“He's swinging for the fences.”
They ask how much wood could a woodchuck chuck. But really I think he's content just carrying it. Anyway onto the flash fiction!
“No!” I yelled at the computer, “That is not what I wanted you to do!” The canvas in my art program became flooded in red. The angrier I got, the darker the red. Soon it became the color of muddy blood. I took a deep breath. One of those deep, therapeutic breaths that psychologists and mothers tell you to take when you're angry. When I calmed down the canvas in my art program turned to a soft, light blue. I wanted my mouse and keyboard back.
The modern world was switching to brain interfaces for many computer programs. Everyone is going from sweeping their mouses, clicking-clacking their keyboards, tip-tapping their tablets to snapping on these gray, polished mind-reading helmets. People wrote books with these helmets. They jumped the words straight from their head through the helmet to the screen. Composers could string together melodies. Digital art was jumping on that bandwagon too. Digital art is where I worked and if I didn't hop along, I would be an old man out of a job.
Without a keyboard, mouse and tablet to clutter it up my wooden desk looked barren. I still kept the six-inch reference mannequin from college on the old desk. Four hours ago I turned on the new computer I bought, its monitor, and inserted the CD for the art program. I just barely managed to install “BrainDaVinci” and open it. The logo of the program was a picture of Leonardo looking wise and sophisticated.
The program's window wasn't as pretty as any of the Renaissance painter's art. Around the digital canvas in the middle of the monitor where I was suppose to make my art were a huge amount of “focus buttons”. Focus buttons are what most brain interface programs use for their basic controls like “save as”. You look at the little icon and focus on just it like your having some crazy, intense, split second staring contest then you break focus. That's how people click with these screwy mind-reading helmets. And that's what spent four hours trying to figure out how to do to install the program in the first place.
I couldn't take any classes. I've been doing digital art for thirty-five years and I wasn't going to have some inexperienced kid half my age telling me how to do my job. I'd figure it out myself. I've always figured it out myself. I'll stomach a manual. Whether a manual is written by one person or a thousand together the most important part is that it isn't someone waving their finger in my face or looking at what I'm doing.
The canvas was still a soft, light blue from when I calmed myself down. I focused on a small, square-shaped area in the middle of the canvas in the art program. To match the old idiom the programmers of BrainDaVinci made the color green appear with the emotion envy.
And the square turned red, probably because this was attempt twenty at forcing myself to feel envy. I became angry and lost focus. The box became red and turned into a blob shape as I didn't think of any solid shape. My anger turned to the entire work, changing the whole canvas red again.
How could any sane human being do this? How could this be quicker than my tablet? Did the company hire zen monks who could control their emotions perfectly? This thing is impossible! Well, whoever can use this program is obviously some sort of level above me.
The canvas turned green.
Wait? Why'd it turn green? You stupid machine! Why'd you only turn the color I want when I don't want you to? No! Now the canvas turned dark red again. Crap. I didn't want to get mad. I took a deep breath to calm myself again and the canvas turned a light blue. It soon hit me. The canvas turned green because I was envious of the people who knew how to use the program.
I decided to try again. I focused on a square in the middle of the canvas. I thought of those people. I thought hard. I didn't exactly know who they were so I had to make a sort of mental image of them. I actually imagined a zen monk in brown robes wearing one of the brain interface helmets. A man even older than me but somehow less wrinkly. And then I had green in my square. I'll admit it was a reddish green, I was angry at my imaginary monk's superior skill. But still I had green.
I finally did it. I created the green square. A perfectly shaped, green square over the light blue background from my little calming breath. The canvas turned an obnoxiously sunny yellow. Well I guess I just found out the color for overjoyed satisfaction.
I made more and more squares of envy on top of my new yellow background. I worked to make as even a checkerboard pattern as I could. If I ever got satisfied about my progress I focused on a tiny area of the canvas that was already yellow so I wouldn't stain my entire picture. I think it was more chance than skill that I managed to make squares across the entire canvas without focusing on it all a single time. Also the fact I immediately yanked off my helmet when I reached the finished helped. My squares were perfect in shape, but not size, and the checkerboard pattern had become lopsided, like someone had stitched quilts of multiple sizes together. But still it worked and I made something intentionally.
I put my helmet back on and kept working. I focused on the entire canvas. One deep breath to turn it a solid, light blue. I focused on small areas in the shapes of triangles and circles and colored them with my envy. I worked to controlling the sizes along with making octagons, trapezoids and as many more shapes I could. I worked into using more than envy for my shapes. I reminded myself of my successes in the program to bring back the sunny yellow and I found out I could think of my ex-wife to get any red I need. Over time I noticed that this had become faster than my tablet. My designs were basic, but everything had become much quicker as I skipped the middleman.
It took two more hours, but I finally completed a piece of art. It was sloppy. But it still was art.
The bottom third was the ground. I scrawled dark green grass over a dark brown dirt. I still had plenty of envy for the other artists to use for that green and I found out that brown came from pride, something I could get simply by thinking about my greatest art I've created over my career. On that ground I made a red-brick house. Outlines were in black. Black came from loneliness, which I got from reminding myself that I was the only one that lived in my apartment. The door was simple and white. The helmet put white on the canvas when it read my mind feeling fear. Bringing the fact to mind that not mastering this program would put me out of a job provided all the white I needed with a quick simple thought. Light blue was created by calm, but the darker shades were created by sadness. I brought up sadness with memories of a childhood pet long gone. With the fear of death I placed a few large, pure white clouds in the sky.
I took off my helmet to avoid any risk of messing up my piece while I looked it over. I found it terrible in quality. I looked at the time. I was shocked. It took me only fifteen seconds to make the piece. I practiced moving my eyes and changing emotions after the checkerboard piece for a good two hours before starting this. I couldn't believe I became so quick. And all the perfectly straight lines in the bricks of the house. Without having the middleman of the mouse or tablet and the brain and eyes just danced around the canvas in the program.
My heart felt mixed and twisted from playing with my emotions. I was willing and able to tug them around out of desperation to keep my job. But how far could this feeling of desperation carry me? I noticed that the degree of calmness I had controlled the shade of light blue, same thing with the strength of red with anger. That meant that the people replacing my old coworkers, or the coworkers who managed to stay on, must have been controlling their emotions perfectly, in order to get the exact colors they wanted. Otherwise they couldn't get the shades they needed for whatever art they wanted. But if they could find and control all the right emotions for all the right colors and focus on the smallest or largest areas they wanted perfectly they could create something in minutes with the brain interface that took me hours with my tablet.
I checked around the screen to see the focus buttons. After all my practice working on art the idea of focusing directly at them then unfocusing became absurdly simple in comparison. I saw that they also had all the familiar effects like “transparency” in them. I didn't know how they worked. Probably you used the focus button then focused on the part of the piece you wanted. Either way this meant that I didn't even have that advantage over them with my old tablet program. I looked at my terrible, basic piece I created. A badly done brick house on brown ground with a blue sky and white bouncy clouds. The work of a child. I would be replaced wouldn't I? I fell into a deep depression. I wondered how dark a blue it would have been in the art program.
I looked over to some of my art hanging on the wall. A romance book cover with a man with unrealistically large muscles holding a woman as they stood on a beach. Never read the book before I did it. I put it on my wall because it was my first book job. Next to it I hung a cover of a science fiction/fantasy magazine I did. It was of a robot fighting a dragon. I did it early in my career when I was still in my twenties. I never knew why they were fighting, but I knew I loved doing the cover. But nothing new will be hung on this wall anymore will it? Not with brain interface technology replacing me.
I spotted another piece of my art. Something done decades ago. Back when my Dad gave me a used tablet to play with as he just bought a new one. He taught me how to make colors and shapes and the fun I had that day got me into digital art. The work was a terribly done red brick house on sloppy brown ground with dark grass. The sky was dark blue with white clouds. I then noticed the clock on my desk read 11:00 pm.
I looked back at the screen. I put the helmet back on. I used the “save as” focus button. A small window open with a text box prompt with the instructions: “Think of File Name then Look Away From Monitor to Save File”. I thought “DayOne” and then looked away from the monitor with computer making an affirming beep noise. I turned off the monitor, took off the helmet, and went to bed.