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Mayfield Parrish: Painting for cover of 30 Aug 1923 Life magazine

" … enjoying the journey though I knew where it was leading."

I find myself presently engaged in a rare effort, though I suspect that such activities might well become more frequent and more common in upcoming years. I claim to be repainting three sides of The Villa Vatta Schmaltz, an activity I have already in this lifetime engaged in once. What Makes this iteration different? I reasonably and fully expect that this time will be my last time erecting scaffolding around this building. If this work ages as planned, this place will not require another coat of paint in my capable lifetime. It will certainly need repainting in the far distant future, but by then, I do not expect to be physically capable of performing this service, however much I might wish to. It's genuine pain-in-the-butt grunt work, so it wasn't precisely a gift I gave myself when I decided to perform this job, yet I felt gifted.

I imagined myself savoring each brushstroke, immersing my full consciousness into the experience, painstakingly burning the effort into permanent memory, however foreshortened that might prove now.
Instead, I find myself shirking, dragging my feet, letting a sore back dissuade engagement. I feel overwhelmed, as if I should not have agreed to do this work, as if I should have already retired. I feel as though I was called but then failed to answer. True, the weather up until the last few days has been remarkably discouraging. I know better than to paint if it might be freezing overnight. I know not to paint when rain threatens. I won't mount scaffolding when the wind screams. Each of these inhibitors have dulled my progress and further chilled my enthusiasm. The longer I stall, the less the call.

When AgingInSpace, one notices certain small differences in performance. One sees, for instance, how much more slowly one climbs the scaffolding. One might notice a slightly larger girth squeezing beneath the cable service wire stretched almost too taut across the scaffolding top. One notices how the knees seem less forgiving. One imagines one was once clearer-headed and more present. One remembers feeling more enthused about such effort. One grows used to feeling fairly incompetent if not entirely worthless. One might even notice a growing impatience rather than a building enthusiasm for the work itself. I mean, I'm creating a monument to my presence. Shouldn't I feel grateful or thankful or generous or something? Should I not be engaging with gratitude and thanksgiving, if not necessarily singing the score to The Sound of Music while atop the scaffolding?

Who knows? I do not know if anyone ever wrote a guidebook for this sort of engagement. How should one go about doing something for the very last time? Should I engage with a good riddance attitude or something more grateful or penitent? Emily Post was utterly mute on the subject, for in this culture, we aspire to never retire. We deny the obvious and pretend to be oblivious, impervious to aging. We almost exclusively age later if at all. We defer until after we should have known better. Knowing better in advance is actively discouraged and perceived as an absence of courage and fortitude, a weakness. We're seen as wusses if we claim that we're nearing the end of something, especially an era. Few of us believe that we've already had our time, our chance, and even fewer of us seem prepared to acknowledge as we near any edge. We tend to engage as fools.

I suspect that this engagement, this final one, might prove just as foolish as any alternative one could. It might have been that I was damned (or blessed) whichever I chose. If I'd declined my own invitation to finish this work before I couldn't, I would have damned myself to avoiding adventure. I chose to accept the challenge, and thereby damned myself to actually doing the work. Whatever the memorial, whatever the homage, between here and there lies a lot of crawling beneath many tautly pulled cable service wires, many curious Tai Chi painting poses while balancing on the tippy top of scaffolding, many hours of back-aching effort. The reward will very likely remain the punishment and the punishment my curious reward. I want my record to show that I did this, though, that I proved incapable of concocting adequate excuses for shirking this one, final opportunity. I'm writing a story. May it be of me enjoying the journey though I knew where it was leading. May it remind me then of what I was once still capable of performing. May that memory leave me proud of myself.

One of my ancestors who settled in Iowa before it was a territory, a great great great grandfather, was said to have dug a new water well and lined it with granite stone when he was just about my age, a remarkable accomplishment for any man of any age. I imagine this repainting effort to be of that class, of that magnitude for me in my time. I'm reasonably confident that my ancestor didn't dig another water well and line it with granite twenty years later. Nobody recorded whether his back ached every minute of his effort, but I can reasonably expect that it did. Nobody recorded, either, whether he recognized that he was AgingInSpace while he dug it, though it turned out that he was. May my work become my legacy, too.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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