The day after the election, I was so freaked out that I moved all of my furniture around. I get it: the need to make myself feel safe, nesting in a time of crisis, etc. Well, it worked out, but not completely.
Because of this ongoing uproar, I find I have a continuing and mighty need for personal control over my environs, so, a week ago, I took the baloney by the horns and decided to have the inside of my house painted.
I know what you are thinking, and trust me, I should have listened to you, but I did not. My vague reasoning was that it had been 15 years since the one and only paint job and the rooms really needed freshening up. In reality, I was looking for a light in the darkness, and a road through the chaos, post-election. Chaos. In the midst of chaos, I created more chaos. What was I thinking?
Well, it turns out I wasn’t thinking at all. Whatever you think I was thinking, I was not thinking that. I was just reacting, in that reptilian, back-brain of flight or fight that helped our ancestors survive in a hostile world. I guess my hope was to create warmth and comfort and a predictable world for myself.
However, what this paint job did instead of immediately giving me a bright and shiny future was to have me turning back time.
I was experiencing the political version of Cher’s song “If I Could Turn Back Time,” and at the same time preparing to be painted. I began to see my life flashing before me, running backward. Time is relative, relatively speaking. I found pictures of relatives I had forgotten I had. On Facebook there is this Throw Back Thursday thing where people visually recollect by sharing photos from the olden days a few years or a few generations ago. I found I was doing that while sitting on the floor amid shopping bags and bins ready to be filled with the stuff that I live with every day.
Taking things off shelves was particularly interesting. I found things I had forgotten about, things I didn’t care about at all and things I was really happy to find. Having found these things, I also immediately lost them in the deconstruction of their longtime hiding places.
The dialogue with my things went like this: “Where have you been?” “Who/what are you?” “Wow, look at this thing?” “What was I thinking?” “What/ where should I put it now?” “Oops, where did I put it? It used to be over there. I just put it in with the. . . . Where did I put that? Where will I put it if I ever find it again?” And on and on.
What I found: a photo of myself in high school after I bleached my hair with peroxide and before it all broke off; a picture of the man who broke my heart, also called “the Crush” if you read my other “Relays”; a copy of Rolling Stone with John and Yoko saved in a glassine sleeve; four copies of “Eros,” and a very old copy of “Black Beauty” printed on cotton. And that was just from one bookshelf. I found interesting books I meant to read but will never get around to and interesting books I plan to get around to soon.
I found that taking everything off the walls makes me not want to put anything back up, that rooms have really odd echoes with the rugs rolled up, that I do not have to put pictures of my late husband’s mother (whom I never met) on my family picture wall, and of course I found that I have way too much stuff, which I already knew. I have been drawing stuff (for magazines and lately coloring books) and I have been photographing stuff for this newspaper.
I am known in shopping circles as Hunter Gatherer because I shop for stuff to photograph and publish in The Star. Stuff is the staff of life, in my opinion . . . but I digress.
What I also found, aside from newly empty places on my walls, was an appreciation of the life I have lived and how much I have enjoyed it so far, broken hearts be damned.
Had I not decided to be painted (and that was a clear reaction to the election and the inauguration), I would not have stirred up my personal pot. And in turning back time, and considering other family photos to go in the empty frames, I would not have found, tucked into an album, a letter to me from my aunt Sara Henderson Hay, a poet.
The date of the letter is part of the interesting timing here: It was written on Jan. 29, 1964. Turning back time, it would have been delivered to me on the day I am writing this, Jan. 31. Sent to me in my freshman year of college, it referenced a fella, new to my social life, and a fella she thought I was done with (who amazingly stuck around until 1979). Since boyfriends were on her mind she included a poem in the letter that she said had been written a long time ago, but which she thought was “a slightly ironic little comment which you and your roommates might find amusing.”
Perhaps the proximity to Valentine’s Day inspired the timing, then and now. Who knows?
Advice to Young Ladies
by Sara Henderson Hay
Love the proper man, my sweet,
At the proper age.
When he stands upon his feet
When his assets all appear
Till that proper stage,
Keep your silly heart secure.
If a lover passes
Find him as devoid of lure
As he is when viewed through your
She sent it with love, and though she is in heaven, I share it with you with her love.
I am so happy that I got painted so that I could find this letter and turn back time, if just for a little while. And now to the putting back of all that I have torn asunder. Maybe there are more goodies to be found. Stay tuned.
Durell Godfrey, a contributing photographer for The East Hampton Star, is also the illustrator of two recent coloring books that address the comforts of home and the creativity of chaos, “Color Your Happy Home” and “Color Me Cluttered.”