I recently went to a frame shop with several beautiful paintings from India. They were all hand-painted works on silk, all very pretty, and some of them long overdue for framing: One of those things had been lying around my house for twenty-five years.
I spent a long time with the nice lady at the shop. We went through mats of different textures and hues, and I selected my favorites from a large array of frames. I lingered over decisions like, “How large should the border around the picture should be?” And “What color will work with both the painting itself and the room I’m going to hang it in?”
Several days later, when I got the call that my paintings were ready, I hurried to the shop in excitement. The clerk showed me the framed pictures one by one, and I gushed over how gorgeous they looked. John and I spent Sunday morning with chalk and levels and measuring tape and drills, hanging my treasures in exactly the right spots and standing back to admire them.
Then, I realized something. One of my paintings was missing. The old one: The one I’d brought from India in 1988. I looked around in alarm. It was not there. I’d taken the painting into the shop, but I hadn’t gotten it back. I hurriedly called the frame shop, explaining politely that one of my paintings was missing. The clerk was very accomodatng. She courteously pointed out that five orders had been rung up, and that I’d picked up all five paintings.
After I hung up, I checked my receipts. She was right. Still, I knew my beautiful old silk painting was one of the ones I’d brought into the shop. I clearly remembered selecting the frame for it. It was obvious what had happened. For some reason, the order hadn’t gotten rung up. I’d left the painting at the store, but there was no record of it.
I called the store again, explaining what had happened. It was easy to see how the nice frame lady could have forgotten to enter my order: the place was hopping when I was in there, people running around right and left, the counter strewn with paintings and mats and all sorts of frames, and a half-dozen customers in line. It was partly my fault, too: If I’d been paying attention, I would have noticed the error. So, I didn’t get angry or accuse anyone of incompetence—and most certainly not of dishonesty. I just said I wanted my picture back.
The people at the store were oh-so-nice. They looked and looked for my lost picture, and they got back on the phone sounding apologeticand sympathetic. “We’ve searched everywere. It’s just not here.” Somehow the painting had been lost. Picked up by someone, stuffed aside in some cranny where it would never be found, accidently thrown out.
After I hung up the phone, I went into rave mode. Why hadn’t I been more careful? I should have checked my receipts before I left the shop! What was wrong with me? My mind always a miillion miles away, never paying full attention. I’d had that painting for twenty-five years, and now it was gone! Lost! Forever!
Then I started working on detachment. I tried to stop reproaching myself, to remember that things get lost sometimes, to enjoy the paintings I did have. I finally settled into a kind of grumpy acceptance.
That evening, I climbed under my quilt and relaxed with a cup of tea and my favorite TV show, The Good Wife. I kept glancing around at the paintings John and I had hung earlier that day, appreciating how nice they looked. And suddenly, as I was studying one of the paintings, I realized it was the one I thought I’d lost. It was in plain sight. Right where I had hung it.
The problem was that, matted and framed, the picture looked nothing like the painting I’d brought in. It was still gorgeous, but in a completely different way—so different that I’d looked right at it and not recognized it. I was so positive the painting on my wall wasn't the one I was looking for, that I'd made two calls to the store and spent an afternoon berating myself.
I pride myself in finding lessons for writers in everyday life, and I’m sure there’s one in this embarrassing little anecdote. Something about how different an event can seem when we write about it. How the way we present our material—the context we put it in—can alter and shape it. That we can work with something familiar and, through the way we frame it, make it into something unrecognizable.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...