Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"A Painful But Necessary Writing Lesson"

For ten days recently, my wife was out of town, spending part of the time in our cabin in Indiana, and part of the time, attending a professional convention in nearby Chicago.

Overlapping her absence, our indispensible housekeeper Connie was spending two weeks in her home country of El Salvador, where she is currently building a house for her and her husband’s impending retirement.


A man is alone in the house for ten days.  No wife.  No housekeeper.  No visible housekeeping abilities of his own.  (Due to three score and seven years of deliberate disinterest.)

Cue the Home Alone trademark two hands on the cheeks and the Edvard Munch “Scream.”

Tough sledding for hapless Earlo on the home front.  Though it looks like a natural winner as a blog post.

Well, let’s see.

Both Dr. M and Connie had tutored me in the use of the clothes washer and the dryer.  Separating the whites for the coloreds.  The various settings.  Where to pour in the laundry soap, and how much to use. 

I had never done any of this before.  (There was surprise that I had gotten away with it that long.)  It looked like an ideal opportunity for some hilarious hi-jinx – the bumbling bachelor-husband, scalding water, the Mr. Roberts-like overflow of suds.

The washing and drying went off without a hitch.  My only confusion involved the fact that, no matter what color the clothes I was drying were, the lint in the lint trap was always gray. 

Quite a mystery, isn’t it?  I wonder how Agatha Christie missed out on that one.

Dr. M had stocked up on pre-cooked entrees from Trader Joe’s.  For those who don’t have one in your area, Trader Joe’s bills itself as a “specialty retail grocery story”, stocking products you cannot find anywhere else, because they are produced exclusively for Trader Joe’s

Sometimes, you cannot find Trader Joe’s products even at Trader Joe’s.  They just arbitrarily stop carrying stuff.  It would appear Trader Joe’s engages in a similar strategy as the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), who, even though something’s popular, they inexplicably drop it, and give something else a try.

The frozen entrees were all microwavable.  Still, a novice bumbler chef like myself can easily make mistakes: 

Misread the instructions and microwave it in the box, rather than removing the contents and nuking only that

Forget to poke holes in the plastic covering and have the prepared dinner explode in the microwave, possibly blowing open the door, and splattering a number of the walls. 

Neglect to “add water” and wind up with desiccated cardboard as a side dish. 

It would be easy to do it wrong.  And what a wonderful story I’d have to tell!

I did not mess up once.

I made oatmeal from scratch.  I had never cooked oatmeal before.  A memorable anecdote could have ensued:  I am momentarily distracted and the boiling oatmeal overflows the pot, spilling all over the floor.  What a hoot!

The pot, to be honest, did start to boil over, but I quickly noticed it, I lowered the heat, and the oatmeal immediately boiled back under.   

Problem.  Solved.

During the ten days on my own, I fluffed and I folded.  I dish-washed, rinsing the plates before stacking them in the dishwasher, (though probably not as thoroughly as Dr. M, who takes such pains scraping the residual food of the plates, I am not clear what the subsequent dishwashing process is for.) 

I made the bed.  I emptied the wastebaskets.  I separated the food trash from the recycling.  I went grocery shopping when I got low on staples.  I broke nothing.   And nothing broke by itself.   

Not a thing out of the ordinary.  Not a misstep or a mishap, no headshaking “Oh, Earl” disasters, no unforeseen crises.  I continued my regular routine – exercise, blog writing, practicing the piano.  And I took care of the house as well. 

One afternoon, I had my kids, sons-in-laws, baby Milo and Bean the dog over for a brought-in deli lunch.  When they left, they asked if they could help clean up.  I told them it was covered.  I cleaned up my own mess.  And my guests’. 

Surprisingly, I found myself more disappointed than impressed by my performance.  Everything went smoothly.  There was absolutely nothing to write. 

I thought about manufacturing a “mess up”, just to get a good story out of it.  But I didn’t.  I tell the truth in this blog – or at least try to – and that would be cheating.   Besides, my gift is for spontaneous disasters.  Screwing up on purpose involves discipline, subterfuge and control.  I have none of those things.  I mean, I have discipline.  But not for staged accidents.

When Dr. M and Connie returned, there were the obligatory comments about my having successfully weathered the storm.  They were not overly impressed, however, because everything I was required to do was easy.  Even, apparently, for me.

Which brings me to my message:

If you write a story where nothing interesting happens, no matter how charmingly you tell it,

It is still going to suck.

Wait!  You wrote a bad story on purpose?

To teach a lesson.

Oh.  Does that make it worthwhile?

Doesn’t it?

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