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I have a friend who is the most ridiculously sentimental person I have ever known. I have one or two things in my possession about which I am somewhat sentimental, which, I think is pretty normal, but most of them are small items with meaning only to myself and I keep them in a box I have designated for such things. My friend has piles of boxes and plastic tubs filled with stuff that used to belong to her mother or her grandmother and frankly, it is my belief that if either of those ladies were still among the living they would have tossed most of them willingly a long time ago.
I hold firm to the theory that if something was hideously unattractive 100 years ago, it is probably still ugly to this day. There are things that may gain an interesting sort of history, but they rarely gain anything in the way of beauty no matter how many years go by. I have known antique fanatics who will spend lots of money and time collecting items that are not only hideous, but poorly made and designed, just because they are old. I had a friend once who was always going to auctions and buying Victorian era items that were phenomenally ugly that she thought were fabulous. Once she proudly showed me a brown, horsehair stuffed sofa that looked like it had been designed by a manic depressive in a dark room. When she invited me to sit down on it I understood why women wore 6 petticoats and heavy skirts back then because it was wildly uncomfortable as well as ugly. Sit down on that puppy wearing cotton shorts and that nasty horsehair pokes at you through the upholstery enough to make you jump up like a jack in the box. It was old, ugly, singularly ungraceful, and worthy of a place in a museum dedicated to Victorian instruments of torture. She loved it.
My current friend came to me some time ago with two items that she needed repainted. They had been her grandmother's and hung in her kitchen when she was growing up. When I looked at them my teeth hurt. They were chickens. Well, a chicken and a rooster, to be precise. They were horrible and had all the aesthetic value of a pot roast. She told me their story with all the teary eyed sentimentality you might expect, and because she is a wonderful, dear person and my friend, I tried to appear impressed and be compassionate. Anything else would have been just mean. She asked me if I would repair and repaint them so she could hang them in her kitchen. I said that I would, of course, but I can't lie, I had no desire whatsoever to put my time and labor into the chickens; what I wanted to do was put them in the microwave on high for about 20 minutes and call it a service to humanity.
Nevertheless, I promised to give the chickens a makeover, took them home with me, and stuffed them in a dark closet in the hope that it would make them powerless to do evil and she would forget about them because they were just one horrible item in the massive collection she has of similarly horrible items. No such luck. My nagging conscious got the better of me and I dragged them out the other day to see if I could make them marginally less frighteningly ugly than they already were. I wasn't hopeful.
Here's my problem; I didn't want to paint chickens. I have some minor artistic talent that I don't get to exercise as much as I would like and when I do, I would prefer it was not painting ugly kitchen chicken décor. The nasty chickens were someone else's creative horror but my nature makes me incapable of doing anything without giving it my best effort, so I knew that the chickens would be my personal nightmare, mostly because I knew with absolute certainty that my best effort would never be enough to make them anything but more colorfully ugly than they were to begin with. Its hard starting out on a creative process you know beforehand is doomed to failure and depressing. Regardless, I knew I had to soldier on, as it were.
My poor son walked through the door one evening while I was engaged in this frustrating and disheartening task and made the innocent mistake of asking me what I was doing. I told him I was painting chickens in much the same way I might have told him I was digging a grave. I think I may have actually growled. When he saw the chickens he was appalled and suggested the possibility that he might be permanently scarred for life, but he said just the right thing.
“I know you don't want to paint those ugly chickens,” he said. “But I also know that you must be true to yourself and when you get done with them they will be the best ugly, painted chickens around.”
Bless the boy. He is my rock. And he's right, mediocrity and laziness are two of the devils in our world. Everything deserves my positive energy and best effort, even the stupid chickens.
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