OK, so I didn’t actually read Open Up the Wall. I did listen to the audio book, however, which was handy, as I could do other stuff (like apply polyurethane clear coat to some doors at home) at the same time. What can I say, the book was motivating, plus, the fumes added to the authenticity of the whole experience.
Open Up the Wall by Geoff Bowes is a memoir, narrated in spectacular fashion by the author. It chronicles his journey from actor to contractor, and brings the reader (listener) along to enjoy the humour, insight and candour of his experiences.
After many years as a successful actor, Geoff (née Geoffrey) was feeling a bit numb, and looking for something more, something real. Perhaps working with his hands would scratch that inner, manlier itch. So, he put on a tool belt, and started renovating his old house. Plumbing mishaps, a fire or two, and more than a few visits to the snarky fella behind the counter at the local builders’ supply led to being hired onto a real construction crew — with real tradesmen.
Geoff voices the dialogue between characters with plenty of authentic cursing, along with the sounds, dramatic pauses and cadence that only a pro could pull off. The reader can really empathize with Geoff trying to fit into the different social rhythms on the other side of the tool belt, and renovating himself in the process.
Geoff Bowes nailed it (punny, I know). Open Up the Wall isn’t just a great story, it’s a real story — this is Geoff’s account of Act 2 of his working life. The author’s dynamic storytelling is presented in an easy to follow “job to job” chronological account of his 20 years as a contractor in and around Toronto. The reader accompanies Geoff as he straps on his toolbelt to buy his first circular saw, and enjoys the uncertainties and satisfaction that comes with installing a pine floor, finally putting in a bathtub, and making repeated embarssing visits to the builders’ supply.
As Geoff progresses in his contracting career, he encounters colourful characters: Our protagonist gets stiffed for money by an unscrupulous lady with a janky fence, confronts some nefarious roofers with a swear word, and eventually earns the respect of the real construction guys that he works with. Years pass, and jobs come and go, and Geoff builds his skills and his confidence in tackling jobs from steel studs in a recording studio to hoity-toity high-end condo work. Along the way, Geoff bears his feelings and internal progress from Geoffrey to Geoff in soliloquy. It’s a sweet, non-fiction story, covered in sawdust.
The main character in Open Up The Wall is Geoff – he’s trying to reconcile his feelings about being born a “Geoffrey.” Go easy on him though, we learn that he was abandoned as a baby… Geoff’s drive to learn and improve his skills and to earn the respect of tradesmen drives him forward, eventually to the point of catharsis and self acceptance — albeit with plenty of self admonishment (“How could I be such a Geoffrey?”).
As our hero progresses on his odyssey, we are introduced to other relatable characters: A series of anthropomorphized tools which Geoff must master on his quest includes a big, phallic framing hammer and a boisterous reciprocating saw, as well as The Circular Saw, aka Skilsaw, which starts up by screaming “WATCH YOUR FINGERS!!” and ends with a sigh of “Thhaaank God that’s overrr”. Finally satiated after a well done pine floor, the saw lies on its side and smiles at Geoff from its crescent blade guard.
In order to earn his own respect, Geoff must first earn the respect of the “Real Tradesmen” — guys that wear toolbelts and drive beat-up vans. The first such tradesman we meet is Stan, an actor, tall and muscular with great comedic timing — he’s a natural in “bad guy roles.” Stan is also highly skilled in all things construction — from plumbing to building entire houses. He’s cool and collected, and a source of wisdom and perspective for Geoff. Stan knows how to prevent problems from happening. Ken, on the other hand, is a tattooed framer in cutoff shorts with an anger management problem — he tends to fly off the handle, although he tries to hold on, despite life’s difficulties.
As Geoff “opens up the wall”, and proves himself to the many personalities in the contracting world — tools, tradesmen, customers, he eventually earns his own respect and finds peace at the end of a long working day.
There are several themes that run through the Geoff Bowes’ Open Up the Wall, among them are self-transformation of the individual through exploration and perseverance in the unknown, and the dynamic of earning acceptance as an outsider.
In the author’s words, “Geoffries wear blazers. They pass sandwiches. They don’t wear work boots and they certainly aren’t good with their hands.” As a well-bred actor, Geoffrey eventually tires of the insincerity, fakeness and rejection from the people in show business. He wants to engage with real things, to do objective work, but he doesn’t yet know what he doesn’t know. So, when Geoff walks into a hardware store to buy his first power saw, he’s clueless, and returns home with a tool that he’s afraid of. But he presses on anyway, and lays down a beautiful pine floor, enjoying the feel and the smell of his completed job.
I totally see where Geoff is coming from. It can be scary attempting new things, but the rewards are there for those that can stick it out. Many people, myself included, change careers, change what they’re doing in life, and they find themselves feeling like a fish out of water. Geoff speaks very frankly about being an outsider, and about wanting to earn the respect and acceptance of the people around him. By lacing up his work boots and finishing the jobs in front of him, Geoff eventually builds his skills, and his confidence –now he’s Geoff, the contractor, after all.
I absolutely love Open Up the Wall. I feel that Geoff Bowes (whom I now also love) wrote the book for Geoff Bowes, and chose to bare it all to us.
The book is so relatable, so gettable, so real. You can’t fake this kind of introspection and second guessing, and there’s no way you could just make up characters and anecdotes in fiction, and if you could, you couldn’t voice it all in the way that Geoff does in the audiobook, what with the funny noises and all.
The story of Geoff’s renovations (hammer and nails and psycho/emotional) was a joy to listen to. I have been recommending this book to my friends for some time now, and footnoting our conversations with passages and examples from it on the regular.
We all have our inner Geoffreys, we all have metaphorically-leaky pipes or -squeaky floors, and, if we seek self acceptance, then we should Open Up the Wall and get to work.
Thank you Geoff, thank you South Grey News, thank you readers of Grey County.
Five local celebrities will advocate for five locally-authored books in Grey County Reads, a county-wide reading program involving seven Grey County libraries, including Grey Highlands, Hanover, Meaford, Owen Sound, Southgate, Town of Blue Mountains and West Grey.
Each celebrity will advocate for one Canadian book over five published installments, covering plot, character and theme analyses as well as introductory and summary arguments.
Readers are encouraged to follow along with the contest, consider each book and it’s celebrity endorsement. Pick up your own copy of one or more of these books and give us your opinion too. Books are available in limited quantities from your local public library or may be purchased from your favourite local bookstore.
Celebrity installments will be posted to SouthGrey.ca weekly through to February, 2020. Read any or all of the Grey County Reads books and/or read each of the book synopses and celebrity installments to play along. Then vote for your favourite book and community library. Voting begins in February.
After the start of voting, one book will be eliminated weekly until only one book remains. At the end of the contest, three people will be chosen at random, from amongst all who have voted, to win a total of $100 worth of gift certificates from Speaking Volumes Books and Audio. Also, based on votes counted, one community library will win $200 worth of books for their community!
Previous book winners:
2019: Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice, advocated by Steven Morel.
2018: Crow Lake by Mary Lawson, advocated by Sharon Sinclair.
Grey County Reads is supported through advertising by these local businesses:
The Bicycle Café
Chapman's Ice Cream
The Colour Jar
ColourPix Graphic Design Services
Grey County Public Libraries
Grey Roots Museum and Archives
John Tamming Law
Alex Ruff, MP Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound
Nature's Path Osteopathy and Alternative Healing
Owen Sound Transportation Company
The Restaurant - Leela's Villa Inn
Speaking Volumes Books and Audio
Bill Walker, MPP Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound
West Grey Chamber of Commerce