Isaac stepped back from the wall, paintbrush in hand. He always wanted to paint a mural and see his doodles, larger than life, on permanent display. The cartoon jungle glowed vividly in the afternoon sunlight, even brighter than when he painted it. It was perfect. When Marianne and Charlie came home, they certainly would be impressed. Time to wash up.
Hours later, Isaac heard rumbling coming from Charlie’s room. He set his book on Marianne’s empty pillow and pushed his toes into his slippers. As he neared the door, the rumbling sounded louder. He left the window open a crack to let out the paint fumes — was the sound an idling motor? There were those bikers that roared down the street at all hours of the night…
Annoyed, he pulled his hand back from the knob and began to turn away. The back of his neck prickled with fear. It wasn’t rumbling; it was roaring. Instinct impelled him to pull the heavy hall table against the door moments before a dull thump shook it. Something like claws made a shrieking sound and the door rattled. There was a roar and a snuffling snort and the sound of canvas paint-cloth being shredded.
Isaac stopped in his room long enough to grab his keys and wallet and then fled in his slippers without pausing to turn off the lights. He stayed in a hotel until mid-morning, reluctantly returning home only to sneak around the back and peek in Charlie’s window. The room was torn apart, but empty.
He entered the room cautiously. The spread of the claw marks was wider than his hand. The imprint from phantom jaws was enormous. He looked up at the cheerful jungle scene and pried open the white paint he bought to touch up the baseboards. With broad strokes, he painted over the mural.
This was the very first post on my blog, stbirdblog.wordpress.org, on October 24, 2016. I have grown so much in the past five years. I will repost many of my short stories and comics with new illustrations or coloring. I hope you enjoy them!
recently made the comment that “if people aren’t having fun,
they’ll stop showing up.” They were talking about Toastmasters, but
I’ve been thinking about it in other contexts. What should I do when
things aren’t fun?
Obviously, there’s a lot of life that isn’t going to be fun. Dishes, laundry, sweeping, mopping, and cleaning toilets aren’t fun jobs. No matter what Mary Poppins says, some days there just isn’t a game to make the job fun, and I still need to get it done anyway.
what about the the things I do in the time when I’m not doing the
have-to jobs? Learning a new skill can often be un-fun. Training my
fingers to play scales on the piano was frustrating. Just five
minutes of meditation seemed impossible at first (and still does on
some days). It took me weeks to mix up a skin tone that looked like
it belonged on a human and not a tree frog.
now, after years of piano lessons and meditation and painting, I
still am very much a beginner. I have a lot of bad days where things
seem to be more mistakes than anything else. Mistakes aren’t really
fun. So, why do I keep showing up?
think that it’s a matter of expectations and intentions. If I was
watching a television show for entertainment, and I was completely
bored, I’d turn it off or watch something else. If I was watching a
painting workshop to learn more about painting and the presenter was
talking about mixing paints and it wasn’t really interesting to me,
I’d continue to watch hoping to learn something new anyway.
not painting or playing piano to entertain myself. I’m still
learning, and I’m expecting mistakes as part of the learning process.
I have hope that as I improve, there will be less mistakes and more
times when things go well.
things go well, or I get lost in the practice and lose track of time,
that’s fun. Seeing improvement, that’s fun too. Finishing my
practice for the day, knowing I didn’t skip a day, can be fun in its
own way too, regardless of how well I did during practice.
the past, when I had less time and more stress, I wasn’t consistent
with what I did when I had time for not-have-to things. Not doing
any art at all felt a lot worse than doing art poorly. Entertainment
didn’t fill the need to create something.
are sometimes days when I ask myself, “Why am I even doing this?
I’ll never be as good as this or that professional artist. Why even
try? I’m not having fun.”
then I remember how it felt to not do any art. And I remember that
I’m not doing art to have fun or to be famous or amazing or better
than other artists. I’m doing art because I’m an artist and that’s
what I do. I’m improving, I’m creating, and that is good enough.
art sometimes not fun for you? Why do you continue when something
isn’t fun? Have you ever stopped showing up for your art? How did
artist unsealed the scroll with trembling fingers. It was a summons
from the emperor himself. After decades of work, he might finally
have a patron. The artist did a little victory dance and grabbed his
purse. This called for cake with dinner.
next morning, he packed up his paints and brushed and canvases. He
sent them ahead and asked the messenger to leave them in his new
studio. Then he packed up his clothes and books and personal items
and cancelled the rest of his lease.
said goodbye to his neighbors and waited for his ride to the palace.
He had no idea what to expect, so he dressed in his nicest clothes.
But, he was brought straight to his rooms and served a nice meal. He
would meet with the emperor the next morning.
the next morning he re-wore his nicest clothes, doing his best to
smooth out the wrinkles. He tried to give himself a pep talk. “Stop
worrying. This is every artist’s dream. Your paintings will hang in
the palace and live on forever. This is the next best thing to
immortality. You’ve finally made it.”
guard escorted him in to see the emperor. The artist bowed. The
emperor smiled. “Ah yes. Welcome. I am impressed with your
talent. I think that your paintings are just what I’m looking for.”
would you like me to paint?” the artist asked. “A
portrait? I am well-known for my portraits.”
emperor laughed. “Oh no, that wouldn’t do. I need you to paint
food. The tastier looking, the better.”
the artist asked. “Like a still life? Would you like me to include
some mementos in the picture?”
I think that would be a mistake,” the emperor said. “Just paint
food. Bring me the first painting at the end of the week. If
it pleases me, I will have a contract for you to sign.”
you,” the artist said. He bowed and left.
spent the next week painting tempting, almost-real food on a blurry
background. Melty cheese, crisp toast, and jewel-like berries seemed
to float on the surface of the canvas. He was constantly ordering new
models for his work from the kitchen, because he kept taking bites of
things absent-mindedly as he worked. It was a long week.
emperor was thrilled with his painting. “It’s perfect,” he
said. “Here’s the contract.”
artist accepted the first scroll from the emperor’s advisor. He
signed the non-disclosure agreement, and then he was handed the
contract. He started reading through it and then paused. “This is a
contract for a chef,” he said. “I’m an artist.”
course you are,” the emperor said. “But you are painting meals,
so you are a chef.”
they aren’t really meals,” the artist said. “Even if
they’re meals for the eyes, eyes don’t eat.”
this isn’t a meal for the eyes,” the emperor said. “Come
with me and bring your painting.”
artist followed the emperor and his advisor through a maze of
hallways. Finally they stopped in front of a large door. The emperor
pushed it open. He smiled as a large furry thing rushed forward and
leaned against him.
had black fur and giant eyes as blue as the sky. And it had a
giant mouth full of very sharp teeth. No one else in the room looked
at all nervous about the emperor petting the scary furry thing, so
the artist tried to be brave. When it came over to sniff at him, he
took a deep breath and managed to not run away screaming.
think she likes you already,” the emperor said. “That’s
wonderful. Give her the painting.”
artist made himself hold out the canvas. The furry thing ripped it
away from him and ate it in a few messy bites. It was gone. The thing
made a warbling noise, and the emperor clapped his hands.
turned to the artist. “You see. You’re a chef, and a very good
one. If you keep painting this well, I’ll double your salary.”
this way, and we’ll finish the paperwork,” the advisor said. They
left the emperor and the furry thing behind and walked down the hall
to the empty room.
artist stared at the contract. Was this the end of his dreams for the
next best thing to immortality? Would all of his work be eaten? He
looked up at the advisor. “Will I be able to paint other pictures?
Pictures that will hang in the palace and not get eaten?”
advisor smiled. “I’ll add it to your contract. If you paint one
meal a week, you will be permitted to paint one official portrait of
the emperor each year.”
me where to sign,” the artist said. And when he went back to his
rooms he did a little victory dance and ordered a cake from the
kitchen. He made sure to sketch it before he ate it.
Leslie looked up from her coloring book in shock. “I can do that? Can I be more than one thing?”
Grandma smiled. “Of course dear. You can be anything you want to be.”
Wow. Leslie felt overwhelmed with the possibilities. She’d always wanted to fly, so part of the time she’d have to spend as a bird. But which one? Owls could stay up all night, but swans were so pretty, and hummingbirds could fly so fast.
Breathing underwater would be neat. She could explore the bottom of the ocean if she was a shark or a dolphin. If she was an octopus, she’d have arms. Lots of arms. Maybe she could gather up treasure from a sunken ship and buy her own house. She’d buy the yellow house next door, so she wouldn’t have to walk too far to go to bed after Mom made dinner.
Cheetahs could run fast. She’d win all the races if she was a cheetah. Being an elephant would be handy in a water fight. Penguins were always dressed up and didn’t have to wear anything scratchy.
Could she be more than one thing at a time? How often could she change? Did everyone else change into what they wanted when they grew up? Why didn’t they tell her sooner?
“So, what would you like to be?” Grandma asked again. “Have you thought of something?”
Leslie nodded. “A bird so I can fly and an octopus. I’m not sure what else. How many can I be?”
“A bird and an octopus?” Grandma laughed. “I’m afraid that you can’t be either one.”
“So what are my choices?” Leslie asked. “Are unicorns on the list? I think they can do magic, and that would be pretty neat.”
Grandma shook her head. “No animals. You’ll have to stay a person like the rest of us. I was asking what job you want to do when you grow up.”
Leslie stood up and put her hands on her hips. “Grandma, you asked me what I wanted to be, not what I wanted to do. It’s not the same thing.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry. I should have spoken more clearly.” Grandma patted the empty space on the couch next to her. “Will you come sit by me and tell me what job you’d like to do when you grow up?”
Leslie climbed up on the couch and snuggled next to Grandma. She thought for a moment. “Maybe I could be a fairy, because they have magic and can fly. Or I could be a princess. I like dressing up and tea parties. Being a superhero would be nice. They have magic powers, too. But they can only do some magic things, like flying and seeing through walls. Fairies can do lots of magic things and can dress up in twirly dresses too, so I think being a fairy would be best.”
“You have to be born a fairy or a princess or a superhero. Just like you have to be born a fish to be a fish, or a bird to be a bird.” Grandma smoothed Leslie’s hair and smiled. “Isn’t there something you’ve always wanted to do?”
“I wanted to eat cake for breakfast this morning.” Leslie thought for a moment. “And I want to do magic and fly.”
“What would you do with magic?” Grandma asked.
“I would help people. And I would magic cake on everyone’s plate, even at breakfast. If someone was sick, I would magic them better. And if I wanted my dress to be a different color, I would change it. I could change it to rainbow colors if I wanted. And if someone wanted to be a unicorn, I would change them into a unicorn, but only for a day, because unicorns don’t have hands, so it’s hard for them to color in their coloring books.” Leslie remembered that she hadn’t finished coloring and slipped off the couch and started coloring again.
“If you want to help sick people, you could be a doctor or a nurse,” Grandma said.
“Maybe.” Leslie kept coloring.
“If you like to color, maybe you could be an artist.”
“Maybe.” Leslie didn’t look up.
“If you like pretty dresses, maybe you could be a seamstress or a fashion designer.”
“Maybe.” Leslie finished coloring and turned the page. It was a picture of a penguin, but her black crayon was lost. She could color it a different color, but she didn’t want to. Leslie closed the book.
“So what do you want to do when you grow up?”
“I think that when I grow up, I will be Leslie. I’ll figure the rest out later,” Leslie said. She put the lid on the crayons and stood up.
“I think that’s a great plan,” Grandma said. “After you put away your crayons, would you like to have a tea party?”
“Of course I would. All little girls named Leslie who live in this house love to have tea parties. Especially if there’s cake.”
There was a knock at the door. Dad looked up from his sudoku puzzle. “Oh good,” he said. “That must be Uncle Dan.” He got up and looked through the little window at the top of the door. “Yup, it’s him,” Dad said. He opened the door wide and