Life is What Happens

“Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”

My Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations doesn’t list that one (and I don’t feel like roaming off to Google to check it out), but certainly that could be the chapter heading quotation for this past week.

I’ll skip over the complexities that colored the earlier part of the week, because these things are all still up in the air, unsettled, and uncertain. Instead, I’ll talk about how water on the floor can sure mess up your day – or a couple of days.

If you’d asked me and Jim on Sunday morning what our day was going to be like, we would have answered something like the following: go ride bikes, then come home, get some brunch, do some housekeeping and cooking, head out, run a few errands, and get home in time to put the finishing touches on the dinner we intended to share with our good friends John and Gail.

Well, this held together through the bike riding and brunch. Then we turned to housekeeping and cooking. I was in the kitchen in the process of transforming fresh apricots from our friend Michael Wester’s tree into apricot brown betty (and keeping an eye on a pot of whole wheat pasta for a pasta salad) when Jim came into the kitchen, a worried look on his face, and began rooting around in a drawer.

“I think we have a leak. There’s water on the floor in the laundry room. Nothing wrong in the furnace cabinet. I’m going to take off the ventilation cover and check underneath.”

Well, with that simple declaration, our day was transformed. No errands. Phone calls to plumbers (fortunately, we have an excellent Roto Rooter group we have worked with in the past). Eventually, there came the arrival of a very nice plumber named Ryan and a round of diagnostics that told us what the problem was not, if not precisely what it was.

Ryan departed with promises of more experienced plumbers to arrive the following afternoon. We decided to go ahead with having John and Gail over to dinner. After all, we could keep ahead of most of the water, now that we knew it was there (if not from where it was coming), and they are good company, just what we needed after a trying day.

So after John and Gail left, I cleaned up the dinner mess while Jim mopped the floor one more time. We put off running the dishwasher. When faces were washed and teeth brushed, we turned off the water into the house.

Monday. If on Saturday you’d asked me what Monday would be, I could have told you. Jim works at home on Mondays. We share our joint office and pretty much ignore each other except for a break to ride our bikes and another for lunch. I even have a regular phone date with my friend, Sally.

This Monday, we got up feeling ragged. Turned the water back on long enough to shower and run the dishwasher, all too aware that water was dripping in at the rate of about a gallon an hour. Then we turned the water off again.

We called Roto Rooter and learned that they couldn’t have anyone over until after noon, so we went out to ride our bikes. Exercise is great for stress. Came home. Around 10:30 a.m., there was a call from Roto Rooter saying they could have a crew over quite soon.

Another break in plans, but this one welcome.

The team arrived. We’d thought the problem was related to work we’d had done the year before, and therefore under warranty. Bad news. It was not. I put aside my work and called the insurance company to notify them and find out procedure for a claim. Meanwhile, holes are being sawed in my walls…

Sally calls at noon. We have a decent talk, but I’m certainly distracted by three plumbers and Jim all busy figuring out what’s wrong and how to fix it. Jim eventually reports that it looks as if the floor won’t need to be jack-hammered up. I relax a little.

Later, the plumbers leave, but the insurance company wants someone to come and tell us whether the walls need to be dried before they can be patched. This is a new one on me. In New Mexico dry, not wet, is usually the problem. So more of Monday is spent waiting and wondering.

Eventually, the technician arrives. He tells us we don’t need a dry-out since the most effected parts of the wall board will need to be cut out anyhow. What a relief! Even so, there will still be holes in the wall to be patched, insurance adjusters to be called, paint to be purchased so that the patches will match the surrounding walls. And, of course, bills to be paid.

Why doesn’t more of this stuff happen in fiction? Miss Marple never gets distracted from the murder by her plumbing leaking. Honor Harrington never gets told that there isn’t enough cocoa and she’s going to have to settle for coffee as she races into battle. The Dragon Riders of Pern never seem to run out of whatever it is they feed the dragons.

On the other hand, the very stuff of adventure and excitement is the murder, battle, crisis that interrupts those “other plans.” Compared to that, a puddle on the floor isn’t much. Right?


15 Responses to “Life is What Happens”

  1. Alan Robson Says:

    Compared to that, a puddle on the floor isn’t much. Right?


    I’ve had plumbing disasters — see, for example:

    It’s distinctly upsetting and I sympathise. Have a hug from me and Robin and the cats.

  2. Paul Dellinger Says:

    For what it’s worth (and Google isn’t always right), that quote is usually
    attributed to John Lennon, in the song he sang about his son, “Beautiful
    Boy.” However, in slightly different form — “Life is what happens to us
    while we are making other plans” — the earliest source seems to be
    Allen Saunders, who has that quote in the Jan. 1957 issue of Reader’s
    Digest where he is interviewed (he was one of the writers on comic strips
    like “Steve Roper,” “Mary Worth” and the “Kerry Drake” detective strip.

    I agree with Alan. Plumbing disasters are terrible things.

  3. Julie Hagan Bloch Says:

    Anne McCaffrey’s dragons eat whatever animals are provided or hunted (they know not to eat domestic livestock that isn’t set aside for them). I guess if what is provided runs low, they can simply go and hunt, so running low wouldn’t be an issue. At least, it never has been in the stories I’ve read, which, come to think of it, sort of proves your point, eh? 🙂

    OY! Leaks!!! EEeeeekkk! I hate leaks! I told you about the roof leaks we had before (hooray for the new roof!), but we’ve also had plumbing leaks. Not fun, in any sense. Ripping holes in walls, floor, fixing the waterworks, repairing the damage, and the mess, the mess, the mess. Days uncertain, waiting for work to be done, having to stay available just in case, decisions needing to be made with insufficient information available… reall bummer. You have my sympathy, and virtual hugs!

  4. Dominique Says:

    What a bummer Jane! I’m sorry! Hope things are back to normal soon!

  5. Jane Noel Says:

    We’ve had plumbing disasters too…twice in a newly remodeled kitchen. But you’re right – once the mess is cleaned up and the problem solved, it’s not life-changing. The important stuff in life (and the dramatic stuff in fiction) tends to matter more than the puddle on the floor.

  6. janelindskold Says:

    Interestingly different takes…

    I’d like to see more fiction where routine interupts the “dramatic stuff” — or adds to it, but while I can see that working in, say, mystery (and in fact some cozy’s seem to thrive on just this), I can’t see it working as well in SF/F.

    The problems are often bigger, for one.

    Thanks for the sympathy. We still have a hole in the wall, but the rain ain’t getting in…

  7. Julie Hagan Bloch Says:

    I don’t know, I think it could work in SF/F; I think it’s just that we’re so used to it not being that way, so maybe it’s hard to picture. Or maybe it’s that when it does show up, it doesn’t seem like it because an everyday routine interruption to one of the characters in a vastly differrent setting might therefore not seem so everyday to us. For instance, if we have a flat tire, that’s a normal sort of nuisance/interruption to us. For a SF/F character, the equivalent might be a horse losing a shoe, or, gods forbid, going lame. It doesn’t seem everyday to us because it isn’t.
    What do you think?

  8. Barbara Joan Says:

    A small blessing, no need to dry out. After a leak in a bathroom, the state required me to have a professional dry out. Four days of solid noise and fans running and I was ready to run away from home. Probably would have too, if I could have found a motel to take me and the cat.

  9. heteromeles Says:

    When reading this, I was thinking of the plumbing in The Mote in God’s Eye, but there’s probably a better example somewhere. Actually, I think the answer to your question of why this stuff isn’t in more books is that 110,000 word limit. When you spread 110,000 words across plot, subplot, multiple POV characters, scene development, and so on, there’s not much room left for the plumbing.

    Still, it could have been worse. After all, you didn’t turn to your husband and say, “Honey, what did you do to piss off the brownie this time?”

  10. janelindskold Says:

    Heteromeles —

    Curious. Where did you get the 110,000 word limit? I’ve never heard of anything like that!

    In fact, I’m pretty sure I know authors who have written longer. I think I’m one of them.

    Julie — What I think is that you’re right! Those things do happen, even in fiction, just not as often as I’d like to see.

    One of these days, I need to write about the question of how what some readers find “delightfully realistic” others find “slow.”

    It’s a delicate balance.

  11. heteromeles Says:

    The 110,000 word limit is supposedly where they have to switch binding techniques for a hardcover. The cost per book goes up, and according to the advice “they” give wannabe writers like me, that makes it less likely for an unknown to sell a manuscript that’s >110,000 words long. There’s a lot of noise out there about editors generally wanting shorter manuscripts as well, to keep down paper costs and editing time. Or some such.

    Glad to hear this is news to you. If it’s not your experience, please don’t take it as a real limit!

  12. janelindskold Says:

    Always be careful to check the validity of what “they” tell you.

    I’ve certainly sold many books longer than 110,000 words (roughly 440 manuscript pages by the ‘old count’).

    It’s much more important to check the publisher’s guidelines than figure some arbitary length is the “magic number.”

    However, while I do think there is some flexibility, certainly I’ve met many writers who think that the publishers will jump to buy not only one book from an untried writer, but an entire triology.

    It does happen, but length and complexity does reduce the odds.

    What really matters is how good a job you do and whether you match your work with the right editor.

  13. Julie Hagan Bloch Says:

    Delightfully realistic vs. slow… I’m thinking it’s not so much “what” as it is “how”. A passing reference to everyday occurrences can keep it real without being tedious. Likewise, a longer section relating everyday activities can be interesting if it’s presented in an interesting way. For example, an elderly superhero can experience aches and pains and make a comment about young superheroes don’t think, when they’re in a battle with the archvillain, that the blows they scoff at in youth will come back to haunt them in the form of trick knees when they go to pick up the newspaper from the porch.
    Sorry, that’s the best I could think of at the moment. But you know what I mean, eh? Tie it in with something interesting.
    Sheesh, look who I’m telling this to! Jane, you are a master! And I, your humble aficionado. 🙂

  14. janelindskold Says:


    I like your comment.

    Actually, reminded me of one of my favorite comic book series ever: GRIMJACK.

    I’ll definitely consider more on this, but it’s fun not to always think about writing and especially those things like how a reader perceives a story/character that are at least partly out of a writer’s hands.

  15. Julie Hagan Bloch Says:

    Okay, now I’m going to have to look up GRIMJACK. And as a comment about perception, when first I saw the word, I “saw” it as GIMCRACK. 🙂

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