Hanging ceiling panels: A look at life’s little complexities

By Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

I spent several hours yesterday replacing stained, sagging or missing panels in the dropped ceiling of my basement, with the help of my son, Max.

We thought the job would be easy. I’d already purchased replacement panels, and located the missing parts of frames to support them.  And some panels were easy to replace–just slide them up and over the hanging aluminum grids and let them settle into place.

But most proved much more aggravating to install. The supports were bent or bowed. There were wires holding up the main framework, which obstructed our ability to get the replacement panels to drop easily onto the narrow ledges of the supports. Water pipes and extraneous wires kept the panels from fitting properly.

We did manage to replace some of the panels and decided we needed to buy another package of nine to complete the job. Before heading to Home Depot, we stopped for a break. Our conversation turned to my long-term plans to sell the house.

Max, 22, is much more structured than I am. He thinks, I’m proud to say, in terms of systems and structures. Why, he wanted to know, do I want to sell the house? What are my long-term plans?

I am single. I am a freelance writer. I’m in my fifties. I’ve moved many times in my life and rarely felt settled. I don’t have many emotional ties to St. Louis.  I feel that, at my age, I still have time to risk a big move to redefine my life.

My house is 80-some years old. It’s not big, but it’s more than I need, especially when I consider the garden. In the summer, I tend to the garden and neglect the house. In the winter, I try to concentrate on keeping up the interior. The truth is, I’m not much of a housekeeper. I can keep things tidy, but I’m not particularly adept at deep cleaning. Not to mention, keeping up with the requirements of maintenance.

Add to that the demands of freelancing. I can write, and I love it. Finding someone to buy my writing? I don’t love it, and the task isn’t easy. It’s the same with every independent, creative business person I know–we hate the marketing part of our craft. Almost universally, that results in sporadic income. In other words, I can’t always pay for someone else to help me keep up the house.

So I juggle. Sometimes it seems nothing is ever done completely to my satisfaction. Work comes along in a glut, which results in neglect of marketing, which results in a dearth of work–which means a lack of income. And the thing that most often falls between the cracks is maintenance of the house. (The same is true of paperwork–it’s never completely done.)

I tried to explain to Max how these factors fit into my decision-making and long-term goals. As we sat drinking Cokes, resting from our basement exertions and discussing these aspects of my life, it was clear he didn’t grasp my reality.

Why, he asked, don’t I get a part-time job for regular income? Why don’t I reconsider my desire to sell the house and realize that my age may make it impractical to start a new life elsewhere? Why don’t I focus on my writing and “ramp up” my professional life in the ways he knows I am capable of achieving? What, he asked me, are my long-term goals and why can’t I express them in more comprehensive terms, in a way that encompasses professional and financial success?

These are all logical questions. But the answers are not simple, at least not in my mind. A part-time job for regular income? Why would I take a job for $10 an hour when I earn many times that amount through writing? How could I travel as much as I like, if I had to conform to a schedule set by someone else? Am I ready to settle into a city to which I feel no allegiance because it is appropriate for my age?

We finished our Cokes and went to Home Depot to pick up another package of ceiling panels. These proved even more problematic to install than the others–these panels were more brittle, they were more difficult to maneuver into place, the obstructions–insignificant as they seemed, at first glance–were harder to work around.

After a while, we decided to put off installation until later. Max was particularly aggravated by the seemingly minor difficulties that made our task more difficult and time-consuming. I, on the other hand, felt these difficulties were an illustration of the points I had been trying to make earlier–nothing is as easy as it seems; dealing with home maintenance is more difficult to accomplish on my own; sometimes the slog through life just doesn’t conform to logic and well-laid plans.

Funny. Just hanging ceiling panels gave us the chance to view life from one another’s viewpoint.

I recognize the value of Max’s approach to life, and I strive–and sometimes struggle–to live by his standards. I think he recognizes the reality that life does not always conform to his vision, and appreciates my ability to adjust to conditions beyond my control, as well as my attempts to live within a structure that doesn’t come naturally.

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