Displacement Activity, or, How Not to Paint a Room, Part Two

Waiting for reviews…what to do? Let’s paint…and ruin the irreplaceable carpet….

“Let’s think of something to do while we’re waiting, while we’re waiting…”

-Fred Rogers

One vote on the book  is in from a trusted friend, who said she loved it and votes for moving ahead with it. Encouraged, but waiting for further opinions.

What to do?

Let’s paint.

Brimming with overconfidence, having learned from experience, proceed to hardware store. Because saturated color looked great in the small bedroom-turned-computer-lounge, boldly select three additional saturated colors – pink for her room, silvery-grey for mine, sunny ivory for the living room, plus two gallons of that color-changing ceiling paint that seemed to work so well. Also purchase every roll of two-inch “frog tape” in stock, along with six additional rollers, two more brushes (despite the others being washable, wanting to start fresh), another tray, a pack of a dozen tray liners and sixty feet of “hallway” plastic tarp.

Confidently cover beds and side tables with plastic tarp. Fail to cover carpet, on the assumption it is already old and worn and must be replaced with something very similar.

Begin painting ceilings.

Notice areas of peeling paint. Determine these should be scraped.  Don mask left over from chicken-coop cleaning days. Begin scraping.

Under peeling paint, discover a substance that does not appear to be either plaster or drywall. It is smoother and harder.

Despite tarps and face mask, panic.

This is an old house.

Cease scraping. Don’t create dust. Let sleeping dogs lie. Paint over scraped areas and sleeping-dog areas of still-peeling paint, sticking them back on ceiling. Sort of.

Look up in premature satisfaction.

Notice that areas that had been scraped look stupid. This is not a Tuscan villa, where patches of missing paint or plaster add a patina of old-world charm.

Determine to spackle over already painted scraped places, thereby sealing undetermined ceiling substance in place. Spackle over remaining unscraped peeling paint, thereby sticking them more firmly back to the ceiling.

Spackle used in computer lounge to plug now-empty screw-anchor holes is thick and lumpy. Attempt to smooth. Create additional lumps and visible tracks of spackling knife.

Sigh.

Proceed to carefully peel and spackle hallway ceiling. Run out of lumpy spackling stuff.

Return to hardware store.

Select a lightweight spackling named something that suggests a “one and done” kind of application. Ok, that.

Resume spackling with whipped lightweight stuff. Works great! Applies more smoothly than other lumpy stuff. Like icing on a cake!

Use lightweight fluffy spackling over old, thicker lumpy spackling. Looks smoother but still a little like an elementary school ceiling where children of yore tossed soaking wet wads of toilet paper upward, sticking them to the ceiling in white lumps.

Decide that ceiling paint will minimize appearance of lumpiness, and paint anyway.

Complete walls.

Realize you failed to tape the white trim around windows, which now have streaks of strawberry-ice-cream pink  or grey on them.

Return to hardware store. Buy white paint for trim.

After walls are dry, tape around windows. Paint trim. Step back in premature satisfaction.

Realize that the slanty part of the wall above the closets in the half-story upstairs of our story-and-a-half Cape-Cod was supposed to be painted like the walls, not the ceiling.

Sigh.

Retrieve paint from basement. Paint slanty part of wall.

Step back in premature satisfaction.

Realize you forgot to tape ceiling above slanty part.

Retrieve ceiling paint from basement. Determined to minimize repeated rounds of touching up ceiling, then wall, then ceiling ad infinitum, tape slanty part of wall. Paint over splotches on ceiling.

Engage in three additional rounds of touching up ceiling, then walls, then ceiling anyway.

Remove tape, which removes additional chunks of peeling paint from ceiling.

Return to hardware store. Purchase larger tub of fluffy spackling. Spackle new patches of peeled paint on ceilings and under windows. In fit of exhaustion, paint over spackling before it is dry, smearing white spackling across larger patches of already painted walls.

Sigh.

Slather saturated color paint over white patches and decide it looks good enough.

Realize that careful taping of ceiling has left a thick line of previous lighter wall exposed at top. Use brush to paint along intersection of wall and ceiling. Decide that quarter inch of dark color on ceilings is OK if it occurs on entire perimeter of room.

Shower, rest.

Revived, carefully remove tarps from furniture avoiding , attempting to avoid sprinkling ceiling substances and old paint chips on ruined carpet. Paint chips and dust land on carpet anyway.

Vacuum. Repeatedly. Excessively.

Shop for new, smaller bedside table that will hold lamp while not interfering with closet. Fits great. Plug in lamp. Lamp will not light.

Realize that in the course of slathering on very thick layer of paint hoping to avoid doing a second coat, you painted over the only available electrical outlet for lamp.  For reasons unknown, that outlet, which is nowhere near any source of water, has a reset button on it, which it now hopelessly stuck. (See, “painted over outlet with very thick layer of paint,” above).

Sigh. Call electrician.

Having decided not to worry about paint on carpet, which is to be replaced with something very similar, proceed to carpet store. Carpet store has every kind of carpet under the sun, but inexplicably doesn’t have anything close to that beloved, pretty old carpet. Pattern has apparently ceased to exist.

Return home. Stuck with ruined carpet indefinitely, vacuum excessively, again (is there any such thing as vacuuming excessively)? Rest until morning.

Next day, displace lingering frustration about carpet by moving desk, file cabinets and former-bedside-table-now-to-be-printer-pedestal out of bedroom, to area of kitchen that is to become new “command center,” when absurdly expensive new desk, which was ordered when allegedly “in stock,” in mid-September, is finally shipped and delivered sometime between now and the end of recorded time. Or early November, whichever comes first.

Commend self for having gained sufficient maturity to wait.

Lie down. Notice that new bedside table smells funny.  Decide that I’m so old I’ve probably already been exposed to a lot of  whatever is causing the smell anyway. Disguise smell by spraying perfume all over new bedside table.

Plan trip to department store to buy more perfume.

Attempt to rest.

While “resting,” plan how to paint living room without ruining beloved rug. Decide to roll up and stow rug for the duration. Realize I will have to buy more plastic to protect maple floor under rug…and more tape…and more paint for trim…ad infinitum….

Hoping to hear from brothers and other trusted friend about book (STOP ME BEFORE I PAINT AGAIN), I remain,

Your paint-splattered, carpet-ruining, running-out-of-money-for-the-love-of-God-what-the-hell-am-I-doing,

Ridiculouswoman

Divestiture, Episode 4: Life is a Harold

Life circles back, in complex layers, like a Harold…

I first came across the idea of “synchronicity,” that thing where lots of people all over the planet seem to start thinking about the same thing at the same time, when I became interested in Jung, back in college. (I think the Police song came later. I think.)

As an improviser (after college, but still many years ago) I would experience a kind of synchronicity with my fellow players, when everybody seems to share the same insight or have the same thought or impulse at the same moment. It’s called the “group mind.”

The team I was on performed the “Harold,” from the early days of long-form improvisation. “Harold” is a thirty-minute (or so) performance involving games, scenes and monologues, in rounds of three. Each “scene” would return twice after its first appearance, with each repetition layering over, often in subtle or surprising ways that only come together at the end, on what came before.

It doesn’t work if any of the players try to predetermine or “script” what happens next. It only works if everyone is working off everyone else, and the next thing that happens, happens only because of whatever has happened before.

This sense that everything that happens is somehow connected to everything that happened before has been a theme in my life, and probably in yours, if you stop to think about it. You’ll suddenly remember a past part of your life that seems to have circled back around, but at a new and more mature or complex level. Like standing on a long spiral staircase, looking down at the previous circles of your life.

In my latest round of tidying up, getting rid of piles of old crap that oppress me now, a few moments of this helix-shaped laddering of life hit me in odd and unexpected ways. Which is kind of how it is supposed to work. To wit:

• Someone on one of the Facebook groups I participate in replied to a comment of mine by saying it was “en pointe” – and I said (truthfully) that “Ha! I used to dance “en pointe!” The next day, what did I find in the closet? A box full of old pointe shoes (really, really beat up pointe shoes) that I had saved from my teen years, and forgotten about. Smiled, and tossed them.

• Because I am having a period-style dress made to wear at an upcoming event celebrating the era of my favorite books, I suddenly remembered a dress I had made for myself, by hand. Again, back in college – I was flat broke, but I was one of the soprano soloists in “Messiah” for the Christmas concert, and I didn’t have a dress. So I went out and bought some really cheap red satin (which scandalized the orchestra, angry, I guess, that they had to wear the uniform “concert black.”) IMG_20180910_164019.jpgI ripped apart a sundress that fit me well, to use as a pattern. I laid the satin out on my dorm room floor, and came up with a way to make a criss-crossed bodice that formed cap sleeves without having to cut and sew sleeves separately. I attached that to a long, bias-cut skirt that came to a point in front. Except when I was done, one side of the skirt was shorter than and kind of off-center to the other. So I improvised a ruffle on that side, by hand again, to even it out. I loved that dress and was proud of designing it and sewing it together in a marathon all-nighter, a week or so before the concert. I couldn’t remember what I’d done with it. And what did I find in the closet? There it was, in the very bottom of a box, underneath old college papers, exam books (really? Why on earth did I save those?) and programs from recitals and performances long past. Tossed the exam books and papers, kept the programs and the dress.

• Very recently I wrote about my late husband Mike’s journals and what they revealed to me, after he died. And what did I find in the closet? A journal of my own that I had forgotten existed, that chronicled the first days and weeks of our romance – how we met, where we went together in those giddy, dizzying first days and weeks, and, sadly, how early in our relationship we started fighting. I found the earliest poems – written for me or read to me. My journal consumed only about 15% of the blank book it was written in, blazing briefly with the astonishment of those long, wild first days of love – a love that too quickly sank way down, beneath the surface, submerged for decades under the responsibilities of child-rearing and the stress of a long and difficult marriage; the love that returned to us in a profound, mature and painfully poignant way, at the end.

There’s nothing sentimental about improvisation. It’s there and then it’s not. It’s ephemeral. You can’t recreate a great “Harold.” You can only experience it while it is happening, and maybe remember how great it made you feel while you were in the midst of it.

Not unlike life.

Still tidying up, I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, moving onward one-cleaned-out-closet-at-a-time,

Ridiculouswoman

Divestiture, Episode Three: Boots, Barn Coat, Bike

Empty, yet still full…

These three have been the hardest.

The coat is just called a barn coat. We don’t have a barn, and even if you could have called the big red shed a barn, that’s gone now, accused of harboring racoons. But he liked the coat – great for fall yard work, lined with wool and warm.

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His coat is the beige one on the right, bigger, but made for a man’s flat, rectangular shape. I drown in it, but I can’t button it around me.

It stood up to buckthorn and other hazardous greenery. He’d trim the bushes in the in the summer, and wear that coat to trim them in the fall. I don’t have the gift, or the height, to trim them as well as he did, but now I have to try.

Doesn’t matter that I can’t use it. I love that coat and have held on to it for two years because, along with the boots up there, it forms an image of him in my mind that I don’t want to forget: bundled up, heading out to Home Depot to get something or other, weakened from the illness but determined to show me that he could participate in the manly art of bashing and rebuilding things going on all around him during the lunacy of kitchen- remodeling-while-husband-dying-of-cancer.

I bought him the boots the first winter of his diagnosis, when the infusion made him exceptionally sensitive to cold. At the time, his feet and ankles were so swollen with edema that I was afraid he was already actively dying, when the doc said he should have another 18 months. He hadn’t had the experience with dying people that I had, helping with Dad, then Mom, so he wasn’t afraid of the edema, just inconvenienced and perplexed by it. He couldn’t, or didn’t want to, try the boots on and asked that I take them back. He wore the size-too-big slippers I got him instead, that winter.

But by the next fall the edema was under control. He wanted to go outside, but he only had a shredded pair of walking shoes he refused to let me replace.

Which is when I told him that I had lied to him, I didn’t take the boots back. I hid them in the front hall closet.

“I knew you’d make it, and you’d need them.”

I fetched them, and they fit. He wore them occasionally that last winter, when he had just enough strength to drive himself to his infusions. He wore them the day of the trip to Home Depot, along with a sad, resigned, slightly apprehensive expression that is burned in my memory forever.

The tandem is is the hardest. Mike and our daughter became local celebrities on that bike, riding three miles to and from school every sunny day. He loved that bike.

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Mike and I had a huge fight about him giving a photo of himself and our daughter to a woman he met online. I had good reason to be furious, then. Now, I explained to our daughter that this picture shows just the bike, her feet, and Dad’s feet, but anybody in the world could see it. She said that’s OK.

It’s huge. When he found it at a bike shop 15 miles from home, it wouldn’t fit in the car, but he was so taken with it that he rode it home, solo. We went back to get the car the next day.

From then on, the two of them rode the tandem everywhere, befriending crossing guards, and charming other parents who were picking up and dropping off in cars.

It’s too big for me. I can’t sling my leg over it, and even if I could, I wouldn’t trust my strength or balance to ride her on it, now that she’s fully an adult woman.

Fall is a great season for biking, and as we all know, “winter is coming.” I’ll try to find a church or shelter that will give the coat and boots directly to a person in need. Or I’ll drive around with them in the car as I did last year, trying to spot someone of the right size on the street, who looks like they need them.

A local charity specializes in fixing up bikes and giving them away to people who need them or want them but can’t afford them. People bike a lot around here, some of necessity to and from work, even in the winter. That bike could be a sort of “bike pool” for two people who work at the same place.

Or maybe provide another special activity for another father and child.

I think I’m ready. I’ll always have the pictures – the physical photograph of the tandem, now in the one of our daughter’s “memories of Dad” photo albums, and the other, a memory only, but etched always in my mind, of Mike setting bravely off to the big box hardware store, wincing a little, just to show me he could, wearing that coat.

And those boots.

May they clothe the person who receives them with the love that infuses them. Amen.

Yours,

Ridiculouswoman.

How Not To Paint A Room

Admire with premature satisfaction….Return to hardware store….three times.

Allow enthusiastic daughter to begin painting walls before drop cloth fully spread. No harm, no foul, the carpet is going anyway.

Attempt to paint intersection of wall and ceiling.

Observe blue streaks on white ceiling. Remember you should have taped the intersection of wall and ceiling.

Tape ceiling at top of wall with half-inch tape purchased at hardware store. Find and apply two-year-old, one-and-a-half-inch blue tape over half-inch tape.

Observe more blue streaks on white ceiling.

Return to hardware store. Purchase wider, green tape. Apply wider tape over two layers of narrower tape.

Complete walls. Step back and gaze with premature self-satisfaction.

Look up. Notice blue streaks and spatters on white ceiling just beyond tape.

Locate two-year-old white interior paint in basement closet.

Stab meaty part of hand while prying open with screwdriver.

Wash and dress wound. Finish prying open old can of white paint. Watch rusty bits fall into paint. Stir anyway.

Use three-inch wide roller to cover blue streaks and splatters on white ceiling with old paint containing rusty bits. Attempt to create neat, squared-off border of not-quite-matching-white-paint-with-rusty-bits.

Fail.

Realize another coat is necessary to cover blue streaks. Exhausted, pledge to do in the morning, before carpet guys come.

Awaken to call at 8:40 am. Carpet guys will be here in 20 minutes. Oops.

Thrill to installation of new carpet. Looks great.

Look up.

Notice visibly uneven white paint streaks, not matching rest of ceiling, veering off from the edges of the ceiling into horse-tail wisps moving toward light fixture at center of ceiling.

Take old white paint with rusty bits downstairs, use up all kitty litter absorbing it, and toss it in garbage in frustration.

Return to hardware store. Purchase ceiling paint, new rollers and thicker drop cloth to protect new carpet.

Realize you threw away paint tray and disposable liner along with kitty-litter filled rusty-bits old white paint.

Return to hardware store. Purchase new tray and new liner. Add new brush and small roller too, just in case. Ha.

Also purchase long roller extender pole.

Spread new drop cloth. Use long pole extender to complete ceiling. Look up with premature self-satisfaction.

Look down at walls. Notice white streaks and white drip splatters on blue walls.

Frantically attempt to wipe of white streaks and spatters with damp paper towels, with mixed success.

Retrieve small amount of leftover blue paint from basement. Remove new paint liner with not-quite-dry ceiling paint residue from paint tray.  Pour blue paint directly into metal tray.

Paint over white streaks and spatters on blue wall. Step back to admire with premature self-satisfaction. Done.

Carefully fold slightly too-small drop cloth.

What are those two semi-circle marks new carpet? Flaws in carpet, right? Not? Drop cloth not as absorbent as claimed? Decide new chair and ottoman will cover vague semi-circle-shaped, possible-paint-stains on new carpet.

Sigh. Peel three layers of tape from top of wall. Miraculously, all come off easily and together. Walls look good.

Sweating, frizzy and lipstickless, in violation of every middle-aged woman rule imaginable, help FedEx guy who is delivering new chair, ottoman and desk.

Solve physics problem of getting large new chair and ottoman up narrow stairs and through narrow door.

Praise daughter lavishly for very effective help in getting masses of cardboard, plastic and Styrofoam outside for recycling.

Retrieve bits of Styrofoam blowing over neighbors’ yard. Cram into garbage bin. Collection tomorrow morning, no harm, no foul.

Next, solve weight-lifting problem of heavy box-o-desk.

Realize box must be lifted up the stairs one step at a time, as it will not slide up.

Miraculously, get heavy box upstairs, not pulling anything or otherwise injuring self.  Apparently. (See how it feels tomorrow.)

Open box containing desk.

Hold back tears upon observing level of assembly required: number of desk pieces, screws, pegs, and little cam-lock thingees that come with every Chinese-made piece of furniture, along with yet another Allen wrench.

Look on bright side. Still only 3 p.m.  This sucker WILL be built before dinner.

Plod mechanically through desk assembly using inadequate diagram.

Miraculously, assemble correctly first try.

Except, what was the glue for? Was I supposed to glue the wood pegs in? Feh. Humidity will take care of that.

Place desk. Admire with premature satisfaction.

Realize the one electrical outlet in room is on the wall opposite the only logical place to place the desk.

Discover the only extension cord you own is 1) brown, and sticks out against lovely grey and white new carpet and 2) two-pronged, not three-pronged, which won’t work for daughter’s new laptop.

Return to hardware store. Hardware store is closed. Give up, shower, go to dinner with happy, excited daughter. Promise to set up her laptop when we get home.

Inadvertently cause meltdown at dinner by reminding daughter not to use table as plate. Curse waitress for failing to bring plate. Demand plate.

Drive home insisting we listen to my classical station all the way, rather than channel-surfing pop stations.

Utterly innocent daughter apologizes.

Duh. Autism.

Bad mother.

Tell her it’s ok. We’ll both do better next time.

VERY BAD MOTHER.

Hold back tears.

Set up daughter’s new laptop with cord plugged in to outlet in bedroom, while she waits patiently, recovered from meltdown, enjoying new chair and ottoman in newly painted computer room.

And says she LOVES it.

“We did a pretty good job, didn’t we?”

“We did an AWESOME job. I LOVE my new computer lounge. I love watching this (new computer).”

“I’m so glad, sweetie. You were an awesome helper.”

Smile, with satisfaction.

And love.

Hold back tears.

 

Recovering,  while planning the next project,

I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, flawed but hopeful,

Ridiculouswoman

Divestiture, Episode One

I want to stick with what matters, now…

The pink dress I wore, the night I met him.

Recycle.

The red two-piece outfit I wore, on the third date, when we sat and talked under the statue of Lincoln in the park.

Ditto.

I kept the dress from the second date, because I love that dress, and I hang on to the vain hope that someday I not only be able to wear it again but that I’ll be able to get the massive coffee stain out of it, the stain that can’t be passed off as just part of the pattern of the dress, which is kind of like an abstract expressionist painting done in dark reds and light browns on a cream surface.

The dress he bought for me as a present – modest, navy blue and soft pink floral, feminine, kind of prim, the sort of dress I didn’t think I’d look like anything in. But I think he wanted me to realize that it was about me, not the dress.

Skirt suits. I’ll never wear suits again, I swear. Out.

A box full of old guidebooks and pamphlets from places in the UK and Europe I had visited in high school, or after law school. I kept them thinking I’d read them later. Not.

My law school notebooks, for God’s sake – why on earth did I save those?

I saved a few cute stories I wrote, illustrated with photographs of me as a very little girl, and handmade chapbooks of poems I had written when I was in elementary school. I was charmed by who I was as a child – boldly creative, funny and unafraid.

Even with this, I’ve barely made a dent, in the bedroom closet that doubles as the attic in this house.

Then there’s the wedding dress.

Why do I still have that? There is no possibility of anyone I’m related to ever needing it, wanting it or fitting in it – it was fitted to me, short and fat. I suppose I’ll have to see if I can sell it.

Wedding shoes. My daughter and I wear the same size shoes, but nah. I’ll give those away.

Boxes of books from college and papers I wrote while “up at Oxford,” on a program of study abroad. I’ve visited them once or twice and I’m always impressed with my younger self – the intellectual passion that comes through in these long-ago essays. But those are next.

The Mom box. It’s a box of stuff my eldest brother saved when he was shoveling out her house. Turns out Mom saved her school papers, too, and in just the snippet of them I’ve read, I discovered an ardent early feminist who wrote about the roles women should be allowed to take up and the unfair limitations imposed upon them. That was in the ’40s. I’ll give my brothers and niece a chance to take the box, but I don’t think they will.

Shoveling out Mom’s house took six months of arduous work, research, sorting, categorizing, selecting, selling, distributing, etc. I hope I thanked my brother for that.

But I’m going to be the one doing that for this house, while I still can.

Because other than photographs, which she needs and loves to look at, there really is nothing here that will be of any service or meaning to my daughter after I’m gone. And I feel oppressed by all this crap. I want to feel the “joy of tidying up” Marie Kondo wrote about. I want to get out from under it all, clean up, get minimal. Breathe.

I want to stick with what matters, now, and tone down the sentimental hoarding of old stuff that will be of no future use or meaning to my daughter or anyone else.

I had a little medical scare two weeks ago – went to the doctor and got the all clear from the ultrasound tech.

And then they called me back.

Radiologist thinks he saw a little sumpin’ sumpin.

In my previous post, “Trading Fear for Flow,” I wrote about how law school somehow seemed to have switched on a kind of generalized anxiety disorder, that expressed itself primarily in OCD type behavior – checking, checking and re-checking. I described how a perfectly mundane, everyday experience blew up into a near-full on panic attack, about an inevitable lawsuit that never was filed.

You get to a certain age and the medicos seem to have an urgent need to explore, poke, prod, test, image, scan, scrape and centrifuge bits of your bits, and yes, check and check again. (See, “fear of inevitable lawsuit,” above).

So I can’t blame them, really, for wanting me back. I’m pretty sure it a mere shadow of things long past and gone, and that it is nothing.

But it could be something.

All the more reason to go for the “flow.”

And to divest this house of all the crap, so others (far in the future, I hope, but still) won’t have to.

The appointment is just under two weeks from now, and I’ll be writing about other stuff before then. But I’ll keep you posted.

Now, about all those boxes of old newspaper clippings (remember print? Ha!) and programs from concerts and shows, and scraps of fabric I’ll never make into anything….I’ll get my shovel and have at it.

Until then, I remain, your loyal, humble, devoted,

Ridiculouswoman