I’ve been spending a lot of time on the roof of this little trailer, lately. Scraping, sanding, patching, filling. Replacing missing screws. Removing the ones that bite into nothing but rot and rust and putting back bigger ones, swathed in silicone, hopefully to bite a bit more soundly and even if not, to plug a hole that would be a leak.
I am looking forward to working on new construction sometime soon. This kind of work is not much fun, even though it is necessary. It does leave the mind free to wander, though.
What I think about are the craftsmen that I know: Dale, the foreman I worked under the most. My grandad (a carpenter) and father, both engineers. My brother-in-law, who is sort of a restorationist, but more of a perfectationist. My buddy Marc. Tom, the cabinet-maker.
The right way, every time. In real-time and in memory, they stop me from moving on and letting be the things that aren’t right — mostly. Honestly, I would have left that rotten wood, if not for the ants. Because I don’t need this trailer to be more than a quick-fix. It doesn’t have to be right; it just has to be “good enough.”
Even the things I’ve done so far are not really kosher. They’re slap-dash. They’re the kind of things I curse the last woodchuck for doing when I have to undo them and fix the mess. Maybe not that bad. But not as good as could be. But “as good as could be” would take far too long here.
These are the ethics of handwork. Jamie called out the ants and I knew we needed to pull the wood. Instead, I said, “How about we just seal it up, bug-bomb it, and leave for the weekend?” She demurred — no poisons, please. She’s right about that. But the underlying ethical rightness she gets by proxy: the wood is wet and rotted. Take it out. I know better by that much — and did from the start.
I drill and rivet the patch on the roof. But it doesn’t lay perfectly flat. Then, too, the roof doesn’t lay very flat — an aluminum seascape in permanent undulation. So I caulk the space and tomorrow will spray-seal the entirety. Good enough.
But not good. Not really.
How much “good enough” can you tolerate before you have to stop thinking of yourself as a skilled carpenter? How much “good enough” can you tolerate in your living before you have to stop thinking of yourself as a good human?
This comparison isn’t as contrived and as glib as it seems, I think. For too long, I have offered less than half of myself to my work — even to my whole life. At some point, you have to stop, and drill down in the thing under your hand and make it right the best way you know how.
Time be damned.