by guest blogger Renee James, humorist and blogger
Isaac Newton’s law of universal gravitation was right. At least, it feels like it was right. Because 17 years ago we took it into our heads to wallpaper our foyer, living room, and dining room, then continue up the stairs into the second-floor hallway and then up more stairs to our bedroom door at the top of the house. It went up. It looked lovely. Then.
But starting last weekend, that very same wallpaper paper that went up must now come down. It’s still mostly intact—a testament to our workmanship but more likely to the small fortune we invested in wallpaper paste at the time. (Yes, you read that right: in a moment of unchecked papering enthusiasm, we bought unpasted paper, which meant we had to brush paste onto each sheet beforehand. Even today, I can’t think about it without feeling a little sticky.)
Unlike everyone on HGTV, I redecorate my house every 17 years, whether it needs it or not. So there I was, peeling off paper and uncovering hundreds of square feet of paste and “backing,” brooding about the hours and hours of scrubbing and good old hard work that lay ahead. Mid-grumble, I noticed three scrawled signatures in pencil where each of my sons had “signed” a spot on the dining room wall before we papered over their names.
In 1997, my boys were 6, 6, and 7 and, apparently, in the midst of a Looney Toons phase because they included pictures of the “Bugs Bunny Fan Club,” whatever that was, and the Tasmanian Devil. I truly don’t remember them signing this wall. I do remember banishing them to the basement with rolls of contact paper, instructing them to “paper” those walls, so we could work without them underfoot.
In the midst of this endless task of peeling and scraping, and because I paused to stare at their names, my mind leapt to something two of my sons said a few weeks ago. After much contemplation and discussion, they declared the words of “House James” (a la Game of Thrones) to be, “Nothing Is Easy.”
Hmmm. I spent quite a bit of time brooding about that. Not exactly uplifting, is it? Why couldn’t our “house words” be something triumphant like “Claim your Destiny” or “Success Is Yours”? Or something positive and full of promise like “Love Above All!” or “The Future is Bright”? Or how about the words of Jimmy Carter, as he greeted each Monday morning while at the Naval Academy: “Another week in which to excel”?
Nope. Instead, we have “Nothing Is Easy.” How bleak! How depressing! My immediate reaction was to reword their phrase and reframe their meaning as follows: “Everything Is Difficult.” Or this, which illustrates the path of minimal resistance: “[Doing] nothing is easy.” When I confessed I was less than thrilled with the way they characterized their entire existence under our roof (and my “success” as their mother), they were not deterred. “It’s a good thing!” they protested. “It’s realistic! It means that working for something makes it more worthwhile!” They reminded me of the motto of the Navy Seals: “The only easy day is yesterday.”
Maybe. As I continued to tear away at the wallpaper, I started to get the feeling they were onto something.
My mistake was hearing words they didn’t say. “Nothing is easy” does not mean, “Everything is difficult.” It doesn’t mean you should choose to be idle because it’s really, really easy to do nothing. It does mean that life doesn’t come with an “effortless” guarantee. And if you approach it believing that everything—or almost everything—will require something of you, you’ll never be disappointed. In fact, you may get even more satisfaction than you would if something came too easily.
Back to my walls. I have five walls done: peeled, scraped, and scrubbed free of glue. Just 11 (!) more to go, and the paper will be gone; the walls will be clean and ready for the paint. I guarantee you I’ll spend hours staring at colors, coordinating them with carpets, and testing out samples on walls, and I will no doubt regret at least one shade the first time I see it in broad daylight.
So what have we learned? A couple of things: Wallpaper, while being attractive and enticing, will all but break your spirit when it’s time has come. Please, please consider this carefully as you page through those books of coordinating patterns. Paint, a reasonable choice, will always, always look darker on the wall at noontime every day and like a completely different color than the sample almost all the time. Why I fail to remember that from paint job to paint job and gallon to gallon I can’t explain.
And finally: Nothing—from your highest high to your lowest low—is easy. Still not entirely sure I’m on board with this statement as our family’s “credo,” but I’m warming up to it.
Renee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and also wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, PA, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists’ Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates—and broods about—life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, “Really? You’re kidding me, right?” (or wants to, anyway), and she welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.
Ha! Renee , I was just telling my husband a day ago that I wanted to repaint the clothes closet in our bedroom. He was surprised, why, I haven’t the foggiest? I asked what color would he like, he said, “blue.” Ok I said, what colour blue? He shrugged. I said I would love that color (I already had the blue picked out in my head), but I said, it is a closet, there are creepy things sometimes coming in from the cold, how am I supposed to see them with my choice of blue, the lighting is atrocious, I need better lighting/light fixtues. I’m going to have to do something with the trim, these shelves need to come down and be replaced with actual ‘shelves’, the carpet will have to be changed to a different colour, well, maybe not, because on the colour wheel, the carpet colour and the blue I’m thinking about will go together. On and on it went.
I decided to take on this job and get it done properly. I do think that it will turn out to be a bigger job than I expected, albeit not on the scale of your job, but more work than I thought. Then I decided, do I start something that may take longer than I thought, or do I call in the so-called pros to do the closet? Do I want to take the easy way out, or do I want to put some elbow grease into this project and be proud of myself? Do I want to call it all off until spring, or just get to it before Thanksgiving? Decisions, decisions! So, I ultimately decided to go light coloured walls, white trims, white shelves, carpet? (still not sure if I want to go that route of changing it) lighting, haven’t decided if I want to change the fixtures or not, or just get better bulbs. Decisions, decisions! It’s getting late. I had better hurry and make those last decisions, or just call the whole thing off! (until spring)
How hard can a paint job be? I was told, the simplest things in life aren’t simple. Maybe that’s a good thing, because we wouldn’t otherwise be able see what we are made out of, if we have patience, if we can get past obstacles and forge ahead, if we are capable enough to actually ‘do’ something meaningful. This is good! Life lesson learned.
I love the idea that “if you approach life believing that everything—or almost everything—will require something of you, you’ll never be disappointed. In fact, you may get even more satisfaction than you would if something came too easily”. Changes everything. Thank you, Renee, for this wonderful post!
Life is an adventure, sometimes smooth, often bumpy, but nature, friends and a good sense of humor makes it all worthwhile. As one of my dear friends says: “I wouldn’t be dead for nothing!”
It may take time, money and spackle but in the words of my contractor, “anything can be changed!” Forget about paint color, the placement of the cabinet pulls will make or break a room. Trust me, I’ve spent hours working with the experts on that one. We may not be able to change everything in real life but we can change the way we look at things – that cabinet is PERFECT!
Happy stripping – you’ll feel so accomplished when the job is over. I can’t wait to see the finished product.
First, thank you, everyone, for sharing the journey and the pain. And your stories of decor, demolition and decisions.
Second, I have no doubt I’ll be mostly happy with the outcome of this work…..but it’s still a little too far off to really feel real.
You’ve all inspired and humbled me. Thanks so much for taking a moment to share your thoughts.
We de-wallpapered 3 rooms over the course of this summer, and this in particular perfectly described how I felt with each room: “…brooding about the hours and hours of scrubbing and good old hard work that lay ahead. ” I’m still not sure the sense of satisfaction with the way it looks afterward truly negates the wasted weekends of misery. I can only add one piece of advice: in the name of all that is decent and holy in the world, people, never put wallpaper on the ceilings! (yes, they did.)
Oh no! There is just no explanation for that. (And sadly, I have also taken wallpaper off ceilings, albeit in a small powder room thank you, God.) I am clinging to the notion that I’ll be so thrilled with the final outcome of all this work that everything is worth it. I have to – or I’ll dive out the window (the new one we’re probably adding to this project, by the way.) And the beat goes on. : )