I live in a project. Not a low-income housing project—not that kind. A different sort of project. One that never seems to be finished and is always at some stage of birth, disrepair or demise. A never-ending experiment in coaxing something out of nothing. An early 18th century home in constant need of something, full of seedlings, homemade salad dressing, mismatched furniture, rigged setups and refurbished junk. This is my life.
This is entirely my wife’s doing. She’s a tinkerer, a mover and a shaker, a woman in need of things to keep her body busy, if not her mind. Jane likes to clean and fix things. She loves nothing more than a fresh coat of paint. To her, it smells like victory.
She likes a project, to be sure. One might argue that I am either her greatest project, or her worst decision, depending on the day and her mood.
What fascinates me is that I’m constantly tripping over some project in mid-stream, the vacuum cleaner that is never put away, the starter plant that is always just barely hanging on. The piece of furniture that was trash picked and is waiting to be painted.
When will we be done? When is the big reveal? Who are we getting it ready for? When does the party start? What are we waiting for?
Before I was married, I always kept a neat house. I hired a cleaner so it was relatively clean, but mostly it was just neat. Presentation mattered. Did I ever clean beneath the fridge? Of course not, who cares about that? I was ready for a magazine to come in and shoot it, I wasn’t preparing for the board of health to see if it was safe to eat off the floors.
Years ago, when the kids were small, my sister-in-law was visiting with her family. One of her stepchildren had come along and it was some holiday or another, maybe New Year’s Eve. We were all being festive, drinking and laughing and talking when John-Michael, who was probably about ten asked the room, “So, when do the festivities begin?”
We probably repeat that line a few times a week.
It occurs to me now that this is the midlife crisis I’m having, looking around at all these half-finished projects, unrealized plans, and broken dreams—wondering aloud when the festivities begin.
My wife doesn’t look at life as something with a goal attached to it, not as far as I can tell. I don’t know that she’s any happier then I am, but she gets more joy out of everyday life then I do. Also, she claims she would rather not be polishing a turd.
But I wonder. If we moved tomorrow. Into a brand new condo, with nothing to fix, nothing that needed doing, everything already decorated, what would she do with her time? What’s going to happen when the grandchildren are grown?
I fear she will turn to me, and the question will be whether or not I’m worth the upkeep. From a pure actuarial standpoint, you’d have to say no. Just throwing good money after bad. At some point you have to recognize the futility of further engagement.
My goal, therefore, is to be just good enough not to warrant the trash heap. Not good enough to seriously invest in, but too good to throw away.
I just have to stay one step ahead.