February 21, 2013

The Audacity to Try

When I was a kid, I took apart toasters. The repairs didn’t last long. I remember lots of re-repairs. I was rewarded for my efforts with a few more grilled cheeses and enough praise that I kept trying. It turns out that toasters are incredibly simple machines, and either a spring breaks or a wire burns out and a few simple tools can turn a surly adolescent into that days hero. Toasters too are more complicated in this century but there are still simple solutions to stumble over.

The recurring theme to my tinkering was luck, or dust, or perhaps both. I took apart so many things as a kid, before processors and microchips, that I was bound to fix a few. The strange thing was that so often I would take something apart, find no obvious breakage, reassemble it, usually with a leftover something, and it would work!?  The dust principle?, I would usually not admit that it wasn’t me who “fixed” it, but rather mere providence, perhaps it had in fact been designed with one screw-thingy too many! Perhaps it too simply wanted to be trespassed!?

The Audacity to try is a meme I see this often in my life, today it was installing printer software. Is it the clicking “accept” with reckless abandon?, as if I understood what I was up to?  After trying , in so many ways, to connect my wifi printer to my wifi computer, so my wife could use her ancient macbook, I don’t understand why it works, even a little, but it does. I remember in the 90’s, the first time I said “sure, I’m a plumber”, It was a job in Oakland and I was the architect and general contractor and why, I reasoned, should I invite a plumber in to have all the fun.  I learned a lot about plumbing on that job, and threw away enough plastic plumbing pipe to increase my as yet unknown carbon footprint into the reaches of a polar bear or two, but I tried, and eventually succeeded, despite a tough building inspector (heartless to my memory) out to teach me a lesson.  Even today, I have a client who hired me to install radiators here in Bordeaux.  Well, I have the time and not enough brains to say “er, ummm, radiateurs?”  But they are simple enough, and now I know radiators!  I feel like Neo. 

Here at home, where its easier to try, and try again... we had an electrical problem in the name of not-enough-ness, and after months of searching solutions with the electric company (think French Bureaucracy) I stumbled upon the advice to install a “delesteur”.  I had the electrician write it down, then I looked it up, then I found a friend with an idle one and set to installing it.  Several “sessions” later, and several mail order parts to complete the configuration (I felt like I was sourcing “overthrusters” for John BigBotte), I had everything installed, but it wasn’t working.  I was set to call the electrician, the one that said he’d have fired me if I worked for him, and have him come in and fix my mess, and Voila, it was working, we were de-listing, it all made sense!  The dust motes had flown off to gum up some other part of my life....

We made a kid, that was a cliff,  and he’s 15 today, a great kid, and I hope somehow he sees this spirit and it rubs off just enough to kindle a can-do lifestyle.  We tried a new restaurant this week, Fernand’s, it was excellent and authentic and while I wouldnt sign up for the local lamprioe (fish) in red wine sauce, I did tuck into the snails of the sea!  Perhaps they were tiny bulots? I never found out, but they were close enough to a few things I did recognize, so why not eat the funny mollusk?  Does that rhyme with audacity?  No, I suppose not.  We did replace our windows with double vitrage, insulated glass. It was against my better judgement, I was told it couldn’t be done, but I divined a way to rout out the existing old windows and replace the warped and liquid glass with a new compromise to sound waves and cold temperatures.  It does seem snugger in the house, and it didn’t take too long, but my system worked, and we are the only house on the block with old AND insulated windows

It’s kind of the Jump-Off-a-Cliff scenario, one which has served me well/poorly all my life. If I don’t jump, then I’ll regret it.  If I don’t rise to the challenge, then I’ll have been defeated and someone else will jump in my place. Did I mention there is deep water at the bottom of the cliff?  I’m not simply stupid.  I feel like its not always necessary to know what one is doing, that there is value in the unknown, and pretty quickly the unknown becomes the known.  I rebuilt the engine of my Volkswagen van, all the bolts and springs and pistons and gaskets...WTF...and put it back together, and it ran! It ran me from Providence to Frisco!  That was a big TRY.

My Audacity to try, is rooted in a cocktail of simplicity, intuition, and ability.  I have often thought that I know just enough to get myself in trouble. To a fault I seek the simple solution, and while it works with toasters and architecture and occasionally cocktails (clementine  cosmos), efficiency is found faster from people and plastics, I should hire people to do what I am not expert at and replace old instead of repairing it. But my life is not about efficiency, as I said, its more about being simple. Fortunately, the older I get, the easier it is.