adult questions

The Empty Tap

I often try not to take modern conveniences for granted. I look at house life as only one step removed from camping, just with a more permanent kind of tent. It keeps me light on my toes. And when the modern conveniences fail, as they often have and often do, it feels a little less catastrophic.

Water is, so far, the most popular thing to fall off, and it really messes up my life when I reach for the tap and find it empty. Even when I think I’ve adapted to whatever work-around I’ve set up, I still reach for the same tap, expecting liquid.

Earlier this fall, my brother and mom replaced my bathtub taps for me as an early birthday present. The hot water tap started with a slow leak, and then would not shut off with the water pressure. The new taps are shiny and pretty and do exactly as a tap does: They keep the water on, or off, or at a desired level somewhere between the two.

Looking back, today, I think oh – what a luxury, hot water that won’t stop! And it was really only a small inconvenience, to turn the taps on and off at the source before and after a bath. Even after the fix, it was a few weeks before I stopped reaching for that shut-off valve, before I trusted the new taps completely.

This weekend, my water heater started leaking all over the basement floor. Not a colossal flood – phew – but enough to be trouble. Enough to find another shut off valve, and to make boiling water for dishes a safer bet than counting on the big tank.

So I found little tanks and filled them, and laughed to myself whenever I reached for the empty tap. At the moment, I’m still optimistic. I can still flip the “make the best of it” switch, to make small adjustments, to not feel so hard done by.

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The little hot water tanks.

I know that eventually, like all of these systems I count on day by day, this too will wear out. Living in a house as camping won’t be novel, it’ll be demoralizing.

Eventually, I’ll get tired of the makeshift shower or using the bath as a sink (or the sink as a bath) or whatever the best possible option is. Eventually, I will just want to take modern conveniences for granted, to move through my day a little more seamlessly.

For now, I just hope to find a way to fix the latest problem before the supplies get too low – before my optimism runs dry.

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Maintenance

“But you can make it yourself” has almost reached cult status in my family. I can always count on hearing it from my mom if I mention wanting to stop to grab a coffee or a bite to eat – why, I could have just made that at home for (insert cost of said food/beverage). And it would be better, of course.

While I may have acquired the skills to make a lot of things myself, I haven’t quite perfected the routine of maintenance. This has been a sore spot, a failing, a source of shame for a while. Why can’t I just keep myself organized enough to do the most basic things?

To make coffee at home means I have coffee on hand, which means I’ve gone grocery shopping, and which also means I haven’t re-allocated my grocery budget to something more pressing. What could be more pressing than eating? Well, cats eating, for one, because they don’t really do logic and reason when I try to explain to them that kibble is coming even though their bowl is empty now. They will just howl. And my eating can be patched together with canned goods and leftovers, I can stretch it a little longer.

It also requires that home space be kept in workable order, building a foundation of items and order so that cooking and cleaning are tasks, not expeditions. But when did I last do the dishes? Well over a month ago, not counting a small refresher load of mugs and bowls after every single one was dirtied. Dinner tonight was pizza, frozen, because in a glorious burst of forward planning I bought 6 when they were on sale. Later on when I look back, and realize I was thinking ahead, I’m grateful that my past self was planning for my future self in some way, looking for an easier path through the day.

But for the regular things to be done easily, there needs to be more than sporadic effort. The infrastructure requires maintenance.

Evidence of last week's tiny flash flood of domestic ambition (Don't ask how long the muffin tins sat unwashed).

Evidence of last week’s tiny flash flood of domestic ambition (Don’t ask how long the muffin tins sat unwashed).

I’m sitting here tonight with dye in my hair, a half-hearted refresher to a well-faded purple last updated I can’t remember how long ago. I’m getting my hair cut tomorrow for the first time in six months. This used to be the one thing I maintained, either by shelling out cash or wielding my own colour brush and scissors. But I’ve let it slide, I’ve almost entirely quit the maintenance of my hair, and of personal aesthetics in general.

In a space without maintenance, routines dissolve. Sometimes, in the case of a kitchen, it can be chaotic. In other areas, like caring less about my appearance, it can be freeing. This thing that I thought I had to maintain, or that I thought I wanted to maintain, wasn’t a priority for a while. Eventually I had to reconsider how much of a priority it really was. At what point was I keeping it up for myself, or because it was important, and to what extent did this just become a habit?

Maintenance becomes routine becomes habit, habit becomes unquestioned mechanical repetition. Yes, in some areas I’d like to have a bit more consistency and take out the guesswork. But sometimes that guesswork is necessary, to try out new ways of thinking, of being, of opening up pockets of time and new possibilities.

Perhaps I could do anything myself if I really tried, including perfecting the routine of maintenance. But I’m starting to appreciate its rough spots, the little gaps that keep the days from falling into drone-like repetition. Perhaps it’s not necessary, or obligatory, or the price to pay for keeping up a facade of functional adulthood.

Maintenance, like everything else, is subjective, and taking a moment to observe the places it thrives and the places it’s never even visited – the piles that seem to be growing and toppling, constructing their own geography of abandoned domestic wilderness – might even be more important than trying to impose it everywhere without a second thought. It’s less of an answer and more of a question. What, here, is worth maintaining?

All the pieces, all the time

Even when I can break projects down into manageable chunks, or work on them at a reasonable pace, I still have moments when I feel like I’m being pulled in a million directions at once. I wish for that elusive singular focus, to comes home every day to that one thing that drives me.

When I was a kid, there was a question that adults always loved to ask: What do you want to be when you grow up?

From 8-12, I might have said “Writer”, or “Baseball Player”. And then it turned into “Musician”, “Rock Star”, “Cook”, and I tried those things in real life and they were cool, but I didn’t have any grand imperative to keep going, to take them all the way. I didn’t envision a title, a career, a final place that I could set as a destination where I could stop and say “I’ve arrived”.

I had a friend who said she wanted to be a marine biologist. It confounded me. Where did she get that from? Is it because she liked dolphins, and that was a title for a person who did dolphin things? She held the same answer for years, and I wondered where her conviction came from, her aim so steady and true.

Running into another friend just after high school, I offered that same tired query, and he replied “Thoracic surgeon”. I nodded in slight confusion, then looked it up when I got home. I was perplexed. Not just surgeon – he had a specialty nailed down already. The specificity of it boggled my mind.

Perhaps I overestimated the commitment behind these pronouncements. Perhaps everyone else who had a clear answer on hand had just that – an answer on hand for that redundant question, knowing that answering properly is part of what’s expected of young folks. They should aspire to be something, or to want to be something, even if the adults know it’s impossible.

The adults will nod, like they’ve had some insight into young person’s brain, or at least have some reassurance that this one has a plan. They will be something. They’re not just going to keep dying their hair and playing in punk bands and fucking shit up, though that was legitimately my plan for a while. (I suppose I’ve just refined my aims slightly. Still dying the hair, still playing music loudly, still fucking shit up, but on more of a discursive level.)

I’d prefer to think that most people are also secretly confused and fumbling through this world while somehow presenting a tidy and polished exterior. I’d prefer that over a suspicion that’s been shadowing my whole life, that Other People have that thing called Knowing What To Do With Their Lives and I’m totally missing it.

So I line up my rainbow-fill array of interests like a package of pencil crayons in their pristine beginning-of-the-school-year completeness, and pack them into my backpack. This is the assemblage of things that are me, that are always with me, that are always overfull, zippers straining, scraps of paper and half-inked pens spilling out of the edges. How can I carry just one notebook, just one novel, just one magazine? I want it all, all the time.

Every night, I dump my backpack onto the couch and sift through all the stuff. I gaze longingly at a tiny minimalist purse hanging among a dozen tote bags, the elusive dream of paring down, of needing less, of carrying just one small piece at a time.

Who am I kidding. That’s never been my style.

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