DIY and Way

The taxes are done, which is probably my biggest accomplishment for the week, aside from taking advantage of spring to start demo on the F.R.O.G. (that’s Free Room Over Garage, or at least that’s what the real estate lady said when we bought the place). It was an apartment at one time, then a sort-of workshop, with some really crappy bench tops and shelves that all had to come out, plus a rotted floor (because the back section of the space is a former kitchen with a wooden floor over concrete, which naturally wicked up water and rotted).

When it’s all done it should make a nice treatment/meditation space for First Reader. It’s the last(?) of the renovation projects we had in mind for our interior spaces. Over the years I’ve learned a lot more about DIY than I ever wanted to, but needs as needs must, or something like that, and I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more doing this one. Which, if I’m really lucky, I’ll never have to use again, since we’re not planning on moving once we get this one how we like it.

Barring alarums and excursions, “An Account of the Madness of the Magistrate, Chengdhu Village,” the third in my Daoist series should be out in Beneath Ceaseless Skies #250, in the latter half of this month. On a parenthetical note, this will be, officially, at ten words, the longest title I’ve ever used, beating out “On the Road to the Hell of Hungry Ghosts” by one word, and both “Idle Conversation at the End of the World” and “Golden Bell, Seven, and the Marquis of Zeng” by two.

Any change to the schedule, I’ll be sure to note it here.

Faking It

That’s sort of what this post is about, as in it’s not quite true, but there is some truth in it. Rather like posing the title as a riddle, “How is a DIY project the same as writing a story?” Answer: It isn’t. Except when it is.

No wonder I have trouble with titles. Regardless, and I will get to the point eventually, let’s start with home improvement. When we moved into this house there was a sunroom that had been only partially renovated. That is, it had sheetrock, but no window sills, door/window casing, trim, paint or flooring. There were several other priorities to deal with first, but finally it was the sunroom’s turn. Painting was no problem, as I’ve done a lot of it over the years. I was equally confident that I could redo the floor, since I’ve had experience at that as well. However, I’d never done the finish work on windows or doors. So I did a bit of research and then got to it. I had two of the windows completely finished and then First Reader took a look at my work. She then said (and I paraphrase slightly):

“Wow. It’s almost like you knew what you were doing.”

Bear in mind that First Reader is a perfectionist and doesn’t praise lightly. What I thought but didn’t say was “Of course. I’m a fiction writer. I know how to fake it.”

Which in this context is referring to the process of writing and writers in general. We do our research, which for some of us is the fun part. A history geek or a physics buff is going to get to read what they might read for pleasure anyway and then apply it to the project at hand. You use specific knowledge to lay down the society in broad strokes using the occasional telling detail that places the reader in that time or that place. Yet at some point you’re going to hit something that wasn’t covered in any of the texts. It could be something big or something small, but you’re on your own…only you’re not. If you truly have done your research, you draw on it to fill in the gaps. For instance, you may not know if the asobi class in Heian Japan were doing z, but you do know they were doing x and y, so z is a reasonable extrapolation, but you only know that because you did your homework. It may or may not be true, but in context it’s plausible, which for story verisimilitude is even more important. Otherwise your assumption is no more than what my old polymer chemistry professor referred to as a “WAG Factor.”  i.e. Wild Ass Guess. The problem with those is that there’s a good chance they’ll not only be wrong, but so very wrong that everything after them falls apart. You do not want that.

So a finished window that works is a lot like a finished story that works. You look like you knew what you were doing even if that’s not quite true. Ever. But if you do your homework, it’s true enough to get the job done.



Quick Reminder: Since I’m now on a weekly schedule with the Story Time page, on Wednesday the 27th of September, “Crack’d From Side to Side” will be replaced by something else. If you haven’t read it already, time is ticking.



Handy Man is…Doing the Best He Can

I took a personal day yesterday to work on a plumbing problem, and do the taxes. I think the taxes were easier, and I worked on those for about seven hours straight.

I often have to pretend, but the truth is that I just don’t have the DIY gene. I do have a nail gun. And a table saw. Only someone who grew up with me can fully appreciate what a scary thought that is. See, I was raised in a family where DIY was not a lifestyle choice but an absolute necessity. If you couldn’t buy it, you built it yourself.  If you couldn’t build it yourself, you did without it. If it broke, you fixed it. There were exceptions but not many, and this covered everything from military surplus jeeps to jon boats, from garages to storage sheds and workshops. 

My maternal grandfather and uncle were simply amazing. If, for whatever reason, they had decided that they needed a high-energy particle accelerator, by damn they’d have built a high-energy particle accelerator, and likely did it with whatever scrap happened to be handy.  Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating, but not by as much as you might think.  All by way of saying that, whatever that gene is that they had in abundance, they didn’t leave any for me. I am, no other word for it, a klutz.  I learned how to do a few things with great difficulty, but as a general rule I wasn’t allowed near power tools, and it was a wise policy. Carol, otoh, thinks I can do anything. I’ve replaced light fixtures and fencing, installed ceiling fans and laminate flooring, built retaining walls and box lids. Basic stuff. Once she wanted a rose arbor, so I designed and built one.  It was ok. It even stood up to the elements for several years. She thought it was great.

All I could think was that, if either my grandfather or uncle saw it, they would laugh themselves silly. And yet I consder, could either of them write a story? Novel? I don’t think so. So whatever gene I did get, I’ll take it. And make do for the rest.

Scenes From a Marriage #3

Me: I’m home!
She: Good. I finished painting the bathroom cabinet doors this afternoon. Can you put them back up for me?
Me: Okay.
(Note: Small bathroom. Room for me and the stepladder. No one else. Leftmost door hinges are two inches from the wall. Tricky. I shut the door because otherwise I can’t reach the cabinets)
Me: (grunting incoherently as I wrestle the first door into place)
She: (on the other side of the door) Can I help?
Me: Not unless you can reach through walls.
She: Ha ha.
Me: (More incoherent grunting.)
She: I’ve been thinking about the two shower curtains, trying to decide. Remember?
Me: (Grunt, wrestle, trying to think also) Umm… The owl and the bird?
She: Yeah. I’m leaning toward the owl.
Me: (dangerously leaning toward falling). Uh huh.
She: What do you think?
Me: (Now an incoherent mumble, because I’m trying to hold wood screws in my mouth while lining up one hinge).
She: What was that?
Me: (Thinking that this isn’t a good time to be discussing decor, keeping such thoughts to myself). Continue reading