Color Me Content

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A few years ago I was at the chiropractor, and Dr. L stops whatever it is he’s doing, looks at me and asks, “Do you have a hobby?”
There was a long pause as I tried to think of something. “I run. I walk.”
“And you do that because you love it?”
“I do that so I can eat Twinkies.”
“Get a hobby.”

I kinda forgot to. I think about it from time to time, but I haven’t really achieved a “hobby.”

Tonight, as I was peeling blue tape off my walls, I realized the closest thing I have to a hobby is painting. I do it a lot. Sometimes it’s good–like when I find a new uber modern color I want to incorporate into my house. Other times it’s stressful, like when I paint a color I can’t live with. (Or that hideous color mysteriously peels off my walls in one big John Deer Green sheet. Valspar, I’m talking to you.) I suppose updating my home is my partial hobby. I’m a total nerd for architectural salvage, for old prints, for making the old new again. My latest fix is a vintage advertisement for a local circus that used to come to town every year in Arkansas. I called dibs on it years ago when we sorted through the affairs of my deceased great aunt and uncle. They were pack rats of such random things. Total bliss for me. I kept the poster for years, loving it because of the colors and graphics and because my great uncle was a Shriner, who put on the yearly circus.

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I love it. Though I want to apologize to every animal who attended the circus of ’73. Your sacrifice was not in vain. Because I framed it.

This week some writer friends and I were talking about what w’re doing before Christmas. I said painting walls and refinishing some furniture. Kim Cash Tate says, “…you’re a painter and a restorer.” That totally made me smile. Restorer is such a sweet word. I think I might’ve rolled my eyes and written one too many detention slips this year to accept that right now, but I love the implied purpose in the word. I’ve saved a lot of really ugly things. Of the inanimate variety.

My grandfather was a house builder. He had an eighth grade education and yet he was the man you wanted if you needed a home. I remember when I was in college working at a bank, the bank president came up to me and said, “I knew your grandpa. He built my house long ago. Nobody built a house like him. He was so precise.” I was so proud. I’m not precise. I just spent the last 20 minutes scraping paint off my oak cabinets with a Bounty towel, spit, and my fingernail. And I never, ever fail to get paint on the top of my head and my butt. It’s important to be one with your art.

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I tend to have the same results when I cook.

My grandmother Edith worked alongside my grandpa. She was the painter. She had one color, and that was beige. You want your walls painted? Beige. You want your cabinets painted? Beige. Trim work? Beige. She did not use painter’s tape or any of my handy dandy edging tools. She, too, was precise.

I don’t remember my other grandfather much, but I do recall standing in my grandparent’s dining room when I was three or four asking to help them paint. Their color was a faint sea foam green and for whatever reason, my grandma handed me a paint brush. I have no idea why. She was meticulously, obsessively neat.
But she was not beige.

I get asked a lot why I paint the inside of my house so often. Probably because I don’t have the two story ladder to paint the exterior.
I love how for the price of a gallon and six hours, you get a whole new room. I like how I don’t have to think about troubled students, work dilemmas, meetings, plots, pages, or who’s going to fix my tail light. I love how it does not involve sitting, my least favorite thing to do. And I like how when I wake up the next morning, I feel muscles that remind me that I did more than work out my typing fingers and dust my office chair with my pockets.

It’s also a great excuse to listen to music all day long. My favorite thing is to turn on Pandora. I usually start with the Sam Cooke station. I think Sam would’ve understood my need to push a roller brush around the room. He and I get soul. Then I move to the Wailin’ Jenny’s. They need my harmony; they just don’t realize it yet. Then I switch to 80s hair bands or country. Today I listened to Bruno Mars’ cd, and it is so not beige. If I hadn’t have been elbow deep in caustic primer and gray paint, I never would’ve decided I needed dynamically different tunes. Never would’ve taken a chance on Bruno. And that would’ve been a tragedy.

Sometimes I do think of plot solutions or book ideas just because I’m not trying to. Or because I’ve spent 8 hours in a non-ventilated room with a gallon of Kilz. It’s an excuse to ignore the phone, avoid email, and let that doorbell go. It’s also an excuse to let hygiene go. My hair right now would scare the neighbor’s pit bull.

I once read an article by a doctor who said you should not have paint or chemicals in your garage on the same wall as your bedroom.

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This is just one cabinet. I’m afraid there are more. On the other side of this wall is my bed. I’m living dangerously.

My semi-hobby also makes me sound sophisticated.
“What are you doing this weekend?”
“Painting.”
“Oh! Oils? Acrylics? Still life? Abstract?”
“Bathrooms.”

I have a favorite brush. A favorite roller handle. And a favorite color of the moment–Iced Cube Silver. I have a favorite sorta expensive paint–Benjamin Moore. Favorite Paint to Steal Colors to have Made into Cheaper Paint–Restoration Hardware. Favorite cheap paint–Behr. Least favorite paint–I will not say. But they used to be good and now they’re awful and you get it at a place that conveniently rhymes with Blows.

I adore painting because any idiot can do it. Isn’t it wonderful to occasionally be over-qualified?

Mostly I enjoy it because it’s something I know I can do. I don’t have to worry about the opinions of others. I can repair any damage. I can change my mind. I can take risks. I can be trendy. I understand the terms. I know how to start and how to end. I can bring about change. I . . .have the power to make something happen.

You know, I’ve probably painted at least 50 times in this small house in the last nine years.
This past fall, I painted my first room beige.

Just because I could.

Best. Song. Ever.
At least for now.

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11 comments

11 Comments so far

  1. Kristin December 22nd, 2010 9:21 am

    I love that vintage circus advertisement! =)

    I also love that your hobby is painting (your house). I enjoy painting for the most part, even though I don’t do it often. Me and my mom painted my room two years ago last April. About three of my favorite bands had put out CDs all at the same time, so I listened to them constantly! I love hobbies (like crafting) where you can listen to music the whole time, but still focus (for the most part) on what you’re doing.

    This reminded me of a quote from “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” when her new neighbor thinks that her mom paints walls, but she really paints pictures. =)

    ~Kristin

  2. Ruth December 22nd, 2010 10:05 am

    I LOVE that circus print! Gorgeously framed! And I think it sounds like painting is in your blood, so to speak. :)

  3. Nicole O'Dell December 22nd, 2010 10:48 am

    My hobby? Diapers.

  4. Tracy December 22nd, 2010 2:32 pm

    I was chatting to one of our teachers the other day. She mentioned that discipline should be restorative. Detentions have their place ;)

    So…if you ever get sick of painting your house and you want a new canvas, how does a trip to Australia sound? I’d kick Mr Busy out of his room so you could have free board and as much painting as you want to do. Our house desperately needs painting. We hate doing it.

  5. christa December 23rd, 2010 9:05 am

    Loving the music…and I do agree with the whole paint therapy thing…And I am a messy, messy, messy painter.

  6. Helen December 23rd, 2010 11:26 am

    I get the painting thing. My husband and I paint the living room every spring. And it’s always a different shade of green :)

  7. Emily December 23rd, 2010 2:53 pm

    My mom won’t let me paint the walls, because she’s picky about it, and because we had an unfortunate incident with the ceiling the last time they turned me loose with a paint brush. But, from everything I’ve heard, True Value’s paint tops Lowes every time.

  8. Lisa December 23rd, 2010 3:28 pm

    Love this post! My kitchen is in a constant state of being half-painted. I’m gung ho to start, but that enthusiasm wanes as the paint dries. I’m also a very messy painter while my husband can paint an entire house without getting more than a speck on himself. So not fair.

    Love the circus poster!

  9. Crystal Laine Miller December 23rd, 2010 4:51 pm

    I think that’s my hobby, too. If you are truly a painter, then you must get Sherwin-Williams paint. It’s the only paint I use now. Goes on great.

    Once I painted my perfectly-good-but-faded cherry cabinets a teal green. That was by far my favorite thing I ever did. I loved my kitchen after that. Sigh. (We moved.)

    Oh, and now my 24-year-old son(1 of 4 sons) is a painter–but he’s a real one. He is an art major with a painting concentration who is going to Italy to study further. I raised a true painter. Who knew where it would end up….

    Loved this post. All of it.

  10. ally December 23rd, 2010 8:20 pm

    Your painting expeditions make me laugh :)

  11. Allie Smith December 31st, 2010 11:30 pm

    oh.when you said your doctor asked you what your hobby was i really excpected you to get all in his face and be like,”im jenny b.jones!!!WRITING is my hobby!!!” but you didn’t.thats good.im all about runnin for twinkies.such a noble cause.
    thats cool that you paint.my aunt asked me to paint her bookshelf last year (i don’t know why. maybe she thought i’d do a good job because i practically worship books in the first place) but anyway i got more paint on myself than the bookshelf.the once black outfit almost stood in as a ghost costume for Halloween.
    but ya i dont really have a hobby.i dont think. unless eating counts.but i dont think it does.i should find a hobby,though.reading counts as a hobby,right?if it doesn’t,im sunk.

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