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The Focus Wall

The Focus Wall

. 7 min read

My word for this year is "focus"—it's something that I've been terrible at for a while now. I am easily distracted: by my pointless angst; by my empty, racing thoughts; by my small children who demand to be fed daily; by my buzzy phone that gives me a constant approval rating on Facebook and also carpal tunnel; by the beer-goggles of exhaustion from life with sunshine baby. I want to strive to be a better teacher to my children, a more thoughtful friend, a more effective household manager, and a writer of things worth reading. I tried to contain all my doing-ness in my Steno pad for the last several months. I jotted down random thoughts, grocery lists, friends' and siblings' birthdates, the kids' social security numbers for various doctors' forms a few different times. I used it regularly as a scribble pad to occupy Finnly while we were out, as a primary instruction tool for my schoolwork with Connor.

It was a freaking mess.

There was another problem: I love words, big words written where everyone can see. I started the family tradition of writing encouraging words on windows at birthdays. I write the letter and verse of the week from Connor's school work on the windows in our study. I write words that nourish my soul or calm my spirit on mirrors around the house. I write dirty limericks in unlikely places just to watch Caleb do a spittake and then snicker like a twelve-year-old boy. Words are life-giving. And I crave abundant life. But windows are a pain to clean.

Yet another freaking mess.

So, after Caleb and our crew got home from my sister's wedding in January, I bemoaned my lack of organization and asked again for a pinboard and a whiteboard so I could at least erase things easily. So I could teach like I wanted. Caleb loves structure, order, and all things neat and tidy. We have very different styles, bless him. He balked at the idea of so much boundless create space. But think of the mess, I could see in the little cloudy thought bubble above his head.

Then Karl mosied over from next door, as he does some Sunday afternoons when Kat works at church, and we proposed our connundrum: I need to create with the aid of a huge visual dumping ground and Caleb needs order. In a beautiful act of synthesis, Karl suggested: "why not both?"

So we laid it out with tape. Karl, as Karl is wont to do, over-engineered just a skosh. "You should make the panels different elevations so it creates a nice depth to the piece." We took that suggestion. Two hours later, "I think a nice flatscreen to stream photos on? Or, or, or maybe a lighting element integral to it? A frosted acryclic panel backlit with LED RGB strips that you can program to light up with different colors, sort of like Caleb's desk in the basement..." We declined that one. If Karl is digital, Caleb is analog.

So Caleb went and thought on it for a little while and then it placed his third or fourth draft of the sketch on Dad's desk. Mark should have gone to architecture school; his sense of space, his vision is bar none, the way he can get a sense of a person, inhabit them, and then express it in his design is a beautiful thing and the work he was built to do. But he didn't go to architecture school, if only he was good at school, or so the story goes. So he futzed with the sketch for a while, and let his genius fly: a dash of building expertise; a practical mindset that keeps a running inventory of what materials he had on hand in the shop; topped with a whole lot of quiet flourish.

And there it was. The grid pattern was proportioned to the wall dimensions and laid out. Shelves were added, some walnut panels for warmth. We had a plan.

This the the how-to part.

And now, this is the how-to part. This is the part Caleb will read over and tell me how I got it all wrong. How I need to be more accurate and precise. I expect to be heavily edited here.

First, CAP (a pet name I have for Caleb, they are his initials and a homage to Captain America, because if Caleb were a Marvel Superhero, he'd be Cap—standing up for TRUTH, JUSTICE, and THE AMERICAN WAY) built up the edges of the plywood the 3 materials would be adhered to. First, with one layer.

And then he built up the same panel with another layer and another and another, if it was required per the plans.


There were 15 separate panels in varying sizes on varying planes.

But before they could even be stacked as such, the thin sheets of the various materials for the writable surfaces and self-healing tack panels were adhered to the plywood bases, and the sides of each panel were sanded and coated with clear polyurethane because you can see the edges when you look at the wall in profile.

(See here, the whiteboard laminate has been adhered to the panel.)

(Elof demonstrating the patented "I'm a human vice-grip. Dad, please don't get saw dust in my eyes" maneuver. Very effective.)

(See how Mark doesn't wear a respirator as he does this? Not for 40 years has he ever wore a respirator when he finishes. Please, can we get a little public outcry going? Wear a respirator, man! You need lungs!)

As the day in the workshop went on, flaws in the design were found and remedied.

There was no place to store markers, so they found a spare shelf of maple and routed some groves in it.

And what about a place for push pins? Some small holes were also added at the drill press (that IS a drill press, right honey?).

As they went along, Caleb laid out the panels on the garage floor to ensure the next day's installation would go smoothly.

And somewhere along the way, a decision was made to add treasure shelves at kid-level and then immediately fabricated.

The Installation

This is how the conversation at my house usually goes when Caleb wants to do a project that will involve major upheaval for me and the kids.

CAP: "So, what's on your agenda for today?" (He's nice to ask, at least, even though he's already got plans a foot.)
Me: "Well, it's a Sunday, so after church, just relaxing as a family. Making dinner, lunches for the week..."
CAP: "Well, because, well, Dad said he could help me this afternoon for a couple of hours and I don't want to waste his offer, so could we..."
Me: "Sure!" (I say, trying to forget that I like JUST mopped. No matter when they make dust in my house, I literally JUST MOPPED. The inconvenience is always worth it, though.)
CAP: "I gotta go get the pancake compressor..." (and he rushes off, because, really, this conversation was just a formality. CAP gunna be CAP.)

And so, one cold March Sunday afternoon, this happened.

First, they hauled in all the panels. Then they moved the moon table (where we eat most of our meals) and set up saw horses.

Over the course of the next two hours, they built the wall for they had a mind to work. (This is a reference to one of my favorite verses of all time: Nehemiah 4:6).

Screw, cleat, glue, repeat. In time-lapse, it looks like this:


And now, six weeks later, this wall is our hearth. It keeps us organized, motivated, focused.


It helps us plan Easter dinner. (Or Karl and Kat tell me the plan...)


It's even got fancy headings, thanks to Jenna (and unborn baby Gossling).

It's got all manner of Sweetgum balls and petrified dirt clumps on the treasure shelves, potty charts and drawings on the pinboards; hastily constructed graphs for our homeschool science experiments; love notes; to do lists. All the debris and detritus that constitute our daily lived lives organized and synchronized. In focus. And written on the wall.