Interview with Selwyn Mills, author of CONFESSIONS OF A COLOR-BLIND HOUSE PAINTER

Selwyn Mills 2Selwyn Mills served an apprenticeship in decorative painting before starting his own business in 1956, which lasted until his retirement in 1992. He worked as a craftsman painter, wrote for the National Paint Journal, served as President of the National Painting Contractor Association in Nassau County, New York, and taught faux painting. While painting professionally, Mills earned his doctorate in psychology and operated a successful private psychotherapy practice.

Dr. Mills practiced psychotherapy in Great Neck N.Y. for twenty-five year, specializing in couples therapy, family reconciliation and Men in Transition groups. His psychotherapy practice overlapped his forty year career as a decorative painting contractor. He painted in the mornings and counseled patients in the afternoon and evenings. His research into the left/right brain phenomenon, and its impact of personality development, led to a unique discovery of why opposites attract. Active in live theater, he wrote and produced a musical comedy called, “Love Torment and Lollipops”. An accomplished photographer, his black and white prints are part of the permanent collection of the Bibliotech Nationale in Paris, France. He currently works at the Sugden Theater in Naples, Florida as director of faux painting. Mills married in 1949 at the age of 19 and has four children and four grandchildren.

His latest book is the autobiography, Confessions of a Color-Blind House Painter.

You can visit his website at www.selwynmills.com.

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About Confessions of a Color-Blind House Painter

Confessions of a Color-Blind House Painter“Confessions of a Color-Blind House Painter” (ISBN 1466342013), a collection of autobiographical writings by Selwyn Mills, offers an account of the author’s life as well as his ruminations on painting, psychotherapy, friendship, romantic love, poetry, prison, philosophy, relationships and cats, among other topics.

Mills split his professional life between two concurrent careers – he worked as a decorative painter in the mornings and led psychotherapy sessions in the afternoon. Although these types of work might appear quite different, Mills describes how each profession deals with depression and renewal. He offers an eclectic collection of musings on various topics, each one weaving personal narrative with opinion and insight. “Confessions of a Color-Blind House Painter” reveals a portrait of a life made up of equal portions of intellectual, creative and emotional elements.

Q: Thank you for this interview, Selwyn. Can you tell us what your latest book, Confessions of a Color-Blind House Painter, is all about?

 This collection of writings offers an account of my life as well as my ruminations on professional painting, psychotherapy, dyslexia, friendship, romantic love, faux painting, beauty and plastic surgery, poetry, the Naples court and jail system, philosophy, cats, other topics.

I spent most of my professional life between two concurrent careers. I worked as a decorative painting contractor in the mornings and had a private practice in psychotherapy in the afternoons and evenings.

When questioned about the apparent difference between these two careers, I said, “Each profession deals with the dichotomy between depression and renewal.”

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your book?

The subtitle of the book is Revealing Necessary Secrets

I always wanted to reveal my color-blindness and dyslexia but was fearful of the consequences…loss of professional credibility, respect for my intelligence.

Q: What kind of research did you do before and during the writing of your book?

Some I had done over my life (the reason for color-blindness, my experience of being a psychotherapist, the mastering of the Munsell Color System).

The recent research I did for the book was the study of Dyslexia and Dysgraphia.

Q: If a reader can come away from reading your book with one valuable message, what would that be?

That personal adversity can be overcome by persistence and courage.

Q: Can you give us a short excerpt?

My mother called me a genius.  It wasn’t the first time.  She was constantly amazed at the smallest things I would do to improve the hovel in which we lived.

Born three weeks after the depression of ’29, my family experienced the full brunt of the economic collapse.  At the time the areas of Astoria, Sunnyside, and other underdeveloped parts of Queens, N.Y. were in the midst of an apartment building boom.  When the crash came they were stuck with hundreds of empty apartments.  Being resourceful, the developers offered three months free rent to anyone who would move in.

Of course we took advantage of this generous offer by playing “apartment sampling.”  We would move in for three months and stay for five, then move on to others. We kept this up for a few years until, in the late thirties we found a permanent home in Brooklyn in a hundred year old tenement house.  It was as I said, a hovel where most of the utilities didn’t work very well.  That is where I, as a ten year, old developed my reputation  as a genius.

Plumbing, electrical work, carpentry and painting were my hobbies. As you may recall from  the early part of this book, I couldn’t read very well, so I depended a lot on my imagination which I might say,  was not the best approach.  The landlord owned three of these buildings and never repaired anything short of small fires.  I did a handyman business with all the neighbors, running electrical extension wires from room to room.

My mother, although a shy person, became the housing advocate at the Brooklyn Board of Health, and Fire Department constantly reporting violations.  After I was married and living on Long Island, my mother asked me to contact the landlord and intimidate him into replacing all the broken lighting fixtures in the hallways of all the buildings.

When I finally located him at his mansion in Westchester and confronted him about all the violations that needed attention, he became irate and told me that my mother was no shrinking violet and in fact was the biggest troublemaker on the block.  “Every time I was called down to the Board of Health, I knew it was your mother’s fault.”

My mother was five foot tall, and so mild-tempered and generous that she became the go-to person whenever anyone of the block had troubles. She did seamstress  work at home and would never charge neighbors.  Her favorite proverb was, “If you don’t have anything nice to say to a person, don’t say anything at all.”

One evening when I was living on Long Island, she called and said, ”Selwyn, I don’t want to bother you, I know you’re busy, but my sewing machine is broken and I am so load with  jobs. Do you think you could fix it?”

“I don’t know Mom, but I’ll be there this Saturday to look at it.”

When I sat down at the old wrought iron foot pedal machine and tried to start it up, it was dead.  I fiddled around with it, checked the electric plug, pushed buttons, but it would not start.

Suddenly, I remembered that I wired the whole apartment when we moved in ten years ago and I traced the wire to the kitchen where the only receptacle in the apartment sat right over the kitchen sink.   Sure enough the plug was disconnected from the outlet.  I plugged it in, went back into the bedroom where the machine was and it came alive.

My mother was next door at Mrs. Polay’s apartment. I call her in and asked her to try the sewing machine. When the machine started up she was so excited, she went out into the hall and called down all the people in the building.

She cried out, “My son is a genius!

I never told her how I “fixed” the sewing machine and I don’t think she really wanted to know.

Q: In your own experience, is it hard to get a nonfiction book published today?  How did you do it?

I had a small publishing company25 years ago and had done my own interior formatting and cover design and sent it to a printer to finish.   I published a few books that way and marketed it myself.  I usually broke even, but it was too time consuming.   When Books on Demand became popular it seemed like a much more convenient method to publish that way.  I published two book in 2010 with Createspace.com which is an offspring of Amazon.com and they did a good job.  A lot less work for me outside of the writing and marketing.  I had my first non-fiction book, the Odd Couple Syndrome with a big publisher and it was a disaster.  After almost two years of delays and errors, I decided to publish it myself, but I had to sue them to get the copyright back. Then it turned into my most profitable book yet. Published in 1988 and still selling.

Q: What’s a typical day like for you?

I am 82 and healthy. I am retired from my painting business, but I still volunteer Fauxpainting for the Naples community theater two or three days a week.  I read a lot of everything, write a lot, have good friends, some girlfriends, four grown children, still see some patients, love movies and design painted glass and fiddle with crafts.

Q: What’s next for you? 

Looking for my next adventure and a good subject to write about.  I have had some starts, but they were not unique enough.

Something will turn up. I’ll know when it happens.

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Selwyn.  We wish you much

success!  

You might want to check out my website…www.selwynmills.com

54 pages of some interesting things. And thank you for the interview.

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