How to Paint Mountains by Marcus Lund
You must immerse yourself in everything you want to do. If you want to plant a garden, go stand barefoot in the dirt for twenty minutes a day. Let the dirt and rocks slip between your toes. Let ladybugs travel the arches of your feet. Pack the dirt down with your heels until it feels as smooth as the wood floors inside.
If you want to be a racecar driver, imagine your fork is your racecar and the peas on your plate are the other drivers. Race them around the track until they’re all eaten up. Sleep in your car. Drive naked.
If you want to paint mountains, you must surround yourself with mountains. Don’t just look at them. Go stand on one. If you live in a city, walk among the skyscrapers and imagine they are mountains. Choose a building and climb the stairs to the forty-sixth floor. Stand in the hallway and notice the way the air conditioner clicks on. Imagine it’s a change in wind direction. Read everything you can on mountains but also on rocks and minerals and lakes and wind currents and Sequoia Sempervirens and geological time scales and Paul Bunyan and prairie dogs and vertical inclines.
But that is not all for step one.
You must also immerse yourself in paint. Throw away your spoons and forks and knives and chopsticks. Replace all of your utensils with paintbrushes. Drink water from the same glass you rinse your brushes. Let paint replace everything it can and a few things it shouldn’t.
Choose a surface to cover with mountains. Many will choose canvas or a thick paper, but this is only because it is first thing that comes to mind. Some may choose a tent or a piece of wood. This is closer.
Whatever you choose, it should be out of a desire to transform it. Maybe you’ll choose the grumpy neighbor who always takes up two parking spots with his Mercedes. Maybe it will be your student loan documents detailing what it means to enter default. Maybe it will be the bedroom wall of the grocer clerk who always asks if you want to donate ten cents to a non-profit. Maybe you’ll pull up an email from your mother asking why you never return her phone calls, and you’ll choose to cover your laptop screen with mountains.
Whatever you choose, it should be something that becomes entirely different once painted with mountains. Maybe the floorboards of your car or the stack of mason jars in the backyard or the billboard for a tax preparer or the insides of your eyelids or the garden you spent all summer planting or the arches of your best friend’s feet or the cavity of a turkey right before it’s placed in the oven for a holiday dinner.
Whatever you choose, it should be perfect, but don’t think about it too hard. If nothing comes to you, go for a walk, get in a fistfight with your neighbor, donate ten cents to a non-profit. It’ll come to you.
It’s been at least a year now since you decided you want to paint mountains, and you’re finally ready to start painting. Choose a quiet corner or a loud public space. Lay out all of your materials, the brushes you’ve been using to eat all of your meals, the glass you’ve been drinking from and rinsing brushes in, the object you are going to paint. Find a cooking pan that is large enough to stand in and fill it with paint. Stand barefoot in the paint. Let the cool liquid envelop the toes, climb the foot to the ankle. Drip paint onto your clothes. Get it beneath your fingernails. Drip paint onto anything you’re afraid to get dirty. Get it out of the way.
Stand before the blank surface and close your eyes. Think about everything you’ve learned about mountains and then push it out of your mind. Kill your critics. Think about something else. Think about the fight you got in with your neighbor, how next time you might just key his car and leave it at that.
Open your eyes. Paint. Paint. Paint. Paint until it’s dark out and you realize all of your friends are at the bar by now. Realize it’s too late to join them. Paint some more. Have fun.
When you are finished, leave it alone. Don’t look at it for six months.
When you look at the painting in six months, realize it is all wrong. Realize that the mountains look like they grow out of the earth, which is wrong. Realize that painting mountains isn’t at all like you thought it’d be. Realize the surface you chose is wrong.
Wait two weeks, choose a new surface, and try again. This time think about how long it takes for mountains to form. Think about the geological time scale. Think about the earth being chiseled away from the mountains, not the other way around. Think about how mountains are piles of rocks, and rocks are the commonest things in the world. Think about how wind is the constant enemy of rocks. Think about how rocks are the constant enemy of rocks. Think about how glaciers are the constant enemy of rocks. Think about the Glacial Lake Missoula Flood. Think about the geological time scale. Realize a month has passed and you are still painting. Paint some more.
When you are finished, realize it is all wrong, but you are getting closer.
Wait another two weeks. Try again.
It will take most painters fifty years to get it right. Don’t fret. In fifty years, you will step back from the mountains you have finally perfected and a great joy will wash over you. By then, you will have lost all of your friends, your neighbor’s grandson will now be the one who takes up two spots with his BMW, and your garden will be nothing but weeds and wildflowers, but that is no matter.
Marcus Lund lives in Portland, OR. His work has appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Paper Darts, 580 Split, and 34th Parallel. His first book, The Sacred Text of Rosa Who is Great, is available from Quiet Lightning Books. He is currently finishing a novel with the help of his pug, Iris.
(front page image via)