Monday, September 28, 2009
Wild Build Part Deux
Signs of autumn around here include pie pumpkins overflowing a basket, and blankets lying on chairs, and a pantry full of sauces, relishes, chutneys and jams. And sadly, the guys I have spent my summer hanging out with showing up just once or twice a week, while our construction project finishes in a stall of delayed supplies and missing vendors.
The most wonderful and the most challenging aspect of my job, writing, is the silence of the room. All summer, while our dream room was being built (see The Wild Build below) I had the company of the dudes -- the Greatest Build Boys Ever.
Michael Aaland of JB Mac (above) was our contractor, who we chose because we trusted him to guide The Bear and I. We had goofed around with enough home improvement fiascoes to know that we were dangerous when armed with Black or Decker. And this wasn't just about finding competance in a contractor -- it was knowing we could count on someone to give us the facts and to handle all the ups and downs of a project without freaking out. Don't let his babyface fool you -- he can fire a crew (bye-bye plumbers) while explaining to the furnace guys that ducting is not in fact the focal point of a design. Props to Michael for merely looking amused by my quirky choices, and in the midst of chaos, for always acting chill (at least to the clients.) People quibble over the additional costs of a contractor, but it saved us a lot of money to have Michael's know-how and daily check-ins keeping details in line, details that I didn't have a clue needed managing.
We thought the project would be wrapped up in six weeks. It lasted four months. In that time, the main guy on the build, Art, became a father, and other craftsmen got sick and one had parents in distress and one had his tools stolen and some lost their lovers.
That's Art, when he was still getting sleep.
One of the best surprises about this project was discovering that men talk about their lives. To each other. Loudly. This is like manna from manland for a female writer. All it took was a "She did what?" and I was immersed for the afternoon. It was Days of Our Lives meets This Old House. DIY guys emote! And not just about the Seahawks either. I liked discovering they were real people, real men, with fears and foibles and fractures, and that in the middle of this small thing we were choosing to create together, we got to know each other's humanity.
Francesco, making art with concrete
Another great surprise was discovering what a gift it is to have people help you create something that barely exists inside your mind. From my experiences building museum exhibits and IMAX Theatres, and The Bear's experiences making physical therapy clinics, we knew that collaborating can be fun, and it is an entirely new phenomenon to have the foundation of your own home jacked up, re-shaped, and made beautiful in ways you didn't know were possible, because these men loved to make it happen. When friends found out that our project was delayed yet again (plumbing problems persisted throughout), they asked about the hassle, wondering if we were annoyed. Even Michael A had tried to warn us about the realities of a construction project before we began -- "It gets messy and dirty and noisy," he said, looking at our well-ordered home. And I liked this new chaos -- the loss of a garden to a staging site, the appliances that stood in the back yard like my own hillbilly heaven, the slams and sports scores that chortled through vents during my women's writing groups -- it was a reminder that something big was happening. Far from annoyed, we felt incredibly grateful that we were able to renovate this little dream space at a time that people were losing jobs and living on less.
Finally, one of the biggest surprises was the effect of this project upon my creativity. Because I'd spent so much time around people who know their own style, who seem to flawlessly express in their homes and attire and image, I was rather tentative about what I could bring to a home design. Architect Mike LaFon said he'd offer his expertise on any finicky detail (and he definitely nudged me in certain directions, bless him) and still, whether it concerns fixtures or color or lighting, there are a gazillion choices out there, waiting to deter your budget and your vision from reality. The thing was, I didn't have a vision. One choice led to the next, which helped us make the next decision. I thought the basement might be an inspired mish-mash, like the Clampetts on psychedelics, until we found The Tile. Marble, rainforest green with veins of ochre and grey, The Tile makes our bathroom the oasis we had imagined, and became the springboard off which we picked wall colors and lighting and cabinets and even had a custom vanity designed out of a car (see the next blog -- Wild Build Finale -- for more.)
The confidence we developed in making this one choice helped us plant our treasures --my grandmother's jewelry, and rocks collected on mountains and gifts from children -- in concrete, and have the floor stained in a gorgeous multi-hued forest. I was reminded that I make stories like this, one choice at a time, not requiring anything more than the trust of the day. And that all of life has become this too -- we make food and love and family without holding tightly to how it might end, or sometimes even if it will end well. One choice at a time, life is gracious, and holds both the abandon and the wholeness of creative collaboration.