saying it was an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), and the fact that were targeted would be the proof that we are, in fact, dangerous elements within the State that needed to be eliminated. We would subsequently feel more dangerous, and develop a certain appetite for being dangerous elements (after all, we would need to maintain a coherent narrative). In other words, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that eventually leads us to becoming really dangerous, gun-wielding elements that are then (toward the end of the movie) eliminated in a dramatic stand-off. This device would then allow us to repeal the reality of the original EMP, and say it was a “pulse from the future” – from the future we created precisely by reacting to the imaginary event.

There are probably other, and more interesting ways, to narrate this. Despite our own laconical attitude towards material loss, at least for the readership the story contains an element of negativity, and could therefore constitute an Adventure. A pre-ordered sky-dive or a bungee jump on a shoestring loses its element of negativity (the fear of falling) to readers who have experienced it themselves. For them, such stories are no longer adventures, and they would most likely cut the teller of such lofty tales short by recounting their own skyfall. The advent of an exploded car, on the other hand, maintains its element of negativity (mainly financial loss, a negativity with a very solid foundation in our culture) and will trigger the experienced readership to do the opposite, namely to refresh or supplement their own memory with it.

Well, then, is it an Adventure? Can we make this interactive? What do you think? Can it be an Adventure for me who experienced it and simultaneously a boring repetition of the same, an insignificant variation of a melody in re, to the reader? Or the other way around?

4 thoughts on “Personal story: How to tell the story of our car explosion

  1. Dear Kamiel,

    What an experience! It must have been shocking to stand there and watch the car burn completely with everything inside.

    I am relieved you and your family came out of this unharmed physically! The loss of material things is not so important but since you already do not possess that much with your lifestyle/philosophy about life, just the things you really need in life, you probably do miss some of the things you lost! Especially regarding Miru, since you lost 2 suitcases with clothing that was hers. You might need some help in replacing those things.

    Is there any way I can help you with a small donation? I do not have much since I live on WAO due to a chronic illness, so do not expect large amounts of money. But every little bit helps, not?! Through PayPal or a regular “overschrijving” I can easily and immediately send you some euros. Please let me know!

    When you want another currency, please inform me. Since you are in Zaragoza I think euros is the most convenient though. Are you on your way to one of those small self-sustaining communities in one of the abandoned villages there in Spain?
    Would I have been healthy, the way things are going in this society and world nowadays, I would have gone there myself for sure…!!! Regrettably things are not so…

    Hope to hear from you soon.

    1. Dear Esther,

      Thank you so much! That is really kind of you. But don’t worry, friends here have provided us with baby clothes and we have more than enough savings.
      That said – your comment on the post has already helped us. Knowing that we’re not alone in this world (especially when dealing with bureaucracies) is invaluable.

      Yes we are visiting communities in Spain and hope to find one that suits us (or create a new one). I don’t know if your illness allows traveling, but you would be always welcome.

      Wishing you all the best,


    2. Thank you for your reply! Good to hear that you have friends that help(ed) you.

      No, it is not easy for me to travel, I am in need of oxygen 24/7 and my world is getting smaller and smaller.
      This is why the internet is such a great invention, I can meet people, see, experience, do things through it, I otherwise could not. This is why I really like your blog, I sort of live my life through other people’s lives and stories etc. And even though I do not have that many years ahead of me anymore, I make the most of every day. The world is such a wonderful place and is filled with miracles and great people, every day I am amazed by the things I find and experience and the people I meet while surfing the web.

      And who knows, I might be here a bit longer than expected, since I was told last week it was not possible I do what I do with my illness. I am supposed to lay still on a bed attached to my oxygen tube, not walk around and take care of my husband, in my own slow pace….. Body and mind can be strong together, if the will is there.

      I hope you will find a great community, I remember seeing a documentary about one that was founded in the ’80’s that is doing very well these days, but there are many more. Good luck and safe travels!
      Wishing you the best as well, with love, Esther

  2. I think it is an adventure, and there are many ways to tell it. But the before and after pictures make the most dramatic statement. I’m glad you can let go and laugh about it. A good way of looking at it is the puncturing of a cocoon… but everything happens for a reason… if it wasn’t for the car blowing up, there would be someone you didn’t meet or something you didn’t experience, that you need on your journey… I believe you’ll still reach your goal, just in a more unexpected way…

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