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Home repair and the art of Zen

Open Space
Derek Franz
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

Home maintenance might be the true test of anger management.

Even when I know what I’m doing, it’s still a pain to dig out the tools and tape measure. Even in those cases, by the time I roll up my sleeves, I usually come to the realization that I have almost no idea what I’m doing.

Yes, home repair pretty much always guarantees frustration and humiliation. That’s why it sucks – not because of the actual work involved. The more I fix around the house, the more I learn how ignorant I really am.



When I moved in with my girlfriend, I was a big man in a little house (condo, actually). Now I’m a little man in a big house, which continues to get bigger somehow, even as the walls feel like they are pressing in.

The installation of a new dishwasher recently provided a context to air out much dirty laundry. I came face to face with feelings of inadequacy and notions that my life might in fact turn out very different from what I dreamed as a youth. Those emotions naturally climaxed in a peak of raging anger and self-loathing.



It started as any other Thursday when I work from home. I poured some coffee and checked email, where I discovered I had made not just one but a few embarrassing mistakes in some news articles published that morning. I set to work, frantically trying to stomp out as much of the fire as possible, making corrections to the stories on the Internet and writing apologetic emails.

Then my phone rang. By then I had forgotten all about breakfast. The delivery guys were at the door with the new dishwasher. That’s when the over-burdened coat rack, which was bolted into the wall by the front door, ripped out at the slightest touch. Coats, umbrellas, hats, gloves, dog leashes and random knick-knacks like carabiners now littered the entryway as Sheetrock dust filtered down through the air. (That’s what a person gets for procrastinating on an easy repair.)

I shoved the mess aside and let the delivery guys in. They placed the plastic-wrapped Pandora’s box in the middle of the dirty kitchen and soon left me to discover my personal hell with a cheery tip of their hats.

Stupidly, I sliced right into the package with a carpenter’s knife. The dishwasher had taken on extra significance. I was going to attack it before it could fester like the pile of disgusting dishes in the sink and along the counter top. In a moment, Styrofoam, tools and parts were everywhere. Chaos of the past, present and future literally surrounded me. I might as well have been sitting in the middle of my own mind.

Of course I had instructions. And of course, the situation I actually had only faintly resembled what was in the simple, pictorial step-by-steps. Homes are like people – there’s a basic blueprint of what is where, but never a guarantee, and funky abnormalities are the rule. We all have to improvise with what we have.

What I had wasn’t adequate but I tried to make it work anyway. I didn’t want to spend an hour getting the part I needed. I wanted to be done. That’s when my girlfriend came home.

Having an outside observer to my situation was too much. I flipped my lid and proceeded to make the day worse by picking a fight and punching the refrigerator, which hurt my hand quite thoroughly.

“So this is what it’s like to go crazy,” I remember thinking as I watched my behavior unfold, almost unable to control it at all.

Now, if I had managed to keep things in perspective, it all would have been fixed and handled in half the time with a fraction of the stress. And my right hand wouldn’t throb when I hold a glass of water. In the aftermath, this fact is what makes me feel like the ignorant being I obviously am.

Like I said, home maintenance is a test – of many things, including patience with self – and I clearly have a lot more to learn. If I spent more time working on myself, perhaps I would spend less time destroying the house.

– “Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Friday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Carbondale. He can be reached at dfranz@eaglevalleyenterprise.com.


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