Little Spouse On The Prairie: The S-Variable

Jun 9, 2018

Last week, High Plains listeners got an analogy about how weight gain is essentially like compound interest – as you add kids, you actually have more surface space upon which to pack the pounds, which grows your bottom line more quickly.

I stand by that, but I’m going to introduce another mathematical parallel here:  The number of children you have is inversely proportional to the amount of time you have, minus hours worked at a paying job per week, divided by college credit hours, over the number of extended family members with whom you actually want to spend time. Then, point one percent of that quotient is what we’ll call the S-Variable.  In layperson’s terms, S-Variable equals sanity – or free time.   

Everyone’s quotient is different and not static over time. For example, my quotient rose steadily through the last decade as the number of extended family members with whom I actually wanted to spend time significantly decreased. But my quotient dwindled as I took on a new job with longer hours and enrolled in more graduate credit.

Recently, I discovered my S-Variable was averaging four minutes and 34 seconds per day – not enough time to read, write Little Spouse episodes, or shower with the regularity and thoroughness I typically desire. Oh, sure, you might quibble that showering shouldn’t fall into the “free time” category, but since the shower is one of the few places where I can be alone, I’ve been self-indulgent lately and have increased my daily quota to three minutes, 32 seconds, only leaving me one minute and two seconds per day to read and write. 

So, in an effort to increase my S-Variable, I brainstormed (while in the shower), a number of maximizing strategies. The first of those strategies, which I’m proud to report, required only three and a half showers to devise, is replacing the written word with the audible one.  I did have to shorten showers for several days following the formal adoption of the idea in order to download the appropriate audio book apps to my phone (waterproof phone is on my list – don’t worry).  I now simply intermix listening to public radio and audio books while I commute to work. 

This has gone a long way toward increasing my reading time.  But, as listeners can probably tell, this single strategy wasn’t augmenting my writing time. Strategy number two will address that. When we travel together, Joel will drive, while I write.  The kids can entertain themselves in the back of Joel’s midlife crisis van, and I’ll create the evocative, philosophical pieces of literary writing that listeners have come to treasure.  A timer on my phone will remind me to nudge Joel awake periodically. And that’s also what rumble strips are for, people. 

It’s a beautiful notion -- my idea to ride and write simultaneously. We go on a longer car ride at least once a week.  And, many famous authors ascribe to the idea of meta-rules -- routines that keep them going.  Stephen King supposedly sets a quota of six pages per day.  Ray Bradbury apparently wrote one short story per week on the theory that he couldn’t possibly write 52 bad ones in a row.  There’s a legend that Hemingway advised aspiring authors to “write drunk” and “edit sober.”  

After trying this once – the driving and writing thing, not the drunk thing -- I’ll just say, there are a few . . . kinks . . . to work out. I had settled into typing a hilarious first paragraph, when Joel said, “Honey, before you start, I want to tell you, I just saw a camper with a California tag drive by.”

“Hmm,” I muttered, fingers still flying.  This paragraph was really shaping up!

“Oh, and Honey, when I filled with gas, the pump wouldn’t print the receipt, but I remembered the total!  You can subtract $32.52 from the debit card account.”

After I dug through my purse, found the ledger, subtracted the $32.52, and -- figuring while I was in there, I might as well -- subtracted a couple other loose receipts, I continued on the first paragraph of my literary masterpiece. 

“Honey? Do you remember the name of the town that has that big ball of twine?”

“Cawker City.  Why?”

“No reason.  Just couldn’t think of it.”

I’m pretty sure Hemingway was onto something.

Follow Little Spouse at and on Twitter at SpouseOnThePrairie@ValerieKuchera. Tune in next week!