The boldness drips from my brush as I rock out to Florence & The Machine. “Oh Patricia, you’ve always been my north star…You remind me that it’s such a wonderful thing to love.” Written for Patti Smith, it’s one of my favourite songs. Instead of the flowing Gucci dresses Florence wears, I am covered in a faded green tank top from Old Navy, ancient army pants from many days gone by, and a fragrant headscarf.
The scarf carries the smell of perfume oils from Mumbai, an incredible city I visited while doing my doctoral research 20 years ago. I asked the driver where to get the best oils and he took me to a Muslim part of the city adjacent to Kamathipura, one of the world’s famous “red light” districts. I was a bit scared and still have the photo of a hand across my camera lens. This is not to be seen.
The driver got the oils, which I never wore. It’s like I loved them too much, so much that I didn’t want to expose them to the air for fear they would evaporate. Or maybe I couldn’t take smelling them because they evoked India, a place I associate with profound trauma, learning, and gratitude. That thick liquid is memory and the scent of the past lives on that scarf.
It’s 7.30 am on a Sunday. Watermelon paint is smeared across the walls of my small upstairs bathroom in wild patches of three-inch zig zags. All I have is a tiny roller and the effect thus far is rather disastrous but somehow perfect. Many scars and uneven patches are revealing themselves, mudded up bits from long ago that were hidden by the wall’s light pink predecessor.
As I brush and apply colour, mysteries appear, like those invisible ink notepads we had in elementary school. Remember those little books? When you coloured on the pages, all sorts of images and words would float to the surface. As the music pounds in this womb-inferno room I feel entranced by memories, feels, and ideas.
The visual failure before me that bursts my idealized design bubble
The joy I feel in each roll up and down the plastic tray
The sexy, gooey colour
The woman poet and kin
The cat arms plunging periodically under the door
The indeterminant-ness of the project
Design allows me to abandon my usual work, which excites but also sometimes suffocates me. This came into sharp focus when my computer crashed this week, and I was sent into a tailspin. I need to retreat and can do so when I am being creative, when everything else falls away. Social who? Food? Email? FUCK IT.
Creativity is life and in these labours of love I am liberated.
I relish meeting my walls and my home in this way. When I made an offer on this place, I wrote a letter to the seller. The first paragraph was to – and for – the house. I made a solemn vow to care for it and live with respect in its good bones.
Making the rooms look prettily me is one way I live in its grace. Another is by pressing up against it with my hands and eyes. I see it and love it. It’s strong and imperfect, like me.