For the past several months, the color of our basement bathroom's walls has made me feel peevish. I get a burr in my butt every time I go in there.
The lovely shade of green I once found peaceful and whose name, Sweet Caroline, I continue to adore, lately smacks of institutional hallways in need of scrubbing and better lighting.
On Tuesday, Jack stayed home with an upset stomach, and during our hours together, I began outlining the dingy green room with thick strips of bright blue painter's tape. Pull, rip, align and press. Pull, rip, align and press. And on and on, in fits and starts, long strips and short ones, around the corners and up and down.
Yesterday, I finished the first coat of Smoke Embers plus 25%, a soothing dove gray. Already I feel the burrs slinking away.
I love to paint walls, or any flat expanse really. There before me lies the proverbial empty canvas, ready to be given new life with little more than a clean brush and a freshly shaken gallon.
Up and down I roll the brush, pausing only to dip it in more paint or check for spots I’ve missed. It’s meditation in action. Not only is a room transformed, colored anew with promise, but so too is my mind, blissfully unfettered now from having focused on just one repetitive task for the unknown number of minutes that have swept by.
This sort of focus, on a basic job that requires concentration but little other effort, allows me to both lose myself and remain present. My subconscious mind can flit and flutter, processing all manner of idea and query on which I may have been noodling.
During the brief, intimate time I spend with the walls, I see cracks and imperfections that I didn’t before. I run my fingers over slightly protruding nails, the drips and scuffs, the unknown gunk that landed on the surface one day and decided to stick.
It's not a perfect plane underneath an aging coat of shine but rather an imperfect thing that's been added to and taken from over the years. It has supported and weathered, been asked to hide and also to bare itself completely. I like being reminded of this. I like knowing these walls better.
The walls are much like people really, even those who seem glossy and impervious to bump or fault but who, of course, aren’t. It’s worth taking time to get to know people, and it’s worth letting people really get to know us.
In all the ways society today makes us feel more connected, I think it often does so only superficially. It’s so easy to show and share only what we want others to see; impressions more than selves. A coat of paint rather than the supporting structure.
But what’s lost is depth. History. Knowing. Being known. Being proudly unique and proudly fallible, for each of us is both original and imperfect. That’s what makes us human.
Three girlfriends came for breakfast this morning. One brought fruit, unwashed and still in the plastic clamshells, and apologized for that. Another teared up as we talked about our kids and our pride in and worries for them, and she apologized for that.
But I couldn’t have been happier because plastic clamshells and random tears are just real life slowing down long enough on a busy Friday morning to wash fruit and share a Kleenex or two with unvarnished friends. That’s what’s under gloss. No apologies needed.