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.  😀

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.

Super

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The line for the movie stretched around the block but Annette was giddy with excitement.   She had been waiting for years for this film and was in full fangirl mode.  Better yet, Matt had agreed to come with her, even though he wasn’t a fan of the comic.   As the clock struck 11 with just an hour to go before the special midnight showing she took a long pull on her energy drink and did a quick butt wiggle / fist pump / dance of joy.

He looked at her and laughed, shaking his head.  “Should I be worried you’re going to run away with Captain Blammo?”

His tone was joking, not actually at all worried about her eloping with a fictional character.  She loved his confidence.  Matt was no bodybuilder, but he was one of those rare nerdy guys who realized there’s no reason a person can’t be smart and still have muscles.  He could pick her up with one arm and hardly even notice the weight.  That’s not why she’d fallen in love with him of course, but it sure didn’t hurt.

“Hell no!”  Her reply was play-petulant.  “I wouldn’t want to be with a superhero anyway.  Everyone knows the hero’s lover is bait for every bad guy out there who wants some easy leverage.  And I’m just not cut out to be a damsel in distress.”

“So what you’re saying is that if I ever get super powers you’re leaving me then…. good to know!”

He laughed at her quick “Yup” and tickled her as she squeaked with delight.

“Alright,  note to self: I’ll be avoiding gamma rays, radioactive spiders, mutagenic ooze, and bionic implants from here on out then.”

“So you’d choose me over the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound?”

“When I’m with you I already feel like I can.”

He always knew the right thing to say, THAT was why she’d fallen in love with him.

Peachy

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The riots had been going on for days and, while Mo disliked the new government as much as the next guy, he was getting tired of living in a war zone.  Every wave of protests brought a wave of repression and new deaths, spurring another wave of protests.  The air was crisp and sharp – electric with the sense that a resolution is coming and it will involve blood on the cobblestones.  Either the government would fall or the police would crush the movement once and for all.  Mo didn’t know which way things would shake out, only that he was running low on food and with most of the grocery stores either locked up tight or looted things were looking bleak.

He picked his way through the streets carefully, doing his best to avoid both the protest encampments and the police who had taken to savagely beating anyone they caught alone who might be even remotely connected to the movement.  The protests and reprisals had mostly been focused in the city core so he figured his best bet was off in the suburbs.  As a student, Mo was nowhere near being able to afford a car and the cobblestones all along here had been ripped up to form barricades anyway – which of course meant no buses.   Fortunately, this early in the morning the sun was barely in the sky and the streets were mostly empty.

A steady walking pace took him out of the city core and into the neighboring town, 5 kilometers in about an hour.  The farmers coming in from the country to sell their produce were as unable to make the trip in as most of the people in the city were of making the trip out and they had set up an impromptu market in an abandoned lot.  Either the local police had been paid off to leave them alone or someone higher up was smart enough to realize police need to eat too and had given permission –  no one was talking about that part of things and Mo didn’t ask.   One stand in particular caught his attention – piled high with fresh peaches from a farm just outside the city, the fruit which had been destined for urban markets was  starting to go soft and over-ripe.

The farmer was desperate to sell and practically giving the crop away.  It was ironic – in past protests the farmers had been key in setting up roadblocks and supporting the movement but this time around the urban unions has declared the strike in response to the murder of union activists without stopping to consider the impact that the timing would have on their rural comrades.  Coming at the peak of the harvest it could hardly be worse!  Mo would have expected the man to be more upset but he seemed resigned to it

“Revolutions aren’t about convenience my young friend.  Sometimes you can choose when to fight and sometimes the fight chooses you.”

Maybe so.  But for now, Mo was more interested in choosing the best ripe peaches.  He picked 6 and handed over the money – both men laughing because there was no way to know if the paper would even be worth anything in a month.

He walked through the market and ate his breakfast (sticky peach juice inevitably running down his chin and into his beard) and almost tripped over a group of ragged children playing tag among the stands.  Many of the merchants had food they knew they couldn’t sell and that was going bad and had turned a blind eye to the little hands that were helping themselves.   A few days of such feasting had put the kids in a fine mood – years of worry and hunger erased from young faces, at least temporarily.  For kids who usually got by on scraps, a crate of fresh peaches was a treasure more precious than anything to be found in the presidents palace.

Watching them play, Mo wondered what future held. Maybe the President’s forces would drown the movement in blood.  And maybe the revolutionaries would win and end up being just as bad once in power.  The world is uncertain and people almost never get what they deserve for good or ill.  But watching the kids laugh, oblivious to all of it, Mo felt something hard in the pit of his stomach start to melt. The cynicism he wore like armor starting to crack.  He smiled.

Perfect

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A bright green water bottle lay on its side on his otherwise immaculate desk, lid off.  The laptop was almost certainly fried – he hadn’t been fast enough to stop the water from getting into it.

Perfect.  Absolutely f—ing perfect.

The real danger of course with wet circuitry isn’t the water itself – it’s the electricity flowing through the board shorting out; so in theory a machine that’s off shouldn’t be damaged by liquid as long as it was dried thoroughly before being started again.

Unfortunately, he had been in the middle of a video call and the smell of burnt ozone wasn’t a hopeful sign.  Worse, the computer was a Mac and some idiot at Apple had decided users shouldn’t be able to remove their own batteries so he couldn’t just pull the plug and remove the battery to cut power quickly.   Instead he’d had choose between closing the lid to put it in a sleep state (ie not quite off and still a chance of frying things) or going through a shutdown sequence that required running the machine for an additional 30 seconds with who knows how much water  on the motherboard.  He had opted for the former and had the machine bottom-up on a towel.  He couldn’t even open the lid to blow dry it without it turning back on and risking permanent damage.   Literally the only thing to do was leave it alone and hope.

Perfect.

And then there was the news that had made him drop a full water bottle onto his brand new work laptop in the first place – after 6 years together Elaine was dumping him.  She had a whole list of reasons, white noise mostly.  The big one – the real one- was that she was bored with him and she’d met someone new.

There are a million ways for love to die – whether through deliberate hurt or unintentional neglect.  Truth be told, John had often put his work ahead of everything else in his life – including her.  He had always found it easy to lose himself in the work – focus on the task at hand and see it through to completion.  Most times he thought that was a positive character trait but maybe somewhere along the way he’d lost a little more of himself than he’d intended.  And now he’d lost Elaine too.

Not that she was blameless – he and his boring job paid for her lifestyle after all.  And right now he was the one paying for her to spend a week in Hawaii and meet her new lover.  They had planned to go together but, predictably, something had come up and he’d had to cancel at the last moment.  She was livid and declared she was going without him and he’d said that was just fine (it really wasn’t fine) and that he couldn’t deal with her right now anyway.  She had stormed out in tears and he’d spent the night drinking and writing code that – in the cold sober light of morning – he’d been forced to scrap.

That had been 4 days ago and neither of them had reached out to the other since  – perhaps because of despair or fear of appearing weak or just out of reluctance to confront the obvious.  When she popped up on his Skype chat and asked if he could spare a minute to talk he almost said he was busy.

It’s hard to spend time if you don’t make time, and as he sat there staring at the (probably dead) laptop and wrestling with his heart he realized just how glad he was that she was a thousand miles away and that he was completely incapable of logging back on and getting into a yelling match with her.  Maybe a dead laptop wasn’t the end of the world.  If nothing else it meant he couldn’t work any more tonight and he was in no fit state to focus anyway.

He mopped up the rest of the water on the desk that he’d been ignoring while tending to his computer.   A quick search around the disheveled apartment revealed jacket, wallet, keys, hat, and phone – all the necessities of modern life.  On the street below, downtown was alive with people out and about and the bars were already getting crowded.  So many lives, so much life.

Time to lose himself in it.  And maybe find himself as well.

Jacob

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Jacob was having a great day. One of those days that you look back on for years and remember as a perfect moment of happiness. After months of thinking and planning about how to ask Katy to marry him he’d just blurted it out as he drove her to work.  To his great surprise, the answer had been an easy ‘of course’ and a smile that lit her face up so bright he was sure astronauts could see the glow from space. Jacob was thrilled. He felt like a kid on christmas morning who’d asked for something incredible, never expecting to actually get it, and found it waiting for him under the tree. As he pulled away from the parking lot and into the intersection he could practically hear his heart beating he was so happy.

He never even saw the other car coming. Continue reading

An Open Road

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I’ve always found the freedom of the open road to be both terrifying and liberating.

It was the first thing he’d said in hours and it startled her out of her own thoughts.

They had been driving for 2 days straight now and barely spoken a word, each of them intent on leaving their old lives behind and increasingly uncomfortable with the partner whose presence reminded them of it.

“Why’s that?” was the best response she could muster, not really interested but asking mostly for the sake of politeness.

Well it’s like Tolkein said isn’t it? The road goes ever onward and they’re all ultimately connected, really there is only one road with an almost infinate number of beginnings and ends but all of them tied together. And as soon as you step out onto it you’ve gained some degree of freedom and lost some degree of safety because really there’s nothing stopping you from taking off down any of them! If we wanted to we could keep right on driving intil we end up in Peru or Vancouver or just about anywhere else.

“Well, nothing stopping us but our empty gas tank” she replied.with a quiet laugh.

“Point!” was his reply. And as they coasted down the offramp and into the gas station to refuel he relaxed a little. Blue sky, open road, pretty girl, and just enough cash left to get them to the next town.

Dishes

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When she came into the room he was staring into the mirror with a look on his face like a kid who’d dropped their ice cream into a mud puddle.

Just look at me!  Yellow teeth, flabby gut, going bald in the back.  I’m a complete mess.  If I was a girl there’s no way in hell I’d date me. Why do you stick around?

He was depressed, it had been (another) long day at work and the dead end job combined with their endless money troubles had him questioning everything.  She was the best thing in his life by a long stretch.  And the more he thought about it the harder it was to believe that she’d chosen him of all people.

She laughed and the sound was wedding bells and jet planes and and water rushing down river.

You, sir, are a silly man.

It wasn’t an insult, just a statement of obvious fact.

We don’t choose who we love, it just is.  I love you for who you are.  But I’d love you more if you quit moping around and did the dishes.

Fair enough.

Tacos!

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Tacos!!!

She said the word like it was the ultimate answer and within it he could find any truth he might seek. Her eyes shone with laughter at the look on his face and he smiled back. He hadn’t been sure about being a father and still lost sleep most nights worrying about whether he was doing a good job, but when Molly laughed it felt right. It felt like home.

“Tacos it is then!” He said it like he was introducing a rock band and the response was no less enthusiastic.

Above them the train clattered along it’s tracks and the bridge shook like an over sized dog who’s just escaped a bath tub. Out beyond the overpass the rain came down in heavy sheets muffling sound and painting the world in great splotches of grey like some monochromatic impressionist painting.   But for now at least they were warm, dry, and had enough to eat for dinner. As far as his little girl was concerned nothing else mattered.

As he pulled the pans out of his backpack and lit up the little butane stove he thought to himself:

One more day. We can do this, just one more day.