It’s the nature of things to get rutty, like it’s the nature of groups to intone in droning harmony “we’vealreadytriedthat” at the suggestion of innovation. Maybe it starts as a groove or a rhythm that winds down so slowly and over so much time that no one notices when the music stops. Or maybe it’s a problem that’s hiding in plain sight from which we all agree to avert our eyes.
It’s hard to know exactly when the tipping point occurs, beyond which the problem you’d previously agreed not to see takes sharper and sharper focus. It’s hard to know when the things that don’t set right begin to chafe, and when that chafing moves you from irritation to action.
It’s been a fall of unsticking around here, inside and outside, actual and metaphorical. I discovered it is possible to take action both suddenly and finally: finally, after eight years of procrastination, I suddenly unstuck thirteen loathesome carpet treads and repainted my front stairs. Finally, thirteen years after I bought it at a Goodwill on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, I suddenly refinished my nightstand and installed darling little drawer pulls. Finally, eight years after our daughter was born, Sweetie and I suddenly had a weekend getaway. Finally, after two years of using our bedroom for overflow storage, I suddenly purged the crap and rearranged the furniture to give us the calm retreat beloved of the shelter mags.
Finally, I suddenly finished a quilt for Small. Finally, I suddenly cleaned all the closets. Finally, I suddenly hung the full length mirror.
It is so satisfying when a problem visibly and manifestly shifts. Where once was clutter and now a lonely dust bunny rolls along. Where once I stared at every random sentimental item ever handed me and now a line of crisp white boxes close their lids on my relentless memories. This is order I created. It is excellent to be done, to have made the changes needed to align things just the way I want them.
What’s hard is the space between the moment of commitment to action and the resolution. Sometimes you are lucky and the carpet squares come up, the paint goes down, and barely an hour has passed on the clock. Those are the times you laugh at yourself for tolerating so long anything so easily repaired.
But other times the first step is dragging everything out of the closet. The boxes and bags and hangers and improbable scraps of tinfoil and string and construction paper pile up in the room and the upstairs landing. There are whole parts of that day and lots of other days when you wonder why you ever began this behemoth of a project. There are times that you work from morning and it seems even worse at bedtime.
And then there are projects like the kitchen that are really and truly happening even as they appear completely the same. Here I am washing dishes by hand in the 1940s enamel sink just as I have every day since I bought this house. But I shifted several hundred dollars into the kitchen fund on my magic spreadsheet today. I Googled “Ply-boo” and said it out loud more than once because it makes me giggle. I called the Kitchen Man and got a list of showrooms to visit. Everything seems the same. But finally, suddenly, something is unstuck.
In truth I am washing these dishes in a completely different kitchen. It’s hard to remember because my back still hurts, I am bored, and my knuckles in the steaming water are raw and chafed. It’s hard to appreciate this shift as much as the clean white stairs. But the change is coming. It’s already here.
In truth, Laura Bass said it better than any of this:
This is where I yank the old roots
from my chest, like the tomatoes
we let grow until December, stalks
thick as saplings.
This is the moment when the ancient fears
race like thoroughbreds, asking for more
and more rein. And I, the driver,
for some reason they know nothing of
strain to hold them back.
Terror grips me like a virus
and I sweat, fevered,
trying to burn it out.
This feat is so invisible. All you can see
is a woman going about her ordinary day,
drinking tea, taking herself to the movies,
reading in bed. If victorious
I will look exactly the same.
Yet I am hoisting a car from mud ruts
half a centry deep. I am hacking
a clearing through the fallen slash
of my heart. Without laser precision,
with only the primitive knife of need, I cut
and splice the circuitry of my brain.