A month ago my dog died. It hit me pretty hard and the tears still swell up when I think about Neiko and what a great dog he was. I miss him terribly.
To distract myself from my grief, or maybe to help process it, I tackled one of the projects that has been on my list since I bought Alegria – to paint a mural on my living room wall in the space where the opening to the bar used to be when Alegria was the Legion Hall way back in the 70’s. I spent a good deal of time staring at this weird space wondering what it should be. Months of coming up and then rejecting potential ideas passed. It was just a few days before Neiko died that I finally nailed down the basic premise of the mural. A book shelf.
At first I was going to paint a life-sized book shelf, dividing the four-foot tall space into four shelves and then filling the nine-foot long shelves with old-fashioned, leather-bound books. I estimated that the shelves would hold somewhere in the neighbourhood of 400 volumes (ish). The concept was fabulous. It was also exhausting just to think about. The surface being so rough (it was stippled) would make painting the titles and details extremely tedious. The idea of a book shelf was good and didn’t fade like all the other ideas did. But I just couldn’t imagine actually tackling it.
Then it hit me! Why not paint giant books on one shelf?
|Before! This 4' x 9' space was once the opening to a bar.|
On December 3rd, I started drawing lines on the wall. The design was loosely based on one of the book shelves on J.K. Rowling’s web site, a mix of vintage and modern books. I had no idea what the titles should be, but soon the wall was filled with a series of 19 rectangles and I began filling them in with colour. Painting the basic spines took several days and about 30 hours. Filling in the spaces around the books took another six. (Yes, I kept track!)
I was about half done painting the spines when it occurred to me that it would be fun to have books that represented some very special people in my life: my kids, my best friend, my grandkids and my husbands. There were 19 spines. My list of special people was eight. But what if more grandchildren came into my life? What then? My first problem. And what about the girls’ spouses? Should the current ones be given books? What would happen if any of them split up? (It’s happened before.) My second problem. Then I couldn’t figure out what books I should paint to represent Eric and Dave. My third problem.
I made a list of books that I wanted on there for myself; books that represented my personal interests. Knitting, yoga, mystery and fantasy fiction came easily to mind. But which books? How would I narrow it down? There were just too many. Another problem.
I was chatting with my oldest daughter and I asked her what book would represent her Dad the best. Her immediate answer was: Archie comics. I laughed out loud. I was thinking of Les Miserable, because it was the only book he ever read as an adult. But Archie made way more sense. He loved Archie comics and literally hundreds and hundreds of them passed through our home. Okay, an Archie comic it was. There was a perfect, slim volume that would serve perfectly.
After that the ideas really started to flow. My best friend’s book would be The Medicine Wheel in honour of her Native heritage and the fact that we took the Medicine Wheel Facilitator’s Training together when we worked at the Friendship Centre. I knew just which book it would be, too.
For the grandchildren, present and future, one really special book would represent them all. Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin. If you haven’t read this book, go immediately to your local library and check it out. It’s just the best children’s book ever. (You can also hear the story on-line by Googling Pete the Cat and I apoligize in advance if the song gets stuck in your head.)
Agatha Christie got me hooked on mysteries and I’ve read all of her books. My favourite was Death on the Nile and so that title represents the mystery genre on the far right of the mural. J.R.R. Tolkien is, by far, my favourite fantasy author. But I couldn’t include The Hobbit and the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy, so, instead There and Back Again by Bilbo Baggins takes its place on the far left of the mural representing fantasy fiction.
Ali and Tracy were easy. A book about fairies for Ali and a book about Dogs for Tracy. Bizz, however, stumped me. Spiders? (Eek.) Weaving? (Possibly) Grooming? (Maybe) Best to ask her. And the answer should have been obvious – eco-crafting and living green. So she ended up with two books, smaller and not nearly as fancy as her sisters’ books, but definitely her. For my own other interests, I came up with titles for knitting, herbalism, yoga and Celtic lore. Some real titles and some made up.
Dave’s book was still blank. What on earth could I do that would honour him? He’s a pretty weird and complicated person and, again, the answer should have been obvious. But I was stuck on his fascination with aliens and alternative energy systems and such. As soon as a topic presented itself, I rejected it. I kept coming back to drumming. Since he is a drummer, it seemed fitting. But a title continued to elude me. As did a graphic. His book spine remained empty.
As I was working on the mural just a few days ago, I realized that I didn’t have room for a dictionary. I did a mental head-slap for this oversight and stood back to review my progress. The two remaining volumes were too small to be dictionaries. I was deeply dismayed and actually experienced a moment when I considered painting over the whole thing and hanging photographs in the space like the previous owners did. But I’d invested 80 hours into the mural at that point and giving up was not an option.
It’s only paint. Right?
So I painted over the two untitled volumes, making them into a single book and – voila! – an English dictionary was born.
In the end, three of the books do not have titles. Instead they have symbols. One is an Om, the seed sound of the universe according to Hindu and Yogic traditions. One is a Treble Clef, which, in case you haven’t guessed, is for Dave. And one is a Question Mark. I have many, many questions about many, many things. Maybe the answers are in this book on my wall. Maybe not!
I also dream of writing and publishing a book someday. This book, the book with the large gold question mark, represents that dream.
The mural took 90 hours to paint. It fills a space 4’ X 9’ on my living room wall. It tells a story about me and about my life. And it definitely brightens up the room.
|After! After 90 hours of painting this is what I ended up with.|
One of the best things about living at Alegria is the simple fact that I can paint murals on my walls if I so choose. Slowly I am creating the home I have dreamed of having virtually since I was a kid. Little by little I am finding new ways to say to the world – or at least to visitors to my home – This is me! Aren’t I fabulous?
If that sounds vain, well, I could apologize. But I won’t. It’s not meant to be. I’m just learning to like myself for who I am. Hell, I’m just discovering who I am. And so far, I’m not really that bad. I have a few faults and phobias and probably a personality disorder or two, but – hey! – I also have a pretty cool mural on my wall.
Feel free to stop by and see it some time. I’ll put the tea on.