I used to really hate painting.

There was nothing I enjoyed less, nothing I couldn’t so easily find reasons to put off or avoid. And of all the painting chores in the world, is there anything more tedious than…


But during the Lair’s first paint job in 2015 I noticed to my surprise that I was kind of having fun. I even found myself doing things I had actually sworn off ever doing again, like buying and using cutting brushes so the trim would look good. Seriously, that incident had me peering into a mirror and demanding, “Who are you and what have you done with me?”

And this morning found me using up the last of that gallon I bought for the wellhouse’s first coat to slap a fresh coat on … porch railings. By any objective standard there’s nothing worse than porch railings and it wasn’t absolutely necessary. Yet there I was, freshening up the paint on cabin frills.

Hindsight can be a harsh judge. I spent my whole life, juvenile and adult, doing what other people said they wanted or what I thought other people wanted. I was frequently wrong about that last thing and only managed to make matters worse, ever more frustrated and confused, over and over for decades. I never understood other people at all because – in the gradual clarity of hindsight – I regarded other people as situations to be handled. It took 15 years alone in the desert finally doing what I wanted to do with myself to realize the truth: A good deal of my serial failures to fit in with and please the people around me was that I … really never gave much of a damn about most of them at all.

Maybe that’s a damning judgement of me as a person, I’m not qualified to say. I’ve often mused that I may have missed outright sociopathy by not very much. But I told myself that I did try. It just seemed as if my relationships invariably boiled down to what I was supposed to be doing for them. And in fairness to me, I was repaid in insincere promises with monotonous regularity. I did other peoples’ work for other peoples’ purposes, and I was so invested in whatever ‘being a good person’ was supposed to look like that I had a hard time admitting that I hated every second of it. No surprise, in hindsight, that I often did a rather poor job.

The Secret Lair was something completely different, completely unique in my experience. It started in concept as a knock-together shack built from salvage, a quick and dirty place to crash out of the weather. I needed something better than a small and slowly dissolving RV but didn’t have the talent, experience or resources to do a proper job of building a real cabin, or so I told myself at first. But the project gradually became ever more elaborate as it simultaneously became the first labor of love in my whole life to date. I only gradually realized what I was really doing: At last building a thing that was just for me. And for the first time, I began to really care about it.

Not only that, I liked working on it. And I still do.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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8 Responses to I used to really hate painting.

  1. bmq215 says:

    I’m continually amazed by how often find myself choosing to do the very things I used to hate and rail against. Turns out that, when it comes to willingness, the motivation behind the action is usually far more important than the action itself.

  2. Sort of like Pirsig said: you thought you were working on a cabin, but you were working on you.

  3. Claire says:

    Joel, I know you and like you very much. You are a good neighbor and a good person. Trust me; you never even came close to being a sociopath.

    I suppose today you’d be diagnosed as somewhere “on the spectrum” of autism. You had one hell of a childhood, too. If you didn’t give a true damn about what people in your past wanted, I’d guess that to be the reason. You had to pull yourself inside a very hard shell to survive.

    But in fact I’m sure that you gave enough of a damn to twist yourself into a pretzel trying to figure out what they wanted and provide it for them as best you could.

    Your manipulative, unpleasable psycho-wife didn’t help matters.

    But you are much loved and appreciated by your friends and neighbors (your devoted readers, too!), and if you can earn that degree of esteem while also learning to please yourself, then you have achieved a rare form of contentment.

    More power to you. Enjoy your painting in well-earned solitude.

  4. Terrapod says:

    You have finally matured, like fine wine. It takes some longer than others, but most of us get to that point and start enjoying life. Congratulations and keep on painting, who knows, maybe you will be doing still life with fluffy little clouds on the walls one day.

  5. Steve Walton says:

    Hey, Bob Ross’s videos are all on YouTube. You might find yourself painting happy little trees to go with those fluffy clouds. Who knows, you might discover a talent for putting guns and desert onto oils and become a world-renowned reclusified desert hermit painter!

  6. Mark Matis says:

    So how Green is Tobie these days? Or were you able to restrain him from closely inspecting your work before it had a chance to dry???

  7. Beans says:

    What Claire said. You probably have a healthy dose of Asberger’s, the kindler, gentler, fuck-you-up-even-worse version of Autism. Where you are not totally gone from the world, but kind of on the side and wondering why everyone else gets it. And your favorite inner head phrase is “What did I do now?” as you fail to say, or think you failed to say, the right thing.

    In other words, your hermitage has given you the time and space to get your head straight and finally cast your inner demons out or into places where they aren’t standing around screaming all the time at you.

    And attention to detail without others jabbering and distracting is… wonderful. It’s almost a Zen thing, the focus without outside annoyance.

    Glad you have achieved inner peace with the world.

To the stake with the heretic!