Interviewsand Articles


Fix'n Things: Optimism

by Chuck St. John, Mar 6, 2008



Fix’n things. Now this covers a lot of ground, because the art ‘to fix things’ means more than to find something broken and repair it. Fix’n things is a hands-on approach to life, a fundamental attitude regarding the physical reality we live in.

Fix’n things can be a repair or it can be to build or to take something or a situation and make it work better than before. It can be needing a something and making do, creating it with what's on hand.

The first premise of this art is optimism, optimism that the thing can be fixed—or can be made better. And the second part of this optimism is that I can do it, if I try—really try. A phrase that comes to mind here is something my father used to say: “If one idiot can design and build something then, for sure, another idiot can fix it!”

The next premise in fix’n things is failure. One must expect failure. It’s the most important part of fix’n things. It’s at the moment of failure where the things we’re trying to fix reveal their nature, their structure, the intrinsic properties that make them work, or not work.

It is here that the ability, or gift, or art of visualization enters. To fix a thing or build a thing, it must be seen—a global seeing of the whole of it. Its purpose must be penetrated. What's it for? What’s it made of? Why these materials, this way? Its whole shape and the shape of its parts must be seen.

And just here, optimism enters again, the optimistic faith that there is intelligence in nature and in the structure of things—and that we can know it. All the way up to God, the universe is intelligent and we, us men, can know our part in this grand play.

Now we don’t start with this ability to visualize. No, we start from scratch, almost blind. This visualization of how a thing works has its roots in this land between optimism and failure. First, we start. We try to begin, just somehow, not knowing exactly how to begin at all; we just begin. And of course, we fail. And start again, and fail. Each failure bears its gift of meeting the unknown directly. Carried and supported by our optimism, a secret is revealed. It can be swallowed by our need to know. Try again, fail again, but keep going.
Slowly, like a jig-saw puzzle, small parts, then big pieces have their place. Then, at some moment, a whole vision opens on how something works—or, at least, the next piece appears that I need to know, now.

A motorcycle, parts scattered over a garage floor; a stack of lumber and nails waiting to be a house, or a telephone whose lights don’t wink like they should, even some flour and yeast impatient to become bread; they all wait for this encounter.

The head and hands collaborate—the organs of perception use the hands to inform as much as the eyes—to know the shape, the heft, the texture, the function, and a partnership is formed that has two directions: the first is to know the nature of the thing as it is—then to see how it could be, or should be. 

Then the eyes and hands become servants; they obey the vision of the already fixed object. The motorcycle runs, the house is warm, ready to receive guests; the phone’s lights work, the bread is just out of the oven, ready to eat.

All without need of words. A more direct, almost intimate encounter, between parts of myself and the physical world I live in takes place. It’s a process in myself, and a way to think that sidesteps the intermediary of spoken language. Each part of what needs fix’n is a symbol, and how it all goes together is a sentence, or a book of another kind of language.

And right here it’s possible to ask, what's really being fixed? The thing being worked on, or the fixer—myself

About the Author

Chuck St. John lives in Italy, remains optimistic and continues fix'n things.


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