07 September 2007

Imagin(ation) and a New Smooth Ride...

I found the following quote very interesting - I "borrowed" it after reading it in my daily dose of "The Writer's Almanac". The words have revisited my mind many times since I met them a few days ago: "Alice Sebold said, 'It's very weird to succeed at 39 years old and realize that in the midst of your failure, you were slowly building the life that you wanted.'"

I have been busy this week - rearranging, refinishing, replacing and rebuilding. When you think about it, that's a lot of "re-'s", and reasons, to feel optimistic.

Confession: I've hated my bedroom and the contents contained therein for the longest time. In fact, I hated it so much, I went out of my way not to walk in there until I was sure I would fall fast asleep because I just didn't like the ambiance. I disliked the furniture, the arrangement and so deep was my loathing that I never even bothered to hang anything on the walls.

Soon after my erstwhile "engagement" with Capt. H(ook), I just figured I'd let it go - after all, I would be moving to Raleigh, and inheriting someone else's taste, even though I didn't care too much for his stuff either - it reminded me of a law library and was extremely heavy and staid and way too muted in a dismal, dark sort of way - almost like Martha Stewart decorated the tiny space while trying to recover from a hangover or from a very dark emotional place, like maybe in the gloomy days after she lost her appeal and found out she was, in fact, going to prison in West Virginia. But I digress...

My bedroom - the one I'm keeping in Wilmington needed some serious help. I like bright, primary colors and, while I was fond of the "yellow just like the center of a classic daisy" shade of my bedroom walls, I didn't care for too much else. It was just so...blah and in need of an urgent intervention.

After recovering my senses and coming to terms with the fact that I couldn't sign on to be a pirate's wife and admitting that a move to Raleigh was not a smart (understatement!) idea I was, once again, confronted with the question of what to do with my bedroom? I looked around my house and found a dresser that was, structurally, in fine shape but had about 7 layers of paint on it. It looked terrible and the drawer handles were abysmal, but it had potential.

Given that I had recent, extensive experience in stripping teak, courtesy of my time spent in Oriental this past summer, I decided to ply my newfound skills and set about stripping the dresser. I started with my scraper but, soon enough, it became apparent that the job required more than a sharp blade. My friend Jimi (yes, that Jimi) suggested I get some paint stripper, open the windows and wait a few minutes and all the layers would come off without much resistance.

As usual, he was right, and before long, I was scraping, gooey globs of years old paint and within a day, I had it all removed, lightly sanded and ready for something fresh. I chose glossy white (daisy petal white) and I dug around in my backyard shed and found some cool ivy-shaped brass handles. After three carefully applied coats of enamel paint, I drilled my holes and attached the new handles and, voila, it is LOVELY, if I do say so myself!

But of course, home improvements are like rabbits and they seem to inspire additional work because the one "new" addition makes everything else look worn and needy, and so it was in my bedroom. Next up was the built in drawers beneath my television that I had someone build-in a couple of years ago, but never got around to painting. They're great, spacious drawers, but they really looked unimpressive next to the new and improved dresser. Justin went and fetched another can of white enamel, some more brushes, and I was back in business and covered in more white paint. Again, the results have been tremendous. But of course, there was more work to be done.

My wooden window shutters. Again, I had them built a couple of years ago, but never got around to finishing the paint job. No time like the present, right? This time I found the can of "center of the daisy" yellow paint that was used for my walls and I've been painting the frame of the shutters and the interior section is in the final stages of their 3rd white coat.

Add to this a set of navy blue sheets, a Ralph Lauren navy blue patchwork quilt and shams that I bought a few years ago but forgot about, and the whole room was coming together in amazing fashion.

It was my friend Sharon who stepped in to "shed a little light" on me and my room. Last Friday morning, I was awakened by this nutty, tall, blond woman who was jostling me awake. She had walked in my house, charged up my stairs and burst into my room and decided we were going to spend the day together and she knew just how the day was going to go down.

She had sold a house that was closing last Friday at 2:00 PM, and she said there were a few things that needed to be taken out. I protested - "I have plans!", I lied. "I'm going to do 'stuff' today and I can't go...", I retorted.

"I haven't even had any coffee!!!!!", I desperately pointed out.

"I'll get your freaking coffee. Get dressed, brush your teeth and I'll meet you outside. NOW!", she bellowed and I do mean, bellowed! (Sorry Sharon, but you really did bellow...be glad I don't have photographic evidence of it!)

Well, what can you do with a woman like that? I could tell she meant business and short of sudden death, I had nothing to stand on. I brushed my teeth, grabbed my bag and away we went. Even as we backed out of the driveway, I was still arguing with this woman, but it fell on stone-deaf ears. Thank God for her.

Before I could finish my coffee, we were pulling into the driveway of a beautiful house in a subdivision not far from my home. Sharon spied a well-built wicker etagere for her beach house. Also left behind were two handsome brass lamps, an overstuffed chair in perfect shape that would look elegant in my loft/library, an old-fashioned red Coleman oil lantern, vintage in style and color, and a few other odds and ends. We made several trips back and forth between my house and the soon to be closed "other" dwelling, and by the end of the day, I had a spiffy looking chair that looked perfectly suited to being surrounded by a collection of books and ready to ensconce someone bound for a "long-read", two impressive brass lamps to light up my "new and improved" bedroom, and that sweet Coleman oil lamp to set on my window sill.

All because a head-strong, obstinate, blond woman jerked me out of bed on an early Friday Morning, refused to listen or pay the least bit of attention to my limp protestations to the contrary, and literally pushed me into her SUV and, along with it, into a brand new day. What an angel. What an amazing Friday angel she proved to be, as she has been my angel for oh-so-many years, swooping down to lend me a hand when I needed a little help getting up. I love her.

Sharon is not completely heartless. The woman even tucked into Smithfield's around 1:00 PM and we sat in her car ravenously eating chicken wings (my favorite!) and slurping down large iced teas. She may well have the "drill sergeant" routine down cold, but she's got a heart of pure, solid gold. We had a blast, of course, because we always do when we get together. I talked, she listened and then she talked and I listened. Even though we mostly know what the other was about to say, we do it anyway because we can. Everyone should have a "Sharon" in their life. I am most grateful for my Sharon.

So now I have this (almost) completed spiffy bedroom that I find myself drawn to much earlier in the evenings than I'm accustomed to, because it's cozy, it's inviting and it feels warm. It feels like home. I look around and I can't believe I did all the work it took to get it to the place that it is. The surprise isn't that it took any great talent on my part. Anyone could do the labor required to paint a dresser, window shutters or a built-in bureau - it hardly required a Picasso. What was lacking before but somehow finally found to find its way into my atmosphere, was the desire to make the change. And I can't even take credit for the "wherewithal" that sprung me into action.

"Do something about it.", my daughter most unsympathetically offered when I was busy complaining how I didn't like the way my bedroom looked, or how I need to get an outline into a publishing house that has exhibited a steadfast and saint-like degree of patience toward me and my writing (and you KNOW who you are...). Or how I wistfully belabored that fact that I want to visit Nantucket, Maine and the whole of the New England Coast.

"Do something about it. If you want it bad enough, make it happen.", she challenged me. How dare her! Who does she think she is?

She's Katie Parker, that's who she is. The kid I raised who feels no reluctance whatsoever to "give it to me straight". Also one of the trio who saw Captain Kook for the "disaster in waiting" that he proved himself to be and never waivered from her first impression, much as I tried (at the time) to change her obstinate opinion. Gosh, she can be so...so...so...annoyingly right. And she does it with an irritating regularity.

It was a messy business, the stripping solvent, the scraping, the gummy mess of old paint being chemically melted and it occurred to me that the process isn't unlike what happens inside when we have to face unpleasant hurdles, change course and adjust those darn emotional mainsails. Sometimes, horses will buck when the reins are abuptly pulled and sailboats are known to lurch and affect an unappealing, nausea-inducing motion in protest. Human beings, at least this one, has been known to duck her head in the sand knowing full well that eventually a well-timed wave will wash the sand away but, irritatingly enough, not the problem. Sometimes it dawns on me that more of my energy is expended running from a problem than looking for a durable solution and yet, I still drag my feet sometimes, slowing my life down looking for a quick-fix that is generally more time-consuming and far more trouble than facing whatever it is that's looming "in the distance" head-on. Must be the metal composition of my skull or maybe I'm just slow to catch on?

So the whole "bedroom transformation" was about so much more than a mere cosmetic improvement. I had a lot of time to think as I scraped, broke a few blades and removed the goop. Perhaps the Alice Sebold quote cited in the beginning of this diatribe may fit me well, except that I'm not 39 anymore - I'm 47. But I think an adjustment in the age is of little consequence. Maybe the final outcome is the same and it could well be that I'm just a long-running work in progress well on my way to a "life I wanted". Determination and optimism demand that I believe that I am, that we all are, for that matter.

I'm sure that there will be more times in my life that I'll be tempted to seek the "easy way out" and I'll have to re-learn the principle that there is seldom an easy way out - that life and relationships and even well-advised adventures require no small measure of hard work, persistence and sweat and sometimes, even a goopy mess, and that's OK. Sometimes the finished product turns out flawless and stands as a testament that all the hard work that went into making it happen was justified and worth the expenditure, long after the plastic drop-cloths are removed and tossed away.

Now, in the evening, I tuck into a bed situated in a room that I find comfortable and easy on the eyes. I reach for a book on my newly restored bedside table, where a lamp I didn't own a week ago now casts a golden glow on the pages of a book I'm reading about a woman who sailed around the globe - single-handed - and I am joined by an orange tabby kitten named Magellan who leans over and swats his clawed paw toward the nose of a beautiful, blond dog who lays on the floor by my bed every single night. I listen to James Taylor's "southern by way of Boston" accented voice, soothingly creating an audio ambiance to match the warm glow of my walls and new (to me!) lamps. I look around and remember the mess of a week ago when everything was in various stages of removal and application and knowing I affected the change surrounding me makes me feel right down accomplished. I look over at the new photos and art hanging on my wall and as my eyes fall on Justin and Katie's face smiling through one of the frames. I smile right back, right from my heart.

I did something about it, Katie and, you know what? You were right. I did the work, and it turned out better than I ever expected. It may be that other things will turn out fine, as well. I expect nothing less and, well, that's more than half the battle, right? You and your formidable brand of "tough love". It's all just so New York of you but, of course, we knew you were like that before you ever stepped into Manhattan.

In OTHER news - I replaced the PT Cruiser which served me well through a car wreck but is no more. I now have a Lincoln LS V8 - which is far more car (and power!) than I was looking for and sports a dashboard that reminds me of an airplane cockpit, but my next door neighbor and partner-in-crime made me an offer I couldn't refuse. We sealed the deal this afternoon and that means next week I will be MOBILE again! Thanks Kathleen!

Oh, and my new mantra (well, ONE of my new mantras), "just say no to pirates, especially the ones disguised as attorneys." :-) With all due respect to the legal profession (Jimi is permanently exempt), sailor/attorney types are a prescription for disaster.

(Any resemblance to any person, real or unimaginable, is purely coincidental.)