My grandfather was a physician, a fixer of the highest order. He operated on stomachs and hearts, limbs and intestines, because in his day, specialists were rare, and general practitioners were operating-room fixtures. He built things at home, too. His basement workshop was heaped with tools on an ugly, practical worktable. I loved that room. I loved that table. But Poppa could work anywhere. He was as happy to concoct solutions in the kitchen as in a friend’s stable. He and his neighbor, an electrician by trade, rewired lamps and broken toys in equal measure, out back, in the driveway.
Until she lost her eyesight, my grandmother sewed. With her sleek, black Singer, Mummum hemmed the corduroy pants I refused to wear and outlined new bodies for the disintegrating wooden doll I wouldn’t surrender. The machine was strictly off limits, since my semi-uncle sewed right through his finger while playing with it in childhood; but I wasn’t drawn to its forbidden nature any more than I was attracted to Poppa’s closed basement door.
I wanted to be with the tools and machines when my grandparents were using them. I wanted to watch and help. I wanted to work as they did, with little regard for printed instructions and manufacturers’ commands.
My mother and I once drywalled two rooms with fifteen minutes’ instruction and half a sheet of roughly jotted notes that we lost an hour into the first bucket of plaster-mud. The result was far from perfect. But it wasn’t shoddy. It remains affixed to her brick walls, as solid as when we hung it, over twenty years ago now.
I still tinker with everything, computers, relationships, manuscripts, and houses, tweaking and perfecting, editing until I learn exactly what it is I’m doing. Sometimes, I work alone. But I’d rather capture an equally curious partner, someone willing to disassemble and bounce ideas around, someone who will make a hash of the whole thing with me entirely to put it back together again, on the off chance that the end product will be better than the initial design.
So the best projects of all are the ones I do with Scott, when we share grease under the nails and half-blistered calluses on the fingertips, when we work so long the children and the sun alike give up on us, when the messy floor is nothing to our euphoria. I love to go to bed, an exhausted pair of Frankensteins, and wake with the certain knowledge that we have created something, that even if that thing falls apart as dawn breaches the horizon, it will never cease to exist, because we made it together, shaped it in tandem, stood side by side, saying to each other, “It’s alive! The balance is perfect; it steers like a dream; it can stop on a dime.”