Adventures in Paint

Rust and Me | photo by Karen Muktayani Villanueva

I know nothing (more on this later).

I thought painting my bedroom was just a matter of slapping some paint on the wall. Okay, that’s perhaps more crass than I really mean (and meant), and, well, here’s the truth:

I had no idea that painting my bedroom was going to be a freakin’ spiritual event.

My dear friend (and master painter, in her own right), Teresa, reminded me, from the beginning, that by painting my bedroom I was creating sanctuary and sacred space, clearing old space to allow new creativity and energies to flow into my life.

Riiiight, I forgot.

I was worried about schedules and ‘getting it over with’ and being efficient, how hard it was gonna be, how much I didn’t know how to do it, how much mess it was gonna make,  how much money it was gonna cost, how much time it was gonna take juxtaposed with the time I actually had, etc.  (Ugh.)

Teresa (God bless her) reminded me to love every part of the journey, even the moments when I seemingly had lost my sanity and/or my patience, or both.  She reminded me of this over and over (and over) again that moving towards creating a space that supports all the good and yummy things that I am moving towards in my life is worth all the lumps and bumps along the way. All of ’em.

There is definitely an art and a science to painting a room, meaning there is the nuance and the form, or the process and the structure, or the emotions and the actions,  kinda like most things in life worth doing.

First off, how the heck do you pick a color for your walls? It was all theory at first (and good ideas). I wanted a soft pale yellow like my friend Marie’s kitchen. I thought to myself, “Oh, that will have plenty of lightness and clean energy.”And then I thought about a sage green, sort of like melted green tea ice cream.  I thought, “Oh, how soothing it would be to find sanctuary in that kind of earthy coolness.”

And then…I thought orange.

Like a deep orange.

Think blazing Philippine sunset.

Warm like that. That one stuck.

I was drawn to the warmth, the energy, the passion, the creativity, the aliveness of it.


Relieved to have settled on a color, I went to the nearest hardware store and was immediately overwhelmed by all of the different color options, different paint brands, different finishes, etc.

So, I walked in took in the vastness of all the choices, and then I walked out.

[insert wide-eyed look here]

And then I avoided choosing a color for another week.

I didn’t understand how you were supposed to look at a little 2×2 square of color and then extrapolate that to a whole room. How do you know if it will make your room look larger or smaller?  How do you know if you will like it up on the walls?  What about the ceiling? And don’t get me started about the moulding, wainscoting, and trim. Trust me, just don’t.

And then, someone  said, “Don’t worry, you could just do an accent wall.” Accent wall? A freakin’ accent wall? Well, how do you pick which wall to accent? Can you have two accent walls? Or does that negate the purpose of having an accent wall? Accent walls, or the mere idea of them, started to give me a headache. This line of questioning conveniently helped me put off choosing a color another couple of days in. In the end, considering the accent wall was too much for me–no accent wall (or walls), please–for me, it was all in, or, I might as well paint the room your basic beige and call it day.

A couple of weeks ago, on St. Patrick’s Day in fact, I had some celebratory libations (in observance) with friends, and we stopped in this store called The Sacred Well. I loved the color up on their walls.  It was a deep, warm orange like the color of rust. In fact, the name of the paint is called ‘rust’ and it is made by Benjamin Moore paints. I know this because I called the nice folks at The Sacred Well, left them an inquiring voicemail, and they returned my phone call in a few days with this very useful info.

Armed with this newly acquired info, I found the closest Benjamin Moore paint store and I asked to see the rust color swatch. Joey, the nice paint store clerk, walked me over to the paint chippys and pointed right at it, bottom right corner.

I expected to feel a rush of relief, to finally see the absolutely most perfect color in the whole wide world EVER to create sanctuary, sacred space, etc. Wasn’t it, after all, in The Sacred Well where magic happens every day, that this color and I found each other?  Finally, the clouds were gonna part, chubby rosy-cheeked cherub angels would play their little harps, and  the warm sun of ‘everything is gonna be alright from here on out forever’ was to shine on my being and melt all the self-doubt and angst away, leaving me pure, perfect, and poised.

I looked where Joey was pointing. My brow furrowed.  How could this be?  I saw it, the paint chippy called ‘rust.’

I didn’t like it.

Well, no, it’s not that I didn’t like it.

It was just unexpected, and I don’t like THAT.

And what I mean by saying that it was unexpected is that I would not have walked up the wall of color paint chippy thingys and picked out ‘rust,’ in the bottom right corner.  I would have thought it more brown than orange and I would have skipped right over it.

various paint chippys | photo by Karen Muktayani Villanueva

No, my eye was immediately drawn to ‘smoked pumpkin,’ in the upper left  part of the wall.

And ‘adobe orange.’

Or ‘fire dance.’

Even ‘tropical orange,’ for Pete’s sake.

I could not believe that ‘rust,’ the color that I admired on the walls of The Sacred Well, was the same one on this 2×2 paint chippy thingy. I just couldn’t believe it, even though I didn’t think that the nice people at The Sacred Well were lying or even mistaken. Then, Joey, the very nice paint store guy, pointed to a portion of a wall in the paint store and said, “Oh yah, ‘rust,’ we have that up on our wall there.”

I looked down at the chippy and I looked up on the wall.

I looked down at the chippy and I looked up on the wall.

This might have happened another 4 or 5 times, but I will spare you (and me) my need to type it out. I didn’t believe them to be the same color. My eyes could not reconcile what they saw with what I thought to be true in my mind. I had to physically walk up to the wall, with the paint chippy in hand and hold it up, and still, STILL my mind would not accept this to be true.

I had to stare at it a few more moments, swallow, breathe (exhale first), blink, blink again, admit that I am a very stubborn person who wants to cling to my beliefs, despite having hard evidential proof in my very own hands, before I would accept that they were indeed the same color.

They were the same color.

They were.

I could no longer cling to my story that they weren’t. The blood started draining from my head. My knees felt a bit weak. My mouth got dry, my stomach tight. And this is when I was very grateful that they had a little sitting area with a table full of color theory books in the paint store, because I just had to sit down.

I was amazed at my own (as my parents use to say when I was small) hard-headedness. I had to admire it, in a way. And while I had difficulty extrapolating color from a 2×2 paint chippy thingy to an entire wall, I had less difficulty recognizing this particular pattern (or color hue) of behavior in this adventure-in-paint process and extrapolating it to other arenas and relationships in my life.

Exhale. Blink. Blink.

That was the moment I decided that I know nothing.


The Recap:

Too much choice overwhelms me. I think I want more choice and too much is, well, too much. I drag my feet in making decisions or taking action when I feel overwhelmed.

Even though I knew exactly the brand and the actual color of the paint used at The Sacred Well, I didn’t want to believe it. And because of this, I had trouble resting in the information given to me  or even trust my experience of seeing it and liking it.

And even though, the actual paint store had an actual portion of their wall with the actual color, I didn’t want to believe that either.  When Joey came back after I was standing there blinking and and breathing long enough, by the ‘rust’ colored wall in the paint store, I could not commit to buying the paint that day.  Something held me back. I couldn’t see it up on my walls, even if I did see it on theirs.


I then proceeded to the Kelly Moore paint store across the street and got more paint chippy samples. And then, after that, the other Kelly Moore paint store in Oakland and got even more. And for good measure, the Home Depot in Emeryville, to get even more.  Ironic, isn’t it?  Like I didn’t have enough already to contend with?!

Later that evening and the days following, I chose to carefully and kindly look at myself and my choices and my actions.

-Why was I so determined to make this harder than it needed to be?

I watched my tendency to want to pick something more bright or shiny, anything to distract me from the fact that I already had the information on the color of the paint that I saw in real life and that I actually liked.

-Why was it so hard for me to let go of any preconceived ideas that I had about the paint color, ‘rust’?

-Why was it so hard for me to believe that the same color on the ‘rust’ colored paint chippy was the same color ‘rust’ that was on the wall?

-Why couldn’t I commit to buying the paint that same day and save myself an afternoon of paint store drive-bys?

-Why does so much choice overwhelm me and not having enough choice piss me off?

As I write this, I don’t know the answers to all of those questions. I have hunches about the root of these issues, but I don’t know for sure. And, here’s the funny thing about all of this:  I may never know the reasons why I had all this difficulty with all these decisions, why I made the choices that I made.

I just know that it was so.

I’m grateful for this knowing, at least, because in recognizing my patterns (and, thereby, catching them earlier and earlier), I can spare myself more heartache later, by shaping the conditions where I can the appropriate amount of choices for myself.

With enough practice in catching my patterns, perhaps next time I am faced with a situation where I am presented with ‘sound data’ that is contrary to what I have imagined in my mind or conjured my almighty expectations around, it may take me less time to accept it as true.  Maybe next time, I’ll only need to go to two other paint stores or maybe just one. I’m fairly sure that it won’t ever be three again or more than three.

When I was lamenting all the time, gas, and energy  spent going to all these other paint stores, my friend Teresa reminded me that this, too, was part of the process. I apparently missed the memo on that, too.  AND, of course, she’s right. I had to do my own form of testing so that I could commit fully, as was in my power, to a course of action. By the time I went back to the Benjamin Moore paint store, I almost strutted in and let them know what I wanted. And even when the clerk said, “Hon, you sure you want this color?” I smiled and said, “Absolutely,” with conviction, even.  And even then, I felt my stomach turn a little (again).  I caught myself, it wasn’t absolutely, after all, and it was enough certainty to move forward.  So,  I nodded and said, “Yes, we are going with ‘rust.'”  This time, no stomach flip-flop.

Even at my moment of truth, I still had doubt.  I wanted to be unequivocal about my decision (like with all my decisions), and while the wish was fervently real, my body told me that it was still a bit anxious, that we didn’t know how this was going to turn out. In that moment, I decided that that was okay, that it was true, we have no idea how it was going to turn out, that it was possible that going with ‘rust’ was going to be a complete, epic, colossal mistake.  It was possible, but not probable. And, I thought, well, I could always have a do-over if I hated it.

Mind you, my adventures in paint were not limited to wall color choice.  I had a similar process with the type of paint to buy. (Eco-friendly?  Zero VOC (non-toxic)?) And then, also with the finish. (Flat? Eggshell? Satin?) And then, there was the trim and wainscoting color and that finish, too. (White chocolate? Bavarian cream?  No, these aren’t donut flavors. Semi-gloss? Gloss?).

In the end, I got the eco-friendly, zero VOC paint, eggshell finish. It cost $60 more, and it was for my health, the health of my housemates, and the health of all my friends who were going to hang out with me in my room. I hemmed and hawed over the additional price, and it was worth it.

White chocolate, semi-gloss, is for the trim, doors, and baseboards.  It has an ever, ever so slight sage green tint. And, in case you are wondering, picking the color of some white paint among the hundreds of different white paint palette possibilities was also another process altogether. I’m happy to say that I didn’t agonize over this decision, like the last one. Okay, well, I did a little bit. But not like before, meaning: not as badly and with less angst and with more commitment to not add more difficulty to baseline difficulty already.

Ladies and gentleman, I believe we can call this growth.

It’s not finished yet, and I really do love my new room.






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