Thursday, June 11, 2015

Lessons in a Box

Over the past several weeks, we've busied ourselves around the house focusing more on yard than interior improvements needed to our home. As the weather started to warm, I was feeling the need to prepare both front and back yards for summer possibilities. Since neither of the yards are in great shape, it was tough to decide where to start, so there was a bit of moving back and forth from one yard to the next, never really focusing on either.
*Image found here
Then, a couple of weeks ago, we were talking about building a deck in the back. The yard has basically been a mud pit since we moved in so we were trying to figure out the best way to utilize the space to our advantage and also limit the amount of dirt being brought in from the yard.

As we worked on building the deck, my mind started to wander. This happens often with projects as I am definitely an "idea" person. I started to picture an elaborate set up, complete with attached benches, pergola, lights, and planter boxes all accompanying what started out as a simple base. Soon, I wanted to make the deck larger, thinking we could use it both as entertaining space with seating and a place to eat meals with a picnic-type table and benches or chairs. My mind was running wild.

"We can build it all!" I exclaimed, my eyes wide with excitement. And in truth, yes, we could build it all, but time is a precious commodity, particularly in warmer months, and Sam quickly pulled me back to reality. I caved a bit and started to let go of the ideas. No more giant deck. No more overdone possibilities.

Instead of letting it all go though, I decided I would build an attached small seating area off of the front of the deck with a couple of planter boxes on my own. It seemed simple enough and something I could handle during down time.  I went and gathered the wood I thought I wanted and set to work making a plan.
There were sketches. There were measurements. I knew the width/depth/length of every board. I had appropriate tools and equipment ready to go, and I was being entirely logical. So un-G.E.-like. I was very, very proud of myself. I was behaving in a way that appeared rational, sane and intelligent. How could anything go wrong?

I had obtained the wood I'd use prior to starting my plan. Of course, as things were drawn out, I realized I needed more and different pieces. So, back to the store I went, in search of the missing lumber. Still, I thought, not too bad for someone who doesn't behave in the most logical ways at times.

Sam had gone off on a group ride and would be gone for several hours. I had the time to start this project and I was convinced I could be close to completed by the time he returned home. I was sure that he'd be oh-so-proud of me and my very logical actions. I had actually made a plan, I was using leftovers from other projects, and what I needed I had got on my own.

This is the most logical and organized I think I've ever been with a project, I thought to myself. Surely, nothing would go wrong.

The first order of business, the piece of the project I intended to finish before Sam returned, was a simple box-bench. As I went to attach my first screw, I made a fast realization. I couldn't get the screw to go through the wood. Try as I did (for over an hour), that screw was becoming my enemy. I switched spots for the screw, I pushed harder/lighter with the drill, I changed my position and the position of the two pieces of wood, but no matter what I did, the screw just spun pointlessly between the drill bit and the wood.

Normally, when something becomes challenging, I just move on to another area until my head clears, but this was my first screw of the project and I was fixated. If I couldn't get the base together, how could I move on to anything else? Quickly, my thoughts turned as I fussed and fumed about this screw. I felt incapable, powerless, and inept. My mind went to very dark places, doubting everything about myself - even areas entirely irrelevant to the task at hand. I had reached a point that I was not going to recover or continue on with any sort of sanity.

When Sam returned from his ride, I was not in the best of moods. I truly wanted to be left alone. I had desired so desperately to complete this project on my own and one screw had put an end to that.

An hour or so later, Sam volunteered to be the official screw-attachment-specialist, and together, we started again. He assured me that the wood I was using was particularly difficult to get through and that had I drilled a pilot hole first, I wouldn't have run into problems. Coincidentally enough, this thought had crossed my mind during my solo attempt, but I'd become so frustrated that reasonable thoughts were not being acknowledged by my, at that moment, irrational brain.

As we moved along in the project I inquired of Sam, "Is this how you would've built the box?" He was quiet for a few seconds and then replied, "That's a tough question to answer." I couldn't help but believe he was trying to think of a way to spare my feelings, but ultimately needed to tell me that this was not going to be a stable or usable project. Instead, he said, "It's just not the way I would've gone about building it. Your methods are simply different from mine."

I was still a little confused. It's a box. How different can a box be built after all? He went on to expound upon the matter, explaining that I simply go about things in a different way. The way I see something or envision it is merely different than the way he does. It gets to the end and is completely functional, but my process of getting there is generally not linear. I tend to jump from spot to spot and while it seems chaotic at times to those watching (or, assisting in this instance), I do get to the end - just in a manner that tends to zig-zag a bit.

To be honest, most of my life, I never realized that the way I do things is weird or different from some others. My processes don't feel illogical or odd. In my mind, I am extremely sensible and follow order, but it is when I am around someone who truly thinks and does things linearly that I realize there are differences. I can drive Sam crazy with the way I go about tasks, but he's also learned that I just have my own methods. They aren't good or bad, right or wrong, they just are.

As we neared the end of building the box together, I took a step back and said to Sam, "I don't think I can stick to plans, even when I try. I am pretty sure all the planning did was stress me out. I think I just need to be who I am, go with the flow - or lack of - and figure things out as I work." He smiled a bit and agreed, assuring me that this was something of which he was already well aware, but was glad to see that I had reached this conclusion. "Why are you trying to fight who you are?" he said. "Just do it the way that seems right to you." And with that, he hopped up on the box we'd just built and jumped up and down a few times. "Seems sturdy to me," he exclaimed.
I have had a lot of these experiences in life. I try so hard to do something in a way that I think is appropriate to others, only to end up frustrated in the end because it feels wrong. I liken it very much to moments when I returned to riding a bike as an adult. When something was bothering me, I would seek advice, trying to figure out the way in which others would go about addressing the issue at hand.  Instead of finding solutions, I often became more frustrated as suggestions sometimes resulted in new problems or didn't resolve what I was experiencing at all.

Sometimes, it was due to my lack of ability to accurately describe what was taking place. In other instances, I knew that the suggestion wasn't right for me, but I would carry through with what I'd been told, believing that I couldn't trust my own senses or experience because they were limited.

A box is a box. Except that boxes are made for different purposes. They come in squares and rectangles, they range from those that hold jewelry to massive crates to transport machinery. A box can be pretty or dainty. A box can be rough or sturdy. And similar truths extend to bicycles and their riders as well.

I am reminded today that in all aspects of life, it is important to be true to ourselves, to follow our instincts, to learn from mistakes, to seek help when it's needed, and to learn how to filter through information to find what is true for our own bodies. Every day that I ride, even years after returning to the bicycle, I learn a little more about myself, my abilities, and my weaknesses. I begin to understand the ways in which I fit entirely into the understood and accepted forms of practice, and I also concede that sometimes my truth is quite far outside the parameters of what is commonly accepted. That's perfectly okay with me though... I am equipped to build my own boxes in whatever form they take, even if I need a little guidance or assistance along the way.


  1. Good reflection. I'm friends with several artists -- musicians, painters, documentary film makers -- and have found that they really do process things differently than I do. The result seems to be that they are capable of producing beauty that I find genuinely moving in ways that I cannot articulate. On the other hand, I can often articulate a concept with precision that eludes my artistic friends. As you say, we think differently. Not better, not worse; just differently.

    Nice box, by the way.

    1. I'm fascinated by the ways in which we as humans process. I think having balance in relationships (friendships, work, life partner, etc) helps too. Sometimes it's challenging to be completely different from one another, but at times those balances create some fascinating relationships and each can learn from one another.

      Thank you regarding the box. No one has fallen through sitting on it yet, so I'm happy! :O)


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