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Martin Schongauer: Shield with a Lion, Held by an Angel (c. 1430/50)

" … I'm good to go again, together."

As the lineman from the power company wrapped the power line running in front of the slice of wall I intended to paint, I caught myself thinking back to my first pass repainting that wall. It was a truly different time and place, before The Muse and I went on exile. Work was scarce so I decided to do something about the most embarrassing wall on the place, the South-facing one that someone in the past had attempted to save by very nearly destroying it. Rather than gently smooth the weathered surface. the perpetrator had liberally smeared silicon caulk all over the hundred year old siding boards, creating a truly terrible mess. Silicon easily fouls sandpaper, possess an extremely high kindling temperature, and a lifespan of something around fifty years. I ultimately had to tease that stuff out of the wood with an extremely anemic heat gun while suspended from a makeshift ladder-supported scaffold of sorts, a mushy old plank I'd borrowed for the purpose. This through the hottest part of a summer. I labored in tortured isolation.

I can honestly say that I made that first pass all by myself.
I also encountered those same power lines intruding on my workspace, but I suffered in silence. I was entering a period in my life when so much became unspeakable, a genuine dilemma for this observer and writer. The tech bust of the early oughts displaced more people than did the Great Depression, albeit from a much larger base. The Repuglican administration had chosen to engage in two simultaneous meaningless wars of choice, neither with any understandable purpose other than to show some unnamed people that we meant business. We waged war against The Terrorists, a term which apparently could never be reduced into any actual people. We shadowboxed with ourselves and, unsurprisingly, seemed to be losing. Our country became essentially alone and isolated in a world of our own making. I seemed to have been engaged in mirroring that effort at home.

I somehow succeeded, that season finally giving way to ragged closure. I managed only to finish that one side, and after months of effort, left two more sides unrepainted. By the time we exited on exile, the fresh paint had already begun fading and the place looked, if anything, more derelict than it had before I'd started repainting it. Three years into exile, I returned one Spring to finish repainting, but that pass proved absolutely different than that first one had. This time, my brother volunteered to help, then his wife joined in, and his step son, and an old friend. We finished repainting the place into more or less the same color, but only through much concerted effort. It was no solo performance. I had been Help
éd. I had sought it and accepted it.

This time around, I began by recruiting helpers. Kurt Our Painter became my primary advisor, though I didn't think I'd actually need his brush, I sought out his advice. The lineman from the power company, too, I warmly welcomed because his contribution would lighten my load and ease my fears. Even the scaffold, a luxury I would not afford myself that first time through, renders this work actually doable. I once felt myself an island, laboring in relative isolation. Now, I guess I'm accepting that I'm at least an isthmus, somewhat connected to an interested and helpful community. I hold no delusions that I'm repainting this place by myself, it's many hands making for a lighter load. Now that the power line's wrapped, I'm good to go again together.

It might be that there is no solo work. There might always, always, always be at least a tacit community lurking within every engagement, every assignment. We're not here to isolate. Nobody is. We're here engaged in an essentially communal endeavor, part of the purpose of which simply must be to find premises for engaging together. The Muse hires house cleaners because she hates cleaning house and she recognizes that others delight in that work. I, too, am learning that my notions of rugged individual effort prove more rugged than strictly essential. I will feel alone enough when perched up on the top of the scaffolding, though there's, this time through, a strong supporting cast working just beneath me.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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