My husband and I are painting the exterior of our house in Vermont. It’s not a hard job, just tedious and slow. In the scope of things, painting isn’t a half-bad way to spend a late summer day, outdoors, with someone you love. And its a job that provides an immediate reward.
Herb is mostly doing the sides where long narrow planks run from trim board to trim board. I am painting the shutters. We will hire some younger person, with better balance, and less fear of falling, for the high gables on the steeply angled roof.
Our house is old. Its bones were first nailed in place in 1760. It has seen many additions along the way. Like these shutters. They do not appear in a picture we have from the turn of the century, when what is now our kitchen was still an attached barn, when the black iron crane inside the dining room fireplace had a purpose more than decorative. But they have been part of the house long enough to have experienced three changes in color.
First I have to scrape. I balance each shutter on the top of two red buckets and kneel in the grass, working with my tool to loosen flakes where the paint and the wood are parting company. In the process, the work of painters who have come before is revealed. Bare wood was followed by blue, covered over with green, then light gray, which we are painting over with black. When all is smooth, I can add the first layer of new paint, that begins to transform what was, into new. It is mindless sort of work. It leaves me with time to wander in my thoughts.
I am thinking how this work, scraping and repainting shutters, is like revision in my writing. Rereading comes first, for an overall impression of how it’s weathering. I read to see what holds, and where intent and word choice are parting company. I scrape some parts completely away, discarding words like paint flakes that no longer fit. I carefully compose and repair, adding fresh color where it is needed. Where my writing once was rough, it now reads smooth, And when the revised section is restored where it belongs, just like newly painted shutters, it makes the whole construction better, beautiful, as if it was always meant to be that way.