"The Heart of Creativity"
[Sunday, May 10, 2015]
Shiv woke to the smell of coffee.
For a moment, he lay in bed
wondering why he smelled coffee
when he hadn't gotten up to make any.
Then he remembered where he was.
He bounded out of bed, hurried through
his morning bathroom routine, and then
hustled into a kitchen full of Finns.
There he realized that it wasn't
one pot of coffee that he smelled,
but several of them jammin' away.
Above the row of matching coffee pots,
signs read, Dark Roast, Light Roast,
and Medium Roast Decaf.
Shiv grinned and grabbed
his very own Wake Duh Fuh Cup
from the row on the countertop, then
filled it to the brim with dark roast.
He was halfway through it when he
finally realized that Mrs. Dr. Finn was
watching him with expectation.
"Well? What do you think?" she said.
Shiv rolled the coffee in his mouth,
swallowed, and said, "Smooth, bright ...
kind of cinnamon-y? It woke me right up."
"That's what coffee is for," she agreed.
"Have as much as you want. We
aren't going to run out of any."
Shiv finished his first mug
and went back for a second.
There was food, too, now that
he noticed -- two big stock pots
full of oatmeal, one sweet
and the other savory.
An oatmeal bar full of
mix-ins and toppings
covered a long stretch
of the counter nearby.
It included fruits both fresh
and stewed, maple syrup,
sour cream, yogurt, cheese,
avocado, sunflower seeds,
onions, chives, bacon, ham ...
Someone had hung a row of
notecards with suggested recipes.
Shiv froze, unable to decide.
"Are you starving to death between
two bales of hay?" Dr. G said gently.
"Uh, yeah," Shiv said. "It all looks
so good, I dunno how to decide."
"Well, what catches your eye?"
Dr. G said. "That's a place to start."
"Avocado and egg," Shiv said.
"Sausage and peppers. But they
won't go together, and I can't choose."
"So don't," Dr. G said. "Use two small bowls
instead of one big bowl. Put each combination
in its own bowl. See which you like better."
"I can do that?" Shiv said, mouth watering.
"Sure," Dr. G said. "Here, these bowls
should be the right size." He handed
Shiv a couple of soup-cup bowls,
one brown, the other pink and blue.
After shoveling in the oatmeal,
Shiv loaded one bowl with an egg and
half a sliced avocado. The other he topped
with sliced sausage, red peppers, onions,
celery, and a big hit of chili powder.
Shiv sat down beside Luci and
plunked his oatmeal in front of him.
Luci had more or less turned hers
into congee, with vegetable broth,
mushrooms, bean sprouts, and
a poached egg floating on top of it.
That gave him another moment
of indecision, but he already had
two bowls, he didn't need three.
The savory oatmeal was delicious.
Shiv loved the creamy, soapy flavor
of the avocado and the spicy sausage.
He was just shoving the last of it
into his mouth when Molly set down
a rainbow fruit tray of strawberries,
cherries, oranges, apricots, kiwis,
and blueberries along with
several grapefruit halves.
A forest of arms reached for
the fruit, and Shiv scrambled
to grab a handful of it before
the rest all disappeared.
He couldn't believe that
they'd emptied a platter in
seconds, after all the fruit
that had been on the bar.
Which was also now empty.
It didn't matter. Shiv just had room
for the cherries and apricots he grabbed.
He belched and leaned back in his chair,
utterly satisfied. Finns gave good food.
Dr. G clapped his hands for attention.
"Is everyone awake now?" he asked.
Murmurs of agreement responded.
"Okay, then let's clear up the dishes,"
said Dr. G. "Don't worry about washing
right now, just stack them on the counters."
Everyone rushed to obey. Shiv promptly
got tangled in the crowd before Tolli
caught him and gently pulled him back.
"Watch them," Tolli advised. "It's like
a dance. Think about how you would
cross the dance floor at Blues Moon.
Then move through the empty spaces."
As soon as Shiv stopped thinking that he
had no idea what to do with a big family, and
started thinking of a crowded restaurant instead,
he was able to carry his bowls to the counter.
With the dishes stashed, people began
to sort themselves more or less in rows.
Shiv and Luci washed to the front
along with Halley and Edison.
"All right, it's time for the revelation,"
Dr. G said. "Who has steady hands?
We need you to cut the bindings."
"I never cut anything that I don't
intend to cut," Shiv pointed out.
"Terrific, you can help me pick out
all the knots and stitches from
the Chinese tie dye," Luci said.
Dr. G went on to assign other tasks,
based on a combination of ability and
interest. Halley and Edison would
mostly be unrolling and rinsing things.
Then they all went back outside.
Shiv took one look at the scissors
and said, "Oh hell no. They'll nick
something for sure." He looked around.
"Hey, doc, can I wreck another old spoon?"
"You need raw materials?" Dr. G asked,
and when Shiv nodded, he went into
the kitchen and came back with one.
Shiv cut off the handle and made
a blunt hook on the front, with
a sharp curve behind that.
When he wiggled the tip
under the strings that held
Luci's tie dye together, they
parted easily, and the tip
wouldn't go through the cloth.
"This is sooo much faster,"
Luci said. "You have
all the best tools."
He smirked at her.
"Supervillain," he said.
The t-shirt began to open,
slowly revealing white spots.
"Cut these parts next," Luci said,
pointing to some thicker strings.
"They hold the main body closed."
Shiv cut those, and the t-shirt
relaxed even more. "I still think that
this looks like some weird sea creature."
Luci laughed. "Well, it's yours, so wait
until you can actually see the picture."
The next flick of the cutter opened up
the bottom enough that Shiv gasped.
"Are those fish?" he asked her.
"Lucky carp," Luci said. "They also
stand for wealth, longevity, and artistry."
They were beautiful, four of them swimming
around a center medallion, connected by
chains of cowrie shells. Their heads and fins
were cobalt blue, scales picked out in white,
against a midnight background. Luci had
outlined the fish and their scales in white-gold,
and the fabric ink gleamed in the sunlight.
"Wow," Shiv whispered. "Just ... wow."
He unwrapped the last bits of the shirt,
careful to get all the thread off it. The cloth
was stiff with excess dye, crinkling in his hands.
"Okay, it looks good," Luci said. "Let me
show Halley how to rinse this while
you get started on opening mine."
"You don't want to watch?" he said.
"But the next one is your shirt!"
Luci just laughed. "Don't worry,
I'll be back in plenty of time."
Halley was a quick study with
rinsing off the indigo, and Luci
did indeed make it back before Shiv
had undone more than a little of hers.
Luci chattered while they worked,
talking about how indigo was made
and what made it stick to the cloth and
how people used to fight wars over it.
Shiv couldn't imagine caring that much
about clothes, but then again ... colors.
Finally they got Luci's t-shirt undone.
This one had a sand dollar in the center,
outlined in more white-gold ink, with
jellyfish swimming around it on
a background of China blue.
After that, Aida asked Shiv to help
release her mandalas, which also
had finicky ties fastened all over them.
Hers had a stunning red-and-orange sun
surrounded by watercolor blues and purples.
Shiv's opened to reveal delicate frost-feathers
of white against a field of navy and turquoise.
"It's lopsided," he said with a sigh, tracing
the snowflake's dark upper rim. The base
was a barely-there blue, almost white.
"It's beautiful," Aida said firmly.
"Shiv, tie dye never comes out
exactly even. It's not meant to.
The variations make it special."
Shiv looked at it again. He still
wished it had turned out better,
but he had to admit it was pretty.
Unblocking Tolli's stuff was easier.
The first t-shirt came out banded in
blue, green, and brown with black lines
streaking through all three of them.
Shiv's had whitish squares outlined
by sunny yellow. It was a subtle design,
but he could wear it when he didn't want
loud colors -- or when he needed a bit
of sunshine to brighten up a cloudy day.
"Thank you for helping, Shiv," said Tolli.
Junket's peacock t-shirt was stunning,
bold streaks of blue and white pointing
toward an eye of green, gold, and copper.
The pride flag shirts came next, also
easy to open but more challenging
to rinse without letting any of the colors
run over each other -- you pretty much
had to wash one stripe at a time.
Shiv couldn't help thinking of
the fuckup flag, all broken glass
and police lights. Shaking his head,
he shoved that image away.
It wasn't something to be proud of.
He loved his crumple shirt, though,
when it came out of the bindings.
There was no pattern to it at all,
just a swath of sky blue and navy spots
dotted with brighter purple, bleeding
into aqua at the lightest areas.
It was beautiful without needing
to be precise or planned in any way.
Shiv spread it beside his snowflake shirt
so that he could compare the two of them.
Each was pretty in its own way. They
didn't need to be the same in order
to be enjoyed. He could wear them
on different days, in different moods.
Some days he felt like a snowflake,
his sense of order delicate and transparent.
Other days he felt like raw chaos, tumbling
through the sky with rumbles of thunder,
throwing knives of lightning at the air.
Now he had a shirt for each of those.
"They look lovely," said Mrs. Dr. Finn
as she came up beside him. "Well done."
He saw the rosette shirt that she had
made, with flowers of green and blue and
golden-brown against the yellow background.
It was far more organized than his shirts,
but that was okay too. So was she.
The onesies were being hung up
in a row, and Shiv smiled to see them.
"Shiv, do you want to help me unwrap
the ice-dyed stuff?" Halley asked. "You
don't have to, but I thought you might
want to see them as they open."
"Sure, I can pitch in," Shiv said, and
went to work cutting rubber bands.
Like Luci, Halley chattered while
thon worked, and now that Shiv wasn't
trying to make something at the same time,
he could actually listen to the spiel.
Shiv learned a ton about dyes
and what they were made from and
how they worked, which explained
why some of them needed cold water
while others needed warm or hot water.
Some of that was information he could
use to not accidentally dye his clothes at
the laundromat, like how you should soak
new tie-dyed stuff in water with a splash
of white vinegar to set the dye before you
washed it, just in case the maker hadn't
done that like they were supposed to.
Eventually they got the shirts untangled
and could see what they had made.
Halley's t-shirt was a glory of mauve
and teal, with a nearly-white haze
in the middle like a sunspot.
Shiv's was a kaleidoscope
of soft blue-grays and purples,
brightened with dashes of orange
and a spark of yellow at the core.
"This is my favorite part of making
tie dye t-shirts," Halley confided.
"Mystery is at the heart of creativity.
That, and surprise. I love it."
"Yeah, me too," Shiv said.
"It's exciting to see how
the colors come out."
"What about your spares?"
Halley asked. "You can
keep them, or give them away."
Shiv helped unwrap those too,
shook them out, admired the colors,
and said, "Go ahead and send
these to the clothing bank."
He had extras now.
He hadn't always.
He knew what it was
like to have nothing.
Carefully they unwrapped
Dr. G's t-shirt together.
"Holy smoke, you were
right," Halley breathed.
Most of it was mottled
red-violet with shadows
of aubergine and highlights
of palest lavender-blue, but
the hem and sleeve tips
were a soft mossy green.
Over the chest lay
a perfect lantern ablaze
with orange and gold.
As soon as Halley finished
rinsing off the extra dye,
Shiv took the damp shirt
in search of Dr. G.
"For you," he said,
thrusting it forward,
unable to say more.
The older man's mouth
fell open in shock.
Then Shiv realized
that Dr. G was crying.
Oh, now he'd really fucked up --
But Dr. G caught him in one hand
and the shirt in the other and said,
"Nothing's wrong. I love it, Shiv.
It's perfect. And so are you."
Shiv just leaned against him
and let himself pretend for
a minute that it was true.
Edison and Drew's shirts were
laughably garish after all that, but
it was okay. They liked their shirts,
and that was what mattered.
Shiv felt a little nervous about
undoing the braided shirts, but
Tolli and Simon got him through it.
Interestingly, Shiv's shirt turned out
mostly white, while theirs had more colors.
It had sort of a pinwheel over the chest with
more streaks down just one side. The ring
was blue, the bars green, and the center
a bright orange bordering on red.
"They look good," Simon said.
"They all fit together. I like that."
"Yeah," Shiv whispered. "Me too."
That made it a little easier for him
to unwrap the rope twist that
he had made with Luci.
Somehow the blue stripes
went one way and the black ones
cut across at different angles,
twining together like their lives.
"I'm sorry I snapped at you
yesterday when you asked me
to help make these," she said.
"They're so wonderful."
She hugged him, and he
managed to hug her back.
"Well, I shoulda knowed better
than to interrupt you while you were
making art," Shiv said. "That's rude."
"So worth it, though," Luci said.
Enough of the shirts had been
undone and rinsed that they were
being ferried into the house.
There they could be thrown
into the washer a few a time,
or hand-washed in various sinks.
Molly's spatter-dyed shirt could
just be dunked in a bucket and
squeezed out, since she didn't
mind if the colors ran more.
Shiv took more care with his,
methodically peeling off the tape
and then rinsing the cloth until
the stream of water finally ran clear.
The shirt was a soft heather gray
mottled with darker spots. On the back,
a faint tracery of lighter lines spelled
out the family name and date.
"Oh wow, you made a merle shirt,"
Molly said. "I've seen border collies
with coats marked just like that."
"Cool," Shiv said, because it was
a pretty pattern even if he
didn't like dogs much.
Then it was time to unveil
his peacock graffiti shirt, which
didn't actually have graffiti on it yet.
This one was mostly turquoise
mottled with green. The feather
showed up as paler lines with
an eyespot high on one shoulder.
He rinsed it carefully and then
held it up to admire it again.
This really was the heart of
creativity, making things and
then discovering how they
came out of the wrappings.
"Ready for me to wash that?"
Mrs. Dr. G said, holding out a hand.
Shiv's heart kicked in his chest.
He wasn't a bring-home-laundry
kinda guy, he was a laundromat
kinda guy ... but since she offered ...
"Go ahead," he said. "This one
needs hot water. After it's washed
and dried, then I can do the graffiti."
He wanted to, he really did, but
right now he was getting tired.
A warm hand brushed his back,
startling him a little. "What?"
"You look like you could use
a break," said Mrs. Dr. G.
"Go on inside, we'll have
lunch in a few minutes."
"But we just ate breakfast!"
Shiv protested. "We're not
done with the shirts, either."
"Let Tolli and Simon finish up,"
she suggested. "There's not
very much left to do anyway."
Shiv looked around, surprised
to find the yard almost empty.
Instead of chattering Finns,
there were ropes strung
here and there with t-shirts
hung on them to dry.
It had been long enough
for at least one load to finish
and come out to the clotheslines.
"Okay," Shiv said, not having
the heart to argue with her.
It would be nice to go in and
sit down and let someone else
worry about laying out lunch.
And that was the real surprise.
* * *
This poem is long, so the notes appear separately.