Grinding and Loving: Two Approaches to Installing Plumbing

A few months ago I bought an older house. I knew it would need a bit of work before I could rent it out. As is the case with any old house, it’s turned into even more work than I’d originally thought. Although not part of the original plan, I’ve had to rip out the entire downstairs bathroom: Walls, floor, plumbing, fixtures, and all. And, to access the bathroom plumbing, I had to rip out the kitchen plumbing which is on the other side of the bathroom wall.

Area formerly known as the bathtub and shower.
Water under the subfloor due to leaky bathtub drainpipe (conveniently located under the cast-iron tub).
Drain pipe for the bathtub.

Anyone who owns a home will attest that plumbing problems are the most expensive and stressful. They’re stressful because, unlike many problems, they usually need to be addressed immediately. If your toilet or shower drain is plugged or leaking, you’re not going to wait a few weeks to call someone. This is in part why they’re so expensive to fix.

Plumbers know that you need the problem fixed NOW and as such, when you call them they can pretty much charge whatever they want. In most cases, it’s not like you’re going to call two other plumbers, wait for them to fit you into their schedule just to give you a quote, then pick the one you want. You need your toilet now. Also, plumbers charge an upfront service fee just for showing up (likely to prevent bargain hunters taking up their time)….All this feeds back into the stressfulness of having a plumbing problem. Anyhow, you get the point:

Plumbing problems=baddo baddo.

As a landlord, the majority of my annual expenses are for plumbers. I’m tired of paying plumbers so I’ve decided to learn how to do it. It’s not like I never tried before. I’ve tried to handle plumbing problems several times but it rarely goes well. I always end up with a small leak in one place or another no matter how many times I try to readjust the pipes and fittings.

This time, however, I’ve vowed to learn how to fix household plumbing problems.

At this point you’re probably wondering what the title of this post has to do with anything.

Bear with me. We’re going on an a philosophical ramble about plumbing and the meaning of life…

So, Like, What’s Your Philosophy?
Anytime a philosopher, anywhere in the world, answers the question, “so, what do you do?” the inevitable follow-up is, “so, like, what’s your philosophy?”. I’m going to set aside the fact that to an academic philosopher this is a bit like asking a chemist what their chemistry is. I’ll go, instead, with the colloquial interpretation.

I can’t say I have a coherent life philosophy but aside from a variety of extrinsic factors, I believe succeeding at anything worthwhile requires a substantial exercise of will. In fact, I believe this to be the single most important intrinsic variable. You must be willing to struggle, to persevere–in short–to grind if you wish to achieve anything of significance.

You commit yourself wholly to one end and you don’t deviate. Your goal is to overcome.

Nietzsche was the ultimate grinder. For him, the good is “whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself.” Happiness is “[t]he feeling that power increases–that resistance is overcome.” (The Anti-Christ)

Outwork and out-suffer. When other people quit–don’t.

See the path to every goal as a war of attrition.



Battle of the Kitchen Sink
The kitchen has a double sink. Not only was the P-trap leaking but one sink leaked too. Water had made a small path between the drain fitting and the sink itself. Fixing the sink would require removing the drain fitting.

A drain fitting.

This was before I’d made my vow.

I called a plumber. I needed a drain pipe unclogged anyway so I thought while he was there I’d get a quote on changing the drain fitting and installing a new P-trap assembly.

P-Trap Assembly

The plumber quoted me $320.00.

Admittedly, for a variety of reasons, the P-Trap assembly for my kitchen wouldn’t be as straight forward as the one pictured above. But still…
That was the moment of commitment. I’m tired of paying plumbers hundreds of dollars for things that I see them do in under an hour.  In that moment, I focused my will on learning how to fix household plumbing. I don’t care how long it takes me to fix this gottam sink. I’m going to work on it until it’s fixed.
Let me pause to say that the people at Home Depot plumbing department are awesome. I brought in pictures and asked them what to do.
It turns out you need a special tool to remove or install a drain fitting. I bought one. You need plumbers’ putty. Check. P-Trap assembly with extension. Check. Coupling to transition from 1″ pipe to the 1 1/2″ main drain pipe. Check. PVC glue. Check. Various connectors and washers. Check, and so on.
I sat down under the sink and resolved not to leave until I fixed it. 
It was slow, frustrating, and smelly.
And I kept bumping my fucking head on this fucking pointy knobby thing on the bottom of the sink basin.


It didn’t take long before I remembered why I stopped trying to do plumbing and instead called plumbers.
What About Love?
We’re often advised to “dig deep” and “persevere” if we want to succeed. Like I said above, success is often a matter of being willing to grind.
But there’s a (perhaps) more enlightened view I sometimes espouse. We’ve all heard the expression “it’s about the journey not the destination.” In other words, learn to fall in love with the process and you won’t have to suffer.
Why should I see plumbing as an obstacle to overcome? Why not immerse myself in the experience. Find pleasure in acquiring a new skill. 
Approach challenges playfully. When your first attempt to assemble the P-trap still leaks, smile: Here is an opportunity to learn the finer points of plumbing–to discover
People don’t assemble puzzles to self-inflict suffering. The process of solving a puzzle itself is fun! Treat life’s challenges as puzzles to be solved. This is the key to success!
Like all advice, it’s easy to give to others. Not so easy to apply to one’s self in the heat of battle (under a sink).
Wisdom consists in recognizing what we can and cannot control. I can’t control much of what happens: i.e., whether the P-trap needs replacing or if my first attempt leaks. But I can control my attitude toward it.
I’m not doomed to suffer for my goals, nor to merely endure. It’s my choice to adopt that attitude toward my challenges. I have the power to approach my challenges as opportunities to learn and to grow!
Grinding vs Loving
“Focus on the journey not the destination” 🙂  🙂  🙂
“See this as an opportunity to grow and learn!”  🙂  🙂  🙂
“Getting angry and frustrated isn’t going to help. Just relax and see it as a puzzle to be solved” 
Yay! So much fun!

It’s so easy to say. Especially when it’s someone else who’s suffering to overcome something.

When I am struggling to achieve a goal–be it in school or fixing plumbing–I catch myself grinding. It’s my default way of being. My instinct, in the face of adversity, is to see it as a test of my will. I grit my teeth and grind through it. But we’re all different psychologically. I know people who are natural lovers. They’re usually engineers or computer programmers. They love problems. Or maybe just certain kinds. 
Life throws all sorts of problems at us and we rarely get to choose the kinds of problems we get. If you end up with one that can’t be made ‘fun’, what are you going to do if you never learned to grind? 
On the other hand, if gritting your teeth is the only way you know how to deal with life’s challenges, what kind of life is that? Sure, it’s romantic to suffer for what you love but a life of suffering doesn’t seem like one we should aspire to. At the end of the day, you might have an impressive list of accomplishments but did you enjoy your life?
Obviously life isn’t all about pleasure but certainly more is better than less–all else being equal.
Grinding and Loving
So how should I live my life (or plumb, for that matter)? Should I be the ends-oriented grinder who, like a Nietzschian, says the

“[t]he formula of our happiness: a Yea, a Nay, a straight line, a goal”?

Consider another view: For Aristotle, habits are central to character formation and the overall quality and nature of our life. Of course, knowing which habits to choose is not always so easy. We criticized the enchanted process-lover because there will be times where she encounters challenges that likely can’t be faced with a smile. Without having practiced tenacity and perseverance she might fail in the face of long-term or extremely demanding challenges.

But the enchanted process-lover has a reply.

By repeatedly practicing to carefully select our emotions as we face challenges we become better at it. So, it is true that the unpracticed ‘lover’ will likely encounter challenges in the face of which they can’t modify or maintain their attitude. But this isn’t true of someone who has a lifetime of practice doing so. If every time you’ve encountered a problem you consciously selected a positive or playful attitude then it will come naturally in a variety of circumstances. You’ll also be able to sustain it over long periods. 

You are what you do repeatedly; i.e., you are your habits. When I approach a challenge by grinding or see it as a battle of wills, I’m further entrenching this pattern into my character. When I approach a problem playfully this too is further reenforces a behavior and becomes part of my character. So, when I face a problem, challenge, or goal I’m not just choosing my approach for this challenge, I’m also choosing how I’ll face my future challenges.

This is a key insight from both Plato and Aristotle. There are no individual acts. Every act is an act of creation. You are creating your character. And your character influences future behaviors in response to whatever life throws your way. Actions are parts of a life-long process of character creation (and destruction).

Your behaviors emerge from your character. The arrow points the other direction too: Your behavior influences the nature of your character. And finally, the nature of your character determines the quality of your life.

Plumbing and Living Wisely

The long-term character-forming effects of how I approach a particular challenge are an important consideration for the the nature of one’s life. Ok, but this still doesn’t tell me how I should approach any particular problem or goal. Certainly, not all goals can or should be approached playfully, and even if they could, not all circumstances allow for it. One must also know when to put their head down and grind through a difficult challenge…like a major plumbing project or a dissertation.

Wisdom consists in knowing when to grind, when to love, and when to love to grind. 

Pictures of my Plumbing
I maked a complicated P-trap…

Not so simple double-sink P-trap to drain.

P-trap to PVC.

PVC to drain.

Source of the leak.

I thought I might just attach a new drain assembly but the threads were all gone…
So I cut of the elbow hoping to replace it with a rubber elbow…but this was the inside of the pipe. Pipe’s gotta come out.

Which means the bathtub has to come out…

And so does the floor.

Well, that was just one of the plumbing challenges. I’m almost done with the custom tile shower I’m building. I’ll post pics when it’s done.

2 thoughts on “Grinding and Loving: Two Approaches to Installing Plumbing

  1. I buy and restore old homes, and after several failures began leaving the plumbing to the professionals. I enjoy doing most of the work myself, and I'm handy with sheet rock and concrete, but plumbing is a trade I have not mastered. I also hate paying a plumber, but they are worth the money to get the job done well.


  2. I used to take that approach but I found that the guys in the home depot plumbing dept. are awesome and will walk you through anything. Also, there are a ton of great youtube videos. I was a little concerned doing it myself cuz, like you, I've had failures, but it's been really rewarding to learn to do it. I did have to redo the kitchen sink drain but, now that I know what I'm doing (more or less) it wasn't that hard to make the adjustment.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s