I must get a certain gleam in my eye. A telltale squint indicating that somewhere in my brain I am rifling through files, considering options, turning solutions around like gears locking into place and beginning to whir. It doesn’t take much. A crash of glass. A snap of broken plastic. An under-the-breath expletive. All these sounds speak to me. Something has broken and I am ready.
I am a tinkerer. I can make, rig, or repair most things. It is an aptitude inherited from a family tree of engineers. My dad taught his children to problem solve with pro/con diagrams and flow charts on the back of envelopes when we were still in grade school. As a kid I cut paper dolls, built troll houses, opened locks with Spam keys, and devised shims for uneven dressers. My high school job was sorting machine parts to be sharpened and retooled. I once fixed the antique brass doorbell on a 300 year old building by replacing the decayed rubber grommet with a cut up bath mat.
Parallel to these mechanical adventures was a spiritual quest make order from chaos. I spent years poring over the D&C like a user guide, trying to understand perfection and what it meant to aspire to be a god. I understood the process as a kind of alchemy – we perform physical ritual and gain mortal experience that transforms into divine learning and insight. The concept gave weight and meaning to every project I attempted, every step was an investment in my eternal future. But it also presumed each person was accountable to a great extent for their own salvation. I leaped to the conclusion that to be truly righteous, one had to eradicate flaws. For me, these beliefs fueled a restlessness, a constant sense of not being good enough, and for a girl already wired to craft, a drive to set the world right, to save it in my own way. It became my calling, to find imperfect lead and glue it, sew it and shape it into gold.
This mix of history and religion breeds hubris. My desire to unstick a stuck door or figure out how to make a Pokemon costume can be can be compulsive. As with most highly motivated gifts, I can use my power for good or for evil. The good is to replace the broken buckle on your backpack. The evil is not knowing when to stop when all signs indicate that I should let it go – either to the trash or to a more skilled person or to the calm zen universe where objects can be damaged and still OK to use. Apply this to people and the balance tips even more precariously. When do I stop pushing, prodding and nagging myself and others back to pristine condition? And who defines what pristine actually means?
There is a family legend that haunts me and challenges my notions of what I can control and not control. It is one of those in the moment traumas that over time is mitigated with one liners and dinner table anecdotes. The boys acquired a Russian dwarf hamster named Fuzz. As with many pets, they lost interest almost immediately and I grew attached to watching the tiny, busy, endlessly fascinating creature. Then he got sick. I did research and believed I could make him well again. I labored at being a hamster doctor for days. Suffice it to say, he did not survive my ministrations. It is unclear whether he would have died anyway or whether I facilitated his demise. Either way I was very sad and very aware that I should have let nature take its course. To this day, when the boys sense that I am shifting into that fierce focus to fix what should not be fixed, they warn, “Mom, don’t Fuzz it.” A cruel reminder, but needed.
This time of year, as I look over my long list of resolutions, I feel both energized and defeated by the many many opportunities to better myself and my fragmented, messy life. The susceptibility to imagine perfection is always there, beckoning me to pick up my tools and measuring tape and get to work. But I have to remind myself not to “Fuzz it.” Assessing the yearly wear and tear, I choose to improve what is most essential to keep me moving and contributing in the world. Perhaps, as modern objects become more complex to repair and my aging psyche is growing wiser, I am learning to be a little more comfortable with dents, cracks, even missing pieces. Then I hear something shatter and start rummaging for the super glue …