An experience stripping teaches about language
You don't usually associate blogging with stripping paint, right?
Me neither, but stripping taught me about language through the course of a summer project, refinishing a maple table my wife and I inherited 20 years ago as a family heirloom.
My mother passed away in 1996 from breast cancer, and the table holds many memories.
A few years ago my wife decided that I needed to paint the scratched up wood finish, beautiful maple to be covered in acrylic.
I thought the new off-white paint would last for another couple of decades, and so I went all out with the toughest acrylic paint money could buy, putting on three thick coats, guaranteed tough and eternal.
Well, this is the summer of change, not just in the paint color of the table, which I could simply apply on top of the antique white, but stripping down to the pink maple wood create an vintage affect.
This last week I have had to undo all my hard painting work.
The work refinishing the table became a metaphor for revising my writing. The labor was intense and I thought a lot about blogging and language:
âThe artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.â
The scraping, sweat, and chemicals reminded me of the difficulties of writing in the physical and mental processes, but I found other hidden lessons.
By the end, I hope to find the beauty of the finished work satisfying, like finishing a hard piece of writing. Frankly, right now it's just a pain in the ass.
I learned tangible principles of writing
The frustrating lessons proved valuable. Many involved the labeling of the product - the stripper.
The reputation as "America's #1 Stripper Brand" and superlatives like "premium," "strongest," and "works in less than 15 minutes" deceived me. I thought I had an easy job ahead because the language and imagery suggested it.
When blogging, the language you use establishes a relationship of trust with your reader, and if you violate it, your reader will be dissatisfied.
The label's words reinforced the image on the stripper, a delicately gloved hand, a flimsy plastic scrapper, and the soft paint begging to fall off the wood. So easy!
Language can be subtly deceptive, telling wimpy truths with the thin glaze of satisfying words, expertly chosen, not lies but not exactly true.
The labor of language and craftsmanship
You will not find an effective way to avoid the dirt, grime, and sweat of hard work. The nature of the writing task is painful, and avoiding it threatens the quality of the work:
Easy reading is damn hard writing. But if it's right, it's easy. It's the other way round, too. If it's slovenly written, then it's hard to read. It doesn't give the reader what the careful writer can give the reader.
I pasted on the first layer of stripper as a novice, expecting the results I had been sold with the packaging.
Before long, my back ached, my fingers sore, brain dizzy from the fumes. And the progress I made?
I felt old, incompetent, and deceived after an hour.
Only the thinnest surface of the old paint came off with my flimsy scrapper. And, this was after considerable effort and strain.
The pictures below fail to capture the sweat, effort, and vulgarities.
There is just no avoiding the pain and work
I'm not finished as you can see, and much remains to bring the table to its finished beauty. But I have faith.
Stripping emphasized writing advice that instills faith:
The finished product will be satisfying, but you have to be patient the majority of the time, when it is just hell.
The sacrifice and torture make the beautiful product sweet.
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What strange or unusual tasks have taught you lessons about writing? Please share in the comments section below.
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