Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Mid-life Crisis in the Craft Store

Again, I am knee-deep in my writing class. This past week's assignment was to write a personal essay about something we found in our junk drawer. I was decidedly uninspired by this, and that was the awesome thing about it. It forced me to work myself out of a writer's block using some techniques the teacher taught us.

I thought I'd share it here, because...well why not.

Among all of the cliches that mid-life crises encompass, mine took the form of budget paintbrushes and Liquitex paint bottles. It happened six months ago while I was in the craft store looking for brads for my daughter's fourth grade project.

You'd have thought that there would have been at least 1 half-bent brad from the 90's hiding in the back of my junk drawer. But, it turns out that I'd Maria Kondo-ed myself into a state of bradlessness. If you too have not shopped for brads since the 90's, you might be interested to know that they are one of those small and stupidly difficult items to find. Try it. Think of a store layout and picture right where you'd expect to find them. If you're like me, no doubt your first guess was with the office supplies. If you are at Walmart, you'd probably be right (though it pains me to give them points for efficiency in anyway). But if you are in a craft store, such logic does not exist. They are too creative for that sort of nonsense. Brads could be in the wedding supplies section. Or try the scrapbook area. No better yet, try ANYWHERE IN THE STORE.

I tell you all of this to show how blameless I really am in this, my own story. I didn't go looking for craft store trouble, it was forced on me by the beauty of their nonsensical "organization." And this is how, before a lifetime's supply of 25 brads ever made it into my shopping cart, I ended up with a reckless amount of medium-priced acrylic paints in there first.

I recall the moment with perfect clarity. I came upon the paint aisle and I can't even really tell you what swept over me. I suppose you have to have a midlife crisis to really understand it. One moment, you're minding your own business, wondering if you should have just gone to Deathmart instead, and really, why wouldn't staples work just fine for this project? And then the next, it's like you're back in first grade and your teacher shows you the art room for the first time. The colors all lined up like a new box of crayons. A touchable rainbow. Somehow I began to imagine the exuberant messes I could make. The sheer masterpieces I would create. I sat there, slack-jawed by the luxury of it all. Shelves upon shelves of tempting, squeezable colors. And the names. The names. Cadmium Red, Quinacridone Magenta, Cobalt, and Titanium White. And right next to the paints, there stood those painting knives things, the ones that Bob Ross used. I had vivid visions of all of the happy little trees that he had magically produced with those weird, angled knives! And before I'd gone two feet, I added an easel, and notebooks full of thick, canvas paper to my burgeoning collection.

Like any sensible person these days, I have a budget. And like any sensible person I thought long and hard about how I would justify the expense. I mean, I thought about it--I didn't come up with any answers, but I sure thought about it. What you must know about me is, that I have been the frugal mom shopper all of my life -- long before I actually was a mom. I grew up with a single parent, working a job to pay for my own school clothes, my band fees, sometimes offering to help pay bills when my mother's face looked a bit more worried than usual. These lessons run deep, and I'm not one bit ashamed of them. They have served me in good stead. So this is all to say that to me, shopping has always been something to fret over, something to haggle and bludgeon to death with a calculator.


I'll tell you, in that moment, with my cart full of completely unnecessary bottles of colors, my heart felt like a red-solo cup that was filled with giddiness and overflowing paint water. The extravagance of it, the spontaneity of it, the flagrant disregard of inexperience and dearth of talent of it. It charmed me into a soft, muted cocoon of not giving a flying fig. Me, mother of two, buyer of brads, maker of Stouffer's dinners, was also now Me, buyer of luxury art goods--Future artist of Quinacridone Magenta fame.

I somehow managed to suspend my practicality long enough to find the brads (scrapbooking area, you're welcome), and even long enough to swipe my bank card through the machine. I did google the coupon for 40% off, because, although still cocooned in cashmerey soft denial, I'm not an animal. I even made it all the way back to my house and unloaded the paints before I had the super adult mental conversation of, "What the crap, Self? I can't take you anywhere."

Dear friends, I am here to tell you how to know it's a real bona-fide mid-life crisis. Instead of loading those bottles back into their plastic bags, complete with receipt to return with minimal headache, I took the glossy bottles out, one by one. I lined them up in ROYGBIV order. My giddiness was increasing at exponential rates. I took out the receipt, and in a mania of rebellious spirit, I tore it in half. I hooted a great belly of a laugh to myself.

It is a fine thing to finally, preciously, place the power of your happiness back into the hands of your capable first grade self. Because, really, aren't we the most ourselves at 6? At the age when we run in swimsuits through the green grass, when we cry when we hurt, laugh until we ache, and refuse to eat food just because it's good for us. That fantastic, selfish, tyrant of happiness. That simpleton of wisdom.

 How great a kindness a mid-life crisis is. To know deep, deep down inside us, this place we have surrounded in stony walls, this spot that is vulnerable  and genuine, is still there. And not just there--it still holds a secret garden. To finally let myself back inside, was a revelation. There were flowers there, of every color, waiting to make a beautiful, unnecessary, technicolor masterpiece.