A Room Of One’s Own

When we moved into this house, I was excited to have a room of my own, a place for books, and a writing desk. When we lived in North Carolina, I had an office at work but did my serious writing at home, in the mornings, and often at the kitchen table because we lived in a tiny house but not a Tiny House (TM), and there was no room for me to have a separate office. I would drink coffee and work on my laptop in the quiet house in those still hours when no one was stirring.

But here! Here I would take over what was designed to be the formal living room, fill it with books and a desk, and make it a study of sorts – a place I could be out of the way and write when other people who live with me want to watch TV or cook something or have the audacity to actually live in the house they, you know, live in.

Because I had always had an office elsewhere, my “work from home” space didn’t need to be complicated – it just needed to be out of the traffic pattern. It did not matter that it was by the front door, didn’t have closing doors, and was visible to everyone that visited.

But then COVID happened, and I wasn’t just working from home occasionally, and I wasn’t just writing – now I was doing everything at home – from video production to writing to zoom calls – so many zoom calls! I got a larger monitor, additional hard drives, a docking station, and… I took over my study, and it became an office. But nobody was visiting, so while it was a bother, it wasn’t critical.

This is all just temporary, we told ourselves.

But now, people ARE visiting, and I am now permanently and completely working from home. Our eclectic study at the front of the house has become the office of a caffeine-riddled ADHD-diagnosed madman with object impermanence, who needs everything to be in front of him, or else it does not exist.

Our living room/study is filled with evidence of my creative process. It’s a damn mess, is what it is. I need an office. A room of my own, with doors and walls, lots of electrical outlets, shelves and corkboards. Then I can have the mess I need to be creative, and we can have the eclectic book-lined study at the front of the house back, and harmony (and hopefully productivity) will reign in our house once again.

After an audit of the available spaces in our house, I concluded I would have to build an outbuilding in the backyard for my small office. I don’t need much space – 8×8 would serve fine – but the combination of the time it would take and the cost has had me in a holding pattern for several months.

But the other day, I went to the store room in the back of our carport to get something and realized it was actually larger than the 8×8 shed I had planned to build. And it had a concrete slab foundation, stud-framed walls, and a functional roof over it, so it was as if someone had handed me an 85-square-foot shed on a concrete slab that just needed to be finished inside.

Even better, it has six feet of windows which face east, so there is lots of natural light. The door to it is through our carport, so on rainy days, I won’t have to walk in the weather.

It presents some problems – one of which is where to store the things currently inside of it. But we were already planning on enclosing the carport, and much of it is junk that needs tossing anyway, so that problem would solve itself. Our HVAC unit is slightly oversized, so it can easily handle having an additional 100sf added to it. The room would need more outlets, but it already has power, so adding more outlets is just time and (not much) money. And, of course, it will need insulation and sheetrock, but so would any shed I build in the yard.

In short, what would have been a $5,000 project has now become something like a $1000 project. And instead of a few weeks of work spread out over winter, now it’s only a couple of weekends.

It’s more square footage than an 8×8 shed would be, but not much. The room is about five and a half feet wide and 17 feet long, making it roughly double the size of your average hall bathroom here in the US. I envision half of the space being a built-in desk and shelves, and the other half being storage.

I ordered the materials Sunday – they arrived this morning. As I was placing the order, it occurred to me that it would be fun to document this process here. So, stay tuned. I’ll keep you posted.


I used to believe in talent. These days, I’m not sure I do.

In high school, I took the ASVAB test – the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery exam. Basically, it was a tool the military-industrial complex used to filter students with skills that would be valuable to the military into the recruiter’s hands.

Which is pretty screwed up if you think about it. But anyway.

A thing that absolutely shocked literally everyone who knew me was that I scored ridiculously high on the mechanical portion of the exam. Things like they show you a series of interlocking gears, numbered 1-7. And then they ask, “If gear #3 turns clockwise, what direction does gear #1 turn?”

Like that. I did really well on it.

I was not known for my mechanical ability. I was known for my reading. I was known for my acne. And that was pretty much it. If I had a talent, it was not anything mechanical. It was reading and writing.

We had shop class, which I liked the idea of, but it was filled with what I would now call toxic masculinity (including the teacher), and even then, it felt icky. Even today, I seldom fit into all-male spaces and don’t do bro-culture well.

My Dad was very handy. I would much rather read a book. It used to frustrate him to no end that he wanted to teach me how to work on cars, and I wanted to read.

“Hugh’s just not talented,” people would say. “He’s more of a bookworm.”

I don’t really think that’s a thing. I mean, I did well on that test – I obviously had an aptitude for thinking about things mechanically. But I still couldn’t use a hammer to save my life. And since Dad’s effortless way with tools was my basis of comparison, I felt uncomfortable and awkward. I was comparing my 2 weeks of experience to his 30 years of experience and was mad because he was better at it than I was.

He wasn’t necessarily more talented than I was – he had more experience than I did.

This Sunday afternoon, our kitchen sink clogged. This was particularly annoying because it clogged right after I had made waffles, but before we washed the dishes. I emptied the sink of all the dirty dishes and then plunged for a while. Nothing doing.

I then went to the hardware store and bought a 25-foot-long drain snake (I thought I had one, but maybe not because I couldn’t find it). After 30 minutes of cursing, I had a clogged pipe AND was the owner of a drain snake. Wherever this clog was, it was more than 25 feet away. But the washing machine drained fine, so I knew the clog was between the sink and the washing machine.

I went back to the hardware store and bought some sulfuric acid. Poured it down the drain and went to bed.

Monday, when I woke up, the drain was clear. Yay! I ran water for a while, and it worked. I set about my day. Just before lunch, I began to wash some dishes and realized it was clogged again. Dammit! And I had an afternoon of meetings scheduled.

Last night after supper, I climbed under the house and saw the culprit – a section of the drain pipe that had been repaired long ago just before where the washing machine drains was catching debris from the disposal and had clogged. The repair was questionable in the first place, and the drain pipe was cast iron, original to the house. I could buy a 50-foot drain snake and probably get it, but the problem would still remain.

So this morning, I was at Home Depot at 6 am, and I bought a 10-foot length of 2-inch PVC and two generic fernco couplers (to connect the PVC to the cast iron) for about $30. I crawled under the house and, using my $14 angle grinder, cut the cast iron pipe on the downhill side of the suspected blockage. It was relatively dry, so it looked like my thesis was correct. I connected the franco coupler and one end of the PVC pipe to the cast iron.

I laid the PVC pipe along the existing pipe to measure 10 feet and then cut the cast iron pipe. This time, it was filled with nasty water, proving the blockage was in the 10 feet I was removing (probably at the damaged spot). In 10 minutes, I had the fernco coupling connected and had moved the plumbing strap from the old pipe to the new one.

I went inside and washed my hands and face in my unclogged sink.

14-year-old me would have been amazed at 50-year-old me’s “mechanical ability.” Lots of y’all think I am “very handy.”

Nope. I just have done this before. I have replaced bad pieces of drain pipe before, did a shit ton of research at the time, and learned about fernco couplers. I have used an angle grinder before. I knew how to get under my house.

But the first time I did it, I didn’t. That was when I bought the angle grinder. That was when I did the research and when I watched all the YouTube videos. This time, I didn’t have to. I wasn’t talented – I just had experience.


When I was in financial sales, my mentor was a man named Jerry.

Jerry was a dapper man, always in a sports coat and slacks. His shoes were immaculate and shiny. He went through the carwash every time he filled his gas tank. His image and appearance were very important to Jerry.

We would have lunch every Friday, and on one particular Friday, he said he had to go to his mechanics when he left the restaurant because he had an appointment to get new windshield wipers put on his car.

I told him that was ridiculous – that he shouldn’t spend money on something like that, because it would be so easy to just do it himself.

“Hugh,” he said. “You don’t understand. I want to always make enough money that I never have to do it myself. It’s not just that I don’t know how to do it myself – but that I never want to know how to do it myself.“

That would bother me to no end. There is no way I would drive somewhere and then pay someone to do something I could do myself in literally 5 minutes without getting dirty or even inconvenienced.

But if there are two kinds of people when it comes to Doing-It-Yourself, Jerry was one kind of person, and I am the other.

It’s not even that I particularly enjoy putting on windshield wipers. I just can’t imagine paying someone else to do it. I can’t even imagine asking someone else to do it.

A few years ago, it was late on a Saturday and I was outside, measuring the spot for the new potting bench when I realized the faucet on the patio was leaking. Not a huge leak, but a pinhole of spray.

At first, I just thought the hose was loose, but then saw it was coming from behind the faucet. I got out my monkey wrench and when I turned the faucet to tighten it, the pipe broke off under the house. It was a 70-year-old galvanized pipe, and it had finally rusted through.

At the time I didn’t know where the water cut-off for the house was. Since it was gushing all over the patio and not in the house, I decided to let it spray while I figured out how to fix it.

I crawled under the house with a flashlight and saw the broken pipe was 1/2 inch galvanized pipe and what I needed was most likely a 10-inch nipple. Then I went to Home Depot – water still spraying all over the patio.

30 minutes later, I have a new faucet, a 12-inch nipple (just to be safe), and some plumbers tape, because while I own at least 10 rolls of plumber’s tape, I can never find it when I need it.

I crawl back under the house, holding a flashlight in my mouth, and disconnect the nipple, causing water to no longer spray all over the patio, but now to gush under the house and all over me.

It was then that I noticed the corner where the pipe is had, in the past, been some raccoon’s litter box, as now raccoon turds are floating in the water that is rising all around me.


I get the old pipe loose, and when I knock it out, loose mortar in the brick wall falls into the hole through the wall, keeping me from putting the new nipple in. Back out from under the house I go.

Back on the patio, I take a hammer and the old nipple and bust the offending mortar lose, and then crawl back into the raccoon-turd-filled swimming pool that is my crawlspace. This time I wrap the nipple with plumber’s tape, slide it through the wall, and with my monkey wrench, get it installed and tight. Water is no longer gushing under the house – it is now back to gushing all over the patio.

Then I crawl out of the raccoon septic tank, drenched to the bone and trying hard not to think about what germs are all over me, and then wrap the nipple that is jutting 2 and a half inches proud of the foundation wall (it turns out it WAS a 10-inch nipple after all, but I figured it was better to be proud than to be short) with pipe tape, and then put on the faucet, with water spraying everywhere, including all over me. Then it’s finished, and I turn off the faucet and everything is mercifully quiet again, except for the water dripping off everything, including me.

Elapsed time: 1 hour and 15 minutes. I paid less than $15 in materials. It was on a Saturday night, so it would have been an emergency plumber call at $175 an hour if I had been able to get one at all. 

I had never replaced a faucet before that day. I had a vague idea of how the plumbing works, and maybe $30 worth of tools. The biggest thing I had going for me was being willing to do it. Or, put another way, I had an orientation or a bent toward doing it myself. I honestly never considered calling a plumber.

On some days – like that one – it saves me a lot of money to do things myself. But sometimes, it really doesn’t.

Like right now, I’m in the middle of changing platforms for one of the newsletters I publish each week. I am not a coder. Or a programmer. I’m just a slightly above-average user of this sort of technology.

When I began blogging back in 2003, I taught myself HTML. And then rudimentary CSS, and learned how to do some basic work with databases and then PHP. Not because I really wanted to know how to do it, but because I couldn’t imagine having to ask someone else to change a picture for me on a website, or to tweak the font or increase the padding on an image. I couldn’t imagine asking for that sort of help even if I could have afforded it.

And along the way, I learned how to do lots of stuff, and for sure saved a lot of money.

But, as I said, right now I’m changing platforms. And the new CMS I’m using is one I’ve never used before. Like, it works entirely different than any CMS I had used before. But, I said, I can learn how to do this!

I then spent some 30 hours trying to figure out how to do it. I have been tied up for over a month – off and on – trying to work out a solution that was within my technical abilities. Have watched a dozen tutorials.

Yesterday I broke down and just paid someone to do it for me. They charged me $95, and now it’s done.

It frustrates me beyond belief that should it break, or I do something wrong and somehow screw up a setting, I will not be able to fix it, and will have to pay someone else to do it. I feel stupid because I couldn’t do it because I have all the tools to do it – just not the knowledge.

But sometimes, it just makes sense to pay someone else. It is hardly the best use of my time to learn a whole new type of niche tech that only does this one sort of thing that literally nobody else I know will ever use. That is very different from learning how, say, WordPress works, which powers ⅓ of the public websites on the internet.

It still bothered me more to spend that $95 than I care to admit. But that’s just the sort of person I am, I guess.