standing in an empty room, talking to myself


(Look at these outrageous Dahlias – the ones Willoughby chose – they are so big and obnoxious and like a child’s drawing of the sun. I would NEVER have chosen them, and I love them.)

I talk to myself a lot these days. I guess because I spend most days alone…and I’m good company! Little words of encouragement out loud: ‘Take it slow….careful! You don’t have to get it all done right now, you know. BREATHE.’


I just spent two weeks painting four rooms of the house a shade of warm white called ‘China Ivory’. There was a lot of talking to myself. There was a lot of swearing and cleaning up of dripped paint. There was a lot of shuffling of furniture from room to room. It took 100% longer than I thought it would and now I am behind on everything else.

Mind you, I always feel behind these days. There is something uniquely stressful about being a mother…(this is not to undercut the stress of non-mothers, everyone gets stressed, I know, but I do think mothers experience a uniquely wearing type of stress). Mothers hold the whole family in their brains (and hearts) ALL THE TIME…and it’s a lot to hold. I am always trying to remember what everyone needs and where they need to be and what they’ve eaten lately and which appointments I need to schedule for them and how I’ve screwed them up and the ways I fail them and how much I love them and how tiresome they are and how emotionally-healthy they are or aren’t and how I could do better to support them….this work never finishes. It wears at me sometimes in the form of this feeling of never being caught up, always having more to do than I have lifetimes to attend to.

(Because photographs of white walls are not that interesting – I took some photographs of the stuff on the walls….but check out that freshly applied white paint. WHOAR.)


Plus this time of year starts to feel like a hurtle, doesn’t it? The freefall towards Crassmass – yaaargh! Heeellllppp!

I liked the house empty. I liked the plain white walls. I liked painting over dark red and then dirty-beige with white. I did a kind of zen-stand up comedy routine to myself. Lots of jokes about Karate Kid ‘sand the floor’….and how many zen buddhists does it take to paint an empty room white?


I didn’t want to put the mats back down or the furniture back in or the paintings back up.

I can imagine a life for myself where I live in a white room and sleep on a mattress in the corner and the only things in the room are tea things and books.

But I did put everything back, because there are four of us who live here, because it would have been weird not to, and because that was the thing to do next.

Lately I am in this open state that can feel very free and can also feel like ‘lost’.

I have no ambition. I have no certainty about who I am or what I want. I don’t want anything except for the people I love to be well and happy. Sometimes it feels like deep peace, sometimes it feels like BLANK. Vacuum. Nothingness.

This is a common experience of ‘mid-life’ (I’m 41). This feeling is why people have affairs or buy silly cars or suddenly get tattoos or trek the Himalayas. I feel lucky that I have yoga and meditation which mean I am constantly engaged in associative practices which mean I can feel this stuff and not freak out or need to lurch towards change to fill the emptiness which is opening up inside me. The emptiness can be a huge gift and a tool towards grace and clarity, so long as you don’t freak out and fill it with random shit to distract yourself from the yawning canyon of emptiness in your centre.

paint_1 paint_3

No wonder I liked the empty rooms, white walls and single-minded task of the last two weeks.

Everywhere I look, white. Bright. Light. Just keep painting. Just make the white whiter.

Empty everything out of the room…

…spend two weeks in the empty room…

Fill the room up again.





5 thoughts on “standing in an empty room, talking to myself

  1. Completely inspiring to read this Helen. I’m living in mustard yellow, blood red and dark blue rooms (there is not a room in the house with paint work I can abide) because the thought of all the time and work involved in painting them feels completely overwhelming. Instead I spend most of my time outside (which is great for the garden) and when I have to be in I try to ignore the walls. You make the painting process sound like a meditation retreat, one I might just treat myself to.


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