Papier Mache

In the craft room where I work there are all these unfinished papier mache hot air balloons. Balloons wrapped in strips of newspaper dipped in a flour and water paste mixed in a red bucket. We did most of them one afternoon amid painted rocks and drying sun catchers and Styrofoam cups of paint water left out for days. We laughed at the unexpected fun of it.

The balloons had to dry. Then they needed another layer of papier mache. Then paint. Many of the people who started them forgot about them or they lost interest and moved on to something with more immediate rewards, like jewelry making or bingo. Or they came back to the craft room to paint and the balloon popped and the papier mache caved in on one side, looking like a deflated moon from some dystopian novel.

And now the balloons sit, in various stages of completion, balanced on white Styrofoam cups, periodically moved around the room to make space for the stringing of beads, the painting of sun visors.


I was agonizing over something. This is nothing new; I have pretty much been agonizing since I hit the double digits.

Facebook saw that I was agonizing and supplied me with ads.

Like Santa Claus, Facebook sees and hears the things I whisper to myself in empty rooms. The conversations I have on park benches. The thoughts that rumble through my mind as I merge onto the highway.

Facebook sees and hears, and the ads in the margins of my computer become my new community: My girlfriends. My confidantes. My wise counselors. My own private lactation consultants. All full of compassion and chatty camaraderie and just a splash of professionalism.

And then begins a frenzy of wandering to and fro across the Internet in the watches of the night, in the witching hours, for self-help articles of a cheap and fast variety.

Then there begin days and weeks of enacting various solutions to my problem, averaging about thirty-six hours apiece, till the solutions cave in — one by one — like papier mache balloons.

Strange how those balloons look like human heads.

I painted mine dark blue. I put a crescent moon at its axis. I painted a tree with flecks of green for leaves. And then I stared at the rest of it: Birds on a power line? A Russian Orthodox Church? Egyptian pyramids? A winter sunset? A house with a gate and maybe a garden? I painted a white house, then a brown one. I painted over all these attempts with blue paint but the white and brown lines still shone through.


I was singing hymns one day and a woman said to me, “Sometimes the right thing to do is nothing.”


Who am I kidding? I’m not into crafts, not really. Actually, not at all. I did this because I was out of ideas. Because the things I normally do weren’t working either.

Imagine working a job where you can’t do anything right or useful and you’re a liability instead of an asset and you’re costing the company a lot of money with your mistakes and you just want to quit quietly to end the misery of it. Imagine feeling that way about life. And you don’t know if it’s the truth or just a feeling.

That’s when the right thing to do is nothing.

I stared in silence at the dark side of my balloon.

A week later I painted three brown mountains on it, ugly and jagged, with deep shadows.

And now, I do nothing. I sit with the mountains and the shadows and white and brown lines and the dark blue of my heart.

When the time is right, I will tell those mountains to cast themselves into the sea.

(And then I will crumple up that papier mache balloon and throw it into the dumpster, to lie among its fellow slain metaphors).