Sunday, November 18, 2007


I used to be a professional painter. Nine years ago, when that stopped being an option, I don’t think there was a neighbourhood in Calgary that didn’t have a building I’d painted part of in it.

Painting is largely responsible for my perspective on what constitutes hard work. Standing on top of a fully extended thirty-two foot ladder in the blazing sun for 10 hours a day is hard work. Writing is not hard work. And thinking about what I’m going to write--which is a lot of my personal work process--doesn’t qualify as work at all in my book.

Which is one of the major reasons I like my “job.”

This attitude’s gotten me in some hot water with other writers, from time to time. They claim writing is hard work, and argue that they never stop working, because they never stop thinking about writing.

And there’s something to that. No matter what happens, some part of my mind is always picking events apart, recording (consciously or otherwise) speech patterns and pieces of dialogue…it’s all grist for the mill. But still. In my book, anything you can do while walking the dog doesn’t count as work. And anything you can do without breaking a sweat doesn’t count as hard.

There’s a big difference between a goal you can think your way to achieving and one that can only be reached by the application of physical effort, but off the top of my head, the English language doesn’t offer much in the way of distinguishing between the different kinds of effort…


I actually used to like the physical act of painting, at least certain parts of it. Rolling walls and spraying fences can have an almost meditative quality. Once you find the right rhythm, your mind can wander where it wants; hand and eye take care of the rest. There’s a certain satisfaction that comes from cutting a straight line freehand across an uneven drywall job with a good brush (I still like Purdys. They’re pricy, but they’ll take care of you.)

Which is why it’s slightly depressing that, even when I’m working at my own pace (as I was on the room that now serves as my office when I decided to paint it bright yellow), painting’s always work for me, these days. And when I’m working to the best of my current ability, as I was at Happy Harbor Volume 3 for a few scant hours last week, it’s hard work.

Part of me can’t help but think it shouldn’t be, a big part. Three hours rolling some walls should not leave me semi-paralyzed the next day, no matter how crappy the pole I was using was (it may be a poor workman who blames his tools, but it’s also a poor workman who doesn’t use the right tool for the job.) For that matter, three hours rolling walls shouldn’t leave me dizzy, lightheaded and wanting to throw up. But it did. Did it ever.

That same part of me also thinks my knees shouldn’t be flaring with pain when I hit the stairs from the office to the kitchen the day after I lugged some boxes of new stock for the store up the back stairs of HHV1. Or that my back should give me any kind of grief whatsoever after a few hours sitting behind a cash register Thursday evenings.

My body doesn’t seem to care what that part of me thinks.

I always told myself I’d age gracefully. Hell, I look forward to being a crotchety old man. I’ve had my Dirty Old Guy laugh ready to go since my second year of college (it’s based loosely on the laugh of one of my old painting teachers).

But I’ve got to say, if this is what aging is going to be like…well, it kinda sucks.

Maybe I’m not getting old. Maybe I’ve just got a cold. Or the yo-yoing weather’s messing with my equilibrium as much as it is my sinuses.

Yeah. I like that better. Let’s go with that.


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