My Best of the Worst

Do you think your struggles are the worst?

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Michelle Roberts

While it may seem implausible to those who know me, given my extraordinary virility, you can rest assured that one day I will be dead. And I hope that, once I’m dead, someone writes me a well-worded obituary.* And even if no one ever reads this fantastic obituary, I’d like it to include, at the very least, the following important information: Mike Paulus was able to change the battery in a 2002 Honda CRV.

Why? Because I can change the battery in a 2002 Honda CRV, dammit.

In the grand scheme of one’s life, is this a noteworthy accomplishment? Is this one of the few remarkable tidbits I’d like people to remember about me? Is this a deed I hold dear to my heart? Am I proud of this?

Hell yes, I am.

Sure, it’s a pretty easy thing. The engineers over at Honda made the original CRV’s battery very accessible. I assume there are people in this very city who could change it in seconds if they really tried. However, right before our recent (and insane) cold snap, I was out there on the street in front of my house, swapping out the battery on my 2002 Honda. The temperature was subzero. I needed a flashlight. My gloves made it hard to grip the wrench. The little screws were rusted on. And the little holes where you hook the skinny metal rods to clamp the battery in place were hard to see and even harder to reach and catch.

It took way longer than it should have. But I did it. And the car started. And it was awesome.

The whole experience was not fun. At best, I’d call it an “aggravating and necessary waste of time.” And yet I was proud of myself. I had fought the odds and done the thing.

Why does a small thing seem like a big deal?

Here’s a short story. Way back in my first semester of college I had a kooky-looking math professor who nonchalantly told us, as he scribbled on the whiteboard, “This is rudimentary stuff. But don’t feel bad if it seems hard. Everything’s hard until you know how to do it.”

I don’t remember much of the algebra I was supposedly learning that year, but I’ll never forget that one thing he said.

Everything’s hard until you know how to do it. Until you figure it out. Until some kind soul shows you how. Until you get lucky and stumble into your solution. So don’t feel bad.

I know changing a car battery isn’t something to brag about. But learning something new is almost always remarkable. Years ago, the first time I tried to change the battery on that old Honda, I had no idea what I was doing. It was frustrating. It took forever. But I learned how. And so, on the eve of the Great Friggin’ Cold Snap of January 2019, I was ready. That’s how bad things become good things.

Here, in this annual issue of Volume One were we celebrate your votes for the Best of the Chippewa Valley, I thought it’d be fitting to honor my “best worst thing.”

Dead car batteries in the dead of winter are the worst. Broken furnaces are the worst. Waves of shivering that rack your bones are the worst. But not really, because all these things could most definitely – and quite easily – be even worse.

I’m glad I have a battery to change. It means I have a car to get to my job. I’m glad I have a furnace to maintain. It means I have a warm house. I’m glad I get the shivers. I means I’m alive and healthy enough to fight the cold. I’m lucky to have these things, and I’m lucky to learn more about them as the needs arise.

That’s why, in every frustrating thing winter sends our way, you can find a little hope.


*I’d also like my hypothetical obituary to be brief, yet super emotional. Exceptionally moving. Like an epic poem packed into a few paragraphs. Shakespearian stuff, that’s the level I’m talking about, here. A real humdinger of an obituary.

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