On Mending

2011-08-01 00:00:00 +0000 — Bolton Hill, Baltimore, MD

My father used to take our lawn mower to the small engine repairman. Here was this guy in his garage-turned-shop surrounded by mowers, outboards, dirt-bikes, and various unidentifiable mechanical contraptions — and he knew how to make them all work! I respected that when I was a kid. I respect that now as an adult. Few others these days seem to. My father (and most of my childhood friends’ fathers) seemed to know either a) how to fix something, or b) that person in town best suited to fix whatever they could not. Where is that knowledge now?

I’ve been trying to fix a lot of broken things around my house lately, so “mending” has just generally been on my mind. It’s also meant that most days over the last several weeks have required a trip to the neighborhood hardware store (thank god there actually is a neighborhood hardware store) for some kind of glue, tool, or clamp. This immediately sheds light on one of the problems of repairing things: it can take an incredible amount of time. Besides being time intensive, it can seem monetarily expensive too — buying the right tools or hiring a handyman, technician, or repairman seems like more expense than just buying a new toaster or bookshelf.

I find no satisfaction in having to go out and buy a new “stuff” (pairs of jeans, sunglasses, shoes, dressers, bookshelves — whatever “stuff” you might have around) every time a thing breaks or wears out. I do feel an actual reward, despite the inconvenience, when I’ve repaired something — my things are fixed, and fixed by my own doing (or my having had the smarts to find a skilled person to fix them — philosophically “I” still fixed it). It might not be “perfect” anymore, but it is definitely more mine. The objects become more meaningful: I have something of myself (or of the friend or handyman who helped with the repair) in the object now, and I hopefully know a little bit more about the construction or function of the repaired thing.

Once you start mending things you notice that there are always more things to mend. The hardships one must endure to “mend” are enough that I can see why we’ve moved from a repairing culture towards a replacing culture. We don’t fix things because we are convinced culturally to replace them, and the replaceable things we buy aren’t really designed to be fixable in the first place (either by being too ephemeral [cheap electronics] or being intentionally unrepairable [expensive iPods]) — so we lose the option, and with that the ability, to mend things in the first place.