My long dark night of the soul

The theater ceiling

The theater ceiling

I have been working on the basement ceiling for going on two months now. I’ve encountered more than my share of missteps and delays. But I had also made some real progress.  It’s been harder than I thought it’d be. There were times putting up the furring strips when it felt more physically demanding even than the drywall. And I had nagging doubts about the fact that the tiles had somehow gotten out of kilter. They weren’t lining up exactly as they should.  Click on the picture at the left to see what I mean. Look at the ridge along the far right side. That should line up evenly, instead of jumping to the left and right. I told myself it didn’t matter. Minor imperfections would simply give the ceiling character. No one would notice but me.

The jagged edge.

The jagged edge.

But I’ve come to the realization that it will matter, and that the errors magnified across the 800-square-feet or so of basement ceiling will reach the point where things simply will not work. Because of the way the tiles are affixed to the furring strips, I needed to run a line of border tiles from the hallway down to the end of the office room. I realized that when I brought the next row back, the jagged edge of the hallway tile, which you can see in the picture on the right, will cause insurmountable problems. The only solution, I fear, is to start over.

Some people believe that every story ever told is a variation of The Hero’s Journey, a concept popularized by Joseph Campbell and used to terrific effect by George Lucas in the original Star Wars.

And even something as mundane as a basement remodeling project can fit in those parameters. I started out in the ordinary world, where I knew nothing about construction or remodeling. My experience with power tools didn’t extend beyond an electric screwdriver. But my wife and I bought this house, and it had this magnificent unfinished basement that I believed we could transform. Only we didn’t have the money to pay someone to do it. Could I do it myself? Would I let myself be pulled into that adventure? A DIY friend told me I could. Another mentor came along to help. And I undertook the journey.

I encountered tests — tests of endurance, strength, intellect. I made incredible progress, I thought. I didn’t have a light saber, but I did have a nail gun. My wife and friends were amazed at how it was coming together, and so was I. Even my original DIY friend admitted he didn’t think I’d make it so far.

Now this. The realization that I need to pull down about 400 ceiling tiles, trying not to damage them, and start all over.

This is the part of the hero’s journey they call THE ORDEAL. This is where the hero faces a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, and hits bottom. The hero maybe even appears to die. All seems lost. This is the part where Frodo and Sam are floundering in Mordor, the ring becoming an unbearable burden to Frodo, one he now doubts he can bear all the way to Mount Doom. This is when Sam gives that great, stirring speech:

I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

When Frodo asked Sam what they were holding onto, he says: “That there’s some good in this world and it’s worth fighting for.”

Me? I’m holding on to the vision of this basement, finished. Sitting with my family and enjoying a movie on a 110″ screen with a cold beer from the wet bar in my hand. Of having an office that isn’t jammed into a small dining room but actually has space for book shelves and musical instruments, maybe even an electronic drum set so friends can come over and jam. There is some good in this world, and it is worth fighting for.

So I’ll pick myself up from this disappointment. Start taking tiles down, then put them back up right. This darkness will pass, and a new day will come.

But maybe I’ll do this first: Build the wet bar, and plug in the kegorator.

2 Responses to My long dark night of the soul

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