I have no common sense. If Thomas Paine gave me an autographed copy of his opus, I’d still lack common sense. Some would say this makes me creative. People like me would say this, for example. Others would say this makes me a disaster of epic proportion waiting to destroy the universe. My husband would say that. We think differently.

We ran into this while building a greenhouse two autumns ago. I miss that greenhouse–I didn’t get to bring it with me when we moved. Now that the farms are asleep for the winter and I have not yet achieved self-sufficiency on this new plot of land, I must go to the regular store. Sadness.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to bring my greenhouse–I did. When I ordered the “kit” I didn’t know it would come in 496 pieces, because I don’t have common sense.  A normal person would’ve looked at the flat box with the Chinese characters (because I’ve now studied enough Mandarin to realize it said “we laugh at your attempts to assemble this because we are paid slave wages”) and said, “That’s going to be a bitch to put together.” Not me. I said, “Herbs in the winter.”  If the directions had been in some Asian language, I’d have been able to puzzle through it, but the 3×5 instruction card had pictures and arrows which required spatial recognition and common sense. Game over.

By the time I had all 496 pieces spread alphabetically across the lawn, I didn’t think the greenhouse would ever emerge.  It nearly ended our marriage. In the end, it took three of us to defeat–one academic sans common sense (me), one ex-military jack of all trades turned entrepreneur (my husband) and one machinist (the kindly neighbor). It was so secured with bolts, wires, duct tape, and salvaged nails that it was going nowhere. It could have doubled as the neighborhood bomb shelter if it weren’t so small. It would be staying right where it was.

I tried to contribute to the assembly process, but it was out of my league.  I’m handy. I refinished the downstairs after the Great Flood. I used the Sinatra method, mind you, “I did it my way,” because the right way would’ve required common sense–I’m not above measuring boards for a shelf using a piece of dental floss if it’s within reach. I used a jig saw to router out some moulding when I was lacking the right tool. It’s shady, I admit, but it works. My husband can’t watch, because he does things “right.”

The greenhouse was mocking me. So, I did what comes naturally–I pretended to work, making progressively fewer logical moves descending into the ridiculous. Things “someone with no common sense” would ever do. Things designed to attract Rusty’s attention.  I knew that sooner or later his staff sergeant intuition would detect a ripple in the force and he’d come over to provide the leadership I needed to take that hill. I mean assemble that greenhouse.

This strategy, incidentally, works in classy department stores when you can’t get assistance–try it this holiday season. I call it the “May I help you?” move.  Walk around befuddled and utterly confused. Touch everything, starting with the expensive stuff first.  In less than thirty seconds, the salesperson who had spent the last half-hour ignoring you will be at your side serving you as if you were the King or Queen of England. Especially if you are underdressed looking like you might rob the place.

This choreographed move works well for husbands who need that sense of order, too. Most specifically leadership husbands with military backgrounds. Sometimes it backfires when I am focusing on the job at hand but my appearance of disorder puts me on his radar.  Mowing the lawn, for example. He likes straight lines. I circle and zig-zag. As such, I have been fired Trump-style from mowing.

I am permitted to build stuff, however, as long as Rusty doesn’t have to watch. He must be far removed my lack of systems, efficiency, analytics and process, and at the end, he’ll emerge and say, “That came out nice!”

Yes, he’s the entrepreneur and I’m the useless academic. I’d have been the first one purged by Stalin. “What do you do for society?” would be the question.

“I think and I write.” I’d reply.

“Yes, but can you manufacture a greenhouse and contribute to society?” Game over. Pack a warm coat for that train to Siberia.

Studying the art of vision is fascinating–when I create, it’s as if the pieces come to life and tell me what they want to become–my plan twists, pivots, morphs, and emerges–it’s always different from my original intent. At least twice during every project I want to burn it, toss it, smash it and start again. I resist the urge, and end up with a work that transcends my original intent.

My husband starts with a plan, executes the plan, and finishes the plan. When it’s done, the results are what he intended; effective, brilliant, efficient, and able to be successfully replicated a million times by using “the system.” It’s probably why he’s the entrepreneur.

Usually our thinking styles, left to percolate in their own spheres, unite and produce something fantastic. This time we were in trouble. Thankfully, the machinist neighbor looked out his window–he couldn’t help it–it was a small neighborhood–and bailed us out to the tune of a case of Mountain Dew which I left gratefully on his doorstep the next morning like an offering to the gods.

No more greenhouse kits for me. When I build the next one this spring, I’ll do it from scratch. Just some posts and a makeshift foundation built on some 4×4’s reinforced with whatever I can find.  I’ll hack it together until I get a rectangle-ish looking building covered with polycarbonate of one sort or another. And I’ll do it when nobody’s home, because I’m going to Picasso this thing out of the dust and it’s not going to be a pretty process. When it is finished, however, it’ll give me the winter of herbs and veggies I desire.

That greenhouse, along with other household projects, made me realize that it takes both sides–the yin and the yang–to make the circle of life complete. We can be extremes, but we must meet in the middle. My husband and I both have our sides. We are both right. And wrong. Simultaneously. Maybe that’s what life is all about–learning to balance those extremes and create a whole that is more than the sum of the parts.

This winter, I can go to the grocery store while I wait for the farm to wake up, and I can take occasional Saturday trips to the farmer’s market across the state. Since I’ve been in the farm and small market loop so long, I’ve noticed how funny the grocery store really is. It’s stocked to the brim with stupid stuff. Stuff that I will never buy, and have, in fact, decided to mock. But that will be the topic of the next post.

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