I scare easily. Just yesterday, I was frightened by a trio of bunnies hopping out of some bushes and a slice of red pepper that threatened to fall out of my fajita. Obviously I’m a bit too skittish for my own good, so a couple of weeks ago I read a piece at a story-telling event. Each person gets just three minutes with the microphone, standing in front of a room of friendly people. About a minute into my three minutes, my right leg started shaking. Uncontrollably. I kept reading but was really more interested in what was happening to my body than the words on my page. I was able to keep forming words but only barely able to stay upright.
The last time I got hit by the shakes was while rock climbing at an indoor gym. I was fully harnessed and helmeted with a trustworthy friend holding the ropes – in other words, totally safe – but as I approached the top, my leg tried to jump off the wall and take the rest of me with it. I took it as a sign that rock climbing just isn’t my sport, but maybe I should reevaluate. Maybe my brain is just really quick to label something as dangerous, even when its not. Bunnies and peppers and words, oh my.
At a monthly writer’s group meeting last night, there was a lot of mutual admiration – and bewilderment. People tend to be dismissive of their own accomplishments and awestruck by those of others. Writing, publishing, blogging, Instagramming – showing up everyday with a plan or just being open to what serendipity might inspire – it all leads somewhere. The support and shared interest at these meetings is very energizing. Fear? Everyone’s got it, but it doesn’t have to run the show.
Since I’ve been neglecting my writing lately, and since blogging is like a very gentle form of exposure therapy, and since I got called out for not bringing my story with me last night, I’m posting my open mic piece here. If I start shaking while I’m home alone this afternoon I’ll assume it is because someone is reading it!
Toasted to Baked
by Cindy Berg
It was just ugly. Bland beige and old and grungy. My normal self would have painted it immediately, but I was not my normal self, and this was not a normal wall. It was double high – two stories tall – in the front entry way, and I didn’t have a ladder or the guts to reach it.
Plus, it was temporary. The plan was to only live there a few months, so I consoled myself with painting the rest of the condo bright colors and left the living room and entryway alone. But I hated it, and eventually, I cracked. One sunny day, after finding some old paint stashed in the garage, I bought a gallon of “Toasted Almond” to freshen up the living room. I also coated the bottom section of that double tall wall.
The paint looked good – wet. But as it dried, my mistake became obvious. The tall wall was a slightly darker beige than the other walls. I painted as high as I could with the paint I had left and called it done. The result was ugly, but it was my ugly at least.
Then, unexpectedly, we had the opportunity to move and couldn’t expect renters to live with my painting crime. Hiring a pro was too expensive, so I was going to have to conquer my fear of heights and do it myself. As my time ran out, I suddenly realized the obvious. What if, instead of trying to paint beyond my reach with the light paint, I found a color that matched the old yucky one? After all, I wouldn’t be living there. Beige was just beige to most people.
Unfortunately, Sherwin Williams is not most people. I brought home dozens of swatches, and “Perfect Beige” was not perfect. Neither was “Vanilla Latte,” “White Bean Hummus,” or “Tapioca.” The gooier the names got, the more despair I felt.
I took one last look in the garage. Among the cans of dried up paint was one with a formula that was pretty close to the new “Toasted Almond” I’d purchased, even though the contents, in addition to being a gunky mess, were baby blue.
I rushed to Home Depot, patiently waited my turn at the packed paint counter, and explained that I needed a sample of the formula listed on the label. Slowly, a man in a plaid shirt, orange apron, and glasses pried the gallon open and muttered, “that’s blue.” A younger man, also in a plaid shirt, orange apron, and glasses, sauntered over and peered inside. “Yup, that’s all dried up.” Together they stared at the useless contents the way I might gaze into the night sky.
“I know.” I could feel my blood pressure rise with the particular rage that only non-helpful home improvement help brings out in me. “I know it is dried up. I just need a sample of the formula on the label. Please.” It took a few more minutes of head-scratching and a third employee to make the determination that yes, they could do that. The computer did its magic and I ran home with my $3 tub of “Baked Scone.”
Brushing my last hope over the line separating light and dark, I also painted the word PLEASE in foot tall letters. Please match. Please, forgive me for my painting sins. I shall respect the power of paint forevermore if only you will make this color MATCH. My heartfelt wish was granted. To further atone and possibly even bank some color karma for future use, I repainted my bright orange “Tomato Bisque” kitchen back to boring beige – I mean, delicious “Baked Scone,” as well.