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An automotive addendum

December 23, 2020 1 comment

Since it was fairly warm this afternoon (which meant I didn’t have to worry about my car being sluggish to start due to cold lubricants or whatever), I took that drive I mentioned above, to recharge my car battery and test the GPS on my new phone. Turns out the battery ran dry again even in just the two days since my grocery trip, so said trip was nowhere near long enough to charge the battery. And for a few moments, I was worried that my jump-starter battery pack wasn’t working. The cable bit that plugs into it is supposed to go from flashing red and green to solid green to let you know it’s working, and it wouldn’t go green. It eventually did, though, when I happened to tilt it 90 degrees from the way it naturally rests, though I don’t know if that was cause and effect or coincidence, since it stayed engaged when I tilted it back. Anyway, I started the car and moved on to the next thing.

The USB adapter worked fine, letting me plug in my 6-foot charging cable, and the GPS worked smoothly too. But I’m out of practice at looking down at the screen as the phone rests in the cup holder, or else the angle was less amenable with the new phone somehow, even though it’s a bigger and brighter screen. I’ve never felt particularly safe doing that anyway. What I really need now is some kind of phone mount for my dashboard or dashtop or whatever you call that flattish surface under the windshield. The cable is easily long enough to reach even from the outlet in the back seat (the lighter in the front doesn’t work as a power outlet, I guess because the designers figured only passengers would need one, since the car predates smartphones).

Not that I expect to need it anytime soon, as I said above. I thought about maybe going to some store or other, maybe pick up some food at a drive-thru, but I decided I’d rather not deal with exchanging cash with anyone, and I only have a few bucks in my wallet anyway. I ended up just driving around the neighborhood, including some areas I haven’t been to in years if at all, just so I could experience the change of scenery. I was willing to risk getting a little lost since I had a working GPS again. But I didn’t need it. I still have a fairly good sense of the layout of the area and knew which way I needed to go.

Although the same can’t be said for everyone. As I was coming up along the one-way street leading to my home street, another car was approaching me the wrong way in the same lane! But they were on the other side of an intersection and they turned off before they and I got too close — also going the wrong way into a one-way turn lane. I hope they got back on the right side of the 2-way street they turned onto after that. At least, I didn’t hear any evidence to the contrary.

Given how effective my little pocket-sized jump-starter pack is, I wonder why car batteries need to be so big and heavy anyway. I guess a car battery is meant to hold a greater amount of charge, though, since it’s used for more than just starting the ignition. Isn’t it? Also, the pack always needs at least two tries to start the car. I guess you want a larger charge in the battery to make it more reliable — providing you use the car often enough for the darn thing to hold onto its charge.

I didn’t really think I was using the car that much less frequently than I did before the pandemic. Maybe about half as often, at a guess. But I suppose the distance I drive is much less, just to the neighborhood grocery store and back, which is only about a mile every couple of weeks. That was still my most common destination before, but it wasn’t the only place I drove to.

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Taking stock as life settles down a bit

I think I’m in a pretty good place right now, relative to how things have been for the past few years and especially this year. I just finished that novel manuscript I’ve been working on, more than a week ahead of schedule, so I have time to tweak it and send it to a friend for consultation on his area of expertise. The writing on this one went really smoothly. I really struggled with the Star Trek novel I was working on before then, since I was dealing with depression and anxiety from being broke and isolated, and I had a really hard time overcoming writer’s block. But I guess I was feeling better with this new project, more optimistic, plus I was able to keep up the momentum I finally gained in the last week or so of the Trek novel, and maintained good writing habits so I didn’t lose it, managing to write at least something every single day.

Although I suspect maybe coffee was a factor. During my long period of depression this year, I started to suspect that coffee was giving me anxiety attacks, so I mostly avoided it unless I was really sleepy, and just had tea. But I eventually figured out that coffee was, at worst, amplifying the anxiety I was feeling for other reasons. I resumed having a cup every morning toward the end of my Trek novel to give me an extra boost, and I kept it up throughout this new novel, and I wonder if that made the difference. I remember that I had a similar amazing burst of productivity about five and a half years ago, not long after I first started drinking coffee (see Coming up for air). But it didn’t persist later on, so I started to question if there was any correlation with coffee. Maybe it’s a function of starting to drink coffee regularly after being off it for a while. I gather the body become desensitized to caffeine over time.

Anyway, it also helped that I was really enthusiastic about this new project, which was enormous fun to write. And it helped that it had a big, long, busy climactic sequence; things like that really give me a lot of momentum, as opposed to a more fragmented plot structure with lots of different threads of action happening separately. (Something to keep in mind in the future.) So I wrote a really huge amount, nearly 15,500 words (more than 20% of the total) in the final four days. When I managed to produce more than 4500 words on Thursday, I felt exuberant. But by Sunday, I was more like, “Help! How do I stop myself? My arms are so tired!”

But now I’m done with my first revision pass and have a week left to deadline, plus I’m waiting for my consultant’s comments, so I have time to relax a little and take stock before moving onto the next thing. It’s not easy to get back into that mode, though, after these past few months of having to write as fast as I could to finish two consecutive novels in time to avoid going broke. To paraphrase Doctor Who: “Robot,” I’ve been cultivating a sense of urgency for quite a while now, and it’s weird to think that I can finally relax, at least for a little while.

But it helps that some aspects of my life are starting to stabilize a bit. I have money in the bank again from the Trek manuscript, and once I get the payment for the just-finished novel (which I think will be announced quite soon so I can finally be more specific), I’ll be even better off. I was finally able to buy some stuff that I’ve needed for a while. For one thing, I bought some adaptors so that my Micro-USB charging cables will be compatible with my new phone’s USB-C connector. Which means I can finally use GPS in my car again (not that I’ve needed to anytime this year), and I expect Google Maps to work much more smoothly on the new phone than on the old one, which evidently didn’t have enough RAM for it or wasn’t up-to-date enough and kept crashing on Maps these past couple of years. Indeed, since the new phone came with its own charging cable, that means I can keep my 6-foot cable in the car permanently for keeping the phone charged on long drives — although I still don’t expect to be taking any until at least late next year, given how long it will probably take to get the pandemic under control.

Still, I’m thinking I should try it out with a test drive soon, probably today. I’ve needed to use my battery pack to jumpstart the car the past two times I’ve gone for groceries, which tells me I need to take it for a longer drive to build up a fuller charge. I gather it’s best to drive for at least half an hour every month or so to keep it charged — though I’m starting to suspect the problems with my car’s electrical system might be draining the battery, or maybe it’s just not a great battery, though at least it’s just draining and not dead.

My recent purchase also included a replacement for my old 2-quart water bottle that I kept in the fridge and also used for travel. I’ve been using an empty apple juice bottle as a substitute, but the narrower spout was less than ideal and I wasn’t confident about how safe or durable that plastic was for long-term reuse. It’s a relief to have a new bottle of exactly the same kind as the old, a nice feeling of restored normality.

I was also using an empty juice bottle to store iced tea in. I’d worked out a system where I’d fill the bottle with 3 pints of cold water, then steep two iced-tea bags (making 1 qt each) in a measuring cup with 1 1/2 cups of water, then add sweetener and lemon juice to the concentrated tea, fill the measuring cup with a further 1/2 cup of ice and cold water, let it cool a bit, and then use a funnel to pour it into the juice bottle. But again, I wasn’t confident about using those bottles long-term. So I bought a new pitcher that I thought I’d use for iced tea. But it was too small, with 2 quarts filling it nearly to the brim. But I quickly realized: my orange juice pitcher is larger, and one can of juice concentrate only makes around 1 1/2 quarts. So I’m now using the new pitcher for orange juice and the old pitcher for iced tea. Which is fine except that the new pitcher’s lid is much harder to turn in place or pull out. Still, it’s an improvement over the juice bottles.

So things feel a bit more normal now. I do still have some writing work I need to get to soon, but no firm deadlines on anything yet, so I should take advantage of the respite and give myself a chance to slow down and relax. I’ve been enjoying this burst of productivity and I’m afraid I’ll have trouble getting it back again once I let it lapse, but I can’t keep driving myself this hard indefinitely. Hopefully I can remember the good writing habits I’ve cultivated lately and have an easier time getting back into the groove later on. Being more financially stable and less desperate should help. But for now, I think I’ve earned a rest.

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