I Need a User Manual

picture of old house with ivy

I drafted a post about needing a user manual for my house. A few neurons connected and it became a metaphor for me needing a user manual, for me.

My house is over a hundred years old. The exact date of its construction unknown, the kids and I held a birthday party for its centennial a few years ago. It was for us more than for the house, because we have a bit of a strained relationship, my castle and I. I appreciate a lot of things about it (hello big front porch!) but feel like I’m always letting it down. I dream of living in a smaller, simpler place when my kids are grown and gone, but that’s a long way off.

I do know my age, 52 (“playing with a full deck”, my kids will sure miss that joke when I turn 53), but otherwise, it all applies to my human castle. I appreciate this body that gave me two children, savours yoga poses, dances with joy, and even “ran” 50K for my 50th birthday (thanks JAM ❤️). I let myself down sometimes too (like when I eat too much, so make your own big front porch joke), usually out of not knowing what I really want, not understanding myself.

I ranted to a handyman recently – “Houses should come with a user manual!” – when I learned I hadn’t given my sump pump the proper attention. Apparently it relies on me to dump a few buckets of water down it each month to keep it working well. Apparently I’m supposed to know this through telepathy.

I pictured the tidy hand-printed index cards in an elderly neighbour’s house up for sale, explaining quirks of various appliances and the intricate workings of the ancient radiator system. I wonder if she had a sump pump. I remembered a friend repainting her concrete basement floor (“each year”) and me questioning how I’d lived in a house with a concrete basement floor for over 25 years and never imagined painting it.

I still have frequent aha moments in conversations or reading a book where the world suddenly changes. I was a couch potato as a young adult and when I crossed the finish line of my first half-marathon at 32 I felt sick. Not physically, just nothing made sense in my heart. I’d done something inconceivable. What else was I wrong about? People like me didn’t do things like that, so who was I? I’ve figured a lot out since then, and now I’m surprised by how many surprises there still are. Maybe wisdom is realizing how little I know.

I had two home inspections over the years, and got a binder each time with their findings. When I bought the house in 1992, the first inspector told me the air conditioner didn’t work. It’s proved him wrong every summer since then, so it was hard to believe him about too many other things. The second found and fixed many little things as he laughed himself silly at the amateur renovations I live with, and suggested putting drywall up where I have bare framing (yes, I am aware how walls work). Contractors give me advice but also ask baffling questions like, “Where are your weeping tiles?”

I have a reliable handyman for specific projects, and neighbours and friends are a great help. I don’t struggle with things on a daily basis, but I don’t know what I don’t know.

Honestly, just switch out doctor or therapist for handyman and it works.

When I read the essay The Crane Wife by C.J. Hauser, I wrote in my journal: No more taking pride in being “low maintenance”: I will make my needs known! I will Live Out Loud! Which will go more smoothly I expect, if I figure out what my needs are first. I’m on a heavenly break from relationships with men, and my teenagers welcome – with curiosity and kindness, have I mentioned they’re awesome? – me voicing my needs. So let’s go: Let’s fill in the contents of my user manual.

Can I organize myself into self awareness? Categorize my feelings, physical and emotional? Everyone with a uterus can relate to that feeling of getting an unexpected period then realizing you’d missed all sorts of clues that it was coming. I live that same bewilderment every time I realize a new insight about myself and think, How did I not notice this before?

It’s hard to imagine how an earlier family of six lived for forty years in this modest three-bedroom, with the one bathroom, that didn’t even have a shower. A neighbour who knew them said, “He kept that house in tip-top shape, always painting, fixing things up, everything ran like a well-oiled machine.” I want to ask him how. Get out the ouija board, I have questions.

Wait a minute.

I’m not an old house after all. There’s no previous owner to give me tips. When I learn something new about myself, I’m not letting myself down, I’m letting myself grow. I’m always changing – I live for surprises – exploring, questioning, bits of drama, that’s what life’s all about, right? My needs are always changing too. My goal with my house is maintenance. My goal with myself is to see what this baby can do, what unimaginable adventure is next?

I don’t need a Karen User Manual after all, I just need to keep writing blog posts to sort things out in my head. And a user manual for my house.


5 thoughts on “I Need a User Manual

  1. I love this, Karen – particularly your penultimate paragraph. We can give ourselves such a hard time about the stuff we don’t know (especially if it seems obvious in retrospect) but, as you say, we’re learning and growing. There’s no need to beat ourselves up about the things we don’t yet know we don’t know! “What unimaginable adventure is next?” – what a great question. Also, I don’t even know what a sump pump is so you’re ahead of me there, and I think I had a case of “weeping tiles” once but the doctor gave me some ointment and it cleared right up.

    1. Lol thanks for the laugh Julie, my tiles surely are weeping wherever they are. And yes, how dull life would be if we had it all figured out! Have a wonderful day 🙂

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