Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Getting It Right

I don't really feel old until I try contorting myself into these unfamiliar positions.  It was my wife's idea, like proving I've still got something left.  At first I was nervous and found the whole thing about getting down on the floor and twisting around in that tight wet spot kind of intimidating. until I can put my tool in and start working that mother, but I thought "You;re a man.  Grow a pair and get in there cowboy.  It's just basic screwing.  Put that little  rubber ring on,slip it in that hole where it goes and  do like your daddy would have done."  But I've never been any good at this sort of thing.

Water drips in my face and I see a cockroach go skittering defiantly across the bathroom floor, probably sensing my helplessness and inability to reach over and just goosh him. I know where the leak in the toilet is coming from, the screws and the rubber seal should slip right to where the water tank fastens to the stool, but water is still dripping through.  It drives me crazy.  I'm an inferior human being.  I'm not a man.  I'm not good at this.  I'm not good at a lot of things men are supposed to be good at by weight of evolution.

My kid sticks his head in the door.  "Done?"

"No.  Getting there."

"It's just a toilet."

"I know."

There are things in life like fixing toilets, and fixing car engines and maybe brain surgery that require a sense of manly commitment.  You can't just throw your tools down and say to everybody in the operating room "I don't want to do this anymore." 

In our competitive culture mediocrity gets a bad rap.  But the ugly truth is that most all of us are mediocre at most everything except whatever single brilliant gift we're not mediocre at.  If you're very lucky, the thing you're not mediocre at may also be something you can earn a living with.  But even that's a minority of us.  If you're not so lucky, the thing you're good at might land you in jail.  Most of us are working jobs or spending most of our day at tasks we're not so great at.  

I know as a father I'm supposed to tell my kid and anyone who comes to me for encouragement "If you work hard and believe in yourself you can accomplish anything you put your mind to."

When you get older you realize what a load of happy horse puckery that can be.  The odds of me being a rock and roll star with young women gathering like cats outside my dressing room I think I can say have faded away.  I'm not likely going to be a football star or the hero who gets a high school named after him for saving the planet earth from a rogue asteroid.  Like Popeye says "I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam."

I do like yams.

I've been published fairly often by now for a short story writer of only the most basic education and talent.  I love being published, but it hasn't changed my life or especially changed people's minds about me.  I still yam what I yam.  I can't imagine the financial or creative burden that must be born by someone who earns a living at writing fiction of any kind.  Some people make it big after their first novel, maybe not even a very good novel, while others go slogging on all their lives barely getting anywhere. 

What I like about myself is not only what small things I have accomplished so far, like helping my family survive, but also what I have thankfully failed to do.  Back in my religious days we were told to be leaders, to get out there and win many new people to the religion we belonged to which in recent years has clearly failed and disintegrated into chaos.  I'm so glad I was never leader material, only follower material, and mediocre material at that.  Never a good missionary or winner of souls.  Those in my old religion who were and stayed on as state leaders and church ministers are currently mired in poverty.  Though I admire their outstanding faith, I'm grateful to have slipped their fate, so far at least.

I think one of the greatest gifts life can give you is to be very good at something you love doing and then go out and make a pile of money doing it.  That's what I wish for my kid.  You have to be where the random elements are.    You have to prepare yourself to be lucky.  When you study about people, especially creative people who have made it, you start to see the randomness, the sheer luck.  The right combination of people converging in the right moment.  Or else the sheer stubbornness of faith.  Faith is scary.  You read about the people who refused to give up in the face of failure and eventually succeeded by believing in themselves, but you never hear about the people who maybe should have given up and kept mindlessly beating the door after it was closed and locked against them.  You can't tell which group you fall under.  The line between genius and madness, failure and success is very often just luck. And obsession.  Obsession helps.

Meanwhile the toilet is waiting.  If I had a lick of sense I'd give up.  But I think I'm way past that.  Besides, toilets are one of those things. 


  1. Garce, you've just explained what I used to tell my kids in various conversations. Once I became a mother, I was terrified enough for their safety to become a believer in God. From the time they were out of my body, they've been moving further away from me, and I have no ability to watch over them anymore. In order to be able to sleep, without my fear for them keeping me sweating, staring into the blackness, I ask my "imaginary friend" in my mind to watch over them. I hope it helps.

    But when they, and the kids I sub for, ask what they should major in, I tell them that conventional wisdom says to choose a major they will be able to make money with. One of my sons did that and he's already on the treadmill of adulthood, paying his bills and his student loans, investigating whether or not his live-in girl is "the one". Another son is majoring in a science, and we hope his passion will be able to support him. My daughter chose the teaching of young children, which I well know to be a low-paying career. But it's the only thing she's ever wanted to do, and I hope her enjoyment will overshadow the poverty she's going to face as the world proves to her that lip-service is all we give to education...if we really cared we'd value teachers more than, say, sports players and entertainers.

    George Carlin said "Most of us work just hard enough to not get fired, and get paid just enough to not quit." Mediocrity rules.

    Don't measure your manhood by anyone else's yardstick. That's a fool's game. Rigid standards are set by insecure individuals who skew them to favor their own strengths, so they feel validated. Whether or not you have male or female parts, as well as how you think of yourself in your own mind, is what determines which side of the coin you fall on. There is no right way to be a man, only an infinite variety of choices. And there will be women who value each of them, along with you.

    Whether or not you ever fix that toilet is irrelevant to your manhood. You can pay someone else to fix it. But you can't pay someone else to think through issues that interest you. To me, the fact that you routinely think about the ideas that most men ignore, and bare your soul on-line with passionate words, is a totally macho and manly thing to do. Especially on the internet, where every fool with a keyboard can become a pundit or an anonymous bully.

    Thanks for making me think again. I enjoy that.

  2. I'm pretty mediocre about just about everything to do with handyman, and fairy accomplished in one or three subjects, but I tend to hire a professional for those other kinda things so I don't get an amateur job. And what you say about making one's way in a field that we love is a blessing that, in an ideal world, we should be able to train for.

  3. Garce, you are so right about the randomness of fame. I'm not sure you're right about the general mediocrity of most people. Rest assured, your worth as a human being is not tied to your ability to fix a toilet, even though that would be a very useful skill.

  4. Hi Fiona!

    My kid is in a similar situation to yours. Becuase my job has so little to do with my natural abilities I'm always insecure about it, just kind of improvising my way along. I keep hoping things willturn out differently for him. I think two of the greatest things life can give you is a great love, that is a person, and a great purpose or thing to do. Some people get both, any of us is lucky to find even one.

    I wish our culture did value education more. And higher education is ocntinuously becoming more about finding a job, usually in service, rather than following or creating great ideas. I find that trend disturbing.

    Thank you agin Fiona, for reading my stuff. What would we do without that?


  5. Hi Daddy X!

    Well my retirement is a few years away, but you can see it from here. I'm very intrigued by some of the free higher education courses being made available through I'm hoping someday what I can't manage now I'll be able to manage then. Gotta hope.


  6. Hi Jean!

    Especially when the toilet is leaking . . . oy.


  7. Hello, Garce,

    Rock stars are seriously overrated.

    Oh, and about fixing toilets? I recommend an opera in the background. Worked for me!


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