This is the story of what leaky pipes made me realize about writing. It started when the water line to my refrigerator developed a pinhole leak. I cut the pipe, removed the piece with the pinhole and was left with the task of figuring out how to rejoin the two pieces of pipe without leakage. First I spent some time online trying to see what products Home Depot had to help me out. But not having a clear sense of what was required, I was quickly confused. So I called Home Depot for advice and, after being on hold for 20 minutes, I was transferred to the plumbing department where my call was promptly dropped. Next, I went to Ace Hardware where the very nice, but ultimately incompetent, salesman sold me $18 of stuff which turned out to be completely irrelevant.
Fortunately, unlike me, my dear wife actually has a brain. She did something really old fashioned, but amazingly effective: she looked up "plumbing supply" in the phone book. Lo and behold, she found Tanaka Hardware in Lihue which specializes in plumbing. I called, described my problem and was told that they had the solution. I was advised to bring the scrap of pipe and they'd show me what to do. So I hopped in my car, pipe segment in hand, and headed to Lihue.
Tanaka Hardware is a small, 100-year-old family-owned store on a side street. It is a maze of floor-to-ceiling shelving units filled with stuff for plumbing and all manner of other repairs. I walked up to the sales clerk and showed him my pipe scrap.
"That's high pressure pipe you got there, brother. That for an ice maker?" Before I could answer, he said "follow me" and guided me through the maze to a rack filled with a surprising array of devices for joining pipes. He looked around for the correct compression fitting and the accompanying stents and plastic collars, then he led me back to the counter and showed me how to use the material. Five dollars and eighty-eight cents later, I was on my way home with the parts and knowledge required to repair the split pipe.
When I got home to make the repair, I successfully attached the compression fitting and rejoined the severed pipes, but in moving them around I unknowingly dislodged another pipe. When I turned the water back on, a gusher quickly covered most of the kitchen floor. Furthermore, the gusher carried away the little clip that had held the dislodged pipe in place and I could not find it. Nothing I did could reattach the pipe despite scratching the bejeezus out of my arm as I reached a great distance under the fridge (a nasty place) in the futile attempt. The water just kept rising in depth on my kitchen floor. I knew I had to call in a pro.
Of course, being a writer, I couldn't help but think about the story elements in this simple tale. There's the battle for survival of a small, venerable, family-owned hardware store against the big-box Goliaths. There's the experienced and skilled clerk whose kindness and abilities go largely unseen in the cold, modern world. There's the way our modern "conveniences" (cell phones, big box stores, voicemail systems, and the online ability to check what's in stock) over-complicate what should be simple problems to solve. There's the way that modern life limits our ability to develop the basic repair skills and knowledge that we need to survive in our own homes. And of course, there's the incompetent guy who keeps getting himself into deeper and deeper doodoo in a vain attempt to save money. It is the stuff of social drama, social commentary, and character development.
My sad tale led me to another writerly reflection, as well. Just as I realized that I was (quite literally) out of my depth and finally caved in and called the Sears repair service, we writers have to know when it is time to stop trying to go it alone. We all need help, whether in the form of feedback from peers or the paid expertise of a professional editor. No book can be successful without the help of many others. In fact, sometimes, we just need the input of a pro who really knows what he or she is doing. That's why it can be so important to attend a writers conference. So I hope you'll avail yourself of the opportunities provided by the Kauai Writers Festival in 2106 to access the expertise of top authors, literary agents, publishing experts and, of course, your very talented peers.