Painting Shutters

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 10.22.40 AMMy 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 addshutters 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.

12 thoughts on “Painting Shutters

  1. Painting is not a bad job outside in a beautiful setting. I loved your analogy of revision and scraping away the paint on the shutters. Sixteen shutters is an awful amount of revision. Your love of your home is shining through.


  2. Julie, what a wonderful connection you are making to writing and what a labor of love. I wonder if I could be so engaged. Glad you are not at it yourself. Collaboration is the key don’t you think?


  3. This is an awesome analogy, Julie! I never would’ve thought about shutters like that, but when you’re a writer, it’s amazing how you’re able to draw comparisons from everyday jobs to the writing process.


    • It’s nice sometimes to have jobs and experiences…where you can let down a bit and let your mind work. I think the best thinking about writing for me comes in those quiet places..walking, driving, etc. I need to remember that for my students. That sometimes, putting something aside, and walking for a bit is just what is needed.


  4. Beautiful analogy-& remember that slow, deliberate process, too! Love “carefully compose and repair, adding fresh color where it is needed.” Also, I hope you share this with your students! Love hearing about the house too-special!


    • It is a great place to be. When we used to visit Vermont when the kids were small, I loved these old houses. Hard to believe sometimes we are living it now. (Though with 16 more shutters left to scrape and paint..the reality is pretty hard to miss! :-). The house was unloved when we found it. It is slowly blossoming.


  5. Julie, I love how you’ve connected the mindless work of scrapping shutters to the very mindful work we do as writers when we “read to see what holds and where intent and word choice are parting company.” I will remember your perfect phrasing as I work on my revisions this week. Thanks so much for sharing!


  6. I really loved this piece–I loved how you described what you and your husband were literally doing. Painting. Splitting the work. Hiring out (smartly) for some parts. But then, the “mindless work” gave your mind time to wander on to more important stuff–marriage is on my mind so I thought you were going to go there (and I bet you could’ve) but the writing process sure fits, too, with the editing and scraping of previous drafts and new layers of introspection and description on top… I really loved it–great job!


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