Alternate endings

Life goes like this.  You can’t tell someone what your life is really like, because the only perfect map is a complete model of the terrain.  You’d have to recapitulate the universe to get it right.  So, instead, we pick and choose, and, in the process, we change things.  Always with the intention to mislead, although it might be an intent to mislead in the direction of greater truth, rather than away from that.

We all do that.  Polish the facts just a little, present them in just an order, such that the point we feel should be gleaned gets across.  We don’t try to represent things accurately and objectively, because that isn’t what we are experiencing — we, none of us, live objectively among the phenomenae.  We have reactions.

So.  Stories.  Life.  Now you know.

When one is writing a story (I’m talking about literature now, not the other kind), one gets to decide what happens.  There’s a lot of folk who claim that the story HAD to be written just so, HAD to end a certain way, but really what they mean is the story they wanted to tell had to go like that.  They chose.  Okay, then.

Maybe all stories work like that.  I’m talking life now, and literature both.  Maybe the metaphor bleeds actuality across, and taints and traits of the one are stained on the other through the medium of reality diluted in figures of speech.

Maybe.  I could analyze it for a day or two, consider deeply, draw inferences and pose difficulties.  Or I could just try it and see what happens, gain a data point that might draw a more curve-y curve than a single point might.

A long time ago, 18 months or so, someone commissioned me to make her a picture frame that matched, in pattern and finish, an aged frame she already had.  She purchased wood (a different wood), and stain (which would have colored the new wood opaque tar), and presented them to me with her model, asking me to use the wrong materials and come up with the right frame.

And, hey, I did that, mixing her stain with a bunch of other things (including rusted steel wool) to get just the right overtones in artificial and sunlight.  The patterns for the frame matched.  It was spot-on.  I got $20 for about three weeks of my free time, but I felt okay about that.  Future prices would be haggled a bit, and I wouldn’t let someone else declare the obstacles on the next projects.  I got my $20 and a hug and squees of delight.

A week or so went by.  She reached out to me, saying that the intention for the new frame actually required it to be deeper than we discussed.  It needed to be more of a shadow-box, really.  Could I take an extra piece of the wood, cut it exactly flush to match the frame, and just layer them up and make it deeper, then stain the new wood to match the existing wood that would then, as a whole, match the original frame?

Being an ass, I said I could do that.  Then life exploded, and by and large, I had no wood-working time available to me that was not better spent on something else.  I kept the frame and the stain and the extra wood, and they gathered dust and cursed my leisure time; I would walk into the shop, consider what I’d like to do, and realize I had this obligation on me and I could do nothing else.  I could not complete the work on the frame because I hadn’t the tools to do what was needed correctly.  Couldn’t go forward, couldn’t skip over it.

18 months of that.  When I thought of it, fairly frequently, I considered it a fine example of how lacking in virtue and trustworthiness I was, how useless and in fact detrimental I was to society as a whole, and how I should be sent into the outer darkness to live, unloved and alone, where my failures would not burden others.  It was, I felt, obvious from the problem statement what the conclusions were that should be drawn.

The nice woman eventually asked to have the raw materials and the frame, to the degree it was a frame she needed, returned to her.  I did, and she was nice about it, although she never did say that it was all right that I did not deliver as promised.  I assume she stays up nights, hating me, hurting herself to spite me, finding strangers on sidewalks and in bars and low establishments with diseased patrons and telling them her tale of woe and misuse at my hands.

It is just possible that this is not exactly how her experience of this goes, but it’s what I tell myself when I am trying to be kind to me, to soften the blow that my actions make me so deserve.

That, friends, is the story I would tell you of the picture frame.  It is not a story that makes me happy with myself.  It may be, though, that a different ending could be put to it.

So, let’s try, for the sheer philosophic wonder of it all.

18 months ago, a nice woman commissioned me to make her a frame.  She’d purchased materials for it, and was excited by that, so I agreed to use the materials to let her continue to feel happy.  She and I agreed on the dimensions of the frame specifically, and how it would look, and I went home and made the frame for her, nailing exactly what we’d agreed.

Shortly after, she called back and asked if it was possible, after the work was completed, to make it come out to completely different set of specifications.  I had doubts myself, or perhaps I was just assuming I’d get that done without really thinking through what was involved.  Once thought through, though, I realized I’d gotten into a bigger set of technical problems than I could solve with the materials at hand — what should be done is actually start over.  I didn’t consider that an option though, and sidelined the project for months.

Eventually she tired of waiting, and called to check on her project.  Rather than lead her on, I told her outright that I thought 18 months ample to show I wasn’t going to be able to get to her project, and offered to return it to her.  She had no problem with this; I’d offered to try to make the re-specified version for no further cost, and she got all her materials back.  I returned everything and we parted on a friendly basis.  I even told her that, while I regretted not being able to deliver the new specifications, I mostly regretted not recognizing sooner and tossing my hand in a long time back.  We would both have gone on to other things.

…   …

Both of those versions are exactly true.  I can’t say that I’ve learned anything from the re-telling, but maybe there is something perking in the background that I won’t recognize until later.

Mind, if I tell you about it tomorrow, it’s likely that the story will be somewhat different.

Both versions, of course, will be true.

Crossposted from Epinephrine & Sophistry

4 thoughts on “Alternate endings”

  1. You may not have learned anything from the re-telling, but you had to learn something to be capable of writing the re-telling in the first place.

    And it heartens me, because what you had to learn to be capable of the re-telling is how to be kind to yourself, and allow yourself to fail in one thing without failing in everything. You’re a good person, and I’m glad to see you allowing yourself to realize it.

  2. You may not have learned anything from the re-telling, but you had to learn something to be capable of writing the re-telling in the first place.

    And it heartens me, because what you had to learn to be capable of the re-telling is how to be kind to yourself, and allow yourself to fail in one thing without failing in everything. You’re a good person, and I’m glad to see you allowing yourself to realize it.

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