Age has brought a touch of patience. I took the cabinet door off before I started painting the small upstairs bathroom. In my first two houses, I painted over hinges, telling myself the overall new look would far outweigh cabinets that didn’t open smoothly. Besides, I was in a hurry and had a lot of painting to do. If I did everything to perfection, I’d never finish. I was an amateur. I should get credit for doing my own work.
The rationalizations were many in the old days. Now, I compromise and don’t tackle more than I think I can do in a reasonable time. Do a small job decently and leave the major work to professionals. I can afford it. My sanity is worth something.
I bought my first house in Sacramento in 1981, three years after hitting town with an old car, $200 in my bank account and a lingering countercultural outlook on life. I thought when I took the copy editing job at the Sacramento Bee that I would work two years, replenish my bank account and hit the road again. In my first eight years after college, I had served time in five outposts of journalism, from Red Bluff, California, to Bremerton, Washington.
It was not to be. I caught the last train to the middle class at age 31 and stayed at the Bee for 32 years. I bought a three-bedroom, 1,100-square-foot-home in the “Land Park area,” as the real estate people called a buffer zone dividing upscale Land Park from the projects to the west. My mortgage rate in that era of soaring inflation was 15 percent – 15 percent – and the down payment tapped me out.
That’s when I took up house painting. A friend from my Berkeley days who had acquired admirable handyman skills as he fought off the straight life offered to get me started. He insisted Sears paint and brushes were top of the line. He introduced me to TSP for cleaning walls, sandpaper and spackle. He was religious about cleaning the paintbrushes, shaking them dry and wrapping them in paper towels.
I still have a sturdy three-inch Sears brush I bought at that time. I’ve used it on every painting project, inside and outside, for 34 years. The four-inch brush my friend wielded with authority proved too manly for my level of competence. Smaller brushes have fallen by the wayside. The three-inch one seems to have eternal life.
I don’t love this paintbrush. It’s been a witness to my incompetence, my search for shortcuts, my impatience with detail work. In its presence, I have rejected the adage that I embrace in other areas of my life: “If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” Instead, I settle for mediocrity and tell myself I’ve saved a few bucks.
Age, however, has brought me more self-acceptance. So what if I’m a mediocre painter? So what if I’m not doing the best I possible can? I was unforgiving of my mistakes in my work life. I’m still far too self-critical on the basketball court. I don’t need to be that way about everything. Painting is a form of self-acceptance. Maybe I should get going on the whole house.