Tag Archives: momentum matters

Metaphor Tuesday (Let’s not kid ourselves): Weird Little Dials


Do you know what a tachometer is?

I only know because I played video games like most people breathe when I was a kid — and not only did I play them, I read about them religiously. Strategy guides and reviews. I had a subscription to Nintendo Power magazine. I read the instruction manuals with new games, for goodness sakes. And one of the racing games I played (It might have been Top Gear or something, before that was a TV show), of course, had the display that looked like a car’s console. This console featured, in addition to the course map, rearview mirror, and speed (the only thing a kid really cares about), the tachometer.

That was a long way of saying your eyes probably pass over the tachometer on your car every day. It’s that dial next to your speedometer that tells you how many times your engine is turning over in a minute. Ever step on the gas while the car is in park? The tachometer spins up even though you’re not going anywhere. It measures not how fast you’re going, but how hard your car is working. Which, by certain metrics, makes it a much more important indicator in your vehicle, though one we hardly pay attention to.

We watch the speedometer, because we want to know how fast we’re going. Or maybe because we want to avoid the flashing blue lights in the rearview mirror. Or because the guy in front of you is moving maddeningly slowly and you want to know EXACTLY how slowly because that information will surely benefit you, somehow. We watch the scenery passing by outside the windows, because that tells us where we are. Trees and buildings; keep those a safe distance from the side of the car. Other cars get to drift in and out of that space; all fine as long as they’re pointing in the proper directions. And of course, we watch the road ahead, because if we don’t pay attention to where we’re going we’ll never get there, and we may in fact fail to get there very very quickly.

But we don’t watch that meter that tells us about the vehicle we’re taking the journey in. Or, at least, we don’t watch it until we have reason to — when something may be wrong. When the engine’s overheating and we’re struggling to maintain speed, or the transmission has slipped and we can’t get out of a lower gear, or … I dunno. My lack of car knowledge betrays me, here, but you get the idea. All of a sudden, we’re just not GOING like we want to, and we check that little tachometer and, huh, holy cow, that thing’s pushed all the way into the red. That can’t be good. So you limp your car (or, given my luck lately, you more likely tow it) to the shop and find out it’s gonna cost a couple thousand dollars to get it fixed and you sit there and question your entire life leading up to this moment.

That’s when you realize how important the tachometer is. If you had noticed it earlier, seen the engine was working too hard before you ran it into the red, you might not have broken whatever you broke to find yourself here on the side of the road with a useless vehicle. You could perhaps have treated the problem or replaced an overworked component before the whole engine melted down. But you didn’t. And here you are.

Or rather, here I am.

For months I’ve been focused and wrapped up in all kinds of stuff. The play in production. The novel(s) I’m trying to write. Running and exercising every day. Day-to-day work and planning for my classes. Playing Mr. Fix-it around the house, or paying people to come in and do the same (or, sometimes, paying people to come to the house only to tell me that their contract forbids them from fixing that particular problem, so hey, you get to play Mr. Fix-It after all, less a couple hundred bucks). To say nothing of being a dad and husband who isn’t a complete jerk.

I was redlining, and I didn’t know it. Instead, I was paying attention to the road ahead (fraught with obstacles as far as the eye could see) and the scenery creeping past (moving not nearly as fast as I would have preferred). I just wasn’t getting enough done, and that shortcoming was all I could think about. Not enough words written. Not enough miles run. Not enough paperwork finished. Not enough.

Boom. Blowout. All of a sudden, I’m afflicted with some sort of creeping crud for the third week in a row: congestion and cough and all that good stuff. My heel goes haywire from some phantom injury and I can’t run. A week’s gone by and I haven’t even opened my novel. I’m barely making it out of bed in the morning in time to get the kids up and dressed and off to school, and it feels like I’m accomplishing nothing during my working hours.

The tachometer is a metaphor, then, for something on the body, I’m just not sure what it is. Maybe it’s your sleep schedule. Maybe it’s your blood pressure, or your stress level, or whatever else. Point is, whatever it was, it was out of whack with me and I didn’t pay attention to it and I spent a couple weeks with the car in the shop and taking the bus to get around, as it were.

I make a lot of noise about momentum and staying busy around here, but the fact is, I think I’ve been overdoing it and not being honest with myself about the fact. Residual stress from the move this summer. Frustrations at things going wrong (and costing us lots of money!) around the house. Unforgiving standards for my creative endeavors. Dogged insistence in my exercise habits. It all adds up.

But the play is over, as of this past weekend. And you know what? All of a sudden — the very next day, even! — I felt lighter, calmer, better. Just knowing that that particular source of stress was gone (for now, at least) made the next breath of air come in that much cleaner.

Maybe I need to find a way to relax a little.

And I definitely need to pay more attention to the weird little dials.

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Metaphor Monday: The Unmown Lawn


First of all, is it “mown” or “mowed”? Auto-correct liked “mowed” over “mown” but doesn’t like either “unmowed” or “unmown.” What up with that? Anyway.

Not to harp on a theme, but we’re still getting settled in the new house, and one thing task that I was particularly avoiding was the mowing of the lawn.

Big deal, right? It’s a lawn. You live in suburbia, you pay your dues. You handle it. Grass. Mower. Gas. Summer heat. Suck it up, sweat it out, keep up with the Joneses, and mow it.

Problem is, the lawn at the new house is about three times the size of the lawn I’m used to mowing, so what was once a 25-minute job to be breezed through in between sips of coffee on a Saturday morning is now a capital-C Chore requiring over an hour to complete.

Okay, so great, it’s going to take longer than I want to do it, but the new house saves me on the order of four or five hours in weekly drive time, so again: the price you pay.

But if you’re a regular reader of the blarg here, you know that no seemingly mundane task, no apparently benign situation has proven to be quite so simple. Just so with the new lawn.

The front lawn is blanketed with this lovely stuff — I don’t know a gopher’s arsehole from a chipmunk’s elbow when it comes to anything green, so I’m gonna say it’s BERTUCKY FLUEGRASS — soft and springy underfoot. The word “lush” comes to mind. If they could make this stuff into carpet, I’d do the interior of the house in it. Surely this is the grass that adorns the lawns of heaven.

Then you hit the backyard and you step into the untamed Amazon rainforest of grasses. Gone is the delicate bedding of greens whose clippings waft away like angel dust on a celestial breeze. Here, instead, is a tangling thicket, a countlessly-armed kraken of grasping blades and shoots into which, once your shoe disappears, you wonder if you will ever see it again. Whatever’s back here (and again, not knowing anything about grasses, I’ll just call it DEVIL-FESCUE) grows about four times as fast as the Bertucky Fluegrass out front. The terrain is less gently-rolling-possibly-part-of-an-improvised-golf-course-green and more sheetmetal-poked-up-from-beneath-by-demons.

Furthermore, when our move was delayed for first a few days, then a few weeks, the owner of this house, fed up with the process (rightly so!), folded his arms and decided not to bother mowing the grass any longer. So the Devil-Fescue got up to knee-high in some places.

So. Suck it up and mow it, right? Well… if you’re a frequent or even only sometime mower of lawns as I am, you know that with your standard, run-of-the-mill, welcome-to-the-suburbs Saturday-special lawnmower from the Home Depot, you know that the secret to successful mowing is to not allow things to get out of control. Get after it weekly, keep it from getting overgrown. Because once it’s overgrown, god help you. Clippings from the Devil-Fescue will clog your special little mower in nothing flat. The tall grass will snarl the wheels. You’ll be getting the workout of your life on your pull-starter arm while breaking your back to flip the thing over and pull the cut grass out of the blade and the vent, all while the rain is starting to fall and the neighbors are laughing at you over glasses of wine they spent the last twenty minutes chilling on their back porch.

Which is, of course, exactly where I found myself. Because make no mistake, mowing a lawn in such a condition is awful, but every day it’s allowed to fester beyond that only makes the job that much harder. Comes a point where, no matter how daunting the task looks, you have to bite your lip and accept the back-breaking task before you, or let it go forever. And given that we’re new to the neighborhood, it seems a little early to go giving the finger to the HOA at this point, so there I was.

The parallel to writing is obvious, right? You treat the writing like a devotional, returning to it regularly much the way you return to cutting the grass once a week. Keep the Devil-Fescue in check and don’t allow it to grow to strangling height. Do it regularly and the job is easy: You carve your neat little lines in the lawn, or if you’re fancy, you do it on the diagonal (or if you’re me, you mow around the outside in ever-shrinking boxes, like a game of snake that’s doomed from the start. Boy, I wonder what that says about my psychology). You put it off, and the job becomes untenable.

The longer you stay away from writing, the harder it becomes to go back to writing. Or to any thing, I suppose. You reach the point where you either go back to it in an epicly (epically?) traumatic battle of wills, or you let it go forever.

Or you move back into an apartment and never have to worry about mowing a stupid lawn again.

Not pictured: running out of gas 2/3 of the way through and cursing the entire observable universe. Note the dead heaps of Devil-Fescue and the wheelbarrow I overturned after running entirely out of fargoes.

Mondays are for metaphors! Every week, I’ll pick a thing and compare it to another thing. Probably writing, since that’s what this blog is about, but who knows? Metaphors are awesome. Alliteration, doubly so. Got a suggestion for next week’s metaphor? Drop it in the comments. And yeah, I’m a day late today — you’ll see why below.


A Day of Spiders and Fire


*Tries the door*

*Rust flakes off the stuck knob*

*Lowers a shoulder*

*A cascade of spiders from within*

*Returns with fire*

Well. It’s been a minute, hannit?

The show is over, and after a few-days’ refractory period, it seems like there’s very little left to do but return to normalcy around here, whatever that is.

Time to pick up that dusty manuscript that, despite my sincerest hopes and prayers (and you know what they say — nothing fails like prayer), has decidedly not edited itself in the meantime. Well, let’s just see where I left off heRRARGH

Ahem.

Turns out that even my computer files are full of spiders after two weeks away. Webs all over everything. Know what’s worse than getting spiderwebs caught in your hair? Getting them draped across your bald head. *shudders violently*

And, of all days, I picked a Friday to come back to life and get back to work. A Friday! As if to symbolize and cast in bronze the truism that there is absolutely no rest for the wicked, I bend my shoulder and descend into the word mines again, on a Friday.

A payday, even. When my thoughts should, as any proper teacher’s do, turn toward happy hour margaritas and a dogged denial of the looming parade of bills coming due.

Nope. I’m going back to work on the novel.

Why? Because it’s time.

It’s been almost two weeks since I wrote a creative word, and the stagnation of that clings heavy to me, like the funk of a ten-mile dead-of-summer run, a funk that permeates everything in the house. A dead squirrel going sour in the attic. Pipes dripping away in the walls, turning the drywall into sweetly rotten pudding. No escaping the stink, only denial that it’s there — a denial that feels pretty ridiculous when your eyes are watering from the smell. It just won’t dissipate until you burn out whatever’s causing it. Offer it up to the old, eternal gods of destruction and smoke.

And if I don’t buckle down and return to it today, then I’m not just missing one more day, I’m missing three — because I’m darn sure not going to be able to focus on it over the weekend — my first weekend without work in almost a month.

Nope. Momentum matters, and it’s time to break the cobwebs off this thing and get it rolling again. Lest it become a haven for spiders til the sun swallows the planet. Wish me luck.

No, don’t wish me luck. Just arm me with fire.

For the spiders.


Any Words Are Good Words


Writing is a little bit like owning a dog.

You have to deal with it every day: give it some attention, let it out to poop in the yard, feed it, love it, clean up its poop from the yard — elsewise it gets antsy and angry and starts chewing on the furniture, peeing in your shoes, snapping at the kids. Except in this metaphor, the furniture is your sanity, the shoes are your productivity, and the kids are your own kids.

Writing is a monster, in other words, in a cute, lovable outer shell — one that needs taming every day. Not a lot of taming, of course — a well-exercised writing habit remembers who its master is and will generally come when called — but a neglected writing habit will turn on you faster than you can say “bad dog.”

Problem is, unlike a dog, who, when it needs water or food or to go take a dump, will paw at the walls, nose at your feet, and generally bug the hell out of you, the writing habit will quietly turn sour when you neglect it. It won’t snap at you right away — it takes a passive-aggressive approach. The words don’t come as easily. Or even when they do, they turn to hot sewage on the page. Or the urge to write just doesn’t show up.

Which is where I found myself this week. Lots going on at work and at home. Little time and energy left over for writing. Neglected the habit a little bit and found myself struggling to even want to do it.

But in that situation, any words are good words. Because if a writing habit is like owning a dog, the writing itself has the attention span of a dog. Ideas and words aren’t flowing on your main project? Just take the words for a walk — write about anything: Donald Trump, ridiculous naming conventions, whatever — and the dog will quickly get distracted just being out in the world. They’re flowing anyway, and all of a sudden, the ideas and the words are bending themselves toward what you wanted to write in the first place, just because you let them out of the house.

Writer’s Block is only as real as you allow it to be. It doesn’t block you from writing, it just blocks you from writing what you want to write. It’s your dog saying, I’m not gonna eat that new kibble. So what do you do? You give it something else it wants to eat, and mix some of the kibble in. Write about anything — any words are good words — and soon enough the kibble, which looked so unappetizing a moment ago, is disappearing from the bowl.

The same principle works on almost anything. Breaking the momentum is the hardest part. Don’t feel like going for a run? Put your shoes on anyway and jog to the end of the block — odds are you’ll feel like continuing. Any miles are good miles. Don’t feel like cleaning? Wash a single dish or pick up a single toy off the floor, and you’ll feel silly when you think about stopping before it’s all done. Any thing cleaned is a good thing.

Any words are good words.

Have you walked your dog today?

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results. This week? Maybe not so productive.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Soldiering On


A short SOCS post today, because I’m totally fried from this murderous week at work.

I’m back in the swing of my novel this week, despite the crazy hours at work. I got probably about 2400 words written — not quite what I aim for, but considering the loss of planning time and how scattered I’ve been, I’ll take it. But I’m not here to kvetch about word count (or lack thereof).

See, a few weeks ago I suffered what I could only, at the time, call a catastrophic setback: the loss of my un-backed-up flash drive, and hence the loss of a good twenty- to twenty-five thousand words on my latest project. That’s about two months worth of words, if you’re counting, AND I CERTAINLY WAS.

And, after the storm and the swearing and the self-abuse subsided, what was there left to do? Either quit the project, accepting the loss as too great to recoup, or soldier on and keep writing on the project anyway. And considering that this novel just happens to be one I’ve wanted to write for about three years, throwing in the towel was not a thing I was willing to swallow (argh, too many cliches).

So I took a day to outline the story I had written so far from memory, and then I started fresh with a blank page.

And man, that first day sucked, because returning to what was an essentially blank page was intimidating as hell (the perfect white expanse of the unblemished page — or, okay, word-processor window — is a thing you can only screw up with your first draft word-vomit). But a few days in, the momentum kicked in again, and all of a sudden I was churning along just like before I shot my foot off.

And the weird thing is? I actually feel really liberated. Losing the old project has allowed me to divorce myself from some of the preconceived notions and lame patterns that had cropped up in the writing. Now I can not only pretend they didn’t exist; they actually, literally don’t exist any more. I’m messing with new POVs, experimenting more with the narrative sequence, and generally having a lot more fun with the project than I had been for a while.

What’s that thing they say about relationships? Sometimes you have to lose something to learn what you really had? Maybe that’s a little too trite for the current situation, but one way or another, the project is moving ahead at a healthy clip again, and that’s damned encouraging.

Tomorrow: a third and final entry to the October horror flash-fiction challenge that’s kicking around over at Terrible Minds. (I hope.)

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


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