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I stood in the near-dark a few nights ago, thrilled to be able to burn a small pile of limbs and dead wood, one of many piles waiting for attention on my property. I watched this one crackle and crumble in the face of the flames. I wielded my pitchfork with care, keeping the water hose close at hand.

There is something exciting about watching a fire at night. One good flame can spread its light for hundreds of feet all around. Nighttime’s a good time to burn, as the air is generally calmer than during the day. Still, I was careful, as it’s been dry here, to wet down everything in the vicinity of the fire, including the trunk and limbs of the nearby tree. I watched as the bits of black ash, some still twinkling with orange at the edges, floated to the ground; and I was grateful that I finally had water here, making it safer to burn.

Tonight I am inside my home-to-be, watching other debris fall, like sifted flour, to the floor. I am covered in dust, a fine white powder that makes the room hazy. The dust descends from the wall in front of me and covers my hands and arms, coats my hair. To protect my lungs, I’m wearing a protective mask.

I’m standing in my new bathroom, sanding the freshly “mudded” walls.

“Mud” is the white goop that is applied to new sheetrock to hide the seams and imperfections.

After it’s dried, it must be scraped or sanded in between applications.

It’s dirty work, and doesn’t offer the immediate gratification of a blazing fire. Tonight I am fretful, a weary madwoman. I am asking myself: Am I saving any money—really—by doing this work myself? Or am I just making one holy mess? My muscles are tight and my feet hurt.

It has been a few weeks since I celebrated in my last post the arrival of water and electricity to the Pixie Plantation (See my previous posts), the site of this madwoman’s efforts to create a home out of a classroom on ten acres of North Florida land. The walls of my bathroom were finally built, and I thought, surely, within a matter of a few days, I’d be able to paint those walls.


It turns out that the two nice guys, Ray and Russ, whom I hired to erect the walls around the tub and install the sheetrock, were also involved in another project and were not available to come back in the foreseeable future to finish what they’d begun. So, I said to myself: I’ve got to get this done! I’ve got to move on! I’ll have to find somebody else or do it myself!

Do-it-myself. Such an alluring concept. And yet, consider the acronym: DIM. Is this the bright thing to do?

When I calculate the amount of money I am spending in gasoline to make the 100-mile round trip to do this work, and the many days that have elapsed since the bathroom walls were built, I wonder about the wisdom of this do-it-yourself project. Because I am new at this, it’s taking me much longer than it would a professional. And I’ve had to buy some tools I didn’t already have. So, tonight I ask: Am I dim or am I just a little light flickering, flickering, determined to burst into something bright and beaming?

As I work tonight, I vacillate—from one minute to the next—between feeling defeated: I give up. I give in. (I crawl down the ladder.)

And then hope rises: I can do this. I can do this. (I crawl back up the ladder.) Putting sheetrock mud on walls is not rocket science, I tell myself. Dirty, yes. Tiring, yes. But not rocket science.

Once I realized that the nice guys, Ray and Russ, were not as available as I’d hoped, I got the name of someone else. Glenn arrived on my makeshift doorsteps the day after I called. Short, bearded, with big blue eyes, he looked a bit like an elderly elf, which is not a bad thing in a Pixie pad!

Glenn lives not too far from my new property and is willing to act as consultant/teacher/mentor, coming for one-hour tutorials. He and his helpers are also willing to do the work for me, when I need it. Thus far I’ve paid him for two visits to coach me on sanding sheetrock, putting tape in the corners to seal them, and also give me advice on preparation for laying tile on the floor.

On the first visit, he told me to get two sheetrock “knives” and a pan in which to put the mud.

He explained how to put the tape in the corners and said that doing that part of the work wasn’t hard but tedious. “Your arm will get tired holding that pan,” he said.

On the second visit, he seemed impressed. “You did real well in those corners. Everything’s coming along.” I think he was surprised. As we concluded that session and he stepped out of the building, he said, “Not many women—well, I know this is a stereotype—but, not many women would take on a project like this with such hard work.”

A small firestorm of thoughts crackled in my mind. Women? Strangers to hard work? I think not. But, I by-passed what might have been a mildly scorching feminist  rant and reached into my truck to get the money to pay Glenn. “I’ll take that as a compliment,” I said as I handed him the $35. “Something drives me to do all of this. I like doing the work and, for years, I’ve wanted to build my own house.”

I stand in this home-to-be tonight, fluorescent lights blazing, and put down the sheetrock sander. I pick up the pan full of mud and hold it in my left hand. In my right I hold the knife. With a couple of swipes of the knife I cover a small imperfection in the dried mud. Not bad, I think. It is getting easier.

For tonight, I’m still on this project. Tomorrow, or the next day or the next, I may call in Glenn and the troops. But, for now, I’m on it. There’s no stopping a woman and her dream. This dim light flickers. Maybe soon she’ll burst into flame.


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