Sam Davies is paralyzed by the idea of home repair, which he knows for sure is an indication that his family will be dead within minutes of the world’s end.
Photo by: MoShotz
A good portion of my anxieties, which have been well-documented in this space, come from what I’d call the “post-apocalypse” scenario. If the zombies rise, if a super-flu hits, if society fails, and I survive the initial wave, what good will I be? At a basic level, I don’t know that I could feed, clothe, or shelter myself without the trappings of modern civilization. I can’t even fix radios like Sayid on Lost.
It’s not that I particularly want to be a farmer, a tailor, or a construction worker by trade, but I worry that, at a fundamental level, I don’t know how those things work. For example, I understand that to grow corn, you put corn seed into the ground and give it water, but how does soil work? What does a corn seedling even look like?
I feel like the dads of one generation up knew a lot more about how stuff actually works. My dad built stuff out of wood, for fun. He did a good deal of his own car maintenance. If he didn’t do a home repair himself, it didn’t seem like it was because he didn’t know how, but that he decided it was worth paying someone else to do.
That’s the level I’d like to be at: knowledgeable enough to know the difference between something I should really do myself and when I should employ a professional. And, when I employ a professional, having a good sense of whether or not that person actually did a good job.
At a basic level I grok how houses work–I play Minecraft, after all. You put a waterproof thing on top of a strong thing to hold it up. And you surround it with walls that keep heat in and spiders and zombies out.
But what exactly is a foundation? I should be keeping water away from it, right? Because otherwise I’d never have to clean my gutters.
It’s not that I haven’t had a desire to learn, but it’s hard in any area to go from zero to something. You don’t know what you don’t know and even getting to the point where you could ask a semi-intelligent question requires hours and hours of frustrating mistakes. As Merlin Mann says, it’s good to have a rabbi or sensei to guide you, but this kind of practical stuff seems like it should be so basic, I’ve always just tried to figure it out myself. How does my house work? What makes water magically appear in my faucet? Why doesn’t my roof leak? Why will it eventually start to?
And this is why a trip to Lowe’s always makes me feel like a failure. It seems like it would be so easy. Something’s broken, you buy a thing, and then it’s fixed! So, I wander the aisles with a vague idea of wanting to rehang my gutter downspout, and leave with a new tool, a box of screws I’ll use one of, and no idea of how I’ll actually accomplish my task.
If I’m lucky, I get everything right on the first trip. More typically, I get home, realize that I don’t know what I’m doing, that I got the wrong stuff, and that the new tool will get to live in a pristine condition with his other pristine friends in the closet.
This has happened so many times that I’ve stopped trying. If something breaks, I add it to a list of things to fix “someday”, and adjust to life without that thing. This is why, in our downstairs bathroom, the family just knows to turn the faucet all the way to the left when you’re done, because otherwise it drips.
— ∮∮∮ —
Instead of spending my time listening to a fourth podcast about what processor might be in a theoretical iPhone 7, I want to learn the basics of how to feed, clothe, and shelter myself. So, I’ve decided to actually learn some fundamentals. I hope to pick some small, doable projects that I can see through to an end. It’s okay if that end is ultimately a flop, but it needs to be a complete flop. No leaving it half-finished for months because I don’t know what to do next: I’ll force myself to look it up or ask someone for help. My main goal is to learn enough so I can get a sense of what I need to learn next.
Project Food: In the Spring, I’m going to grow some food in my yard. I’m going to put some seeds in some dirt, provide water, not block sunlight, and grow a plant that I can put in my mouth. It might be carrots. It might be lettuce. It might be something easier to grow, because turns out carrots and lettuce are hard. I don’t know yet, but I will try to grow something.
Project Clothing: Unless I’m dressing fancy, I wear Levi’s 501s almost every day. I keep two or three pairs in rotation until the wear beyond decency. The next pair that starts to get a hole where I don’t want a hole, I’m going to try and patch it.
Project Shelter: I’m going to fix that dripping sink in the bathroom. It probably needs a replacement rubber thingy which’ll cost all of 50 cents. I’ve been avoiding doing it because once I take it apart, we don’t have that sink until I put it back together. It’s a risk that hasn’t been worth taking. I’m going to take that risk, especially since my wife told me that she doesn’t like that faucet anyway and wouldn’t be sad if it broke completely.
If I can start moving down this path, I think I’ll feel better about myself. To “knowledge workers” like me, there’s something mystical about accomplishing tasks in the real, tangible world. See that collection of wood and brick and plastic? That’s mine, I built a small part of it. I hope I can get there.
And when I start rebuilding society after the end of days, I might be able to make a nice salad for my family in our lean-to. You’re welcome to join me, provided you know how to make a battery out of rubble.