Friday, May 20, 2011

It's not about the color

A crisp, new box rests on the padded bench at the foot of our bed. This light, thin box usually remains out of sight under yesterday’s clothes or a strategically placed decorative pillow. In the quiet of my room, I have occasionally peaked inside at the sleek, shiny object within. And, at least once in the darkness of night, I dared run my fingers across the back lit keyboard. In that box resides all the juxtapositions of beginnings. Familiarity...change. Entice…dread. Advance...challenge. Play…struggle. Victory…failure.

As with the box, the walls of my home presented a similar barrier. The once vibrant red kitchen walls had dulled over time. The lackluster red was stealing the sparkle from our new granite counter tops…and me. The kitchen walls open to the breakfast nook that connects to the family room which leads to the entry with stairs that ascend to the open loft that overlooks all the rooms. Change in one space could not help but influence change in others.

A project like painting my kitchen appeared less like an indulgence and more like the box at the foot of my bed…something that intimidates, something to avoid. The curious thing is that I like to paint. I get to exact personal color preferences, stay within the lines, and isolate myself within my tiny ear buds. I felt the expanse of walls enclose me. I sucked in a big breath And I finally pushed back.

My trek to the local paint store included a kitchen cabinet door, a floor tile, a piece of counter top, and my own color flip deck with sticky dots on prospective colors. I left the store with several samples of different grays…which seemed more about my attitude than aesthetics. After painting and labeling swatches on multiple walls, I eliminated all but one. So I purchased 5 gallons of Nearly Greige.

Energized and thinking myself resourcefully clever, I mixed all the samples together and primed over the red. I did not even noticed how dark my kitchen grew as I painted on to the next wall. The mixture of sample paints oddly resembled the Nearly Greige. Once finished, I did not have to open the new 5-gallon container because I knew it would be as lifeless as the blend of samples already covering my walls.

So, it was back to the paint store where—by now—everybody knows my name. This time, I opted for the cream family and lugged home several more sample quarts. More paint patches on the wall and more scrutiny. With stubborn determination, I purchased my next 5-gallon container, Ligonier Tan. This time, volunteer painters hand-brushed and rolled over my mistake in the kitchen and the breakfast nook before noon. They would have painted the kitchen island and the entry had I not intercepted them. By afternoon sunlight, I was convinced that the peachy tan was yet another bad decision.

That night, childhood snapshots wafted through my restless sleep. I recalled finding stray coins underneath our flowered davenport cushions. Davenports—even the sound of this forgotten word—dredged up coins, childhood and hidden ways of thinking. Spare change from my father’s pockets was a rare and exciting discovery. Finding a quarter usually meant a visit to the bakery where I would stand alone in front of the display case for many minutes pondering which treat to buy. One quarter; one choice. One Christmas; one present. One birthday; one friend. One adolescence; one parent. The anxiety to choose the right one colors my nighttime dreams and my walls.

She gathered our color chips and kitchen cabinet door and moved into natural light at the front of the store. There she patiently sorted through each selection. Too pink, too green, too orange. I felt the weight of my twice-painted walls lighten as I began to trust this other person. I could tell that she could see something that I wasn’t able to. She then went to her big book and unclipped two color samples for us. I made a motion toward her private book hoping to find at least three more color sheets to supplement her two selections. With confident and gentle authority she interjected, “Just try these two; two is good for now.” 

We bought only two test samples of paint…the same two that the trustworthy designer suggested. She smiled as I left the store with my two lone samples. “It’ll be okay,” she added. Now I was convinced she saw more than just color variations. And, I detected an ever-so-slight shift with my walls, as if one of her neutral color choices could possibly make my walls recede.

We picked the warm, buttery-toast one. However, either one would have worked well, just like the designer assured us. The painting crew managed the kitchen and nook before they were called away. Our family room, hallway, entry and stairway are yet unfinished. The numerous paint patches on the unfinished walls remind me of art projects in my son’s preschool where I served as helper more than 25 years ago. The preschool teacher long ago coached me before I helped the children with finger painting: “Remember, this is not about the finished project, it is about the process.”

Perhaps my current walls have been more about the process than a perfectly painted project. I literally get to see the lingering attempts at trial and error. The process has revealed that others can be trusted, walls can be surrendered, and trial and error is not failure but integral for growth. I think that this process has also included surrendering the box at the end of my bed and trusting a son to jumpstart my trial and error on a new laptop; my fingertips are dancing over the keys as I write. And should I tackle the painting job myself, I will accept help for those hard-to-reach places.