July 24th, 2019
If you enjoy this article, see the other most popular articles
If you enjoy this article, see the other most popular articles
If you enjoy this article, see the other most popular articles
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow me on Twitter.
This is the opening scene of my novel, How The Young Anna Barnev Established Her Career As A Graphic Designer
Spring of 2010
When they were sixteen years old, Mera traveled down to Atlanta to spend a week visiting her friend Anna. Greeting each other at the door, they both experienced the mild shock of seeing one another after many months apart. Mera could see that Anna had done something about her uneven eyebrows, while Anna could see that Mera was now wearing a dark eyeliner, a surprise because Mera came from a strict religious family which had forbidden the use of any cosmetics.
“You’re allowed to wear makeup now?” Anna asked.
Mera spoke without any pauses. “Oh yeah, so great right, my sister’s getting a divorce.”
Anna didn’t want to appear stupid, so she nodded, as if Mera’s statement had logic. Yet how was Mera’s sister’s divorce connected to Mera’s use of makeup? After a long moment, Anna’s curiosity got the better of her. “So…um…How did you get from your sister’s divorce to wearing makeup?”
“Oh, she’s the big sinner in the family now,” Mera used the tone of voice one normally reserves for watching a series finale, when joined by an annoying friend who skipped the whole season and is now asking questions whose answer they would know if only they’d followed one’s advice and watched the previous episodes. “Yeah, my parents are furious. All that stuff about me going to hell…The pressure is off. The whole church loved her husband and she’s leaving him so now me wearing eye shadow is like, no big deal.”
“So great!” agreed Anna, though no one had asked her. Belatedly it occurred to her that these circumstances, from a certain point of view, might be viewed as a family tragedy. “I’m sorry your sister is getting divorced though.”
“Oh, yeah, don’t be. He sucks so bad, I hate him, I’m happy.”
“Oh good,” said Anna. “I don’t like it when I have to pretend to be sad.”
“But you know, I’m really sad, Anna.” Mera sighed.
“Oh?” Anna’s eyes expressed her concern. “About your sister?”
“I just told you I was happy about my sister.”
“Um, so why are you sad?”
“I’ve been listening to sad sad songs.”
“Should we listen to something happy?”
“No, I want to keep listening to sad songs.”
“But won’t that make you more sad?” asked Anna.
“Yeah, but it makes me really happy to be sad. You know? The rest of the time everything is boring.”
“Right,” said Anna, so she wouldn’t appear clueless. Then she decided she was really curious. “Wait, why is stuff boring if you aren’t sad? Are you saying happiness is boring?”
“That is so duh,” Mera said, in a tone that suggested weariness with stupidity. “I love being happy. But I’m only happy when I’m sad.”
“Um…” Anna hadn’t seen her friend in a long time, and now Mera seemed sophisticated in a way that she hadn’t previously. Maybe very sophisticated people understood why it’s important to be sad to be happy? “Want some tea?”
“What kind of tea do you have?” asked Mera.
“Is that black tea?”
“So, wait, your mom lets you drink caffeine now? I thought she was a health freak?”
“It’s a long story.”
Because Anna’s grades in school had been bad, the guidance counselor had suggested that Anna start taking Adderall. But her mother, Robin, was having none of that. Oolong tea was her medicine of choice. When the other mothers found out, they had their own opinions on the subject. Robin quipped, “So if I have my daughter drink an infusion that’s been consumed by billions of people for thousands of years, I’m a bad mother — but if I give her a dangerously powerful synthetic drug, whose side effects still aren’t fully understood, I’m a good mother? Who decided on this definition of ‘good mother’?”
Of all of her mom’s traits, Anna most wished she could have inherited this aspect, the defiant side. Instead, Anna had acquired the worst habits of Hal, her father. In particular, she’d gained his habit of evasion, which was serving her as poorly as it had served her father. His unwillingness to discuss difficult subjects was precisely what had caused her mom and dad to split. Yet despite knowing how badly his evasiveness had served him, Anna found herself constantly falling into the same pattern.
“What should we do first?” asked Mera.
“Should we sketch?” asked Anna.
“I brought my sketchbooks,” said Mera.
“You pick a song lyric.”
After the tea was ready, they sat on the lawn with their sketchbooks. As she had many times before, Mera searched through her iPhone until she found a lyric which they both felt like illustrating.
“How about ‘Til Kingdom Come,’ by Coldplay?” asked Mera.
“Is that a sad song?” Anna was unsure.
“He sounds sad,” said Mera. “Almost like he misses me.”
Anna focused on the words, “Hold my head inside your hands.” The letters of the words interested her more than the imagery they invoked. Mera sketched hands and wrote the lyrics between them, then drew sad eyes hovering above the words. But Anna found the letters themselves offering her expressive possibilities. She drew them as weary, lonely statues yearning to be held.
After a few moments, they shared their work. Anna would never admit it, but she always felt a little disappointed when she saw what Mera had done. Bringing the letters into harmony with the real meaning of the lyrics was, to Anna, the whole point of this little game they played. But Mera never did much with the letters, she just wrote them, and then she decorated the page with little doodles of hearts and smiles and eyes and hands. A missed opportunity, in Anna’s view.
“See?” asked Mera. “They’re happy because they’re so sad. But it’s the right kind of sad.”
“Um… yeah, for sure,” said Anna.
Mera was always much more critical of Anna’s work. “That’s not sad. I don’t think you understand what sad is.”
“I know what sad is!” insisted Anna.
“I don’t think you could even get sadness out of ‘Fix You,’ and anyone can find sadness in ‘Fix You.’”
“I can find sadness in ‘Fix You.’”
“I dare you to sketch the lyrics, ‘When you get what you want / but not what you need,’ but make it obvious that it’s sad.”
Angry, Anna began sketching the lyrics, fiercely, with hard pen strokes. After a moment she held it up for Mera’s inspection.
“See?” asked Anna.
“That isn’t sad, that’s angry.”
Anna looked at her work and knew immediately that Mera, just this one time, was correct.
“That’s sad!” shouted Anna. She was suddenly unwilling to concede anything to Mera. “That is clearly sad!”
“Angry!” shouted Mera. “Obviously angry!”
“I don’t even know how to be angry so obviously I didn’t sketch the lyrics angry!” shouted Anna angrily. “If Chris Martin walked in the door right now, he’d be like, ‘Oh my god, that is so sad, you are so sad, you really get sadness, you understand what I was trying to say!’”
“If Chris Martin walked in the door right now he’d be like, ‘Why are you so angry, are you totally psycho, are you going to hurt me, do you have knives, you frighten me, why are you so psycho?’!”
“No!” shouted Anna. “No! He’d be like, ‘You are so cool, you really get what it’s like to be sad’!”
“You don’t understand Chris Martin! You don’t understand Coldplay! You probably think ‘The Scientist’ is a comedy!”
“‘The Scientist’?” asked Anna. Aware she had played the song on her guitar, she tried to recall it. “Is that the one with the Bm7, G, G, D chord progression?”
“Is… um, what?” Mera had a look of mild panic on her face.
For Anna, it felt like a miracle, the conversation had turned around and suddenly she had the advantage. Her father often worked in the theater and had taught her to play guitar at a young age. And they’d played Coldplay together. So she suddenly knew something about Coldplay that Mera did not know.
“Yes, of course, the Bm7, G, G, D chord progression,” said Anna with exaggerated confidence. “I’d like to ask him why he chose those chords.”
“Oh, so you want to force him to talk about work while you’re hanging out?” Mera sounded snide, though perhaps she was desperate to reassert the notion that she understood Coldplay and Anna did not. “I’m sure he’ll love that.”
“Hey! He’s an artist! I bet he loves his work! It’s not like he works at WalMart and I’m asking what’s the best technique for stacking jeans!”
“Right, right,” Mera used her hand to wave Anna, and her silly ideas, away. “He just wants to relax and you’re making him think about all of those emotions. Painful emotions. You want him to feel pain.”
“Why would he feel pain?”
“Don’t you ever listen to the lyrics? The man is in pain. His soul is hurting!”
“But maybe he wants to talk about it?”
“That’s a self-serving excuse,” Mera now shook her head with contempt, as if Anna had suggested something criminal. “You’re so selfish.”
“Do you really think talking about the songs would make him sad?”
“You’re forcing him to relive the trauma. That’s so cruel. You’re cruel.”
“I thought artists loved talking about their trauma. I mean, I know this guy Eric at school, and he’s an artist, and like, wow, he talks about his trauma all the damn time.”
“What kind of artist is he?”
“He sketches stuff.”
“That’s different. That’s just lines and shapes. It’s worse for musicians.”
“Why is it worse for musicians?”
“Because they have to reach deep into their souls to create art. People who sketch stuff don’t have to reach into their souls, they just draw lines and stuff.”
“I think sometimes I reach into my soul.”
“You know nothing about reaching into your soul.”
“Hey, some of my stuff…”
“What?” Mera challenged. “What were you going to say? Some of your stuff comes from the depths of your soul? Like ‘Yellow’? You’re seriously going to compare yourself to Coldplay? You think you’re as good as Chris?”
“I didn’t say that I’m as good. I was just saying, you know, some of my sketches… feel inspired.”
“You don’t know anything about reaching into your soul. Think about a song like ‘Clocks.’ That’s reaching into your soul. Think about ‘In My Place.’”
“Those are good songs,” she admitted.
“Amazing,” agreed Mera. “But they’re for sad people. Only sad people get them.”
“I get them.”
“No! You’re not sad! You don’t get sad!”
Out of annoyance Anna got up and went to the kitchen to make some food. She pulled out bread and tomatoes and mustard and three cheeses: gouda, cheddar, swiss. Despite the fact that her mother was an accomplished cook, Anna had never learned how to make any food other than grilled cheese sandwiches. While this caused her some slight embarrassment, she at least took pride in making fancy grilled sandwiches, always with at least three cheeses. She felt if she only knew how to make one kind of food, she should at least know how to make that one food well.
Mera cast a curious eye towards her. Anna registered the look and deliberately ignored it. They both understood that when Anna refused to ask Mera if she was hungry, then it meant that Anna was upset. Mera refocused on her sketching and pretended to have no interest in what Anna was doing.
After a few moments of high heat in the toaster oven, Anna’s sandwich was melted and tasty in exactly the way she liked it. She put it on a plate and went back to the living room. Her eyes glanced over at Mera’s work, and she was again disappointed that Mera did nothing with the fonts themselves, but only wrote the letters in a boring and standard format and then decorated the page with hearts and smiles.
Anna sat down and took a big bite of her sandwich. Mera focused entirely on her sketchbook. Both pretended they were ignoring the other, when in fact both were entirely focused on the actions, or lack of actions, of the other.
Why did Mera insist on being right? Anna wondered this every time they spent time together. Though there were some practical issues, such as clothing and makeup, where Mera really did seem more savvy than Anna, on issues involving the arts Anna felt she was at least as savvy as Mera, if not more so. Yet Mera was rigid in her habit of insisting she always knew best.
And yet, all things considered, Mera was the best friend that Anna could hope for, and the only person in the world who thought it was fun to spend an afternoon sitting with sketchbooks and drawing.
“Would you like half of my three-cheese grilled cheese sandwich with tomato?” asked Anna.
“Oh,” said Mera, looking up, and making an exaggerated effort to pretend she was only now noticing the sandwich. “You have food? Yes, please, that would be nice.”
Anna put half the sandwich on the paper napkin she’d brought with her and gave that to Mera, who immediately devoured it.
“That is good!” admitted Mera, who’d always loved the way Anna made grilled cheese sandwiches.
“Thank you,” Anna nodded, and suddenly they were friends again. They spent the afternoon sketching Coldplay lyrics.
Robin arrived home in the evening. A feast was necessary to properly welcome Mera. First, the Greek salad: a cucumber, two red bell peppers, a red onion, and several tomatoes. Robin whisked together garlic, oregano, mustard, vinegar, and salt & pepper for the vinaigrette, and she added olive oil to create an emulsion. She topped it all off with Kalamata olives and feta cheese. For the main course, she had decided on seafood. At the local market, she found fresh rainbow trout. She stuffed them with bundles of thyme drenched in olive oil, and slices of lemon, then roasted them along with baby potatoes.
Among the many odd jobs that had so far constituted her erratic career, Robin had worked the longest as a cook, and her meals were always among the most vivid memories Mera took home with her.Source