Home » Things I have learned so far » Off the Wagon (a/k/a Tales from the Fire)

Off the Wagon (a/k/a Tales from the Fire)

falling off the wagon

As the old saying goes, if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.

Two weeks ago, I posted with great satisfaction about my 100-day challenge and how I’d established all sorts of routines to make it work. At that time, I felt confident I could see this through.

Yesterday, I fell off the wagon, so to speak.

In all fairness, I think I have a decent excuse:


Here’s the short version: at around 4:30 a.m. on October 5, I was awakened by smoke detectors going off. Turns out, the air handler in the attic was on fire. The fire fighters thought that a bearing seized and prevented the motor from running. In fact, it was an electrical failure in the wire to the on/off switch. The cause-and-origin guy used the term “dead short.” Whatever it was, it means the unit shorted out and something caught fire and. . . .


So right now, I’m spending my days working on the porch since it’s the only place in the house where I can breathe, and the cats and I are living at a local hotel.


Fortunately, since there doesn’t appear to have been any structural damage to the house, it’s just a matter of having all the smoke and soot cleaned, a process that will likely take days, if not weeks. (My sister’s comment: “Sounds like a pretty extreme way to get your house cleaned.”) Drycleaners took all the clothes and soft stuff (bedding, pillows, and the like); the “immediate need” clothing has been delivered, and they’ll store the rest until I can move back in. My insurance agent, who is a long-time friend, has been worth her weight in gold.


I thought about writing as a way to manage all this. I figured that since it was more of an inconvenience than a tragedy, I should be able to do it. While I vastly underestimated how many moving parts would be involved and how much time I would spend on the phone—everyone from insurance people to friends and family who want to know what they can do to help—I figured that since the hotel is here in town and includes a kitchen, it shouldn’t be too big a deal, and I’d have plenty of time to write about the experience. I even started documenting it all Thursday night as I reclined on the uncomfortable hotel sofa and watched as three cats explored and the other two refused to leave their carriers.

By last night, I was worn out. Four days of juggling the kind of tasks that I normally don’t have to think about, such as having a secure internet connection (still working on that), took its toll. I should have seen this coming: Saturday night, I managed little more than a paragraph before giving up and going to bed. As I write this on Monday, I haven’t opened the Sunday paper. I have constant lists of things I need to take back to the hotel to keep life moving along; the current one includes additional dish towels and Command® hooks for them. And so, after I spent nearly half an hour convincing the hotel television and my Roku account to talk to each other, I fell asleep watching a movie, and it never occurred to me until this morning that I hadn’t written anything more than a shopping list yesterday.

A lot of people would tell me that under the circumstances, I can justifiably quit the challenge and just restart it later, when it’s more convenient. The problem is that it will never be more convenient. There’s always something. Not the drama of a fire, but something. Ill health (mine or someone else’s). An unexpected work deadline. A hurricane. A wedding or graduation or funeral. Meeting someone new and falling in love. Volunteering for a worthy project that winds up taking far more time than expected.

So I’m going to press on. I wrote for thirty-seven days—more than a third of the way to 100—and I’m not throwing it away. Getting my mind back into fiction mode is challenging, but it doesn’t mean it’s not worth attempting. In the meantime, I can keep the writing muscles flexed with journaling, blog posts, and essays. It’s not what I’d hoped, but it’s better than nothing.

Don’t think for a minute that I’m saying that the fire-related issues are all resolved. Far from it. I’m pretty sure that my pulmonologist would not be delighted at the amount of time I’ve spent in the smoky house today. Instead of doing actual billable work, I spent the past three business days dealing with adjusters, various insurance people, cleaning people, dry cleaning people, the insurance company’s hotel people, the cause-and-origin guy, the people from AT&T and the hotel who are supposed to be providing a secure internet connection, the people at Amazon who are supposed to give me access to the movie I started watching last night, and numerous kind people who have checked in to see how things are going (as well as a couple of whom are clients who are sympathetic and concerned but, in the end, have work that needs to be done and are wondering when I’m going to get back to it). The frustrations are big and small, and as much as I recognize that the whole affair could have been a thousand times worse, I’ve also come to understand that in the aftermath of something like this, every task, even the most basic, is going to take significantly longer than it normally would, and it’s all going to be exhausting. Which means that accomplishing anything more than the bare minimum will require five times more work than it would on a regular day, and that’s just how things are.

I recognize that this is how life is going to proceed for the foreseeable future. I also recognize that this fire may not be the last time in the next sixty-three days that something unexpected and unavoidable arises that may interrupt my progress. All I can do is to put one foot in front of the other, and continue to march. From there, we’ll see.

6 thoughts on “Off the Wagon (a/k/a Tales from the Fire)

  1. If the goal is writing something every day, then the shopping list counts. It might not be the most thrilling, or well crafted piece of writing, but it required thought, organization, focus and the attention to detail necessary to any piece of work. Good luck with the remaining 63 days.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s just so damn scary to think how lucky you are and how much worse the devastation could’ve been. Even with all the hassles this week and I’m sure in the weeks to come, you have to be thankful that you’re alive to tell the story. Keep writing. Keep your spirits up. This too shall pass.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You’re right: there are so many ways this could have been so much worse. This entire experience has mercy written all over it. I’m here, the cats are here, my house is here–sooty and smelly, but intact (except for the air handler). I’m watching stories on the news about the wildfires in northern California where people lost everything and had to run for their lives. Their experience was tragic; mine is inconvenient.


  4. Pingback: Before the Storm: A Few Thoughts | P. Jo Anne Burgh

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