Why I don’t do things
A few months back, I was in St. Louis visiting my brother and some old college buddies. I stayed at Dr. Jeff’s swank suburban home during my visit and did my best to ignore the fact that my brother had–after a couple of years languishing in his medical residency–had again surpassed me in the realm of financial success. After all, he’s still the guy who had to endure me blowing Corn Pops belches in his face when we were kids.
When I asked for the tour, Dr. Jeff was proud and showed me around his pad. There was the completely re-done den, outfitted with a massive HDTV mounted above the fireplace, infrared remote control systems, and a surround sound system that was loud enough to scare the wadding out of my kid. Every bathroom had been remodeled, the showers had a shower bench seat… In each one. The back yard had been completely re-landscaped and outfitted with an irrigation system that would make most mansion owners jealous.
And Dr. Jeff had done it all himself (with the help off his wife, of course, but still…). Somehow my little brother had found time in between saving lives, playing poker, hanging out with his friends, tending to ill-mannered dog, and settling into a new city to turn his house into something out of a magazine.
For the love of of fuck, the little prick plumbed. He plumbed! He took me down to the basement and showed me a maze of water pipes in which he had run new tubes and experimented with some newfangled technology that only NASA and defense contractors use.
I thought back on the past ten years or so. We attended the same university and during the time we were there, he managed to develop the reputation as Crazy Smart Guy. That meant he could party as much as any of us, be as nuts as the next guy, and still managed to maintain a nearly perfect GPA and secure scholarships that paid for most of his medical school.
However, during all of it, the dude didn’t own a home until he moved to the southeast for his residency. Not once during our youth or college years did I ever see him pick up a hammer, screwdriver, or NASA tubing.
Now in St. Louis together, I asked, “How in the hell did you learn how to do all this?”
He didn’t really answer and only said mysteriously, “Once I did it once, it was easy.”
It’s no big secret. I am better at a lot of things (getting in trouble, making an ass of myself, and making bad decisions chief among them) than I am home repair. I’ve been known to hire Home Depot employees under-the-table and off-the-books just to avoid doing something as simple(?) as installing a toilet.
It’s a source of quite a bit of embarrassment for me, to be honest. It’s one thing to have my brother out-do me in the world of home improvement. It’s quite another to have a list as long as Rich McGuire’s manhood (long story…) of things I should’ve done around the house and just haven’t. I’ve told my wife I’m too busy. I’ve told her I’ll get to it. I’ve told her it’s not necessary.
So, now I’m home after a summer in Las Vegas and the list is still there. The good wife is not pushing me, preferring to let me re-acclimate myself to polite society. Still, the list grows longer every day. Lattice work for the deck. Light fixtures need changing. Kitchen needs remodeled. Bathrooms need skim-coated. The list of things requiring tools other than the one I was born with is frighteningly long and enough to make me want to avoid it completely.
There is a certain clarity that comes with leaving Sin City and re-joining suburban life. It’s in this moment of clarity that I came to a conclusion. It’s not a fear of the unknown that’s keeping me from keeping up with the Joneses.
It’s a fear of failing.
My wife has had a friend and her kids in town since I’ve been home and that’s left me a lot of time to think. The more I ruminated on my laziness around the house, I discovered that my fear of failure has pretty much handcuffed me in just about every avenue of my life. I have sat on my hands, completely paralyzed by an overriding fear that the simple act of trying will more than likely result in failing.
I don’t know how all this got started, but I can’t think of a time in my life in which I wasn’t worried about the implications of failure. I’ve found about a dozen defense mechanisms (few of them healthy) that have helped me survive to this point. If it weren’t for that, I’d probably be…well, I don’t even want to consider it.
Here’s a quick one. My wife and I decided we wanted to put some lattice on the bottom of our deck. Easy enough, right? Well, after picking out what we wanted during one fine and optimistic day, I tried to forget about it. I worried about everything from how to get the lattice home, to how I was going to cut it, to whether I’d be able install it correctly. And, so it went undone.
Looking back at the past few years of my life, I’ve left so many things–easy things–undone that my list of incomplete projects outnumbers my complete list by about 10-1. Perhaps the most important undone project in recent years is the 50,000 words I put into NaNoWriMo back in November 2005. Here’s a snippet from the first chapter.
Sanchez was wrapped around the street sign like a performance artist in a climactic finale of “Man Loves Pole.” His black hair had fallen out of his hair net and was slicked against the sweat on his face. The tendons in his neck were taut. His eyes were shut tight. His knuckles were white. Every few seconds, as Reek stood watching in the street, Sanchez grunted a simple “Unnngh,” and started over. Reek had learned not to interfere.
After five minutes of pushing, yanking, twisting, and grunting, the street sign’s pole shifted against Sanchez’s small frame. With the care of a painter adding the final highlight to his portrait’s eyes, Sanchez turned the street sign 90 degrees, then stood back to admire his work for a second. He took off his hair net, slicked his hair back against his head, and then turned to see Reek watching.
“Bastards cemented the thing in again,” Sanchez said. “Okay, let’s go.”
Here’s the thing. After I hit the 50,000 word mark, I actually liked what I had written. I told myself, “It’s not finished, but I’ll get it done as soon as I can.”
Apart from moving the file from my old laptop to this one, I haven’t touched it since. And I hate myself for it, because I know the only reason I’m not doing it is because I’m afraid to finish. Finishing means the book is open to being a failure (unpublished, un-read, un-liked, uninspiring, un-ad-infinitum).
And, so now I have this revelation. I’m not lazy so much as scared. That’s a really sad thing for a thirty-something guy to admit.
I am not making myself any promises other than this: I’m going to confront failure.
This morning I woke up and did the lattice project in about four hours. It ain’t perfect, but I did it.
My wife came out and approved the job. “It looks great,” she said. She started to walk back in the house and I stopped her.
“I’m trying,” I said.
She didn’t say anything. It wasn’t the silence of disapproval. It was the silence of someone who has heard me say that same thing way too many times. She’s one of a few people who have believed in me–to a fault most of the time–more than I ever have believed in myself.
I looked at her, unsure whether I should say anything else. Finally, these words came out of my mouth.
“And I’m going to keep trying.”
Labels: Mt. Otis