A couple of years ago, my youngest son swallowed a marble. Oh, not by accident, but because he thought it would be "fun." I frantically called the doctor who said, "Well, you've got to take him in to the ER."
I said, very maturely, "Do I have to?"
"I need an X-Ray of his intestines. Sometimes marbles get stuck in a little pocket and that could mean trouble."
We had already visited the ER twice--one broken arm, one possible concussion. I thought for sure another visit meant DCFS would take me into a mirrored interrogation room and beat me with an IV tube. So again, I said, "Seriously? Do I have to?"
"If you don't, you'll have to monitor his output for two days and sift through it to find the marble." She sighed and said, "Most people don't take that option."
I wasn't most people, I thought. I would take that option. "I'm going to do that," I said.
She laughed. "Good luck, and call me in a few days if it doesn't work."
OK, I'd changed a gazillion diapers by that point, so the task at hand shouldn't be so bad, right? But this wasn't the sweet, faint smelling poop of the newborn babe, this was a five-year-old's "output"--smelly, bulky, adult-style poop.
This is what I decided to do: When he visited the bathroom, I had him poop in a ziplock bag. Then I simply closed the bag an smooshed it down. After about twelve hours--bingo! One very hard, very round marble. I opened the baggie just a little, squeezed the marble into the sink, and blasted it with hot water. My hands never had to touch any, um, output.
When I called the doc to report my success, she said, "Let's hear it for thinking outside of the box." But was that really thinking outside of the situation or taking what I had and making it work for me?
I've been doing a lot of beta reading lately, for writers at every stage of the process. Common first responses to criticism usually run along the lines of "Oh, crap, I have to throw everything out" or "I can't change it, because I can't think of what else to do." Sometimes these are appropriate and unavoidable outcomes. Most of the time, though, the writer needs to recognize that the box is in pretty good shape, it's just what's inside it that need some purging, rearranging, or expanding. It's not easy to decide which you need to do, but the Ah-Ha! moment is there if you have the confidence to wait for it.
Unfortunately, with revising, you usually do have to get your hands dirty...
(PS-After a major disinfecting, I kept the marble. My cousin jokes that I should drill a hole through it and wear it around my neck, a constant reminder (read: guilt tool) for my son of the lengths his mother will go to for him--or, to avoid a crowded ER.)