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.
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.
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.
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?”
“Oh! Oils? Acrylics? Still life? Abstract?”
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.