Sunday, March 08, 2020

Stories, Soul-searching, and Such

We plan to remodel the downstairs bathroom before Matt and Phoebe's wedding in June.

I'll copy what I posted on Facebook last week:

Condensed version: What is the best, most durable and scrubbable, easiest to care for bathtub material?
Long version: An upcoming wedding makes for a great excuse to repair, replace, replenish, and even remodel.
Twenty years ago, we remodeled the downstairs bathroom before we moved into this house. The tiny bathroom that had served the house for probably fifty years, accessible only through Paul's parents' bedroom[!] remained a bathroom with the same configuration, but we took out the clawfoot tub [foolish foolish!!] and put in a fiberglass tub/shower combo.
We put in a different doorway.
The back porch next to the old bathroom, which had been a rough-hewn laundry room for about a hundred years, that became a bright room with a long counter, two sinks, lots of drawers, a big mirror, about 10,000 watts of light to please the husband, and plenty of room for a crowd of school kids to brush their teeth on a Monday morning.
In twenty years, the tub is tired, the edges around it are crumbling, the varnish on the cabinets is peeling, and the corners of the room are moldy.
Actually, the whole bathroom looks exhausted.
The wedding and lots of guests are coming.
The time has come.
This means decisions. Decisions about colors, styles, and accessories.
About components that ought to last for thirty years and others that can be easily changed in two.
Most of this falls on me.
It fills me with dread.
So. We begin with the tub. The current fiberglass is a delicate prissy material that gets scummy and dirty but hates to be scrubbed with anything a little bit gritty or effective.
Meanwhile, ten years ago I got a new kitchen sink that seemed as durable as a dump truck--enamel on cast iron after all--but it scratched sickeningly easily, right from the start. I couldn't get a refund because this is considered "normal wear and tear." [Two weeks after we got it, my sister-in-law said, 'I see you decided to get a secondhand sink.'] The injustice of it all.
So. What is the best material for the new tub? Porcelain? Enameled steel? Acrylic? Something else we haven't thought of?
Again: Long-lasting. Scrubbable. Impervious to wear and tear.
Thanks in advance.

Remodeling is a big and potentially overwhelming deal for me. Last week Paul and I went to Jerry's, the enormous home-supply store in Eugene, one evening to look at bathtubs and countertops.

Oddly, there weren't a lot of choices in tubs, but there were hundreds, if not thousands, of options in tile and countertops.

Paul, who is becoming wiser every year, briefly mentioned a few potentials and options, but also spent time not talking so I could think. Well, he maybe got a bit carried away with the big nearsighted red-aproned salesman that one time, but other than that.

Ten years ago, we went shopping at that very same Jerry's for kitchen cupboards and counters, and both Paul and the helpful salesperson talked at me the whole entire time, pointing out the advantages of this and what did I think of that and wouldn't this feature be nice and oh no, I don't want that because it'll be hard to clean.

It felt, as Stephen King says in his wonderful book on writing, that I had had jumper cables attached to my head for two hours, but in the moment I didn't have the skills to put into words why I was losing my mind. Also, I didn't want to tell Paul or the salesperson to JUST STOP TALKING, because that's dramatic and rude, so it all ended with tears and a slow hashing out in the car on the way home of what was going on and what I need and other terrible, dreadful, laborious cracking of the mental walnuts and picking out the meats.

If you're an INFP married to an ESTJ, which is the COMPLETE OPPOSITE personality, these conversations are necessary but oh so exhausting.

BUT. This time we went shopping and Paul didn't talk! I could browse in peace.

See? We are getting somewhere. He knows what I need and is happy to provide it. I have the skills to recognize that I need quiet, and to ask for it.

I was surprised at how many people commented on Facebook that actually we shouldn't get a tub; we should get a roll-in shower. Because [cough] we are getting older and all.

Paul said, and I agreed, "This is a home for a family. If we need a roll-in shower, we're moving to a Daudi Haus*."

Happily, enough people shared their specific experiences that I got a good idea of what we want. There's nothing like the experience of a cleaning lady, a plumber's wife, and others who remodeled their bathrooms and survived.

But I am still open to suggestions.

Speaking of Stephen King: I would never read his novels. Not if you paid me. I hate creepy, dark, horror novels. But his writing how-to and memoir, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, is excellent. I read slowly and underline. I'm not sure how that works.

He is very big on authenticity. The hard-drinking miner isn't going to say, "Oh dearie me," if he hits his thumb with a hammer. So he writes what the guy actually says.

Cussing hasn't been an issue for me in my laborious fiction attempts, because I don't know too many Mennonites who use "bad words." 

I've found, though, that the Mennonite world is full of nervous readers who do not like anything about the culture to be portrayed negatively. At all, in any form. You can be as authentic and real as a rainy day in Oregon, and everyone knows that this is true to life, but they won't be ok with it. We all have difficult people in our lives, if we are anywhere near normal. If we are Mennonite, at least some of those annoying people will also be Mennonite. Also, some of us don't have our acts together. We are discouraged, we talk too much or too little, and we wonder if we were actually at peace with God and man last communion.

But we seem to have a cultural taboo about being realistic about this. I wonder why this is so, because most of us are drawn to people who have a few good honest flaws.

In a story I just started for my writing group, we have two teenage girls and their great-aunt:

“Have you girls thought about teaching the Kindergarten One class?”
Aunt Martha’s shrill voice was right in our ears, startling us both. Allison and I turned from the bulletin board in the church foyer where we’d been inspecting the signup sheet for vacation Bible school teachers.
“Oh hi, Aunt Martha!” Allison said. “We were just talking about maybe signing up. Maybe Jenny could take the littlest class and I could take the next one.”
Aunt Martha tucked her black leather clutch and three Sunday school papers under her left elbow. “Oh, I don’t know. That’s a lot of responsibility for a young person, and the truth is neither of you is very responsible, you know, but we do need teachers.” She chuckled. “I think you two should teach one of the kindergarten classes together! That way, what one forgets, the other one can remember.”
Aunt Martha always made me feel like I was about six years old, trying to be grownup but actually silly and ridiculous. I looked at Allison. She raised her eyebrows just a bit, and the corner of her mouth twitched. I knew she wanted to roll her eyes as badly as I did.
I smiled and patted Aunt Martha’s arm. “We’ll make it a matter of prayer.” If that line didn’t impress her, nothing would.

Now. When you were a teenager, you had an Aunt Martha in your life. I would almost bet money on this.

But if this story ever sees the light of day, I will get letters telling me that I'm bitter and unforgiving toward someone who was an Aunt Martha to me.

Stephen King says he gets this sort of letter all the time when he writes the things that people say and do. He's learned to disregard them.

I was thinking a lot about this oversized fear of accusation if and when I ever publish fiction. I realized it came from a long history of believing that other people get to define me, and whatever they say about me is true.

That is a terrifying way to live.

So I had to make that a matter of prayer, and the Holy Spirit had some things to tell me about who gets to see and define what's in my heart, and who does not.

So between remodeling the bathroom and writing, there is no end of soul-searching and growth.

*a traditional Amish house for grandparents


  1. Your honesty is what makes your writing sing. Anyone, whether Mennonite or otherwise, has truths among their people that they don't like having aired, but the act of doing so makes us all feel more comfortable with each other. And we gain insights into one another.

  2. I wonder whether groups that have persecution in their pasts or are otherwise perceived as "different" by the prevailing culture are more likely to want circle the wagons? If one identifies with a group and is sensitive about the group's reputation, then an honest portrayal is more likely to be seen as negatively affecting how outsiders perceive the group. I also think the same phenomenon is often at the root of abuse cover-ups.

  3. I, too, have that long history. Yes, it is a terrifying way to live. And I love that the Holy Spirit is faithful to show me truth!
    Writing is hard. When the honest stories are rejected because the mom wasn't perfect(she sighed a lot) and the kid was whiny, it shakes me up! Because most times, it's based on real life happenings at my own house! It is a challenge to not let these things define who I am. I've either got to be secure in Christ or really thick skinned. But by God's grace I am growing slowly in my confidence in Christ. Thank you for writing this! By the way....we are remodelling our kitchen right now....I hear ya!

  4. I think those letters would come from people who are stuffing their Aunt Martha frustrations under the proverbial rug, and tripping over them. If they dared open their mouths at long last, the bitterness would come pouring out. Such people simply need to be made a matter of prayer.