How to write an Essay

From the archives...

Sign up for a writing class to force you to write.  Sit down at the computer to begin writing.  Notice, for the thousandth time, the last unpleasant vestige of 1976 that remains in your house, a span of high pile brown shag carpet that covers the stairs. Think, for the thousandth time, that you should do something about it.

Remember the reasons that you haven’t: before getting new carpet, you should paint the hall area.  But before you can paint, you should finish the window seat that is at the stair landing, started by your ex-husband a dozen years ago.  The window seat, which is a bumpout the size of a double bed, has the windows, but they are unfinished; no trim. But before the windows can be trimmed, the drywall should be mudded and taped, and then covered with spray on texture.  Then you can paint.

Once the painting is done, you can replace the carpet, but you hesitate to remove the brown shag, because you know that underneath are shoddy construction stairs that are too narrow for the stairway; there’s a two-inch gap between the stairs and the wall, that’s covered with the brown shag.  Removing the rug would create yet another problem to solve.   Stare at this problem in 5 minute increments for many years, and then distract yourself with something else.

Sit down to write, and notice the brown shag rug.  Decide that this is the time to do something about it.
Go to the paint store and pick a bold group of colors – warm rich orange for the hall, deep plum for the facing wall, robin’s eggshell blue for the window seat, and deep teal for the trim.  Someone in your writing class is writing about Mexico, and you suddenly want your house to look like Mexico.

“Are you sure you want these colors?” says the woman at the hardware store.  "All in the same area?"

“Yes, I’m sure.”

Carry the paint to the cashier, who says, “You know that we don’t accept returns on paint, right?”

“Yes, I know.”

“And paint always looks darker on the wall.”


“You’ve painted before?”


Look at the bold paint chips and think how beautiful the hall will be when it’s all painted.

Make a schedule:
1.    fuss over daughter before she departs for a remote village in  Africa for a month. 

2.    Help son get organized for a school trip to Italy for a week. Travel to airport a few times.

3.    Mud and tape the window seat; while it’s drying, paint the upper hall. 

4.    Sand the mud, and think about how you should really sit down to write. 

5.    Look at the paint chips and think how beautiful the project will be when completed. Decide that this is more important than writing.  Think about how your kids are fanned out across the globe.  Miss them like arms that have been cut off but still, remarkably, have feeling in them.

6.    Go to the big warehouse store and buy window trim and casing. 

7.    Bring trim home in 12-foot lengths, sticking out the back of your small hatchback car because you weren’t sure how to operate the saw in the big warehouse store and are too chicken to ask.

8.    Borrow a power saw from your ex-husband.  It has to be borrowed from an ex-husband, because this adds a certain type of pressure to the situation.  You need that.

9.    Buy a mitre box and try to figure out how to use it.  Go to the internet to look it up.  Play solitaire for half an hour.

10. Set up a painting station outside for the casing and trim. 

11. Paint the strips of wood.

12. Measure and cut trim.   Install, and marvel at how hard it is to cut a 45 degree angle. 

13. Add putty to your Home Depot list.

14. Go to the Internet to investigate how to properly cut trim.  Play solitaire for half an hour. Think about how you should be writing an essay.

15. Go back to painting, which seems easier than trim because there are no 45 degree angles, but notice that you aren’t convinced of your handed-ness.  You thought you were left-handed, but everything is coming out so sloppy that you try the right hand, on the off chance it works better.  Realize that neither one is very good at painting. 

16. Paint one bold color, then the next.  Splatter onto the first color; touch it up, and create a problem on the second.  Do this for a while, each time solving one problem and creating a new one.  Decide it doesn't have to be perfect, and stop.

17. Realize that even with the extension pole, you can’t reach the highest part of the ceiling.  Drag a ladder out of the barn, but realize it isn’t possible to set up on the stairway.  Decide you really don’t care about that part anyway; who cares if the paint doesn’t meet the ceiling?  Remind yourself that it doesn't have to be perfect.

18. Tear up the 30 year-old rug.  Put it in a pile for a trip to the dump.

19. Sweep and scrub the stairs; remove every extra nail and staple.  Scrub again.  Putty all of the holes and imperfections.  Sand.  Spend several hours on this. Marvel at how great the stairs look, except for the 2 inch gap between the stair treads and the wall that the mice use as a highway.

20. Look at the paint chips and realize that it isn’t quite panning out the way you imagined.

21. Sit down at the computer to write. Instead, play solitaire for 20 minutes.

22. Decide to fill the gap between the wall and stairs with trim installed horizontally across the gap.  Do a sample with scraps lying around.  Realize a) it looks a little hokey, but not that bad; and b) each stair will require a horizontal piece and a vertical piece that needs a specialized cut out where the gap on the riser meets the tread, which sounds tricky.  Remind yourself that it doesn't have to be perfect.

23. Travel to the warehouse store to buy more trim. Decide to purchase the stair paint at the smaller hardware store closer to home to support the hometown store.

24. Spend 1.5 hours in the smaller store closer to home while the kindly men try to figure out how to mix that particular color in a floor paint.  While you’re waiting, contemplate whether Brill Cream is still sold in stores, or whether these two just have a large stash leftover from a long time ago. Eventually, have them give up, saying they can't create that particular color, and you might have to go to Home Depot.

25. Paint stairs, leaving alternate blank footpads free, so that you can still travel up and down. 

26. Paint trim.

27. Install trim on the first step.  Realize it looks very very cheesy.  Like someone with no carpentry skills trying to cover a gap in a cheap and easy way, which is exactly what it is.  Think about starting to write an essay.

28. Go back to work at your real job. Discuss this with your work buddy, who encourages you to just build brand new stairs.  During lunch, go to a hardware store and buy materials for 2 stairs.  Decide you can do this, two steps at a time.

29. Go home, and remove two of the beautifully sanded, painted stairs.  Begin to replace them.

30. Get a phone call from your son that he’s just left the airport, and his Dad will be dropping him off in 30 minutes.

31. Sit down to write an essay.


  1. wow. I am exhausted just reading this!

    Good for you for trying to tackle it!

  2. I get it. At the worst moments, such as (to take a random example) when your pickup truck seems to be on fire in the front and is definitely full of cow manure in the back, it never fails to flash through my mind: I could write about this.

  3. This reads like any random day in my life. I get nothing done. But I have the best intentions... Thanks for making me laugh.

  4. Funny! I can relate. When we lived in West Seattle there was always something that had to be done before the thing we really wanted done could happen. Took 4 years to get rid of the ugly green carpet.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The Dowdy Church-lady Post

The random edition

Upleveling Our Badassery