Onion Skins and Flecks of Paint
The treads on the back stairs of our old house are dipped and worn. Following the steps of the scullery maids from a hundred years back, I climb with a basket of laundry.
I sniff traces of l a recently lit match.This means my husband Jake has lit a candle and started writing.
He does this every morning. Sacred things are being attended to. Perhaps I am not alone in my hunger to capture a dream, a thought that seems important or instructive.
To dwell in some impractical, thoroughly unproductive, private space. I’ve decided not to paint this morning. Maybe all week if I can pull it off.
Not painting is like deciding not to begin the day with coffee. Edgy, but not pleasant.
I will push inspiration—painting tenth reconception of a messy countertop—and shove it hard out of my space.. Lock the door. There are serious things to be done.
*** Yesterday I cleaned the kitchen floor. This involved being on my knees scraping a galaxy of white paint flecks off the wooden floor using a razor blade. There were, also many shreds of red onion that had adhered to the floor and wouldn't lift with a simple sweep of the mop. Given the wake behind me, one might deduce that I spend my entire day gesticulating Italian style with white gesso and onion skins. Like toddlers who throw food from a high chair and then laugh, it isn’t reasonable to live with such a person. With a rag in my left hand scooping debris, I was conscious of my daughter studying chemistry in the dining room. My nose a few inches from the floor, I thought about feminist role models. The titillation of her future success or the crushing pressure to be a success. The untested ramifications of intravenous drip of social media. Sexiness so ubiquitous as to make sexiness no longer sexy. Presumably it is desirable for her to hire another woman to scrape her floor, while she flutters around office or operating room? Granted she wouldn’t have the persistent issue of white flecks of paint everywhere. This floor job used to be my son Max's weekly, (okay, bi-weekly) responsibility. As I wiped dry paint shavings onto the purple rag, Max sat in an engineering lab, crunching numbers to program a robot to navigate yellow floor tiles. Ambitious, he stays up late in the glow of a calculator, motivated by the idea of never having to mop a kitchen floor again. I am suspicious that his roommates for next year do not yet know this. In discussing housework I often told balking kids, but more myself, about the Buddhist tradition and the Abbot who cleans the toilet. A mindful, centering activity is for the sake of the Abbot. Some kindness that grows in us, softens us, makes us present, porous. That isn’t how I pitched it.
Administrative piles might feel friendlier if I pick up a book first. My worn copy of Natalie Goldberg's Living Colour brings me to ground. She paints and writes and is unabashed and random, writing about Kafka or sidewalks or banana peels. Her grandfather’s underwear hanging over the bathtub. I breathe.
I remember that downstairs there is a half an avocado, with its pit intact, facing an empty room, a fact that feels soothing.
On the floor of my office is a perplexing Everest; a pile, paper with reproachful dates, a phone cord, a handwritten letter from a friend, a receipt from the hardware store, pliers, a parking ticket, a pubic hair, ancient to do lists and year-old brainstorming charts. Organizational Overwhelm. There must be a pharmaceutical solution. I head back downstairs, passing the silent studio, to grind just a little coffee.