Tag Archives: metaphors

Nobody Knows How to Do the Thing Until They Do It


Once in a while, a man of a certain age gets it into his head that he’s capable of certain things; certain things that he never thought about before. And depending on how much of an idiot he is, he may actually try his hand at these things with varying levels of disastrousness.

Which is my cheeky way of saying I re-did the floors in my basement this weekend.

I should preface by saying I don’t feel I’m particularly handy, which I will then undercut by saying that over 10+ (help!) years of homeownership I’ve done drywall repair, replaced toilets, fixed a ceiling (never do this by yourself) twice (definitely don’t do it twice), replaced faucets, rewired lighting fixtures and garbage disposals, and any number of tiny fix-it tasks around the house.

So maybe I’m slightly handy.

The usual pattern — almost without deviation — is as follows.

  1. Notice the thing that needs doing
  2. Ignore it for a few months
  3. Get annoyed by the thing in a heated moment
  4. Get good and angry and watch a few how-to videos
  5. Go to Home Depot and buy about 2/3 of the required supplies (possibly also buying the wrong items)
  6. Attempt the repair, in the process removing the original thing or damaging it beyond repair, thus moving past the point of no return
  7. Screw up and start over
  8. Slink back to YouTube covered in grime to watch more how-to videos
  9. Attempt the repair again, going slower and super cautious not to make mistakes and screw it up even worse
  10. Realize I’m short on supplies or have the wrong equipment, go to Home Depot again
  11. Finish the job in roughly twice the time the how-to videos suggested it should take
  12. Feel immensely satisfied
  13. Spend the next several weeks to a month cleaning up the mess from the job
  14. Get annoyed over new thing, repeat process

I’ve done this over a dozen times, now. So I dunno what I was thinking, thinking I could handle a large basement room (plus an angled hallway) in a single day, but there I found myself, standing by a stack of floor planks, ready to rip up the carpet.

Needless to say, the pattern held. I was a box short of enough planks to finish the job, necessitating a return trip to the HD. I didn’t know what the fargo I was doing installing the stuff, resulting in a totally crap job after four hours of work covering about 15% of the room that had to be disassembled and started over. I tore up the walls taking the baseboards off, a subsequent repair I have yet to properly tackle. And instead of finishing the job on Saturday evening, it took me until late Sunday afternoon before I was satisfied enough to call the job “done” (barring the unfinished baseboards and the aforementioned holes in the wall).

And as with everything, or at least, as should be the case with everything, there were some lessons to be learned in the doing. Here they are, in no particular order.

The hard part is starting.

Before. Bonus points: All those plaques and awards belong to my wife. My awards are on the same wall. There just aren’t nearly as many of them.

This isn’t news to me: every time I run, I have to convince myself to step out the door. And the first mile is nothing if not mild self-torture. Every time I sit down to work on my novel, I hesitate: do I really want to put myself through the pain of working on that project? Can I really face the task of pulling words out of the nothing in between my ears? The starting is the hardest part.

As I stood there, pliers and pry-bar perched in my hands, staring at the carpet before me (which I hated), I hesitated. Once I start, there’s no going back. And the doubts were the same. I’m not up to this task. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I shouldn’t be doing this at all; I should hire a professional.

But up the carpet came, and from there, it never made sense to stop. Just like the run — as soon as I’m out the door, it feels foolish to even think about going back. Just like the novel — as soon as I’ve written the first word (or deleted it, as the case is lately), stopping or going back seems idiotic. Take the first step, and the rest of the steps follow after quickly, almost automatically.

You’re going to screw it up

Finally making progress … eight hours later.

Fix-iteering is about trial and error, it’s about testing yourself, it’s about learning. And unfortunately, nobody starts life knowing how to lay down laminate planks. (Or, for that matter, knowing how to write a novel, or how to run long distance.) You figure these things out by taking that first step, screwing it up (perhaps even catastrophically), learning your lesson, and coming back to the task like Rocky getting up after Creed has brought the thunder to his skull for the forty-seventh time.

Once the carpet was up, I started the job the way I thought it was to be started — and it didn’t work. So I scrapped it and started over, and it still didn’t work. So I started over again and I thought it was going better, until the wife came down to check on me and the look on her face told me I still didn’t have it right. This was four hours into the work, by the way. I was ready to stop, return all the flooring to HD and pay triple to have the carpet replaced.

But I didn’t. Partially because that’s not how you grow, partially because I’m penny-squeezing cheap, and partially because …

You can’t do it alone

Laying the floor turned into a family affair. First the wife came down — bless her — and helped me puzzle over the process, pick a new starting point, and convinced me to apply a little more force — a little more EFFORT — to the task than I had been comfortable doing before. I had been afraid to damage the flooring, but it turns out, to make this stuff click together, it takes a bit of percussive maintenance (i.e., a few — or a few dozen — whacks with a mallet). Then my father — bless him — came over to help out when he learned that I was not nearly finished with the project by 7pm as I had naively boasted that morning, but rather just starting over. We listened to the Beatles, who usually I can’t stand, but somehow under the circumstances quite enjoyed, and laughed as we figured out the tricks and the techniques to get the job done.

Come to think of it, my brother helped me move the furniture out of the room before I actually started the job — and would come over again several days later to help me bring it back in. My mom would offer to help re-paint the trouble spots afterward. Even my seven-year-old son would help me out with the cleanup afterward, doing what would have been the backbreaking work of pulling spacers off the walls, had I been the one doing it.

We all have a lot of sweat equity in the finished product, which makes it feel a little sweeter, a little more satisfying, a little more ours.

And, you know, the running and the writing are like that, too. Sure, these are activities completed mostly on one’s own — but comes a time you need other people to check on your work, because they’ll see it in a way you don’t. Comes a time you’ll want a running partner, because it’s too hard to get out the door on your own if you don’t have the extra obligation of somebody counting on you (even if the somebody goes on four legs).

Point is, no man is an island, even when he’s laminated himself into a corner.

Starting day two.

Finishing feels incredible, no matter how long it takes

Long story short (too late!) we have brand new floors in the basement. And they look bloody awesome.

Not bad for a Drama major. Now about that drywall…

And yeah, it took about nine hours more than I expected. And yeah, working my butt off for two days wasn’t what I wanted to wrap up our vacation days. And yeah, I was sorer than I’ve been in recent memory. But the floors are done, and I love them; not just because they look great, but because they’re also a symbol.

They’re a symbol for all that hippie-dippy stuff I was talking about up there; a symbol of teamwork and of willpower and of tenacity. And above all, they’re a testament to the fact that if you put your mind to it, as George McFly once said, you can accomplish anything. If you decide to do the thing, and undertake the task, you can get it done — as long as you’re willing to suffer a bit, learn from your mistakes, and keep hammering away, you can do the thing. Be it running your first mile, writing your first chapter, or laying down the floors in your basement. Do the thing.

Even if you have no idea what you’re doing.


Metaphor Monday: The Ins and Outs of Beauty


Hey guys!

Seeing as posts around here and posting time for me have been in such shockingly short supply of late, I reached out to long-time friend of the blog and man-about-internets, Glenavailable, to fill in a Metaphor Monday post for me. Glen being the sporting sort, he promised me a piece in about three weeks’ time and delivered it the next day.

He’s a heck of a guy, and spends his time splattering words around over at his Scenic Writer’s Shack. Enjoy!

Wanna hear a confession?

When given the choice between inner beauty and mere surface beauty, on a great many occasions I’ve opted to wade, frolic and generally amuse myself in the decidedly shallow end of the pool.

It happened only yesterday.

Hungry, I made a selection from my kitchen-benchtop fruitbowl, heading straight for the banana direct from central casting whose high-beam yellow color coating was so gloriously perfect it seemed to come with its own ready-made promotional line – “People will stare: why not make it worth their while?”

Sitting right alongside nature’s gift to banana-hood, lay a black-sheep relative – another banana, far less endowed with the outer beauty gene and painted with a very different pallet – this one showcasing small-pox patterned black spots. I didn’t trouble ‘it’ for even a second look. I fully knew that beneath that blemished exterior, the quality and taste of the fruit would have in all likelihood been the equal of its more air-brushed companion. I even made the effort to remind myself it wasn’t the skin I’d be eating (unlike Kevin Spacey’s mental patient character in the 2001 movie K-PAX).

So what’s the takeaway? Probably something as intuitive as why settle for the singular experience of just inner beauty when you can have the synergistic one on the not overly common occasions when outer beauty gets thrown in as well.

To cite another example: a few days before the ‘fruitbowl decision’, I’d entered a bicycle shop with an eye to buying what these days goes by the name of a ‘road bike’. With a budget of just $500, the backward-baseball-cap–wearing shop guy presented me with just two entry-level options – The “Aquila” for $300 or for $150 more, the large, broad-winged and soaring sounding “Condor”.

To my unschooled, ‘babe in the woods’ eyes, the working parts on both machines were identical – same chains, same rims, same brake levers, same cranksets, same gear systems, same peddles with the strap-in racing holsters. Same… everything! The added expense of one bike over the other as far as I could reason was down to one thing – looks.
The Condor resembled a black-olive Ferrari – coated from head to toe in that non-reflective matt finish most commonly associated with Stealth Fighter Jets. The less expensive Aquila, by comparison, looked like… well, a speckled banana, splash-decorated by a herd of over-excited, under-coordinated pre-schoolers. So what did I end up riding out of the store on? My own little black Stealth Fighter Jet of course.

To visibly dilute the opening line of this thought-piece regarding a ‘confession’, I will say I am not ashamed to admit a liking for package deals that combine the charms of both inner and outer beauty. Like an alchemist’s dream, when both elements are brought together, an entity both exquisite and sublime is what can very often result; rare and true beauty as dazzling and affecting as fireworks, as comforting as a lullaby and as fulfilling as an eight course banquet.

Breathtaking when it happens.

Metaphor Monday is about pointing out how things are like other things and appreciating the interconnectedness of all things. Got an idea for next week’s post? Let me hear it in the comments.

 


Metaphor Monday: The Unmown Lawn


First of all, is it “mown” or “mowed”? Auto-correct liked “mowed” over “mown” but doesn’t like either “unmowed” or “unmown.” What up with that? Anyway.

Not to harp on a theme, but we’re still getting settled in the new house, and one thing task that I was particularly avoiding was the mowing of the lawn.

Big deal, right? It’s a lawn. You live in suburbia, you pay your dues. You handle it. Grass. Mower. Gas. Summer heat. Suck it up, sweat it out, keep up with the Joneses, and mow it.

Problem is, the lawn at the new house is about three times the size of the lawn I’m used to mowing, so what was once a 25-minute job to be breezed through in between sips of coffee on a Saturday morning is now a capital-C Chore requiring over an hour to complete.

Okay, so great, it’s going to take longer than I want to do it, but the new house saves me on the order of four or five hours in weekly drive time, so again: the price you pay.

But if you’re a regular reader of the blarg here, you know that no seemingly mundane task, no apparently benign situation has proven to be quite so simple. Just so with the new lawn.

The front lawn is blanketed with this lovely stuff — I don’t know a gopher’s arsehole from a chipmunk’s elbow when it comes to anything green, so I’m gonna say it’s BERTUCKY FLUEGRASS — soft and springy underfoot. The word “lush” comes to mind. If they could make this stuff into carpet, I’d do the interior of the house in it. Surely this is the grass that adorns the lawns of heaven.

Then you hit the backyard and you step into the untamed Amazon rainforest of grasses. Gone is the delicate bedding of greens whose clippings waft away like angel dust on a celestial breeze. Here, instead, is a tangling thicket, a countlessly-armed kraken of grasping blades and shoots into which, once your shoe disappears, you wonder if you will ever see it again. Whatever’s back here (and again, not knowing anything about grasses, I’ll just call it DEVIL-FESCUE) grows about four times as fast as the Bertucky Fluegrass out front. The terrain is less gently-rolling-possibly-part-of-an-improvised-golf-course-green and more sheetmetal-poked-up-from-beneath-by-demons.

Furthermore, when our move was delayed for first a few days, then a few weeks, the owner of this house, fed up with the process (rightly so!), folded his arms and decided not to bother mowing the grass any longer. So the Devil-Fescue got up to knee-high in some places.

So. Suck it up and mow it, right? Well… if you’re a frequent or even only sometime mower of lawns as I am, you know that with your standard, run-of-the-mill, welcome-to-the-suburbs Saturday-special lawnmower from the Home Depot, you know that the secret to successful mowing is to not allow things to get out of control. Get after it weekly, keep it from getting overgrown. Because once it’s overgrown, god help you. Clippings from the Devil-Fescue will clog your special little mower in nothing flat. The tall grass will snarl the wheels. You’ll be getting the workout of your life on your pull-starter arm while breaking your back to flip the thing over and pull the cut grass out of the blade and the vent, all while the rain is starting to fall and the neighbors are laughing at you over glasses of wine they spent the last twenty minutes chilling on their back porch.

Which is, of course, exactly where I found myself. Because make no mistake, mowing a lawn in such a condition is awful, but every day it’s allowed to fester beyond that only makes the job that much harder. Comes a point where, no matter how daunting the task looks, you have to bite your lip and accept the back-breaking task before you, or let it go forever. And given that we’re new to the neighborhood, it seems a little early to go giving the finger to the HOA at this point, so there I was.

The parallel to writing is obvious, right? You treat the writing like a devotional, returning to it regularly much the way you return to cutting the grass once a week. Keep the Devil-Fescue in check and don’t allow it to grow to strangling height. Do it regularly and the job is easy: You carve your neat little lines in the lawn, or if you’re fancy, you do it on the diagonal (or if you’re me, you mow around the outside in ever-shrinking boxes, like a game of snake that’s doomed from the start. Boy, I wonder what that says about my psychology). You put it off, and the job becomes untenable.

The longer you stay away from writing, the harder it becomes to go back to writing. Or to any thing, I suppose. You reach the point where you either go back to it in an epicly (epically?) traumatic battle of wills, or you let it go forever.

Or you move back into an apartment and never have to worry about mowing a stupid lawn again.

Not pictured: running out of gas 2/3 of the way through and cursing the entire observable universe. Note the dead heaps of Devil-Fescue and the wheelbarrow I overturned after running entirely out of fargoes.

Mondays are for metaphors! Every week, I’ll pick a thing and compare it to another thing. Probably writing, since that’s what this blog is about, but who knows? Metaphors are awesome. Alliteration, doubly so. Got a suggestion for next week’s metaphor? Drop it in the comments. And yeah, I’m a day late today — you’ll see why below.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Art Harder


My writing and blogging spirit animal, Chuck Wendig, urges his flock to “Art Harder” (and he usually intensifies that with a “motherf*cker”, because that’s the way he does it). It’s catchy for sure, and it bears repeating — so much so that I’ve thought more than once that I maybe ought to put it on a big poster and hang it on my wall. (The “Art Harder” part, maybe not so much the MF.) In fact, now that I’m a drama teacher, that seems maybe more apropos than ever. But it’s good advice, and not just because it’s catchy.

The world is not a forgiving place, least of all for an artist struggling to make his mark. The work itself can beat you down like a desert wind blasting the face off an ancient monument. Then you try to make the leap to getting your work into the public eye, look for some vindication, and that’s when the wolves come out. (Actually, that’s when the crickets come out.) You push and you push and you submit and submit and you keep sending it out there and all you get are rejections or, even worse, an ever-expanding ocean of nothing at all, and it’s enough to make you want to give up.

Add that to the fact that your life doesn’t want you to take time out for your art in the first place — you have a job, after all, and maybe a family, and a host of other distractions that are easier than arting, more immediately rewarding than arting, more sensible than arting. Arting is hard. Not for the faint of heart. Not for the weekend warrior.

In Fight Club, the nameless narrator claims, simply and without boast, something along the lines of “when a guy came to us, he was a lump of clay. After a few weeks, he was carved outta wood.” Counterintuitive as it may seem, artists have to be made of harder stuff. Lean, corded, wiry, spry. Float like butterflies, sting like bees.We have to be able to follow the art where it leads, dive into the thicket after it, wrestle it to its knees, outrun it across the unforgiving desert, hold it still while we extract all that glorious juice from its weeping orifices.

And you don’t get that lean, mean, carved-outta-wood mentality from creating “when you get the chance” or “when inspiration strikes,” any more than you get that Schwarzenegger physique from hitting the gym “when you can squeeze it in” or “when you’ve got the energy.” You get there by putting in the work every day, by chasing after it even when it’s uncomfortable, by squeezing in a few more words, a few more brush strokes, a few more reps, like Satan himself were your very own personal trainer.

Train every day. Create every day. Art Harder.

MF.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Balls


The prompt for the week is “ball,” and while I usually use the prompt to re-evaluate and re-motivate myself for the week, I’m just not having the coherent thoughts needed for a post like that this morning. Maybe it’s the fact that I was up way too late last night, or maybe it’s because I’m reaching a fatigue point between work and coaching and writing and everything else. So, a little different today:

A series of different types of balls (cue the Beavis & Butthead laughs) and the way they’re like writing.

Begin!

Sports Ball (any type): The game can only be won if you keep your eye on it and move it deftly toward the goal, overcoming the defense mounted by whoever ow whatever your opposition happens to be.

The Ball, Stadion, Football, The Pitch, Grass, Game

Ball and Chain: No, not your wife (or husband!); sometimes the project gets heavy, like a weight attached to your 20’s era black-and-white striped prisoner’s leg. We have to know when to set the project aside and focus on something else to relieve us of the weight and the stress.

Caught, Prison, Chain, Metal, Fig, Ball

Snow Ball: The project rolls downhill, gathering snow and twigs and squirrels and whatever it rolls over. When it’s moving under its own weight, stay out of its way.

Idiot Ball: A tvtropes favorite of mine. The idiot ball is a metaphorical object carried by a character who is being hopelessly obtuse and overlooking something obvious that would solve the problem of the day. If you’re not careful, this can become you. Double-check yourself from time to time to make sure the problems and solutions you’ve created actually make sense.

Ballroom dance: Sometimes the narrative needs to be as graceful as one: every step measured, every gesture flawless. Of course, the opposite is also true:

Latin, Dance, Tango, Ballroom, Dancing Couple

Wrecking Ball: Sometimes the narrative needs some devastation. Hop on the wrecking ball and smash it through some walls, knock down some central constructs, destroy what you thought your story was all about. Then rebuild it better than before.

Ball of Yarn: It seems like a good idea to have tons of different storylines woven together into an un-tangle-able knot of overlapping conflicts. But too much of a good thing quickly becomes a bad thing. The central conflict of a story has to be straightforward, though not necessarily simple. Less ball-of-yarn, more frayed sweater. Tugging on that loose thread should lead us inexorably toward the end of the story.

Wool, Yarn, Balls, Hobbies, Craft, Knitting, Needlework

Ball Lightning: one of those things which doesn’t seem like it should exist, and maybe/probably it doesn’t. This is a ball of pure condensed energy that falls to earth, rolls around unpredictably, then blows the fargo up, effecting some degree of burn damage and electrical disturbance and, you know, death. Sounds like a good template for a character.

I’m tapped out on this one, which disappoints me a little. So I turn to my readers. What other literary balls (huh huh, huh huh) am I leaving out?

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


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