Let me begin with a warning: if you have ever looked at your carpeting and thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to put in some of that lovely bamboo flooring?” DO NOT DO IT.
If you do, you might discover (after you have spent hours in Lowe’s comparing, pricing, test-scratching, color-testing, and selecting the bamboo, and then nearly as much time arranging the delivery and opening all the boxes so the planks can acclimate to the humidity of your house, and then seven times as much time stepping over the stupid planks before the installation guys come to put it in) that your floor is not, in fact, level, and it is, in fact, so out of level that it will void the Lowe’s warranty and the only expedient solution is to pay the contractor under the table to put it in, with the understanding that your out-of-level floor is likely to slowly buckle the new bamboo and with it, all your hopes and dreams.
And if you discover that the floor isn’t level, and you also don’t want to pay a great deal of money for an installation that is predicated on the assumption that your new flooring won’t last, you might decide to level the floor yourselves. My friends, let me say again: don’t do it.
You may, upon deciding to level the floor, end up spending hours on the phone with your wife’s sister-in-law’s dad, who graciously provides tools and support, and also very kindly overestimates your collective ability to do the leveling. You may get a call from your husband at 7:30 on Wednesday morning, which sends you on a bus to Lowe’s to get crack sealant which—as you have just now discovered—must go in that very day, in order to cure in time to do the leveling. You may spend your entire day sealing cracks between classes, such that your hands get tingly and raw where they have gripped the trigger of the caulk gun. You may later discover that you were overly ambitious with the crack sealant, and now you have to scrape off the sealant that bubbles up over the cracks with a vibrating razor tool you borrow from the aforementioned sister-in-law’s dad. And at this point, you haven’t even started leveling the floor.
Five bags of MAPEI Self Leveler Plus Indoor Self-Leveling Underlayment later, our living room is rather more level than it was before. It is, unfortunately, also rather more uneven, because the cement was rather goopier than one might hope, and because it is extremely difficult to pour a fifty-pound bag of cement into a bucket of water without creating chunks of undissolved cement mix, and because it is even more difficult to hold and aim an even heavier bucket of now-chunky cement while you are pouring it onto a quickly hardening puddle of older cement that has overtaken so much of the floor that there is nowhere to stand. (We are now priming the first layer for a second one, which will—one hopes—also erase the less-than-tidy visual record of our attempts to “feather the edges” of the puddle. Nathan has described this experience as “playing in a sandbox, except it’s your living room, and it’s permanent.”)
I am not a handy woman. I have not enjoyed this process. I have homework to do.
When I am at my most Grad Student, I think of this process as an example of Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory: these non-human objects (the cement, the sealant, the planks) are exhibiting agency by collectively making me very, very annoyed. When I am at my most Dowager Countess, I think, “This is why we hire help.” When I am at my most Krista Tippett, I think of this as an exercise in gratitude: for the Humbling Labor of Learning, the encouragement of Becky’s dad, multiple Groenewolds and Mike-the-Hardware-Guy-from-Lowe’s, and the Gift of a Warm, Safe Home, that at some point in the recent past we boldly decided that we have the time and money to improve BY POURING CEMENT ONTO OUR LIVING ROOM FLOOR. Pretty much all of the time, I think that we are in over our heads, and that though it may be good for me to work with my hands for once, it is clearly not one of my Spiritual Gifts.
I do, now, have the the Spiritual Gift of hindsight. So let me say it again: your carpet looks fine.
Don’t do it.
Katie is a doctoral student in English and education at the University of Michigan. She loves the New York Times crossword puzzle, advice columns, oceans, and dogs of all kinds.