Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Rising Above the Sewage

How does a writer rise above the sewage swirling all around her? I'm not talking about less-than-stellar writing, books that just plain stink (but somehow manage to get published anyway), or the problems of daily life that plague us like... well, a plague.

I'm talking about sewage. Yeah, that kind of sewage.

A mere 18 hours after moving into our new-construction, never-before-lived-in apartment, we awoke to a geyser of sewage emanating from the toilet adjoining my bedroom. As the bacteria-laden flood engulfed most of the apartment, we went from owning several nice pieces of furniture (many of which were handcrafted by my daughter) to owning a dining room table with its four chairs and bench, a hutch, two wardrobes, two dressers (one an antique), a nightstand, bed, two living room chairs, countless boxes of clothes, books, dishes, and family photos and mementos all soaked in E. coli and other nasty bacteria--in other words, one big, apartment-sized bio-hazard.

It looked sort of like this--
only imagine sewage instead
of fresh water--yeah, yuck.
So, back to my question. How did I rise above that gigantic, stinky mess to write? Simple. I didn't.

Instead of making my word count each day, the past three weeks have been filled with discussions with my insurance company representative (who denied responsibility), reviews of the damage by two professional cleaning services, and finally, an attorney. The apartment complex denies responsibility (even though they admitted it was caused by construction debris lodged in the building's sewer system) and we were left with no option but to seek legal action. Sadly, that's the way of life for so many today. What is right is no longer the issue; sadly, it's company policy and deniability that rule the day.

So there was simply no time to write. Was I upset? Yes. Did I regret going to bed each night (in a borrowed bed, no less) knowing I hadn't even begun to reach, let alone achieved, my word count for the day? You bet. Do I feel guilty? No.

It's true that our writing figures significantly in our thoughts every moment of the day, but there are times when we must set aside our desire to write to attend to the less appealing aspects of life. Illness, death, accidents, disasters, and all manner of bad things, as well as the joys of weddings, births, new homes, or vacations figure prominently in our lives. They must be addressed and even though these responsibilities interfere with our writing plans and our creativity, there are times when we must put aside what we want to do for those things we have to do.

And that includes living with sewage tsunamis, dealing with uncooperative insurance companies and delinquent landlords, and eventually, talking to an attorney.

As with all writers around the world and throughout the ages, however, I've gleaned considerable insight from my recent experiences. First of all, don't put your complete trust in "new." Just because it's new doesn't mean it's in perfect running condition. Check your insurance policy. You might have renter's insurance, but it doesn't always cover sewage damage (go figure). Keep in mind that the cheerful, cordial, and welcoming friends you encounter in the front office before you rent or buy can turn into uncooperative and ornery enemies in the time it takes to contaminate all your earthly belongings and prized possessions into sodden messes and potential agents of illness and/or death. On the other hand, look for the good people who will ultimately rise to the top (sorry about that image) to help you with great advice and professional opinions, lend you furniture, feed you, and commiserate with you.

The same applies to most aspects of life, I would imagine. Our first (new) draft is most certainly not our best. The premise or setting or characters might be superb, but there's always room for improvement. We might hope our virus protection is going to take care of every nasty bug out there, but there always someone, somewhere, working against us night and day. Sooner or later we'll all be felled by the sewage that hackers (who apparently have nothing worthwhile on which to spend their time) spew at us constantly. That's where our insurance comes in. Make sure your computer is protected against the latest bugs. Lastly, there are both good and bad people in the publishing world (as there are everywhere), and we'll no doubt run into some of each. Ignore the bad ones and cherish the good.

I thank God I wasn't under a hard and fast deadline when this happened. Yes, I would love to get back that lost time, but then wouldn't we all like to go back in time and change some aspect of our lives? It happened, and there was nothing I could do about it. Cleaning up and pressing on is the best I can do. I certainly don't need guilt hounding me for something I can't control or time I can't get back or writing I didn't complete.

With that said, I still hope I can salvage something from this experience, and I think I've discovered just what that is. Think about it. Who could resist a book about sewage explosions, rising waters, stinky carpet, ruined belongings, lost valuables, an uncooperative insurance company, displaced family, the legal system, medical concerns, and a landlord who's still hounding the protagonist for this month's rent despite the fact the apartment is uninhabitable?

Move over, Stephen King and John Grisham. There's a new legal/thriller/
horror/medical/suspense writer in town!
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  1. Yes, if anyone ever questions, you are a true writer. Here' my take on your new title: Let the Floaters Go

  2. Wow. Hate what happened to you, love what you did with it.

    And, Lisa--you're a hoot! :D

  3. Ladies... thanks so much for your comments. Lisa, Linda's right. You ARE a hoot! Great title :-)