When Michelangelo brushed his last stroke on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, I imagine he must have stood back to take in his work as a whole: one part admiration, three parts relief at the work’s being complete. As I hammered the last finishing nail in the window trim of my bathroom, I stood back to take in the work as a whole: one part relief at the work’s being complete, three parts amazement that the nail went in straight.
After several jump starts, mishaps and do-overs, it is finished. The total bathroom renovation that began with a burned out light bulb in 1998 is finally done. From gutted room to new towels, my leviathan of a lavatory has been conquered.
When I had put the last of the tools back down in the basement, I stood at the bathroom door, staring, noticing a couple minor imperfections that few others would perceive. I like to believe those little imperfections, like the bumps and wrinkles of life, are what make a place, a life, our own. Perfection, after all, is in the eye of the cynic.
Still standing in the doorway, I tried to picture what the room had looked like before I started. I wondered what it had looked like before that and then even before that. Our house is around a hundred years old, so I figure it must have gone through many renovations. All those minor imperfections painted, papered and paneled over to lay a claim, to mark a territory, to discover a land anew over and over again.
And then a thought occurred to me: Aren’t we all constantly renovating our inner rooms?
It’s like Deepak Chopra meets Bob Villa. A person needs to tear down a facade put up years ago, perhaps in another lifetime, before rebuilding. A healthy individual needs to know the dimensions of his own door jam in order to put up new trim. The sub floor must be flat, smooth and clean before laying the new, improved vinyl flooring. Seams between sheets of dry wall must be tapped and spackled well so the wall can be one flowing wall in itself and of itself. Paint looks best over a coat of fine primer, that is, our outside is only as beautiful as what lies beneath because if you can’t get at what’s really underneath, at least keep it from bleeding though.
Furniture refinishing is much the same thing. When I got my first apartment, I raided my parents’ attic. Along with an old set of plates I don’t ever remember using; forks, knives, and spoons; a few pots and magazine rack, I was able to confiscate two matching end tables. They had been the end tables of my youth, permanent fixtures in our living room until my brothers and I were out of the jump-on-the-furniture-with-your-dirty-shoes phase when my parents bought new furniture that wasn’t akin to burlap.
When I set up my living room that also played the role of dining room, office, guest room, and hamper, the end tables gave me a familiar, homey comfort feeling. Seconds later I made the decision to refinish them. It wasn’t that they were in bad shape; it wasn’t that I didn’t particularly like the style. It was that I was not living at home anymore, I was on my own and I needed to strip off the fine, natural wood finish of my parents and paint them with the good black semi-gloss of my independence.
It’s not just the big jobs that help us renovate our inner rooms. The smallest jobs around the house are just as important. Touching up paint on a baseboard, fixing a leaking faucet, even simply Spring cleaning can be as insightful and meaningful toward a more fulfilling sense of self as a Wayne Dyer marathon during PBS fundraising.
For those who believe that it’s best to leave such major improvement projects to the professionals, I’d reply that people must be their own contractors, sub-contracting only surrenders one’s power to another – although having a good plumber really helps.
With the desire, patience, and the proper tools, any inner room can be improved upon. Just don’t forget to wear your safety glasses.