Thursday, December 20, 2007

Charlie and the Pretty Picture

"Is that your background?" Tim asked when he walked into the large conference room at the end of the department's halls. I glanced at the screen and thought it odd that the projector had such control over my laptop. It scoots all the programs to the edge of the screen and displays the desktop picture until PowerPoint starts the presentation. I had movies within the talk I gave for my interview and was recycling slides (as requested) to give the talk at our group meeting. So I refused to use the conference room computer and had connected my laptop to the projector to ensure the proper display of my presentation.

"It is." I said, looking back to Tim. "Pretty, isn't it?"

"It's gorgeous." He said, still looking at the screen. "It looks almost like a Monet - only more vivid - when you're this close and it's that big." I turned to look at him again and noticed Boss and several other faculty had entered the room and were peering at the screen before offering their compliments on my choice of backgrounds.

"A friend painted it." I told them proudly, always eager to preen in the presence of praise now that I realized this would likely be the most impressive part of my presentation.

"You know a professional painter?" Boss asked and I grinned.

"Charlie," I told them, "has his doctorate in science. He is a professional, but not of the artistic variety. When we talk, I try to nudge him toward painting more. He has quite the talent."

"You should come back here to see it." Tim noted as he moved to the far end of the room where the pizza was located. "It's just stunning."

I watched with some amusement as the group of students and faculty that had gathered moved backward and forward - away from and toward the screen - so they could appreciate Charlie's work. Someone turned off the lights in the room - we leave them on while people gather pizza and drinks before the presentations begin - and a chorus of approving sounds were heard around the room. I laughed, delighted they enjoyed the art as much as I do.

As we settled in the darkened room, sipping soda and eating pizza, we didn't speak of my interview and how I thought it went. Instead, we talked about Charlie.

"Has he always painted? Or is this his early work? He could be a genius!" Jane said from across the table.

"He's drawn and painted for a long time, I think." I told her. "He is rather brilliant though - incredibly smart, quite personable and friendly, and with this incredible artistic talent. But it's a hobby - one he rarely finds time for lately."

"He should paint more." Tim said seriously, still looking at the colors on screen.

"He used a photo of mine as a guide." I told him proudly and watched him look suitably impressed. "I took it on a hike when we were in the Poconos for that workshop." I glanced at Boss and he smiled at me.

What I did not say, but could have, was that the picture has meaning for me and has remained as my desktop background for a reason. I recall being in that valley, having hiked down the impressive hill. I was looking for the waterfall that I wouldn't find until the next day, having taken the wrong path. I wanted to at least make a loop - see different autumnal scenery - so I turned left and walked down a new path, enjoying the way the leaves crunched under my sneakers and glancing around at the new sights that surrounded me. I came to a stop when I approached a small building. The path went no farther and it was beyond my energies to wander through the forest on my own. So I lifted my camera and took a photo - a rather unimpressive one at that - and sighed heavily before turning around and retracing my steps back to the resort.

Life gets better, I could have told them. Sometimes the end isn't as disappointing as it seems. The journey - even if fruitless - is often worthwhile in and of itself. And in rare instances, you can meet someone exceptional who takes a moment you experienced and paints something beautiful from it. So when I think of that space in the valley, I now immediately think of Charlie's painting rather than how depressed I was, how hard everything seemed, and how I wondered if life would ever seem less suffocating. I can breathe now - quite easily most times - and as I face journal decisions and iffy job prospects, I need the reminder of unexpected beauty.

"Did you ask him to paint it?"

"No." I said to the professor sitting a few seats away. "I did ask if I could buy it, but he hasn't let me. Which is part of why he should paint more - build up some inventory so he'll sell me the one I want."

"You're lucky to know him." Tim stated and I nodded.

"Absolutely agreed."

I soon started my presentation, covering Charlie's picture with sciencey images and summary text. I talked for about 45 minutes, allowing interruptions and discussing a number of points with people in the room. When we finished, Boss approached me as several people stood around me, asking questions or offering advice.

"It's been a long time since I've heard a talk that good." He told me softly, bending to keep the comment private. "You do such a beautiful job - you have a command of the project as a whole, deal with questions wonderfully, make people feel they can talk to you and you'll be interested and graceful. I'm so proud of how well you speak."

"Thank you." I told him. "That's very kind."

"You impressed them at your visit." He said confidently, putting his arm around me to squeeze. I cuddled into his side for a moment, feeling a pang that I'd be leaving here at some point - having to depart the shelter and encouragement he's offered over the past years. "Whether you get it or not, I'm sure they were very impressed."

In that moment, I missed him already. All these people who gathered to hear me talk - who want to see me do well. But I quit PowerPoint and Charlie's picture appeared again and made me sigh. Paths end and people turn around or find different directions. If you're lucky, I suppose you meet good people and perhaps get a rather perfect desktop picture along the way. Which left me to grab a slice of cold pizza and return to transferring data that would take me 10 hours. But that's the bad and boring part of yesterday - I just told you the good parts so we'll leave it at that.


doc-in-training said...

Katie, what a story! Thanks for sharing. (I sighed with you at the end).

Anonymous said...

"...Paths end and people turn around or find different directions. If you're lucky, I suppose you meet good people..."

So true. Life is about change. I think I grew up thinking nothing changes and things take so long. Now, it seems that things go sooo fast and everything changes.

We wouldn't be the people we are if we didn't change. We take each person, each situation we've experienced with us. THEY change US.

Joy from Wisconsin

Estrella said...

What a lovely compliment from your boss. Wishing you joy as you prepare for the holidays. :-)

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