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Thursday
Apr232015

This Little Light of Mine

This essay originally appeared on The Rabbit Room.

Photograph by Eric Peters

It was intended to be a simple project: recondition an old, rusted, industrial light fixture, and install it as the porch light on the small office/art space, The Asylum, I recently built. From the wiring, rewiring, custom cutting a new gasket seal, finding and retro-fitting a new socket into an old housing, I have had to assemble, backtrack, disassemble, reconfigure, and, not least of all, resist the urge to smash the thing to the ground out of total exasperation. Avoiding any obvious wine parables, summoning new light out of an old light fixture has been anything but simple. Nothing is easy, not even shining.

I originally found the fixture years ago in my mother-in-law’s Louisiana back yard. Hidden not under a bushel, as the Sunday school song goes, it was covered by an interlocking mat of weeds, Bermuda grass, and a mound of fire ant dirt. I extracted the piece, not with the intention of reconditioning it for use as now, but for the sake of its aesthetic — its color, shape, curves, maverick appeal — and for its possibilities. Only years later, after I had begun construction on my office, did it occur to me that I already had in my possession a porch light option: the piece had been collecting years of dust and brown recluse spiders on a low shelf in my tool shed. Surely, I thought, even with zero previous experience at such trades, I could manage to coax light from a rusted, decrepit, dormant, overlooked object.

Nearly every step of the slow DIY building project was a step-by-step trial by fire for me. Though untrained and in anti-possession of any legitimate carpentry skills, the one trait I have going for me is that, though slow, I am a willing student. When someone reacts in response to seeing my now complete dwelling, You are so handy. I could never do that, my inner, if not verbal, response is, I have no idea what I am doing. If I can do this, anybody can. And I absolutely mean it. I have never been very good at making plans, mostly inventing them as I go. At each successive stage of construction I had no choice but to learn how to do what needed to be done in order to move on to the next phase, that challenging step requiring yet another tutorial (and trial). I was not without physical assistance and advice from friends who had previous construction experience. Were it not for an old friend of mine — who just so happens to be a carpenter — I might still be perched and utterly perplexed atop my ladder, pencil behind my ear as if aiding my cause, attempting to calculate correct roof pitch, angles, and bird’s mouth rafter cuts. Imagine snow falling, me in winter coat and gloves, still perched atop my ladder, pencil chewed down to a nub, and you begin to get an idea of how slow a learner I am, and how I easily freeze and get overwhelmed. Mathematics aside, compounding the physical challenges of the undertaking were the massive overdoses of self-doubt, frustration, and exasperation. Even this seemingly innocuous porch light, intended to be a token of memory to my late father-in-law, caused me crippling moments of defeat and venomous ire, the depths of which I was unaware existed in my veins. Some things, like people, shine easier than others.

Nothing is easy. While growing up, I heard my father say those very words numerous times. Typically spoken while he was in the middle of a vexing household repair through gritted teeth and diabolical cynicism, it was not difficult to tell when Dad had reached his boiling point. Much to his credit, he did his best to collect himself and avoid exploding in rage in front of his family, particularly his two young sons who had, more than likely, insisted on “helping” him. Now in my forties, with two boys who like to “help” me with projects, I look to my dad with awe for his ability to keep it together during those high-blood-pressure moments of exacerbation and anger at not only a temporary challenge, but, on the whole, at something much bigger. Which, in a way, is what any one of us is ultimately angry about. Apples rarely fall far from their tree.

Like any homeowner, I have had to face household repairs head-on, namely in the interest of frugality, along with perhaps a morbid fetish for a good challenge. Due to a recalcitrant gene, however, I stubbornly continue to bite off more than I can chew, and were I able to step back and see myself from a distance, might plead, What on earth makes you think you can do this? I suppose I can’t, but the foolishness, as far as I can tell, seems to lie not in failing, but in failing to try. Failure is unworthy of fear. Like being brave, maybe shining and joy are things we learn by practice and rote rehearsal, by taking apart and reassembling, by trouble-shooting, by rewiring and reconfiguring, by rethinking. By making use of the tools and materials already at our disposal, perhaps covered in dust, weeds, and neglect, we persist. And in persisting, we do what needs to be done in order to move forward, to realize completion.

Though nothing I’m saying here is new under the sun, I will always need to learn to take the few, small, short-lived victories as they come. I must revel, however briefly or silently, in those small victories, and whether I flip my office light switch on for the first or the umpteenth time, with incandescent light bursting forth from the filaments, I should remind myself that I do not belong to the Fall, but rather to the living and the lighting to be done in its wake. Nothing is easy, not even living.


Eric Peters writes and performs songs for listening humans. He also paints canvases, makes sculptures out of repurposed objects (The Daily Piece), runs a secondhand book service (The Book Mole), and mows lawns. He does this all in the name of liberty and art, or the art of liberty. Eric lives in Nashville, TN, with his wife and two boys. He can be virtually visited at www.ericpeters.net.

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