A Picture and its Words
A procrastinating eleven year old boy sits glued to the light glowing bright enough to give any normal kid a seizure. The light ushers forth from a television set, a big, boxy, archaic reminder of why everyone went to flat panels. He’s watching Money Train, a Thursday night special on Fox, featuring the always butt-kicking, very dark and usually pissed off Wesley Snipes, and a cocky, almost obnoxious Woody Harrelson. (He’s the one with an Owen Wilson face before Owen Wilson was put on the map. ) The tension in the film is building and the action peaks, just in time for a loud call to echo in from the other room.
“Did you finish that paper you were assigned?” comes the voice of a man whose tone clearly indicated he was busy with paperwork.
“Ummm,” the boy replies, “not exactly, Pop, but it’s a cinch. Get to it after this.” A scoop of ice cream finds its way to his lips and the film runs to a commercial break.
“You better get in here and work on it, then, or it’s bed time.”
Ahhh, bed time. The two words that can make any small child obey your every command. The boy reluctantly checks the clock, shuffles his position on the green rug, shoves another spoonful of mint chocolate chip ice cream down his throat, and finally turns off the tube. Dragging his feet into the adjacent room, he plops down at the dining room table, faces a blocky-looking machine known as a desktop computer, and pushes out a forceful sigh. At this point, it’s his job to make sure everyone around him—mainly his father—knows he’s unhappy.
“What’s the paper on?” his father asks.
He shrugs, finishing the bowl of ice cream.
His father shrugs back, putting his pencil behind his ear. His father, a hard-working businessman fit the role of a once-carpenter well, and the whole pencil-in-ear thing worked for him. The boy has tried to pull the look off many times, but it never seems to work. As he finds excuses to escape his father’s soul-piercing glare, he finally replies, “I don’t feel like writing. I want to watch the movie.”
“Yeah, well, your mother and I don’t want to do paperwork, either…but. Well, that’s probably why she bailed on me tonight.” The boy’s father takes a moment to acknowledge his own joke and the painful reality of it. “Nevertheless, we do it. You gotta do whatcha gotta do, son, whether you like it or not.”
The boy shoves his bowl to the side and hops into a seat by the computer.
Suddenly, his father turns his chair, and looks him square in the face. “Ah-ah, no you don’t. Not yet. I’m gonna help you with this assignment. But first, we practice,” he says, cracking his knuckles. “Close your eyes.”
The boy, slightly confused and mostly frustrated, acquiesces, though he can’t imagine why. After a grunt, a shrug, and a long-winded sigh, he scratches his nose and begins to gets curious.
“What’s this for, anyway?”
“When you’re drawing a picture, first you have to see it, right?”
“Yeah. But, Pop, this is an essay, not some sketch. Miss what’s-her-face doesn’t let us do anything as fun as sketching comic book characters or—”
“Miss what’s-her-face? Does your teacher know you call her that?”
“Look, just listen to the sound of my voice. It’s just like drawing a picture. First, you allow me to paint an image in your mind, and then we take that image and turn it into a story. Understand? That’s how we can have fun with this.”
“Miss what’s-her…my teacher doesn’t know the meaning of fun.”
“She was a kid once, too, I’m sure. So, just sit back and listen. You talk too much.”
“Whatever. But it’s not going to be fun.”
The boy’s father can tell he’s rolling his eyes underneath those pale lids, but he continues dictating a brief anecdote anyway. Something to jog the child’s mind. Something to take his mind off Money Train. With every scene and character created, the boy’s enthusiasm increases and a smile crawls across his lips. The boy’s father paints beautiful trees and unheard-of accents and scenery inside the boy’s mind, and each piece becomes more real, more a part of the story.
Like a dream, it comes and goes, sometimes distorted, other times as clear as crystal. Every image a part of a mental photograph, an image impossible to erase. He can see them, touch them, learn their likes and dislikes, who they are and what they’ve done. They’re living, breathing people, scenes turned alive and ready to be explored. A gasp awakens quiet lungs and a deep breath.
“Can you see it now?” my father asks, blinking with anticipation.
It was the most incredible thing. My father wasn’t lying about writing, or about what it can do to a person, what worlds can be created in just a few moments. He wasn’t just a businessman or a dad; he was a writer. He knew what kind of fun someone could have if only they shut their eyes from the crazy, busy world for a moment and let the words form themselves. It really was like drawing a character. Every sound and word was a piece, a shape of a larger thing forming in my mind. All I had to do was picture it first.
He leans back in his chair, as I nod with a grin on my face. “Yeah, I can see it. I can see everything.”
“Good,” he says, patting my shoulder. “Now we can write.”
Thanks so much, Estevan!