The Fierceness of Habit: The Story of a Table and How it Inspired Me

On Monday morning I found myself crouched beneath my kitchen table, hyperventilating in short, ragged breaths. This project is too overwhelming. What was I thinking? I can’t do this. It is going to look atrocious. If this turn out to be a disaster, we can’t afford to buy a new table. Oh my goodness, I may pass out. But then a strange sense of crazy calm took over my psyche. I had already spent almost one hundred dollars on paint, brushes, and a drop cloth. I’d watched YouTube videos on technique. A few talented friends had offered me great advice. I had already donned the painting clothes (and I looked kind of of cute, I must admit). I’m not a total klutz in this department. I’d painted before, damnit. I could do this. So I crawled out from the table, grabbed a brush, and began.

We bought an oak dining room table with six chairs the spring after we were married. We needed a table that would be large enough for our family and friend gatherings. This particular table, when the two leafs were added, seated eight comfortably, and ten if we squished. At larger dinners we often placed a card table at the end to accommodate extra guests. This oak table saw years of tall tales, raucous laughter, heated debates, smeared cupcakes, spilled red wine, heaping bowls of buttered mashed potatoes, and piles of crumbs hidden beneath the claw-like legs. It was where we came together over food and pie.

Last spring when we knew we were going to move and downsize I had to decide on whether to keep the dining room table or the dark brown bar-height one in the kitchen. Gosh, I loved that table. My husband surprised me with it for a Mother’s Day gift, and after ten years it had also witnessed much.  It was where we ate most of our meals. My kids did their homework there, and I graded hundreds of papers sitting on a stool at that table. We were there finishing up our New Year’s Day chili when I received the call about the passing of my dad. After I retired, it is where I wrote my first blog pieces. This tall table with its stained and carved up top would be difficult to part with, but I knew it wouldn’t fit in our new, much smaller house. Thankfully, it was bought by a young, single mom just moving out on her own. I knew it would be in good hands and would continue to watch over her small family as they began their own traditions.

Fast forward to five months later. I was on the floor, panicking over my decision to chalk paint and distress the oak table that graced the kitchen of our new cottage. This once great idea lurked over my head like a dark, ugly monster, but I gathered up my courage and began the adventure. Four days later after additional trips to hardware and paint stores, white paint flocking my hair (it goes well with the gray), the cats freaking out over the plastic drop and the disarray, and numerous texts asking for advice, it was completed. 

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Many times in our lives we are faced with daunting tasks. Some make us question our sanity. Others attempt to break us. But if we focus on each step instead of the huge, seemingly unending pages of directions, then it doesn’t own us. We take control with each brush stroke and application of stain or wax. Then when it is finally completed, we gaze with pride. Yes, we did that. But don’t look too closely now. No, it isn’t perfect, but what is? We finished it, and that is the ultimate goal.

After this table project, I have found renewed determination to not give up, to keep plodding on, even if the end seems light years away. Last fall I began a novel, but the move and life stymied it. Now seems the perfect time to pick it up again…my shitty first draft. A typical young adult novel has an average of 60,000 words; I have already written 22,363. That means I have 37,367 words to go. Now that number makes me want to crawl back under the table and breathe into a paper bag, but if I divide it by 61, the number of days in November and December, that comes to a little over 600 words a day. That looks more realistic. Six hundred words is approximately three or four developed paragraphs or a page of dialogue. My challenge is to complete my shitty rough draft by January 1, 2018. Word by word, I will stumble toward the finish line, but with this daily writing I will also rebuild my writing routine. Each day these characters and the story will take me on glorious adventures. I will slow down, breathe, and enjoy the process of writing again while establishing my fierce habit.

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A job offer presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We moved our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we are welcoming the journey. I’m chronicling this odyssey as we stumble toward the future. Stay tuned.