My stereo died in 2014; through four changes-of-residency I have rolled, dragged, and carried its cabinet. It’s an ‘albatross’ but also a decent piece of furniture: swiveling-wheels, three shelves, a set of compact-disc racks that tuck neatly against the side of the cabinet thanks to four sturdy hinges.
I am ambivalent about selling it but, due to my ailing finances, I wanted to liquidate the cabinet as-soon-as-possible. First, I needed a suitable space to refurbish it in.
‘Maximize resale value’, became my mantra. I made plans to paint it black. Several scuffs showed the particle board beneath its fake-wood veneer. Here was this once-great center-piece, rendered purposeless, disgraced, and ugly by years of wear and misfortune … but the powers of salvation were literally in my hands
I can do this independently and competently– I will prevail!…and I proceeded as follows:
- disassemble it — doors and shelves removed; squirrel six hinges and two knobs in an empty butter-tub
- Wipe it clean
- At the hardware store, buy sand-paper and paint
- Sand it in the near-freezing garage. Duck inside to thaw. Return and paint the entire first-coat; no worries, there is enough paint for at least 2 more coats
- In the sub-freezing garage, paint a second coat. The coverage looks good but a few hours later the last sections to be painted are literally frosted — it must be moved to the basement and a third coat applied. Still doable. Mutter curses. Throw it down the stairs — no, don’t! Move it, because I’m in my best physical shape. Scuff the cabinet on the way down— but don’t sweat it.
- Apply the third coat in the basement. Only touch-ups and assembly remain, at this point. It’s almost resurrected. Just a few quick stages to go.
- Avalanche of curses — the painters’ tape failed around the door-pane. Clean the glass. Spit more curses.
- “I’m assembling this TONIGHT.” Put the hinges on first: two for the glass door, four for the CD-racks… all of the hinges in all the right places. Now let’s… NO! NO NO [expletive] NO!
- Notice that the hinges are on, uh, WRONG. Backwards? Upside-down? Inside-out? There are huge GAPS between the door, the CD racks, and the body of the cabinet!
I’ll confess that I was frustrated, if that’s not already apparent. By that stage in the project, I was feeling the entire process with great intensity despite the pedestrian triggers involved.
Days later, the hinges were rectified but the lesson was still incomplete. The clouds were lingering over my head and I awoke late, that morning, just in-time to greet my Dad as he returned from his night-shift. I don’t remember what we talked about. Noticing my cloudiness, he said “two steps-forward, one step-back,” to which I replied, “Can we just stop talking, now? I know I’m going to be a more hopeful version of myself by afternoon.” I was even more right than I knew. As I digested “two steps-forward, one step-back” I wondered ‘why does this phrase annoy me so much?’ It’s because it gives the impression that every stride a person makes is going to be compromised and halved. That’s inherently discouraging to someone feeling low— and infuriating to someone whose energy-levels are rising, generally, but might vary on seemingly random days!
‘One step-back, two steps-forward’ sends a more encouraging message. Every challenge, set-back, injury, whatever-you-prefer, amounts to an opportunity for doubled strength. Even those of us who are only half-way-human can grow some scar-tissue and level-up, again, to give our challenges a punch in the guts.
When my caffeine levels ebb, forces of nature clash inside me. Doubts can cascade as if the dam on a glacial lake bursts but determination pumps through my core like shifting magma. When the tremors meet the flood, it can feel intense. I have taught myself to better tap the resulting storms in recent months. The soreness leftover from my work-outs, that week, made the feeling more visceral: ‘lava’ prevailed and I grew a head of steam.
I wondered if I should walk away from the project for a day. “Finishing this will give me peace,” I huffed, “I’ll be flexible in other ways because relenting is too toxic. I must persist.” This was the best conclusion to reach, for me personally. ‘Recover stronger’ is the mantra.
The main assumption I needed to abandon was that maximizing resale value needed to be the goal. I don’t refurbish cabinets on a regular basis, so expecting proficiency from myself stoked masochism. I had a nebulous inkling that I needed a project, at the beginning. I had elevated the product of my endeavor to the level of a goal. The product could still be important but I made it secondary to the process. Not the process of refurbishing, alone, but the process of failing, regrouping, problem-solving, and finishing. Finishing became the desired outcome. Finishing not with the sense that the product is maximized but with assurance that my self is improved. I recovered stronger to punch my challenge in the guts.
The hinges were essentially inside-out. They were not intuitive, to me, but that didn’t matter once I learned their trick. Sore, I crouched and began the work of taking the cabinet apart and stitching it together correctly. I did it alone, not because it was the best way to accomplish the job but because it was the best way to rebuild my resilience. With a scuff here and there, and black splotches on my hands, I finished the project. Two weeks later, I have not posted the cabinet for sale. Writing this post has taken longer than I imagined, as well.
Some of us wrestle our pride — sometimes shame and despair — to make that pride into our propellant. As I shift mindsets, I know I need to embrace brokenness in a different way to reap a more universal salvation, not the faded imitation pedaled so often in American culture. If that starts by imposing my will upon an object, fine. When my cold rivers rush and my magma is restless, I want to recognize the opportunity that’s coming. A spirit of potency awakes.
The cabinet was never broken and I am what is being mended. It has been a long time since I felt like I was at my best so I can’t help wanting my best to be better because I endured the worst of times. Today [the day I post and edit this] has not been a good day. I wish I had re-read my own words sooner and tapped the storm, as I boasted above. Of course, I am still alive, and still have the will to prove myself, so there is still time to adopt a more “Saiyan” attitude.