We’ve had a week of summer weather that’s fantasized about in icy midwinter, and it ended in rainstorms that the gardens desperately needed. They drank deeply and freshened up—a good thing, since now we and the gardens are in for a week of hellish heat and humidity. Rain always brings a bumper crop of weeds, too, (where were they yesterday?!), so I need to pull them before the heat flattens me. Quickly, and back inside.
Knowing I’ll be indoors most of the week, I’ve decided to reconsider paint colors. I love everything about interior design, but have always been especially drawn to cottage/farmhouse styles. For a couple of years after Phillip retired, we ran a little local business we called Crawfish River Trading Company. We designed and made cabinetry, benches, tables, and accents to sell in pop-up’s and at outdoor vintage markets, and had a lot of fun with it, especially during the holidays. My favorite part was picking out and applying the paint colors, and then aging the pieces a bit. Phillip had a much heavier workload, actually creating all the pieces I dreamed up (which is not heavy lifting, at all), and he grew weary of repeating a lot of the same patterns, so after two years, he decided it was more fun to just focus on special orders for clients, and the shows and pop-up’s ended.
I miss the creative energy of designing cabinets and choosing hardware and colors. Now, when I need to soothe myself and relax, and I need a break from either fretting or writing, or reading (!), I pull out bags of paint chips I’ve collected, and play. There’s really no other word for it. I play. With paint chips. I was always a very cheap date, and I am apparently still cheaply and easily amused. I pick out favorite colors in all their various shade gradations, decide which room I’m re-doing, and then play, which is really kind of a meditation, just picking and sorting through colors until I’ve found the most appealing combination, the one that enchants me. And then, I set it on a ledge for a few days so I can revisit it under all kinds of light variations. If a combination of colors continues to enchant, I tape it together and save it. If we’re actually going to paint a piece or a room, I buy samples of my favorites and paint part of the furniture or wall with them, and again, we check the colors under morning light, midday, and evening light, on cloudy and sunny days. We still end up making a wrong choice now and then, but way less than when we were younger. (I recall a ghastly attempt at trying to make a few walls look like aged plaster that involved glazes and a brown gel patina that made the room look like something extremely unfortunate had occurred.) Luckily, Phillip–along with being unattached to color choices and unfazed by his wife playing with color chips–has a very good eye for color, and can usually restrain my more impulsive choices. Usually.
It’s kind of an emotional and spiritual exercise as well, I suppose, since, while I sort through piles of paint chips, I can explore those colors I’m now attracted to, the motivation to bid farewell to the colors and design we currently have in place, and what I’m seeking in changing it around. What’s my heart yearning for now?
Today, I had all my possibilities arranged on the rug, just so, when Murphy, our eldest cat and 4-legged, decided it would be pleasing to roll all over them, jumbling them up and swatting a few around. He was also letting me know it was time to provide him, and his siblings, a canned treat. The cats rule when the pups nap. I served as I was bidden, and returned to my paint chips, and suddenly saw all the colors I’d been playing with today were really all gradations of browns and creams, with a soft green here and a blue-green there. I guess for me, this is a “pandemic-and-everything-else” palette, colors for nesting and feeling comforted. Nothing vivid, nothing exciting, nothing inspiring me to act so much as inviting me to rest. And that seems wise, because I struggle against rest when it feels like I’m “doing” so little to begin with these days. I still (and probably always will, till with breath do I part) need to be reminded to listen to my heart and spirit at least as much as I listen to my head. Years of offering spiritual care has taught me I’m not alone in this. Way too much conditioning has taught us we are only as worthy as our last task verifies. I am grateful to our quarantine time for inviting some hard work in turning from too much hard work, and shifting more often during the day to periods for play and rest. One day, I watched 6 hours of Downton Abbey; I never do that. It was like a vacation.
These are hard times, and though we may wish they weren’t here, they are, and they’re not ending anytime soon. The stress each of us is enduring is profound, and it’s compounded for those who are more physically vulnerable to the virus, and those who are working because they must, and those with families scattered all over the country/world, and those without work they need to feed their families, and those utterly weary of the country’s and world’s divisiveness, and those all alone and isolated from community… I guess that’s all of us.
The stress may show up in our dreams, our eating patterns, our need to stay busy, our avoidance of friends and the virtual interactions with them that are possible, our lack of self-care, and in the peace of mind we bring to our families. Our hope for better times and healing degrades. We lose balance. We do too much or nothing at all.
If we can find activities that offer us comfort and peace, that inspire us, that connect us with our own spirits, and that enable us to give solace to others as well, we’re on our way to managing our stress. But we also need to dedicate time to being still and just listening, allowing the feelings that overwhelm and threaten us to be felt. Giving them their time on stage. Naming them. Letting them “tell us” what they fear, and offering comfort to ourselves. Self-hospitality.
And we can find something to play with that amuses us and slows down the velocity of our worrying.
And we can rest. We can lie down, notice our breathing, and rest. We can look forward to hard times coming around no more.
Mavis Staples can offer you some comfort, too.
I also wanted to share this very different musical version of In the Time of Pandemic/And the People Stayed Home with you. It’s by James Carroll, a secondary teacher from Northampton, England, and, obviously, a composer who shreds guitar with amazing talent.
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