Sunday, May 20, 2012

Incandescence, Obscured

     For the last two months since we've moved into our new place, I've been wondering why the lighting in the bathroom seems so dim. The lady who owns this place certainly wasn't too concerned with lighting when she lived here; most of the overhead light fixtures are shorted out so that only one or two bulbs of three actually work at any given time. I am one of those people who values a well-lit room. There is nothing more annoying than tackling household projects, cooking meals, or working on paintings with light that is insufficient or too harsh. During the daytime, we get good light from two huge kitchen windows and a couple of large skylights. In the late afternoon and evening, a variety of lamps and under-cabinet LEDs keep the illumination going strong--I guess you could say I like to see what I'm doing and where I'm going.
     The bathroom lighting issue has really perplexed me. Because I've noticed that the light automatically becomes stronger if I jiggle the switch a little bit, I've assumed that there's a short somewhere in the wiring. Sigh...another thing to fix if we end up buying this place. Due to the sporadically dismal lighting, putting on makeup in the bathroom has been somewhat challenging, especially in the very early morning when there is no ambient light from outside. It seems rather odd that a newly remodeled bathroom could have such a problem with incandescence. There are three separate light sources, each with its own separate switch: two dreadful wall sconces, a hideously ornate overhead chandelier thing-y (the main source of the poor lighting), and two recessed lights over the bathtub and shower. I've walked in and out of this bathroom hundreds of times now, and the routine is always the same. Flip up the switch closest to the doorjamb. Observe the ensuing dimness with great frustration. Think unsavory thoughts about incompetent workmanship and the owner's lack of appreciation for decent lighting. Jiggle the switch. Consider flipping the other two switches "on". Repeat as necessary, until overhead light decides to cooperate.
     Yesterday, I finally decided to examine the light switch. Since it is normally hidden by our hanging bath towels, I've never really bothered to look at it. Immediately, I discovered the problem, and just had to laugh. Each of the switches for the chandelier and recessed lights has a tiny dimmer lever adjacent to it, and every time one of those switches is turned off, the dimmer accidentally gets dialed down. It's a minor design flaw, a small nuisance to be aware of. What kills me is that it took two months of faulty cause-and-effect assumptions, of standing in my own light, so to speak, before arriving at this straightforward conclusion. Alan Watts, a favorite philosopher of mine, said: "Normally, we do not so much look at things as overlook them." In consciously attending to something, we ignore everything else. Consider how unnecessarily complicated I made the process of solving this simple lighting problem. I went into it with a preconceived notion that the owner of this loft didn't care about good illumination, based on the fact that we'd heard her openly admit she wasn't a fan of overhead lighting, combined with my own observations of multiple overhead light fixtures in varying states of disrepair. Secondly, she didn't wear makeup, so why would she concern herself with bathroom lighting? When we first moved in, we found a great deal of convincing evidence that this unmarried, middle-aged woman wasn't very handy around the house. For instance, the water filter in the refrigerator was so old and clogged that neither the ice maker nor the water dispenser functioned properly; fixing that problem was simply a matter of replacing the filter. She apparently didn't notice the mildew around the tub, caused by a shoddy caulking job. I re-caulked it myself, surmising that I'd do a much better job than any other workman our landlord might hire. Given these findings, along with the fact that jiggling the switch instantly produced more intense light, it was reasonable to attribute the dimness to an oblivious homeowner who had repeatedly ignored a short in the circuit. It never occurred to me to peruse the switchboard itself; otherwise, I would have seen those dimmers, lucidly obscured by towels.
He who stands on tiptoe
doesn't stand firm.
He who rushes ahead
doesn't go far.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light.
He who defines himself
can't know who he really is...
--Lao Tzu 

10 comments:

  1. Your example is one that brings to mind how many time I haved assumed and presumed this or that without exploring the cause. You just keep these excellent posts coming Kris. I keep coming back to read them because they stimulate me to think deeply. Thank you so much for the ongoing illumination.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for your thoughts, TT...I just had to laugh when I discovered the source of my illumination problem! :-)

      Delete
  2. Kris, something I learned while practicing therapy: never assume anything. Imagination, I think, is the main culprit here-very useful in creating art but not in understanding real-life situations. The explanation for anything is always much simpler and less tortuous than one imagines.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. An active imagination can be a blessing and a curse. There's a saying I've heard that to "assume" makes an "ass" out of "you (u)" and "me." It actually makes a lot of sense.

      Delete
  3. Thanks for sharing the Alan Watts quote!....We see only what we want to see. I love it how you connected a mundane everyday event to these sage observation :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ananya, i experience revelations from these mundane everyday events more often than i care to admit. i adore alan watts' writings!

      Delete
  4. Kris, what a great post.
    Lately I've noticed that most of the people around me insist on making matters complicated in order to have some kind of peace .
    I don't know if that makes any sense to you.......
    and I love and relate to "Lao Tzu" quote.
    "He who defines himself can't know who he really is".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Angie...I notice the same thing! Glad you liked the post and the Lao Tzu quote.

      Delete
  5. Oh, how funny. And kudos to you, Kris, for checking it out! Some people prefer dim lighting when looking at themselves in the mirror. :) I'm with you, though. I love to see what I'm doing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. heh heh, can you tell i take my lighting very seriously? :-)

      Delete