Thursday, October 10, 2013

Painting the Office

I've been writing a lot of "I haven't forgotten about you" emails. I owe someone an updated resume. An old business associate asked me to give him feedback about my experience with his graphic design company (excellent, by the way). The community garden I helped launch two years ago is in need of some attention as we wind down for the season and transfer some responsibilities to new leadership. I am starting another ambitious composting project where residents will learn how to maintain a worm composting system to recycle coffee grounds we collect from local businesses. I might have let the idea go if it weren't for an enthusiastic response from a couple of experts. One is conveniently my neighbor who studied with the vermicomposting guru herself, Mary Appelhof. The other is one Dr. Chester Wilson at the biology department at the University of St. Thomas, a 10-minute walk from my house. I'm developing a game. I can't explain exactly what possessed me to solve that puzzle (that's how I see it). It's been too long since I first considered it. It's the same deal with origami. Out of the blue I taught myself how to make a cube. It was like having a craving for something I had never tasted. I can see Ying teaching the twins origami, but I'm not sure if that really happened or if I've inserted something into my memories of them. There is the organizing of trash haulers to do. I never thought it would be simple or easy to get everyone to agree on a single garbage company to reduce the number of trucks that are using our streets and alleys, which is 5-8 for each alley in my neighborhood. But, I am realizing that there will be more to it than sending out a couple of emails to a listserv or flyering the neighbors once or twice.

I would compare it to painting my office. Initially, it seemed like the biggest task was picking a color. After a couple of false starts, we found one that worked. Wash the walls. Tape. Prime (Pepto-Bismol pink requires this step). Paint. Right? As I sit in my office with its venetian green walls today, it is hard to believe that it was years in the making. It started with realizing that the Pepto-Bismol was peeling off in sheets. It would have been wishful thinking to paint over it. To make things worse, when I looked at the baseboards and molding more closely, I could see where paint had dripped and caked over the previous layers. I had been in enough houses when we were in the market to know that painting over that could give a room an uneasy vibe. We used to call it "old baggage", which is a certain feeling you can get in a space that has absorbed too many layers of paint the way it might have absorbed too many sad stories or resentments or in one memorable case, cat pee. These houses would send us running and laughing hand-in-hand like criminals escaping the chain gang, at first at a slow trot as not to be obvious and then at full speed toward the getaway car that would deliver us to a safe distance where there might be a fireplace, a bite and cheap Merlot served in appropriately full-bodied goblets.

I'm never confident that my workmanship is any good, but it is not for a lack of trying. I did not cut corners. Then my parents came to visit and they were impressed. My Dad's work is always perfect. Crisp. If you want to talk quilts, my Mother's craftsmanship is equally stellar, but she will argue if you say so. So, an endorsement from them is everything. I can still see where I messed up, where the lines aren't as clean as they should be or where the finish on the maple wood (so went the layers of caked paint) is uneven. But it doesn't bug me as much as it once did.

Is every project painting the office with its thankless prep work, the tasks that only seem to present the next one and the imperfections we must eventually accept? Attending to a few details will likely produce more favorable results. Likewise, as my Mother reminded me when I was at my wits' end with the office, doing something every day - no matter how small of a task - will move the project forward and that will inevitably bring it to its completion. And what a blessing to be able to say, "Who cares how long it takes?"

In the meantime, there are packages to mail and stacks of cassette tapes to review. I was looking for specific tapes from the 2004 Democratic National Convention for a potential radio program I want to produce. While I haven't seen them yet, there's lots of other material begging to be put into some context. I particularly enjoyed a tape from 2002. It's a long string of phone messages, a lovely audio diary. In some cases these messages serve as a reminder of who I am and what I love. In other cases, I can barely remember the circumstances - like the slew of calls generated by - apparently - changing auto insurers. There is more. A million more things out there like those cassettes in those boxes, waiting for some action when I have a minute to contemplate what will be next.