Since moving into our house last spring, I’ve taken a liking to home renos. Well, mostly the part about home renovations that is looking at Pinterest in my housecoat with a glass of wine, but I’ve proven to become rather handy at times.
I’ve decided I like the feeling of dipping my brush in a freshly-opened can of paint and smearing it over the walls in fine, persnickety strokes, using my full concentration not to splatter the floor or smudge the base boards. I liked the simple, “one-taskedness” of completing one job after another.
I like hanging photo frames and setting candles and flowers in just the right way on coffee tables and night stands. I like taking old things down and putting new things up.
And that’s how I realized I have begun to develop an obsession with screws.
Yes, you heard that right. I am susceptible to developing obsessions. Just ask my sister – my school work, my Netflix binge-watching, my eyebrows (I assume you are raising one at me right now), but my obsession with these small metal spirals might even surprise her. I know it sounds weird.
Our house is fairly new, built in 2002, but when we took possession it could use a little modern re-styling. And new furniture, most of it requiring assembling. Hence, the road to my latest obsession. Sometime after the hundredth screw that I unscrewed from a wall, a blind, or an unneeded bracket, I became more and more infatuated. I craved the next one.
Still to come, so keep reading: What in the hell was wrong with me? How can you narrowly escape death and then forget about it?
I can’t explain it other than to say there was something exciting about constructing AND deconstructing things, as well as the realization that even large objects were often really only a collection of seemingly incongruous parts held together by bits of metal so small they were barely noticeable.
That thought tickled me pink – I felt elated to have discovered something – to have noticed something that had always existed, but that until now I had never noticed before.
The same thing happened a few months later, when I developed another obsession, this time for audio books and binge-reading over the Christmas holidays. I became particularly enamoured with one book about dog’s noses and an exploration of why dogs sniff.
If dogs could smell a person taking off their socks in an area the size of a university campus, the author deduced, what could humans gain from smelling their surroundings? She was a writer after my own heart – she became obsessed with smelling everything she came in contact with and I became passionate too about this fifth, and often forgotten sense.
I drove my boyfriend nuts for weeks, quoting the book and walking around loudly sniffing at the air. Had my life become so humdrum and boring that this was what I had to obsess over? I wondered.
But I knew deep down these new passions weren’t just vapid, trivial obsessions because I was desperate to escape my daily life – there was substance in them somewhere. I could feel it in my gut. I was learning something; I just wasn’t sure what.
And then one day, it got cold. Really cold. The type of Quebec City cold they write songs about, where the air freezes your face, where your dog needs a parka before he goes outside. The type of cold that you would do anything rather than take your hand out of your glove to check your phone.
My cameraman and I were coming back from a shoot where we’d been outside all day, our chapped cheeks rosy and red and cold to the touch, when we came across an accident. We started telling stories – we had each been in a near fatal accident that had amazingly seen us walk away without a scratch.
For me, it was a similarly cold day in high school. My mom and I were driving back home from a BOGO sale at Payless where I’d bought two pairs of black boots. We were laughing about how good a deal we got when we pulled onto the freeway. Only a few minutes later we hit black ice and in a split second we started to spin out of control veering towards the ditch on our right. My mom spun the wheel back to the left, but over-compensated – now we were spinning out of control in the other direction. We could see the lights then – dozens of cars driving at full speed toward us, much too fast to brake in time. My mom knew then that she’d made a mistake – she should have taken the ditch. I braced for impact and gritted my teeth.
And then suddenly the car slid to a stop, jerking us back against our seats. When we looked up, we were all alone. The only lights around us were the dim lights along the freeway and the trailing tail-lights of cars that had nearly hit us,somehow now kilometres in the distance. It was like an angel descended on top of our car and spread her wings to push aside all the other vehicles in either direction. I’m not sure how to explain it, other than it makes absolutely no sense and it’s totally miraculous.
My mom, who was still gripping the steering wheel, looked at me. And for a few seconds we didn’t do or say anything. There wasn’t a soul on the road. And then she slowly put her foot back on the gas and we drove home.
After telling my dad what happened later that night, I never thought much more about that incident. It never came up as any of the stories I told about one of the craziest moments of my life, nor was it one of the reasons I offered when people asked me why I believed in God. I never really analyzed how such an act was possible; I certainly never put a fraction of the amount of thought into it as I had expended recently on the shape, colour, grooves, and God help me, smell, of screws. I simply let it fade into the next slide of the ongoing slideshow of my memories.
What in the hell was wrong with me? How can you narrowly escape death and then forget about it? And then I realized that’s what these obsessions were all about. It was my mind running from distraction, taking comfort in the busyness of my body so it could slow down. It was tying to find patterns to hold onto, a thought, a wavelength longer than three seconds. That’s what I was learning – how to think, how to see, how to really, literally stop and smell the roses.
Lord knows I’m distracted. It sounds cliche now that our phones, our social media accounts are making us distracted and leading to burn out – it’s what I heard Cadence Weapon once describe as “technological distress.” I guess my mind found it’s own way out of the mental burden I put it under – by becoming fixated with small things around me.
You could say the home renovations were my way of being in the moment; I was practising mindfulness, or gratitude – even play, maybe. But mostly, the work struck up something I haven’t felt since childhood, sadly – it’s a feeling I’ve lost with the access to Google always at my fingertips, or a tonne of uninteresting articles I’ve “favourite-d” on Twitter because I think I should read them anyway. Instead, it’s picking up the smallest, most innocuous thing, rolling it around in your own palm and realizing you don’t really know how it works: it’s the sense of wonder.
Back when the world was still really big and you made time to look at the stars and they still seemed really far away, and when you contemplated miracles, you wondered, just wondered…that’s what my mind is trying to regain.