House Work

I’m not a subscriber to so-called retail therapy, but I’m not averse to paint brightening up my patch of the world, particularly when I’ve chosen a light blue named Innocence.

My amusement mystifies my kids, and, honestly, myself, too. A better word to describe our life these days would perhaps be Koan. But try putting that on a paint can and marketing it. Who wants a little more koan, please?

Instead, I buy a used bureau from a couple who has seen far better days, or so I hope, and offer it to my daughter. From our basement, I pull out the can of yellow Little Dipper paint I used for our living room. She paints it on our back porch. I lean against the railing, looking at the trash that’s blown over the railing — junk mail, a used mask, a cardboard box I’ve used for kindling.

A sparrow sings in the box elders.

I turn around and watch her paint. What? she asks, looking over her shoulder at me.

Nothing, I lie. I reach for the quilt I washed that morning, hung over the railing, and fold it carefully.

I save my love
for the smell of coffee at The Mill,
the roasted near-burn of it, especially
the remnant that stays later
in the fibers of my coat.

Marjorie Saiser

Painting the Kitchen the Color of Cake Batter

In the sub-zero cold, my daughter’s car cranks over after a long hesitation. Start, or not? Oh, February. So much effort.

The girls are gone skiing while I’m painting the kitchen. The cats move around from stepladder to drop cloth. Meanwhile, I listen to Dolly Parton’s America podcast. I had no idea Nelson Mandela was a fan of Parton.

The girls return with their cheeks bright red, cold and hungry.

Here’s a poem from Ensouling Language.

It is good knowing that glasses
are to drink from;
the bad thing
is not to know what thirst is for.

— Antonio Machado

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Duo Residence

Ooooo, midwinter.

After work, while my daughter memorizes French for an exam, I head out for a walk. A slight snow is falling, just a few lazy flakes as if nothing much is going to happen, just that little bit of snow. It’s my most very favorite snow, just lovely, and in the cone of streetlight I have that enchanting Narnia feeling — as if it’s just me and the lamppost and that snow, and maybe the mysterious White Witch might silently appear. In that twirling-down-slowly snow, Turkish delight might still be an untasted promise in my life, rather than the too-sweet candy I remember.

That’s it, from my end of the world. I’ve been “dividing my time” between desk and couch, finishing up a manuscript. When I submit it Friday, I’m planning to ski out the back door — snow willing — and paint my daughter’s room.

Then, on to the next month.

But land is land, and it’s safer than the stocks and bonds of Wall Street swindlers.

Eugene O’Neill, Long Day’s Journey into Night


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One Gallon of Paint: What It Creates

My daughter and I paint my bedroom a light blue that reminds me of a bedroom I painted the summer I was 21 and living in an old house in Brattleboro. Those hot months, I was waitressing at the Skyline Restaurant, making great tips. On my days off, a friend and I painted much of that house and drank gin and tonics. While my afternoons of G&Ts have long passed, painting hasn’t.

I pour the paint into the pan; my daughter gently sets her cats outside the door and then takes the roller from my hand. I got it, she says. I stand back, offering my pro tips about using enough paint, and she repeats again, gently, I got it.

Truth is, she does.

I pick up the paintbrush and continue cutting in, keeping ahead of her in some kind of way. After a while, she hands me back the roller and heads out to her cats who are stretching their paws under the door.

Listening to the redwing blackbirds through the open window, I wonder about the paint and wallpaper layers in this 100-year-old house. Who’s been here, over these years? Us, now.

“Finding A Long Gray Hair” by Jane Kenyon

I scrub the long floorboards
in the kitchen, repeating
the motions of other women
who have lived in this house.
And when I find a long gray hair
floating in the pail,
I feel my life added to theirs.

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Why Love Cats

My daughters’ cat and I are listening to Chris Hedges lecture about the collapse of the American Empire — extremely serious and unfunny — when the cat falls off the hutch and splashes into my pan of lemon-yellow paint.

The cat probably yowled; I certainly shouted. The creature scrambled through the dining room to living room, through my study, into the kitchen, where my daughter grabbed the paint-soaked cat. While she cleaned paint from the cat in the basement, I washed wet paint from our floors on my hands and knees.

We’ve lived in this house not much more than a year. While I love the maple floors, I generally don’t spend much time mopping.

While Hedges kept talking, I realized some of the narrow boards were birdseye maple. Through the closed basement door, I heard my daughter murmuring, comforting her beloved cat.

Whoever laid the floors in this house passed from this life decades ago. I thought of these slender, hard boards in a carpenter’s hand, his sight appraising the grain.

The decision by the ruling elites in ancient Rome—dominated by a bloated military and a corrupt oligarchy, much like the United States—to strangle the vain and idiotic Emperor Commodus in his bath in the year 192 did not halt the growing chaos and precipitous decline of the Roman Empire…. Trump and our decaying empire have ominous historical precedents.

— Chris Hedges, America: The Farewell Tour

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The Larch Season, November, Vermont

 

Home Work

Frost sprinkled around us last night. I hear the local reports on Goddard College-supported WGDR this morning while the cats stretch on the sunny kitchen floor. Alan LePage in his Curse of the Golden Turnip radio show takes calls and shares his farmer’s intel on climate change.

Halfway through the weekend, our house lies in actual physical chaos: the upstairs floor I bungled painting and must repaint. Failure, I remind myself, clasps hands with creativity.

In Vermont, season’s change — from a luxuriously warm summer to chillier fall where the shadows hold no light — begs interior reflection, too. Where are we headed? Or, what’s the plan?

As part of a larger writing project, I’ve been interviewing a woman in recovery from opiate use. Again, what impresses on me is the constant motion of life, that while our past imprints on us, marking each of us indelibly, life goes on.

A misprinted floor — wrong paint — is so minor, a mere irritant. A surmountable challenge. Perhaps, a sheer piece of luck.

With writing, we have second chances.

Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything is Illuminated 

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