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08/08/2003 Archived Entry: "More thoughts while tiling the floor (earthy things)"

I've been tiling the floor of my cabin. It's hard; I'm sore in places I didn't know could hurt (can fingertips really have overworked muscles?). But it's also gratifying; after two years of living in a construction zone, this is the Last Big Project. A few finishing touches – baseboards, closet doors, a real countertop to replace the makeshift in the kitchen -- and I can hunker down for the winter and watch DVDs (and, no doubt, get bored out of my mind and start scheming on adding a bedroom and mudroom to the cabin, thus generating another several years of construction rubble and soreness).

There's something about working with “earthy” substances – wood, brick, stone, and even this porcelain tile – that profoundly benefits the mind. Winston Churchill alleviated chronic and awful depression by building stone walls. For me, laying tile or brick or even hauling buckets of rocks down the steep hill behind my place works similar mental magic.

And it's not just the hard labor that does the trick. The benefit comes not just from the physical exercise that “experts” on depression always recommend. There's something about these substances – things born in the bones of the planet that are at most a simple manufacturing step or two from their original selves – that is therapeutic.

I don't mean to sound like some New Age earth worshipper. Fundamentally I'm a city girl who disapproves of nature. Nature is always either too hot or cold, too wet or dry. It's violent and unpredictable. And it's filled with insects and dirt. Yuch. But the effect of earthy building materials is so strong I'm pretty sure scientists will someday discover that they physically “vibrate” with us in some very healthy way (talking electromagnetic fields here, not mystical “vibes”).

I haven't been feeling strong lately. About three or four hours of work a day and I'm beat. But the sheer, physical “beatness”after tiling the floor is astonishingly better than the dreadful, tense beatness after working with politics and computers.

Post-labor exhaustion feels right and soon fades, to be replaced by a sense of peace. The exhaustion of hunching near-motionlessly over an electronic screen, considering problems that can't be solved, is of a different order and often lingers for days, weeks, or months.

Goddess forbid I should sound any more like a Luddite than like an earth worshipper. But things that seem so important – and so dreadful! -- vibrating on the computer screen seem less all-consuming when considered from kneeling-height above a tile floor.

I know tile and rocks aren't for everybody. (Maybe for you the therapeutic substance is gun oil – whose scent and smoothness indeed has darned near the same heart-lifting effect as a bucket of rocks) But whatever your magic is, I recommend the occasional change of perspective. Away from the computer screen and the doings of all those congental-and-therefore-hopeless idiots in DC, Albany, or Sacramento. Why do we let them hold our minds so strongly? Off to the Real. For a little while, at least.

Posted by Claire @ 11:54 AM CST

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