Thursday, August 21, 2014

lessons learned

There are a couple of scenes in the movie Bruce Almighty where the God character, Morgan Freeman expounds on the satisfaction of completing a basic task which in this case is mopping clean an expansive white floor.  Bruce scoffs at the idea until a future scene where he joins in and experiences the satisfaction of completion.

This past week I’ve had my “white floor” experience.  But first a little background.

It has been almost 12 months since I took a full week off from work. After that vacation I came back to a series of over a half dozen major events and major changes that seemed to compound themselves and seemingly top the last on.  As I found myself covering for multiple other managers out on vacation in July in addition to my own work I realized how wrong that picture was and how utterly exhausted and fatigued I was. I was running on autopilot and felt the turbulence of every new change that was being introduced.

The following Monday put my stake in the ground for this week off with a couple days on either end. No work email, no checking messages, and no work material brought home. It was tough getting out and I left some things undone but I have resisted doing anything work related. Even my dress clothes remain in the dirty laundry basket.

The front of our house faces direct south and gets a regular pounding of sun and weather.  In the 18 years we’ve been here I have lost count of the number of times I’ve scraped and painted large sections or the entire side.  The other sides in the same time period have been done once and look fine. It’s a good sized house and requires maneuvering the ladder around tall bushes and uneven ground.  Though this time around it was the second floor that really needed it and if need be the first floor could wait at least another year.

I am thinking that it has actually been about 4 years since I tackled the entire front and had absolutely no desire or tingling of motivation.  I was exhausted with work and other projects and this one would have to sit. Early in the season someone came by to give us a painting quote.  It was complicated and expensive just for painting one side and the quote   sat. Then another offer of a quote came from a painter working in the neighborhood and walking around looking for candidates. Ours was an obvious one as chipping at this point was fairly wide spread and nails were popping out. 

This community has many affluent second homeowners so it is a challenge sometimes to get work done at a price “normal” people can pay and the quote from this guy was not one of them. His comment about the “affluence” of some of my neighbors in having him do work, alone was a tip off. His quote was also more than a monthly tuition payment and that was for only part of the front and me buying the paint. I could only imagine what the entire structure would have been.  Dread overcame me as the reality sank in that the only way this was going to happen was me doing it again.  Groan……….

As I approached my vacation I really didn’t have anything planned. I was just exhausted and knew I physically needed a change. No one else in the family would be off and it was also going to be hectic later in the week yet the youngest launched for another college year.  But little by little as that week approached I came to a certain peace with the idea of my painting project.

I would take the weekend off and plan and lined up the paint and materials I needed and would make sure I had the right tools and materials to make it efficient rather than making due with what was just around the house. I was saving several thousand dollars by doing this so it wasn’t bein cheap made little sense. I also made a pact with myself that I would pace it out so that part of the day was reserved for something relaxing.

Monday morning the sun was out and so was I.  Ladder put together, drop cloths out, new scraper in hand and went at it.

For some reason it felt different this time.  Perhaps it wasn’t competing with wanting to do something with the family or that I was much more systematic about it or that I rationalized that if I finished this project I’d be saving the equivalent of tuition payment.  Or was it was all of these things. 

Dressed in my summer painting finery of paint laden shorts and a paint covered t-shirt that could easily come off in the heat, and drop cloths in place I positioned the ladder for maximum left and right reach and went at scraping that paint with a fervor. As I knew before I started, once you start the scraping you end up scraping much more than was visibly apparent from the start.  A few hours in and the patches of bare wood abounded and I gradually moved the ladder over leveling it with a pieces of wood that I had never thought of doing before. Some came off easy and some tougher and some pieces were just beyond my reach. But the sun was warm and the sky bright and I found that I was very present in what I was doing and not processing the work problem or issue that might normally be mulling through my head. 

By early afternoon half was done and ready for the primer coat over the scraped spots and by the time that was done it look like a combination of a blue sky with lots of little clouds or perhaps a big blue cow with white markings.  Whichever, you get this picture that the white on the blue was prominent.

Heading more over towards the full sun the wasps appeared.  They love nesting behind the shutters in the full sun and in the past I took all the shutters off and cleaned the nest off. But that was going to add hours to the task that I didn’t have and I knew I could detach one side to be able to paint underneath.  But these swarmers were going to be a problem.  Normally I would bomb them with spray or was them out with the hose but either was adding to the work.  It was then that I decided to quit for the day and take the kayak out on the lake. 

Fortunately I just need to clean off the visible paint and dirt on me and the sweat and grime didn’t matter in my single kayak. The kayak and paddles in the trunk and I was floating on the lake in 15 minutes soothed by the cool breezes as I had my afternoon snack.  Circling the lake and coming back to launch, I beached the kayak in dove in for a swim. Ahhhhhhhhh.

Mind cleared, muscles worked, cooled off and satisfied having definitely made a big dent in this project.   

I headed back and picked up some spray for the wasps and went at it and it seemed to working a little, except for the hideous smell that was now drifting into the bedroom windows and the sheen marks on the wood. Not good in any way and keeping the windows closed was not an option. SHIT, set back ………….

Grabbing the hose and working it around the house I started spraying, not wanting to get it too wet that it wouldn’t dry but enough to clean out the wasps and clean off the spray.

Done for the day and I’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Cloudy in the morning but I’m at it mid morning when the house is awake and I can clang the ladders. The area where I sprayed was still quite damp but I could paint over the area that I work on yesterday and let the sun do its work drying it out. 

By early afternoon the wood had dried enough that I could get over there to scrape and I was amazed to see that the water had not only cleaned but loosened up a good amount of peeling paint that hadn’t been visible before and actually made the job easier.  So, it really wasn’t a “SHIT” moment yesterday that I thought it was.  That part of the house really benefited from the hose down and it made my work easier though I probably ended up scraping twice as much.

Another lesson learned though this process, sometimes set backs are not set backs.  I realized that I was still so keyed up that it didn’t take much to light my fuse.

Day two ended up figuring out how to position a ladder when you have bushes eight feet deep and can’t get close to the house and when you have a nine foot tall bush that you have to go over to get to the house because there is no space behind it for a ladder.  But I found I was approaching these challenges differently and in a more matter of fact manner.

By the end of the day most of it was scraped and was ready to get cleaned up and chill with a cold gin and tonic and become one with the chair on the porch.  It was then that I heard the weather forecast for Wednesday which included showers.

I guess I’m not done for the day and I got back on my painting duds and ladder and primed over everything that I’d scraped so that the wood would not get wet.

Interesting, my fuse had definitely chilled a bit because this wasn’t a really big deal, though it meant dragging out everything I’d already cleaned and put away and I’d be a sweaty mess again by the end. But I’d also be a little ahead.

Next day came and it was cloudy but no rain, so my priming the night before had a chance to dry and I was ready to paint and for the rest of the day that is what I did. Methodically moving left to right, moving over the ladder little by little. There are still a few wasps flying around but I am finding that if I avoid them and don’t make sudden moves they leave me alone. By the end of the day the first coat was on the main part of the house and it looked good and I was physically exhausted.  I am in decent shape but up and down a 30 foot ladder and hauling it around it work for a desk jockey. 

Today I wake up to the sound of steady rain.  Oh………..  I get up have my coffee, check out all that is happening on the web and it has stopped but everything is soaked.  I have one more section to complete and a second coat over the parts that I had scraped.  But I guess not today.  I hadn’t been out for a run this week so that seemed like a good idea.

Heading out there are a few drops of rain but not much and head for the street.  A mile or so out and I think I see a flash but it’s a while before I hear a clap of thunder. Another half mile and another flash and this time I count the seconds and its 6 miles away. Time to head back.

I approach the hill to my street and the sky opens up with a downpour and I am in ecstasy. One of my most favorite things in life is running in the summer rain on a warm day. So off comes the shirt and I let the rain pour over my head and drip down all over me and I slow my pace to a trot so that I can thoroughly appreciate it and see a friendly car approaching me, my thoughtful wife coming to rescue me only I don’t want to be rescued. If it were lightening then definitely but once you are this wet you just enjoy it. So I waved her off and continued home shortchanged from a decent length run but experiencing nature fully.

The day is a wash out but I get a museum pass from the library and check out a place I hadn’t been in years,  read and take a nap and make dinner and I find I want to write and the words want to come out.  It’s been so long. 

So this isn’t a creative piece and could be more of a “dear diary” novel  than a blog entry but the comparison of my painting experience so fit the movie reference I made at the beginning.  It took doing some work that required me to physically focus and be present to re-center myself.  

My project is not done. If it is dry tomorrow I’ll tackle the last piece and do the touch ups. If not, I’ll finish up Monday or on a weekend, no longer intimidated by this project.

Taking time off is good for a lot of reasons and some are more obvious than others and the lessons we learn come from all different sources.