Look, it started innocently. I swear. I didn’t mean for it to get out of control. In fact, I made a promise to myself that it wouldn’t.
We are “updating” a few things in our house.
It didn’t start off as “updating.” It started off so completely innocently, that if you had looked me in the eye and bet me money that by the beginning of 2010, I’d be ripping up floors and repainting a master bedroom and re-tiling the guest (the sad, sad, ugly, feel-the-need-to-apologize-to-guests-level-of-ugly) bathroom, I would have wondered what crack you were on. The last thing I wanted to do was deal with the aggravation that was “updating.” Because you have to clean things out to fix them. And you don’t want to put crap back in that nice clean spot, so you have to find a place to put the junk. But in order to find a place to put the junk, you have to move stuff somewhere else.
But this? This wasn’t going to be “updating,” or, God-help-me, remodeling. As a contractor in my other life, I know what this entails. I’m pretty realistic about the time and expenses. Mostly the time. And the arguments. [Doorfreakingknobs. How can those damned things be so difficult? For the love of all that is nailed down, Home Depot, put a freaking PRICE on your freaking door knobs. Thank you.]
This… was going to be just fixing the floor in the room I used to use as an office. It’s in a weird spot in the front of the house–what used to be a formal dining room when the house was built, but which had been my office for most of the years we’ve lived here, until about a year ago, when I took over a smaller room in the back of the house in order to get more privacy. The floor in there was kinda horrible–old carpet that they had not put a decent pad beneath, and before we had been here a year, it looked worn out. By eleven years, it looked like it had been the sole path to a few thousand drunks coming out of a muddy pit. I don’t know why–it was mostly used by moi and I wore socks, not shoes, but there ya go. So I broached the subject with my husband one day and said, “You know–I’d really like to turn that room into a den. It’s the one with the TV anyway, and we aren’t using it well. What if we put down a decent floor, I’ll move the old sofa in here, and voila, a den?” And he said, “Sure. We could do that.”
Now, before you fall over from praise for him, I had probably said that same thing for about six years. The problem with being married to a contractor is that they want to do it themselves, because they think they’re going to do it better than anyone else. So… progress… but I sort of shelved that in the, “yeah, we’ll see,” category, because I knew what the next phase was going to be: picking out something we could agree on.
The fact that I am still alive is a flat miracle. The fact that he isn’t chopped up in itty bitty pieces in the belly of an alligator somewhere is probably an even bigger miracle.
[When we first started off as contractors, we built new houses. And four out of five of the couples we worked for each year would end up divorced while trying to build a house. If I had to design a marriage course for every potential couple to participate in to see if they were compatible, I would make them have to work on remodeling a house, on a budget, while working two jobs.]
We picked out a floor, and my husband said…
AND HERE IS WHERE IT STARTED, WORLD. IT WAS HIM, NOT ME…
“You know, we could go ahead and do the foyer and the living room while we’re at it.”
I blinked. Checked his pulse. And nodded. I was afraid to talk, because you know, he might wake up.
So… beautiful floors were installed in the front part of the house. (My house is L-shaped, so the bedroom half was a separate issue.)
Then… he really really liked the floors. And he said, “You know, while we’re at it, we could go ahead and put them down in the hall.” And I nodded. “But,” he continued, “we probably ought to go ahead and get the hall painted first, before we put the floors down, because you don’t want to have to paint stuff once the new floors are down.”
I squinted at him. He looked like my husband. I confess I didn’t take his pulse, though. There are some things you just do not want to know.
I did say, “Sure. We could do that.”
So then while we’re painting the hall and we’re going through the Christmas thing, he looks at the aforementioned horrible guest bathroom, and he says, “You know, that room is really ugly, and you’ve been wanting to get it painted for a long time. We could go ahead and paint it.”
I eyeballed the horrible bathroom and the horrible countertops and light fixtures and the hideous cabinets and the ugliest wallpaper this side of hell and faucets that are so honest-to-God ugly, I would swear, under oath, that the previous owners went and found The Big Book of Ugly and picked out their best seller… and as I eyeballed this disaster, I secretly thought a coat of paint is not going to really help that any, but I said, out loud, “Sure, a coat of paint would work.”
Then the coat of paint went up and he started seeing how ugly the rest of the stuff was, and he said, “Maybe we could put new light fixtures up, that would look better.” (The current lights are hideous fluorescent things and one doesn’t work properly, so it blinks and you think you’re either at a disco or having a seizure.) (This is where I always want to say the old adage of how a shoemaker’s kid never has new shoes, a plumber’s house never has a new bathroom, etc.) But to put up new light fixtures was turning into a challenge–the funky way the original light fixtures had been installed meant he’d have to tear something out in order to make new lights work. While my husband was trying to brainstorm an inexpensive solution that would look nice, my youngest son said, “You know, dad, if you’re going to do all of this, you really ought to replace this crappy cabinet.”
SEE? NOT ME. I want it duly noted and on file with the Universe that I did not instigate this part.
And my husband asked why, and my son pointed out that this bathroom had only one sink, but had room for two, and when we wanted to sell the house, it would greatly increase the value to have a double sink there for the bedrooms.
[I take back all the mean things I said about your labor, kid. Except the epidural. You’re still on the hook for that part.]
And lo, my husband said, “That’s a good idea.”
Whereupon I pointed out, “If you rip out the cabinets, you’re going to have to replace the tile,” and he said, “Well, sure.”
And I said, “but new cabinets means new countertops. And faucets.” Which is when he said, “Yeah, but it’ll look good.”
I must take a moment here….
Dear Aliens Who Kidnapped My Original Husband…
I hope you realize there is a no-return policy.
Along about that time, he started giving the master bedroom the hairy eyeball and now? Tonight? we’ve been hanging crown molding.
A brief intermission for the dialog of the evening:
“Put it up against the thing.”
“The corner thing.”
“Do I line it up?”
“Yeah, line up the corners.” Him, impatient. “Line it up. No, up.”
“You mean out? Like away from the corner?”
“Yeah, that’s what I said.”
“Because ‘up’ and ‘out’ are identical in man-world.”
“You’re not doing it right.”
“I’m lining it up. It’s not fitting.”
“Then you’re doing it wrong. Do it the other way.”
“The non-up-out way?”
“That doesn’t fit, either.”
Him, heavy sigh. Puts down his end, comes and checks mine. “Not there. There.”
“There? A half-inch away from the original spot where you told me to hold it.”
“Yeah.” Completely straight faced, “That’s what we’re doing. We’re building it out.”
“Because ‘line up the corners’ means ‘hold it a half-an-inch from the corner?'”
“Yeah. Man-world. Keep up.”
We’re waiting for the tile we ordered to show up and the wood floors should be installed sometime next week, I hope, and I am having fits trying to find a cabinet maker who will return my call so that I can offer him a paying job (for crying out loud, how hard could this be?), and eventually, the dust will settle and it will be beautiful. The master bathroom (first cousin to the hideously ugly guest bathroom) and the kitchen (second cousins) will have to wait, because I frankly don’t think I could do this for that many more months, or afford it, because yikes, economy, but the house will be in great shape.
The point of rambling about all of this (aside from letting my Insanity have a safe place to play), is that it occurred to me tonight that if you had told me back when we first started all of this that when we set out to do that one floor, we would have started this whole huge remodeling job, it would have overwhelmed us both, especially with our work obligations. We would have looked at the enormity of that task and the expense and we would have passed on doing it.
We would not have what we’re going to have. (This, of course, was money permitting… but most of this is do-able because we’re doing it ourselves.)
The point is, writing a novel is very much like building or remodeling. There are about a million decisions you have to make, and you can sit in paralysis forever, trying to pick things out that are forty decisions down the road, but you won’t really know if the faucets are going to work with the sink until you find the sink, and you won’t really know which sink until you decide on the cabinet and you won’t really know which cabinet until you decide the style… you can go round and round there and never get anything done.
You just have to pick a spot and start.
There are going to be ideas that you start off with, that don’t quite work, and you’ll have to revise along the way, and be flexible, and you’ll see new paths to take [like, the crown molding we started with? didn’t look good once it was up, but we improvised a different design by adding an element that looks pretty great now–better than what we would have had if we hadn’t been flexible.]
You just have to make one decision. Then you’ll make the next one. You have to write one page. Then the next one. If you want to write, take it one baby step at a time. Before you know what has happened, you’ll have a draft done. And then edited.
And you’ll be proud you did.
So how about you… if you could change anything about your home right now, what would it be? I’ve still got a million things to do, so I empathize. Believe me.