Painting a very long hallway


I’ve been asked a few times what writing a book was like. Sometimes people mean: “What’s it like to be someone who wrote a book?” It’s nice! Glad to have done it, glad to know I can do it, lots of new opportunities, nice to have something unambiguously mine, and so on.

It’s interesting to ponder the question as asked, though. What was it like to write a book? Act of, not fact of.

Practically speaking, writing a book was a lot of sitting in a room alone and typing. (And not responding to emails.) Boring! A simile, then: Writing a book is like painting a very long hallway.

It’s like a very long hallway – and not, say, a bedroom, or even a Bob Ross landscape – because you can’t see the scope of the effort all at once. My paint roller only reaches so far, but I’m trying to get a good even coat from beginning to end, across many weeks of effort. This was the most different aspect of the work compared to, say, an essay or newsletter.

There was a lot more prep work than I’d imagined, even after I thought I was totally prepared to start. Picking out paint colors was so fun, but now, oh God, is that more wallpaper under the wallpaper?

Once you’re actually finally ready to start, later than you’d have liked, the hours tick by. Mostly, you’re painting. When you’re not painting, you’re thinking to yourself, “That hallway isn’t going to paint itself!” And it doesn’t.

Some days you hit a rhythm and there’s a beautiful shluck, shluck, schluck sound as paint rolls on in big even swaths. Or perhaps, after a week of not painting, you spend all day trying to get the dried out lid of the goddamn paint can off. Some days you paint for hours only to realize that can was off-white, not eggshell, and, well, guess I’m doing that part over.

Sometimes you paint in the middle of the night, because painting the hallway isn’t your day job — and it’s not your social life or self-care — it’s just this other thing that you do.

Sometimes you spend all weekend painting the hallway, because you never got around to painting during the week and you promised you’d be done with the first coat by Monday, Tuesday morning at the latest.

By the end — the paint dries so slow — by the end, you’re loopy on fumes. Everything you own is covered in paint. But it’s done, damn it! Ahahahaha, the fucker is done.

Except, wait, that was just the first coat. Oh no. You missed some spots! Let’s do it again! And again! Prep, sand, paint, tidy, prep, sand, paint, tidy. Eventually, you just have to decide that it’s done, that the crimes are well enough hidden, and that it’s time to peel the tape, put the furniture back, and re-hang the family portraits.

This isn’t to say it isn’t enjoyable. Painting is laborious, yes, but it can be rewarding, even hypnotic. But however pleasant the hours, the best feeling is still being done with it.