Project Louise: Into The Woods … And, Maybe, Out Again

Dante displaying his famous opening lines -- words to remember when the woods grow dark. (Wikimedia Commons)

Dante displaying his famous opening lines — words to remember when the woods grow dark. (Wikimedia Commons)

By Louise Kennedy
Guest contributor

The opening of Dante’s “Inferno” has been running through my head lately, and that’s rarely a good sign.

In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself astray in a dark wood
where the straight road had been lost.

Astray in a dark wood? Check. Straight road lost? Check. In the middle of life’s journey? Sure, especially if you construe that as “in the midst” rather than “halfway through.” (I might be, but only if we’re extremely optimistic about my projected lifespan.)

So why do I feel astray, and why do the woods look so dark? Well, I am more or less in the middle of this Project Louise journey, and I have to tell you, I don’t feel as if I’m doing as well as I want to be.

I’m also struck that the one thing I thought would keep me on track – the commitment to write about the project once a week, without fail – has failed me. I started out by posting faithfully each Monday, and then that slipped a bit, and then last week I didn’t write at all … and now here I am, trying to tell you what’s up, and instead muttering about Dante when I should be talking about exercise, or stress, or the chicken skin I ate last night, or something else health-related.

Or maybe I should, in fact, be talking about Dante. Because, as coach Allison Rimm keeps telling me, this is more than a physical program; I am working to get healthier physically, but also mentally, emotionally, even spiritually. Who better than Dante to accompany me on that path?

Dante gets quoted a lot in midlife-crisis books, and it’s not because of his condemnation of simony (I think I used to know what that was) or his firm grasp on the intricacies of medieval Florentine politics. No, what we midlife muddlers see in him is the hope that all this confused wandering through the woods will, somehow, lead us eventually out into the light. We may have to go through Hell, but at least we are going somewhere. Dante gives us hope that life is a story, a coherent narrative, not just a series of anecdotes.

So here’s my story for this week: I painted my bedroom.

And, yeah, using that roller gave me a bit of a trapezoid/deltoid workout. But the larger purpose, and the more lasting result, was what Allison had described when she told me to paint my room. (Yes, this was an actual assignment from my strategic coach.)

“You need to create a sanctuary for yourself, a refuge from all the stress in your life,” she said. “And painting is very meditative. So while you’re painting, I want you to work on your vision statement. Really think about how you want to live, what you want your life to look like. Imagine yourself in this room – or another one you’ll make somewhere if you have to move – and how you want to live, every day, in this space.”

“I don’t know if I can do that this weekend,” I said. “I don’t know where to start.”

“It’s not hard,” she said. “Go to the store. Buy paint. Paint.”

So I did.

This isn't quite Louise's bedroom ... but it is the right color.

This isn’t quite Louise’s bedroom … but it is the right color.

It helped that I already had the color in mind – Saybrook Sage, a beautiful gray-green that shifts constantly with the day’s shifting light. As I rolled it onto the walls, I had the chance to watch its subtle changes, and to feel the change it was working in me while I covered up the always-too-acidic-yellow that I’ve gritted my teeth against for 14 years. (Not to mention the “Shining”-like streaks left by a busy toddler a few years ago, when she was alone just long enough to find Mommy’s red nail polish.)

As the day passed, and the pale green advanced across the battle-scarred yellow, I found myself growing not just more sweaty and tired, but more serene. Life has been really stressful – in fact, I was going to write last week about accepting the fact that stress doesn’t go away so I have to deal with it instead of imagining it will end someday, but I was too busy dealing with the stress – and I had objected to the painting project because it just seemed like one more task.

But it turns out that it was the right task. It gave me the ground to stand on as the storms swirl around. It gave me time, and space, to envision my life. It gave me a refuge, as Allison had said it would.

And it gave me a place to do yoga, and lift weights, and stretch, all while feeling that I’m in a peaceful place, surrounded by things I love. In the middle of the dark woods, it’s giving me a place where, just a little, I’m beginning to see the light.

So now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to my room.

Readers, what do you do when you get lost in the woods? 

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