The first time I saw her…

The first time I saw her she was seven years old. Warm and radiant with youth as children are, awkward puberty and teenage years a long way off. I was walking in front of her house, when out of the blue, she came charging around from behind the house imploring that I should help her rescue her unicorn which had gotten itself caught up a tree. Since I was early, and didn’t need to be at my appointment for a few hours, I decided it might be fun to engage in some childhood play for a while. After all, I’d never seen a unicorn.

She grabbed my hand and dragged me to the back yard.

“There he is mister! Can you get him down?” she asked.

I looked up and started to chuckle in spite of myself. There, tucked safely in the crook of a tree, was a large tabby cat with a horn tied around its head. The cat clearly wanted to stay where it was, as it did not enjoy the game that his mistress was currently playing.

“Can you see him? He’s magic!”

I found my way out.

“Nope, I can’t see him my dear,” I fibbed, an attempt to save the cat further embarrassment. “Where did you say he was?”

“There, right there!” She pointed emphatically.

I smiled and stifled another chuckle at her exuberance.

I bent down to her level “I’m sorry, sweetie. I just don’t see your magic unicorn –“

“You there! Charlotte get away from him!” The mother came blustering like a momma bear out of the back door.

I took several steps back and waited until the mother addressed me. I’d had a mother, too, and when mothers were in that sort of mood, the best thing to do is to wait until they ask you to speak.

“What do you think you’re doing back here?” she shouted

Very calmly, I replied “The child simply asked me to rescue her unicorn from the tree, and I was here to render assistance.”

“Unicorn?” He faced contorted “What unicorn?”

I pointed up into the tree

“That unicorn.”

She looked up and her face melted into a smile. She chuckled a bit and turned back to Charlotte.

“You know you’re not supposed to talk to strangers! Now why are you tormenting that poor cat! You know he doesn’t like the games you play. How did you get that horn on his head anyway?”

I tipped my hat and started to walk away.

“Wait, I’m sorry,” she called after me. “My name is Virginia Clement. This is my daughter Charlotte.”

Now it was Charlotte’s turn to have a face contorted in anger.   She wanted that cat!

“I’m sorry she disturbed you – she just has an overactive imagination! Hyperactive, even.”

“No, no apologies are necessary. I was happy to play along!”

“Well, anyways, I’m sorry.”

“That’s very kind, but I do need to be on my way.”

“Alright.”

Ms. Clement followed me around to the front yard. Suddenly, she blurted out

“Mr. Clement, my husband works a lot. I’m alone her with Charlotte most days.”

I nodded and reached the sidewalk. I turned to go and she blurted again.

“Would you like to come in for some coffee or peach pie? I just made it.” She worried her hands on her apron. “Only, I don’t get very much company and it would be nice to talk to an adult for a while.”

I felt sorry for her, so lonely with such a precocious child.

“Maybe some other time, I really must be going.”

“All right,” she said, dejected. But quickly gathered herself again, “Please feel free to come by anytime. I have all sorts of baked goods, and I make a great cup of coffee!”

I nodded and continued on down the sidewalk, not giving the incident another thought. 20 years later, as I looked at Charlotte snuggled in the pillows across the great big bed, it still amazes me how that first meeting set up the chain of events that lead us to the moment here and now.

 

 

 

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Yesterday

It was yesterday. It was always yesterday. Nothing ever changed. No matter how many days came between them, it was always yesterday that everything happened. Eternally yesterday.

He slid his hand over his face, trying to wipe away the sleep. His hand came across the coarseness of his chin. “I should shave,” he thought. A knee jerk reaction to a totally innocent gesture. But there was no need to shave, was there? Not anymore.

He stared at the ceiling wondering how long he could stay in bed. He wanted to count the ceiling tiles and then fall back asleep but thought better of it. He had his fill of nightmares last night and needed to create new memories to block out the old.

He sat up and looked around the sparse room, as he did every time he woke, looking over all the ancillary objects with an experienced eye. Yes, a crack in the vase, and there – streaks on the window glass. These flaws were telltale signs that he was back in the real world, outside of the dream one in which he seemed to spend most of his time. It was in the useless, random details that he found solace. The silly, extemporaneous details that the computer would always leave out. They communicated a sense of firmness, of being grounded, in the present and in control, outside of any other world or time in which they wanted him to be.

He walked slowly to the bathroom to begin his waking ritual. He still took a shower whenever he could. His body might not be real, but he enjoyed the feeling of showering. It was like meditation before the day. It made him feel almost human again.

There was no need for food, so there was no breakfast. Sometimes he missed the smell of bacon in the morning so much he would start to drool – not a recommended activity according to the owners manual. No bacon, no coffee, no dry crusty toast. Hell, he’d even settle for moldy toast at this point but solid food was the trade off for the Kraftpack. He thought at the time that he wouldn’t miss eating. All the inconvenience of it, not to mention the waste elimination and then disposal. He felt sure that it was only one less thing to worry about. Besides, the Kraftpack provided him with a balanced nutritional intake throughout the day, along with regular inoculations and steroids to help fight off any errant infection. He was much healthier with the pack. But he still missed the bacon.

 

 

 

The phone rang and she looked at the caller ID

The phone rang and she looked at the caller ID. It was her sister, and since she called so rarely, Cheryl decided this time to answer it.

“Hey – “

She was cut off by a deep, guttural wailing on the other end of the line.

“What?! What happened?”

The wailing continued for just a moment, then Carla caught her breath. All she could say was “Steve…”

She didn’t need to go any further.

“No, no!” screamed Cheryl. “No! No!” She threw the phone across the room. She wasn’t going to let the tears come, because it wasn’t true. Whatever was on the other end of the line wasn’t true. Her brother was fine, there was nothing wrong. They were very close, and that closeness protected him from any harm. She decided that it was fact and picked up the phone. She pressed the red button and disconnected herself from the call.

By then Cheryl’s husband came into the room. “What? What happened?”

“Nothing.” Her laugh was like tin.

“Why were you yelling? And why did you throw your phone?”

She ignored the first question. “Oh, no, it just slipped.”

She could tell that he knew she was lying, but he slowly decided not to challenge her on it.

The phone rang again and he could see the picture of Carla, smiling and happy, come up on the screen. Cheryl sent the call to voice mail.

“Was that your sister?” he asked

“Oh, yeah,” she tried to sound casual, but came off as trying to sound casual. She didn’t care. “She just wanted to talk about something.”

“What was it?”

“Oh, nothing important.” She started to walk away, thereby ending the conversation.

He stared at her as she walked away, clearly trying to assess her emotional state. He didn’t believe her, and she let her feigned apathy fill the void of his unasked questions.

Moments later, his phone rang, and she knew without looking that it was Carla, hunting Cheryl down, determined to break through and deliver her heart wrenching news.

“I’m gonna…”

imgonna

My whole life has been “I’m gonna”. “I’m gonna be a great artist, I’m gonna be a great animator” and recently “I’m gonna be a writer”. But I’ve lacked the follow through. The actual work involved to be all these things I thought I should be. I thought that all these wonderful things would just happen to me, and now I’m disappointed that they haven’t.

Like everyone else, I just want to be good at something. I figured my “true calling” would be reveled in something I tried and was great at from the first stroke. I don’t know about you, but nothing like that has appeared in my life.

But is it too late? I’m not in my 20’s anymore. I have physical limitations that weren’t there before, things that are detrimental to a visual career. That’s why I’m interested in writing.

I’ve always loved to write.

Lately, I’ve been writing letters to friends and family in long hand through regular “snail mail”. I know it’s fun to get a letter from someone, and it’s fun for me to write them, so it’s a win win. The content is usually whatever pops into my head (kind of like this). I don’t edit while I’m writing, I just let it flow from the pen. Of course, the spelling is atrocious (I knew how to spell that!).

I also keep a journal, of course, which I write in everyday, often twice a day – once in the morning and once before bed. The content is the same as my letters – just whatever comes into my mind at the moment.

Finally, I have several “100 Letters” projects completed. A letter almost everyday to a family member. But these letters don’t get sent. The point is to have something to give to Charlotte when she gets older that shows my relationships with my family members – her family members. I want to leave these letters as little treasures for her to find.

So, I’ve already started on the road of creating the right habits to become a writer. Now all I have to do is walk that road with purpose and intent if I want to get from ‘I’m gonna’ to ‘I am’.

Vector Video

vectorvideo

By using the much overlooked .swf file format, you can have hand drawn animation that accepts almost all the filters and effects in After Effects.

The first step is always the planning. Nothing can get started without a map, and in animation it’s even more important. Hand drawn animation is extremely time consuming and going back to make changes after the fact can throw off all your work so far.

Once you know what you’re going to make, the next step is to create the animation in Adobe Animate (formerly known as Flash). There are a lot of really great built in features that will help make your production process as smooth as possible. There’s no need for additional ‘plugins’, though many are helpful time savers.

After you’ve completed your animation in Animate, select ‘export>movie’ and the swf will be the default file format. Pay attention where you save this file, because once you make the connection with After Effects, you don’t want to worry about a broken link. (Note: I’m not sure if Animate supports dynamic linking with After Effects, but I’ll check that for the next post.)

The next step is to go into After Effects and import your file. Place the file in your composition timeline, and apply any effects you would normally apply to a vector image. The video can accept filters and effects, and is infinitely scalable. This makes it a perfect format for rolling image zoom transitions and other special effect work.

With a few simple steps, you can achieve the hand drawn look of classic animation, that works great in After Effects.

Jan ??

The snow feel gently against a grey sky. The house was quiet, for the most part. The little girl was in bed, slowly waking by singing songs to her teddy bear, and the house gave off it’s normal working sounds. The rumble of the furnace, the hum of the refrigerator, the tick of several clocks. All was steady and still, poised for the beginning of a new day.
She sat at the kitchen table, sipping coffee and wondering what important thing she’ll make important today. Lately it seems that every time she looks around the house, she can actually see the 12 years that they’ve lived here. For 12 years, she looked out the kitchen window to the branches of the fir tree next door. For 12 years, she’s walked down the three steps separating the bedrooms from the living room. For 12 years, she’s watched the house revert from what was once shiny and new, back into the old tired place of the cranky seniors who lived here before, the sounds of yelling at dusk to the kids playing in the street echoing back from 1975. The slick coat of paint that had covered up all the discontent was cracked and faded, letting the smell of wasted life and bitter memories seep into her own life. It was time to move on.