The realtor said our windows needed a good cleaning to let in more light. She wasn’t wrong. We’ve lived in our condo for fourteen years and the last time I even attempted to clean them was during our first few months of residence. What I discovered that first, unsuccessful time was that our windows had a solar coating on them, a plastic film meant to insulate the condo and keep utility bills down. In those days we were poor, like going bankrupt poor, so saving money on utilities sounded good to us. The fact that the film can’t be cleaned, that any attempt to remove water build up from the constant summer rains resulted in scratches that looked worse than dirt, seemed a small price to pay for lower electric bills.
We’re not poor anymore. (Hooray for the real job that starts next week!) Michael said, “Why don’t we try removing it?” With a little Google-foo, he discovered they should peel right off. He used a razor blade to loosen up a corner, and voila! The film peeled off in a couple of big strips. Light flooded into the kitchen. It was a beautiful sight.
Not so beautiful was the entire pane of adhesive left behind. Google-foo had also revealed that if you have plastic film on your windows, you should replace it every two to three years. Oops. We don’t even know when the film was first put on, and fourteen years of no maintenance had convinced the film it had nothing to worry about.
Two and half days and many, many razor blades later, we’d shaved the adhesive off of all 48 window panes. Yes, 48. Gotta love jalousie windows. I can’t even explain which muscles hurt because they were muscles that I didn’t even know existed. The satisfaction, though, of the clear bright windows was tremendous. The palm trees! The sunlight! It was gorgeous.
This was not my first experience with peeling. A previous owner had painted all the tile, the bathtub, and the toilet in our bathroom. The bathroom colors are original to its 1953 construction–turquoise and peach. It’s understandable that someone would want to paint them, right? Except the person painted everything, you guessed it, turquoise and peach. It took almost a week and many different chemical concoctions to undo the paint damage, but much like with the windows, I was quite pleased when the whole thing was done and the tiles were restored to their 1953 glory.
(Sadly, the turquoise toilet’s plumbing was too old to update and so the whole fixture had to be replaced. I only spent like two days scraping the paint off it, so no big deal. At least we still have the turquoise tub!)
There’s something very satisfying about peeling. As a kid, I loved to get a good sunburn so I could peel the skin off, one strip at a time. I like peeling price tags off purchases–the stickier the better. Paint, parking decals on my car that need to be replaced, fingernails, anything that I can grab an edge of and then pull in any direction is a pleasure.
Perhaps I enjoy the challenge. Once you have an edge and start pulling, a couple of things can happen. One, all the material can come off in one pull. So satisfying! Alas, that dream rarely comes true. It is more likely that the peel will start off wide and strong and gradually taper, taper until it comes to a point and ends. Then, you have to find a new way into the material, a new edge, a new corner, and start the process all over again.
Techniques can be developed to help narrow peels widen back out again, to keep a nice peeling strip from ending too soon. You can apply pressure at the edges of the strip, encouraging it to widen. You can pause, reassess, and apply pressure at a different angle. You can employ tools like a paint scraper or razor blade to sharpen your focus. Sometimes, one technique is enough to keep a strip from tapering off. Sometimes, you do everything you know how to do, and it doesn’t matter. That strip won’t peel. It’s going to peter off into nothing no matter how diverse your approaches.
In the two and a half days I spent peeling adhesive off my window panes, I didn’t write a thing. I didn’t write for weeks afterwards, either, because prepping a condo to sell is time consuming and exhausting and mighty, mighty anxiety provoking. But last week, I finally reentered my new novel-in-progress, a project I’ve been working on for about a year. I was going gangbusters until I ran into a wall of I-don’t-know-where-this-goes-now. I took a break until a scene opening bubbled up in my mind. I wrote it, ran out of steam. Had to wait for a new bubble.
I followed my scene bubbles where they led. Some resulted in fantastic new scenes. Some didn’t go much of anywhere, no matter how I massaged them. That’s when it hit me: Writing is like peeling.
The story is a whole piece, but in order to get to it, I’m looking for a way in, like my vision is obscured by all the paint and adhesive left behind from previous construction projects. So, I look for a bubble. A crack in the surface. Then, I grab an edge and pull, pull, pull. Sometimes I get a whole, glorious complete chunk. Sometimes, no matter how many razor blades I use, I only get flakes. Tools, chemical concoctions, techniques–I apply them all. My goal: reveal the beauty.
Like both my window and bathroom projects, the key is perseverance.You don’t know what each strip will reveal or how long it will last. You only know that you have to search for that edge, that way in, and follow it for as long as you can. That, my friends, is both the joy and frustration of peeling and writing. Both are addictive and activate that little part of my brain that leans toward OCD, but there’s no better feeling than peeling back layers to reveal what a piece was meant to be all along.