Raise high the roof beam

My sister-in-law is pregnant. I am writing a book. The Visual Legacy Foundation is fundraising. Someone very dear to me is cutting through complicated emotional knots. In one way or another we are all manifesting ourselves.

Why we do this is of course the mystery of life, but at the moment I find myself wondering, ultimately, how. We tend to hope that others will manifest themselves in particular ways, sometimes for their own sake, often so we can develop with them and establish another reality for ourselves. A mistake I often seem to make is to see a certain potential in someone while that person has no intention of developing the quality I see. Perhaps they are not aware that they can. In any case there is a tricky balance to keep between interfering too much and knowing we can achieve practically nothing in our lives alone.

I have almost completed the renovation of a house. After a nightmare first phase, gutting the place with the contractor from hell and stroking the egos of various incompetent workmen, then working twelve hours a day side by side with an Eastern European carpenter who mastered his craft much better, but seemed to want to move in, I ended up spending months stripping, sanding and painting on my own. I had life-saving help from my brother, a brilliant architect and a mean mofo when it comes to working with wood and putting things together, plus unfailing support from my family without whom I suspect I would have stopped seeing the sense in any of it.

It has been slow going, partly because I have a job and other responsibilities too, but also because this is the natural way of things if you build something properly. There have been bursts of frantic activity when intrepid friends have come to stay; when I’ve exploded with frustration; when money has come in and when the conviction that I would never allow a man to cross my doorstep again began to fade. For the most part it has developed like any baby and now that it is on its feet it is revealing a character of its own. Neither house nor garden is as I had first expected, which is fun. I love how furniture finds its place and how my plants instruct me to adjust, be patient, order something new.

Perhaps miraculously, I value more than ever the ability to make something beautiful or supremely functional with one’s own hands. Jesse Kamm, she of the best trousers in the world, quotes Thoreau: that a man who mends his own clothing and builds his own dwelling is a contented man. There is real joy in finding ways to fix things, put things together, and understand one’s home – which I suppose you can take literally or less so.

Maybe I like this dance with creation because for the most part life feels so mightily beyond our control. I used to buck myself up with the idea that I was the engineer of my own life, but too many curveballs have taught me that while you can choose your own thoughts and actions the end result somehow follows its own logic. You push, you shove, you think, plot, visualise, pronounce. Then you sort of wait. Life does its own thing. You steer a bit more, as best you can, take decisions, try to be smart and brave and hang in there. Then one day you end up with nothing – or so it feels when the chaff falls away. Then suddenly all the pieces of the puzzle fall together. Turns out you did something right after all.

Quantum physicists say your experiment determines the reality you see. Make of that what you will. All I know is that as long as you act, life will manifest itself – as the Monty Python team used to say, “something will happen” – and expecting good things is the only sensible point of view.  Perhaps this may encourage some of you who, like me, have had a dark January and wonder if any of what you want will ever see the light. Look on the bright side and grow good things.

An Amish barn-raising

The top image is, of course, a Lego ad from the 1970s.