Something to Think About

A stylized image of my new kitchen wall. Lots of windows. Lots of light.

Yeah, I know. I’ve been radio silent for a while. Sorry. Turns out I learned that I’m not a HGTV-lifestyle type blogger. I know their ilk since I’ve been reading their blogs–their posts on trends and their how-tos written with folksy familiarity. The edgier ones smattering in some cuss words. The more wholesome peppering posts with sweet kiddos and doggos. The rarefied have chickens, which lay heirloom coloured eggs. Their kids have blonde ringlets festooned with sweet bows. They also serve up recipes. And dinner parties hosted at a clearing in their personal thousand acre woods lit with strings and strings of round bulbs powered by some mysterious source of 1% energy.

Nope. Writing about construction progress and current project status with accompanying pictures isn’t my forte. Not because I dislike that genre. I’ve definitely binge-watched many a remodeling series, hungrily following each episode to the great reveal. And, also, not because I don’t have scores of photos chronicling this journey.

I just can’t write it. Nope. This Doc does musing, angst, comedy and more thinking. Show and tell? Not without a point to make. And in the fast forward pace of this remodel, there hasn’t been much brain space left to make my points.

Sure there have been some decisions. And some real walls. And moments of beauty.

Like that moment when I walked upstairs to our bedroom and looked through the new window. Our bungalow is a classic story and a half, but when they rebuilt the walls and ceiling they recovered about eight inches of head room at the dormers. The construction team raised the windows up, too, and we have a new view to the outside and a more airy inside.

Taking in the new vista, I placed my fingertips on the newly drywalled and primed walls. I looked at my hand and recognized the perfectly familiar meeting of the knee wall angling to meet with the roofline. I suddenly ran through a series of memories–of painting that wall, of moving the bed (once moving the head to meet it, and once rotating it on the side), of steadying myself on it on groggy mornings.

Relief. My house is still here. I didn’t ruin it by stripping it down to its sticks. When I exposed its very bones. The house, its soul, still remains. I felt it in through the gypsum plaster that marked the newly finished corner. It told me it was okay.

Then there was the moment I needed to select cabinet hardware. It was more than a moment, to be honest. My wonderful design lead from the design-build team emailed me links two websites. She told me to pick out a few, and we’d order one of each to see what works.

There were literally THOUSANDS of choices. Overwhelming. So, I did what any modern Doc would do. I googled, “What to look for in kitchen cabinet hardware?”

Turns out that there are some things for the practical-minded to look for. First, there is a difference between knobs and pulls. Knobs are little and pulls are bigger. Bottom line, you don’t need to be as precise with your grab if you have pulls. Also, there are categories of pulls. There are bar pulls, handle pulls, finger pulls, cup pulls and arch pulls. Bar pulls can get caught on wayward pockets. Cup pulls can get full of the goop from your dirty hands that open the drawer to grab the extra whisk.

Armed with my new data, I downselected to handle pulls that were black or bronze and added those categorized by “industrial” or “rustic” style. And, still, there were hundreds. I started scrolling the options.

The first one I liked was $20. For one cabinet pull! Some long drawers could require two. I could easily spend thousands of dollars in kitchen hardware. I immediately added a downselect with an upper dollar limit to accommodate my budget. There were still a bunch.

My search and selection process could have consumed hours. I stopped looking after I found four that I could like. I slapped myself. Really, Doc? What’s a “good” cabinet pull? For items that, to be honest, I can’t tell apart? I cut and paste links to pulls, hit send and haven’t looked back. Don’t ask me what I chose. I don’t even know if my selections come in the right size. I’m praying that the pro makes sense of my design idiocy.

Then there’s that color moment. Last time I painted was the unfinished refresh of our bedroom. I know exactly the day I stopped painting. September 11, 2001. Just never got back around to it. I lost interest in color around the time I lost interest in the project.

Now I have to choose colors for all the rooms in the house. Someone said to paint it all white or taupe or greige or some neutral. But I have pro-painters using fabulous paint at my disposal. And I’m not moving the furniture to paint again. This is my moment.

I don’t want my house to have that flipped house gray with white trim. Or that creamy builder white. No. No. No. I walk into the open houses for the new crappy condos popping up all over my neighborhood and feel nothing but coldness. I check out the newly rehabbed homes with their cookie cutter granite countertops and cheesy cabinets and their achromatic walls and feel empty.

Ours is a 1915 bungalow that traditionally had that craftsman/arts and craft palette with muted vegetable colors of squash and pumpkin and greens tinged with yellow. Colors with names like ochre and olive, walls to be framed in natural wood.

I imagined walking in the front door with the brown stained wainscoted walls topped by that yellow squash color, turning to the muted yellow green in the living room and stepping into a pumpkin dining room. I started pulling paint chips for this warm, autumnal color scheme. I found historical palettes online and assigned colors to rooms. We’d paint a few samples on the walls before making a final call.

One problem. I don’t actually like those colors. Sure, they were better than the colorless “new house” look I was railing against, but they actually brought me down and closed me in. I wanted colors that had warmth but a cool vitality. Back to the google drawing board.

I decided to back up. What colors make me happy? What colors did I want to be surrounded by?  What colors looked good together and flowed from room to room, too? I flipped through Design Seeds, focusing on how the images made me feel. I dismissed photos, not looking at palettes. I pinned the pics I liked. I saw that my aesthetic had a clear pattern. Now I have a bunch of paints to try on the walls. My starting point is authentic.

So, sure. There’s been stuff rolling around in my brain, some causing strain and some stirring emotion, but none with much of a tale.

Yesterday, I took my regular foray to the worksite that will soon, once again, be my home. And my excitement was definitely tempered. After weeks of daily transmogrifications–of sticks being formed into walls that became rooms and closets and hallways and entries, of a huge rectangular box that time-lapsed into a kitchen lined with cabinets centered with an island and framed by a light wall, of the hole between the upstairs and the basement bibbidi-bobbidi-boo’d into a grand staircase–things have slowed down.  I’ve entered

The trough of disappointment.

This is the part of the hype-cycle. The part following the peak of unrealistic expectations. Stuff is happening, but we’re waiting on the delivery of the grout, and there is some challenges with the cabinet install, the basement windows had to be reordered and there will be some painstaking craftsmanship that will go into the creation of beautiful trim (no prefabbed trim for this project).

Meanwhile, I’m studying the project calendar every day. Sometimes more than once a day. Okay. Always more than once each day. As if by looking at the schedule it will move ahead. I walk into the house daily, on my way home from work. The actual days have shortened to leave me only a few moments of light before it switches over to night. Next week there won’t be any daylight moments on my way home.

This is the time where you can see the finish line, but there is still a grueling distance ahead. This is the time when I want to be on the other side of that line.

I want to move home and figure out where to put my colanders and to hang my winter coats in the closet. I want to unpack my waffle maker that I stored in the basement. I want to line up my spices in the new kitchen and put the good dishes on the dining room table. I want this computer to be on my new wooden desk in the office. I want to place my shampoo on the bench in the upstairs bathroom and put my hair dryer in the new closet.

I’m really done with this project. These last few yards need to be ground out, but the excitement has faded. This week anyway. I’m ready to move in and move on. I know there are more finishes and more surprises that will get me back in the game. But now, today? I’m wishing that I could buy a fifth of brown patience liquor.

I hate waiting.

House Doc

A floor plan.

As is my wont, I’ve been thinking but not writing. Rest assured, Loyal Reader, you are very frequently on my mind, but this easily distracted mind surely wanders.

I need a new prompt. And I have one. The Big Guy calls it my new hobby. I guess there is truth to that. It’s definitely my new project. Gutting the house.

I know. Right??

So, I’m thinking about chronicling it here. Not exactly sure how it will shape up, but I got some ideas. And I’m going back to a daily deadline. Yikes! I just typed that out loud.

It might be a story. It might be a metaphor. Or it might be an uninteresting diary of stuff. But it will be a discipline for me to write, and to connect with you, my Loyal Reader. And you know that means I’m connecting with myself.

So let me catch you up to where we are. We hired somebody to figure shit out (I have the design acumen of Fred Flinstone), and to draw the pictures that somebody professional can use to make a mess and then–fingers crossed tightly–make a place to live that doesn’t have plaster crashing down in chunks, cloth covered wiring that turns to dust when exposed to air, floors that deliver sprinters into stockinged feet and a paucity of kitchen cabinets that were built (very sturdily I might acknowledge) in the 1940s. Oh, and a second bathroom.

Don’t judge me. I hear your groans. We all survived a single bathroom which helped define our family idea of privacy. 

Current status: first round of pictures, done. Seeing elevations on Tuesday. And The Spouse and I are still on speaking terms. So far. So good.

I’ll tell you more tomorrow!

New Game

Cleaned out a junk drawer, shined my pressure cooker, de-grimed the microwave, got dogfood, took down & put out the tree, then ate dinner out of a bag & bottle.

Well, Loyal Reader, it wasn’t a surprise. No. Not really a surprise at all. I am none the less disappointed. In myself. 

Yes, I have let the dust settle a bit too comfortably on this journal. After my fury (or furiousness) of thinkings and writings and postings, I took a sabbatical. And didn’t come back.

I said that I’d post weekly, but I fell into my old pattern of doing the thinking, the coming up with ideas and the starts in my head without the actual writing. Much disappointment. But I said that already.

So, like the little kitten who chases the laser for fun, I need something to chase.  Another challenge. This time an easier one, but still specific and measurable. Like a game. A game I can win! 

Here’s my plan for this year. I’m going to take and mess up a picture and write something. Every week. A photo prompt and a post. I’m not going to necessarily write about the picture, not that I won’t. And sometimes you will scratch your head, puzzling over the relationship between the post and the pic. That’s part of it. (Thanks Matt, who claims to read this blog, but I think he does not.)

Anyway, it’s a little game. Just a little trick to make myself do what I want. Yes. I’m really that lazy. 

Anything to win.

Week #1, done! Purr. 

What I Learned Writing Every. Stinking. Day for A Year

A Doc and The Beast in writing repose.

Okay, Loyal Reader. It is day 366–why didn’t anyone tell me that I chose a long year for my quest?–the end of the line.

Quick recap, my 2016 New Year’s Resolution was to write and publish a blog post every (single. stinking.) day for the entire year. I allotted myself no excuses, no blackout days and no get out of jail free cards. I (wisely) made no resolve about quality. It was a production resolution. Daily production, irrespective of word counts or topic areas.

One year later, the results are in. Since January 1, 2016, I published 358 posts, filling in 98% of the year. Per my weak platform-provided analytics, 5,800 visitors read 9,500 pages. The Onion and Vox must be shaking in their boots and looking over their shoulders with competitive concern </sacrcasm>.

But, so what? To what end? In thinking about it–since that’s what I do–I found that this challenge provided a plethora of lessons. I’m breaking down my learnings into four categories: doing, creating, sharing, growing.

Doing: What I learned about process

Publishing every. stinking. day requires alot of process. The ideation process is accelerated to grab any straw of an idea. This sounds harder, and while sometimes it was harder, there were thousands of prompts in front of me all of the time. It’s in the recognition of them. No idea is too weak. I saw dust particles in the sunshine and wrote a post. The comfort of warm blankets was good for a few hundred words as was the initial warm breaths of spring.

I wrote about people I saw walking down the street, making up stories about the man with the cake, the woman in orange, the tuba players, the equine fanciers. Pop and politics were occasionally fertile, but I didn’t want to write “me-too” posts so these were sometimes more challenging.

After a few months I came up with a set of categories to help me understand what I wrote about–it provided a structure that I could pop thinkings into and speed them ahead. 

I had a running notepad of ideas and fragments that I’d mine and I occasionally found an almost completed post, I wrote about that here. Using the notepad was clutch when writing on the subway.

Two more process learnings. 

First, photo editing takes a lot of time. Alot. Speaking of time, if I was very conservative I spent 90 minutes per post (and I know that it was not unusual from start to finish to spend a few hours), I spent weeks writing this year.  

Second, I am so friggin’ lucky for the support of The Spouse. The Spouse would look at me furiously typing and say, “I got dinner,” or “Are you having luck on your post?” and never a disparaging remark about my daily (and frequently nightly) embrace of my keyboard. Total, unequivocal support. That’s how shit happens. 

Creating: What I learned about writing

Writing. Wow. I guess after the more than the one-hundred thousand words that I shared this year, I can call myself a writer. I started to think of myself as a writer after a few weeks. I started thinking about writing itself and in a few more I was thinking about how I wrote.

I enjoyed putting together a post with a clever title–many times I rewrote the title, and I often hoped that you, Loyal Reader, would get my little references in the title. Or in the photo. Or, for those of you who look at code, in the alt-text describing the photo. The post is more than the words and sentences and paragraphs. It’s the wrapper, too.

I would often fight with my inner editor. The editor who knows exactly what a complete sentence looks like. The editor who questions the use of dashes over commas. The editor that battles the writer who might be striving for a specific rhythm or an irregularity in syntax. The hubris of the author can cause confusion for the reader. Or so says The Editor. It’s like my personal version of The Narrator and Tyler Durden.

Most importantly, I learned that my writing takes its own course. Everyone writes differently, and I didn’t know how I wrote. 

Thinking about it, I found that I get an idea, and it drags me along. I realized that I wrote an allegory after I reread it. Sometimes I start with an allegory, but the story takes its own shape. 

I can’t know how a post is going to end until it actually ends. There is no master plan. It’s organic. And, so sometimes, it stinks.

I can get things out of order, because the stream of words switchback and I write something else. So I’ll move a paragraph around. 

Less frequently, I’ll find a few paragraphs at the end that don’t belong. I added something in the middle that diverged from where I was going. I have deleted thousands of words that belonged in a different post, for a different time or a different mood. When a post is done, it’s done. If it needs more it nags me until it’s satisfied that it’s complete.

I know I am the writer. I really do. But I know, too, that what I’m writing is more revealed than reasoned. 

I own it. It’s from me.

Sharing: What I learned about you, my Loyal Reader

Oh, Loyal Reader, you have been a great teacher, too. Sometimes you tell me directly and sometimes I infer.

Bottom line, it’s really is all about you. I mean that in a good way. 

I have learned what you care about, which is humanity and making connections. You like my vignettes much more than I do. You infuse them with life and invest your hearts in my made up characters. I love you for that.

You also really care the most about personal things. Things that really happened. You have given me much love and support, and have turned sometimes to me for support. I like that. We’re here for each other.

Growing: What I learned about me

I realized that being authentic was more important to me than showing off. Showing off is publishing every day and doing what I said, even if I was cheating by posting twice in one day and backdating. 

After a few months in, I decided that missing a day or two (or eight) was better than faking it. I confessed to you, my Loyal Reader, and you, as is your way, didn’t care. Or forgave me. It’s okay either way.

I always said that I was undisciplined. Lazy. Couldn’t stick to anything. But after writing hundreds of posts, writing every day and sometimes forcing myself to hit publish, I can’t say that that is true.I guess this project never bored me. 

Sorry if I bored you.

Finally, and I am really almost done, I learned that I want people to read my work. I would obsessively look at how many people looked at a post, lapping up any likes, and super proud when an editor featured my post.

But, the other thing is, ultimately, I don’t care. I wrote for months before I started telling people my resolution. I wrote every day. And you didn’t know. 

I say that I write for you, my Loyal Reader, but that is a lie. I write for me. Because I am a writer. That’s what I most really and definitely learned.

That’s The Lessons Folks

Phew. I did it. I am proud. And I am taking a little break. Let me know what you think. And I’ll be thinking and sharing and writing more in the New Year!

xoxo
Doc Think

26.198 (Post #357)

A boy. On a hill. Wearing skis and a Washington Football Team jacket.

I can see the finish line. It’s just ahead. Just one day more, cue Les Miserables.

Tomorrow I’m going to post about what I’ve learned this past year (like the irrelevance in teasing you, my Loyal Reader). My retrospective, if you will. Today, though, I’m going to be prospective. What am I going to do?

You see, last year at this time, I resolved to write and publish. Every. Stinking. Day. For the entirety of 2016. This has taken up a good hunk of my life. Like 44 waking days over the course of the year.

So, what’s next? 

Well, one thing for sure is I will not publish a post every stinking day. But you likely already knew that. So let’s say I commit to publishing weekly. That is a decrease of 600%. (To be honest, I kind of made up that number. I don’t feel like doing real math. It might be a higher percentage decrease. See what I mean? Higher decrease?) 

When I started this challenge, I said that I wanted to produce as well as consume. Now, I want more balance. I want to read more quality writing. Read more books. Read more long form, more New Yorker. Oh, and read zero celebrity you-won’t-believe-where-they-are-today posts. I’m also cutting back on fake news. Just kidding there.

Third, I am going to use a bunch of my brain-space as we remake a hunk of this, our 103 year old, house. It’s going to be a big project. Even huge. It may kill me. It may have me killing The Spouse. I hope not. This will require extreme effort. But I’ve seen others succeed. We can do this. I’m going to set out a goal right now, no family bloodshed on the house thing. There, I said it.

Last, I realized that I’ve slacked off on volunteering my time and talents. We have a cool town here, and in addition to buying local, I need to do more to contribute local. It was easy when The Boys were in school. There were plenty of things that needed doing and plenty of people asking. I’m going to do some asking and then get about some doing.

Pretty much all of the above is ripe for future thinkings (that’s my code for posts). I expect that I’ll be incohate, insulted, insipid, inspired, inept, intrigued and infatuated. Not all at the same time, though. More spread out. Maybe some overlap. Maybe also some adjectives that are not as alliterative. Maybe. I’ll keep you posted.

Anyway, I’m poised and ready to start a new year. Sadly, for me, I’ll be spending a lot less time with you, my Loyal Reader. But I hope our time will still be good for you. Fingers crossed. 

It’s a Wrap

It's my tree. From before. Not this year. So?

Write? Wrap? Write? Wrap?

It’s Christmas Eve and I started a post that needs more thinking. Alot more thinking. And work. And writing.

Write? Wrap? Write? Wrap?

I glanced over at the bags with things that needed a transformation in order to become Christmas.

Write? Wrap? Write? Wrap?

The boys are out carousing. It’s not like they are asleep, awaiting Santa and his deer. Sugarplums and whatnot, all afloat.

Write? Wrap? Write? Wrap?

But some parts of Christmas are just that. A part of Christmas. And I am the maker of Christmas in this realm. This tiny realm of us.

Write? Wrap? Write? Wrap?

And, you, My Loyal Reader, are not known to give a rat’s bum about my thinkings on a holiday. Although I truly appreciate every moment you spend reading my words–no matter the day. But, it’s like Christmas. And there are gifts to be wrapped.

Write? Wrap?

WRAP!

Post #335

From the AMTRAK: Emergency Brake. Open this cover. Alarm will sound. Pull handle down.

I started writing something earlier today. And it was hard. Hard to think about and hard to write about. But, at least to me, worth writing about.

Frankly, it required more nuance than I had to give to it today. I have decided that I’m going to defer this post for a little bit. I still want to write it, but it deserves a bit more research and thoughtful thinkings and a better articulation.

You might be surprised that I do that, Loyal Reader. Surprised that this publication includes research and thinking and rifling through options and analysis and then writing. I realize that much of what you read here may seem like a simple stream of consciousness. And if I were to tell the truth, which is my preference since I am lazy and lying takes a lot of work, I would admit to at least my share, if not more than my share, of raw and emotive work. Even these, though, take some cognitive and creative effort. I’m not kidding.

That said, there are many posts that I wrestle with deeply. Posts that I start with gusto but then lose steam. Sometimes the energy is gone after a paragraph or two. Other times it is writing that simply doesn’t coalesce. It might have concepts or sentences that are brilliant, but it either doesn’t hang together with the rest of the words or just doesn’t have enough form to be cogent. While that may also surprise you, Loyal Reader, that is that I hold back when something sucks, it’s just a confession about how bad my writing can be.

In this case, though, I have something that I want to say and I want to say it to you, Loyal Reader. But first, I need to make sure that it will stand up on it’s own and that, second, if you object to my thesis, you will at least have enough to object to. I don’t want to leave you unsatisfied, or worse, dismissive. Truly your indifference is the most painful.

So, for today, I will only share with you a little about my process and a hint of something yet to come.