Metaphor Monday: Mr. Fix-It (Eventually)

How long does it take to fix a leaky faucet?

The google answer: About thirty minutes.

The real-life answer: Give or take, three to six months.

To elaborate, that’s: roughly a week to even properly notice the thing is leaking. About a month to get well and truly sick of it. An additional month (at least) to decide it matters enough to make time on a weekend to get around to fixing it. Half of a weekend spent watching youtube videos until you have enough confidence that you won’t flood the entire house to even begin the project. About thirty minutes to actually fix it. An additional couple of weeks to finish cleaning up the tools you used. (It might not actually be fixed, after all, and you might have to get back in there and re-fix it — so you might as well keep the tools handy.) And finally, an indeterminate number of months spent testing your repair every time you walk past it to make sure it’s actually fixed.

Or, if you ask my wife, how long does it take your husband to do a household project? Her answer will invariably contain the somewhat snarky, somewhat literal “does that include the six hours he spends watching youtube and staring at the thing to ‘think about it’?”

Okay, so I don’t set speed records for fixing things around the house. You could say I’m methodical. (You could say other things. I’m sticking with methodical.)

But the point is, for me at least, these things take time. Case-in-point: the slow drain in the bathroom. My sink was slow to drain. Had been since we moved in back in July. I noticed it immediately after my first shave in the new house, but it wasn’t that bad. In the intervening weeks, though, it got worse — to the point that the sink was taking close to a full minute to drain. Being the permissive sort, I was generally happy to let that go — it’s easy enough, after all, to just shave, pull the plug, walk away and get dressed, then come back to rinse out the bowl.

As much as I’m happy to let little things like this slide by in the day-to-day, on some basement sub-floor of my lizard brain, it irks me when things don’t work as they should. (Ask my wife how often I point out poor design — a drawer that opens into the path of another, or a cabinet hinged on the wrong side. Of course, I don’t do anything about it when I point it out — but I NOTICE!)

So for months, the piss-offs mount. I shave, it takes forever to drain the sink. Shave, drain. Shave, drain. It gets to the point where I have to rinse the bowl, then re-rinse to catch the stuff that backed up in the little water that was leftover from the rinsing. (Have I strayed into the verboten territory of too much information? I can never tell.)

Finally, something must be done. I get on google. Type in the problem. Read the likely culprits. Best advice: I need to get a plumber’s snake. Okay.

Four weeks later, I make the trip to Home Depot to pick it up. Ready to go.

Three weeks after that, on the afternoon of nothing in particular, I put on a pair of rubber gloves and set about it. Clear out the cabinet under the sink. Unscrew the trap thingy. (It doesn’t even take tools — that’s how easy this fix is.) Pull the plug up out of the sink. Send the snake down the drain.

I’m gonna be honest. What comes out of the drain is horrific. It damn near triggered my gag reflex, and that’s saying something — my wife is the sympathetic puker, not me. I’m not going to describe it, except to say that for a clog made of hair, the texture was entirely not what you would expect.

Much gagging and dramatic sealing-of-the-horror-in-multiple-plastic-bags later, I wipe out the sink, replace the plug, screw the trap thingy back in, and that’s that. Sink drains like a dream.

Two days later, I move the snake back down to the workshop where it belongs. About a week after that, I have most of the stuff from under the sink back off the bathroom counter and properly under the sink. (A few lotions and a shaving brush are still on my bedside table.) And now, two weeks after the fact, I’m still checking under the cabinet for leaks from where I re-sealed the trap.

Fixing the problem was easy, it just took me forever.

Or take our downstairs bathroom. We had a suspicion of mold behind the wall in there — a company came in, tore out the drywall, tested and gave us the all-clear. I have to replace the drywall and the sink myself.

Needless to say, that bathroom has been drywall-less and sink-less for the better part of (what month is it now? December?) going on four months.

Well, two weeks ago, it was time to fix it. (Why? Don’t ask silly questions.) Off to Home Depot to buy the panel and the drywall goop, and this time, I actually start the project that day.

Okay, FINE, the next day, but the same weekend.

Problem is, I mix the drywall goop wrong, it comes out too thin, and I have to lay a second coat on. Which means another trip to Home Depot. And you know what that means.

A week and a half later, I get over to the HD and pick up more goop, and finish the job properly.


One leg of the job.

It still needs to be sanded, then painted, and then I can re-set the sink and … long story short, if we have that bathroom back in order by next summer, it will probably be a victory. (Don’t let my wife read this post. She thinks I’m gonna have it done in another week, tops.) (No, she doesn’t. She knows as well as I do.)

So what’s all this metaphor for?

Writing is kinda like a house sometimes. It does the job it’s supposed to do, albeit often imperfectly. It takes maintenance, it takes some TLC — sometimes it takes putting on some gloves and digging some truly gnarly stuff out of the drains.

Unfortunately, I have the same relationship with my writing issues as I have with my around-the-house issues: I’m happy to let them slide as long as I’m still able to write somewhat. Sink drains slow? No problem, I can work around it. Words aren’t quite coming out the way or speed I want? No problem, I can write bare minimums, cut down on the blog, write something else.

But, in exactly the same way a poorly laid-out parking parking lot gives me a thudding headache, it irks me to my soul when the writing isn’t working. (Okay we don’t have souls, life is meaningless, and all our struggles, triumphs, and heartaches are contained within a blue grain of sand in a bottomless void, but YOU KNOW.)

The bad news is, it took me a series of months to admit to myself that the problem was there and it was worth fixing. And if my 3-6 month timeline to fix a problem holds accurate, it feels like I’m in month 4 or so. It feels — in an abstract way? — like the problem could be fixed, but my tools are still all over the place (in case I need to go back in and operate again), and the confidence that things are fixed is nonexistent.

I’m on the upswing, in other words — I’m writing again, feeling productive, but still in a flimsy, going-through-the-motions kind of way. Like the bottom could drop out at any moment. My sink could drain just fine, in other words, but only because it’s dumping the slurry of water and shaving cream and discarded beard into the cupboard under the sink. Which is, you know. Not precisely ideal.

This stuff takes time to work through, is what I’m getting at, and I’ll come back to that word again: methodical. I’m being methodical in my writing fixes. I’ll allow myself to tell myself that for a little while longer.

And, you know. Maybe you’re in the same boat, be it on something you’re writing or something else. I’ll share two things to close.

First of all is this tweet that landed in my feed today:

Which is the kind of encouragement I thrive on, and it was particularly uplifting today.

And then this:

fix it

So, you know. Fix up your stuff.

Maybe sooner rather than later.

(Yeah, I know. I didn’t even almost make Monday — I almost didn’t make Tuesday. I’m just gonna keep calling it Metaphor Monday. Alliteration trumps reality.)

Revising Reality

I’ve seen some pieces flying around the internet lately about “The Mandela Effect.” In short, this refers to the sensation that you’re living in some kind of parallel universe where reality has rearranged itself and changed, leaving only your memories of a past that no longer exists; or, to quote Wikipedia: “…a situation where a number of people claim to share memories of events which differ from the available evidence of those events.” (I like my definition better.)

Maybe you’ve seen the memes. The Berenstain Bears was actally The BerenstEin Bears, but it changed somehow, somewhere, somewhen. Sinbad starred in Shazaam, a movie that clearly doesn’t exist.

This is all pretty harmless, a few troubling webpages aside. Sure, there are some people out there who actually believe that visiting aliens, or shadow corps, or time-travelling emissaries from the future have mucked about with timelines and memories to make us forget about Sinbad’s breakout role, but they reside where they belong: on the fringes, where they can comfortably be laughed at, ridiculed, and finally, ignored.

But then I turn on CNN this morning — we’ve got a snow day* here in the suburbs of Atlanta — and I see that yet again, the man who will be our next president has lashed out with his favorite weapon, the mighty Tweet Scepter, against his perceived injustices. This time, against Meryl Streep, who pretty thoroughly lambasted him in her lifetime achievement award acceptance at last night’s Golden Globes. (One could make the argument that such an event isn’t the forum for such a criticism, but one would clearly never have seen any award shows.) The kernel at the center of her argument against him? This little gem:

“It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back.”

It’s a trope in comedy, satire, and such: you’re allowed to punch up, but not down. Trump punches every which way. And in this instance, he swung his tiny  oratorial fists in the direction of this reporter. It upset a lot of people, not least of which is Meryl Streep, who brought it boiling back to the surface during her speech.

So now he’s on Twitter calling her overrated and a Hillary shill — whatever, that’s par for the course — but then he’s also claiming he wasn’t mocking the reporter.


And then, there on CNN, is his mouthpiece speaking for him and insisting that he never mocked the reporter.

Here’s the problem: they can’t revise reality.

It happened. It was caught on film. In other words, it’s a fact. It’s a part of reality. We’ve all seen the clip, but here it is just to be sure:

That happened.

Trump and his people are trying to convince us that it didn’t happen or that it didn’t mean what it obviously meant. They’re trying to convince us that the way they remember the event trumps (sorry) the objectively obvious reality that exists. But here’s the simpler truth: we all recognize that spastic arm-motion that all the middle-schoolers used to make fun of the “retarded” kids. The orange one executed it perfectly, at age 70, to make fun of somebody he didn’t care for.

So, big kerfuffle over this reporter thing again, but it’s only a microcosm of the bigger problem. Fake news has run amok. Hillary Clinton probably ran a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor; I read it on the internet. Aliens totally live on Mars; you can see their faces in our low-def cameras. 9/11 was an inside job; buildings don’t fall down like that.

This is the Mandela effect on a frightening scale. People — otherwise intelligent, fair-minded people — are convincing themselves on the daily that reality is not what it obviously is. They want to pretend that their own memory, their own perception of a thing, is correct when the objective, concrete evidence of the thing contradicts it.

And it’s bloody crazy.

The human memory? Yeah, it’s a squishy, sloppy mass of grey matter stitched together with duct tape and galvanized staples. Our memories are notoriously awful — this is demonstrably true. We screw things up all the time when we rely on our memory (which is why eyewitness testimony is basically the most unreliable evidence on the courtroom totem pole). You can even be tricked into “remembering” details of an encounter that you never even had. And yet, people — enormous swathes of registered voters — are trusting their memories, “trusting their gut”, and imposing an alternate reality on the actual one.

Thing is, though? “Mandela Effect” thinking? It’s really conspiracy theory with a less shamed-into-the-closet coat of paint. For reality to change requires a network of very capable entities working in concert, notwithstanding some damage to the fabric of space-time. But those things don’t actually happen.

Reality is what it is. It is up to us to accept that reality for what it is, rather than hammering it into a shape we’d rather it be.

I get it. Accepting reality is hard. (It’s why religion has had such a good run.) But what’s the alternative? We knowingly let people get away with lies? We allow ourselves to believe things, or forget things, because they make us feel better?

Let me drift away from the political to wrap this up (thank goodness).

For a long time (almost a decade, if not most of my life!), I sheltered in the belief that I could be a writer; that the only thing holding me back was a lack of inspiration, a lack of time. But that’s not an accurate representation of reality. What was holding me back was a lack of commitment and a lack of work ethic.

Owning up to that sucked. I had to accept that I had been a lazy jerk about my writing. It was a lot easier to pretend that I was capable, but I was just waiting to get motivated or inspired to do something about it. Out there, I’m lazy and unmotivated and maybe not even able to do this thing. In here, I can do it whenever I feel like it — I just don’t feel like it today.

But if I hadn’t owned up to reality? I wouldn’t have written even one percent — maybe even not one percent of one percent — of what I’ve written in the past three years. I would have sheltered in my alternate reality; the one where I was unproductive on my own terms. Where I believe whatever bullsharknado is on offer — especially the bullsharknado that bubbles up from my own gut.

And maybe some people would rather live that way, I dunno.

Me, I’ll take the jagged edges and freezing winds of the real world over the fluffy clouds and artificial heat-lamps of the fantasy world any day.

*Atlanta snow days do not actually feature snow.