Friday, July 22, 2011

Home Remodeling Part 2: In which Laraine lauds the work of professionals

More than a few times, when I tell people I'm a writer or a writing teacher, I'll hear "I always wanted to write a book," or "I'm going to take a few weeks off work and write my story," or some semblance of that comment. I usually smile, but I'm gritting my teeth inside. Not because they want to write or tell their stories, but because they don't understand that there's a serious amount of work, craft, skill, and talent involved in writing. Yes, you might can sit down and write 10,000 words in a weekend, but that's not where it ends. That's not even close to the end. I say it every semester: You've got to respect the art. Respect the writing.

This is true with home improvement projects as well. Yes, Home Depot has the same supplies as the professionals. Yes, I can buy them cheaper there. Yes, I can watch a few do-it-yourself videos on YouTube and think that I am certainly capable of doing that. But the wealth of what I don't know because it's not what I do is stunning. This home improvement project had a variety of problems that aren't apparently uncommon, but would have stopped me from finishing, or at least finishing correctly. I will spend years on a manuscript, but not a hands-on project. We've all got our gifts. Acceptance is part of maturity. Ha.

Here's just a few of the things I learned during Professional Home Improvement Week.

1) Holes in the drywall. Professionals can patch walls and have them not look like wadded up tissue paper.

2) Strange wires that go nowhere. Professionals know how to cut them and not electrocute themselves or burn the house down.

3) Floors that are not level and would cause the new laminate flooring to crack. I would not have known that would be a problem, would not have known how to even measure it, and certainly would not have known how to fix it. Professionals mix things in big buckets, pour them onto floors and whistle. They have this big metal thing called a level that they place on the floor to check. Hmm.

4) Water damage to the bathroom ceiling from a roof leak three years ago. See # 1.

5) Masking and edging when painting. It's one thing to paint a wall a solid color. It's another thing to edge it. I lose patience. Good is good enough. I get tired, frustrated, and usually have the wrong kind of paint. Professionals know how to edge. They know what kind of paint to buy. They are not deterred.

6) Drywall that has come away from the stairs leaving gaps in the wall that the carpet won't fill. See #1.

7) Quartz crystals growing in my concrete floor in the kitchen. Did you know that quartz grows? Did you know that if quartz is in cement (it's not supposed to be) it will, over time, grow and crack your floor. Professionals know this, and are not fazed. They dig it out, sand it down, fill it in and finish laying your floor while you watch television. And oh yeah, they whistle.

8) Ladders. Simple. Professionals have the right ladders. And they're not afraid to step on them.

9) Fretsaws. Circle saws. Scary power saws on tables that make sparks when they cut through your floors. Yep. Pros have these. They even have the goggles.

10) Math. OK, I could probably have learned how to do the math at one point, but my math-window has closed. Pros. They can do math. And guess what. When you're calculating gallons of paint and how to cut the laminate so it all gets used and fits in the house, you're using math. And it matters.

11) Wallpaper from many decades ago that has apparently woven itself into the drywall. This delightfully patterned wallpaper was located behind a bathroom mirror we took down so we can put up new vanities when they're done. There may not be an app for this, but there's a chemical for it, and professionals have it.

12) "Hey, Laraine!" shouts the painter. "Come look at this." Never. Ever. What. You. Want. To. Hear. "For some reason, you don't actually have a wall here. Just a few pieces of cardboard." We're looking at the 'wall' where the awful paneling used to be. "You want we should make this a wall?"

Yes, you beautiful beautiful people. I want we should make this a wall.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Home Remodeling Part 1: In which Laraine realizes that foundation trumps accessories

House-Falling-Apart-Kitteh Dreams of New Colors

Before I moved from Phoenix, I had new ceramic tile and carpet put in my house. I only got to enjoy them a year before I sold the house and moved to Prescott, and while I haven't missed a single thing about Phoenix, I have missed my floors.

I've lived in my townhome here for seven years now, on carpet that I am sure was original (1981), with light tan paneling (ugh) in the living room and neon yellow vinyl in the bathrooms that I have kept covered with decorative accessory rugs because I can't bear its neon-ness. I have lived with non-functioning baseboard heaters, a doorbell that is falling off the wall (again circa 1981), and a thermostat for the non-functioning baseboard heaters that, upon removal, was apparently merely decorative. Perhaps I missed the fad of decorative thermostats. Maybe it was from the same time the tan paneling apparently worked. The baseboards for the paneling, by the way, turned out to be styrofoam coated with tan paper. Yep.

I have spent a lot of time this summer in two of the greatest cities: Vancouver and New York. (San Francisco - I'm coming soon! I promise!) I can't get enough of cities. I love the neon and the trains and the people and the languages and the ability to have octopus at 2 am (not that I've availed myself of that, but I know people who have, and just being somewhere that is possible is enough). I love the dreams of a city. The sky shadowed by buildings. A life as vibrant under the ground as above the ground. It's harder for me to live in a small town, especially in the desert where the sky is so freakin' big and the trees are so freakin' short, but there are good things here too, not the least of which is an international airport only 90 miles away and the very slim chance of hurricanes or volcanic eruptions.

I will be 43 in a few weeks. There are things I hope to not ever have to do again. I don't want to work a half-dozen jobs to make $20 grand a year. I don't want to commute for hours every day to a job. I don't want to be in a cubicle from 8 - 5. I don't want to have to grant-grab and sell myself at every turn to teach workshops that pay in T-shirts and bottled water and sweet thank-you notes from haggard bookstore owners. Borders is closing and liquidating everything by September. The avenues through which I sell my books are coming apart at the foundation. There are transitions happening everywhere. Things are falling apart so new things can be built. It's exciting. Unsettling.

I can't pretend that 43 isn't the middle of my life (if it's not already past that). I can't pretend that I have not made choices that have opened some doors while closing others. As I re-examine my life, I keep returning to two things: writing and freedom. I feel good about my writing since moving to Prescott, and I feel even better about my freedom since moving here. My job provides the most freedom I can imagine. Yes, we have to do things. Yes, we have to show up at certain times. But we're not chained to the desk, and, dare I say, summer and winter breaks make up for just about anything the semester can throw at us. The college went through a huge transition last semester and next year will be full of challenges trying to implement the changes. I will be on sabbatical for the second half of the coming year, focusing on deepening my own work. My foundation. What other job lets you do that and keep your health insurance? I have several books I'm working on, and an exciting partnership with my friend Cain Carroll to teach together and write a book in the coming year. (More details soon!)

So I decided I have to invest in my structural roots. Today is Day 2 of the home remodeling project. It's really more of a face lift. No walls are moving around. No plumbing coming out of the walls. But it's a big deal, and as I took apart my house so it can be reassembled, I could see into every corner. Every baseboard. Every hole in the drywall that needs to be patched. I can put my eye up to the gaping hole in the wall where the doorbell was and see inside the walls. How cool is that? I can stand on the actual concrete foundation and watch it being turbo-cleaned and prepped for the flooring. Today, they have to fix the floor. It is not level, so the floor won't float. There's some magic thing they can do to level it out. (Yes, mom, another instance where math matters.) Tomorrow, they'll lay the oak laminate and finish the carpet and the bathroom vinyl. Then, the painters come and replace the baseboards, take down the tan paneling, patch the gaping holes, sand the walls and paint them green (and other colors). The cabinet doors and drawers come out to be sanded and repainted. The hood over the stove will suddenly become the color of nickel. Poof! The screen doors will come off and new security doors go on so I can keep the doors open and let more air run through the house. The fluorescent lighting will come down and track lighting go up. (I may be almost 43, but under full-spectrum lighting, I daresay I don't look a day over 39...)

They've stripped my house down to its essence. Its foundation boards peek under the drywall like feet. They are stable and thick. The concrete is cool and solid. The edges square. I know these things now. In a few days, I will be able to walk on new floors. By the end of next week, this will be a different townhome. I am not the person I was when I moved to Prescott. I have made a life here, and even though I need to leave it and go play in the cities of the world, it's important to invest in a solid structure. A place to lay my head that is safe, full of love (and a few cats), and full of enough freedom to keep growing, deepening, and creating. I don't write well when my life is in chaos. I don't write well when I'm worried about income. And I don't write well living in someone else's skin. Phoenix, even with good floors, was never my skin. For the first time in my life, I will have a home that, inside and out, reflects who I have become, and has enough space for who I will be.

I'll post finished pictures when it's done.