To Hang a Picture

An Original Armstrong: Upside Down

An Original Armstrong: Upside Down

If one were sitting on my couch or in my kitchen while I was writing or editing, they’d know the minute I hit a snag. First, there’d be some cursing. Always starts with the cursing. Then the reading aloud, as I verbally try to retrace the steps to exactly how I’d ended up in this rabbit hole of diction. And then I’d leave my office to find a household chore that needed immediate attention.

My Swiffer is used roughly ten times a morning when I’m writing, my dishes get done, my laundry gets put away. Sometimes I rework the problem or sentence as I work on my mindless chore, sometimes I just use the chore to clear my head, and sometimes I am just plain procrastinating.

Today when I hit a tricky sentence, my brain suggests that I get up to stretch an imagined, phantom ache in my right thigh. I walk into my living room and pick up my Swiffer, and maneuver it between the couch’s legs to grab up a cat-sized amount of cat hair, and some errant popcorn. That’s when I look up at the wall and notice the painting that has been hanging a foot or so above the couch for about twelve years. And it is just begging for attention.

Two birthdays ago, when I became a mere boy of forty, I received an original print from a good friend of mine who is an enviously talented artist. Since the household chores I am willing to undertake typically involve making something a little cleaner, making something a little less cluttered, or making something little to eat, this print has sat in the hallway, its virgin whiteness protected between two pieces of cardboard. And if there has ever been a time this print needs to replace the picture in this frame, then that time is now.

Before I can reconsider my decision, I prop the Swiffer back into the corner and pull the framed painting off of the wall. It’s heavier than it looks and the couple of decades or so of cobwebs it’s been harboring instantly attach themselves to my shirt and my arm hair. I lay its bulk out on the kitchen table, the cat watching with fascination from a nearby chair. This, she knows, is big.

I turn it over and uproot all of the wood nails that hold the back board in place. I then crowbar it out with my pinkie nail. Then I fetch my friend’s print.

Taking something out of a case is a lot of responsibility. I always get the feeling I am doing something irreversible. Once that food processor is out of the package and those first pre-hummus chick peas are in it, it’s tarnished. It’ll never be as pristine as it was.

And so it is with my print. It is beautiful and in black and white. I slip it out and begin the process of fitting it into the backset of the frame. This proves more difficult than I thought it would be, so I am soon sweating and mumbling curses in the not so under parts of my breath. I have fully abandoned my tricky sentence.

The cat has left.

It is (obviously) not a perfect fit for a random frame, so it keeps slipping out. I have to rig a board and attach the print to it with Blu-Tack, a putty-like adhesive that teachers use a hundred times a day to stick things to walls and without which our lives would lack meaning. Some of the cobwebs have gone from my arm hair to the clean white print. I groan, at once worrying that I have ruined my friend’s print and wishing I had an altogether different personality.

A few quick brushes with a piece of toilet paper relieve the print of its webby smudges. I am attacked by flashes of reminiscence, since I grew up in a house with a father who took a halfway approach towards household chores. Our home featured window frames stained in two-ish tones and lazily listing ceiling fans that were monuments to partial-interest. I promise I will never tell anyone, and then I decide that I will in fact tell anyone who reads my blog this Monday.

When I finally pinion the frame back against the wall, I feel somewhat satisfied, as though I have somehow gotten through a trial and done something, made a fire, hung a picture. Whatever. When I notice that I have hung the print upside down, I decide that the tricky sentence in my manuscript needs my attention, and so I pick up my Swiffer and slide my way back into my office.

The print is up. I hung the picture. In two years, or on the day of another tricky paragraph, it might even end up right side up.

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