Everything Is Broken

Since the first of the year, I have been complaining about things in and around my house breaking. Both April’s “When Life Annoys the Writer,” and January’s “When the House Is Falling Down,” address the the time energy it takes to deal with our things. This is time that could be better spent on our life dreams. Like writing.

In my postings–behind the words–was an implied assumption, namely that, after this brief flurry of incidents, things would stop breaking for a while. Guess what. They haven’t.

The dishwasher we installed a couple months ago has worked beautifully, up until a couple weeks ago, when it sprung a leak and ruined the engineered wood kitchen floor. And, our quarter-century-old air conditioner has given up the ghost.

More chaos. More people coming out to have a look, and offer remedies. And it’s all down to me: My husband is a good man, but he leaves the care of the house to me. He will assist in major decisions, but I am expected to take the lead. Given how hard he works, this seems a fair enough exchange.

Of course all this disrupts the schedule, but I am more concerned with what it does to my mind. If I am using my limited mental power to find creative solutions to real-life problems, what’s left for my fictional world? Indeed, a bunch of stuff breaking tends to break my concentration.

So, I’ll be deep in a scene, and all of a sudden, I’ll think, “Once they’ve replaced the dishwasher, I should wait about three months before replacing the floor, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

I’ll go back to work, only to think, a few minutes later, “I would love to rip out the family room carpet and replace it with the same engineered wood we have in the kitchen. But if we do that, what do we do with the speaker wire?”

The story of my characters is replaced with the story of my house.

Gradually, persistently, I wean myself from compulsive thinking about the house and its care. I turn myself back to my fiction. Eventually, I come to weave the life experience into my work in more appropriate ways.

It helps to remember that real life is what generates fiction. Real life teaches me how things (and people) work. Every bit of it, mundane or dramatic, is potential fodder.

Years ago, in a writing class, one fellow student recalled falling off a hiking trail and tumbling down the side of the mountain. For all he knew, he could end up dead or paralyzed. Instead of worrying about that, though, he paid attention to every moment of the descent, knowing the information he was gaining on the way down (“This is what it feels like to fall off a mountain!”) was priceless and irreplaceable.

To paraphrase Stephen King, from his wonderful book, On Writing, art is meant to support life, and not the other way around.

So, it’s back to work. All the broken things that haven’t been resolved are waiting on other people now. Other deteriorating items I see before me haven’t actually broken. They can wait a few hours, while I write.

Stephen King's book supporting a faulty valve. Art is supporting life.

This is the faulty valve that ruined my floor! The little white dots are water drips. Aaaargh!!!

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