Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | January 9, 2018

The Writer’s Life: When It’s Not Writer’s Block

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, deer herd in the snow

Some days you just can’t write. I’m not talking about writer’s block, but about those days when other things get in the way. Days when you’re so sick that you can’t budge from bed. Days when the pain is so bad you can’t concentrate on anything else. Days that are so full of obligatory activities that the only time for writing is when you’re so tired you can’t keep your eyes open. Those are the kind of days I’m talking about. If you haven’t experienced any of them, lucky you! I’ve experienced more than I like, and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone.

I’ve recently suffered through more of them, this time because of the abnormal cold. If you’ve paid any attention to the news lately, you know that the U. S. East Coast has suffered from unusually cold temperatures for a couple weeks, cold enough for snow in Florida. Such winter temperatures might be normal for people in the Midwest, Northwest, and Alaska; residents in those areas might not mind the cold as much because they’re used to it, and they’ve built their houses and heating systems to handle the conditions. That’s not the case in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern states.

Which brings me to a beef I have with heating system installers. Three times we’ve had to have heating systems installed in various houses we’ve lived in. Three times I’ve asked to have a larger heating capacity to take care of cold rooms or areas in the houses. Three times I’ve been assured that the new system would be adequate, and each of those times I’ve been imprudent enough to accept those assurances. While they may have designed the heating systems for the average cold temperatures of the local area, the systems just aren’t “adequate” during the super-cold snaps that we invariably get.

Enough gripping! The point is that when the temperature dips below 25°F, our heating unit cannot produce enough heat to keep the house at 65°. The lower the temperature outside and the stronger the wind, the colder it is inside. I can take cold weather outside the house but not inside. Since I have trouble concentrating when it’s cold inside, I have a little space heater to set beside my desk and keep me warm while I write.

That space heater is one of my favorite things in the winter. It moves from room to room with me during cold spells, but this recent spate of cold and windy days has provided more of a challenge than it can handle. I’ve been forced to wear layers – long underwear under jeans, extra socks, thick sweatshirts on top of sweaters on top of long-sleeved T-shirts. After days when the outdoor temperature didn’t reach 20° last week, our old household heating unit could not maintain more than 56° degrees. I decided we needed more space heaters, and I needed them sooner than any would arrive if I ordered them online.

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, sunset over the snow, sweet gum tree in winter snow at sunset

Not being foolish enough to head to the store during the snowstorm last Thursday, I set out on Friday. I figured that space heaters might be in short supply, so I went to an area where several stores might have them. I stopped at Target first because I also wanted fingerless gloves (regular gloves are hard to type with). I had to search for the gloves, but I got the last pair. I also got their last space heater, a small one.

I wanted one or two more space heaters, so I headed for Walmart. Walmart had most of one side of an aisle set aside for space heaters (much more space than Target had), but all the shelves were empty. They had sold out.

I was down to one store – Sears. I didn’t have much hope, but in a small section of clearance items I found eight space heaters. They were small, so I got two.

As I drove home, I felt pretty good about my shopping. It had taken longer than I expected, but I had gotten what I needed. The sky was a bright, clear blue and the snow sparkled in the sunlight. It was one of those times when everything seemed perfect.

If you’re guessing that the feeling didn’t last, you’re right.

I live in a semi-rural area. The county had plowed and salted. The main roads and those that run east and west were in decent shape, but in open places wind-blown snow had drifted onto the roads that run north and south. On one of those roads, my car got caught in the ruts left by another vehicle and zipped off the road into deeper snow at the edge of a field. When the car came to a standstill, I couldn’t get it to budge. Ironically, though my car sat in a low drift, the ground about fifteen feet into the field had been bared by the wind.

Although stranded on a country road, I wasn’t worried. I had dressed warmly and luckily had a very short walk to a John Deere dealership, the only business on the sparsely populated road. I put on the hazard lights, fastened my coat’s hood, and made my way to the dealership. Four cars were parked in the lot, so I assumed there would be at least a couple guys who could help me.

When I entered the building, I found three women working in the office (served me right for stereotyping John Deere workers as male). When I told them I needed help because I was stuck in the snow across the street and asked if they had a shovel, they exchanged a glance that set me aback – until I learned that the one woman had just gotten back to her desk after helping a guy whose car had been stuck in the same spot – the guy whose tracks my car had followed into the drift.

One woman got her coat and a shovel and returned to the car with me. As we worked on getting my car out, other cars, SUVs, and pickups passed. Since I doubted just the two of us could push my car out, I kept hoping someone else would stop. Nobody did.

The woman suggested I get in the car and try to drive out while she pushed. After several unsuccessful attempts, she told me the guy who’d been stuck before me only got out when someone with a pickup truck had pulled him out with a chain.

I had just decided maybe it was time to call AAA – and probably wait a good while for help – when a pickup stopped. I was overjoyed when a man with a foreign accent got out and offered to help. Unfortunately, even with his help, we couldn’t get the car out.

Then a car stopped beside the pickup. Two women got out and joined in pushing, but we still couldn’t get the car out. The man who was driving the car climbed out to help too, but with no luck.

[I do not fault the other drivers who did not stop to help. Perhaps, like me after my spinal surgery, they weren’t physically able to help. Perhaps they had appointments. Whatever the cause, they had reasons. I can’t say, however, that I feel the same about the drivers going the opposite direction who made gestures or shouted at those of us trying to get the car out. Their lane had no drift and was not blocked by any of our vehicles. They couldn’t be bothered to help, but they didn’t mind slowing down to express their unwarranted opinions, which we ignored.]

Finally, the car’s driver suggested that he drive and I help push. At that point, I was willing to try about anything. I couldn’t do much pushing, but with the man at the wheel and the three women and other man doing most of the work, it was enough. The car came free!

Thanks to those kind people who stopped to help, I soon arrived home, set up the space heaters, and donned my fingerless gloves. It had been quite a day, but I was back in business!

Have you had a non-writing day not caused by writer’s block?

Do you have any snow adventures to share?

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Trenton at sunset, the frozen Delaware River, Calhoun Street Bridge

Trenton, NJ, and the frozen Delaware River as seen from the Calhoun Street Bridge, January 5, 2018

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