Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Home-Improvement Chronicles: Lessons Learned (Part 2 of 2)

allow me to beat the feminist drum for a moment and discuss a sexist comment i heard repeatedly during the course of my remodel. it’s come from both family and friends alike, this idea that i’m somehow amazing/courageous/strong for handling this home remodel... “on my own.” i don’t think i would hear this if i were a man, at least not as often. as a woman, every time i heard it i found myself rolling my eyes reflexively, which is rude as i know it’s meant to be a compliment, but all i hear when it’s said is, “what a brave little girl you are to do this without a man by your side!”

the truth is nothing i’ve done is so amazing. people remodel their homes all the time. sure, it’s inconvenient and expensive, but it’s not impossible, and i’m glad i did it on my own instead of with a man by my side because remodels can add plenty of stress to a relationship, and reconciling another opinion with those of my architect, contractor and myself would not have been pretty.

so please remember this the next time you encounter a woman in charge of a home remodel — or any other project that seems big and daunting. certainly, commend her on her achievement, but be sure to leave out the “on your own” part because it smacks of sexism. personally, i’ve never viewed my gender as a handicap or an asset. i imagine if i were a man i’d be leading pretty much the same life i’m leading today (with a little extra money as women are still underpaid for the same work).

having said this, i do want to extend some advice to the single ladies who may feel overwhelmed by the idea of supervising a big remodel. for starters: you can do this. if you’ve had a kid or dealt with a stressful job, annoying family members, dramatic friends or dysfunctional relationships, then you know how to navigate landmines. a remodel is no different. in simple terms, construction is solving problems as they appear, which is what everything else in life is.

so treat it like you would any job. this means you show up every day, stay professional, keep a cool head, watch the bottom line, see the big picture, complete tasks, and make decisions based on what’s in your own best interest. it’s not rocket science, curing cancer, going to war or landing on mars. what it is is a lot of loud tools that will give you a headache, a bunch of dust and dirt that will make you sneeze, and a gang of big, burly, sweaty strangers walking through your house and leaving your toilet seat up. the most “amazing” thing about completing a remodel is enduring the inconvenience and suspending the idea that your home is a refuge from the rest of the world. this was the hardest thing for me as i’m a nester by nature so i had to work extra hard to get comfortable with the discomfort (and many days i didn’t succeed).

the other thing i had to work extra hard at was educating myself about the basics of construction. growing up, my pops played the role of house handyman, leaving my mom, sister and myself clueless about how to swing a hammer. needless to say, homeownership changed all that. the education came quickly and oftentimes felt as though i were cramming for an exam. i read books on carpentry and craftsmanship, did web searches on “what are the components of a wall” (not just two painted boards with something called a “stud” in the middle, like i once thought), and paid many visits to Home Depot where i walked through the aisles and forced myself to pay attention for a change.

that research helped me understand what the difference between a 2 by 6 versus a 4 by 8 is. i learned about the various species of wood and their properties. when i redid my kitchen, i read up on pipes, tiles and energy-efficient appliances. of course i couldn’t learn everything, but i gathered enough jargon to be able to speak to my contractor in the same language. to my surprise, learning about this was no chore and i now find myself slowing down to get a closer look as i drive around LA and encounter houses under construction. a brand new world has opened up to me and if i’m proud of anything, it’s that i can speak intelligently on every action that was taken on my house and why it was done that way. this is tremendous for a girl who didn’t know there was such a thing as indoor vs. outdoor paint when she bought a house.

so yes, ladies, read up and get yourselves learned. but don’t bother learning about the housing codes in your city as no one knows what they truly are anyway. let other people handle that and worry only about passing your inspection, so be extra nice to the inspector. remember that the education will bring the confidence to know that you can succeed at this and that having a pussy doesn’t mean acting like one. if you’re full of self-doubt, just remind yourself that you have no other choice but to get it done. a lack of options can go a long way in maintaining stamina. one of my favorite sayings: if you’re going through hell, keep going.

because construction can feel like hell at times, where everything goes wrong from the moment you wake up until the moment the crew leaves. there are days when your dog steps in tar and you need to cut all the hair out of her paws. other days your dogs vomit all over the house because they ate something toxic the crew left in the yard. some days you even get into screaming matches with your architect ex-boyfriend and feel just like you did when you were a couple, while other days have you telling your contractor to redo everything he just did because of a misunderstanding about the plans, a mistake that ends up costing you thousands of dollars.

then there are those days when you kick yourself in the head for coming up with a better answer long after the moment has past and decision has been executed. other days you could have something explained to you four times and still not fully understand it. there are times when you run out of patience, moments when you act like an exhausting micromanager and stretches when you throw your hands up and tell them to do whatever they think is best because you’re tired of making decisions.

through it all, remember one golden rule: don’t ever cry in front of the crew. also, never act emotional, get angry or raise your voice. basically, don’t act the way they expect you to: like an overemotional woman who can’t handle it. remember that you are there to do a job and you don’t cry at your day job. another favorite expression of mine: fake it until you make it.

this means not getting upset and going into a lecture about feminism and the fact that this is 2012 when yet another serviceman comes to your house, looks past you and asks if your husband is home, or when you hear that “your daddy must have taught you well” when you tell people there is no husband. it means not losing your cool and calling your engineer “a sexist fucking prick” when he dismisses all your notes and tells you not to worry about the work because he’s done jobs way harder than yours. (instead just blast him on your blog: Never use ATS Engineering in Glendale; Ara is a sexist fucking prick.) it means not letting the hot tears you feel bubbling up inside you reach the surface and spill out even though your response to feeling overwhelmed by any emotion — be it anger, frustration, happiness or sadness — is to release it through your tear ducts.

this is not to say you won’t ever cry. trust that there will be moments when you sit on the edge of your bed, feel the sawdust in your hair and the splinters in your fingers, your nervous dogs pacing around you and looking for reassurance, the orchestra of power tools outside your window intensifying your headache, and pour out a river from your eyes that’s accompanied by thoughts of inadequacy, doubt, loneliness and defeat.

and when the crew is working in your bedroom, you’ll move the pity party to your bathroom, where you’ll remain locked inside for a good hour until you’ve expelled the hot tears and can emerge with face washed, depuffing eye cream applied and a stiff lip to keep going with the day, keeping in mind that this is a home you love that’s worth every inconvenience, however large or small, so buck up, little soldier, because no one promised you it would be easy. 

understand that this is how remodels go, so go with it instead of agonizing over every misstep and trying to attain perfection. know that the failures will be balanced by the triumphs, like that day you carved your name into the wet concrete simply because you could, because this was your house, goddamnit, a house you bought with money you worked hard for, so go ahead and be tacky and put your name on that shit. remember that thrill through your mistakes, which will be plentiful but not debilitating unless you let them be. so get up each day, shake off the past, keep moving, stay confident, try again, bungle it, recover quicker the next time, and know that no one gets to play a perfect game. this applies to every other part of your life, too.

also, double the price and triple the time. trust me on this one, don’t even rationalize it or try to do the math or look at a calculator or calendar. just double the price and triple the time. this probably applies to every other part of your life as well.

and when it’s done, enjoy the hell out of it. have people over so they can enjoy the hell out of it alongside you. feel happy that you did it, but never surprised because you can do whatever you set your mind to as long as you focus, remain dedicated in the face of adversity, try to keep the complaints to a minimum, take responsibility for all of it, and make your way through each day until it’s done. because it will get done. and when it is, the feeling of accomplishment is incredible. 


Michael Landis said...

Excellent. Absolutely excellent.

(On a sexism note, a friend posted a podcast from Slate which had the memorable assertion that we'll know sexism's dead when women are called assholes as readily as men are.)

Anonymous said...

Can I just say what a relief to find someone who actually knows what theyre talking about on the internet. You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More people need to read this and understand this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more popular because you definitely have the gift.