I learned to entertain myself early in life.
Anyone my age understands this because we didn’t have a lot of distractions in our day. No cell phones, iPads, planned play dates, club sports (if you were a girl), GameBoys, computers, or many television options.
Except for Star Trek, of course, and yesterday Captain Kirk actually went into space! Crazy, he’s like 90, but I like how his life has come full circle, “beam me up, Jeffry” Sorry, I got sidetracked by the news, moving along, I did hear he landed safely.
What we did have was freedom. My Mom chased me out of the house as soon as I got on her nerves (imagine) and she didn’t expect to see me again until dinner. It didn’t matter if I skinned my knee, my bike broke down, I had to pee, or I was hungry.
You learned to deal with your own issues early on or rely on your sister.
Eventually Dad would stand on the front porch and whistle, as if a family pet, this was our signal to come home. We’d come running from all over the neighborhood yelling our good-byes to the other jettisoned children knowing a hot meal was waiting for us upon our returned. The good old days.
Fast forward to my late thirties, I found myself married with four kids of my own, and a husband who traveled much of the time. I spent way too many evenings alone, with a huge bowl of popcorn, and an old movie playing on the tube. I decided I needed a new distraction when my favorite companions became a bottle of wine and Robert Redford, besides it was killer on the waistline.
So, I took to tucking the children in bed, slipping into some comfy clothes, and getting out my paints. I always had a work in progress. A wood item I purchased at the local hobby store, the boring high chair standing sentinel in the corner of the kitchen, the austere patio, believe me, nothing was sacred. My favorite canvas was the plain unadorned walls throughout the house, talk about endless opportunities, my creativity was on steroids.
When it comes to these things each woman leaves her own mark on it so that it tells her story, paint stroke by paint stroke.” [adapted] Brenda Janowitz
I’d watercolor an ivy cascading down the molding of a doorway, a flower basket over a stark passage, or a teddy bear in the nursery (which was a disaster, it looked more like a scary clown, and had to be removed).
That’s what you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing, change it.
I outdid myself when I painted ants climbing up the patio columns out back with a slice of half-eaten watermelon at the base, very popular with the kids, not so much with my adult guests who thought it was unappetizing.
What can I say, people have odd sensibilities, and often deplorable taste. Right?
That little project led to years of watermelon-related birthday gifts. I’m not kidding. I still have (because I’m a packrat) a watermelon picnic basket, watermelon salt and pepper, watermelon cutting board, watermelon rattan plates, watermelon napkins, and I could go on, but I see you’re getting antsy. Bahaha.
I put a stop to the watermelon gifting by my fortieth birthday, when we tore down the old patio and in its place, erected an enormous pergola swaddled by an aggressive wisteria. I was moving into my sophisticated stage, it didn’t last long, as if a shooting star on a dark night.
Larry lived in perpetual fear, he’d come home after a long business trip, and before checking his mail, he’d scan the house for new wall art. In his defense I was an “aspiring artist” and many of my attempts were a total fail which Larry would be forced to paint over on the weekend.
He started encouraging me to paint things that didn’t require his intervention. So I begin buying wood pieces I could turn into masterpieces. Stools, checkerboards, cutting boards, and trays. One day I happened upon a gently damaged small storage cupboard at the unfinished store which I frequently regularly. The hinge was broken, a leg chipped, and it was missing a nob, but the price was stellar. Despite the deficiencies, I was charmed by her sleek lines, and purchased the cupboard for my next project.
That evening I set her up in the front room and considered how I would dress her. Hoping to soften her stiff and angular features I decided on a dark green base, with a delicate cream doily painted on the top. I know, it was ambitious, but I persevered. After three coats of dark green around the base, I painted the entire top a soft creamy white and used a real paper doily as my stencil. After outlining the edge with a pencil, I painstakingly painted the edge green, making it appear as if a doily was actually laying over the top of the piece. I then painted in all the green details of the doily. It took a month to finish.
Larry was thrilled.
Not quite feeling finished with her attire, I set her up in the dining room, by the back door where she housed Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupons, sidewalk chalk, and school supplies. One day I placed a letter to my parents on her beautiful surface, so I’d remember to post it the next time I went out. I stood there staring at the envelope and decided right then and there to paint an envelope on the doily. Clever, I know, and so original. Very soon a painted envelope appeared addressed to my parents adorned with a 33 cent stamp (the current rate).
But it didn’t end there, oh no. One day I was bringing in some roses from the front yard (all Italians have roses in the front yard) and laid them on my sweet cupboard while I searched for a proper vase. And you guessed it, I decided to add a rose to the compilation.
And just like that, she was done. She stood sentinel in the dining room for several decades. My heart aches to tell you this next part.
After the remodel, we shifted the purpose of each room. For example, the old dining room became a sitting room, the sitting room became the new dining room, the kitchen opened up and new furniture appeared.
Sad news, I could not find a place for my now shabby, little green cupboard.
I moved her all over the house and it just wasn’t a good fit so I temporarily put her in the garage.
Larry noticed her missing, and said, “there’s no room for the green cupboard?”
Glumly I say, “no, I can’t find a good space for her.”
I gave it a little more thought (I’m talking like 30 minutes), and after measuring the walls, I decide she’ll fit nicely between the dining and sitting room. I went out to the garage to reclaim her and she was gone, I’m talking “Gone Girl” kind of thing.
Storming into Larry’s office I say, “where is my cupboard.”
Larry looks a little like a dear caught in the headlights, he says, “the green one?”
“Yes, the one I put in the garage a few minutes ago.”
“I broke it all up with a hammer and threw it in the truck so I can dump it at the four-plex.”
“You hammered her to death?”
“You said it didn’t fit.”
“Yet, I said it didn’t fit yet.”
“Hey any opportunity to bust something up with a hammer and I’m on it.”
“Wish you were “on it” when the sink is full of dirty dishes.”
I get the look.
I spent some time mourning the loss, reminding myself I’m strong, strong enough to deal with this, maybe have a little faith. Yeah, I didn’t think so either.
Then one morning Larry showed up with my coffee and a mysterious piece of wood, he says, “when I want to dump the garbage in the truck I noticed this piece was still intact so I salvaged it for you.”
It was the top of my little green cupboard, with the entire doily, letter, and rose preserved.
I say, “You’re kidding.”
Larry says, “ No, look, it’s not damaged at all.”
As Shannon L. Alder says, there is no perfection, only beautiful versions of brokenness.
I get up and give the piece a close inspection. He’s right. The top didn’t even have a hammer mark, turning it over in my hands, I wonder what in the world I was going to do with a beheaded cupboard?
After careful consideration, I decided she would make the perfect bed tray, and serve as my computer table in her twilight years. I know, brilliant.
As Captain Kirk would say, “make it so.”
Jeff not only sent my hero into space, he sent me an unadorned bed tray in like two days. With a little wood glue, I attached the pieces, cleaned up the paint, and shellacked the entire piece with a spray varnish.
The thing is I’m doing much the same in my retirement, looking for ways to repurpose myself, to be of service to someone in my twilight years. As Belsebuub says, to bring about the new takes not just a development of the old, but a radical leap forward – revolutionary and transforming – and that requires extra factors that were not present before.
Things like unmitigated time, resources, life experience, and good wood glue. I read something by Nietzsche that says anything in existence, having somehow come about, is continually interpreted anew, requisitioned anew, transformed, and redirected to a new purpose.
What a liberating thought, maybe it’s better not to hold the history of something against its possible applications, like the rooms of our home, a small cupboard, a person’s potential. Even if Captain Kirk started out as an actor playing the part of a space traveler, that doesn’t prevent him from actually traveling in space. Did that give you the chills? Me too.
The newly transformed cupboard is settling nicely into her new vocation. They say when writers die they become books, which is, after all, not too bad an incarnation, but when cupboards die they find new ways to serve, and what’s better than a bed tray to succor me into my last decades, because writing is one of the ways in which I participate in my own transformation.
I’m Living in the Gap, retrofitting my entire life, what are you currently glued to?
“It’s a funny thing about life, once you begin to take note of the things you are grateful for, you begin to lose sight of the things that you lack.”
― Germany Kent
“Scared and sacred are spelled with the same letters. Awful proceeds from the same root word as awesome. Terrify and terrific. Every negative experience holds the seed of transformation.”
― Alan Cohen
“You only struggle because you’re ready to grow but aren’t willing to let go.”
― Drew Gerald