Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Old People's Comfort Zones

I need to insulate pipes in my basement. As do-it-yourself jobs go, this is crazy-easy. You buy fiberglass tubes, open the tubes, surround the pipe, close and pull the paper from the sticky part. That's it! What could be simpler?

Of course, the devil's in the details. The Thing, itself, might be easy, but then there are the many things you need to be careful not to do, and myriad related things to bear in mind (to an insulation expert, these would be referred to as "the ways you could be a complete idiot"). Finally, you'l need to survive the inevitable project snafu (is there ever not a snafu?), and that requires a repertoire of McGiver moves to draw from. The ability to write a compelling ode to a taco won't help much.

So the project has frozen into a titanic mountain, after I've spent $300 on fiberglass tubes and goggles and tape and PVC covers and tacks and what have you. I'm absolutely unable to start.

This happens a lot (I wrote about project paralysis here). And the worst thing is that the part I'm currently most hung up on is laughably slight.

I once bought a small HEPA-filtered shop vac - it's in my basement somewhere - and I'll need it to suck up fiberglass dust when I'm done. But I only used this vacuum once, years ago, and there's some kooky problem with it that I can't remember. Days are going by, and I'm just about breaking out in hives over it.

What's wrong with me? Why can't I go down to my basement, unearth the damned vacuum, and figure out the kooky problem? The prospect fills me with dread. And I suddenly realize I'm looking a lot like an Old Guy.

This, after all, is what Old People are famous for: shrunken comfort zones. Inflexibility with anything outside their norm. They're musty, frozen, stagnant, inflexible, incurious, non-adventurous, preferring to sit in some chair and knit or wittle or spit tobacco than learn how to use their iPhone or reset the time on their microwave.

And I'm that guy. My comfort zone has shunken to the point where the prospect of finding and using an unfamiliar vacuum feels as inviting as crabbing on the Bering Sea.

But, wait. Let's flip it.

Everything else in my life has started to feel insanely easy. The things I've been doing all along have 57 years of practice, which is a ton. I'm a leading expert at my life such as it is. All 57 year olds are high virtuosos at the things they always do. The resultant sense of ease is a heady reward.

When I was 22, I couldn't do much of anything but play trombone. "Ease" was a concept I understood only abstractly. Installing insulation would not have intimidated me much more than any other pursuit. I'd have attempted it in a bleary, blurry fog of ignorance, botched it, found some hail mary move to more or less save it, and moved on to botching something else. Par for the course!

Now, I know ease. And the things outside that bubble of ease quite understandably seem extra-daunting. I'd need to descend from quite a lofty throne to find and debug that vacuum.

So it's not that I'm shriveling and rigidifying into some helpless whiny stick-in-the-mud. I'm just really uninterested in botching, because it's been so long since I botched. Kids botch all the time, so it's no problem. Me? I'm out of practice, and aghast at the prospect.

Does everyone but me already already understand this? I never know! I remember the time I suddenly came to understand the function of glue and thought it was a Eureka!

Followup posting here.

1 comment:

plam said...

I try to fail at things regularly! Ideally things that I haven't failed at before. This post helps me reinforce my pre-conceived notion that it's useful to do so.

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