17 Ping Pong Balls and Reaching Into the Dark and Dank Pit to Deal With a Writer’s Despair

This was the closest I could come to a dark, dank pit. (Photo via Stencil)

I took the dog for a walk the other day. It's winter, here, and it's a much more involved process because of the snow, sleet and cold. I have to put on boots, wear a hat and gloves, and decide whether or not I need multiple layers or just a single coat.

When I walk the dog, that's my thing for the evening, I don't want any other things for me to do. Other than to write.

It's become my habit to write in the evenings, after supper, when the house is relatively calm. Some days I walk the dog earlier in the evening so that not even that hangs over my head. When I'm back, I can put on comfortable clothes, settle into my writing corner, and write.

That's my ideal evening, now. The previous twenty-four years were dominated by family and parenting activities. (I wasn't an effective parent, but I put in the time, which counts for something.)

When I returned home after this particular dog walk the other day, I noticed a sound, like a motor running somewhere in the house. Not loud, mind you. If there was a motor running on the dining room table I'd know right away. No, this was quiet enough to have been outside, like it was in the neighbor's garage.

I removed my winter gear, put things away and was on my way to my writing corner when I once again noticed the sound of a motor running. I checked with my family, "Do you hear that?"

They did.

But no one had a great theory on what might be the source.

I walked around the house and noticed it was louder in the corner of our living room. That spot was closest to our neighbor's garage. Then it hit me: that spot is also directly above our sump pump.

I hurried into the basement and of course that was it. The pump was stuck in the pump mode, sucking air. I pulled the plug and lifted the lid and yanked the plug out of the wall. Smoke was wafting from the pump — never a good sign.

Shining a light down into the pit, the first thing I noticed was quite a few ping pong balls gathered at the bottom. With water trickling into the pit, they took float.

Not me, but I'd love to play at this level (Photo via Stencil)

Years ago, I indulged my love of ping pong with a table bought on clearance when McSporty's went out of business (can't recall the name of the store, now). My son's high school years were full of noisy games there in the basement, and he quickly out-gunned me. Eventually, the table fell into disuse.

Over the course of those years of enthusiasm, we went through a lot of ping pong balls. I bought them by the dozen, and many are still unaccounted for in the recesses of the basement.

But I know for certain that 17 of them went into the sump pit. And one of those finally got pinned in the float mechanism of the pump to tell it the pit was empty.

A lot of life shares that same symbiotic relationship of ping pong and the sump pump. We chase after some fun activity in our life, thinking that this is great and will sustain us forever. Distracted by so much fun, we neglect the actual things that sustain our life, and possibly even abuse it somehow with the jetsam of enthusiasm.

When I first graduated college, I wanted to become a writer, and worked on that as much as I could. But I also had a decent job, and thought it'd be a way to make something great. At various times over the next two decades, I chased business ideas, startups and learned new things. They all fizzled out, however.

In the meantime, I neglected my writing. I gave up on it a few times, but I've come back to it repeatedly because (I now realize) I have a primal compulsion to entertain, and I specifically love the idea of writing to entertain.

Ten years ago, when I realized I wanted to write more than anything, my creativity pump was throwing smoke from the bottom of an empty pit, and nobody liked what was coming out of it.

Since then I've been trying to rebuild that pump, and I hope that within months, or maybe a couple of years, my creative hose will be gushing with stuff that is nothing but pure gold.

And I promise to work at finding better metaphors for my creative writing.