I am painting the mudroom in our house. It has seemed to me, as I’ve been sanding and priming and painting, that this is about as prudent as detailing the family minivan or polishing a car’s hubcaps. (Not very.)
Still, I will finish it, and it will be good.
The experience — while longer than I budgeted — has yielded many long moments of my kind of meditation: an unhurried and unworried turning and turning over of thoughts. Here are a handful.
1. To be a professional ANYTHING takes more than talent, desire, and hard work. It takes a stomach for boredom. Don’t a lot of people think they can paint? I mean, hey, how hard can it be to lift the brush, stroke it back and forth, swipe at spills with an old rag? Not very. What’s hard, though, is to keep going through the boring times. This is true for every job and vocation and art: There are long patches of boredom. What makes someone a professional painter (or writer, teacher, accountant, mechanic, gardener, athlete, chef, whatever) is stick-to-it-iveness, not just in the face of challenge, but in that gaping yawn of same old, same old, end not in sight, still must go on.
2. Daydreams can be so bourgeois, so vanilla. My mind has so much free play time, and what does it think about? Not wild fantasies. The daydreams seem inspired by the labor. While painting, I think about color, color combinations, the perfect paintbrush, boredom, and housepainters’ ruminations.
3. Early B52’s songs (I’ve been listening to lots, alternating periods of quiet paint time and soundtracked paint time) are not without violence in the lyrics. Interesting, because I think of them as such a playful band. There’s something darker lurking there than I noticed before.
4. What am I *not* doing, while I am painting the mudroom? More than a decade ago, Jimmy and I lived in a two-family house. Upstairs lived Tom Sellers and Terry Ann Lunt, a couple about 10 years or so older than us. One time Terry Ann caught me, in our shared driveway, painting about eight sets of shutters for interior windows, one louver at a time. “What are you doing?” she asked in a kind of offended way. I told her that, by painting and installing the shutters myself, I was saving about $25 per window. (Not nothin’, but not big bucks either.) “Yeah, but what’s your opportunity cost?” she asked. What’s that? I wondered. She explained: “Your opportunity cost is what you are giving up to paint the shutters. It might be time with the kids; it might be time to rest; it might be time to learn something that could help you in your job or life. Costs are not just monetary.” Wow, wow! I thought that was a new and amazing idea. I have often used that calculus when trying to decide to do a task myself or hire it out. Clearly, I failed to consider opportunity cost this time. It’ll probably take me 30 hours by the time I’m finished the mudroom.
5. Not every job deserves to be well done. Some deserve only good enough. I should have slapped up a quart of paint on the walls and shelves and doors, just to freshen it up and get it done. But I primed it, and I painted the trim one color, and the walls another, and the doors will be still another. It’s a 5 x 5′ closet that people walk through when they enter the kitchen. Filled with coats. With shoes. And yet it will be beautifully painted. Hmm.
6. Okay, so even though I know I have over-restored the mudroom, I still cannot let go of the idea of giving the coat closet the same treatment. And that a neat and beautifully painted coat closet (apple green, white trim, new shelves and hanging rod) will somehow improve not just my domestic life, but my inner life, too. Outer order brings inner peace. I would like to let that go, and yet I must not want that enough, or else I would.