[CREATIVE NONFICTION] Autumn
II. A painter is asked by the pragmatist: “Hey man, can you paint me? Nothing interpretive. Keep it literal.” The artist’s palette full of ochre, cornflower, and turquoise at the ready, he considers his first stroke. He blends the hues to match the musical myriad in his mind and lays down a band of color–directly across the man’s face. “Keep it literal.” That’s what he said, right? Then why do they always balk when you leave a piece of your soul on paper?
X. If you want the sunset, hell, I can paint it for you. With its rosy aura of purple, and red and yellow, it simmers like a pot of molten cherry salt water taffy. Little puffy clouds tuck the crimson orb down for its 10-hour nap. The swirling salt-waters of Okaloosa Island off the Florida Coast sport scores of Spadefish, Snapper, and Sea Cat. Miles of meadows from my hokey hometown of Flagler find field crickets chirping their evesong, and grasshoppers with banded wings of periwinkle and onyx. I can’t match my socks, but if you want the sunset, hell, I can paint it for you.
VI/IX. I sit in my swivel chair, cup of Kronung Coffee at my left, iPod at my right. Headphones in, volume up, and my eyes slowly close as the first violin snakes its way into my senses. It’s 4 am. Today I will buy chicken. Today I will change my brakes. Today I will meet with a bride. Today I will bury my friend.
VIII. “If this typewriter can’t do it, then fuck it, it can’t be done.” † Thanks, Tom Robbins. My handwriting is like a drunk spider jumped in ink and skittered across the paper. Thank God for word processors. My fingertips glide effortlessly across my computer keyboard. I type thirty-five words-per-minute if you must know.
“Are your fingers on the home keys, Daniel?” my typing teacher would say.
“No Miss Cawthon. I’m only using five of my ten fingers. Isn’t thirty-five words-per-minute good enough?”
She shakes her head. “Oh, Daniel. Think of what you could do if you used all ten fingers!”
I’d focus on the shiny black keys on the IBM Selectric in front of me and think “I’ll show you what I can do with one of those fingers.”
IV. In 1984 at Madras Middle School, I brought Doritos for lunch. My friend Edward brought Oreos. He didn’t want them and offered them to me. I’d decimated my Doritos but didn’t want cheese dust on the Oreos. I went to the water fountain to wash out my Dorito bag. (Hey, it made sense at the time.) The principal saw me, assumed I was making a water bomb and took me by the ear. After a pinewood conviction without a trial, he said: “What do you want to do with your life, Daniel?” I said I wanted to write poetry. He sneered and said men don’t write poetry unless they are gay.
I’m not gay, so I guess I can’t write poetry. My best friend Edward was gay, but he can’t write for shit. Something doesn’t add up, here. I’ll just put this poem away for now. Maybe later, I will give it to someone who’ll see things differently.
III. The paper is now three years old and worn, dog-eared and discolored. I am sitting in the school courtyard and she is sprawled under a tree I planted last year as part of a school project. I timidly walk over and say, “Can you give me your opinion on this?” She smiles through blue-banded braces, and says “Sure!” Her name is Autumn. Her hair is nutmeg, like the warmth of the Florida sun. I’d made revisions to my poem, and included parts I knew (or hoped) she would know were about her. She savors it slowly and smiles, her eyes dancing, and says: “You like her, don’t you?”
She looked up at me and said: “I think I like him, too.”
V. I still have high school students ask me if I will mentor them in darkroom photography. Darkroom is an art. Darkroom is chemistry. Darkroom is patience, passion, and personality. I always let them fail the first time, though. I let them fog their film and fuck up their first photos. Only by fucking up can you learn to “feel out” your technique. The best teacher knows you are going to fail the first time and is ready to pick you up, hand you a new roll of film, and say “Let’s try it again. You can do it. I believe in you.” Same with writing. If someone believes in you, it changes everything.
XI. I am an interrobang. A mixture of exclamation and curiosity. I want to write whimsical fantasy like C.S. Lewis, poignant poems like Longfellow, and gothic romance like Charlotte Bronte. I want to make people fall in love, and not keep fogging up my first few frames of film every time.
I. I’m a writer.
(And I still have to go buy chicken.)