Recently I hit upon a new way to make my mind a blank. I painted the bathroom woodwork, two coats, semi-gloss, shell white. Unlike other mind-altering techniques that I have read about, this one did not require folding my legs under my body, or breathing deeply, or channeling through Ramtha, the Cro-Magnon warrior from Atlantis.
Let me go on record, however, as saying that from my limited knowledge of the warrior's work, I could cozy up to Ramtha, especially, if as it is claimed in a current Washington state lawsuit, Ramtha helped J. Z. Knight rake in more than $4 million a year. Ms. Knight is the New Age channelperson who, when she blanks out, claims to be able to pass along tips from wise old Ramtha. One of Ms. Knight's former husbands -- she has had five -- is suing her to get a bigger slice of Ramtha proceeds.
As someone who recently got a bid for painting the outside of my house, I could use any tips that Ramtha, or any primal force, might offer on where to kick loose enough cash to cover the cost of even a prime coat.
As for my claim that painting woodwork can give you a cosmic lift, I recognize that some of the uninitiated may be skeptical. But I am here to tell you that after hours of slapping paint on baseboards, your consciousness is altered.
You see the symmetry of life in paint bubbles.
You feel the sweep of time in the bristling movement of the paintbrush.
And right about then, you check to see if you are getting enough ventilation.
Woodwork painting is not one of the lofty interior-decorating arts. Everyone knows the glory work is "making a statement" with the walls. With walls you get to use bold colors of paint. Or you can invoke the cumulative power of a wallpaper pattern. Painting the woodwork is like punctuation. You only notice it when there's a mistake.
Painting the woodwork before the walls have been worked on pushes the woodwork job ever lower on the decorative arts scale. When you paint the woodwork first, you don't even have to stay within the lines. If you splatter paint on the walls, the wall painter or paper hanger will come along later and cover over your mistakes.
All you have to do to qualify for the woodwork job is to have time on your hands and a willingness to get a little paint on your body. That is how I got the bathroom job. It was the middle of a Saturday afternoon. One kid was playing at a friend's house, the other kid had gone to a movie with my wife. I was left alone to shuffle around the house attempting to fix things.
After applying some touch-up paint to the edges of a recently replaced window pane, the victim of a soccer ball, I decided to take on the bathroom woodwork.
Despite the fact the job had no pressure and little prestige, I did some research on it.
I thumbed through some home improvement books looking for woodwork-painting advice. There was none. I took this to mean that the job was so simple that no instructions could be given.
This particular woodwork had already been painted, a dark brown. My mission, I told myself, was to blot out the gloomy brown of days gone by and replace it with the bright shell white of a better tomorrow.
I got into the painting. I sanded. I edged. I wiped off spills, hoping that later the wallpaper guy would notice my artistry. And as happens when you do a simple task over and over again, my mind wandered.
I began to think about my place in the universe. I thought about my goals in life, like the basketball goal I have never erected. And the garage I have never built.
I even began to call up scenes from my earlier life, from previous woodworks I had painted. Visions of a kitchen woodwork, flat white, in Louisville were very clear. Then came flashes of a den woodwork, semi-gloss white, from Bethesda.
For a time I locked onto a bone woodwork that seemed to be coming from a hallway in Kansas City. But I lost communication before I could be sure.
In addition to being mind-numbing, woodwork painting, I found, is addictive. Or at least never-ending.
After I applied the first coat to the bathroom woodwork, for instance, I was not pleased. Dark brown spots from the previous coat peered through.
The next day, I painted it again. The woodwork looked whiter. But evidence of the old darkness was still there.
Every time I walked past the bathroom, a voice seemed to be speaking to me.
It was the voice of the woodwork. It said:
"One more coat."