The first thing I was going to do this year was repaint our bedroom. It had been a long nine years since that space had seen fresh paint and those walls were tired. And now, finally, at the end of February all the pictures are down and are relaxing in another room. All the nicks and scratches, the animal hair, the squashed residue of bugs gone by and the usual family dirt are fixed, gone and covered up.
I finished that last upper corner with my small brush, covered in that last hard-to-reach edge with a paint dipped Q-tip and pulled back the blue painter’s tape. Tying up the last trash bag filled with tape, I sat on the bed and looked at this new space. I had changed pretty much everything. Even the direction of our king size bed. Once facing east, it now pointed north.
A clean slate.
These first months of this year have had a strange momentum. The rhythm of the days has been off. It feels as if there is an underlying edge and a persistent unease that permeates a part of each day. I can’t help but feel some of it is emanating from one of my favorite cities, Washington D.C. But is that all? What else was creating this restlessness? This lack of energy? This procrastination? (After all, it took me two months to finish the one thing I had said I was going to do first!)
The instant reaction to this clean room was physically obvious. Peaceful. Relaxed. Open. I could look at this space in a new way. And isn’t that what we all want to do sometimes? Put the old behind us and start out fresh. Hold that clean slate like a precious piece of art and take the steps to fill that space in a new and comforting way. A place to reflect the present and move on from the past.
I recently received a beautiful email from a reader of my memoir, Stepmother. I could feel the angst in her words as I read the note.
“Hello Mrs. Lile,
My name is…and I am a stepmother to three girls. By chance, maybe out of desperation, I checked out your book at the library. I currently live in…and have been navigating the stepmother role since July, 2014.
…Your words have made me feel like I am more normal than I think I am. I feel so alone in the journey that I have chosen to travel (yes…many of my friends remind me that I chose the stepmother life). My husband is reading the book and I hope that your words give him a little insight to how I might feel…”
I am guessing that this reader could use a clean slate too.
Feeling alone, but overwhelmed. Feeling isolated but surrounded. Feeling stuck. Wanting a do over.
But how do we create a space for a clean slate in our personal lives when navigating family, work and life? How does that desire not feel selfish and one sided? How do we do it without causing even more disruption?
Maybe we start small. Just one room. Or just one small wall. One little table. Or even one tiny page. Small baby steps.
Because we need clean slates. We need them for different reasons and at different times in our life. We are not stagnant people. We change. We evolve. We see things differently than we might have once before. I, for one, need to see that reflected “some” place. I have used clean slates to actively and with fierce determination wipe out the old with something new to serve as a clear and decisive reminder of all my hard earned efforts to grow or to remind me of something I learned that was exceptionally valuable. I have also expended the energy to create a clean slate much the same way I have used old boards under the wheel of my car to get out of that mud filled rut. A way to get out and move on.
A clean slate can be the tangible evidence that “you” and “your” life are open to the next adventure. And part of this new slate will be a reflection of where you are today. A mosaic of color. Or a muted haze.
Most importantly, it is your clean slate. And you get to design it any way you want. As the poet Mary Oliver wrote so eloquently, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Maybe we need a clean slate to remind us of our plan.
What does your clean slate look like?