by Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW
As a hard core pointy headed intellectual, I rarely get to do things with my hands that result in anything more impressive than dinner. But I yearn to have practical abilities. So it was thrilling when Liza, a carpenter and one of my best friends agreed to teach me how to shingle a kitchen bump out.
(An irresistible aside: years ago Liza and I built a shed together. When I say “together” I mean Liza built it and I helped in exactly the way a toddler helps sweep the floor. At a certain point I proudly told her, “I’m not afraid of the Skill Saw anymore!” to which she replied,
“You need to always be afraid of the Skill Saw.”
“Me personally, or do you mean “you” in the universal, second person, plural form?”
Liza looked at me levelly.
My left thumb was bruised from me whacking it with the framing hammer (oh. the. pain. The apocalyptic pain of a framing hammer meeting a body part), my forehead scraped from brushing against a protruding roofing nail (okay twice) and my legs just a bit bloody from dropping a sheet of plywood.
“Yes” she said simply.)
For those of you who have never swung a framing hammer or driven a sixteen penny nail, you are seriously missing out! It’s major magic to take a trunk full of Home Depot material and turn them into walls, space, and beauty. It’s empowering to be part of that alchemy, particularly if you are a cerebral, geeky gal like yours truly.
So we started shingling. First you snap a chalk line to measure down from, then you lay an under course across the bottom, and then you shingle left to right, bottom to top. It’s important to measure each shingle to the chalk line to make sure you are hanging them straight. Everything was fine until I got to the third row. Suddenly, I couldn’t make the shingles line up visually and still measure even. I kept going, thinking that somehow things would work out eventually. They got more and more wonky and I decided to take a break, make some coffee, have a snack, and check my phone. After about the third snack I realized I was avoiding the work, sure I was doing it wrong (I was) and not sure how to correct it, and embarrassed at my incompetence.
I asked for help. Liza took a look at what I had done and said, “You forgot to cut the first shingle.”
Ah. The first shingle had to be beveled to hang straight, which then allows the subsequent shingles to hang straight. We agreed she would cut the edge pieces. I started over (on a less noticeable side) and recommitted to using–and obeying–the measuring tape. I worked with much more focus and productivity once I figured out how to do it right.
All of us are more successful in any endeavor when we know what we are doing. That’s why change is difficult, because we run into our ignorance and incompetence and retreat, like I did, making snacks and brewing coffee. This is when getting outside help, be it an accountant or a carpenter or a therapist can untangle us from our mistakes.
We are all of us afraid of appearing stupid. But we live in such a complicated world, with so many areas of specialization it is impossible to be the self-sufficient, narrowly focused people our ancestors were. My mental health wish for us all is to be unapologetic in our areas of growth, and to courageously and repeatedly ask for help. Good luck to you in building and adding on to your life!