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Giving thanks for breakdowns…

The word breakdown instantly flashes associations of misfortune and unpleasantness to my mind – images ranging from boring (not to mention worried) hours spent hanging around the inhospitable quarters of a mechanic’s repair shop in a strange city, to the bizarre experiences of a woman incarcerated in a mental institution for finally losing it!

I have a cluster of muddled repair-shop memories from my childhood as a construction worker’s child, frequently moving from place to place in cars that seemed less than mechanically sound. Fortunately, my knowledge of mental institutions is secondhand – from reading, watching movies, a few psychology and counselling courses, and my writer’s imagination.

But repairs – well, things do break, and in my experience they often break at inconvenient moments. But this week I’m experiencing a different kind of mechanical breakdown experience.

Twelve days ago my husband Brian and I set off on a road trip we’d been planning for some time in our motorhome. We planned the trip in much the way I might plan a novel – a first  draft of the places we wanted to visit with no fixed schedule – ordered for mileage efficiency with the help of Microsoft’s Streets and Trips software. Two days ago we were about an hour from the small northern Ontario town of Sioux Lookout when I asked Brian, “What’s that growling noise?”

“I was wondering the same thing,” he replied.

Luckily Brian tore apart cars and put them back together as a young man, so he’s that very handy type of hero who has mechanical abilities.  We stopped on an abandoned side road and he determined that our water pump was failing. Since we were in the middle of the bush but thirty minutes drive from his sister’s home, we drove on, my writer’s imagination crafting a Please-no! scene of the water pump self-destructing in the next few minutes, our having to find a spot with cell phone coverage to call for a tow truck and get hauled back to Dryden or Kenora or somewhere expen$ively distant for thousands of $$$ in repairs.

The motorhome gave some alarming clunks under the hood, but fortunately things held together until we pulled up outside my in-laws home. Then the water pump dumped its liquid contents onto the driveway.

Wow! If I was writing this in a book, the bad thing would have happened. After all, in fiction, what good is a warning sign if the baddie doesn’t come along and clobber the heroine or hero? Be mean to your characters is the first rule of plotting, and in this case being mean would certainly have had the vehicle dying in the middle of nowhere. When I tossed the heroine of So Much for Dreams into a mechanically doubtful car, I went so far as to have her break down on a Mexican mountaintop without giving her a word of Spanish to talk her way out of the situation.

The author of Vanessa and Brian’s fate was much kinder. We’ve got the luxury good-news version of the story.

  1. We get to spend a few extra days with relatives we’ve seen far too little of in the last couple of decades. Time together is precious when life moves family members to distant parts of a vast landscape.

  2. Brian has the pleasure of working on a mechanical male-bonding project with his brother-in-law and nephew

  3. We had a great tour of Sioux Lookout last night, including a behind-the-scenes tour of a busy regional airline. Calliope, my muse, is spinning story ideas. There’s something exciting about small planes, isolated wild landscapes, and good people that makes for great stories. Life plays dramatically in the everyday lives of the North – whether it be British Columbia, northern Ontario, or Alaska.

  4. I got some quiet hours with computer, WiFi, and Internet to get some necessary updates done on my website and catch up on my social media.

  5. My son Cam and I had a virtual work session and

  6. tweaked the free online character name database on my Web site, and then

  7. I got to brainstorm my promotional blurb for The Broken Gate with him, and finally came up with a version that felt right

  8. During our visit here in Sioux Lookout we’ve enjoyed quiet meals with good company, a family birthday party for my great-niece (and she is great!), and a feel-good community Sunday lunch.

  9. We learned how Sioux Lookout got its name

So here it is Monday, I’ve got the leisure to put an update on my blog. The new water pump is arriving tomorrow morning. I’m guessing vehicle parts that took two days to disassemble will take at least one to put back together, so we’ve got another day or two to enjoy the benefits of breakdowns. Brian’s got coveralls on and his head and shoulders buried under the hood with a variety of tools at hand – and although it’s work, I know he’s getting that satisfaction that comes of mastering challenges. I’m mastering my own problems while my sister- and brother-in-law are at work, clearing the way mentally to get back to TTT (my current fiction project, which has undergone a change of title so the initials TTT no longer fit.)

What a fortunate breakdown! It’s given us time to take a deep breath and take time with family and this beautiful place. When we leave, we’ll take precious memories with us.


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