In Your Own Words: Laura Lynn Brown – Maintain

main·tain – verb |mānˈtān|

:  to keep in an existing state (as of repair, efficiency, or validity) :  preserve from failure or decline 
:  to sustain against opposition or danger :  uphold and defend 
:  to continue or persevere in :  carry on, keep up 
:  to support or provide for, sustain 
:  to affirm in or as if in argument :  assert 

__________

I talked to my car this morning after I picked her up at the garage. We’d been apart for a week, and the last time she’d seen me, I was abandoning her to the back of a tow truck.  I spoke in the gentle tones one uses with a child, or someone who’s recently received a tough diagnosis, or someone one has recently argued with. The tones that convey “It’s going to be all right,” or “You’ve been through a lot,” or “It scared me too, and I’m sorry. Let’s keep going.”

“How are you?” I asked my 12-year-old Toyota Matrix. “You’ve had an adventure.” I felt low in the saddle after six days of driving a borrowed Mitsubishi Montero. It took a few miles to get reacquainted with the seat, with the mirrors, with my own position moving through space.

For weeks, the car had been shuddering when I’d accelerate lightly, and either shuddering or threatening to stall out at stops. Then it did stall a few times. Some days it was fine. Friends theorized a problem in the fuel line. The night it stalled out driving on a curvy downhill road, I called a tow truck.

The car behaved for the man at the shop the next day, but eventually did the same bump-bump-bump for him, like an arrhythmic heart. He prescribed a spark plug and gasket transplant. He could see a throttle something needed cleaning, and he did that too.  Then he also experienced the stalling out. Then it drove fine for him for a few days. Deferred maintenance performed, symptoms gone … ailment still undiagnosed. It bugged him. “If it acts up again, bring it back,” he stressed.

Some car owners know when it’s time for new spark plugs. I’m not one of them. I give my car gas, and the usual oil and filter changes, and a bath once in a while, and a new hubcap when she ejects yet another. But infrequent work that some folks would consider routine maintenance, well, I don’t even know to fix it until it breaks.

::

Maintenance is the word on my mind, but it’s a concept; the verb, maintain, is the action. Maintenance is what things need. Maintain is what I do, or don’t.

I was away from home 17 weekends and five full weeks last year, and a lot around here didn’t get maintained. The first half of this year was pretty full, too, but now, after 24 busy months, there’s time and space to face things I’ve put off.

letter

The bodily toll of too much sitting and too little exercise. The bags of randomness that seemed like an easy way of decluttering at the time. Collections that need culling—clothing, books, whatever’s in the closet that functions as a storage unit. The peace lily that has outgrown its pot. The friendship with a hairline fracture.

Maintaining relationships went the way of dusting and vacuuming that year. I like to have people over, to feed them, to hear their stories at my table. For that whole year, the only people here were the friends who fed the cat and watered the plants while I was away with my dying father.

::

What do you want to accomplish by the end of the hour? asked the professional and friend on the other end of the line.

I want to identify some things that will help me turn around the accumulation of a few years of bad habits, or a lack of habits, within three months, I said, partly joking. But, like all jokes, it had a base of truth. So she took me seriously. We came up with a list of four things to do, daily, to regain and maintain what seems essential.

Writing: Every day. Sometimes morning, sometimes evening, but daily, I sit down to write, to work on a project, or to unclutter the mind just as I’m uncluttering those closets.

Domestic: something for the house, as simple as making the bed each morning and washing the dishes each night. One day I cleaned the bathroom like I haven’t in years, down to toothbrushing the baseboards.

Community: daily meaningful contact with people —sharing a meal, phoning someone, going to church, writing a letter.

Gratitude: five things (at least) every day. Writing them in a little notebook is the last thing I do before lights out.

::

Two years ago, a guy in a big pickup ran a red light into the passenger side of my car. A few months later someone, possibly a tipsy neighbor, hit the driver side while it was parked. A month later an ice-covered, snow-heavy pine branch pierced my windshield. After every accident, someone asked if it wasn’t time to get a new car. Aside from people running into it and trees falling on it, I’d say, it runs great.

After a few repair jobs, though, it’s easy to start dreaming about the shiny promise of new cars—and new relationships.

Still. We’ve driven almost 169,000 miles together. My goal is 200,000. I like the car, and I like not having a car payment. And I think I like being loyal to something that has been with me for so long, a little like one character’s loyalty to his swaybacked horse in the novel I’m reading now.

After lunch Sunday, my friends and I all broke open our fortune cookies and read our fortunes aloud. “Someone in your life needs a letter from you,” mine read.

I don’t see divine significance in cookie fortunes. But the next day I emailed the organizer of a weekly round-robin snail mail group I’d signed up for on a whim. I’m sorry, I told her, but I need to back out. For now, those handwritten words and little sketches and Forever stamps are better spent maintaining existing bonds.

__________

WORD COUNT: 973

Laura Lynn Brown

Laura Lynn Brown is the author of Everything That Makes You Mom: A Bouquet of MemoriesHer writing has appeared in The Iowa Review, SlateArt House America, The Curator, Every Day Poems and elsewhere. She works as a copy editor at a daily newspaper. You can follow her at her blog and on Twitter.


In Your Own Words

An important part of bringing words to life is encouraging other writers with their words. In this regular feature, I invite other writers to write about one word that captures where they are in life at that moment, much like my own #wordoftheweek writing discipline. What is your one word?


Author photo provided by Laura Lynn Brown, used with permission. Photo above by Kim S, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License. Design by Charity Singleton Craig.

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Guest User

Occasionally, I host other writers to share a little bit of their stories about growing in faith and experiencing true hope.


  • Megan Willome ,

    “The friendship with a hairline fracture.”–John recently took in his old bicycle, which was nice but not as nice as his Trek, to see if it could be welded. The bike had a hairline fracture and, being made of aluminum, could not be welded. It seemed like a metaphor for the friendship with the person he was hoping to give the bike to. Sometimes a hairline fracture is too much.

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      Charity Singleton Craig ,

      It’s amazing what such a tiny crack can do – and how much pain and damage it can cause.

    • Dolly@Soulstops ,

      Laura,
      I love how you had concrete goals set up in different areas…those seemingly little changes add up…so good for you 🙂 My husband’s car has about 140,000 and he’s aiming for 200,000…glad you and your car were reunited 🙂

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        Charity Singleton Craig ,

        Dolly – I love Laura’s approach, too, because these daily tasks are achieving far more than what her to-do list might reflect. Sure, she can check these things off each day, but in the end, she’s nurturing relationships, passions, etc. Thanks for stopping by!

      • Diana Trautwein ,

        Great goals, lovely post, Laura. Someday, I’ll make it back to goal-setting. Someday soon, I hope.

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          Charity Singleton Craig ,

          Diana – Goals work in seasons when we need to accomplish things. I suspect during this season of healing, you are accomplishing a lot through different kinds of goals. Hang in there, friend!

          • Laura Brown ,

            Thank you, Diana. Know what? I bet you have goals right now. Small goals, they may seem like, but what you need to get around in the way that you have to get around right now. And they’re enough for today.

          • Ann Kroeker ,

            Life takes so much to maintain if only we would look at the physical stuff that breaks and deteriorates and gets run into. Add in all the other aspects that need attention, and no wonder your post has me thinking! It’s hard to move forward when the status quo requires so much maintenance. That’s why I love your goals–they build in a kind of steady attention to things that could otherwise end up in a state of needing extensive attention (or rescue those, gradually, but tending to them more often in smaller ways).

            • Laura Brown ,

              Thank you for helping me to formulate those goals, Ann, and for hearing the truth beneath what seemed an absurd wish. I’m five weeks into that three-month spell, and what felt like an ocean liner — almost impossible to turn from its heavy course — feels a little more like the boat in my living room: a kayak, portable, easy to maneuver, and able to go a lot more places.

              I think you’ve hit on one of the keys of successful maintenance — viewing it as acts of attention instead of a chore.

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                Charity Singleton Craig ,

                I’m finding the wonder of that same kind of steady attention to some things in my life too (with the help of Ann!). One thing I learned in the process, though, is that I can’t maintain too many things all at once without risking the whole project. I can’t give my attention to everything every day. Finding those limits and building in the harmony of a multifaceted life helps me maintain my sanity!

                • Laura Brown ,

                  As I recall, “Limit” was one of the stages in the writing life.

            • Sandra Heska King ,

              Oh my goodness. How I love this. And I love your goals.

              My husband’s Saturn has over 500,00 miles on it now. He’s put in a new engine and periodically fixes things, performs all the required maintenance. They have a real relationship.

              I hate that car. We pour a lot of money into those fix-it dates. But there’s no car payment. 🙂

              • Laura Brown ,

                Thank you, Snady. Yeah, that IS a relationship, when you do so much maintenance and work yourself. And yeah, there comes a point when a car payment would probably be wiser than repeated unbudgeted repairs.

                Oh, the stories I bet that car could tell about its half a million miles.

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                  Charity Singleton Craig ,

                  My car has 125,000 miles on it, amazingly. It’s running relatively well. It’s a love-hate relationship, to be honest. It used to love until a few things started going wrong here and there. Now it’s a much dicier situation!

              • Maintain ,

                […] the rest, please ride with me over to Charity Singleton Craig’s place.  Five-Minute Fridays: Lost, Release, […]

                • Laura Brown ,

                  Actually an anonymous cookie fortune writer said that, but to make it accurate, I’ll say it too: Someone in your life needs a letter from you. I’m happy that this lands on the same week you’re writing about maintaining friendships, and that wonderful epistolary book “Love & Salt.”

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                    Charity Singleton Craig ,

                    Laura – Love and Salt was a wonderful book to read. It made me aware of some of my own difficulties with friendship, issues that I have traced back to years of insecurity and longing. In fact, some of those same desires to belong and be known are part of my journey to feel at home here with my husband and sons.

                    The fortune cookie was right. Someone needs a letter. The Lord will tell us who.