I am building a shed in my woods. When I am done, it will be a place to hide from the world and write. Meanwhile, the noise of construction cannot be hidden. It carries well beyond my property and attracts the curious.
Ever so often I hear a shuffling on my gravel path and moments later a neighbor materializes out of the trees.
“What you building?” they ask.
The question always throws me.
I see a floor. I see framing for walls. I see bare rafters. I ask them what they see?
It raises doubts about my project.
“It started out as a shed,” I tell them, “but after all the rain we got in June, I decided to build an ark.” My little joke always falls flat. They know me but not that well. For all they know, I am building an ark.
“Where’s the door,” they ask.
Again the question throws me. Again the self doubt.
The rough framing for a front door is right there. Why can’t they see it? I point to the opening.
“No,” they say, “the DOOR.”
“That’s it,” I insist.
They tilt their head one way then the other. They appraise the door from several angles. I know what they are thinking.
“It’s not an equipment shed,” I tell them. “The door is for people, not tractors.”
“Then what kind of shed is it?”
I know better than to say a writing shed. That would set me too far apart.
“It’s a man-hut,” I say.
Their faces light up. Now they are jealous but at least they understand because building a man-hut deep in the woods is entirely understandable.
In this part of the country, houses remain the province of women. No, we don’t live in a time-warp. Most local women work outside the home and off the farm. In fact, most farmers work off the farm. Still, that aspect of the past lingers. Women rule the roost and while guys are welcome in the house, they are not comfortable there. They belong in the machine shop, barn, garage or the shed.
Everyone understands this.
“So, you’re building an ark, eh?” They chuckle. Now that it is clear what the structure is, it is also safe to laugh at my little joke.
“Yup,” I say.
“But what the hell is that?”
“What?” I ask.
“That?” they say, pointing at some detail of construction.
Everyone indicates something different. Some don’t like my choice of skids over footings, others prefer nails to screws, while others can’t get past a minor flaw.
One guy asks, “Where’s the spacers?”
“I’m not using them,” I say.
“You’re not using spacers?”
Spacers are little metal clips inserted between the wooden sheets that cover a roof. Not using them really bothers him.
”It’s gonna collapse,” he prophesies.
“No, it ain’t,” another guy says. He goes on to explain how builders employ tricks to compensate for flimsy materials. Spacers are something they use to firm up cheap OSB plywood.
This ignites an argument.
“I worked construction for a year and that’s the way we always did it,” the first guy says.
“Yeah, and who did you work for? Balsa-wood Builders Inc?” accuses the second.
The argument rages on into the night.
The next day, someone says, “I hear your roof collapsed. You should have used spacers.”
What is it about my shed that evokes tribal instincts? I am not sure. Maybe it is working in the shade of ancient oaks. Maybe it is the notion of a man-cave, a place to be apart from the world. But whatever it is, everyone finds something to harp about.
It is not that they are unkind or overly opinionated, far from it. It’s more that I am out there, alone in the woods, making noise with a hammer and saw. It is an irresistible lure to participate. Even if just to give advice.
In all things, advice tracks two ways: one focuses on problems or a better way of doing something, the other isn’t advice at all, rather it’s just someone stamping their imprint on your work.
I always welcome critique but people have to understand the work is mine, not theirs.
As for flaws, I take them in stride. If I wanted perfection I would have hired a perfectionist. This way, the mistakes are mine and they give the place character – my character.