When reporting tragedies, television news channels occasionally air a video (amateur or professional) showing someone grasping the ledge of a building, clutching a rope dangling from a cliff, or clinging to a raft or tree. It is a visceral shock to see the victim let go seconds before saving hands can reach him or her. It is heartbreaking to see people slip away to their sure death with rescue only inches away.
I never fully understood why sheer adrenaline didn’t kick in and supply that extra ounce of strength needed to hold on for a few more seconds. Now I have an answer–and it came to me in the most mundane circumstances.
I live in Kentucky, where green algae and black mold can appear on nearly any surface. Thus, I needed to buy a power washer for my deck. I’d never used one before, but the one I bought was an electric model with a gentle, controllable output. Even so, it required a stronger grip than I’d anticipated.
Our deck is old, and there is some deterioration, so I went slowly and carefully. I kept an even pressure on the wand trigger, persisting although I could feel my hand becoming fatigued. After about twenty minutes, the motor suddenly cut out. I waited a few moments, then squeezed the trigger. Soon, the motor began stopping and starting sporadically. I assumed I’d bought a faulty power washer.
I informed the male in my house that he would have to return it to the store. He didn’t think so, and took over. He is stronger and had no problem keeping a steady pressure. I tried again, and that’s when I realized that, independent of what I wanted to do (or thought I was doing), I had involuntarily relaxed the pressure on the trigger when my hand began cramping. It had nothing to do with extra effort or willpower; my body reacted and relieved the muscles when the discomfort became too much.
Finally aware my body, and not my head, was in charge, I relaxed my hand every few minutes and finished the job. All the while I was working, a thought kept nagging at me. Wouldn’t it be nice if my mind could let go of moribund manuscripts in the same way? Wouldn’t that help me evaluate what was worth keeping? Wouldn’t it free me to work on something new? Why can’t I scrap tedious projects when they become too tiring?
Perhaps we’d be better off letting go of some of our previous attempts, rather than wasting time and energy trying to market them, publish them, or rewrite them? I admit, this goes against my nature (see previous blog: Down to the Last Petal); however, I wrote that blog before I had my epiphany with a power washer.
I’m thinking of establishing a literary triage system.
Folder #1: Working 2016 – Worth continuing: edit, rewrite, market.
Folder #2: Future Possible – Not viable at present, but worth considering.
Folder #3: Good Try – This one is difficult; it’s hard to retire words. Save, but forget.
While I couldn’t force my cramping hand to keep up the trigger pressure on the power washer wand, I can control manuscript decisions. If I wasn’t already convinced, the last two days have tipped the scale. I wrote a travel essay about 6 years ago. I wrote it for a gravely ill friend; it recounted our last trip together, and I made a point of keeping it light. It meant something to her, and I should have left it at that.
Instead, when a call for travel article submissions was sent to me recently, I opened the file on my old essay. The publisher set the word limit at 1200 words. I thought I could pull out one theme from my 8600 word essay and develop it into a short article. I worked two days. I worked, but my plan did not; the theme fell apart when I tried to piece together hotel anecdotes. That short piece is definitely headed for the Good Try folder.
Knowing when to pack in a lost cause can be liberating. Someday, I may blow the dust off it and give it more consideration, but for now I’m more interested in new material and a fresh start.
And, I now have a love affair with my pressure washer. The vinyl siding is next.