Body, House, Book

We’d had a stressful fall and were looking forward to that week at year’s end when my husband takes vacation and we just stay put and enjoy ourselves. Looking ahead, I’d set aside January to prepare my book manuscript so I could begin submitting it to agents and publishers.

But a couple of days after Christmas the sewer backed up into our finished basement. Our home life and my work life were upended. Our door became a revolving one, what with all the workers coming and going. And now, weeks later, the door continues to revolve.

A friend believes in synchronicity, where human concerns are mirrored in the physical world. Maybe the sewer backup was related to me writing my book. In it I bring up dark material, that which is underneath and not usually seen.

The day of the backup I had gotten a massage, and, unusual for me, as I love bodywork, I was resistant to it. I peeked at the clock, waiting for it to be done. At home a couple of hours later, I heard my husband say, “Honey, I think you better come down here.” It seems that on the massage table I had been bracing myself against what was about to happen in my second body, my house.

My husband had gone downstairs to do laundry and found murky, smelly water on the floor. Another bit of synchronicity: It didn’t escape me that my book is, in part, about oil pipeline spills, and then we, ourselves, experience a malfunctioning pipe that has discharged something unhealthy. We traced the mess to the drain in the basement shower, which had been blown off by the force of this eruption. We called an emergency plumbing service that sent out Rod, and he told us our main line (that is, the sewer pipe out to the street) was partially blocked.

He had a three-ring binder with laminated sheets that illustrated the problem. Ridges of solids had build up in the line. He must have meant to say that these were like “sand dunes,” but he kept calling the ridges “sand dooms.” It felt like we were dealing with dooms. The waste stream had hit them and bounced back.

What had gone wrong in our house seemed to remind everyone not of house calamities but of body calamities. Rod had been chased by a Doberman on his first gig as a plumber, had gotten a huge gash in his head, and had had to get stitches. The plumber who “jetted” out our main line had a bad back.

The mitigation people arrived. They tore up carpeting, and sawed off the bottom foot of sheetrock on the walls. The crew leader, George, told about how he had just learned that a close friend had had a recurrence of an aggressive cancer. I, too, know someone with such a cancer. He and I compared notes.

The guys on his crew carted off what had been ruined, and they left sitting out in piles what hadn’t, which made us feel discombobulated. My husband’s books number in the thousands. He says he needs to have his books in order to feel like his brain is in order.

I’d been working with a new massage therapist this fall, one who is trained in Chinese medicine, and she said that my liver and gall bladder are sluggish. She is working to invigorate them. The liver is in charge of your life’s work, she says, while your gall bladder gives you the courage to accomplish that work. She told me this not knowing that I am polishing a book that is central to my being.

The expression, “That took a lot of gall,” came to mind, and I wondered how I could get more gall. While there are negative connotations to that word, gall is also associated with shameless or impudent boldness, with barefaced audacity. Ah, I definitely could use more of those.

I’ve now got the following expressions on a card next to my computer: “Kick down the ladder,” “Nail my colors to the mast,” “Set my back against the wall,” “Ride in the whirlwind and direct the storm.” And my favorite, “Neck or nothing,” which I take to mean that if a person is going to do something, she may as well go for broke.

Oh, one other example of synchronicity between my writing and my house emergency: My friend says the problem in our basement is something like birth. There is a time for it, and when that time comes, the water breaks and the baby must emerge right then. Similarly, the book is ready; it has to come out now. I’ve always resisted birth metaphors for writing, but not this time.

Mary Jean Port writes at home, near Minnehaha Creek and Lake Harriet, and teaches at the Loft Literary Center.