I haven’t had much time to post lately, as I’ve been working on a few projects. Hopefully, I’ll be getting a couple of them done soon and I’ll be able to post a bit more consistently this month. For now, here’s a Short Story I’ve had sitting around for awhile. It’s not my usual fare, which is why I haven’t posted it before, but some of you may find it thought provoking. (Also, yes I know there is a weird lack of a line space between the first and second paragraphs. I have no idea what the most recent update to wordpress did, but I’ve spent 45 minutes trying to fix that $^!@&^@^$^ paragraph space and finally gave up before I pitched my computer out the window).
The Reasons Why
He rotated his wrist ever so slightly to add a curl to an ocean wave and made a little noise of satisfaction. He wasn’t done yet, not nearly so, but it was coming along quite nicely. And, truthfully, he’d have never come up with the idea if he hadn’t failed to answer her question.He’d never forgotten that question, despite the years since he parted company with her. He could hear it clearly in his mind, picture the scene perfectly even now, despite the fact that he remembered so little else about her. Not even her name. Lindra, Liara, Linda? He was almost certain it had started with an Li- sound. She’d been beautiful, and she’d liked his art, but after the third or fourth time he’d nearly gone bankrupt while dating her she’d asked an innocently frustrated question. A question that he’d been unable to answer, at the time, but which had stuck with him for years, his unconscious mind and idle thoughts alike chewing on it.“Why do you do it to yourself? Why?”
She’d been quite frustrated, exasperated really. She’d loved him, he thought, and she’d wanted desperately to understand why he continued to pour himself into his painting, why he threw everything he was or ever would be into his “obsession.” He’d rarely ever managed to sell a piece, despite his best efforts, and he was forced to work any number of part-time, dead-end jobs just to buy cheap bachelor food. Yet, he was highly intelligent, a hard worker, and even had a handful of perfectly useful skills and certifications that he could easily have crafted a successful career out of. Just a little bit of work and he’d have been able to make his way up through the ranks of some fortune five hundred company, make it big, and retire to a life of nice cars and luxurious golf courses. Why he didn’t simply do so had seemed an unfathomable mystery to her.
She was hardly the only person to ever look askance at his life, or indeed the life of any struggling dreamer. His parents loved him but were far too “normal” to understand, his various lovers had all left for much the same reasons she had, and he still wasn’t rich. He doubted, in fact, that he ever would be, and frankly he couldn’t care less. She was the only one who’d ever dared ask him so directly, though. She’d been a direct sort of person, and the way she’d put it was almost more interesting that the question itself.
She had assumed he was suffering.
In truth, he supposed he technically was. He was well below the poverty line, his car was falling apart without money to fix it, his apartment was rundown, and his credit cards hovered precariously near their limit. Really, his life was awaiting just one more disaster to crumple like a house of cards and it hadn’t been much different back then. He wasn’t immune to these problems, they often came for him in the night, stealing his sleep and whittling away at his health. But it didn’t matter. Not really.
She hadn’t understood…and the rest that looked at it in such a way didn’t understand either. None of them realized that, for all that he suffered and bled and cried, it was they who were truly suffering. Only, they’d forgotten that they were.
He took a step back from his work, laying down his brush next to its brothers and idly working at the paint smudges on his hands with an already well-used cloth. He looked at his work so far and was pleased. Starting from the left, the incomplete work showed a small storm-tossed sailing ship riding writhing and whirling waves, looking like every moment might be its last. The imagery might have been dark, if it wasn’t for the clear face of the captain, grinning like an idiot.
It wasn’t a manic grin, a defiant smirk, or even the crazed expression of an adrenaline junky. No, it wasn’t any of those things. Rather, it was a simple, joyful expression. The face of someone who lived for what they were doing. Not the storm but the journey and everything, good or bad, that came with it.
So what if there was a storm? So what if things weren’t easy? He hadn’t been able to answer his ex’s question, at the time. Now though, with the thought he’d put into it since, into putting the why into some semblance of words for another to grasp, now he could have done it. Yes, now he could answer someone if they asked him again. Now, he would answer the question with another question.
“Why are you content to be something, anything, less than yourself?”
How could someone be content with anything less than everything they were? It wasn’t that he was suffering, it was that he was being himself. He couldn’t not paint any more than he could’ve stopping breathing. He was alive, living everything that he was, and he didn’t understand how so many people could be otherwise. The idea of sacrificing a part of himself, his art, in some bid to have a peaceful, easy life working a nine-to-five had simply never occurred to him. Or, rather, if it had he’d discarded the idea as absurd. Better to live as himself than pretend to be someone else.
And the rest of the painting reflected the thought, tried to explain it in a more visceral way. For as one looked from left to right, the storm-tossed sea was subtly traded for a beautiful horizon with a gorgeous dawn rising over a misty isle. On the shores and in the sky were tiny dotting’s of fantastic creatures in all the shapes and sizes he could think of, and a few more he’d blatantly stolen from fairy tales. The everlasting and untainted lure of a far distant utopian dream to explore, if only the captain never forgot the joy of the journey, never turned back just because of an unexpected storm.
He grinned wryly, admitting to himself that the troublesome message fit the difficultly of the painting exceptionally well. It was proving to be a nightmare to mix the two images together in a way that didn’t seem unnatural. Rough waves had to smooth and mix into a peaceful shore, and an angry sky into a clear dawn. He’d likely be at it for weeks, but he was almost certain the end piece would be one of his very best. All inspired by that ex with the question.
He “did it to himself,” not out of masochism, but out of the inability or unwillingness to be anything less than everything he was. His ex and the others seemed to think that the part of him that was the brush, that was the canvas and paint, could somehow be exchanged for the stereotypical life of mindless consumerism. People traded their dreams for eight hours a day of misery followed by trying to forget it, not with a bottle, but a Netflix queue.
He didn’t understand.
In point of fact, he was fairly certain he didn’t want to understand, for fear that the understanding might make him want to do it too. Though, he supposed that was unfair. After all, the painting was intended to carry his own thoughts on the question and its answer to others, and maybe they didn’t want to know either. Not that it would stop him, there were plenty of people out there who voiced the side of disbelief, of lost childhood and dreams that faded out of memory. The single voice of his own work was unlikely to turn the tide of mass opinion, but it might just help someone else to understand themselves. Maybe even to answer that baffling question when someone put it to them.
He hummed a little ditty, from a soda commercial he thought, and wandered off to find a bite to eat. “Why do I do it to myself, huh?” Why, he thought, I do it because I’m me.