do interesting things

July 31, 2010

It was while I was in the process of moving into a house two blocks away from where I was living that I had long conversations with every neighbor who I’d often briefly encountered during the year when I had lived right next to them.

The quirky man who lives next to my garage heard me sanding an old table and brought over about twenty different electric sanders to see what worked the fastest. The plant man whose garden I had an impressive view of from the roof where I grew my plants saw the sad little pine tree my roommate had thrown away and carried it into his house with confidence there was still some life left in it. The small old woman who lives across the alley happily, and extremely slowly, carried our unwanted kitchen supplies into her house. “I used to do things like move a street over from where I lived,” she said on her way. “That was when I was young and ambitious. My parents thought I was crazy.” My parents, overhearing, smiled and nodded. These are the ways that life changes with age.

And yet, throughout the process of wheeling my container garden up the street to my new house on an old Radio Flyer wagon I’d received from a lovely woman on Freecycle, and while disbursing all our unwanted belongings to the neighbors, and as I restored my trash-picked furniture, I was convinced again and again of the notion that the key to life is to do interesting things. Things that spark up conversations with people you would never meet otherwise. Things that remind strangers of what they haven’t considered doing since they were young. Things that raise eyebrows and elicit questions because they aren’t typical. Collecting conversations and interactions with people in every which way.

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I remember one year on our dad’s-birthday-eve, I stumbled upon my sister in the garage hammering nails into a long board on which she had painted tye-dye colors and written some generic message like “Dad, you’re a pal!” with big sloppy letters. It was a coat rack, she said.

I must have been about 7 years old or so, and at the time it was a favorite pastime of mine to hammer nails into boards. Unable to let my sister one-up me at my own specialty, I spent quite some time thinking how I could turn one of my nail-and-hammer projects into a birthday gift for my dad. Finally, I had it! My grand idea was to hammer different size nails into a block, tie on an extra nail as a mallet, and there you had the perfect musical instrument birthday gift.

When my dad opened his gift after kindly admiring Krisha’s coat rack, he sort of smirked in my directions and said knowingly, “Kayla, you just wanted to hammer nails into a board, didn’t you?” Having been raised to be proud of my creative efforts, I was pretty hurt by my dad’s failure to appreciate his new musical instrument. But I also remember acknowledging in my upset 7-year-old mind that he was right. I did just want to hammer nails into a board.

Last night I sat in my room hammering nails into a board, and I remembered my unappreciated birthday gift that was now turning into something more innovative than even I had expected. After years of disentangling spools of thread regardless of how many times I try to gently organize them in a box or nicely stack them in a window sill, I stumbled upon the realization that they would hang wonderfully from nails hammered in a board.

After a trip to the wonderful Construction Junction to acquire an old piece of crown molding, a cut and paint job, and an evening spent hammering nails into a board, I have discovered the way to keep my spools untangled and looking nice:

a walk to where I go

July 7, 2010

“Wanna walk to Squirrel Hill?” I asked my housemate on a day the weatherman had just informed me would be “oppressively hot.” It was a 2.5-mile trek across Pittsburgh neighborhoods. Each way.

She looked at me like I was crazy. “Well…” she mustered with a disapproving look on her face. She was sitting at her computer looking at pictures on Facebook. “Do you have anything else to do today?” I offered as the only reason I had for why this was a good idea. It worked.

So we set out on our trip. I was inspired by my 60-year-old coworker who lives in Squirrel Hill and walks to and from work every day in East Liberty. Most of the people I work with drive the four blocks down the road to get from our main offices to our food pantry, but this alternative mentality of walking several-mile distances daily seemed so appealing. Usually I bike everywhere, but something about the steady clarity of walking matched the slow-motion mood of the oppressively hot day.

The walk wasn’t great.

By what we decided was the halfway point, we were sweat-dusted and had drained our water bottles in us. We stopped at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts to browse the air conditioning. Our flip-flopped feet were blistering and aching. We stuffed leaves between skin and shoe to dull the pain.

We made it to Ten Thousand Villages, the destination we intended to reach, and back. Even with the difficulties—and likely because of them—walking along with us, it felt like an adventure. Much more than rolling in a car to a store could have. It reminded me of when I lived in Uganda and no one paid much attention to time because everyone walked most places and the journey was just as important as the destination.

The journey is just as important as the destination.