I Destroyed Part of My Build

As written on June 26:

Usually I’m not one to have major meltdowns. I’ll admit to being vulnerable to panic attacks in the last few years, but true, emotional-response-to-a-clear-problem meltdowns, no. I tend to be pretty good about keeping my head and thinking things through rather than reacting emotionally.

Not today.

No, today I met my nemesis. The thing put on this planet for the express purpose of getting me to lose my cool and throw a minor tantrum in my driveway.

Tongue-and-groove boards.

That’s right, the bane of my existence is a flimsy, engineered-wood material with pretty designs on it and a helpful installation cut on either side.

I’ll back up.

Way back at the beginning of this whole dealio, I went to Lowe’s and Home Depot and walked down every aisle, just to get an idea of what was out there and what I might want to do with my van. I knew I wanted it to be a safe place for me, somewhere relaxing and inspiring, so I was thinking bright, happy colors, a very light tone throughout. Shades of teal and yelow, with light-toned wood and a nice, clean white. I guess I was leaning toward something “beachy,” but I wasn’t thinking about it in those terms, I was just looking for that emotional pull of “relaxing, happy, inspiring.” I guess, to me, that means “beachy.”

So anyway, I saw these big wainscoting panels (you know, white, Cape Cod-style, usually applied to the lower part of walls for a “beachy” look) at Lowe’s, and fell completely head-over-heels, married-to-this, not-even-going-to-look-at-another-material in love with the idea of using it for my ceiling.

As we got further along in the build I looked more at my options for getting that look on my ceiling. Basically, there are wainscoting panels and there are wainscoting boards. I figured the boards would be easier to hold over my head while I installed them, and I thought the transitions would look a little nicer since there would be a lot of them and I could stagger them throughout. I bought the boards.

The evil, out-to-get-me, tongue-and-groove boards.

It was a bad idea.

Because the problem with doing boards instead of panels is that, while the panels would definitely be harder for one person to hold up, I’d only have to do four of them, and only one would be full-size, and I’d only have to insert the tongue into the groove twice.

The boards, on the other hand… well, there’s a lot more of them. A lot more cuts, a lot more tongues to insert into grooves, and a lot more margin for error.


It started out tedious, but fine. I measured out the center line on all the furring strips, and then basically tried to eyeball it, because I figure as long as it’s straight enough, I won’t constantly be staring at it with one eye twitching. I got the first few boards up, and my mom even came out and spackled over the staples, so I thought it was looking pretty good. In a fit of pride, I posted a picture on Instagram, and I was optimistic about finishing the rest of the ceiling rather quickly.

I did a little bit more over the next couple of days, but I got distracted with the cabinets (as you know) and so didn’t really get back to it until today.

Now, pretty much every board except the very first one was a bit irritating. The tongues don’t really like being put into the grooves, so they require some encouragement. And I think the boards that I bought were a little… janky, because they came in plastic packages that seemed to put pressure on the edges of the boards, making the grooves a little narrow and the tongues a little bent on some of the boards. Others just looked like they’d been roughly handled, or hadn’t quite been finished properly, because the edges of the tongues were frayed or the grooves were dented. At any rate, most of the boards required a little sanding or scraping to get them to fit together, and even then it would take me a couple minutes to rock the tongue into the groove.

But as I went on, it just kept getting harder.

Maybe I was just getting fed up with the finicky things, and therefore being less gentle, and as a result had less success, but suddenly it was taking me ten minutes to get these boards into place, my shoulders aching after each one.

Remember what I said about staggering the transitions? Since we only had furring strips on the ribs of the van, the only way to properly stagger the transitions was to make the boards vastly different lengths. So around noon (-ish, I’m not entirely sure when…) I had this really long board that needed to go up.

It just wouldn’t fit over the tongue on the board next to it. I tried all the tricks I learned working with the earlier boards, from scraping out the groove to changing my position to hitting it with a mallet. I tried focusing on different parts of the board, I tried using a pry bar. I even tried stapling the one edge that I could get in in place so the thing would stop falling on my head.

I honestly don’t know exactly how long I worked on this single board, holding it above my head the entire time except for the numerous times it fell down, usually on my face. It felt like hours, I’m certain it was more than half an hour. I’m thinking it was probably close to 45 minutes. The garbage truck came by about half way through, did our entire street, and got far enough away that I couldn’t hear it anymore.

However long it was, I kept getting more and more frustrated. First gritting my teeth, then letting loose some minor swears (for the love of all that is good! flying fudge muffins! mother of pearl!), and then devolving into desperation (please, please, just fit, why won’t you fit?), and finally, in a fit of anger, hissing some words I’m certain none of my neighbors have ever heard me use before as the board fell on my face, or pinched my fingers, or my arms started shaking with pain. Then I would take a deep breath and start again, following this cycle over and over, each step escalating in severity each time, until finally I was so desperate and exhausted that I felt like I was losing my mind.

The board I spent 45 minutes working on (after putting a staple in one end)

The board I spent 45 minutes working on (after putting a staple in one end)

Eventually, I hit the “anger” stage with more emotion than I’ve felt since middle school over anything so trivial, an absolute fury and genuine hatred roiling in my chest, and I ripped the nailed edge off the ceiling, snapped the board in half over my knee, marched over to the just-emptied trash can, slammed the board halves in, slammed the doors to the van, and went inside, gleefully flicking the door shut behind me.

I was dead set on pretending I had no van, and that I’d never been crazy enough to start this insane project, for the rest of the day. And I was still boiling inside, shaking with it, unable to stop pacing, and I marched right into my mom’s office and announced that we were going to watch the Bachelorette because I was too fed up for anything else.

She sort of nodded and asked if everything was going ok, so I unleashed a small explosion of words on her, explaining that tongue-in-groove boards are Truly Evil.

She nodded some more and enthusiastically agreed to watch the Bachelorette as soon as she was through with the show she was currently watching.

So I went out to the kitchen, and I opened the fridge, and I stared into it. All the energy was starting to seep out of me and I suddenly didn’t have any appetite, despite being starving the entire time the board was over my head. So I stared blankly at the fridge for a minute, and then I took out a nearly empty jar of applesauce, and I grabbed a spoon, and I leaned against the counter.

And I started to cry.

I feel like a total pansy saying that now, but with all the righteous anger slipping quietly out through my pores, I was just left with what I’d felt most of the last half hour: desperation, and a small dose of panic. Because after I’d put that nail in I was kind of stuck there; if I let the board down I was afraid it might snap. I didn’t have my cell phone on me to text my mom and ask her to come help me, so I was just there, holding up that stupid board, and becoming more and more desperate to get it up. It was a trivial thing, but I’d felt so optimistic that morning that the ceiling would be finished before lunch, and feeling the time slip away while I was getting my butt whooped by a flimsy little board was demoralizing.

With all the focus, and drive, and anger gone, I was just left with those feelings of helplessness, and desperation, and defeat. And I was standing there scraping a bit of applesauce out of the bottom of the jar by myself, and I felt like such complete crap. So I cried. Just quietly. Tears slipping by, some sniffling. Not really active crying, just the sort of crying that happens when you aren’t really paying attention.

And I decided I really didn’t want to watch the Bachelorette.

Honestly, nothing makes me feel better than making a to-do list with color-coded schedule. Now, I rarely ever follow these schedules, at least not for long, but it makes me feel really good to have a plan, have everything organized, and see that everything can be finished on time.

So I decided to go ahead and plan out the next few weeks until I leave, and just have an episode I’ve already seen of some TV show I love on in the background.

I ended up rewatching the first two episodes of Person of Interest while I made my plan, and then I decided that I could still finish the ceiling, and that I needed to show those boards who was the boss.

When I went back outside, I discovered I’d yanked the staple right through the board….

When I went back outside, I discovered I’d yanked the staple right through the board….

I had to recut that long board, and I had to fish the broken pieces out of the trash and recut the broken sides. Each board still took forever, and I think that my rivalry with them didn’t help anything, as I wasn’t very patient with them. But I made steady progress through them, even if there was a fair bit of cursing.

And I didn’t finish it, which was even more discouraging. I really felt like I needed to get that finished today in order to have a shot at finishing everything that I want to in time for my Alaska trip. But I had to call it a day with two boards left, and I know that isn’t enough to completely derail my plans. I think it’ll all still come together.

I found myself in this really weird place, emotionally, by the end of the day. On the one hand, I’m immensely proud of myself for getting back out there and getting through it. On another, I feel incredibly silly for getting so bent out of shape because of a stubborn board. And on a third hand, I’m still feeling exhausted and defeated from the whole process.

The worst part, I think, it that it looks really awful. I hope it’ll look better when the staples are spackled, the transitions between the boards are caulked, and it’s all been sanded down and painted, but it looks so bad right now that I’m not convinced. I’m worried that I went through all of that, and I’m going to end up with a ceiling that I hate.

I’m not sure what I would do it that turned out to be the case. I can’t afford to redo it right now, and tearing it out and redoing it after all the furniture it in would be a total nightmare. I’m probably stuck with this ceiling at this point, so I’m just going to pray that it turns out the way it looked in my head.

As always, I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.