Recently, while working on my next book with a very full cup of hot tea sitting very close to my computer, I had a near brush with disaster. Both my computer and the tea survived. Sadly, such unnerving experiences are not rare in my life. But now I understand why they happen, thanks to a friend who labeled such disasters Preventable Moments.
It’s easier to illustrate by example than to explain.
So, the oatmeal is in a big, cylindrical Quaker Oats box on the top shelf of the cupboard. I stretch really far and can just touch the bottom of it with my fingertips. Do I think, “Oh, wait, I’ll get the step stool, so I can reach it easily and get a good grip on it?”
No. I poke at the box with my fingers. I tap and claw at it, trying to jiggle it to the edge where it will tilt forward and I can catch it as it falls. That does not happen. I tip the container, but it tilts forward so fast I can’t grab it. The box plummets to the floor, the top flies off and oatmeal spews on the tile, under the refrigerator, under the dishwasher and basically into every hard-to-get-to-place in the kitchen.
That, my friends, is a preventable moment. Had I just taken the extra five seconds to get the stool, I would have saved 15 minutes of kitchen cleanup and a big dose of frustration. I could have prevented the moment that led to disaster.
Though I understand the concept, I know I haven’t truly embraced it, because I just bought a purse with a shoulder strap. Experience tells me shoulder bags are fraught with danger for me. Shoulder straps hook on doorknobs as you are leaving a room. They catch on drawer handles and yank you unceremoniously back into your chair. And if you are in a hurry and hold your bag like a clutch purse, trailing the strap behind you, they can be deadly. Another illustration from my case files.
I am late for a meeting. I grab my purse and dash through the office, the shoulder strap hanging down and bouncing on the floor as I swing my arms to gain speed. Somehow, my heel catches in the looping strap. I do a lurching hopscotch across the office, trying to free my foot, flailing my arms for balance and flinging the contents of my purse hither and yon. A combination of profanity and pleading seems to work, and I do not land on my butt, but my dignity is badly damaged. Happily, there are no witnesses. But I know what I have done. I have ignored the principle of the preventable moment.
Why do I keep doing this? Because sometimes it works. Sometimes I climb the stairs carrying a full glass of iced tea in one hand, balancing a stack of books anchored by my chin in my other arm, while dangling a heavy plastic grocery bag painfully off my little finger. And nothing falls or spills, nor do I land sprawling in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. That one positive reinforcement of my poor judgment is enough to bring out the optimist in me. Buoyed by success, I gamble that I can beat the odds again and ignore the next dozen preventable moments with predictably bad results.
Will I ever stop positioning my beverage too close to my computer, stacking books higher than gravity allows, overestimating my ability to avoid tripping on bottom drawers I’ve left open? Probably not. But at least I’ll know that I’m not a victim of random bad luck. It’s all about the preventable moment.