What's New: Edition 2024-01-13
13.01.2024

I started some home renovations eight years ago. I’m finally getting back to them.

I started hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in March 2015, some eighteen-ish months after I finally started my transition journey. The first few months of HRT aren’t really that enlightening. Changes happen, emotional ones at first, but it takes a while for your body to shift gears. And in any case, most prescribing regimens start slow and ramp you up. It’s a lot for your body to take in.

In the fall of 2015, my HRT routine opened my world in ways I’d never imagined. I hadn’t come out yet publicly to everyone, but I was getting to the point of feeling like myself. That fall, after six months of performance decreasing drugs, I was playing the best hockey of my life. I was in the best physical shape I’d been in since I was probably 15 years old. I had emotional and physical energy. I was ready to go!

At the time, Christine and I had three cats and a dog. They mostly got along except one of the cats, Jinx, hated the dog, Sadie, and vice versa. Upstairs was Jinx’s territory and downstairs was Sadie’s. But they wouldn’t leave each other alone, and more than one fight took place in our upstairs hall, which was covered in beige, “flipper” carpet. It was gross and one day I decided it had to go.

There’s all sorts of stories about homes where developers or previous owners had hidden beautiful hardwood beneath horrific carpeting, plopped down during one of the more questionable eras of American taste. There’s not a lot to thank the early 2000s for, but opening up our homes to light and space and beauty is something we should show more gratitude than we do. Unfortunately, our home was not one of those stories.

The hardwood was warped and cracked. There were carelessly patched holes a foot square in the hallway. Nothing was level. The wood was splintering. There was no sense in trying to save it. Up it, too, would come.

The hardwood being ripped up exposes the joists and stringers of the floor at the top of the stairs.

I’m not going to lie. I was foolishly expecting subflooring. I thought my life would be easier than it was. The home was built in the 1920s or 1940s (records are unclear) and had extensions stapled on over time at unclear intervals. The stringers showed signs of settling and warping and there was some really questionable construction done to get everything into the shape it was in. Whoever flipped it didn’t really intend to spend a lot of time or money on the job. But I was full of hormonal energy! I was going to fix this problem.

I went to Lowe’s, got some subflooring, and dropped it on top so we could at least walk in the hall. I skipped the extra bedroom, though I took up its flooring, too, because it was getting complicated in some points. We shut the door and I figured I’d come back to it the next weekend or so. I never did.

There was nothing really easy about the intervening years. I left my job a few months later in 2016, and it took a while for me to start a new one. Then I was focusing on my new job, which was taking me across the country to Portland on a regular basis. In 2016 we didn’t have the time or the money to finish the project. In early 2017 I had surgery, and then in mid and late 2017… well does anyone need explanation what was happening in my life in Charlottesville then anymore? In 2018 I moved to Berlin. And the project stayed on the back burner.

The utility room with its subflooring removed

It’s too often understated how trauma leaves lingering secondary and tertiary effects on your life. Something as simple as getting a house project done becomes an impossible bar to clear. House projects require planning ahead, but trauma makes that impossible. You’re constantly simply trying to survive. And even when I had chances to work on it, like during the two months at the start of the pandemic that I spent at home, I simply couldn’t.

I’ve felt guilty about it every day since. Christine and I love our home. We intend to die in it. We’ll never sell it, though renting it has crossed our mind if she were to move to Berlin. (We’ll see how the election goes). Either way, the house needs fixing. And this year, what with the step-changes to my mental health that I’ve written about before, I decided to start that.

Not having a pickup anymore made it a little harder, but just before the new year, I placed an order to get some new plywood delivered from Lowe’s. I learned a bit more about how to cut and carry it – a challenge I had the last time – and, equipped with this new knowledge, I decided it was high time to tackle this long overdue project. My goal was to get subflooring down.

The utility room with its subflooring installed

Happily, I achieved these goals and more. After some careful planning, Christine and I decided on flooring we’d like, planned a move of our laundry room, and got to work. The flooring we chose, Pergo Duracraft laminate, goes together super easy. After some struggles with the last course and some complex cuts, I decided to remove our (badly beaten up) baseboard trim to make installation easier. And as it came to my last days in town, I raced to get the work done. We made a few mistakes along the way that had to be undone – putting two similar boards together, running one course too close to its neighbor – but these were easy enough to undo. And happily I was able to get the entire hallway done, with the last piece, a temporary threshold to the bedroom, being set down on the morning of my flight.

Flooring down in the hallway.

Reader, it looks great. I can’t wait to get that utility room set up this spring. I’ll have to go back soon. We ordered new washing machines to be delivered later this year while they were on sale. So I’m looking forward to more demo work, reworking some plumbing and electrical, more subflooring, some framing, some drywall, some trim work, and finally some painting, all in time to get things ready for the delivery guy to install them.

The first thing about home renovation is that it’s body work. You have to lift and carry and align and it makes your body active, which feels great for someone who sits in front of a screen 12 hours a day. The second thing about home renovation is that it’s something where you see visible progress. It might be hard work, but fruits of that hard work is visible. You can see things improving. It’s a balm for the recovering soul. It feels like you’re making progress on your life – because you are. I think this is underrated. Humans need progress.

In this post:

Life updates

I’m back in Berlin. I always give myself a few days to reacclimate before pushing myself back to my habits. Traveling east is so much harder. My sleep is all messed up, the days are suddenly shorter again (though it’s still light out at 15.30, that’s nice). It takes me at least 3 or 4 days to adjust.

COVID never went away and every time I come back I wonder if I’ve caught it from traveling, as my voice is dry and scratchy for days after a flight. But I haven’t – I’m healthy aside from what I’m convinced is a compressed neck vertebrate that gets exacerbated under stress. And being back to work is stressful indeed.

What I’m reading

I picked up a fantastic book at the end of last year. Resisting AI by Dan McQuillan is an antifascist look at AI. I’ve only just started the book but the first chapter already is fantastic. More and more lately I’ve been becoming infuriated with where the tech industry has brought us. I was ranting on Bluesky last night about how nobody can buy anything because all the shelves are empty and everything on Amazon is fake, dropshipped crap. AI of course is helping accelerate this race to the bottom, because the first thing we do with any new tech isn’t innovate but try to cut corners and margins on things we already know. That’s a shame.

What I’m watching

Speaking of AI, I’ve been wondering what the film and TV landscape is going to look like once we start having ChatGPT in the writers' room. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I’m starting to see inklings of this. I’ve been watching Reacher season 2 on Prime lately and the writing is, I’m sorry to say, absolutely catastrophic. This is the kind of writing you get when writers are treating the plot as an atomic sequence of largely unrelated events. The characters don’t behave rationally. Criminals with no lock codes on their phones? An MP investigative task force being ordered to let a drug sale go through for political reasons, and a commanding officer promising retaliation in a room full of witnesses? Vats full of soupy concrete left on a job site in the middle of the night? It makes no sense.

I’m sure Reacher’s writers are humans. But the writing is awful. And sooner or later we’re going to see ChatGPT involved in this process and all of those ridiculous bits are just going to be even worse. That’s the thing: we’re already drowning in shit and we have hardly even started letting AI take over. The only answer is a return to authenticity and analog.

What I’m playing

Speaking of progress, back when I worked in video game therapy, I learned about Self-Determination Theory as it applies to video games. One of the key elements that helps motivate us with games is the notion of cumulative feedback – games motivate us because they show us getting better over time. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with ad-free free-to-play phone games. I love them because they allow us to progress. But they eventually always tune the progress in such a way it forces you to fork out cash for gems to speed it along.

The latest game I’ve been playing is SOULS, a new game from Habby. It’s a pretty basic hero-based RPG with a number of classic elements: you get cards that give you heroes of different strengths, races, and classes. You combine five of them on an eight-tile grid and compete against another five in turn-based combat. You get gear and upgrade it. There’s long-running discovery quests, PvP arenas, and opportunities to get the various currencies needed to upgrade your characters. It’s a classic arms race game without much by way of strategy, but it’s fun nevertheless. After a month or so, I’ve only spend $0.99 on the game and even then I didn’t need to. I’m sure I’ll eventually hit the wall where pay-to-progress becomes an imperative, but for now this keeps me happily occupied.

What I’m learning

I’m back to German classes! On my cab ride home from BER (the train drivers were on strike), I had a great conversation with my cabby. He complimented my German, telling me it was accent-free and he never sees that in Americans. Maybe he was angling for a tip but he seemed authentic. It was also my first time in a Tesla. I asked him about it, he loved it. I didn’t bother pressing him. The guy was happy with the vehicle he makes his living with, who am I to yuck his yum?

Art and culture

I’m still working through visiting all of the Staatliche Museeen zu Berlin with my yearly pass. Today, I stopped by the Bode-Museum. Named for Wilhelm von Bode, its founder and first curator and a known antisemite, the museum is complex in its history. A debate rages over renaming it; the museum has an exhibition contextualizing its history. The museum’s collection of European sculpture and art is certainly interesting; it leans very strongly Christian, and there is a whole room of Donatello’s “Virgin with Child” relief. Apparently, he had developed a technique for mechanical reproduction for these.

Does that mechanical reproduction remove the quality of the art, or does it simply put it in a different place in the history of art? These are questions that have been tackled over and over by artists and philosophers and cultural critics and we find ourselves revisiting them again with the emergence of generative AI. It’s a worthy conversation to have. I’m still willing to call it art. It was at least created by a person with his own hands.

A Donatello relief

My dent in the universe

Nothing. I had a blissful week to rest and recover.

Posted: 13.01.2024

Built: 14.07.2024

Updated: 14.01.2024

Hash: bda6335

Words: 2163

Estimated Reading Time: 11 minutes