The Age of Knowing...and Forgetting

I'm very proud of this.
Not so proud of this.

I've always been DIY--up to a point.

For most of my life, moving, house repairs, furniture assembly, yard work, auto maintenance, etc. have been things I did myself if I felt capable, got help with if I didn't (and could find the help), and only hired professionals for once those two avenues were exhausted--and only if I had the cash (or credit) on hand. When I was a pastor, that meant, often, that taking care of issues in my house was subject to the whim of the church trustees, which could often mean waiting a very long time. Leaving ministry meant it was now up to landlords and property managers to deal with home maintenance issues--and again, that could mean waiting a long time.

A year ago, I made a big change, and became a home owner. Now, if something isn't getting done, it's my own damn fault.* I do need to say that my income has improved to the point that I can afford to bring in a plumber, electrician, painter, handy-person, etc. to do the work most of the time; but that my income has not improved so much that I relish the thought. 

So, given the choice between paying someone to do something I can do myself, I'm still erring on the side of self-reliance. Luckily, another thing that's changed is that I'm feeling much more confidence in my ability to do things that frightened me just a few years ago.

Cases in point: I've replaced two switches in the kitchen/dining room myself, no electrician needed. Then, a month ago, the garbage disposal began to leak. It was the same age as the house (fifteen years), so I decided it was time to replace it. Younger me would've called in an expert, whether that was a church trustee with plumbing experience or an actual plumber. Older me, after purchasing the disposal unit, looked at the installation directions and said, "I can do this." So I did. And it works.

I followed these necessary projects up with an elective procedure. Ever since we moved into the house I've been irked by the ceiling fan in our bedroom. Aesthetically, it was just plain ugly. Worse, it made a loud humming noise when it was on--problematic on hot summer nights when we preferred an open window to running the air conditioning. A few months earlier, we'd replaced two ceiling fixtures in our living/dining area with the help of a handy-person. Looking at the directions, though, I decided this was, again, something I could do myself. So I did. And as you can see from the top picture, it works fine.

Now, there were no skills involved in any of these projects that I didn't possess two decades ago. I've always been good at following directions, whether it was assembling a complex piece of Ikea furniture, cooking something from scratch, hooking up a stereo, or building a dollhouse for my daughter. What I lacked back then was confidence.

So what's different? Where did I get the confidence to engage in basic electrical wiring, replacing plumbing fixtures (I've also swapped out a bathroom tap in the last year), and the many other projects I'm likely to embark upon in the coming years?

There's a one word answer to that question: midlife.

I'm in my fifties now, and I'm finding, more and more, that I'm just impatient with my nervous, insecure younger self. When I think about how long I put up with things that didn't work, or how much money I (or the church trustees, or my landlord) had to sink into getting them to work, when they're things I probably could've fixed myself with a couple of hours' time, I feel like that kid (and by kid, I'm talking about me up to about the age of 49) needs a finger-wagging, brow-beating, shoulder-shaking, maybe even face-slapping wake-up call from my curmudgeonly present-day self.

Plus, it just feels good to stand back and admire a project completed.

Every time I do, I feel my father's approving presence beside me. I never knew Dad to bring in a professional to fix something in our house or on our car, even though he was always within his rights as a pastor to have the church do that work for him. He just knew how to do these things. Of course, he was 34 when I was born, in his 40s by the time I realized how many of these tasks he was doing, so it's possible he had his own extended apprenticeship, learning from the experts in each of his churches how to handle all those tasks himself.

But I'm getting away from my theme here: midlife is, to borrow from a Viagra campaign, "the age of knowing." And it's true: by the time one is at midlife, whatever age that may be, the cumulative knowledge acquired through experience begins to pay off in the confidence to do things oneself, rather than asking for help. Coupled with that confidence is the realization that self-reliance feels good, and the sense of accomplishment is worth whatever hassles are involved in getting a project to completion. Add to that the ghostly presence of a deceased father, and that's pure midlife satisfaction.

To which I must now add a hefty dose of humiliation.

Because the other thing that comes with midlife is absent-mindedness which, I'm learning the hard way, can be dangerous, even deadly.

I've always had issues with leaving things. I expect it's mostly been about how much I have going on in my head at any given moment. In the interests of efficiency, I'm always trying to combine tasks, stack them so as to minimize chore and errand time and maximize leisure time. This has, going back to my youth, often resulted in my leaving something vital behind: my keys, my wallet, the directions to where I'm going, a book needed for whatever event I'm in charge of, and, on two separate camping trips the same summer, my tent.

As I've gotten older, this has gotten worse. When I can, I compensate by creating lists on my phone (scraps of paper are far too easy to misplace). That helps with errands. What it doesn't help with is remembering the bike rack is attached to the trunk lid before I close it.

Yup. That's what happened to my forehead.


I did it the first time a couple of years ago. Amy and I were going to take a bike ride on Sauvie Island one Sunday after I got out of my church pianist job. I took the bikes to church with me, stashed them somewhere in the building, then remembered I'd left some music in the trunk. I went back to the car, opened the trunk, rooted around in there long enough to realize I'd apparently left the music at home and would have to get by without it, and slammed the lid down, completely forgetting the rack was still attached and putting a huge gash on my forehead. It didn't bleed too badly, and I was able to find an adhesive bandage for it, but the bruise hurt for over a week.

One would think I'd learned my lesson. One would be wrong.

A few days ago, with the first part of our three-part vacation (the Redwoods) complete, we stopped at a motel in Weaverville, California. We'd brought bikes along to keep ourselves in shape for the Bridge Pedal (this Sunday!). I'd chained those bikes to a post outside our motel room, and was getting luggage out of the trunk. Rather than remove the rack, then put it back on the following morning, I elected to leave it attached to the lid. I got the bags out, slammed down the lid, and put another gash in my forehead.

This one really bled.

I didn't go to the emergency room of the tiny hospital in Weaverville for stitches. We had plenty of bandages in our first aid kit. I wore them for three days (don't worry, I changed them daily), until the worst of the wounds scabbed over and stopped oozing. I also took pain relievers for several days, as bending over could, at times, be extremely unpleasant.

Mostly, I was just embarrassed.

That minute I saved by not taking the rack off? Really not worth it.

Next time, inefficient though it may be, the rack comes off.

If I remember.

*Technically, it's also Amy's fault, but this is my blog, not hers, so I'm hogging the blame. So there.


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