Life is Like Plumbing

For the past two weeks, my life has been an adventure in plumbing. Over the years, the plumbing in my old house had filled with the debris of years and years of water flowing through old black pipe. The flow of hot water to my kitchen sink had decreased to a trickle. And when my family asked if I would host Thanksgiving dinner again this year, I put my foot down. “Not without hot water in the kitchen,” I said. Unexpectedly, I realized that anything you do, that life is like plumbing.

The Assessment

My son looked at the problem, opened and shut valves, and studied the pipes in my house. Then he gave me the news. To fix the hot water in the kitchen he had to fix the flow into the hot water heater. To fix the flow into the hot water heater he needed to fix the cold water shut off—for the entire house. And the bill for all the bits and pieces cranked higher and higher. Yikes. 

“I can’t afford a plumber to do all that,” I said. 

His answer: “I can do it.”

I imagined the mess and the long hours of no running water. “I’m a caregiver,” I said. “We can’t go without water for more than an hour or two.” 

“No problem,” he said.

The only impossible journey is the one you never begin.

Tony Robbins

The Vision

My son came to me a few days later with a plan. He’d re-do the whole house’s plumbing! He wanted to install a plumbing manifold. The water in our county is full of minerals and leaves deposits on the plumbing. He envisioned a filtered, all plastic system where we could shut off water to only one specific water use in the house at a time. 

Two weeks ago, we went shopping for parts and pipes and fittings and valves. Ouch. Life is like plumbing. The bill was larger than what I wanted but; I reminded myself, not as large as it could be. 

Image of the plumbing aisle at my local large box hardware store

After we’d done the shopping, I thought to ask my son if he’d ever installed a plumbing manifold before. No, he hadn’t. But he was confident he could. “I’ve never failed at anything I’ve tried.”

I’m always doing things I can’t do. That’s how I get to do them. Pablo Picasso

The Work

The first weekend, my son spent a good twelve hours a day for two days, cutting and replacing pipe. I was his gofer and second pair of hands part of the time. Life is like plumbing–hard work.

Part of the time I babysat while my daughter-in-law filled that role and helped my son do some heavy lifting. 

Image of my smiling  3 month old grandson. He has a bit of growing to do before he realizes that life is like plumbing.
My 3 month old grandson

Together we got all the inside plumbing done in one weekend. And true to his word, the water was off for less than two hours.

The New Plumbing

Image of the plumbing manifold. Life is like pllumbing--a lot of work, a lot more complicated than you'd like, but it can be beautiful
Isn’t it beautiful?

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

And the next day I had so much hot water in my kitchen sink that I washed every dish and pan and the dogs’ dishes and the…you get the idea. 

Then I did the laundry. 

image of water on the floor beside my washer
Water on the floor beside my washer. Note the old pipe.

It turned out that he’d improved the water flow to the washer and dryer so much that when the washer spun the water out it overwhelmed the old drainage system. Yup, he said he could fix that too.

The second weekend he spent eight hours a day for two days. My new improved drainage system for the washer had to include a bathroom sink on the other side of the wall. While he was at it, he added a drain for a utility sink in my laundry. 

He has another day’s work to do but part of that is moving the outlets for the washer and dryer to avoid stretching their cords to their max. 

It always seems impossible until it’s done.

Nelson Mandela

Lessons Learned

This whole experience made me realize a few things.

Change your thoughts and you change your world.

Norman Vincent Peale

I changed my thoughts about how tolerable the water flow was in my kitchen and that began to change that part of my world.

It was hard, back-breaking work. But my son’s willingness to try new things, to research the options and solutions to various tricky issues, and to do the work got it done.

Difficult and meaningful will always bring more satisfaction than easy and meaningless.

Maxime Lagacé

My son’s attitude and work ethic (though sometimes I worried he did too much) were inspiring and gratifying. I was proud that he got what I tried to teach him—to try, to do. 

Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.

Babe Ruth

Life is a series of parts, of connections and disconnections, of ninety degree turns and sometimes everything gets flushed down the drain. But you can change the way you think, change what you do, and try again.

The purpose of life is to believe, to hope, and to strive.

Indira Gandhi

Life is like plumbing… don’t let the parts, the clogs, the flushing, get you down. Keep believing. Keep striving. Your life will be better for it.

Conflict: Twist the Knife Slowly

Conflict: Week 3 of Re-visioning Your Story

Violence is not Conflict. It is not action. It is not bickering, or worry, or dreams, or traveling. Unfortunately, many seasoned and novice writers mistake one or all of those things for conflict.

Why is conflict so difficult for the writer? Because human beings naturally shy away from conflict. It’s uncomfortable and sometimes outright dangerous. But conflict is essential to storytelling for as Robert McKee says in his book, Story, “Nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict.”:

So, you ask, if conflict is not action, violence, bickering, etc., is conflict an obstacle? Well, yes and no. An obstacle can present your character with something he must overcome, but if it does not present a dilemma, your reader may not care.

Definition

In How to Tell a Story: The Secrets of Writing Captivating Tales by Peter Rubie and Gary Provost, the authors give what I believe is the best definition of conflict I’ve ever read. “The idea of conflict can be reduced to the word no.” Someone or something is saying no to your character.

Yet, compelling conflict is more than someone saying no. It’s more than an obstacle; it’s something that creates a dilemma. A dilemma arises when a character desperately wants or needs something and must make a choice between two actions he’d rather not do in order to fulfill his desire.

Types of Conflict

Many how-to-write books tell you that there are five Basic Conflicts: man against society, man against man, man against himself, and man against nature. Editor, Jessica Page Morrell, slices up conflict a little more finely in her book Thanks, But This Isn’t for Us. Ms. Morrell includes four more in her list of Basic Conflicts: man against the supernatural, man against fate, man against machine, and man against God. Labels like these are helpful to some. Perhaps these labels smack a little too much of English Lit class to you. You wonder how labeling the conflict in your story as man against society helps you as a writer. It is a tool. Figuring out which basic conflict fits your story boils it down to its essence. You then use that to take the measure of every way in which you express the conflict in your story. If each of your conflicts fit into that same Basic Conflict, congratulations, you have built a consistent goal and conflict structure for your story.

In addition to the Basic Conflicts, there are two Conflict Types that are important to understand. These are Inner Conflict and External or Outer Conflict. When a character experiences an Inner Conflict her beliefs, attitudes, habits, and values are challenged to the point that she will change. External Conflicts are those that can be seen, felt, or heard. The most satisfying, engaging full-length novels have protagonists who face both Inner and External Conflicts.

Every Scene a Conflict

You know that a story is constructed with scenes and you’ve likely developed a definition of what a scene is. For the purpose of this discussion we’ll use Dwight V. Swain’s definition. A scene is “a blow-by-blow account of somebody’s time-unified effort to attain an immediate goal despite face-to-face opposition.” Mr. Swain goes on to say that a scene’s structure includes a goal, a conflict, and a disaster. (We’ll talk more about disaster in another post.)

Every scene must have a conflict. And conflict must be sharp, like a knife. The more intensely your character wants something, the more intensely someone or something says no, the more your reader will care. But it’s a balancing act. If every scene contains a conflict of the same intensity your story becomes melodrama or worse, boring. How do you keep conflict sharp but not melodramatic? Include conflicts that are of varying importance. Make your character choose which goals and conflicts he will act upon. These choices will reveal your character’s beliefs, values, attitudes, and habits piece-by-piece to your reader.

Your Assignment

This week you will read your manuscript again. As you read, take notes about the conflict as it is written on the page. Write only in your revision notebook or file. When you write a note about a particular issue, it will be helpful to include the manuscript page number in your notes. Do not edit your manuscript. Editing will come in due time. For now, you are deconstructing your story so that the work of revision will be more efficient and effective.

You Know the Knife’s Too Dull When

  • Your character is worrying.
  • Your character is arguing. An argument is not conflict unless there is an ultimatum issued or choice made.
  • Your character had a dream. Conflict in a dream is not immediate.
  • Your character does not have a clear goal.
  • Your character is not desperate to accomplish his goal.
  • Your character’s goal is not introduced early enough in the scene (or story).
  • No one opposes your character.
  • Your character does not have a choice to make.
  • All the choices your character makes are of the same intensity.
  • There is an easy way out for your character.
  • Your character does not act on getting his goal (make a choice).
  • The action (conflict) takes place ‘offstage.’
  • Your character does not care deeply about the outcome of this act.
  • There are no consequences to your character’s actopms.
  • There is no doubt as to whether the character will get what he wants.
  • What the character wants or needs is not consistent with her overall story goal.

To Sharpen the Knife of Conflict

  • Give your character clearly defined goals.
  • Make your character’s goal be the key to his happiness (at least in his eyes).
  • Give your character a dilemma involving the two types of conflict: Inner and External.
  • Give your character tough choices that define and reveal who he is.
  • Make certain the conflict forces your character to take action.
  • Make the choices, the action, your character takes be clear choices that lead to more difficult choices.
  • Give him choices that are equally bad.
  • Decide what is the worst possible thing that can happen to your character, and make it worse.
  • Show precisely how hard this is for your character.
  • Make your character change or make a sacrifice in order to fulfill his goal.
  • Make the first goal and conflict of the story related to the final goal and conflict of the story.
  • Make the conflict of your story appropriate for your target reader.

Recommended Reading

If you are still having difficulty with understanding or evaluating conflict in a story, I recommend you read Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of a Selling Writer and Robert McKee’s Story.

Thanks for spending time with me. I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’d love to hear about your story. What Basic Conflict is your story about? What are your character’s Inner and External Conflicts?

ETA: Additional posts on Re-visioning Your Story

Lesson 1:Re-Visioning Your Story

Lesson 2: : Are Your Character’s Goals Golden?

Lesson 3: above

Lesson 4: Do Your Characters Play Well with Others?

Lesson 5: As the Plot Turns

Lesson 6: Is There a Time and Place in Your Story?

Lesson 7: From the End to the Beginning

Lesson 8: Putting the Pieces Together

Lessons from 2017 & Strategies for 2018

It’s New Years Day. Happy New Years! Did you make a list of resolutions? I didn’t. According to Forbes, less than 8% of people achieve their resolutions. I can attest to that fact. I’ve made a ton of resolutions and rarely achieved my goals. For a long time, I thought that meant I wasn’t a goal-oriented person. Hogwash!

The only real mistake quote from Henry Ford, resolutions, lynettemburrows.com

I spent a portion of 2017 documenting what I achieved in my bullet journal. My bullet journal was an experiment. I wanted to record goals and accomplishments, desires, and what I learned each day. Turns out the lessons I learned in 2017 were many. I learned that I accomplished a lot of things. And I learned a few things I hope to use to make 2018 a better year. I’m sharing my lessons here in the hopes that you might use one or two of my lessons and also have a better year in 2018.

Healing happens in its own time.

This applies to healing from diabetic wounds, healing from grief, or even healing from a common cold. To say that it takes time is an understatement that is a disservice. Not because of the amount of time but because healing is not something that happens in a straight line.

Be patient with yourself or others going through a healing process.

Draw comfort from the sources that give you the most comfort. Practicing creativity, hobbies, or new interests can be therapeutic. Acknowledge the feelings you feel. There will be many. Some you won’t understand.

Give it time. There will be days when you think you’re done and days when you know you’re not. Get through the bad days. Live in the moment on the good days.

You can’t control everything.

My personal journey over the past two years has been an emotional yo-yo. I transitioned from life partner to supportive partner to full caretaker and then to a part-time caretaker. Life is also not linear. Coping with the ups, the downs, and the sideways twists is difficult but there are ways to cope.

Focus on what you can control—namely yourself. Your thoughts and actions are the only things over which you have control. Want to live a more positive life? Choose to think and act more positively.

Identify your fears. Our worst decisions are made from a place of fear.

Concentrate on your influence. What can you do that will make a difference? How can your actions influence others for good? Focus on what you can do.

Differentiate between problem cud-chewing and problem-solving. We all get caught in circular thought patterns. Break out of that pattern by problem-solving. Can’t see a solution? Focus on what you can control.

Sometimes it takes a Leap of Faith.

I retired a couple of weeks ago. Scary because I retired earlier than I’m really comfortable with. Scary because–change. Scary because I’ve committed to being a writer FULL TIME. Writing in the cracks of time has been my life up until now. Now I must learn to write daily, to produce regularly. Different skills entirely.

Listen to your inner voice. It actually knows more about what you need that your brain does.

Practice Daily Self Care. Get enough sleep. Good nutrition. Exercise. Especially be kind to yourself.

Change fear of the unknown to a desire for what’s next. It takes practice, kind of like affirmations. Say it out loud. Repeat until it’s a habit.

Allow yourself to be supported. This one is tough for me. I’m working on it.

Quit Comparisons. You know that’s right. When you find yourself making a comparison, step back, remind yourself you have your own journey. Easier said than done, but again, it takes practice.

Celebrate what you’ve manifested to date. Celebrate the small victories. Every. One. Record what you’ve accomplished. Reinforce that your leap of faith won.

Have the strength of your conviction. You have a lifetime of knowledge and skill, use it to bring your vision to life.

Is your decision fear-based or love-based? Love wins hands down.

Choose a date. Believe in yourself by making a choice and sticking to it.

Handle the naysayers—fear makes bad decisions,

Come in for the landing — crash, get up and do it again. Let’s face it, some leaps of faith won’t end the way you want them to. It’s okay if you crash this time. Learn from it. Dust off your knees and do it again with new knowledge and experiences to build on.

Growth takes patience.

Lots of it. Having a puppy for the first time in a dozen years has made me acutely aware of the patience required for growth. This reminder applies to growth as a writer, a blogger, a person, or . . . a puppy.

How do you develop patience?

Pay attention. When pain or irritation occurs pay attention. Is it uncomfortable or intolerable? Intolerable needs swift attention. Uncomfortable can wait. Training your brain to identify what the problem is and the severity of the problem will help you come up with a solution that will work.

Slow down. Take a few breaths, count to ten, do some isometrics, or sit and listen to an entire song on the radio. Think through what you want to rush (second helpings of dessert, a snappy comeback, a not-quite done project). What outcome do you want? What will happen if you wait?

Practice. Spend time practicing patience. Stop. Start small (fifteen minutes, half an hour, an hour) and build up to a full day of practice. Record your progress. You may surprise yourself.

These are lessons I needed. I’ve taken a leap of faith and will need to use each of these lessons in the coming year. So I made an infographic for when I need reminders.

infographic on Lessons from 2017, resolutions, lynettemburrows.com

Did you find any of this helpful? You can download a copy of the Lessons & Strategies infographic here.

(Edited 1/7/18 to correct link for download. It will work now. Sorry about the inconvenience.–LMB)

Would you care to share how you might use these lessons?

Did you learn a lesson in 2017 that you’re willing to share?