Saturday, August 13, 2011

DIARY 144 - By the creaking of my bones

The local council recently changed the way they wished to designate our Buddhist communities. It used to be as some sort of nominal family type house, now they want to call us a house of multiple occupancy, or HOM's for short. What makes a communal house not a community is an interesting topic. But to base your decision on - either its a family home, or it must be a HOM, seems dreadfully simplistic. Windhorse has been fighting this designation change for the last few years, but finally they've had to throw in the towel. Once so designated the houses all had to be inspected, registered and a raft of very expensive alterations float in its wake. For which you get no financial support, only a timeline, by the end of which you're expected to have completed all the work required.

The main thing that's been done is having fire doors and automatic door closers fitted on all the rooms in these community houses. My project, is to salvage some self-respect and dignity from this unwanted intrusion, by applying panel molding to the external surfaces of the fire doors. This makes them look less institutional, and more in keeping with the age of our properties, which is generally late 19th century. On the surface this might seem quite a nice simple straightforward, if not pleasant and rewarding, project for me to do. I thought so too...once.

I had an unexpectedly intense emotional response whilst I sanded and scraped away at old paintwork. I experienced strong feelings of desperation and loneliness, an 'Oh No, not again' response, battled with huge resistances and with wanting to run away from it all. Though I'm not doing this alone, I am working with someone whom I don't know, and in one of our most dimly lit, oppressively cramped and rambling terrace buildings. What this triggered were discomforting feelings surrounding two previous projects;running my own business, and the Ipswich Buddhist Centre decoration. Both of which I did carry out largely on my own. Each was at an emotionally difficult time, in one I was struggling single-handed to keep my business afloat, in the other I used every spare hour I had to get the new centre ready to open. The latter was also during the first year after my ordination, a challenging period for anyone. But aside from such difficulties, there was a touchy relationship with an individual I lived and worked with. If my response is anything to go by, I've not fully got over either of these difficult periods in my life.

Whilst the fire doors were installed, the paintwork on the period door frames had been bashed about quite a bit. So initially the job was to scrape off the loose and sand down the fractured nibbled edges of the existing paintwork. In addition we also had to learn how to work round there being at least two, and on some days four community members around in their rooms. Any idea we'd be able to proceed systematically through the building, had swiftly to be rethought. daily we were having to rejig or abandon our work schedule or plans. I can do logistic, organisation and planning, but even at the best of times I derive no pleasure or satisfaction from it. If I end up doing too much of it, or become frustrated in the doing of it, I can become a very unhappy man. This year has contained a little too much of such activity.

The door project consists of a sequence of laborious, if not tedious, tasks, most requiring the simple application of elbow grease, and persistence. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not averse to hard work, or a bit of tedium and tenacity, but there is the matter of scale, and how much time, to take into account. There's been a huge amount of preparatory work involved in getting all eleven doors of one community ready to paint. The sanding, scraping, filling, priming, sawing, drawing, sticking, followed by more filling, priming, final sanding before glossing. Its felt interminable, as if I've been a treadmill that would never reach its end.......and this is just the first community, there are four more scheduled to do. The total project has in the region of 45-55 doors, and we've yet to complete 11.

So, at first it was the hugely daunting nature of the task itself, and my mental/emotional response to doing it. Then came a physical consequence;the severe inflammation of the osteo-arthritis in my hands. I can do the sanding, the scraping,the sawing and the painting, but it always results in some level of increased inflammation and pain in my hand joints. Each task is repetitive, requiring I hold my hands in one way, tensely and repeatedly for long periods of time. The hand sawing of 144 mitred pieces of panel molding was one marathon endeavour that took two and a half days. So I've been learning to bear with these throbbing tender painful things on the end of my arms. This constant pain in my hands did bring me to tears this week. Working whilst enduring it, has also become quite exhausting. I can't grip or hold things with them. I can't hold even not very heavy things other than in the palm of my hand, I have to ask someone else to open bottles for me, all of which is humbling.

By Wednesday lunchtime my energy was running low, and I began to feel slightly nauseous. This is often an early sign I'm coming down with something. By the next day I had an intense migraine type head cold and spent much of the next few days in bed. This enforced time at home, mindlessly watching lots of I-Player, has allowed both me and my hands to take a break and recover, a bit. But I do have to take what's happened seriously, and reconsider if, under the current set-up, I can continue to undertake the completion of the 3-4 month project as originally outlined. I may have to acknowledge I physically can't do such a large scale painting project anymore. This is, I believe, what I've found most upsetting, the diminishing of my physical capabilities. No doubt one of many, on the slippery slope to getting older, and death. Dylan Thomas talked about raging against the dying of the light, I felt I've understood this week, from my direct experience, exactly what he meant by that. But I can rage all I like, it wont make it go away.

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