It’s no secret, at least to my close family and friends, that my path to the so-called establishment has been non-linear. I prefer the term iconoclast, but call me what you will. While traveling this proverbial road and cobbling together a career (international development, for lack of a better term), I’ve been, to name just a few things, a waiter, a tutor, a bellboy, a clerk in a music store, a K-Mart employee, a martial arts instructor, a group-home manager, a swimming pool builder, a warehouser, a writer, an editor and a carpenter.
The last of those trades, carpentry, has served me the best financially, and I’ve leaned heavily on its advantages for several extended periods in my life. I’ve managed projects and contracted lots of jobs, but in all honesty, I prefer shunning responsibility, turning off my brain, buckling up my belt, and trimming out houses for other contractors in order to reserve mental energy for things I’m more passionate about. This approach paid my way through graduate school, subsidized lots of travel, allowed me some free time to write, and helped keep my life baggage light so that I might be able to pop off to places like Swaziland from time to time.
Recently, I’ve been up to the same, trying to bridge the gap between my most recent overseas excursion — the United Nations Delivering as One in Mozambique: Joint Programme for Disaster Risk Reduction and Emergency Response — and whatever it is that a specialist in post-conflict countries does in North Carolina. Yes, that was a mouthful, and yes, it was spelled, ‘programme.’ Bloody British English. Call it the DRR project if you like. I did.
There was a time in my life when I didn’t mind building things, framing walls, remodeling kitchens, hanging doors. But it’s become tedious. Carpentry, you’ve served me well, but I no longer love you. I’m sorry.
This week I’ve been helping finish a room in a basement that was previously used as a storage room. The room is next to a basement apartment shared by a single mother and her 11 year-old son. The boy has been sleeping on the sofa and using the coffee table as his study desk; this new room will be his bedroom. His mother told me that this will mark the first time in her son’s life that he’s had his own room.
The first two days we built a closet, enclosed the room with drywall, installed electrical outlets, and added a window. The third day, we continued finishing the room, cut an opening into the apartment, and installed a door. Yesterday, when we showed up in the morning to work on the final touches of the project, we found a chair, seated in front of the new window, facing out. The boy had been sitting there in his new but unfinished room, staring out at the woods just beyond his window.
*Best bourbon to drink while remembering to appreciate the details, even while doing things you dislike: Woodford Reserve.