Working with the garage door up

I’m not certain, but this probably will only make sense if you are a certain age, and grew up in a house with a garage. It doesn’t need to have been “dad’s garage,” nor a space dedicated to fixing things, nor even sheltered an automobile. No, it only matters that you grew up in a house with a garage.

There’s magic in having an indoor space with a concrete floor. A floor that clearly has taken a beating, and is ready for more abuse. A space with a slightly different sort of door dividing it from the soft and people-oriented rest of the house. A space where things were maybe a little less organized, but definitely were more out in plain sight. Maybe there was some sort of workbench? Maybe some tools. Maybe a lot of tools? Regardless, pretty much all the “where should we put this?” stuff wound up in the garage. Painting something? Garage. Taking something part? Not on the carpet! …in the garage. Fixing your bike? New wheels on your skate board? You get the idea. You either know what I’m talking about, or you don’t.

Did you do, whatever you did, with the garage door open, or closed? Weather permitting, throwing open that garage door was an invitation to the world—but hopefully, only the nice neighbors—to saunter up and at least watch. Turns out, that’s literally “showing your work.” A huge part of what I’m doing these days is working where I can be seen. There’s collateral recognition of course, but mostly it’s just scratching an itch to toss things on a workbench and throw open the ‘ol garage door.

If you know what I’m talking about, you can even hear that door opening.

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The only way out is through

If it’s easy, you’re not growing.

It’s like lifting weights: if you can do it without trying, you’re not going to get any stronger.

The whole point—of life, of working out, of work—is to push yourself, and to grow as a result of pushing against and through that resistance.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/seek-challenge/

Nine years ago I was smack in the middle of my HVAC-installer apprenticeship. I lovingly refer to the roughly two-week period as, “that time I got really into attic-yoga.” The contractor installing our central HVAC had a young fellow working with him, and that guy hurt his knee. I spent days learning how to make and insulate hard duct work, HVAC line sets (the wiring and refrigerant piping), electrical, removed the ancient mouse-pee infused blown-in insulation and eventually put in new fiberglass insulation through the attic. It was hell. Hot. Sweaty. Ichy. Low roof. Things to climb in, over, around, through and under. Mostly while carefully stepping, squatting, leaning, and crawling on the long thing ceiling joists. And it was not something I was planning on doing. One day I was all like, “Benjamin is installing the HVAC!” [that’s a money reference] and the next day I was studying attic-yoga.

I bring this up because it’s too easy to think “I’m doing the hard work!” when you are simply going to the gym (or for the morning run, whatever.) Sure, you’re working hard, you’re sweating, and building muscle; you are literally doing hard work.

But that’s nothing compared to choosing to do the hard work, on the spot. Do I whinge and call AAA (road-side assistance club) or do I climb under the van to figure out how to get the spare tire out at Midnight after a long day? Do I take the time to split the portion of the firewood that would be a pain 8 months from now, or do I just stack it and hate my today-self in the dead of winter? Do I take the time to carefully explain something even though it’s not my responsibility or do I just “walk past” that person who needs a hand? Right now, on the spot, do you choose the hard path?

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Baked geese crap

Everything we do matters — whether it’s making smoothies to save up money or studying for the bar — even after we’ve already achieved the success we sought. Everything is a chance to do and be our best. Only self-absorbed assholes think they are too good for whatever their current station requires. Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing and wherever we are going, we owe it to ourselves, to our art, to the world to do it well. That’s our primary duty. And our obligation. When action is our priority, vanity falls away.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/how-you-do-anything/

I sometimes think back to a summer I spent working on a golf course. As a grounds keeper. These days, I’m still pretty fast with a string trimmer. A job string-trimming a golf course teaches certain skills. Every day that summer I hopped on my trusty red 10-speed bike—I think it was actually originally my mom’s bike—and ride… just for fun I Google’d it… 5 miles to work. I distinctly remember the coolish Pennsylvania mornings.

It just this moment occurs to me that my “the weather today will be…” prognostication skills are generally quite good. Probably something to do with riding a half hour while wondering if I was going to get roasted in the sun, soaked in the rain, or pleasantly browned.

Meanwhile I learned many things. About getting along with other people to greater or lesser degrees of success. About how laughter makes work lighter. And about good healthy, sweat labor. I already mentioned the string trimming. But my favorite was how we used to edge the sand traps. Every day—at least as far as I can remember—there’d be the same work to do; we’d simply advance our way around the course based on our boss’s early-morning directions on a whiteboard. “edge traps 8/9” for example… along with a few more. One guy was the greens keeper. His responsibility was just to mow the putting greens and tend that grass. Move the pins (the tall flags stand inside special metal cups set into the ground) periodically. Another guy—an aged adult, so he was probably like 38 at the time—was the fairway mower. Willie was his name. I remember his last name, but I don’t want anyone hunting him down. He’d drive a large farm-sized tractor pulling gang-mowers like a flock of geese behind him. All the grass was always cut with reel mowers.

Anyway. Sand traps. We used to edge them with a machete. You see, the edge of the trap, where the grass meets the sand, has interesting geometry. The lawn may not be level, it often was sloped or curving like a little hill. So the “cut” is not just, “hey yo, no blade of grass sticking out that way!” but also, a perpendicular (to the plane of the grass bed) curb of sod (the grass, roots carpet part) and dirt. A string trimmer just sort of beats things up into a rounded mess. With a machete—and a crap-ton of stooping, back-breaking, labor—you can cut everything in a perfect plane. It’s as if you made the perfect cut through layer cake, creating a smoothly undulating curb perimeter, angled perfectly. wack wack wack wack …we’d just walk around the trap backwards, walking on the grass. wack wack wack wack… fifty, maybe a hundred swings. Every sand trap is different. Then we’d clean the trap. Weed it, rake it, sift it, then shape the sand. When we moved on, there’d be not a single bit of anything besides sand in the trap. It’d be gorgeous.

Craftsmanship.

One day, “trim the lake” was on the board. Again. We’d just done that the other day. It was one of the most god-awful horrible jobs. It was basically a very big pond, with not much water flow, particularly mid-summer. The bottom was muck-tastically nasty with geese crap and—wait for it—9 gazillion golf balls making for treacherous footing. The weeds grew in the water. With a string trimmer you can actually trim a bit below the water level if you’re adamant about it. (As we were.) When doing this chore you had a choice: You could stroll into the water and muck to reach the weeds 6 feet out in the pond, or wreck your back, (I don’t care how young you are, this wrecks it,) straining all around the lake to reach out there with the trimmer. Regardless, in the heat of summer, those water-whatever weeds needed a wacking every few days.

On this day, I stood by the artificial rock weir that impounded the pond. I looked at my work boots, being well-shod to deal with the muck, but not so much for standing directly in the water to trim. I looked at the weir. I thought about having to sacrifice my back to reach the weeds. At the weir. I looked at my golf cart—we had the best ones. Special motors for hauling trailers and actual loads and extra batteries. And my we don’t screw around here double-string trimmer and gas can. My face shield. I looked back at the weir.

And I went for it.

I strolled into the stream, moved a bunch of rocks and pierced the maybe 2-foot tall weir… and drained the entire lake. Then I spun up my trimmer and… there are two ways to string trim: One way is a sort of judicious, scalpel wielding, if I twitch it leaves a mark that takes a week to grow away, and I’m going to have to clean up all the mess I make. And the other way is BANSHEE STYLE! I strolled into that disgusting muck and strode around the entire thing with the trimmer throttled wide open… non-stop… at like 6:30am. Muck, geese crap, golf balls, weeds… everything flying every which way… none of it on me of course because, duh, string-trimming guru.

Meanwhile, the sun crept higher.

I don’t know how long it took me. Not long. I don’t think I even had to refill the trimmer’s gas tank. But all the while, the sun started to bake the mud and muck.

Now the area (the general regional area I mean) had a lot of farms and you got used to all sort of smells. Pennsylvania smells (to me) like petrichor, and maybe a dash of cow or horse manure baking on a field. Us Pennsylvanians are all like, *yawn* “whatever bro’.” But baking geese crap and muck, as it turns out, is another thing.

Yes, when I finished trimming I reassembled the weir, but as I mentioned, the little creek’s flow rate was low, and it took all stinking-to-high-heaven day for that thing to fill submerging the muck. I was vindicated amongst the groundskeepers, including my boss who went to bat for me so I could keep my job, because we all freakin’ loved it. It looked awesome and stayed awesome for like TWO WEEKS!

But to my knowledge, no one ever did it again.

That was the first time I effectively closed an entire golf course.

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Doing what you love

But the fact is, almost anyone would rather, at any given moment, float about in the Carribbean, or have sex, or eat some delicious food, than work on hard problems. The rule about doing what you love assumes a certain length of time. It doesn’t mean, do what will make you happiest this second, but what will make you happiest over some longer period, like a week or a month.

~ Paul Graham from, http://www.paulgraham.com/love.html

There have been just a few bits about this topic arranged on the Internet. I’ve written several times here myself, and linked to many things like this one from Graham. The ultimate point that I’d like to make is simply that the necessary part of solving the problem for yourself is to ask yourself such questions.

If you’re simply going through life reacting to whatever you find before you, then any arm-chair, ivory tower, philosophizing about the meaning of life, one’s purpose, or finding one’s Life’s Work, is completely pointless. I’m not criticizing going through life in reacting mode; if one is crushed by situation or station, then you necessarily have your work cut out for you.

But presuming you have some slack—and be honest, you are on the Internet, so you have enough slack…

Presuming you have some slack, what questions are you asking yourself?

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Working hard

http://www.raptitude.com/2010/02/3-pieces-of-advice-id-give-my-18-year-old-self-if-i-could/

Not that I’m blaming society for my troubles as a young adult, but nobody ever seemed to have a very good explanation for why I actually might want to work hard and challenge myself. Not “have to”, or “need to,” but “want.” The reason was always, “It’s just something you should do,” or “You’ll be glad you did when you’re my age.”

~ David Cain

True story: I once got a job working at a golf course as a grounds keeper. I’d bicycle ~10 miles at first-light and my dad picked me up after work. I’d string trim (the entire golf course — wrap your brain around that), edge sand traps (by hand using a machete to cut the edge of the lawn) and then rake the sand. I chain-sawed trees that fell on the course, and I painted wrought-iron in the blazing sun. Every weekday for an entire summer.

I learned two things:

A deep respect for physical labor.

…and that I wanted to go to college and be a scientist working in a lab, or maybe with computers.

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