In the Attic: Odds to Ends
How repainting my room helps me cover up my incessant need for success.
My arms ached from moving the brush up and down as sweat dripped down my forehead and down my back. The paint was barely going on the walls, covering up the turquoise with a cool grey. I hated the work I was doing. I wanted to stop, sit down, and close my eyes for the rest of the night. The painting had taken its toll on me and the excitement of a new project had faded into a slight mist of my imagination.
The turquoise was seeping through the grey, turning my supposed grey into a light blue. The outcome so short of my hopes and dreams, the ones I thought of earlier in the year, before I moved in, when I was imagining my bright future that lay in this attic room. Tucked away from the rest of the house, it would provide my escape from the world, a place where I could create, read, and write. My very own haven, a perfect palace.
It paralleled my hopes for the house as well. I dreamt of ample sunlight flooding in and illuminating the plants on top beautiful hardwood floors. However, when Cortnie and I received our keys and clamored up to our new apartment. we were awestruck. The kitchen was covered in a layer of dirt, fire engine red donned the dining room walls and the living room was split between two colors, a burnt orange-yellow and a blazing white. The entry way had patches where, I’m assuming, the previous renters had punched holes through. No paint had covered them, making the stairwell resemble a spotted cow of beige and white.
It was a project and I was excited to start, pouring over paint samples with Cortnie, cleaning every corner, and hoping that our vision would come to life. One of the first projects was my room. Buckets upon buckets of water and hardwood cleaner were thrown onto the floor, trying to replace dirt with shine while coats of grey attempted to cover the turquoise.
I was happy with the outcome at first. My twin bed was pushed up to one corner of the room, a gallery wall behind it. The alcove was kept for my favorite green leather chair and my large collection of books.
During the first half of the summer I had gone on a mission trip and when I came back, my whole world had flipped. Life moved on without me at an incredible pace. My friends had started dating, others were busy with their summer jobs or internships, people had moved apartments, switched churches, and moved along with life.
I was viewing life at a distance, on the wings of a stage. I had come back at the middle of an act and didn’t know the lines anymore, had no clue when to jump out and resume my part.
So, I started to create more. My anxious heart and mind believed that I had to fix something. Or maybe the answer would appear on how to fix myself through the process. I became increasingly unhappy with my bedroom, the one I meticulously labored over before I left. I now believed it was too cluttered, too much of the color pink appeared on pictures above my bed, and it gave the appearance that my room was immature.
So, I bought a new bed. I tossed my twin out to the curb and grabbed a new full size to replace it. It became a band-aid, one which covered my feelings of inadequacy. An illusion that I had everything together.
But I didn’t.
Again, the process continued and a few months after that, I became restless. Another summer was beginning, and I was without an internship or a cool job that would create an amazing resume for post grad life.
I started to think I wasn’t good enough because I fell extremely short of my expectations.
It reminded me of a bowling day from a few years back. I was and am terrible at bowling, often getting a score between 60 and 100. That day, my ball always ended up in the gutter, leaving me to walk back with my eyes to the ground in shame.
My mom, noticing the bad sport in me, sat me down and retorted that this was a different scene for me, to be doing something I was not good at.
Up to that point, I signed up for the classes I would get an A in, participated in after school activities that I would excel in, and played in sports I could win at. She explained how sometimes I had to endure things I was not good at, terrible at even, to know that I would be okay. That my identity is not made up of my successes and my failures.
Of course, I rarely apply this logic.
I still overcompensate my fallen expectations of myself with more successes in other scopes. In all truthfulness, I haven’t gone bowling since that day and am constantly afraid of failing, being terrible at something, or falling short of expectations.
With restlessness still in my bones from not having an internship, I set to paint my room once again in hopes that it would give me some satisfaction and provide a coverup from how I was truly feeling.
I painted the wall my bed rests up against a deep black, a stark contrast to the white found on the remaining three walls. Switched my dresser to go next to my bed and placed a mountain scape above.
At first, my bookshelf went in the opposite corner with my favorite chair and my slowly dying plant. However, once again, a few weeks later I got restless again and built myself a desk. That is a whole other project. One in which I tried to distract myself from the increasing pressure of writing, creating a better website, and generating more money for my business. I wasn’t doing as well as I had hoped, and I realized with certain despair that it might not ever get better. So off I went, headfirst into another project that would guarantee the same ecstatic emotion of success that I was craving.
Recently I have been reading through the book of Proverbs and a verse has stuck with me.
“As water reflects a face,
So a man’s heart reflects the man”
So much of my life has put me in a scarcity mindset in which my greatest fear is to fail. I want to be known. Fully loved. But at a distance, at arm’s length. If I let people in too closely, I might fail their expectations of me, and I would rather let my worldly success veil who I really am.
As much as I enjoy my creative outlets, they oftentimes mask my negative feelings about myself. I am so concerned with holding up to my own standard that I have become a success junkie and oftentimes when I do not feel adequate, I paint. However, much I paint, my failures will still be there.
Much in the same way the turquoise color demanded to be seen underneath the fresh coat of grey.
Of course, no one remembers how terribly I did at bowling, but they still comment on how I have never gone back. In ten years’ time, no one will remember how I so vigilantly painted every room in my house, they will remember how concerned I was for the future, how carefully I treaded around activities that would show my flaws, and how hard it was for me to become vulnerable.
My advice to you, as the reader, and my future self is this:
Be braver in participating in activities that will show you in a dimmer light that what you hope for.
Anything worth doing, is worth failing at.
You are comprised more that your successes and failures.
You are more than what you do for a living.
And the perfect illusion you create for yourself will always wear thin.
Open the door to vulnerability. (Yes, pun intended.)