If you were a painting

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A blank canvass is both exhilarating and terrifying for an artist.  Just think about it – greatness and mediocrity weighed in the balance, an infinite number of images and ideas, all exist in that blank canvass as potential.  Not fact, not even fiction, but potential.  Making that first mark is the most dangerous thing a person can do because from that moment the range of the possible becomes constrained by what is.  And every successive mark further constrains what can be, until the canvass is full, all possibilities stripped away and only bare fact remaining.  From this perspective, the act of creation is the most destructive thing a person can be involved in.

It sounded good, but Tim still thought it was bullshit.  The canvas mounted on the wall in front of him was blank, and despite the best efforts of the artist’s blurb to convince him that displaying a blank canvass was an act of artistic heroism akin to rescuing a puppy from a burning building, he found it impossible to take the “work” seriously.

Gina, however, was enthralled.  Or at least a bit more open minded.

It could be worse, some guys had girlfriends who dragged them to the mall on endless shopping trips.  By contrast the museum was cheap, Gina didn’t beg him to buy the paintings for her, and he never had to reassure her that the sculptures didn’t make her look fat.  If he was totally honest he even enjoyed a lot of the work.  Not this big strip of nothing of course, but a lot of the work was pretty cool.  His favorites were the modernist peices with their bold colors.  Sure they didn’t look like anything, but they didn’t need to; they were intended to represent emotion and not physical objects.  So while he wasn’t always sure which emotion it was the artist had intended (what color is love anyway?), he liked the way they made him feel.

He was startled when she grabbed him from behind, skinny arms flung around him in a big bear hug.

“I love the Monet’s!”  Her tone was jubilant.  “Thanks so much for agreeing to come with me to see them while they’re here.  I know impressionism isn’t your favorite but the museum only has them on loan for a few more days.”

He had left her in the classic art a few minutes prior to go explore on his own and hadn’t realized she’d caught up with him.

“Oh, I don’t mind.”  He gave her a broad grin.  “It’s not that I dislike impressionism, it’s just that a blurry painting seems counter-intuitive.  If I want to see the world as a Monet painting all I need to do is take off my glasses.”

It was an old joke, one he’d made before but she still dutifully chuckled along with him and gave him a look that made him feel like the wittiest guy in the room.    She reached up and took his glasses down off his nose.

“So, how do I look as a work of art?”  Her smile was coy and he didn’t need 20/20 vision to see the sparkle in her eye.

“If you were a painting I would take you home and hang you above my bed so I’d see you every night before I went to sleep and every morning first thing when I woke up. ”  It sounded like a line, but he meant it sincerely.

She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.

Ooonh

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Oooonh Ooonh Ooooonh Oooonh!
Oooonh Ooonh Ooooonh Oooonh!
Oooonh Ooonh Ooooonh Oooonh!
Oooonh Ooonh Ooooonh Oooonh!

The heavy repetitive sound of synth bass came thundering through the floor and try as he might Charles could not tune it out.  Earplugs didn’t help, he could still feel the vibrations in the pit of his stomach churning the cheap chinese food he’d eaten earlier that night into a nauseous boil.  It was 3am and there was absolutely no way he was going to sleep.

He put some water on to make tea, hoping it would help settle his stomach.  The gas burners of his rickety stove didn’t light on their own so he had to use a lighter and a strip of paper from the stack of old newspapers he kept by the stove for exactly that purpose to get the burner going.  He’d moved into this rathole of an apartment barely a week before and the remnants of his former life were strewn about the place, mostly still in boxes.  As the bass pounded on, he ruefully remembered asking the landlord about the bar downstairs and how loud it got – Charles was a light sleeper and had to work mornings.  The old man had assured him that the bar was very mellow and not loud at all.  Lacking any other good alternatives in his price range and needing a place to be as soon as possible, Charles signed the lease.  He got his keys and moved in the next day.

That night, the pounding started.

Charles was not a violent or angry person by nature, in fact if you asked his ex wife Jeanine he was the most spineless useless loser to walk gods green earth.  Jeanine was bipolar and abusive.  Charles was codependant and figured she was probably right about him – or at least she had been right.  Right up until he walked in on her sleeping with their neighbor.  She yelled and screamed and said it was his fault and that if he had been a man she wouldn’t have had to look elsewhere.  As ever, Charles stayed calm.  He didn’t yell or hit her back when she started pounding on him, he simply picked up his car keys and went to the grocery store to ask for whatever used boxes they could spare.  He came home, packed a few things he couldn’t bear to leave behind while she sat in the corner and cried and cursed at him (now exhausted and on the downswing of her bipolar episode).  He did not say goodbye, didn’t look back.  What was there to see?

When he emerged from the house he could see the neighbors peaking through the blinds, wondering what the fuss had been about.  He nodded to them once, put the boxes his car, and started driving.  He couldn’t feel yet, it was too much.  So instead he went into programmer mode and started identifying problems to solve.  Driving from the ‘burbs his commute was terrible so he figured fixing that was the first order of business as a newly single man.  He drove into the city, got fast food, called in to work to say he was sick and wouldn’t be in tomorrow, and slept in his car that night.  That was last Thursday.  He spent Friday and Saturday looking for apartments and (lacking any savings to speak of to use towards a deposit – Jeanine had emptied all their joint accounts within an hour of his leaving) had ended up here.

The memory was still raw and that damn synth bass kicking him in the gut meant he couldn’t relax and let it go.  He couldn’t even think.

Charles grabbed his coat, keys, phone, and wallet and headed out for a walk.

The night air was cold, January had put a sharp chill in the air and he could see his breath.  After the stuffy stifling closeness of the apartment though it felt good.  He walked to the end of the block and couldn’t bear to turn around and go back.  He kept walking.  Despite the cold it had been a remarkably dry winter, the river was far below its normal winter depth and there was a homeless family camped under it – a father and daughter judging from the bald head out of one bag and the mop of curls out of the smaller bag that lay next to it.  “I could have it a lot worse” he thought, walking past them and up the winding pedestrian walkway that led up and over the bridge.  The thought was not particularly comforting.

He made his way slowly to the top of the hill and sat down, back against a tree and looking out at the bay.  From here, the world looked peaceful – almost serene.  He leaned back and exhaled slowly, not relishing the thought of returning to the thunderous noise of his apartment and the bar below it.

Dawn broke slowly over the city and the light woke him up not long after.  Charles hadn’t intended to fall asleep and his fingers were frostbitten from staying out all night, but his exhaustion had taken him unwittingly.  He slowly climbed to his feet, limbs creaking and sore, and made his way back slowly to his apartment, still half asleep.

The smouldering wreckage waiting for him when he finally got there startled him wide awake.  The whole building from the bar on up was gutted beyond repair.  He asked the cop who was taping the area off what had happened.

Fire brigade says the fire started in one of the apartments, looks like some jerk went for a walk and left the stove on.   Thank god no one was hurt!

Charles nodded numbly and stumbled away.  He had literally nothing but the clothes on his back – Jeanine had cleaned him out completely and everything he’d valued enough to take with him when he left was in that apartment.  And of course he didn’t have renters insurance.  As he stood there looking at the smouldering wreckage of his life he realized he was laughing like an idiot, the sound halfway between a sob and a guffaw.  He sat down on the sidewalk, head in his hands, and laughed and cried and then laughed some more until his body hurt.

A short walk and a cafe supplied pancakes thanks to the power of credit cards – the account he’d opened up the last time he almost walked out and never gotten around to telling Jeanine about or closing.  As he sat there eating he pulled his phone out of his pocket.  He couldn’t live on credit forever and he needed a place to stay until he could get on his feet again.  He flipped through his contacts thinking about who he could call – the breakup would mean that most of his friends would have divided loyalties.  Finally, he landed on his old college room mate – they’d’ kept in touch on Facebook but hadn’t spent much time in the years since graduation because their girlfriends didn’t get along.  He tapped the ‘Call’ button and waited while it rang.

Hey John, yeah it’s Charles.  Listen man, I know it’s been a while but I need a favor…

Slaying Dragons

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Hi Robin,

Please do not set up your purchase events so every individual purchase creates a new uniquely named event.  That would break everything.  Or at least lots of things.  There’s at least a 5% chance it would cause the extinction of some unspeakably cute animal that has thus far eluded modern science.  Stars might explode.  Dragons might devour  the sun. Entropy could overtake the universe and plunge the galaxy into eternal darkness and despair.   Worst of all, your tracking will not work.  And that would be bad.  :D

Grab me on skype if you have any questions, ok?  I’m here to help.

Cheers,

John

His tone was perhaps overly familiar but they’d been working together to try to get the tracking on this app up and running for almost 2 weeks and he’d finally realized the issue was an elementary programming error that should have been obvious from jump.  He could either get mad at the universe or make a joke out of it and he knew the joke would be better received.  Besides, Robin was a nice guy and a damn good programmer.  It wasn’t his fault he didn’t know the system as well as John – he had his own app to work on.  And if customers didn’t occasionally need help, John wouldn’t be getting paid 6 figures to help them.

He stopped to rub his temples and looked out the window at the glowing city below.  It had been 8 months since Elaine left.   He’d gone out almost every night at first, trying to find himself in the noise and energy of the city but eventually had settled back into old habits – long hours in front of his computer.  Only now, without her there to try and get him to re-engage with the world, he was spending more and more time working.

He was on salary so the overtime was unpaid (he didn’t want to think about how little he was making an hour once regular 80 work weeks were factored in) but the company didn’t see any need to hire new people as long as the work was getting done and he couldn’t sleep at night knowing there was work to do.  So he wore his busyness like a shield, an excuse to avoid engaging with the world, and tried his best not to think about Elaine.

Still, John was tired.  It’s hard to carry the world and the long hours were taking their toll.  His whole body hurt and his shoulders popped as he leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms. His stomach growled angrily and he realized he’d forgotten to take a break to eat lunch or dinner.  He got up and went to the fridge to make a sandwich.  Stale Bread, a sad looking sausage and some mustard – he was going to have to remember to go get groceries tomorrow, but for tonight it was good enough.

Back at his computer, he started to browse around idly.  There was work of course – there was always work – but after 16 hours his brain was totally fried and he couldn’t focus.  Suddenly, skype started chiming that he had an incoming call – Robin, presumably taking him up on his offer of help.

He accepted the call and was surprised to see a woman’s face pop up on the video chat.  Of course a lot of female programmers don’t advertise their gender – like any male dominated industry the tech world has it’s share of sexists and for someone with an androgynous name there’s no reason not to just let the code speak for itself.   He  was careful not to let his surprise register on his face.

“Good to finally see your face John!” She had a big grin and laughed, “I’ll tell you, the mood around here was getting pretty dire.  Thanks for your humor, it’s exactly what I needed.  And it’s good to be able to laugh when slaying dragons.”

Now it’s a well known fact that a pretty girl’s smile has approximately the same effect on your average male engineer as a pint of coffee.  Especially a smart pretty girl who likes one’s sense of humor.

“Glad to meet you too Robin!  I agree, it’s good to be able to meet one’s allies when battling the forces of evil.  For the night is dark and full of errors, and only we few can hold back the tide…”

He delivered the line deadpan with just the barest hint of a smile on his face.  Much to his surprise, she laughed long and hard.  And John realized how much he had needed a friend.