Rumble with the Tumble: A Scary Staircase Transformation

Since my close encounter with a stairway and subsequent visit to the emergency room last week, I’ve decided to tackle this nemesis stretch of steps creatively—taking it on as an art project, turning its surface into a canvas, of sorts.

Nemesis stretch of steps–

My residual bruising–

God forbid I let a silly staircase conquer me.

Repeatedly in the past, especially when my bipolar disorder was at its worse, I used art to articulate struggles that seemed to elude language.  Both then and now, painting projects have helped to energize and empower me—allowed me to look at old challenges in new ways.

And when writing isn’t going well, I can sometimes bypass blocks by attacking my wordless woes from another artistic angle.  More specifically, for the past couple of weeks, my memoir work has been at a standstill.  (I’ve been writing a memoir about growing up in an organized crime family.  To read chapter 1, click here .)

Partly, I’ve been too busy with other summer activities.  Partly, the injuries I sustained from my fall have slowed down and sidetracked me.  And in a number of other ways, it’s been too damn hot to think about much of anything other than avoiding sun stroke.

So, I’ve decided, at my partner Sara’s prompting, to rumble creatively with the very stairway down which I tumbled, attacking it, not as it did me (sweeping me off my feet, so to speak), but taking it on as a visual art project—hoping not only to come to terms with the stairway and give it the facelift it’s needed for the past century or so—but also to use the creative effort to bypass my writing blocks.

Some of you may remember the table I found in the trash last summer and my effort to transform that actual garbage into functional art.

I can’t promise that my stairway will turn out as well as the table did, but I can promise to share my progress with you—the issues I’ve struggled with during the process—and the degree to which I do or do not experience some breakthrough in my writing life, as well.

(Plus, I need to get myself thinking in terms of visual art projects, since Habitat for Humanity International contacted me several weeks ago, asking me to take on a creative project for the organization and write about it for a blog being launched on their website this fall.  I’ll fill you in on that project, as well, in the coming weeks.  To see a bar I transformed into an art object for Habitat in Haiti, click here.)

So—I may have fallen down the stairs last week, but as part of my creative rehab, let the rumble with the tumble begin.

How do you challenge yourself in the face of a setback?  What creative projects have you worked on recently–or not so recently?  Do you do DIY, or does DIY so you?

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93 thoughts on “Rumble with the Tumble: A Scary Staircase Transformation

    • The table was a fun, fun project. I should be starting the Habitat one this week. The person I need to work with has been on vacation and will be back today. Will let you know about my progress. Hugs to you

  1. What a perfect way to attack those evil stairs….transform them into something gorgeous. I fell down a flight of stairs a few years ago and dislocated my ankle. I did lots of damage, it possibly would have been better to break it. The ankle took about 3 years to go back to its normal shape.For a while it looked like I was wearing an Elizabethan ruff around my ankle, not a pretty sight.
    I think I would have liked to attack those stairs with an axe, but a paint brush is a much better idea. I can’t wait to see the results.

    • That ankle sounds serious. My blogger friend Miranda did damage to hers, well–would have been better off breaking it. Must have been painful. Glad you’re feeling better, though. And, believe me–the axe option did enter my mind! LOL

  2. Truly empowering to turn such a set back into a creative opportunity. I’m excited to see the results. Taking on another blog in the fall, you will definitely be busy! That sounds like a fun project as well and a great way to combine the writing and artwork. I will admit when the top of the blog started with rustoleum I took that as a metaphor for dealing with the aches of the fall, but going after the stairs will probably work out the stiffness too. You are a wise woman, Kathy!

    • I’m excited about the Habitat for Habitat for Humanity project, as well. I’ll get started on it this week, as well. I love the notion of my writing and art helping an organization I believe in so strongly. I’m SO glad you think I’m wise–I hope so!

  3. Kathy, I can’t wait to see how those stairs turn out. All that work will surely work out any residual aches and pains you have from your fall. I’m glad to see that you’re doing well enough to tackle them.

    Setbacks normally make me cry first and ask questions later. I try to keep moving through them. Exercise keeps me from dwelling so that I can get beyond the initial sting. I try to dive back in with a fresh perspective as soon as I can. As a writer, I try not to dwell on being ‘blocked.’ Some of my best writing has come along when I felt like I had nothing to say.

    • I couldn’t agree more with that final statement–that the best writing can come when we least expect it. I use exercise a lot, as well, only last week I struggled with needing to take it easy in the workout department. Being back in regular exercise regimen helps me enormously.

  4. Kick that stairways behind! How old is your house? Your stairwell looks like the one at my grandparent’s house!

    And the Habitat for Humanity thing- AWESOME! I can’t wait to hear all about it!

      • those long narrow steep staircases are an old house trademark! Will you take bruise progressions for us so we can see what lovely colors you start turning? :)

      • You know I thought about that–taking progressive photos of the bruising, but I was afraid of grossing people out. I should have taken one last week when it was at its worse, for sure. I will get one today, if I can get Sara to take it.


    That (ginormous) artistic endeavor will most certainly prime the writing pump. And we get to see the progress — HOORAY!

    P.S. I agree with JesterQueen – that table looks FANTABULOUS!

  6. The blow by blow to your DIY projects interests me far more than any reality TV series. Therefore, I look forward to see how you’re going to play staircase whisperer. I take long naps when I’ve had a setback. I’m a big believer in sleeping setbacks off.

  7. Glad you’re OK, Kathy. Falling is awful, and tumbling down stairs is terrifying.

    I’d like to hear how your brain is creating the design, Kathy. You say that moments like this transcend language, so I can tell that you have a clear view of the non-language happenings. Do you see images in your brain that start to coalesce with other images? Etc. ??

    May I say that I love the way you’ve squished yourself into the stair-space; you look like a rock climber wedging upward in a rocky chimney! Being able to wedge yourself in that space must have good effect on the bruised muscles that probably want to fold up into tiny spaces and tell you they ain’t gonna play! Your stance is definitely of the rumble variety and not of the living-in-fear variety! Go, Kathy!

    AND! A couple of the paint colors mimic your bruising. Can’t wait to see what tumbles out of your brain.


    • I defintitely see images in my brain sometimes. Sometimes I even dream them. Sometimes one simply has to detour around language to get to the good stuff. The best art–even writing at its best–transcends language–if that makes any sense at all. About the colors of bruising–I have always been a fan of purple! LOL

  8. This is so exciting on so many levels, Kathy. I’m sure however you conquer those stairs it is going to be beautiful. I can’t wait to hear more about the Habitat for Humanity project. I look forward to seeing whatever progress you’ve made next month!

  9. What a cool idea, Kathy! Saluting you and the way your are using creativity to help heal. You know, when it’s been this hot, it’s a wonder any creative cells rise to the surface and express themselves. I think they go underground to the interior caves and drink ice teas and slumber.

  10. SOOOOO excited about this new project for you! I can’t wait to see it! Way to reconcile that fall, which, I might add, enters my mind at least once daily as I offer up thanks that you survived it badly bruised and not wholly dead!

    • I’m so sorry you think about the fall so often, Sista! Bless your heart. I’m glad I didn’t end up even partly dead. LOL. I think the stairs will turn out cool. Speaking of cool–we have had our first day under 100 in over a week–and it’s only 85. Can you believe it?

      • Sara said she was cold yesterday in the library, so we turned off the ac. I, on the other hand, got a hot drink and throw. Cold to me felt like a luxury! LOL I think I may have to steal your phrase “partly dead.” I think it could apply to a lot of things!

  11. This may sound totally ridiculous….but I am giddy with excitement to see what you do with those steps!!!! I have seen some creative step decor….but I have a feeling yours I will adore!!!!

    (Did you catch that little rhyme?
    I made it in no time.)

  12. What a cool, creative way to deal with set backs and obstacles. I can’t wait to see the staircase reimagined and the Habitat project revealed. Hope your bruises are healing well.

  13. That table is stunning! I love the vibrant colors and patterns. I feel a lot of energy just looking at it.

    It’s a wonderful idea to “attack” your nemesis with a paintbrush. I can’t wait to see what you come up with. I’m also looking forward to hearing more about the Habitat project.

    It makes a lot of sense to use a different part of your brain while you’re trying to get unstuck on your memoir. I find sometimes my subconscious is still unraveling the mystery and it will surface into my conscious mind when I least expect it.

    • Yes, absolutely. It will come when I least expect it! I’m looking forward to seeing where the painting project will go and where the painting will take my writing. I’m looking forward to the Habitat project, as well. Will keep you updated.

  14. Kathy, I love your work. I especially love your use of color and how you can take bubkis and turn it into a thing of beauty. Brilliant and bold–that’s you! I just can’t wait to see what you do with that dark, narrow staircase. When you’re done, can you come out here and teach me how you do it? I promise you all the sand and beach you can muster, all the fabulous sea breezes you can stand, and fabulous starry nights!

    • Beach is tempting–nothing I love more. You truly have made my day with your response to my work. I love the idea of taking something thought hopeless/ugly/trash and transforming it into something new and wonderful. Hugs to you, my dear!

  15. Gorgeous table! What a showpiece! I’m sure that the stairs will be another work of art – you are so talented. I am a big DIY person, too. Most of my home projects are DIY efforts and I’m fairly pleased with them. But the big DIY tasks are pretty much done here now unless I decide to build a gazebo. Other than that it’s just some painting of rooms and trim left to do. Have fun. Can’t wait to see the photos!

    • I can only imagine what amazing work you could do. I envy your talent–especially your ability to write AND paint. You do something I have always wanted to–paint representationally. I love DIY! Most anything that gets done at our house is done by us. We can’t really afford any other way. Great to hear from you today!

  16. Great idea, Kathy! How will you ascend/descend the stairs with the wet paint? Paint one at a time and “skip” it as you use the stairs? Be careful! Love you sissy!

    • We thought about skipping every other step, but were afraid that would surely lead to another fall. You know what a KLUTZ I am! I’ve now sanded and primed the whole thing and am now only doing one step a day. I love you, Sweetie!

  17. Kertle….errr, Kathy. Your position in that stairwell seems a tad precarious. Be careful not to have another fall! Looking forward to seeing the progress on the stairs; what a cool project!

    • Thanks, Vicki! Great to hear from you. My goal now is to have the stairs done by the time Tori, Thomas, and our friend Lisa get here next month. Hope you all are staying reasonably cool down there. We miss you guys! Ever think about coming up with Tori?

  18. Pingback: The Art Object: Drawing and Painting « Portia Placino

  19. Very cool!
    I hope you have some plan on how to rough up the treads—grit in the paint or gripper strips or some such. Especially since it looks like a railing might not fit in the tight space (it would just be something I’d slam my hip into). No more tumbles, please.

    It sounds to me like you have legitimate reasons for putting the memoir on the back burner for now. Taking care of other business can also get the writing to flow again. While you’re busy, the subconscious gets out her red pen.

    Can’t wait to see the step-by-step pix on this project!

    • We actually plan to put up a railing. It’s narrow, but we think one is necessary–and have meant to do so for a while. But I will definitely give you blow-by-blow photos. Thanks for reading.

  20. Wow! The table top is a feast for the eyes. . On the other hand, your bruises look so painful. The stairwell project calls to mind the fact the we are renovating too, or shall I say, still? Our project will take most of the summer as we are proceeding in increments when my partner is home. Like you when I’m suffering from writer’s block I take on an art project. At present I’m not venturing near my personal blog. I have so much on the go on the home front and with our business that I find it difficult to schedule enough time to publish in my blogging tips blog. What free time I do have is spent in my deck garden relaxing with my dogs.

    • So glad you like the table! It was a fun project, and I think the stairway will be, as well. But–I didn’t know you were an artist or that you had a personal blog. Great to know. Thanks for the comment. You have helped make my day!

  21. Way to show your staircase who’s boss, Kathy! I can’t believe you’re feeling well enough to use a power sander already. :)

    Looking forward to seeing the progress on this creative project and hearing more about the Habitat project as well. Keep well, my friend!

    • Thanks so much, Dana. Actually, I feel pretty much back to normal now–thank God! I will definitely keep everyone posted on the my progress with both projects, but so far, so good. Hope your summer is going well, dear Dana!

  22. Love the idea and adore you artwork! You are so multi-talented! I’m looking forward to the seeing the progress and the finished project! It’s going to take much more than a steep and silly staircase to hold you down, girl! Love to you and Sara! xoxo Julia

    • Ha–you are so right, my friend. Not easy to hold me back or down, for that matter. So happy you like my art. I’m making some progress on the stairway, so far. I’ll share an update in the morning. Hugs and love to you, as well, dear Julia!

  23. You will be proud to know that my youngest son, Tony, my artsy-fartsy guy, is SUPER inspired by your table and stairs. At least the kid got some creativity from me. Everything else–asthma and migraines–weren’t exactly things I wanted to pass down. He has decided to start a box of garbage in the garage to transform into art. You’re influencing folks hours away with your awesomeness!

    • Oh, Sista, what a sweetie! How precious. This makes me want to cry. What a dear, little guy that Tony is! Tell him I can’t wait to see what he creates, if he’ll let you send me photos or post them on your blog. You go, Tony! I’m so proud of you!

  24. Yep ! I made 80 drawings in 80 days while I was going through radiation for throat cancer. Art saved me. You can see my progress under art and healing on my blog

    • How cool that you were able to use art to get through radiation. I will definitely check out your blog. I used art a lot to help me through bipolar disorder. Thanks for your comment. Great to hear from you today!

  25. Talked to Tori about that while Krogering today….may just try to come, if ok w y,all…I’d love to see you guys, and Lexington!

  26. A brilliant idea. I can’t wait to see what you do. I just hope you don’t fall down the stairs while working on the stairs. The table is gorgeous. I’ve never seen it. And the Habitat project sounds exciting. Your book will be there waiting when you are ready to work on it again. No rush.

    Have fun with the paints.

    • Glad you think the project sounds fun. So far it has been. And so far–I haven’t falled down the steps–LOL! So happy you like the table, as well. And I had a meeting with Habitat yesterday, so should be able to give an update on that soon, as well. Hope you have a lovely weekend, Christine!

  27. I love, love, LOVE this idea, Kathy. What a fantastic way to deal with a tumble!

    I have a set of stairs to the basement that are ugly, kind of scary, and in need of sprucing up (sprucing up? they need an entire makeover!!). I’ll be following your project carefully. I’m not very good at DIY, but I figure I can’t make these stairs look any worse. :)

    • That’s the spirit, Robin! I say tackle your stairs! Do it!

      I posted photos of my progess this morning–“Redemption in Paper and Paint.” It’s been such a fun project. I’m not surprised the idea appeals to you. You have a similar spirit–one that embraces serendipity–even in creative terms.

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