Repair & Replacement
After a long and consumptive holiday hiatus, OG is back on the soapbox.
I feel a need to offer penance after a holiday like Christmas. On this blog, and in my life, I love to go on about consumerism, planned obsolescence, and unintended consequences. But, on December 25th, these things are abandoned, shouted down by cultural fiat.
My family has made some attempt to address the true meaning of Christmas, instituting a five-dollar limit on gifts. This is great, but it doesn't help my own craven failings . . .
I went to the mall last week.
I'm not proud of it. But hey, I needed some things, and there were sales, and sometimes you need to try things on . . .
And so the penance. A New Year's purge has cleared closets and enriched Goodwill. Insufficiently sated, I went on a repair binge.
I have been a repairer for many years, mostly engaged in fixing up old buildings. Despite the costs (and risks), fixing up something old is a fundamentally sustainable choice, as it takes advantage of the time and energy already embedded in the structure. Repair cannot defeat entropy, but it can trick the universe for a time.
The dirt of a thousand vanquished joists.
Repair is a forgotten art. Once a nation of rural handymen accustomed to building whatever they needed, Americans are now a nation of urbanized consumers. Cars are about the only major consumer product we spend much time repairing. Everything else, especially electronics, we throw out.
Flat-screen cracked? It's cheaper to get a whole new TV than to replace the damaged parts. Clothes go unpatched, TVs go dark, bikes rust themselves immobile, nations drown under waves of discarded phones.
A tale of the needle and the damage done . . .
A few months ago, I got a new pair of work gloves from a big orange store that sells hardware. They began developing holes within days. Given similar experiences in the past, I consciously spent a couple more dollars on the slightly nicer ones. So, in the spirit of the season, I darned my damn gloves instead of giving in and spending another twenty bucks.
High and tight. I look good in black.
A few days later, I melted a huge hole in the left middle finger when trying to dry them in front of the kerosene heater on our job site. I'm not sure what the lesson is here -- damned if you do, damned if you don't? Buy more anyway? Quit trying to live your life within a neatly framed ethical and political worldview? Have cold, filthy hands?
An ill-fated trip to the roof, in the rain, and subsequent hypothermic travails renders my repair, well, un-repairable.
Instead, I turned, as I often do, to the consoling arms of the internet. I found a few sweet examples of design interventions, meant to turn repair to art.
The Manifesto philosophizes the fix-it. Paulo Goldstein makes some Rube-Goldbergian repairs to common objects. Soojin Kang knits it all back together. Sigurdur Gustafsson splices the split. John Preus furnishes the far reaches. Darning is not yet dead.