I had one goal this summer: to paint the backyard fence. My motive was practical. I would practice ‘asset management’–fixing up what I already owned so as to extend the life of the asset and not spend a lot of money on something that could be restored with a couple of cans of paint.
But the result of my mundane and ordinary experience of painting the fence was different from what I expected. Far from being the boring, onerous job I’d anticipated, it became a soothing, repetitive act where I got to see minute-by-minute improvements. Dipping the brush in the paint, lightly scraping the brush on its side to get rid of the extra drips, and then slapping the paint up and down on the dry boards became a pleasure.
‘Watching paint dry’ has become a cliché for a boring routine in our busy society. But what if it is really, secretly, quite interesting? What if painting a fence buys your busy modern brain some time to remain in one place and focus on one thing instead of several? What if standing next to the fence in the backyard gives you a few meditative, quality moments of time with little environmentalist birds who stop by to see what it is you are doing and scold you for it? What if it gives you the chance to look up at the blue, blue sky and think of your place in the universe, and the realization comes to you that one day you won’t be here to paint a fence? What then?
Do you paint faster? With more intensity? Maybe. Maybe not.
As someone who normally works on projects that can take anywhere from a month to a year or more to complete, the almost instantaneous feedback of painting the fence was heady stuff indeed.
And the end result? I liked it. The dark green, leathery leaves of the giant swordferns in my backyard now stood out against the warm, red cedar color of the wooden fence flanking them on three sides. And the orangey-red geraniums peeking out here and there from under the fern fronds looked especially bright.
I had created Art.
Theresa Scott is a writer who lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family. Little environmentalist birds live in her backyard.