A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Mission Accomplished!

The end of the year is fast approaching, and I'm lagging behind on my resolutions. One problem is not knowing when an item has been successfully completed. For example: my ears were pierced in January, but stuff happened the following month in Mumbai (long story), and now they're not anymore. So does that count as "done"? Items like "getting in shape" are so vague as to be unclear. And "hang pictures"? I've got about a hundred to be hung. How many to I have to put up before I can cross that one off?

Well, my bête noire has definitely been the big mirror that goes over the dining room sideboard. It weighs forty pounds, I don't trust my plaster, and I'm not sure where the studs are in this circa-1871 house. I'm afraid of drills and I'm not sure I could even lift the thing once I had the hardware properly installed. So I decided that, until that big mirror was in place, I couldn't consider that particular resolution accomplished.

I've got two grown sons living under my roof, and they've been properly nagged, to no avail. I've got a handy neighbor and other handy friends, and I've hinted to them, also to no avail. I showed the project to a carpenter recently, but he just shook his head and said, you've got to be careful with these old houses. Not too confidence-inspiring.

Today my daughter came up from Connecticut to visit. She was armed with a stud finder, fresh batteries, screws, picture hooks, and plenty of determination. Not that she's especially knowledgeable about home improvement. But she's got the handy gene from her father, and a measure of self-confidence from a stint at Tru-Value (in between working at places like Princeton, Yale, and Johns Hopkins).

At first, things didn't look too promising. The lath and plaster walls were confusing the stud finder, which started to beep and wouldn't stop. We couldn't check for the presence of nails in the baseboards (a clue as to stud placement) because the baseboard heaters were in the way. Tapping on the walls yielded mixed results.What sounded like a stud on the first go-round seemed definitely to be hollow wall on the next.

Of course, the minute we rolled up our sleeves, the heretofore-invisible older brother was all over the project. He spotted a nailhead in the plaster. I found that, by laying on the floor, I could see the bottom of the baseboard--which did have nails in it. The nails did seem to be 16" apart--standard stud placement.

Cordelia did some measuring to figure out the proper height and placement for the mirror. We banged in some experimental nails. Two out of three hit solid wood. We hung two picture hooks to spread the weight. I cleaned two years' worth of dirt off the glass. Ali lifted the mirror into place with little effort. Mission accomplished!

Getting ready to leave, Cordelia was still apologizing for her false starts on the project. Buying a stud finder that wasn't up to the job. Bringing along screws when we ended up using nails. Not having the proper knack for knocking on the walls. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I finally cut her off. The mirror was up!

If she hadn't come over with the wrong stud finder, nothing would have happened. You can't always plan everything to the nth before you start. That's not the way humans work. You have to jump in somewhere and learn on the fly.

I think that women tend to be more sensitive to context than men. Before they do anything, they consider its effect on everything else. That can make them hesitant to act. Men seem generally more able just to barrel ahead. But in tonight's case, it was my daughter who got the ball rolling. Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all? Cordelia!


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