I’d rather write than rake.
I’d rather brainstorm about post-apocalyptic jazz landscapes and crumbling hotels that turn into arboretums, but my backyard’s overgrown, and needs tending.
My personality avoids the mundane responsibilities of caring for my space — laundry, dishes, lawn maintenance. I’m more inclined to write a sonnet than sweep the living room. “Anyone can do these tasks,” I reason. “Only I can think about time-traveling tweens, talking planets and made-up colors.”
This is why I wind up doing dishes at 6 in the morning, or laundry at 11 at night — because it is always the last thing on my mind, never on purpose, always begrudgingly.
But here I am, mid-way through the backyard, and the mower’s stopped again, and I’m positive it’s not the battery. Once more, I don’t know what I’m doing.
I remove the starter key and lift up the mower to diagnose the problem. It’s been so long since I’ve cleaned the lawnmower that a skin of yard waste, composed of wet grass and dirt, is plastered to its underside. I use the most available tool — my car keys in my pocket — and scrape away at the grass. It comes off in scabs, and after its cleaning, the mower’s cutting noticeably improves.
* * *
The scraping of the lawnmower’s undercarriage (yuck) reminds me of the wallpaper I scraped off two of the living room walls when I first moved into the house. I went to Home Depot — the first of one-hundred and eighteen trips (so far) — and told the first employee I saw about the wallpaper.
“Oh,” she said, smiling, knowing I was in for a treat.
“Yeah, so I need to know…”
She nodded, taking me under her wing. “C’mon.” She gave me the PSP solution, and what looked like an older computer mouse with a spiked gyro ball on the bottom.
“Score the wallpaper with this,” referring to the mouse, “then spray the solution on it. That’ll reactivate the adhesive and pull the paper away from the wall. Then,” handing me a scraper, “you scrape.”
The process really is as simple as it sounds — and it’s also a pain. It takes forever, especially if you’re like me, who struggles to do one thing and one thing only for a long period of time. I’d scrape a section, then set it down and move to something else — some lights I was replacing, cabinets that needed cleaning, etc. I’d scrape another section, then work on a video I was editing, or a piece I was writing.
It took me several days — way longer than was necessary. One of the days, I was sitting on a bucket, and the Comcast guy was in the other corner of the room, setting up Internet. He looked over at what I was doing. “That looks terrible,” he said.
“It’s not that bad,” I said. And I meant it — the wall-paper scraping put me in that front living room for a prolonged amount of time, and during that time, I tried to pray. Sometimes it was prayer against carpal tunnel, other times prayer for friends and family. When I was really on point, it was prayer for the room. Scraping was, in a strange way, a kind of spiritual discipline.
Before I reaped, I had to first learn how to sow.
Before anything else, I had to clean the place. I had to scrape the walls to prepare them for painting. I prayed for the conversations to come, for the people who’d stay in the house, for the place of imagination and tenderness I hoped it would become.
* * *
Work on the house has been slower than I’d like to admit, but I’m here, and the house is still here, and there’s still work to be done. I hesitate working on the house because I don’t know what I’m doing, but that’s not to say I can’t learn. That’s not to say I won’t make mistakes, but that’s not to say I can’t give to something good.
I can put good work into a good thing.
I can scrape wallpaper and grass clippings.
I can care for a place and, by extension, care for myself.