Painting by the numbers

“__________ is just a number.” Is it, really? Only that?

When you’re painting by the numbers, the colors aren’t your own. The amount of weight you lifted ten years ago (or last week): that’s just a number. It means nothing to you now.

The amount you lift today is a piece of your life as it happens. The amount you’ll lift tomorrow (or next week), well… that’s a goal. Something to live for, if you temporarily run out of things to count.

Never content with painting by the numbers, Arthur Saxon lifted weights his way (public domain).

Arthur Saxon performing a bent press (public domain).

How old you are is not just a number. It’s an accomplishment. Call it what it is. Made it through the third grade alive and intact? Good on you! The next time someone half my age tells me that “age is just a number,” I might just go for a personal best in throat punch reps. That’ll be a number, too.

Weight may be just a number, right up until I can’t button my pants. Then it’s a budgeting issue.

How many miles show on the “new” car? There’s a steep number. And on the old family wagon? That transcends numbers, vaulting straight into the territory of a mechanical miracle. Its seats weren’t victims of painting by the numbers, but of greasy dogs and muddy kids and leaky sacks of drive-thru burritos. There are several aspects of character (grudgingly determined) and aesthetics (faded, dinged up, and occasionally rebuilt) that the Toyota and I share in common.

Our “heavy half-ton” Ford (with its one-ton tailgate hoist) cheerfully totes two short tons. Is that a number? Nope. It’s truck-based derring-do of the highest order. It’s also an indictment of my judgment, but we got away with it that day.

The only number that matters regarding Pretty Wife is that she’s my Number One. Everything else is process and promise, dreams and hopes, resolution and renewal.

On it goes, not regimented by the numbers but in blotchy, bleeding, spackled-together, vivid, exploding blossoms of color. It’s been an hour or two since I last worked out. Those exercises are just a number now. Some elastic number of hours comprise the day ahead. Better than a number, that’s the whole world mixed blind in a paint cup. None of us knows what it’ll look like dry, but we cross our fingers and splash it up onto our walls. By the time we find out, we may live somewhere else entirely.

Once it’s set it’ll just be paint — static, dry, and bereft of color as a pressed prom corsage — but for now, it’s a vat full of promise and risk that you can hold in your hand and dream through. Contemplate it for a moment, then pick up your very best brush. Go ahead and use that good Purdy, the one fletched in Chinese hog bristle that you’ve been hoarding for a special day because price, after all, is just a number, dry and bloodless, and there’s no adventure to be lived, no booty to be snared in painting by the numbers. Better far to pelt downhill on a toboggan with loose screws, a tattered rope, and a crew-served, belt-fed paintball gun, knowing in your pirate heart that they will remember your passing; they will sing odes to your legend when your number comes up.

On the numbers, in full living color, what are your numbers today?

Image: Wikipedia / Jerry MagnuM Porsbjer -

Image: Wikipedia / Jerry MagnuM Porsbjer –

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  1. John Rusth says

    Thank you Jack. We’ve missed reading your words of wisdom. Hope all is well with you and yours. John

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