Of Bertrand Russell and Linseed Oil

What I’m doing now:

I finished applying boiled linseed oil to the old fence as practice for treating the enclosed deck exterior with it. I really like how it made the wood planks look, deeper in tone. I don’t think the deck wood will become quite as dark because the wood on the deck is much newer than the fence boards. When the wood is older it seems to soak up more oil. We’ll see.

What I’m reading now:

I recently started reading Bertrand Russell’s Portraits from Memory and Other Essays. It’s the first time I’ve read him since university, and I barely read him then. I guess I thought I had better things to do. I was wrong.

This book is available, along with other used copies, from AbeBooks.org.

“Of remoter ancestors I can only discover one who did not live to a great age, and he died of a disease which is now rare, namely, having his head cut off.”

~ Bertrand Russell, from Portraits from Memory

Listen to me read this part about Bertrand Russell:

In university years ago I studied philosophy and I read the British philosopher, mathematician, serial husband, and campaigner for peace, Bertrand Russell (1872-1970). Not as thoroughly as I should have but enough to keep me interested all these years. That man accomplished more in a week than I’ll do in my whole lifetime!

Since we got our new computer, Pocket now pops up on my home screen and offers suggestions of articles I might like to read. Sure enough and big as day, there was a Bertrand Russell essay called “How to Grow Old” featured on the website brainpickings.org.

After reading this essay about how to age and die well (spoiler alert: the key is living well) I looked up Bertrand Russell to find out more about the man that nurtured these beautiful ideas and then grew them into words.

Young Bertrand Russell didn’t have it easy. Both of his parents, his sister, and his grandfather died by the time Bertrand was six years old. This misfortune left him and his brother Frank to be raised by their grandmother, apparently the last adult standing. Frank was sent to boarding school while Bertrand was educated at home. It was lonely, but he claims he didn’t mind the solitude, only the boring, repetitive meals in a household that could’ve afforded to feed a small village. Oh yes. Young Bertrand also loathed the strict routine including the hour-and-a-half piano practice each day. He admits his relief at leaving for Cambridge and discovering that there were others more like him out there in the world.

“If a person when adult is to be able to fit into a society, he must learn while still young that he is not the centre of the universe and that his wishes are often not the most important factor in a situation.”

~ Bertrand Russell, from Portraits from Memory

Despite early tragedy and a rigid upbringing, Bertrand Russell turned out all right. Over the course of his 97 years he published in excess of 70 books and approximately 2000 articles. In 1950 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Bertrand Russell had his ups and downs. For example his first wife, Alys Pearsall Smith, was a bit disappointed when he returned home from a bicycle ride during which he made a realization. According to Wikipedia, “Their marriage began to fall apart in 1901 when it occurred to Russell, while he was cycling, that he no longer loved her. She asked him if he loved her and he replied that he did not.”

During his life of activism and of expressing his views, many liked Bertrand Russell and many hated him. Either way, it’s this philosopher and Nobel laureate that I’m researching and writing about today. The same can’t be said of some guy way back when who intensely disliked Russell. I’m not familiar with that grouchy man or his body of work. but I might have met his great grandson.

Take care and be well. ~ Lori

“Contempt for happiness is usually contempt for other people’s happiness, and is an elegant disguise for hatred of the human race.”

~ Bertrand Russell, from Portraits from Memory

Paint Me New

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During the summer, my time opens up. Suddenly, I’ve got more time to write, to visit, to just sit and do nothing, an activity of which I’m very fond. There’s time to wander around with my camera and wait for the birds to hold still. There’s time to organize and clean, and there’s finally time to paint.

Of all my summertime chores, I really like painting. Not painting prep. I’m not a fan of taping, spackling or laying down drop cloths. I don’t particularly like seeking out flaws and sanding them down, and I don’t love washing walls with TSP. For these reasons, the summertime painting I like best is the painting done outside. No sanding, no taping, no drop cloths. Just brush off the dirt and the spider webs and get painting.

Listen to me read this post:

Other summers, I’ve painted baseboards and cupboards and walls and door casings. I’ve painted my old coffee table from the thrift store in Grande Prairie a fresh apple green and my Grandma’s old end table a vibrant cherry red. I’ve painted the siding on the garage and I’ve painted the siding on the house. On warm October days, after the summer was gone and my time was tighter, I’ve touched up exterior window trim and touched up peeling fascia boards. I don’t paint in the winter. Winter’s not a painting time.

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Grandma’s old end table painted a bright cherry red.

Yesterday, after deliberating between spray painting and brush painting, I cracked open a very tiny can of bright white Tremclad rust paint. The day before, my painter’s eye spotted the old metal-framed wire gate that leads from the backyard onto the garage pad and out into the world. As if seeing this gate for the first time, I considered its decoratively entwined wires that were brown with rust, like very old lovers, tired of it but still stuck with each other. I noticed the gate’s metal frame, dull and brooding, not even returning the sun’s smile.

The first coat of paint is on now. To my horror, about three hours after I’d finished painting, clouds moved in and over the backyard and burst open. Those few hours of warmth and sunlight must’ve granted the paint just enough time to cure because when I checked the gate this morning, it looked perfectly fine. So relieved!

From my kitchen window this morning, that gate already looks bright and new, and I still intend to give it a couple more coats. What I love about painting is change. I love how quickly and easily colour transforms things, cheers them up and animates them. Once wallflowers, newly-painted objects become the life of the party, dancing on the table and the last ones to leave as the sun’s coming up.

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About every second year, I paint the frame that the sweet peas grow on.

Some days, I’d like to give my own life a fresh coat of paint, a shade of younger with undertones of something-more-to-look-forward-to. I’m not afraid of colour, of mixing it up, of trying on a more startling shade. It would be nice, though, if I could experiment with some new colours or even a couple different shades of me without having to commit immediately to a new colour for myself.

Unfortunately, life changes aren’t made as easily as paint colour choices, and their implications can last much longer. Still, as I clean my brushes and gently hammer on that little metal lid, I realize this painter is ready for a change.

 

 

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Last September, when the whole world went back to school, I painted the garage’s window frames.

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Difficult, Not Impossible

Seems ImpossibleI’m done refinishing the ceiling in the main part of our house. I can’t believe it. There were so many times during this project that I thought it was an impossible job.

“Why did I start? The house will be a mess forever! I’ll only ever get this job half done and then I’ll die while scraping plaster.” These thoughts often passed through my mind. I let them go, picked up my trowel, and kept on going.

Listen to me read this post:

I remembered all the things that people told me I couldn’t possibly do:

  • Teach school.
  • Write a book.
  • Fix a badly-broken house.

These things weren’t impossible. They were difficult. There’s an ocean of difference. The rough waters between doubt and doing are what we cross in taking on a challenge.

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The living room ceiling partially cleared of stipple.

While working, I also recalled the words of a friend of mine, advice from his father to him. “When you’ve got a big job to do, don’t look at what you still have left to do. Focus instead on what you’ve accomplished already.”

In this case, the father’s advice to his son was to look back and look back often. This runs counter to the idea that we shouldn’t look back. It just goes to show, like everything else, good advice depends on context.

Whenever I got tired I would do what my friend’s dad told him, and I would look at all the stipple and plaster I had removed. This same friend gave me a little advice of his own. “Just work on doing one small bit of a project at a time. Don’t think about the rest of the work to be done.” This strategy worked for him. He wasn’t just talking the talk. My friend had walked the walk.

 

Years ago, my friend had restored an old stone house on his rural property. The floors were covered in decades’ worth of accumulated pigeon poop, deep and dense. My friend grabbed a mask and a shovel, and he started in one area. Bit by bit, shovel by shovel, he cleaned out enough uric acid to fill a one ton truck box. His triumph over pigeon poop encouraged me.

Hard Way

When plaster dust got in my eyes, up my nose, and in my hair, I thought, “Well, at least it’s not pigeon poop.” It’s funny how circumstance dictates what counts as reassurance.

Now when I sit in my recliner (I missed it so much!) and look up at the ceiling in our house, I see that it’s not perfect. It’s a little scarred and marred, but it’s also clean and bright.

Isn’t that just like life? We work, we try. Sometimes we succeed in our mission and ceilings become bare and flat. Other times we give it everything we’ve got only to discover that everything isn’t enough.

The thing is, there’s no guarantee that if we put in the time and the effort that there will be any results, anything to show for our work in the end. So the point has to be in doing the task and doing it well. If there’s no satisfaction in the work, the work probably isn’t worth doing.

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Tools of the trade. It didn’t take long to despense with the metal pan and to just let the plaster fall like rain.

I’m in no hurry to refinish any more ceilings, but I am satisfied with the imperfect results of the time I spent. I’m grateful for the words of my friend and of my friend’s father. Looking back, scraping a little area at a time, and imagining pigeon poop piled high spurred me on through the fog of plaster dust. Refinishing the ceiling was definitely difficult, but it sure wasn’t impossible.