I Don’t Know How To Do Anything

February 16, 2013

I’ve always been bothered by the idea of gender roles. One of the things that I like about what American society is moving toward, generally, is that “traditionally” thought of stereotypes regarding what men and women should be doing with their time are gradually declining. Women are going to be allowed to serve in the military as front line infantry, for example. Men are becoming dancers, women are working on cars, and it’s being thought of less and less as strange or abnormal. But in regards to myself, I can’t help but notice (and this has been the case my entire life, it’s not something that’s just in evidence now) that I’m simply not capable of doing a lot of the things that are thought of as being traditionally “male.” For example, I don’t know how to change a flat tire. I don’t know the first thing about cars, actually; I don’t own one, and one of the reasons I wanted to move to New York was because of the abundance of public transportation. If I had my way, I would never get behind the wheel again. I certainly wouldn’t be able to tell what was wrong with a car based on a noise that it was making, or anything like that. I don’t know how to build a house, I don’t know anything about plumbing, I don’t know how to use most tools beyond their most basic function. Most of that was just my upbringing. Let’s face it, my father was as white-collar as they come. Despite the fact that his “old man,” as he refers to my grandfather, owned a lumber yard, he was never able to do any of the things I’m talking about either. I doubt he could change a spare tire if his life depended on it, he’d just call AAA. I’m sure he couldn’t build a gazebo, and he doesn’t even like living in a house that has its own lawn, so he doesn’t have to mow it. Hey, don’t get me wrong, I’m not getting down on him. We all have things we’re good at. The only point I’m making is that we’re products of our environments, and that even though my father and I had some fine discussions about literature when I was growing up, we had precious few about how to fix a carburetor.

The thing about it is, though, I’m kind of in awe of anyone, male or female, who can do things that are traditionally considered blue collar. Making things with one’s hands, fixing things, being handy around the house so that you don’t need to call a contractor if the sink is leaking or something…all of that I hold in the highest regard, and, I must confess, I’m a little jealous of people that can do it. It’s not that I feel less masculine because of these deficiencies, it’s just that I think these would be some cool skills to have. Then, I have even more respect and admiration, if not downright awe, for people like engineers, say, or architects, people who have math and science skills whose practical applications are such that they can create machines, and buildings, or even planes or spacecrafts…things that are so beyond the scope of what I’m capable of that they leave me kind of stupefied. The idea that there are people that are smart enough to make these things, real builders, creators…I’m just so not wired that way that when I think about one of the only things that I can do well, namely, write…it really just makes me feel like I’m not good for very much in the world. I think a lot of writers have self esteem problems, and if you’re reading this and you’re an optimistic person, now is probably about the time when you’d say something like “come now, don’t you know that everyone is beautiful and unique and special, and we should all be content with our place in the world?” And I agree with that, to some extent. It’s just a little troubling to me sometimes to think that if there was a real crisis in the world, like say a meteor was going to wipe us out Armageddon style, and the planet was going to be evacuated but there was limited space for people on board the spacecrafts, that some guy could say, well, you have to take me, I’m a doctor, and somebody else would say, well, you have to take me, I’m an engineer, or an architect, or a mathematician, and all I could say is, well, you have to take me! I could write you one hell of a short story! I’d be left here to face the annihilation of Earth with all the other dummies, all the others who live the life of the mind and don’t have anything in the way of concrete contributions to leave as their legacy. That’s why I think it’s funny when writers or singers or actors start acting like they’re better than everyone else. It’s stupid that we put these people on pedestals; what are they giving us that we really need, other than entertainment, which we want to fill the down time but ultimately doesn’t count for anything? I’m a writer and it’s what I do, it’s who I am. But even if I get a break at some point and become rich and famous, I don’t think I would ever let it go to my head, because I would still be entirely humbled by the man or woman that would come fix my power if I blew a fuse. I know what’s important and what isn’t, and I think more people should pay attention to that hierarchy. In a real emergency, you don’t want to be standing next to the supermodels. You want to seek out the nearest chapter of teamsters. They may not be much to look at, but they’re worth any number of Tyra Banks, or Kate Uptons, or, God forbid, any number of Alec Baldwins or Angelina Jolies. Or any number of people like me, for that matter.


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  • Reply some lady February 16, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    I happen to know that you can make a mean mashed potato.

  • Reply Steven February 16, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    I guess I can’t really argue with that.

  • Reply Marty June 16, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    I’m kind of like you, I don’t know how to do much of anything either. I can’t change a flat or do anything to a car besides drive it and put gas in it. This is one thing that has kept me down in life and unable to do the things that other people do. I think it’s because I started video games and computer at an early age and got caught up in electronic entertainment so much that it zapped my motivation to learn anything and go anywhere/do anything. I am now 23 years old and struggle with depression because of this and don’t know where to go from here. If you could e-mail me some time and give me advice I’d greatly appreciate it because nothing so far has helped me overcome this hurdle in life and I am pretty desperate. Thank you.

  • Reply Steven June 17, 2014 at 12:15 am

    Hey Marty, I’m glad that this post spoke to you, but of course it’s distressing to hear that you’re depressed and struggling with it. I certainly know about depression and how hard it can be to overcome. Unfortunately, I don’t know how much I can give you in the way of advice. I’m not a trained professional, nor do I know an easy or a simple way to solve your problem or motivate you. Probably the best thing that I can suggest is to seek professional help, like a therapist. I think therapy can be really beneficial for some people, if they can afford it, just because it’s good to be able to talk out your problems with somebody objective. Failing that, it might be good to just have a trusted friend or family member to talk to. With any one of these people, you might be able to pinpoint a little more precisely the issues that are bothering you, and think what steps you might be able to take to alleviate them. Hopefully, there are viable options you can come up with that will make you more at ease, and set you on the path toward meaningful and constructive outlets personally and professionally going forward. I wish you the best of luck with your searching. Keep in mind that it may be trite, but I have truly found life to be a journey, not a destination. Sometimes you’re going to be bummed out; there’s just no way around that. None of us are happy all the time, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a part of the human condition.

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