Tuesday, June 28, 2016

One Wrong Board Makes a Right

After living in our house for ten years, Joel and I decided to install hardwood floors in two downstairs rooms and our hallway.  We tested multiple samples in various lighting and finally decided on a wide-planked medium brown with gray undertones.

I knew they'd be gorgeous; I couldn't wait to have them installed.  Somewhere, deep in the idealistic recesses of my mind, I envisioned that the entire process would be rewarding -- as if there would be a great unveiling on the final day when Chip and Joanna Gaines would sit me down on a couch, gesture broadly toward the new floors, and say, "Welcome home!  We hope you guys live here happily every after."

But it wasn't quite like that.  I had been forewarned about the dust and the noise, and I had expected the feeling of displacement that comes when you shuffle your living quarters.  I hadn't anticipated that the workers would be loud and unprofessional, creating a tense atmosphere during the times when I was at home while they worked, or that they'd neglect to fill nail holes or caulk properly as they rushed to finish the job.  I certainly hadn't anticipated that they'd somehow manage to place the one board that didn't match any other boards directly in the center of our hallway.


This board -- so unfortunately and prominently placed, so unnecessarily short and stubby -- simply refused to blend in with any of its neighboring boards.  It was positioned in such a conspicuous location that I could spot it from every direction, and once it was seen, I couldn't unsee it.

I don't know how a singular hardwood plank could trigger a groundswell of memories, but that evening when the workers left, I had flashbacks to an earlier moment in life.  I was 22, on the cusp of my college graduation.  As a treat, I decided to get a haircut and, for the first (and only) time in my life, to splurge on highlights.  It cost more money than I would normally spend on myself.

The results were disastrous.  The haircut was shorter than anticipated; the highlights were stark, like my hair had been frosted instead of sunkissed.  I remember looking at myself in the mirror, shocked and disappointed, but unable to articulate those reactions.  I had paid and tipped the hairdresser, walked away from the salon, and then cried in the parking lot.

I never returned to express my disappointment.  I never asked the hairdresser to fix the mistakes.  I still cringe a little inwardly when I see pictures from graduation, partially because the haircut was so unflattering, but mostly because there was some unspoken shame that I didn't know how to advocate for myself to repair it.

Still thinking of that mishap from over a decade and a half ago, I sent a picture of my floors to my friend to ask if she could identify the misfit board.  Her response was swift, reassuring me that I wasn't making it up.  "That one right in the center?  Absolutely."

Throughout the next day I regarded the board warily, wishing it would stop bothering me the longer I looked at it, but it never did.  We had spent a lot of money on these floors, more than we'd normally spend on ourselves, but this time I came to a definitive, but different, conclusion: the board was wrong, and they'd need to fix it.

I contacted the flooring store and explained that we wouldn't be paying the remaining cost until the floor was finished properly.  Once his schedule cleared, the foreman of the job returned.  As I showed him the deviant plank and pointed out the unfinished caulking and nail holes, he shook his head.  "I see exactly what you mean, and I apologize," he began.  "We really should have done this right in the first place, but I'll make it right now."

And he did.

It wasn't quite like Chip Gaines wishing me happily-ever-after, but somehow that brief interaction brought immense closure -- on multiple levels.

It was wrong, but I advocated, and now it is right.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

If this thing is off, know that I'm on an adventure.

I, for one, was surprised and delighted when I turned the calendar page to reveal the month of June.  Surprised because I have precious little recollection of what transpired during May.  I mean, something had to happen, but what?  Then I opted to feel delighted because I love a clean slate, even if it's in the form of a month without hatch marks crossing out already-lived days.

Simple pleasures, friends.  Simple pleasures.

Before I turn the calendar page, though, I sometimes regard that messy past month and think, "That is my life.  Those days I crossed off?  Those were days I just lived."  So what did happen during May?

Well, in a flurry of grading, I finished the four college classes I taught during the spring semester, then I painted a room, then we rented our house for graduation weekend, then I ran a half-marathon, then we dismantled our downstairs living space to install new flooring, then we celebrated three family birthdays, then I started teaching my summer class, then my parents visited from out of town, then I succumbed to a strange head cold that teased me by letting me feel better for a day before dragging me down into a tailspin of congested haziness again, then I actually recovered, then we hosted multiple dinners at our house for students, then we had picnic lunches at each of my daughters' schools, then grading for my summer class began in earnest.

And then we flipped the calendar to June.

With all those day-to-day activities and moments, I rarely wrote here.  I've thought about this.  Sparse posting is bittersweet because my life makes most sense when I write.  (This month, in fact, marks the sixth full year that I've blogged.  I don't love that I've recently hovered in a season when there's a week or two-week-long gap between posts.)

Still, these intermittent blogging gaps remind me of a story that a student once told me as we discussed narrative, and I'll share with you here.  A family's dog had run away, so it seemed, and they were beside themselves with concern.  A friend encouraged them: "Don't think of it as running away; think that your dog is on a great adventure.  When he's ready to come home, he will."

The same goes for me.  If it ever seems like I've temporarily run away from writing, know that looks can be deceiving.  I'm simply on an adventure.  I'm dreaming up DIY house projects (I can't wait to share them!), or meeting with students (summer session is moving briskly), or dragging my children to garage sales (oh, the finds at the sales! oh, the groans from the children!), or teaching myself to twirl a baton (true story), or re-reading the Harry Potter series (just finished book three last night), or cozying up on the couch beside my husband (no explanation needed), or frenetically attempting to finish All. The. Things. on my to-do list before school releases my kids into the glories of summer vacation next week (wish me luck).

Life is meant for adventure and living.  And, for me, life is also meant for writing about those adventures and days lived -- those messy, crossed-off squares on the calendar that sometimes need to be crystallized in words so they're not entirely forgotten.

I'm so glad that you, dear reader, join me here as I write.  Even if there's a brief gap, I'll never be gone for long.  I'm just gathering stories, and I always return home.

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