This is the first in a series of reviews. As I described in my last post, these reviews won’t be overly review-y. Instead I’ll be using “review” as a loosely fitting descriptor to allow me to talk about a thing. Let’s see if it works.
In another life I was a painter. The life in question was this one, just thirteen years ago, but as our cells are constantly dying and regenerating (excepting our neurons) let’s call it another life, as that person was mostly another me. This painter’s life began after I finished high school and, as I really had no idea what to do next, had decided to take a gap year (I still wouldn’t know after that year, but we can review the difficulty of choosing a life path at the ignorant age of eighteen another time). I chose to get a job and save some money, failing to realise this endeavour would be difficult as I lived in a country town with limited job opportunities available, and had zero experience; my resume was basically just my name and phone number.
Luckily, a family friend by the name of Angelo–think an italian Michael Scott with a Mario mustache–knew I was looking for work and had decided to take me on. I say decided because that’s how it felt, like he had made the decision and so now I was his apprentice, whether I wanted to be or not. He was aggressive in his kindness, and I’m glad he was.
Angelo worked as a handyman, with two other people working under him; one a carpenter, one a plumber, but all of them completing a variety of tasks. A lot of the work he picked up usually entailed painting at some stage or other, and so that was the skill Angelo decided to train me in. It also just happened to be the skill that fit my personality perfectly.
Painting is not for everybody. I’ve had different people tell me they loathe it for a number of reasons. Some have said it takes too long, others that it’s boring, or too messy, and one person told me the smell of paint makes them nauseous. I love it. Painting requires patience and time. It demands a focus, a concentration of attention so that the coloured liquid you’re pushing around only goes where you want it to go, and not where gravity would prefer to take it. Because of this focus I find it meditative. Often when I paint it’s just me, and it’s quiet, or I have some music softly playing, and I have one job to do, which is to slowly and carefully move the brush or roller around the room until the whole thing is coated with a fresh start. At the end of it I get the very visual satisfaction of a job completed, the clear mind of a focused worker, and the warm and worn muscles that come with physical work.
Fast forward a few years and I am no longer a painter. I miss it, but have other things in my life now, such as writing and a wife. However, every once in awhile someone I know needs some painting done, at which point I often raise an eager hand.
Enter, the big red door. Or rather, the big grey door that I would then turn red.
I occasionally do some work for a writing studio run by a friend of mine, and so when he put the call out for a working bee for the studio I replied that I would dust off my painting gear and bring it along. The studio exists in an old heritage building in the heart of Fitzroy, and stands tall, with thick wooden doors, years old. The doors were the only part of the studio that required a fresh coat. The coat in question would be a warm red one, as the studio has recently rebranded and this particular shade of red was their primary colour. The rest of the building is a mix grey and white and so I knew the red would look outstanding with them as a backdrop. First though was the question of prep work.
Like any job done well, painting requires a healthy amount of prep work before the fun part, the painting, can begin. Cracks need to be filled, imperfections sanded away, and flaking paint removed. These doors had a lot of flaking paint. The previous owners of the building had given it a facelift before passing it along, including a fresh coat of white on the insides of the doors. They had also unfortunately used an acrylic paint over the top of an enamel one, hence all the flaking. Acrylic doesn’t stick well to enamel, and so using just a fingernail I was able to strip a line of the white from its underlying base. That’s not meant to happen. It would all need to go. I got to work with a scraper and sander and soon sheets, chips, and chalky dust flakes of dry white paint were raining down upon me. I would say it was like snow but I’ve never really seen snow fall, living in Australia as I do, so instead I’ll say it was like a big cloud of dandruff drifting down from the head of some dry scalped giant. So not overly pleasant.
It takes a while to remove a whole coat of paint from a surface, especially one that has panels and trowels like these doors did, but eventually I got the majority of it off, cleaned up as much of it as I could–the wind keen to make the job as hard as possible–and then, finally, I was ready to begin.
As always the process forced a focus that stilled my mind and narrowed my world down to a brush, a bucket, and the surface I’m painting. The first coat is always a little patchy, especially with such a rich colour like the red coating the underlying lighter grey, but it didn’t take long before you could see the new door emerging from the old. Passerbys eyed the doors, often offering positives opinions about it, my favourite of which was when one man described them as “inspirational”. I liked that. I liked that a solo act of improvement could have further reaching influence. That when we do something positive its effect could ripple outwards causing change and motivations we might never know about. While it might be weird that a man would describe a set of doors an inspirational, it was a description I could get behind.
The second coat went on and with it the new door presented itself in all its glory, a small point of colour in a street full of concrete greys and bitumen black.
The idea that these big now-red doors could be inspirational stuck in my mind, and so, when a week later, I was leading a writing night at the very same studio, I decide to use those doors as the inspiration for a small writing challenge. I asked the writers there to write a quick piece that featured the doors in any way they liked, ensuring only that it would be engaging and leave me wanting to read more.
The results were excellent and varied. One was haunting and dark, another used the doors to lead us into the realms of fantasy, another still placed them in a nearby suburb in a story that felt rich and real. Another story made us laugh out loud, its protagonist the doors themselves, and another rhymed with silly fun. Five new stories, out in the world. Off to create ripples of their own.
All of them now existing due to the painting of a big red door.