“All you can do”

I had just gotten to school this morning to knock out a few quick tasks and I swung by 205, the room I’ve taught in for the past five years.  I unlocked the door and stepped inside, only to be greeted by an unfamiliar sight and the very real feeling that I had been pillaged — or worse. The unpleasant surprise that greeted me is pictured below:


What you’re looking at might seem just fine — familiar even. In the space between the five pillars of Islam and my collection of Negro Leagues baseball pennants, under the watchful omnipresence of my pride and joy: a nine-by-fourteen-foot map of the world, are inconspicuous rows of desks, not unlike what one might find in any classroom… or sweatshop.  That’s the problem — that’s not my style. For three years now, my room has been set up in a circle, allowing for Socratic discussion and collaboration to take precedence over society’s otherwise ceaseless desire to produce more efficacious assembly line workers. Whatever terrorist had done this to my room didn’t leave a calling card, but I can eliminate a lot of suspects based on the fact that my very full file cabinet is fifteen feet from its original home. It’s obviously someone who understands levers, and who just as obviously doesn’t understand education. It’s going to take me hours to fix that mess.


Later on in the day, after I finished some of my more menial chores, I drove to Lowe’s and bought a single plank of wood, 53.5″ x 11.5″ x 1″, cut to size, and drove it home. I then got out my drill, hammer, and crowbar, and started tearing out the wobbly, split stair that has irritated my wife and I for a few years now. I figured it would be a nice surprise for her to come home and find it repaired, and I was willing to bet on my ability to swap one board out for another.  Turns out that wasn’t a safe bet.

Upon removing the plank, which was easy enough, I found a mangled nightmare of a deathtrap lurking below the surface. To think that for five years we’d been walking over split and rotted beams, carrying our children no less, was disconcerting. I cursed for a bit, brainstormed for a bit, then texted a few pictures of the mess to Dave at Old World Craftsmen. He told me more or less what needed to be done, and was polite enough not to point out the obvious: that I lack the skills to fix it myself, then said he’d send a carpenter over as soon as he could.

After I put the kids to bed this evening, I walked back outside with my drill and a box of starhead screws. I cranked the torque all the way up and started blasting screws into the stairs as if I was afraid they’d wander off if I didn’t secure them well enough. In this, I found a brief moment of catharsis, and by the time I had finished the steps looked like shit but at least they weren’t wobbly anymore.  They’ll hold until Dave gets someone over to do what I obviously should have yet somehow never learned to do. That reminds me: I need to have someone change the oil in my Jeep. I went back inside, poured a vodka drink, and headed up to my computer so I could tell you all about this mess.


Note: If you can hear this next portion in the voice Jim Gaffigan uses when he’s pretending to be a critic in his own audience, it will be funnier.

Why is he talking about all of this? I thought this was supposed to be a wine blog. He’s just drinking vodka and complaining about termites and feng shui. I want my money back.

Here’s the point: it’s so easy to be disappointed by things in life; I often am, and I know I’m not alone. I was disappointed more times today than I could possibly write down, and way more than you care to read about. That happens in wine, too. A friend told me last week she pulled two bottles out of her cellar that she was really excited about, bottles she’d had for over a decade and stored properly — and they were both so bad she and her husband didn’t even drink them. So what did she do? She opened another bottle, a good bottle, and they drank it. It’s not the setbacks or the disappointments, but how we respond. Of course she opened another bottle. That’s all she could do.

I’m going to take hours I don’t really have to fix my classroom because my students and I deserve a learning environment that doesn’t look like something out of an Upton Sinclair novel. And I’m going to pony up the dough to have the steps fixed right because my family walks in and out of that door a dozen times or more a day, and we need to feel — and be, safe while we’re doing it. And while I couldn’t bear another disappointment tonight, hence the Moscow mule, I’ll pull another cork tomorrow and, depending on what pours forth from the bottle, respond accordingly. In each of these instances, that’s all I can do.

So tomorrow, when inevitably something doesn’t go your way, I hope you’ll think about that silly little thing you read last night, that blog that’s supposed to be about wine but frequently isn’t, and then maybe go ahead and just take another whack at whatever you failed at in the moment before, because I’m telling you now, that’s all you can do.

Cheers to do what you can, and then doing it again and again and again,




2 responses to ““All you can do”

  1. Love it Mark. I need this reminder frequently, especially since I whine too much to even get past blog post #1 of the whine & wine blog I tried to start. Now if someone knows a good California attorney who will inexpensively assist me with a “diminished value” suit against the insurance company who represents the lady in the Volvo who put my truck up on two wheels when she took a right from the lefthand lane, I’d feel better too…but maybe I’ll just have some good wine (or rum) instead! Haha! Be safe on those stairs!


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