One of the semesters I taught freshmen composition, I had my students keep a blog. The point of the class was to teach students how to tailor their writing to their specific purpose, audience, and context, and also to the conventions of whatever genre they were writing in. Mid-semester, one of my brightest students started publishing her weekly blog posts late. When I asked her about it, she said she was just following the genre’s conventions. She pointed out that bloggers always start out with frequent, enthusiastic posts, only to peter out a couple months later, prefacing each post with an apology for their lateness, “as if anyone is actually still reading their blog.” I was delighted and gave the student credit for the assignment. Not only did she have a good grasp of genre conventions but she also understood how to own her specific audience (me).
I’m sorry, I haven’t blogged in a while. I wasn’t home for most of December. And even when I was home, I made little progress on the van.
Remember the five problems? So far, I’ve solved four of five.
1. The orange peel: I’m over it.
2. The caulk gun situation: I extended my caulk gun with two long Starbucks straws and was thus able to apply lap sealant to the far-reaching brackets. Hurrah!
3. The faulty backup camera: Bought the relay but haven’t installed it yet.
4. The wet, moldy floor: The culprit wasn’t the heater core, and it wasn’t the windshield either! After more careful observation, I determined that the leak originated in the old, crumbling gasket that tops the cabin air filter, which is situated just under the windshield on the passenger side. I replaced the gasket with butyl tape. Now the van is watertight.
5. The window regulator: I ordered spare parts from Turkey. I couldn’t find a Youtube video that showed exactly how to replace the parts, so I had to use my own brain and, consequently, briefly experienced terror. After several hours elbow-deep in marine-grade grease (what my local car store recommended I apply to the new gear), I installed the upgraded window regulator back into the driver’s door, and the window rolled up and down perfectly.
I also started work on the ceiling. I installed long pieces of wood across the interior roof of the van, so I would have something to screw the cedar-plank ceiling into. I also extended the cables that run down through the roof from the solar panels. I started to attach cedar planks to the furring but ran into some hiccups. One of these hiccups is pictured at the top of this post. Lots more on those hiccups in my next post.
With the new year, I’ve been reflecting on how long I thought this van build would take me versus how long it’s actually going to take me. First, I said I’d finish the van by October, then November, then the new year.
One of my problems is that I work too slowly. I most likely won’t fix this problem because I hate being rushed. The other problem is that I set my expectations too high, and not just when it comes to the van. I expect a 3,000-word story draft to take me 10 hours, when it’ll actually take me at least double that. One recent Sunday morning, I created a 24-bullet-point to-do list, due EOD. My new year’s resolution is to expect less.
In that spirit, I’ve created a quiz that estimates a project’s actual completion date. Like all online quizzes, this one is very important and will certainly provide an accurate result. This quiz is geared towards building a van, but I invite you to substitute all van references with whatever project you’re working on this year (e.g., writing a novel, editing a video, building a kayak, founding a Free as Fuck Commune, creating a revolutionary stained glass pattern book that targets someone other than half-blind geriatric patients, ya I’m talking to you).
When will the van be done? A quiz.
First, write down how long you think you’ll need to complete your project. I estimate I’ll be done with my van by April 1.
Next, choose the answers that best resonate with you.
1. How much experience do you have building a van?
a) I’ve built a van before, or I have relevant experience in carpentry, electrical work, sewing, and automotive repair.
b) I took a semester of advanced woodshop in high school and made a big mirror frame that now hangs in my mom’s house. I really went to town with the bandsaw, and as a result, the mirror is highly ornamented and not particularly attractive. In my adult life, I’ve used a drill and driver to hang a shelf; assembled IKEA furniture, and refinished Craigslist finds. I’ve never fixed a flat car tire because I’ve never had one. I can sew by hand but find it tedious. I had to use a sewing machine in Home Ec in middle school but wasn’t really into it because I didn’t trust the teacher. The week before, she’d taught us that the most important food group was bread, and that one key type of bread was doughnut.
2. Do you have other hobbies that will detract from your time with the van?
a) No. I’ve read Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance and have really taken to heart that an essential part of success is focussing your energy on one endeavor, not spreading yourself thin. I’ve also listened to Macklemore’s song Intentions, in which he laments, “I want to give it 100% but I’m too afraid to try.” I believe I can do better than that douche Macklemore and have decided to overcome my fear of failure by dedicating all my free time to the van build.
b) I structure my free time like a middle school day camp. In addition to working on the van, I climb, shoot arrows, paint, and read. Recently, Mike bought a VR system, and I’ve discovered a love for Beat Saber, which is like DDR but way better. I had several days in December during which I could have worked on the van, but instead I made Christmas presents for my family—sachets filled with dried lavender, a calendar, an end-grain cutting board, and a painting of a pig for my grandmother, to celebrate the year of the pig. I am including photos of these presents to prove that, despite the current sad state of my van’s ceiling, I’m not completely incapable, and you should stick around. Some of the skills I learned while making these presents will transfer to the van build, but most won’t. I know that, if I want to significantly improve in any one thing, I have to focus my efforts on just one overriding passion, but if I were to do that, I wouldn’t even be building this van; I’d be writing. One day I will change, but I’m okay with who I am today. Yeah, Macklemore said that.
3. Are you that person who’s always late?
a) No. When I plan my day, I take into account how many hours I will need to shower, eat, clean, sleep, and commute.
b) I’m the one running in at the knick of time, holding a half-chewed apple in my mouth while combing my wet hair. Every day, I’m surprised by how long making and eating food takes. How quickly the laundry piles up, the soap empties, the toilet paper runs out.
4. How many hours a day do you spend on your phone?
a) According to my weekly report, I spent an average of only 45 minutes daily on my phone last week. I do also have a laptop.
b) Only 45 minutes? I am way more modern, connected and popular than Natalya.
5. Are you physically fit enough for this project?
a) Yes, I exercise the recommended three times a week. A few times a year, I contract a cold or flu that makes me feel like I’m dying.
b) Eight years ago, I developed a mad headache, muscle pains, and joint pain that never went away. Doctors couldn’t come to a consensus on the cause. The worst part is the never-ending headache, which makes my brain feel like scrambled eggs. Every little thing seems to make the headache worse; if I play Beat Saber, the headache is double-bad the next day (obviously the solution is don’t play Beat Saber). When doing something active, like working on the van, I run a script on repeat in the back of my mind, something to the effect of “So what, it’s just pain,” a spin-off from the Buddhist truism, “Life is suffering.” But sometimes I lose track of this script, and that’s when you might find me in a predicament, say laying in the van, holding a running drill and a wad of electrical tape, bawling. Then I nap, drink hot tea, take five times the daily value of vitamin D, and, hours later, the script starts running again. That night, when I go to bed, I do not work those lost hours into my next day’s plan. After all these years, most nights I still go to sleep with unwarranted optimism: Tomorrow I’ll feel better!
6. Do you have grandmothers?
a) No, sadly I don’t have grandmothers. I also don’t have any other elderly people in my life who make me feel guilty every time I don’t pick up their Skype call.
b) When I bought the van, I said I wasn’t traveling anywhere until I finished it. Then I went to Pennsylvania, Montana, Germany, Poland, and back to Pennsylvania. The purpose of most of these trips was, at least in part, to see a grandmother. The grandmothers kept saying they were on death’s door. They’ve been saying it for decades—it’s a great Eastern European tradition—but now that they’re all well into their 80s, their proclamations have weight.
Babcia Marysia, Mike’s grandmother, lives in a small town in Poland. For most of her life, she worked in a sock factory. When Mike was a kid, he and Babcia Marysia would collect mushrooms in the forest together. Then Babcia would fry the mushrooms and also feed Mike unlimited perogies. Babcia believes in local food, the Bible, and velveteen slippers (she provides all her guests with slippers).
Babcia Ewa, Mike’s other grandmother, lives in Warsaw. As a kid, she carried bombs for the Polish underground resistance. In her 30s, she wrote a bestselling memoir about her time as a nanny in France. She was also a well-known journalist. Babcia Ewa has always said and done whatever she wanted, and is thus equally maddening and charming. One January long ago, she instructed her two sons to light the Christmas tree on fire, just to see what would happen (the ceiling burned, obviously).
Baba Nila, my grandmother, lives in Pennsylvania. In Ukraine, she worked as a librarian for many years. In her 60s, she moved to the U.S. and enthusiastically learned English. In Pennsylvania, she cleaned apartments and was so good at her job that the tenants still send her birthday cards with $10 bills. A few years ago, Baba Nila was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. Miraculously, she recovered and is now cancer-free, albeit with lasting health issues. She has a robotic dog that she understands is robotic but still covers with blankets, just in case.
7. Did you really just read a biography of each of Natalya and Mike’s grandmothers, when you could have been working on your project?
b) As I read, I wondered, “why this? why now?” But yes, I did read to the end. Wait, was I not supposed to?
How to score your answers
Every “b” answer gives you 20 points. I scored 100 points.
The number of points you earned is equal to the percentage points by which you should increase your project’s timespan. So, I need to increase my 3-month estimate by 100%, meaning I’ll finish in 6 months.
This van will be done by July.