May 25, 1998

Tsk, Tsk, Task

A handyman I am not. A handyman is a person who can fix things - you know, take things apart and put them back together. My rule is to never take anything apart that requires more than two steps. Otherwise, it will never fit back together again.

I do not even make a good laborer. Those are the guys on a construction site who have no skill but are good at dragging things around from here to there. They do the grunt work. No, I am not a good laborer.

But sometimes a job at home is so small and inconsequential that it falls upon my shoulders. You cannot call and hire someone to put up two brackets for hanging plants. If there were three, I would understand, but two is not enough. Two is my limit. I bought three of these wrought iron brackets last year, but only two went up. I just petered out during the job. This year my wife bought a fourth bracket, hoping that I could repeat the glory of just last year.

The day came when it was time to do the job. The coming is usually a lot later than most people would think, but I have my own inner timetable when it comes to things like this. I move when the spirit moves me, and the spirit is often slow.

I approached the job differently this time. I laid out all of the tools and materials that I would need for the job. I usually would just start with one tool and when I needed another I would go look for that one. I am learning.

I also got my ladder out. When I am up on the ladder, I am a long way from my tools. I could change this by getting a tool belt, but that seems a bit presumptuous for me. It was only last year that I pumped up my self-esteem enough to get a tool box. No, my pockets are my tool belt. Of course, that results in a lot of pants pockets with holes.

One of my big problems with these tasks is that I get distracted easily. For example, when I was plugging in the electric cord under the porch I noticed the lawn furniture which my wife wanted out on the deck. It would be so much more efficient to carry out a piece rather than walking out empty handed. But I resisted. I have found that if I listen to my efficient mind, nothing gets finished. There is always something else which I could do rather than the task at hand. So I marched out and went back up on the ladder.

The first bracket went up pretty well. The ladder was up above the sliding windows and they sure needed to be washed. Why not do it while I was up there? Wouldn’t it be more efficient? I mean it would take at least ten extra seconds to move the ladder back here later. I resisted. I know myself. But what about that paint that is peeling? It is only a small area. I could patch that up while I am up here. No!

The second bracket was a little trickier. It involved a lot of left hand work which is not natural for me. And the manufacturer tripped me up. The screws changed from flat heads to Phillips heads. That meant that I had the wrong tools. In the past this would have put me in a rage because it interrupted my perfect planning. It made me less efficient. But I just got down off the ladder, and went down cellar to the tool box to get what I needed - no big deal.

Yes, the tool box stayed down cellar. I am thinking about taking it to my next work site. But for now that seems like advanced handyman stuff. I am not sure that I am ready.

After I put up the brackets, I washed the windows and brought out the lawn furniture. So those things got done, even if not in my old efficient way. One task at a time works better for me. It gets things done in the way they need to be done. I am not good at multi-tasking. I will leave that to computers.

I am reminded of the Zen story about the roshi who taught his students about the value of attention. He taught them to do one thing at a time. When you eat, eat. When you walk, walk. When you cook, cook. When you wash dishes, wash dishes. Keep all of your attention on the task at hand.

One day one of his students spied the roshi reading a book while he was eating lunch. The student approached and said, “Roshi, I am confused. You said when you eat, eat, and when you read, read. And yet you are doing both. What is the lesson?” The roshi did not hesitate. “When you eat and read, eat and read.”

Life is a matter of attention, and what matters is what works for you.

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