15 August 2011

Magpie Tales #78: Stripper

It probably never occurs to anyone that they'll end up being a painter at some point in their life.  Yet it does, just like that and maybe without being aware that it happened.  One day we look up at the walls closing in around, and say to ourselves that something has to change.  Now.

This is followed by a flurry if ideas, grandiose schemes of saunas and sunrooms, master baths and master chef kitchens.  There is a burst of exhilaration, of zeal, of visions of the high life.  So we reach for the wallet, a mental slapping of pockets and overturning of couch cushions to find out just where the damn money went.  It is at that moment the realization kicks in that, there is no money, not enough anyway, to finance the mental mansion of our dreams.  We sigh, and know that, like in the past, we can paint.

There is a shuffling off to the basement or tool shed, to sort through the pile of clutter in the corner where we buried the paint trays and stiffened brushes from the last time.  Drop cloths thick with dust and so stiff from paint spatter they crack when bent.  The rollers are there, too, bedewed with dust and the carcasses of small insects mummified from years trapped in the fibers.  Oh, and don't forget that last can of paint, the one that was two-thirds empty, but we told ourselves we'd keep it for "touching up" and subsequently was left to molder under the decades of other paint supplies we heaped atop it.

Opening up that can of paint releases a burst of sour air, like long and best forgotten memories.  The paint is hopeless.  A stiff layer of congealed pigments floating over the sludgy remnants of the binder, binder which looks all the world like blood plasma.  We shudder and put the lid back on.  Time to go to the store.

So its another trip to paint shop or home store, buying all the tools we bought before but forgot we had. A few gallons of paint releases a small cloud of good feeling, because we tell ourselves it will be good, it will be different and it will be fine.

Back to the house.  Lay down the cloth. Open the can. Fill the tray.  Brush. Roll. Clean.  It looks great, doesn't it?  But the weight of years comes crashing in as we paint the trim, or try to paint the trim and we can't hold the brush still and we hit the glass on the window and goddamnit there's another drop on the one speck of the hardwood floor that wasn't covered by the cloth and the paint is our eyes and the trim has been painted so many times the outlines are soft and blurred and we can't be sure the trim is there maybe its just a trim-shaped lump of paint where the wood disappeared so many years ago and we fall off the ladder to collapse in the corner with head in hands and we realize that no amount of paint is going to change the bones of this place the bones we can't see anymore and that's when we see it...

...We look up, across the room, at the glint of sunlight on the blade of the scraper, and the jug of liquid sandpaper we forgot we bought...

...and we know what we must do.  Set down the brush.  Put away the roller.  Forget about a bright new color that can't hide the layers underneath, no matter how hard we try.  The layers...the layers must go.

We pick up the blade, put on the goggles and lay steel to the surface of our lives.  The chips fly, the paint curls and our arms and back hurt like hell.  But it must be done, this exposing the substrate of our lives.  It has to be done, it will be done.

We strip it down to the soul, laying it bare to new light of an old sun, and renew ourselves.


  1. Loved this Magpie and
    -lay steel to the surface of our lives- an excellent line.

  2. Hmm...so scraper as therapist, eh?

  3. I love this, thank you for sharing it.

  4. excellent write IG...we have to stop trying to fool ourselves with fresh coats of paint and do the often painful job of stripping...great stuff...

  5. The title of your Magpie is brilliant ... stripping as therapy a great twist.

  6. I've known folks who thought of stripping as therapy, but it was a different kind of stripping. :-)

  7. Been there, done that, I think... I loved your detailed paint trail...

  8. This was incredibly meaningful to me today. I am doing that very thing right now. I am stripping away the layers of bad habits and trying to develop habits that better suit the life I know I can have.

  9. Paint and stripper. Two forces at work in opposite directions. And it feels so good to ride the pendulum as it swings first to covering up and then to purification.

  10. Beautiful and meaningful write!

  11. When I got to the word "bedew" I had to allow the monkeys in my brain to play with it for a bit
    doo bee doo bee doo

    I love painting...I hate cleaning up after

  12. A metaphor for a change of lifestyle, very well sustained.

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  14. It's interesting how many of us were stimulated to write metaphorically!

  15. Very meaningful words!
    Some layers weigh heavily on us and some just scrape away easily!

  16. Ooooohhhh... So many layers to this! Makes my brain tingle with inspiration! Thank you so much for that!


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...