Wednesday, July 8, 2009


In truth, I've never considered myself to be a "do it yourself" person. One aspect of my perfectionism is the debilitating fear of making a mistake. My attitude has been, "Oh sure, I could do it myself rather than paying someone else to do it, but I like the peace of mind that comes from knowing it will be done right."

This attitude was reaffirmed by my beloved father-in-law, who took umbrage at the thought of my paying $19 for someone to change the oil in my VW Rabbit. I was taking a study leave at the folks' place in Grand Junction, and asked where the best place to get an oil change was. "I'll change your oil", growled Joe, as only Joe could growl. Now, I had once changed the oil in that car, and found that everything in the engine compartment was so tightly packed together that there was no way to even get a wrench on the oil filter. The car was designed to be serviced from beneath a lift, rather than in a driveway. Though feeling a bit emasculated, as I often did around Sally's self-sufficient male family members, I didn't resist his offer.

For the next several hours I did my reading in the RV parked near the house. Several times I heard Joe's car going and coming in the long drive, but paid it little attention. Eventually the story came out: In attempting to access the filter, Joe had broken off the oil pump. Four hours, several trips to auto supply stores and about $80 later, the oil was changed.

My feelings of emasculation were transmogrified into the thrill of victory, though I could scarcely express my smug satisfaction. I apologized to Joe for his trouble, and secretly reaffirmed my vow never to attempt to change my own oil again.

In retrospect, I wish I had gone out to the garage with Joe to watch what he did, if only to learn how NOT to break the oil pump. Knowledge is power. Conversely, as penned by Frank Herbert in Dune, "Fear is the mind-killer, the little death." Joe's snarls weren't responsible for my emasculation. My fear was.

I came by my fear naturally. Members of my family remember the time we noticed Mom's outside lights coming on at 3 p.m. The timer was way off, but Mom hadn't wanted to bother our engineer-neighbor, John Cartwright, with a request to reset it. Before he died, Dad had always asked John for help with the timer. It turned out that the timer was just a simple wheel with thumb screw sets. I can't imagine how John Cartwright must have felt in being asked to change it.

On that same score, my mother suffered 20 years with an upright vacuum that lacked a belt for the brush. She had told my dad it wasn't working right. He hadn't wanted an upright in the first place, and assumed her complaints validated his perspective.

Now I'm tentatively working to get beyond my past. Over the weekend I wired a series of outlets for the under-cabinet lights. Yesterday I installed two wall fixtures and changed the ceiling light. Today we'll start hanging drywall.

I'm still a bit nervous about all this "do it yourself" stuff, but my anxiety is gradually being supplanted by a new and unfamiliar sense of power. I CAN do this! Really! Even if I continue to chant:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it is gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Well, I trust Sally will remain too, as well as some drywall remnants and a stack of receipts from Home Depot.


  1. So true. I love the fact that I got to install my own light fixture. It makes me so proud that when I get to show people my house, I get to say what I did. And Dune rocks. You're going to get to show people the kitchen and know that you did amazing things with it.

  2. Does this mean I go with your blessing next time I want to try and change my timing belt of my car?!?!