Thursday, July 8, 2010

Can You Tear Down a Shed and Still Use It For Shelter?

Early one Sunday morning, about two weeks ago, my dad called me to ask if I would come over to my grandma’s house to help him, my uncle, and my cousin tear down my grandma's old shed. I was tired because I had stayed up late the night before, but agreed to show up.

It was hard and sweaty work. Apparently I was a bulldozer. The thanks I got for making short work of the floor boards and walls—I lifted them off their nails and snapped them in half with brute force--made me feel good in the kind of clean way that sticks with you.

I don’t know how to reconcile the idea that I belong to a family that I didn’t choose with…I’m not sure what; something restless inside of me. There’s a belief I have that I can only own things I make with my own two hands. Like that shed. I tore down that shed. That destruction is mine. The family I was born into? I suppose I have to own it, because of genes and different levels of involvement, but I’m highly skeptical of the kind of familial jingoism that goes without saying.

I own this writing. I do this daily, sometimes at afeverish pace early in the morning. I’m not writing for fame, I know that, although at one point I thought I was. I’m also not writing for money, because I don’t pursue payment in anything but the laziest way. I write out of compulsion. Now for instance, it’s 2:30 in the morning and here I am pecking away at the keyboard while my wife and kids—the family I consented to—is sleeping like a bunch of reasonable people should be. I own this writing. It’s part of who I am. But I do it compulsively. When it comes to writing, I’m a masturbating bear; I can’t stop. I get anxious if I don’t do it. I feel good and whole when I finish a piece; not like I’ve done something extraordinary that should be praised, but that I’ve done something that I should do. When I finish a piece of writing, my ledgers are balanced. I am blameless as a writer. I am saintly in purpose. Much like when I helped my grandmother tear down her shed.

Because of this feeling I have about writing—I am a writer—I know that I have to own my extended family. I didn’t buy into this contract, but I can’t own one genetic proclivity and not the other. The genes affect everyone in different ways. I have my family’s poor impulse control. I, like my parents, am a recluse. I distrust the main current of family connection. I would rather stay in my house and watch a movie, or read a book, or write something, or have sex with my wife, or play action figures with my kids than go to a cookout or a cocktail party with anyone. I am anxious and impatient. I bite my nails until they bleed sometime because there are only a few behaviors that I am completely suited for, and I can’t always engage in them. These are family traits. I have to take them.

I hate sayings like this, but ‘I come by them honestly’ is a good way to describe it. My immediate family is my wife and kids .They are members of the tribe that I am co-architect of. This tribe is a joy to claim. The other tribe is harder for me because I didn’t build it. It’s shadowy. It would’ve been much less pleasant for me to tear down a shed that I myself erected.


Lodo Grdzak said...

You can't escape gravity Spence, just you can't run from your genes. Pains me to say it, but 80% of what most of us will ever be has already been written in our DNA. Just a matter of how much gets to expresses itself.

By the way, that's my man Bernie Worrel playing keys with The Heads. Always a great clip!

Spencer Troxell said...

I appreciate that a big part of being a grown up is accepting unpleasant realities from time to time. Occasionally though, you want to say, 'you know what reality? I'm not backing down from this one. I'm always coming to terms with the way things are. This time it's your turn to adjust!'

But reality is not sympathetic to this approach.

Willie Y said...

My wife can alway hit a sore spot with me by saying "Your just like your father". Good god I hate that. As much as you try those genes are too strong.

Spencer Troxell said...

Never underestimate the power of the dark side.

the elegant ape said...

I am working on my second novel now. My first sold a paltry few copies, but that is not really the point. Writing is a private selfish act that some do because they have to. I feel guilty if I don't and better if I do. It causes the one writing to slow down and observe more what's happening and less how it effects one's self. Which can't be a bad thing.
If you are at a loss for something to read check out Gideon's fall at
(sorry about the shamless plug.)

Spencer Troxell said...

I'm the same way with writing. I don't know if I would call it selfish. More like compulsive. My masturbating monkey metaphor is more appropriate, I think.

No problem on the plug. I'm a capitalist, so I understand.

Lodo Grdzak said...

Gotta gotta gotta gotta put it down!