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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    We had some in-law issues which contributed greatly to our demise before I contacted Dr. Dele from posts I read on a blog. Dr. Dele showed up and calmed every storm, he brought peace to everybody. We are all happy and eat together in the same table today. God bless you Dr. Dele. Contact him immediately for help via

  • amazing testimony

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  • lindam313

    HI, First of all, we had a plumbing disaster in our kitchen (which I’d been wanting to redo for years) which necessitated multiple holes in wall and ceiling, so when we painted it, I called on our youngest daughter who is gifted in such things as color decisions and she picked saybrook sage and I must say it is an exquisite color! The hallway leading into the kitchen is a very pale celery color and it blends nicely. Regarding feeling lost, at this time of year I give my high school seniors a little “56 years of wisdom” laminated card that I created over a decade ago and have barely changed since (other than the years) – just little ideas of how to live life, in case one is lost. Strangely (I’m “old” so why should young people care about my ideas about life) and very rewardingly (word?), it has meant something to several young people who do keep it over the years in their wallets and find comfort from it. A perfect example of the rewards of being a teacher and another reason for people to understand that rewarding teachers with an increased salary for test scores may not mean much in reality – but here it is in case you find it helpful as you navigate life: appreciate breathing, exercise, control materialism, keep family & friends first, be kindest to your spouse, participate in community, seek spiritual understanding, your life makes an impact, give genuine compliments, live & love with passion.
    You’re doing great on your journey – you’re making it! Keep going. Glad you’re loving the new paint.

    • Louise Kennedy

      Thank you, Linda! What great advice you give your students, and now I want to put it in my wallet too. I’ll think of you when I gaze at my Saybrook sage walls tonight — and of your sage words!

      • lindam313

        Glad to hear about your new knitting corner! Great idea. I would feel honored if you kept my “wisdom” words, thank you! Stay well.

    • Ray

      A (senior) lady friend this weekend during a conversation earnestly said she wanted to do something meaningful, something that made an impact. I reminded her that she had been a (formal) teacher until very recently, (but had to withdraw because of bad knees). I told her for that alone her spirit should be calm, that she has left a rich legacy. I must tell you that she has also been in the Peace Corps, volunteered and contributed extensively to socially-based activities, and continues to teach informally in all of her contacts, including me, by example and words. And yet she continues to seek worthwhile ways to contribute. She is having her knees replaced next month, and I will give you long odds that she will soon be resuming a level of participation in all things that I cannot even aspire to. You teachers are the seam of pure gold running through every stratum of this world. Kudos to you.

      • lindam313

        Thank you so much – good luck to you friend getting her knees replaced – long recovery, but so worth it I’ve heard! I am sure you are an inspiring person too since you hang around together! :-)

        • Ray

          I can’t identify with “inspiring”. Instead, I feel privileged to associate with some outstanding people, and rewarded to be able to weave my perspectives and experiences with theirs toward a tapestry of understanding what life is all about. It is a bright and poignant moment when we mutually realize we have enriched each other ineffably. A senior “Aha!” moment, as the eyes, cast upward in thought turn and lock, and smile.

          • lindam313

            you write beautifully! I am sure you inspire others!

          • Ray

            Thank you. The new age of communication is so convenient that I am challenged to use it well, to say things just exactly as I want to, to build upward and outward from the precision I strove for in my career, when it was required to describe technology. Then I was constrained by objects. Now I can work to express myself.

  • Born in Akron

    You don’t have to be in a dark place to be lost in the woods. If it is not too dark, and the range of choices seems finite and bounded, you can just make plausible choices, pay attention to your surroundings, and expect eventually to find yourself out of the woods and home on familiar terrain.

    We have a summer house on an island that has many roads and widespread forests, even though they have houses nestled in them. Yesterday we found our way to “back beach” to look for sea glass. A single piece of apparently rare glass perfectly shaped made it all worthwhile. We tried a different way back to avoid a construction delay, and confidently turned on a road that we expected to arrive at the highway. But it didn’t. We were confronted with unexpected, unlabeled choices, and began to completely lose our confidence in dead reckoning. But it was a pleasant day, and the deciduous trees holding their own in the pine forests were emerging in a variety of early-colored leaves. We were lost, but we didn’t really care. Eventually after several turns, by no means systematic, we began to recognize things that we had seen earlier. Our confidence returned. We were no longer headed into unknown forests, but were on the road back out. By then the construction workers had mostly ceased their labors, and the traffic was hardly delayed.

    Sometimes, if your life is not too dark, you can just keep on going, find things to be interested in, and eventually find your life back on track, perhaps with a new perspective.

    • Louise Kennedy

      I love this. And not just because I collect sea glass. Next time I feel lost, I will look around and see what I find. Thank you!

  • Judy D

    I knit. It is a form of meditation, and I can take it almost anywhere with me. I have been in the woods myself lately, and have 5 or 6 pairs of hand knit socks for me and my family made over the last 8 months to show for it. And a sweater finished, and another moving in that direction. I love working with my hands, and this is the easiest way for me to do something that calms and soothes me, while also ending up with a worthwhile ‘something’ when it is done.

    • Louise Kennedy

      Is it a coincidence that I’ve just set up a little “knitting corner” in my newly painted bedroom? I don’t think so! I used to knit and had decided I was too busy — but that was a mistake, I think. Great suggestion, and thanks.

      • Judy D

        Just stay focused on the process and not the product, and it will have it’s intended effect. The finished products become bonuses. Enjoy!

        • Louise Kennedy

          That is great advice — for life as well as knitting! Thank you.

  • Ray

    Good to see you again Louise. I selfishly relate to your journey as a yardstick to place next to the “Ideal” and then try to place myself somewhere on the continuum. But that’s just me. (-8 I like your choice of bedroom colors, but I myself over the years have come to love the warm unbleached linen tone because I love to hang all my objets de “arts” and other stuff, to create the Gestalt I live in. My walls become my little universe in which any way I look I see who I have come to be in the reflection of things I have chosen over the years, including furniture, art, the ebb and flow of clutter, and the regrettable but treasured mess that is my office nook.

    You may ask how this all relates to the Louise Project, and I think I’m trying to say that, as some psychologist said who I cannot remember, “You’re okay, I’m okay”; the journey goes on, and no matter how many meanders, if you know where you want to go, every step of the way is worthwhile, even if it only teaches you when you’re off the trail.

    And my answer to your question of the week is: When lost in the woods with too many choices before me, too many possible paths to take, all equally uncertain, sometimes I sit at my desk or on my couch, or lie in bed as I am, writing this, and look about me at where I have arrived and who I have become, and sometimes a sense of certainty of what I must do comes to me. But always, if I breath easily, become calm and able to choose a next move that will either be most effective or that will please me the most, and I’m ready get on my feet and step off. Right or wrong, I am relaxed as I begin again.

    • Ray

      And by the way, relating to your pleasure at changing colors, in addition to my condo in Massachusetts I bought a little house near Atlanta a few years ago where I go in the winter (for a variety of valid reasons, but miss New England terribly when I am away). The walls were beige throughout. I am told it is a stylish color for our time, but I hate it. I have redone the dining area with bold colors and decor. After this discussion, I have decided the beige will be gone before the year is out. It is exciting to think about it (-8

      • Louise Kennedy

        Dear Ray, Thank you! And get rid of that beige! A few years ago I was asked to be a commencement speaker, and I wrote a whole speech from the starting line “Never wear beige” — sort of an Auntie Mame, Life is a banquet kind of theme. I was rather pleased with it … right up until I got up on the speakers’ platform and realized that the other three women up there with me were all wearing beige. Oops.
        But I was right.
        And you are too!
        And I will keep breathing.

        • Ray

          Your “beige” story has definitely been the best laugh of my day. Forgive me for going off on a tangent when I tell you about a similar experience.  As a marketing specialist for a large telecoms company, I was giving a product presentation using large-scale video aids, to several hundred potential distributors, referring several times by name to the powerful sales VP with whom they would be working, and called him the wrong name each time, and everybody knew it but me. When I sat down, our regional sales manager nudged me and quietly mentioned the fact. I get hearty laughs from the story when I think about it and when I tell it, but at the time I was too stunned to even think “oops”.

          And my goof was not based on a concept, as was yours, just total failure of my frontal lobe to connect to the rest of my brain. (-8

          And we both soldiered on, didn’t we?

  • Bella

    I’m glad you are posting. I look for your posts every week. When I’m lost in the woods I just do one thing – maybe that is lie on the floor and stretch, or get out my hula hoop and hoop for a bit, or lately it has been going to the gym to walk on the treadmill and read. I don’t have to worry about having some routine for weights and upper and lower body etc., I just walk on the treadmill for an hour while reading a good book. I adjust speed and hilliness to mix things up, but that’s all I do. And it is enough.

    • Louise Kennedy

      Thank you! I’ve been stretching every morning, and it feels good. I’m sorry I didn’t answer sooner too — was in the woods a while longer, I fear … but isn’t it amazing how a long weekend can help? And going for walks, too.