Friday, July 22, 2016

I'd rather be reading

I'll be in here while you're at the hardware store.

The other day I was listening to author Chuck Klosterman discuss his upbringing on a farm on WTF with Marc Maron. Klosterman talked about his utter lack of handiness, especially in contrast to his father and brothers seeming so effortless in the art of fixing stuff. And not just fixing stuff, but knowing how to fix stuff. He said his first reaction when something breaks is never to fix it. Do you ever have that moment where you hear someone express something that so perfectly encapsulates how you feel about that same thing? This was one of those moments for me. I'm what you would call unhandy. There's an absence of handiness in me, a large void resides in its place instead. I recognized this early on in life but have only recently come to accept about myself. Some people would rather tinker on their cars or build a new front porch than read, create art, or just think about stuff in conceptual ways—some of my favorite activities. This is not to say that people can't be into all of that and still be great at fixing things. Those men and women exist as gods and goddesses that walk among us. For the rest of us mortals though, we tend to live on either side of that divide.

Growing up, I paid zero attention to things breaking in the house or how they were repaired. My dad took care of it, somehow. It was all very abstract to me. Some tools were used, probably a lot of sweat, maybe a magic potion or two, who knows? My dad wasn't a wizard with house repairs, but he was competent and made an effort now and then, at least. He was from a generation that simply figured out how to do things like that. The man built a deck in our backyard with his own two hands! He used to change the oil in our cars! Meanwhile, I was reading science fiction, fantasy, and comic books, and daydreaming about who would win in a fight between fictional characters like Wolverine and Freddy Krueger (claws everywhere!). I'm of the generation that still wears Thin Lizzy and Ghost Rider t-shirts into our middle age (and likely will continue to even beyond that) because we're staunchly holding on to stuff that gave us a sense of identity over the years. I don't think I have to explain to you how that does not exactly bode well for my fixer-upper skills. I've fixed a few things and installed a couple of others over the years—I used a drill to put in a baby gate at the top of our stairs this year!—but while I try now and then, I'm usually too disinterested to bother. I once heard about a guy who installed a hot water heater in his basement with a friend. That sounds like the worst day ever to me. When I do try what I consider simple jobs—because I can't spend the money on a repair person or I feel like challenging myself—I tend to fail repeatedly at them, which I've been told is normal. "Expect to make several trips to the hardware store today, trust me," says every person ever who's into this stuff. I hate going to the hardware store, it makes me anxious. Plus I could be browsing a bookstore instead. The thought of locking myself into a day of home repairs and Home Depot runs sounds torturous. I don't doubt that I could figure out how to repair stuff. I've even done it a few times! What I lack is the interest to do so and that's where my concentration lags and I start drifting off in my mind to stuff I actually care about. I'd rather figure out what made Edward Hopper such a successful chronicler of the human condition in his paintings. Trust me, I know how obnoxious that sounds. But I have to be me!

On several occasions as a home owner over the years, I've been slightly to heavily intimidated by guys who knew how to do this stuff. Whenever I had to interact with plumbers or carpenters I felt exposed, standing there wearing that Ghost Rider t-shirt. It's never helped that so many of these guys were clearly just as intimidated by whatever the hell I am—some sort of dilettante who's more interested in ideas than anything quantifiable like a drill gun. We're like aliens from distant planets to each other. Neither of us needs to be the enemy, but we tend to feel like that anyway. Alpha males have always put me on edge, so I usually use my sense of humor to disarm them and, you know, calm them the fuck down. Those guys always seem so worked up about one thing or another. They get excited explaining to you how they're going to cut new pipe and create a "j trap" or some such thing. Meanwhile I'm drifting off while they babble, thinking of a striking picture I saw earlier that I might use as a photo reference for my art. Once I started to think about this more critically—these guys probably care as little for my interests as I do theirs—then it was sort of liberating. Who cares if I'm not interested in home repairs? There are so many things I am passionate about, so many that I'm often overwhelmed at not having enough time to devote to them. So I've tried unburdening myself of the notion of needing to fix things when they break—and by "things" I don't just mean household items. Yes friends, the hidden subtext in that statement is "people." Your broken door needs to be repaired, but you don't have to be the one to do it. Your friends, family members, or life partners might seem broken at times, but you don't have to be the one to fix them. In fact, you shouldn't try to fix them. You should just try to listen to them, maybe provide a shoulder to lean on as well. Your love for them makes that difficult to do, of course. Thankfully I'm finding this approach far less difficult to do when it comes to my house.

In recent years we've been fortunate to find a terrific plumber. He never talks down to me and in fact seems very much like the kind of thoughtful and introspective guy I never imagined would be a plumber. It's good to see my misconceptions shattered sometimes. We had replacement windows installed in the house recently and the local guy who did the work was fantastic—funny, self-deprecating, kind, and honest. Plus he wasn't pushy and he talked to me, not at me. In fact, he explained how he'd replace the windows and made it seem so intuitive that even I could have done it. Not that I would have, of course. He was a pleasure to work with. A consequence of the glorious new windows is that I now need to cut a piece of wood to fit into one of the sills upstairs so our window-unit air conditioner will have a level base on which to rest. After work the other day, I plugged in the saw and fired it up—you're cringing already, I bet. After cutting off a small piece, I realized I'd need to do a lot more cutting for it to fit and the saw didn't seem particularly stable. And I couldn't find my goggles, which I knew my wife would want me to wear. I went in to tell her about the situation and, no surprise, first thing she asked: "Did you wear goggles?" After I apologized for my lack of precautionary measures, she suggested I go to Home Depot or the like and get them to cut a fresh piece of wood into the size we need. It can't cost much, we both reasoned. I was relieved because I didn't want to do this anyway. I wanted to spend what limited time we have at night together and with our kids She's good like that, always absolving me of any self-loathing that creeps into my mind about being a beta male. It helps me to accept that the tools I'm most comfortable and compatible with are my pens, pencils, sketchbooks, and computers. You like power tools and things that make a lot of noise? Good for you. I'll be in the other room with my ear buds in and my sketchpad open, building something from nothing with a pencil on a blank canvas.

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