Fortune is Fated — a short story

Once a long time ago (2003) I took an English course to satisfy UCLA’s bureaucratic notions that I should have a ‘well-rounded’ education. As part of this course we read short stories, and were required to write a mini-essay each week about those readings. The grading system was arranged such that 1 of the grades on those essays was to be dropped, essentially we were given 1 freebie. About the middle of the course, I became rather tired of writing essays about short stories, and thought it would be more instructive to write a short story myself, and hand that in instead. (I was also feeling rebellious, and curiously wondered about how the graders would respond to this ‘daring creativity’). It was customary to receive last weeks graded essay in the TA session when we turn in this weeks homework. To my great amusement my paper was marked “see me after class”, whereupon I had a small discussion, and stated my reasons for rebellion, and ultimately caved in by agreeing that this was how I chose to use the freebie. My grade didn’t really suffer, but I was disappointed that the TA and teacher didn’t really seem to care that I’d tried my hand in creativity rather than analysis. So much for English majors caring about creativity.

During this process, I also learned that I’m not especially good at creative acts, my talents lie more in analysis, picking apart logical deductions and revealing the fallacies, or in applying work that others have already done to solve problem. This is why I’m a programmer, It’s a relatively well-defined task, and offers the constraints that I need to bounce off of during algorithmic construction. When presented with the much freer realm of linguistic expression of pure Ideas, I feel presented with too many choices and not enough of a formalism to help guide me towards the ‘optimal’ choice. I can construct when my world is made of Legos but not when made of clay.

Fortune is Fated.

Fusilli was painting a portion of the New Jersey coast, grand and with a truly beautiful sunrise; a masterpiece of Meaning, Purpose, and Form. Thousands used these docks everyday, loading and unloading ton after ton of raw cargo with giant skeletal cranes, while millions more depended on the efforts of this monotonous labor. None of this was reflected in the painting. In place of a fish carcass was rendered a glint of sunlight, the cargo ships were transformed into pastoral dinghies holding fisherman bronzed from the sun, the entirety of the docks were sunk into a deep blue ocean, rich with aquatic life. The New Jersey coast was replaced by something resembling the Ideal.

At the pinnacle of his career as an artiste, Fusilli’s work was compared to the grandmasters of the business, Da Vinci, Raphael, Rembrandt. He produced works of Beauty owned by financial tycoons but held in museums and frequented by the public. Through his renditions patrons caught a glimpse of Truth. The hidden meaning of their experience was communicated by still shape and color alone, an utterance beyond words.

As the sun made its slow path toward midmorning Fusilli realized that further painting would have to wait for another day, he had to prepare himself. Tonight he must make an appearance at an exhibition of his work hosted by the Guggenheim. Many fabulously wealthy capitalists and persuasively powerful art critics would be in attendance. His personal servant washed his brushes and stowed the canvas in the trunk, while he entered the limousine and reflected on the Beauty he had so far recorded.

As expected, the museum was populated by batty intellectuals, accompanied by their silenced mistresses adorned in the most expensive jewelery and precious gowns, in fervid discussion over the artwork. There were grand and eloquent speeches together with diminutive cocktail weenies. The artwork supported the walls and was gazed at in awe. When Fusilli finally arrived, having planned a fashionable entrance, he was much praised and fawned over. With people lauding him as he traversed the halls he waded to his favorite piece, The Grandure of New York.

He stood to gaze and appreciate the majestic power he had captured in this piece. So absorbed was his admiration that he became immune to all around him, without sound or movement he stared. It was a gigantic work, 10 feet high, it caught the Empire State as cleanly as an architectural landscape. With lofty cotton clouds and royal blue sky the building stood as a monument to mans constructive power. The windows, like mirrors, sublimely reflected the surround structures as if they were made of Oriental porcelain.

Slowly, Fusilli came back to reality, and in so doing became aware of snappy conversation near him. An elderly man, bedecked in ordinary tuxedo, enhanced with a crimson rose that was mirrored by impeccably shined pearl black shoes. His aged face held noble austerity with twinkling eyes framed behind gold rimmed glass, which spoke more of his vast wealth that the old fashioned silk top hat. He was nonetheless enjoying himself in heated conversation with some creature left vilely garbed in a raincoat. Though young, his eyes lacked the sparkle of the old mans, and were kept hidden as he refused to speak in any forthright manner. His shoes were beaten and ragged, his hat an ordinary bowler. Indeed, having dressed minimally for the occasion, his entire demeanor seemed to subversively seek out and destroy all the pretensions of fashion.

“But don’t you see what is behind the painting?” cried the gentleman.

Curtly, and with no attempt to look deeper, the truant replied, “Impossible, the painting covers it up.”

Fusilli had to put a stop to this conversation. This man’s view was dangerous. Ideas like that could infect the entire art community. They’d stop funding his work, he’d be destitute once again. Oh! How hard it was to appreciate Form and Beauty when only he could see it. Bitterly, he remembered the hunger that ate him alive as he sacrificed food for canvas and paint. He must stop this foreigner.

“But the Beauty, It is real!! I captured it for you to look at,” Fusilli tried in vain to tell the man.

“All you did was put some color on some matte, and not very well at that.”

Pleading hopefully, “You see the Form, though, behind the work. Its Meaning and Purpose?”

“If by form you mean the blobs of color, yes. But meaning and purpose, there is none. Not in anything. You haven’t even painted the real thing. We’re in New York, it looks nothing like that.”

This man was obviously stubborn. He wouldn’t be swayed by visual appeals to the idealistic, nor would he listen to statements of the Divine. Fusilli needed desperately to convince this critic. “I was on an observation deck when I painted this, And this is what I saw. I painted Life: the Air that gives it breath, the Water that quenches its thirst, the Fire that ignites passion, and the Earth that supports us all. Can’t you see the Divine?”

Cold-heartedly, came the crushing response. “You painted a fantasy, a delusion in your mind, though shared by many. You have painted the Maya. That is no skill; to paint what you think you see.” The cloaked man turned and left. Walked slowly away with the burdened footsteps of Atlas.

Fusilli with tears in his eyes, on bent knees, his World being taken away called out “I painted Beauty!! I painted Beauty!!” while other critics and investors eyed each other knowingly.