The Eternal Problem of Colors

This was written from the POV of Vincent Van Gogh, with the help of his letters to get an idea of how he spoke (at least in translation). The title comes directly from one of his letters and the last line was his last words.

800px-Van_Gogh_-_Starry_Night_-_Google_Art_Project

The Eternal Problem of Colors

En plein air
Let’s plant our easels
Together against the wind!
Migrated to the south to find
My Japanese dream in Provence
Raving mad oleanders shadowed by
A funereal cypress under a yellow sky
We mad wretches delight in our eyesight
Play Wagner in Louis XV green and malachite
Wheat fields, golden to red and smelling of thyme
Olive trees shift from silver-grey to blue, now black.
The power to create is greater than my life,
To make my jealous pictures speak!
The night you left is a blank in my mind
All painters are mad but the doctor
Is more ill than the artist.
The sadness will last forever.

Image is Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, found at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25498286
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Cut and Dried

Spring in Sarajevo 021

Cut and Dried

I opened my body to the sun one morning. Warm, emerald life pulsed through me and the morning dew dried on my skin. In our birthplace, we are cared for every day. Humans in hats make sure we have enough water, and that there are no green insects devouring our flesh. My only worry is that I often hear sharp cries as our comrades down the line are severed and taken. This cold, silver “snip” invades my dreams at night, shivering me until the sun caresses me awake.

I am told that we’re often portrayed as the paramours of nightingales, but I have never seen one. The only birds that come here are pigeons and they, no devotees of beauty, ignore us. The bee is a much more likely candidate, although he doesn’t sing well. Bees are pleasant company, and gentle as they take what they need, but afterward they just take off, tipsy, buzzing their goodbyes as they return to their queen.

One day, they come for me. It isn’t like my dreams – the silver blades are not cold, but burning hot. I cry out as my flesh is savaged. I writhe in my executioner’s hand until the wound is soothed by fresh water. Drop by drop, the shock and panic leave me, so that I become interested in my fate.

My journey is quick: a bumpy ride in a truck, a few hours in a shop, and I am again plucked with my brothers and sisters, wrapped, and taken by car to a pretty café with romantic music. I am jammed into a vase of water and placed on a table.

A woman unlocks the door and people flow in. Throughout the afternoon, humans sit in front of me eating, reading, and talking. They don’t look at me, but rather at their food, their phones, or their friends. Until late evening, when a man and a woman sit on opposite sides of me, and I feel myself pulsing on waves of electricity. A candle burns below me and its heat is making me uncomfortable. She moves the candle a few inches away and I open myself further in gratitude. She smiles and runs her thumb over a petal, lightly touching the tip of a thorn. A connoisseur – or perhaps, judging from her picked cuticles, she needed a way to occupy her fingers.

Her hands and lips tremble as she sips her coffee and sets the cup down, rattling the teaspoon on the saucer. When her companion turns away for a moment, she applies a scarlet layer of synthetic confidence to her lips, and then leans forward, resting her chin on her hand.

His pupils dilate as he leans forward, resting his chin on his hand. He smooths a dark curl back from his forehead and smiles, gripping his own cup.

Their conversation is not noteworthy, but I mark glances through lowered eyelashes, a nibbled sandwich, lipstick on a coffee cup, fingers skimming over sleeves and brushing away nonexistent dust specks.

As they stand to leave, she casts a glance over her shoulder, grabs me from the table, and tucks me into her purse. I fear she may have received a cut for her haste. I am forgotten in her purse until morning, when she gasps and sticks me in a vase before hurrying to work, leaving me to survey my surroundings.

I begin to fade and droop. A petal falls as she smooths a dark curl back from his forehead and smiles.

Perceiving my mortality, she hangs me upside down in the hallway until I am rigid in my brittleness. I am enthroned on the mantle. There, I chronicle their lives.

I am there when she announces her promotion at work. I see their children arrive and grow up – all but one. I never felt my lack of water as I did in those days, when I had none to shed in sympathy with them.

Years pass, and deliver another generation to run and frolic below me. Then Chronos takes the man, when his curls are no longer dark – I endure.

Until one day when my lady fails to wake up. I am taken up for the last time by her adult daughter and placed in her hands as she sleeps in her final bed. The sound of tools, not sharp but blunt this time, signals the end.

We are left in darkness and fall apart together.

Misophonia – in five voices

This is a ghostwriting exercise in which I attempted to write an article using the voices of five famous people or characters – one for each paragraph. The voices are those of Christiane Amanpour, Whoopi Goldberg, Stephen Colbert, Alex Jones (yes, I went there), and Bernard Black. Can you match the voices with their paragraphs?

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Let’s talk about misophonia. No, it doesn’t mean eating miso soup while talking on the telephone – but that would really annoy someone with misophonia. The word misophonia comes from Greek and means “hatred of sound.” It’s also called “sound-rage,” which coincidentally was the name of my metal band in college. A person with misophonia has intense emotional and physical reactions when they hear certain trigger sounds. Doctors aren’t sure what causes it, and it’s difficult to diagnose because it’s a mental problem and not a hearing problem – a person with misophonia has normal hearing, but sounds affect their brain or nervous system differently. It was officially recognized in 2001 – before that, it was just called being a social curmudgeon.

People suffering from misophonia are triggered by many different noises. Roughly 80% of triggers are mouth noises, such as gum chewing, slurping, crunching, talking with one’s mouth full, sucking and loud breathing. Repetition is also a factor, and people with misophonia often develop visual triggers as well – merely seeing someone pacing, chewing silently, fidgeting or bouncing their legs may trigger a reaction. Reactions are both emotional and physical, and can include intense rage, anxiety or panic, a desire to cause physical harm, disgust or hatred, leaving the room or dinner table and even suicidal thoughts.

If someone you love has misophonia, know that they really do mean it when they say a noise bothers them. Their emotions are valid, and their needs are valid. If they ask to eat in another room, be sympathetic. It’s not that they don’t love you; it’s just that the trigger noises are too much for them and they might be afraid of acting on the emotions that come up and going crazy in front of you. Don’t take it personal – they don’t see it that way. Remember they will have to deal with thoughtless people every day who won’t take them seriously, so make sure you’re not one of them. Even though more people are becoming aware of this disorder, lots of people still respond like this:

“We live in a world of trigger warnings. They’ve got these millennials all coddled with their safe spaces, and microaggressions, and PC jargon. That’s the old news. The new news is that just eating your dinner could be a trigger for some people. Misophonia, they say. What is misophonia? It’s an excuse for so-called sufferers to whine about everyone else. What’s next, a war on chewing gum like Singapore? This laundry list of phony disorders is just the beginning. Next we’ll have people claiming disability just because they can’t cope with real life. Total bull! The doctors who diagnose all this crap are puppets of the government, and what they want is a dumbed-down population that can be easily controlled.”

Ignore rubbish like this. You need a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and a place where people will leave you alone. There is no cure for misophonia, but you can live a perfectly normal life if you stay away from filthy monsters who eat crisps in your space. Some clinics have developed programs like counseling, sound therapy and exposure therapy. Join social media support groups so you can complain about your triggers without actually having to go out among people. If you need any medication, just ask your therapist – or the local pub.

The Adventures of Lofa

cave

The Adventures of Lofa

Wishes are dangerous things. To long for something that wasn’t destined for you can be a powerful push to do something daring, creative, or even heroic. It can also consume and destroy you. What, then, can a wish do that has built up over 623 years?

One day, over 700 years ago in a land that we now call Tonga, a young artist and shaman named Papahie felt bored. She took her tools and a large stone and headed for the beach. There, she began carving a chimera – a hybrid of her favorite local animals. A few weeks later, this creature emerged from the dark stone with the body and long, forked tail of a tropicbird, the wings of a fruit bat, the long, scaly neck of a gecko, and a humanoid face like a tiki. On impulse, Papahie gave her creation the eyes of her favorite warrior and whispered his name, Lofa, which means “storm bird.” Being of a mischievous nature, Papahie cast a spell: after a period roughly corresponding to 623 years by our calendar, the one-foot-tall chimera would come to life. Then, she hid him in a niche in the cave now known as ‘Ana Hulu, or “Hulu Cave.”

Time passed over Lofa as a medley of people passed through ‘Ana Hulu. Well-hidden behind a cluster of stalactites, Lofa saw all: secret meetings related to love, trade, or local politics, British adventurers, children swimming, students reading literature together (which Lofa loved), birds and bats flying through and exchanging news, and occasionally, honeymooners whispering endearments, unconscious of the immobile listener above them. Lofa saw and heard, Lofa learned, and above all, Lofa wished. Listening to the explorers and tourists, Lofa longed to see the sun and explore the island that everyone described as so beautiful. Listening to the lovers, Lofa wished to love and be loved. Listening to the schemers, Lofa desired to meet the king – and maybe a beautiful princess too. But Lofa’s greatest wish came from listening to the farmers: Periodically, a tropical cyclone, Afa, destroyed homes and crops and caused water to rush into places it shouldn’t go. The farmers were powerless against Afa because he came from far across the sea, from the sky. “The farmers can’t fight Afa because they are tied to the ground,” thought Lofa. “I will be able to fly, and I have the face of a god and the eyes of a warrior. When I finally come to life, I will fight and kill Afa. Just think how the king will reward me!”

At long last, the day came. As the first rays of the sun entered the cave and reflected off the still, blue water below, Lofa felt warmth creeping through his stone body. His lips tingled as he tentatively moved them for the first time. He felt his tail grow pliant and his wings thaw. He stretched his wings to their full extent, feeling the heat surge through the awakened muscles. Lofa’s stomach became soft and, looking down, he saw that it was covered in fine white feathers. He blinked his warrior eyes and filled his lungs with the humid air.

Eager, he threw himself from the ledge. Lofa’s heart skipped a beat as the water rushed up to meet him, but he saved himself just in time with a powerful flap of his bat wings. Intoxicated by the circulation of his own blood, Lofa soared through the mouth of the cave and into the full sunlight. Lofa blinked hard and crashed into a palm tree, surprising a banded iguana that skittered down the trunk. Lofa managed to fasten himself to the tree with the claws at the top of his wings and hung there, heart racing. He opened his eyes slowly and looked around. To one side, Lofa saw blue sky and blue sea stretched to infinity. Below him was a sandy beach, caressed by the waves. Further on were trees in so many dazzling shades of green – palm trees like the one he still clung to, as well as shorter shrubs and fruit trees. Lofa forgot his newfound breath as he took it all in.

An unfamiliar sensation in his stomach compelled him to seek out another palm tree, one with large green ovals hanging from it. Instinctively, Lofa knocked down one of the orbs, which broke open as it hit a rock, exposing white fruit inside and splashing out water. Lofa flew down to investigate. He shivered with delight as the warm, sweet water hit his tongue and flowed down his throat. He used his claws to tear off pieces of the white meat and ate. He sat on the beach next to the broken fruit and felt the warm sea breeze ruffle his silky feathers. The rhythmic sound of the waves would have sent Lofa to sleep, but he was too excited to sleep. The sound of footsteps startled him, and he flew up into a tree.

“So, when do they expect us at the palace?”

“In three days, so we should probably leave soon. Are you ready?”

Lofa’s ears had pricked up at the word “palace,” and he silently followed the travelers. For two days they walked through tropical forest and farmland, Lofa tailing them from above and sampling new fruits along the way. Once, when the two travelers stopped to rest, Lofa saw a flock of birds with feathers and forked tails like his sitting in a banana tree. He rushed to go introduce himself. Upon hearing Lofa’s strange voice and the flap of his bat wings, however, the group started up at once in fright, flapping and squawking in a shower of white feathers in their hurry to get away. As the cacophony died away, Lofa shook off the flurry of feathers that weren’t his. “Am I really so scary?” he thought. Seeing a pool of water in the middle of the path, he alighted and looked at his reflection. “I look different from them, but my wings are stronger and more versatile, my neck is more flexible, and my mouth is more useful than their beaks. I do wish I had some friends, though.” He then flew to catch up with the travelers, who had continued with their journey.

When the large, white building came into view on the third day, the two travelers stopped to refresh themselves while Lofa flew on into the royal gardens and settled himself into a dense tree and waited to see the king – for any kind of action, really, to help him visualize all he’d heard about the royal family and life at court. It all turned out to be surprisingly mundane for Lofa, aside from the lush fruit trees and the princesses, who spent their mornings and evenings in the garden, walking, reading, and talking. “If I could marry a princess, I would make life at court much more interesting. And maybe the king would give me an army to fight Afa,” Lofa mused. Lofa watched the princesses over several days and set his eye on the one who seemed to be the sweetest and most thoughtful – a plump young woman with dimples in her golden cheeks and hibiscus flowers in her shiny hair.

One day when the princess was alone in the garden, Lofa summoned up all his courage and, in his strongest voice, repeated a line he’d heard from the lips of a lover in the cave: “Life is the flower for which love is the honey!”

The princess started and looked around. “Who’s there?”

Lofa glided down to a ledge right in front of her and bowed. “My princess, I am Lofa, the storm bird.”

The princess stared at him, wide-eyed, for a few seconds, then let out a piercing scream that brought several men running from the palace. Seeing Lofa and his unusual shape, they let out a shout and came at Lofa with their clubs and spears – and a net. The princess, meanwhile, had recovered her composure. “Don’t hurt him! He’s not dangerous; he didn’t mean any harm!” The men ignored her and continued to chase Lofa around the garden until Lofa flew through a break in their ranks and up, over the stone wall. Lofa flew until he was out of sight of the palace, along the beach.

“Birds are afraid of me. Humans are afraid of me. Where can I find someone to talk to?” Lofa nestled himself into a tree while he caught his breath, his heart throbbing from both the exertion and the rejection. He looked absently out to sea. “When I kill Afa, all people and animals will respect me. But I have to wait for him to show himself.” Lofa settled into a troubled sleep.

Lofa was awakened by a commotion in the next tree. He opened his eyes and observed a group of flying fox bats feasting on ripe bananas. “I am part bat,” said Lofa to himself, extending one wing and admiring it; “Maybe my home is with the bats. But I should take care not to frighten them.” Lofa glided to a spot on the trunk below the bats and waited for them to notice him.

“What are you waiting for?” called the bat closest to him. “Come up and eat with us!” Lofa clambered up the tree and took a piece of banana. The other bats peered at him over their lunch.

“Why is your face so different from ours,” asked one bat. “And how is it that you have wings like us but feathers instead of fur?”

“My shaman made me that way. She combined all her favorite animals in me.”

The bats appeared satisfied by this answer and went back to eating their bananas. “You can’t open thick-skinned fruits with those flat teeth of yours,” said the first bat. “Do you want me to open a breadfruit for you?”

For the first time in his life, Lofa was touched. “That’s very kind of you, but I like the bananas better.”

For several weeks, Lofa flew with the bats, eating fruit with them and sleeping upside down, sharpening his senses, and learning to follow his intuition. The bats were a close-knit community that took care of everyone and accepted Lofa with open wings. Each day upon waking, the bats hung in a circle and those that had dreamed shared what they had seen. Lofa was astonished to find that a number of the bats’ dreams came true. “It’s our gift,” one bat explained. “We’ve always had it. That’s why shamans sometimes kept us near them, and it’s probably why your shaman made you part bat. It’s too bad there are no shamans left on the island.”

But Lofa could not be completely easy despite his idyllic surroundings and good company. Didn’t he have a mission to fulfill? Lofa decided to broach the subject with Peka, the unofficial leader of the bat community. Lofa unburdened himself to Peka, laying out his wishes and intentions, and proposed that the bats join him in fighting Afa. Peka listened attentively without interrupting, but then sighed and shook his furry head. “We bats are dreamers, not fighters. If it’s for anyone to fight Afa – which I doubt – it’s not for us. Stay here with us. Don’t concern yourself with Afa. When he comes we store food and take shelter in the caves.”

Lofa’s wish was too strong to abandon, so he said a sad goodbye to the bats, promising to return to them after he had killed Afa. Despite his love for his bat brothers and sisters, however, Lofa felt a twinge of contempt for their cowardice.

Lofa looked out over the sea, wondering when Afa would come and who would help him fight such a powerful adversary. He flew out over the water and settled on a coral reef. He nodded to a couple of turtles who swam past. Lofa had tried to strike up a friendship with the turtles before, but their reptile brains worked slowly and he had quickly become exasperated with them.

Lofa was yanked out of his reverie by a splash of water against his stomach. He glanced down to see a silver tail disappear beneath the waves, to be replaced in a moment by a laughing silver face. “You looked so sad; I had to snap you out of it!”

Lofa couldn’t help smiling back. “Is that how you normally make friends?”

“Well, I don’t have any friends who are… what are you exactly?”

“I don’t know. I guess I can be called a chimera. My name is Lofa.”

“I’m Makelesi.” She raised her pectoral fin and Lofa touched it with the tip of his wing. “So, why are you so sad?”

Makelesi looked at him with such frank sincerity that Lofa poured his heart out to her. Being a fish, she of course couldn’t give him advice on fighting Afa, but she was sympathetic and told him she hoped he would find his army. They talked for the whole afternoon and Lofa promised to visit her again the next day. The days followed each other punctuated by his afternoon chats with Makelesi and, after a few weeks, Lofa found himself madly in love.

This was a precarious situation. Lofa wasn’t afraid of fighting Afa, but he was terrified of telling Makelesi that he loved her. Lofa kept his secret for several days as he pondered what he should do. Carve their names into a coconut? Bring her a necklace of frangipani? Recite some poetry by moonlight? In the end, Lofa’s impulsive nature upset all his romantic and increasingly complex plans. One beautiful day, Lofa was sunning himself on the coral reef as Makelesi swam around him. He was, naturally, thinking of his predicament and when Makelesi asked him a question about dinner he blurted out, “How do I love thee!”

Makelesi looked at him in surprise and Lofa wished he could turn himself back into a statue. After an eternity, Makelesi replied, “I love you too,” and, jumping halfway out of the water, managed to kiss Lofa’s lips.

Lofa couldn’t suppress a laugh of relief. “I was sure you’d be angry with me. I though you would slap me with your tail!”

“Why would I be angry?”

Lofa touched her cheek with his wing, then paused. “But… what are we going to do now?”

“About what?”

“Well, can you live outside water?”

“I’ve never tried it.” Makelesi jumped out and landed on the coral next to Lofa. A second later she gasped for breath and started flopping around frantically until Lofa pushed her back into the water.

“No, that’s not going to work,” he said as she caught her breath. “Let’s try it the other way.” He plunged into the sea and came up a few seconds later, spluttering and choking, and paddling with his wings. He scrambled to get back onto the reef, with a strong nudge from Makelesi’s nose.

“Oh, why didn’t my shaman give me gills?” Lofa lamented, sprawling on the reef. “She gave me something from every other animal! Now how are we going to live together?”

Tears ran down Makelesi’s face and mingled with the salty sea. “It’s hopeless,” she sobbed. “We can never be together!” And she disappeared into the waves.

“Makelesi, wait!” But she didn’t come back.

She wasn’t there the next afternoon either. On top of that, he had overheard a farmer that morning saying that Afa was sure to come soon, and Lofa still had no idea how to fight him. He wished he had Makelesi’s sympathetic ear. “After I kill Afa, maybe I can find a shaman who can help us be together,” he thought. Lofa flew up, higher and higher, trying to clear his head and come up with a plan. Faintly in the distance, he spotted a small island.

“Well, it can’t hurt to investigate,” he thought. “Maybe there is someone or something there that can help me.” However, the distance was greater than he had anticipated, and Lofa barely made it before dropping to the beach in exhaustion.

Lofa awoke to find a young woman sitting beside him. To his surprise, he looked up into eyes that were exactly like his own. The woman smiled. “You were made by a shaman. We shamans are not welcome on the big island, so we live here. My name is Papahie.” She was, in fact, a descendant of the shaman Papahie who had made him.

“Shamans!” exclaimed Lofa. “I need your help. Afa is coming and I don’t know how to kill him, and I’m in love with Makelesi but I can’t breathe underwater and she can’t live out of it!”

Papahie laughed, placing her hand on Lofa’s back. “One thing at a time! Yes, Afa is coming soon, but you can’t kill him. Afa is wind, rain, and lightning. He comes from nature; he can’t die.”

“But I must kill him! Afa destroys the bats’ fruit trees, and the farmers’ fields, and the houses, and he dumps water in places where it shouldn’t be!”

“He destroys our trees, crops, and homes too. But I don’t think we can stop him. I’ll tell you what: I’ll call a meeting of the shamans tonight. You can come too, and if there’s a way to fight Afa, we will come up with a plan.”

At the meeting, Lofa was introduced to the other shamans, and he told them his greatest wish. The shamans listened to Lofa, then exchanged ideas in low voices. At the end, Hyvah, the eldest shaman, addressed Lofa: “Papahie is right. Afa cannot be killed. But if we all work together, we may be able to protect our islands. When Afa comes, we will change our shapes and go meet him. If we can, we will push him back to where he came from.”

The shamans spent the next few days preparing for battle. On the last day, when the inky clouds made the sky look like night at midday, Papahie bathed Lofa in vaiola to protect him, and then the other shamans sprinkled it over themselves. Hyvah intoned some words and slowly began to transform until she had the body of a great dragon, bat wings like Lofa’s, but bigger and stronger, and long claws at the ends of her arms. Her face remained her own. Hyvah inhaled and then blew out a tremendous column of air that bent the trunks of the palm trees. The other shamans followed Hyvah’s lead until they were all dragons.

“We will fly to meet Afa,” said Hyvah, “and we will all blow at the same time. If we blow our hardest, it might just be enough to make Afa change direction and miss these islands.” And they all ascended.

Lofa and the shamans flew for nearly an hour, Lofa resting periodically on Papahie’s back, before Afa came into view. At that point the wind from Afa was so strong that it was hard for the shamans to keep on course. “Just a bit further,” called Hyvah. A few minutes later she called for the others to line up on either side of her. “Ready…now!”

The shamans exhaled with so much force that Afa stopped moving forward. The shamans advanced, pushing Afa back. It was working! But one by one, the shamans weakened and ran out of breath. As they paused to inhale, Afa attacked with such force that he scattered the dragons. With a great effort, they regrouped and exhaled again. However, their energy was half-spent and they were unable to push with the same power as before.

Lofa had been clinging to Papahie to avoid being separated from the group, but now he saw his chance to attack. He let go of Papahie and flapped his wings as strongly as he could to advance.

“For king and country!” He cried and, extending his claws, charged at Afa.

Lofa had no time to realize his mistake before Afa snatched him from the air, twisted him in a fierce spiral, and hurled his broken body down to the crashing waves below. The moment Lofa’s battered head slipped beneath the surface, Lofa turned back into stone and sank instantly, all the way to the ocean floor.

The next day, when Afa had gone and the ocean had become tranquil again, a silver tail pushed Lofa’s body upright onto its stone feet against a wall of coral. Tearful eyes gazed into his unblinking ones and a silver fin caressed his face.

Dear Brain

This is from Day 16 of NaPoWriMo, which was supposed to be based on a letter or correspondence.

Invented-Languages-1200x330

Dear Brain

Dear Brain: I’m in such bitter pain
That I don’t know how to go on
Life is no longer worth the strife.
I’ve never seen you in despair, my friend
What is your secret, do share!
With love, Heart

Dear Heart: I don’t want to offend,
But your drama has no end!
Little things push you up and down
As waves manipulate a ship.
No one controls me; I am my own master!
You must be more logical, cool
And you will see it all as trivial.
Come for tea and I will explain.
Regards, Brain

But Brain, what can I do with this agony?
There are so many knives twisted in me
I’ve tried logic; I understand its meaning,
But it doesn’t stop the bleeding.

Heart, don’t you know the knives aren’t real,
Nor the blood? If logic doesn’t work for you,
It means you haven’t understood.

Brain, the knife is a metaphor
But the pain is not; it won’t be ignored
It’s as real as the blood flowing through me
It bites me and then embraces;
My lover and my assassin

See, you’re being dramatic again!
If you’d just stop and think…

But all I’ve done is think!
Do you think I take pleasure in…

Well, maybe you do…

But that’s crazy. And insulting, too!

Come on, Heart! Haven’t you read
Biographies of poets and artists?
Chasing pain to feed the pen
Always looking for trouble, imagine!

But Brain, did they really run after it?
I think sorrow came uninvited
And art was their survival, their Zen!

Well, there you go then.
If logic fails, try art!
(They brought it on themselves
Anyhow, at least in part.)

Brain, I’ll tell you once again
I’m glad to have you as a friend
I will try your advice; let’s see!
(About the artists, we will agree to disagree)

Your Melancholy Masterpiece

This piece was inspired by Picasso’s painting “The Weeping Woman” (shown below), and his relationship with its model, Dora Maar, who was a painter, activist, poet, and amazing surrealist photographer. This is an inner monologue from the perspective of any woman (or maybe some men too) who have ever been told they were too sensitive, and/or who have been in an emotionally abusive relationship.

Weeping Woman 1937 by Pablo Picasso 1881-1973

Your Melancholy Masterpiece

You called me the Weeping Woman. An irrational, overemotional basket case. You love it because it makes me weak; you hate it because it makes me dangerous. You took the liberty of giving me a name. What about the name I gave myself?

An inferior specimen of an inferior sex. You would cherish me if I were only a better person, more in control of my emotions and more dutiful. If I would give up those foolish and improper pastimes. If I were someone else. Docile, impeccable, and pliant as a doll.

You call me a crazy bitch after pushing all my buttons in quick succession, lighting a fire and spewing gasoline. Then you stand back and wait for the opportunity to say, “You’re too defensive. Why are you crying? Oh right, mental illness runs in your family. No wonder you flew off the handle at me!”

I wasn’t always this way:

There were sunny days
I sprouted, I blossomed, I reigned
Reveling in my power
Dappled with paint and accolades
I could do anything
I could be anything
You plucked and fixed me on your wall
Where you could examine me
Your flawed private muse
Take me down when you wanted me
You never saw me as I am
You don’t love me as I am

I wanted to die in that closet. I locked myself in the bedroom while you pummeled the door. My head was pounding until I thought it would burst. We had fought again, and I died a little inside. You will never feel it. You always laugh when I insist I hate crowds because everyone else’s energy flows into me. Discord makes me physically ill. Are you blind that you don’t see you’re poisoning me?

You say my family is low and my friends are low. My tastes are low, and I am low. “I’m only trying to help you. Don’t you know what you could be if you did your proper duty, if you spent time with the right people?” Am I really such a villain in your mind? I know I’m no prize angel, and that’s why I need to change. I’ve already given up so much of myself for you and it’s never enough. You tear off pieces of me with your teeth until there’s nothing left, and ask me again why I’m crying.

You scorn my intensity and dark moods. They’re disturbing. A woman shouldn’t be crying about the genocide in a distant country. “What can you do about it anyways? Are you going to fly over there and help them? Where’s my shirt? Where is my lunch?” I know it makes you angry when I don’t cut the onions small enough and when there’s a crease in your collar. Fighting fascism means neglecting your needs.

You wanted me to do something with my appearance so I’d be fit for decent society but when I did, you asked me who I was trying to impress. I don’t fit in with your social circle. “Say something. Why do you sit in the corner like that?” But when the little woman shows her claws and expresses an opinion, it’s “Why did you say that? Don’t you know that what you say reflects on me?” They’re all waiting for me to break. I really did fall down the stairs, I swear.

Llorona, you’re barred from grace
Your past will haunt you always
I will press it against your throat
No one wants you lurking near
With your silence and somber face
Your wailing sets my hair on end.

“What’s wrong? Aren’t you taken care of? You have no grounds to be offended.” You tell me no one else can ever love me, and you’re right. No one would want me, pitiful, used, and broken as I am. I’d be cast out with the trash, forgotten, relegated to a houseful of cats.

I know that I’m only valuable because I’m yours. What would I do without you? How would I survive out there? You’ve stripped me and clipped my wings, and I’ve forgotten how to hunt. Is it too late? Can I soar free again?

Greener

FL_GreenHeron01

The olive green pigment spread as Callum’s expert hand swiped the paintbrush in a half-circle across the canvas. A few more brushstrokes revealed a sea turtle’s shell, then the head and limbs. Using a series of smaller brushes, Callum coaxed the animal until he was perfect – for the tourists – and then turned with a satisfied sigh to the larger canvas behind him. Shades of viridian, with swirls of lime. He added a few bright swipes of orange, and then crimson. Callum’s eyes shone as he caught his breath. Was he at the point where one more stroke would ruin it? He would leave it and look at it again later to decide.

Callum washed his long, slender hands and brushes, breathing in the smell of acrylic and oil paints. It was a smell he never tired of. Paints, any paints. Linseed oil. The sea. The mangrove swamps behind his house. Callum glanced at the clock. Only 11:00. He would sit in the backyard for half an hour before lunch. Sitting in the sun always gave him inspiration for his paintings – his “real” paintings, that is. The abstracts he truly loved, not the basic, but very lifelike, beach and wildlife-themed paintings he sold in the local souvenir shops. He folded his tall body into a lawn chair, looked up at the sun, and closed his eyes, waiting for the colors to flood in behind his eyelids. As a band of iridescent circles floated across, Callum felt a presence next to him and opened his eyes. A raccoon, staring at him from about five feet away. The animal was not afraid. It was Callum’s unique gift. “Hello friend,” Callum thought, then closed his eyes again.

Ever since he was a child, Callum had had a special connection with animals. It was something between telepathy and empathy, and it had grown stronger over time. He could understand their thoughts – if they could be called “thoughts.” It was really more like a collection of abstract ideas and primal emotions from the animal’s mind: danger, fear, hunger, contentment, distress, “keep away” signals, a savage urgency during mating season. The more intelligent the animal, the stronger the connection. Callum had not experienced much success with insects or small reptiles or rodents. And the animals… well, they understood him, in their animal way. They seemed to know his intentions toward them and, as a result, did not fear him. Along with his considerable talent in painting, Callum’s gift was one of the secrets of his success, as he was able to approach animals in their own habitats and sketch them.

Callum couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t known that he was different from his peers, and a combination of natural caution and his sixth sense had warned him against speaking too much about it, so he had avoided being labeled “crazy.” People noticed, of course, that he had a “way” with animals – that couldn’t be hidden. Family and friends had eventually nudged, pushed, and prodded him into veterinary school, which he had finished with difficulty. Working in close proximity to distressed animals, day after day, was mentally exhausting for Callum. He never even kept a pet, because of the strain of having one animal’s mind with him every day. Luckily, his paintings were more than good enough for him to support himself.

“SLIP INSIDE THE EYE OF YOUR MIIIIIIIIIIIIND.” Callum leapt six inches into the air and scrambled in his pocket for the offensive device, which jumped from his hands and landed in the bushes. Callum shook the swirling colors out of his head and lunged for the still-ringing phone, absently noting that the raccoon had run away this time. Reaching under the greenery, he heard a hiss and a low roar that propelled him backwards. “Something is really ‘off’ with me today,” Callum thought, rubbing his sore backside. He had never had unpleasant encounters with alligators because he could always sense their presence – they gave off strong “keep away” signals, as well as a cold, murky “swamp monster” vibe that was impossible to mistake. He blamed his ex-girlfriend, Carrie, for the glitch. That was her ringtone, after all. What did she want this time?

Callum and Carrie had met six months before at one of his exhibitions. She was funny, charming, and needed him. Callum had made an idiot of himself over her, and it had taken three months for the spell to break, when he realized that she didn’t care for him nearly as much as he cared for her. In fact, she only called when she needed something: an impromptu therapy session, advice about money or her landlord, a new facebook photo, a good-looking and reasonably successful date for an office party. She never asked how he was doing or listened when he talked about himself. They had remained friends, and nothing had changed – except that Callum’s heart was out of the picture. Callum decided not to call back – she’d call again if it was important and he needed the daylight hours for work – and went inside to have lunch.

Close to evening, Callum visited the wildlife refuge with his sketchbook. Bird paintings had been selling well at the shops, and the herons, egrets, and ibises had been missing from his backyard lately – probably had something to do with the alligator in the bushes. Plus, Callum liked the refuge. It went without saying that they took the well-being of animals seriously there, but refuge staff had gone a step further a few years back by holding a funeral for the island’s only crocodile. Callum saluted their zeal. He found a cast of horseshoe crabs and started to sketch. There was a legend that horseshoe crabs were the reincarnated spirits of samurai warriors, and Callum wondered how to work the myth into a painting.

Hearing a rustling sound to his left, Callum turned. Then he saw the heron. A green heron. They were notoriously difficult to see in the wild. The heron stared through him with knowing eyes, and Callum knew that something was wrong. He came closer, and the bird let him run his hands over his feathers. Callum found the break – in the radius bone of the wing, and not serious. The bird would make a quick recovery. Callum would take him home. He should take the bird to Crow, the nearby wildlife hospital where he sometimes volunteered, but he would take it home.

He gently lifted the bird and settled him in the basket of his bicycle, covering him with a jacket. Would he stay that way? He would. It was probably illegal. No; scratch “probably” – he was sure it was illegal. But, Callum told himself, it was temporary and he knew what he was doing. And the bird wanted to go with him; he was sure of that. But why did he have such an overwhelming urge to treat the bird himself? Callum tried as hard as he could to avoid any uneven pavement on the way home. Back at the house, he found a wide but shallow box, set it on the table, which he pushed into the corner, added an old flannel sheet and some pieces of bark, and placed the heron inside. After digging out his first aid kit, Callum bound the bird’s wing.

Dinner. It wasn’t a question, but a command. Callum needed to buy fish, something he didn’t keep handy. He had been a vegetarian since the manifestation of his gift, and he had terrible nightmares if he ate meat or fish, even by accident. The heron looked comfortable enough, so Callum left to stock up on groceries. The bird ate a few sardines as Callum ate leftover pasta, his chin on his hand as he contemplated his houseguest. The phone rang just as he finished.

“Hello Carrie.”

“Callum; where were you? I stopped by an hour ago. My brother’s with me and I need help with his homework. It’s algebra again!”

“Let him do it himself.”

“But he’s failing. He might have to repeat the seventh grade!”

“Let him. It wouldn’t be the end of the world.”

“Could you at least help him a bit? You’re good at explaining these things. Can we come over?”

“Well… it’s not really a good time.”

“Aren’t you done working for the day?”

“Yes. But I have company,” Callum said, eyeing the heron in the corner.

There was a silence. “Oh. So I suppose we’d be… in the way,” Carrie’s voice was cold. She rarely used that tone with Callum.

Callum, not knowing how to explain the situation, remained silent. Carrie continued, now with an unnaturally bright voice, “Well, maybe there are some tutorials on the internet. Bye!”

It wasn’t until Callum set the phone down that he understood – Carrie thought he had brought a date home. Callum wouldn’t have deceived her intentionally – that wasn’t his style – but he reflected that maybe it was a good thing if Carrie thought he’d moved on.

Callum examined the bird the next morning and found him content and healing well. He knew it was best not to change the gauze binding the wing yet, so he left it and set out some fish and fresh water, then sat next to him to eat breakfast. He enjoyed studying his quiet guest. Green herons are beautiful and intelligent, one of the few bird species that use tools to hunt. This bird was just under a foot and a half tall, with brilliant yellow eyes, a sharp, shiny black bill, a green-black cap and back, dark, glossy wings, and a reddish brown neck with a white stripe. Inspired, Callum set up a new canvas. He had his model for that day, and several days more. This heron was going to earn his fish.

The day passed quickly and productively, but later, Callum’s sleep was disturbed by sensations of crawling things around him, and by black and yellow eyes boring into him. He awoke nervous and a bit itchy. The heron stared at him as he staggered, bleary-eyed, into the kitchen and waited patiently for breakfast. Was it Callum’s imagination, or did the bird understand and sympathize with his sleepless night?

That day and the next were spent in caring for and feverishly painting the heron. The bird’s wing was on the mend and the owners of the souvenir shops were going to be thrilled with the likenesses. Callum had also worked on two abstracts. He was quite pleased with the latter – inspiration seemed to flow through him like water these days. The nights, however, brought him increasingly horrible visions of eyes and insects, and the desire to stalk through dark places and dart out his neck to hunt for slimy, cold creatures.

On the fourth day, Callum found himself overcome with a strange desire to consume one of the fish he had bought for the heron. He felt horrified and disgusted at the idea, but nevertheless the intensity of the craving increased until he couldn’t stand it anymore. He took a sardine from the tin and swallowed it raw and whole. Callum shuddered as it slipped down his throat, and then bolted a second one, and a third. He abruptly stood up and lurched to the sink, sure he was about to be sick, but instead a profound contentment spread through his body as his bewildered stomach settled itself.

Over the next few days, Callum began to worry about his health. He was losing weight, even though when he looked in the mirror he couldn’t tell where it was dropping from. His skin seemed thinner, with larger pores, and he had a slight fever. He didn’t feel unwell, but his mind felt fuzzy. His reflexes, however, had become abnormally quick. One morning, he bumped into his work table and knocked a bottle of paint thinner off the edge, and managed to catch it just before it could shatter on the floor.

Callum never lost his ardor for painting during his indisposition, and continued to accumulate more material to sell and to exhibit. If anything, the herons on his canvasses became more and more lifelike, like the one in the corner who was almost completely healed now. Callum had changed the bandages and found that the heron would only need a couple more days of his care. He imagined he could feel something of his own essence slipping through his fingers into the bird’s bones.

One night, he dreamed of hollow needles pushing through his skin from the inside out, sprouting and then erupting in a spray of black-green. Callum discovered that he was eighteen inches tall and surrounded by yellow eyes. He tried to scream, but all that came out was a hoarse “kyow.” He tried to cover his mouth and found his hand impaled on a sharp, heavy bill. Callum woke in a cold sweat, frantically clawing at his skin. He lay gasping on the bed, heart racing. After a few minutes, he got up and took a shower to calm down, then pulled out a battered Kafka novel to keep him occupied until morning.

Callum examined the heron before breakfast and decided it was time to take him back to the refuge. But as he was getting ready, the doorbell rang. Callum swore under his breath. He’d forgotten that his friend Greg was coming over to borrow his camera. Callum knew he had neglected his friends these last two weeks when he had been so busy with the heron, and hoped he wasn’t about to get a piece of Greg’s mind. After a few second’s deliberation, he decided not to hide the bird from Greg and opened the door.

“Bad night? You look like hell!”

“Thanks a lot. I couldn’t sleep.”

“Carrie again? Is that why I haven’t seen you around?”

“No, no. I must have eaten something wrong.”

“Whoa! What do you have here? Is that a night heron?”

“Green heron. He had an injured wing, but he’s ok now. I was just about to release him.”

“Cool.” Greg turned to Callum’s latest canvas. “Self-portrait?”

“It’s the heron,” said Callum, flustered.

“I can see that. But it also looks like you!”

“Really? How?”

“I don’t know. There’s just something about it. Maybe in the eyes.”

“My eyes are brown, not yellow.”

“Well, there’s something; I don’t know. I just know it looks like you too.” Greg picked up the camera. “I’d better get started while the light is good. Do you want to come over tomorrow? We’re having a cookout. There are a couple Boca Burgers with your name on them in the freezer.”

“Sure, sounds good.”

“Great. Come by around six.”

After Greg left, Callum packed up the heron and started for the refuge. The ride went smoothly and Callum found a deserted area and uncovered the heron. The bird stared into Callum’s eyes for a few long seconds, then flew away. Callum shivered and put on the green jacket that had covered the heron. He took a few steps toward the mangroves, trying to catch a glimpse of his recent houseguest, but saw no sign of him. Callum sat down by the side of the road and wrapped his arms around his knees, confused by the sudden burning behind his eyes and the ache in his chest. He rested his head on his hands and took a few deep breaths. Finally, he got on his bike and started for home.

He felt strangely empty as he walked in the door. Callum crossed the room in a dreamlike state and moved the box from the table to the floor. He stepped inside and lowered himself gingerly into a sitting position, tucked his head under his wing, and went to sleep.

* Photo courtesy of E.J. Peiker, http://www.ejphoto.com/green_heron_page.htm