Often, I think seriously about changing this blog’s tag line to this: “What goes into planting, fixing, and writing.” I rarely use my skills in handwork to do much else than repair or fix stuff up. This month, for example, I’m painting the mudroom, tinkering with the garage door, and changing the latch set on a storm door.
Last week I bent myself over the sewing machine to hem a few pairs of pants for Grace, and yes she did appreciate my labor. It is good to know how to do things: When you do it yourself, you save money, and you’re on your own schedule. I hemmed those pants the same day I bought them, and I draped them over the end of Grace’s bed as she slept, so she could see them when she awoke.
(My mother did that occasionally for us when we were children. She’d sew late into the night to finish pants or a little jacket, and arrange them on a clothes hanger and then our bedroom doorknob so that, when we awoke, there would be a new outfit in a place where before there was nothing, just a door. Perhaps that is why I love — and I really mean love, and never tire of — that scene in Disney’s Cinderella where all the birds and mice work together to fashion a dress for their poor but beautiful friend. You can see that scene and the animals’ industry in this YouTube short between the 3 and 5 minute marks. If you let it play another 30 seconds, you’ll see the stepsisters tear that dress to tatters, and that, for me, is more upsetting than the missed connection with the prince.)
But!, this isn’t about making dresses, it’s about mending them and lots of other stuff. It’s about fixing doors and painting scuffed walls and dirty shoe shelves. In the yard, it’s about reviving trampled plants left by contractors’ bootsteps. It’s about how I use my free time in the summer.
I’m not working right now (about 8 weeks off), and I’m not complaining. It’s nice to have time in the summer to be busy in a different mode, to use my brain and hand power for maintenance and organization tasks. (What’s next, after the mudroom and door problems? Closets.) Painting, pinning, ironing, tinkering, and straightening are, for me, ways of meditating. (More so than meditating.)
Yet, as I watch another gallon of primer dwindle or yards of fabric run under the needle, I do frequently have this thought: How does a person best use her skills?
Is it enough to continually practice the basics, to putter around? If I have the skills to sew something fabulous, should I be aiming for fabulousness instead of expertly shortening the length of $10 girls’ pants from Target?
Something in me hesitates. I can’t quite say, “Yes,” and relinquish the basic pleasure in taking an okay thing, or a broken one, and making it a good.
Still, as my hands are busy, I am often ruminating over this question: Is there some other kind of task I should be doing?
Pulled in two directions, that’s what I am — between making, and care-taking.
“Tool wall” image by Valerie Everett, found on Flickr.