The Inevitability of Grace (short story)

It’s dark when she arrives home. She takes off her shoes: cold feet on cold concrete, house silent. The fire in her heart has grown small and kept barely alive by the kindling of her thoughts. Deep and shallow breaths, pumping air in and out, mixing herself with the world. Is she diluting herself, or is the world concentrating her? Where do these questions come from?

Her name is Grace. It hasn’t always been. When she was born her parents named her Tom. It was an understandable mistake. To them she looked like a boy, and few thought too hard about it back then. That name hadn’t fit her at all though. That name still rolled around her head like a broken wheel.

Another breath.

She couldn’t feel her heart anymore as she opened the front door. Silent hinges. No warm body there to greet her. He’d packed up his stuff during the day whilst she was out at work. At least the idea of home has a certain warmth even if all the material is cold. But without him, the house had radiated away much of its warmth.

For a moment she feels like crying. It passes and then she feels like nothing.

She pulls the door closed behind her, a deep resonating sound echoes through the hallway as it’s closed. She feels like collapsing, this time she gives in and starts to cry.

**

They met on the 9:07 Shorncliffe train, third carriage, Monday May 3 2006. She was on the way to a meeting, he was on the way to meet a friend for brunch. In the half-empty carriage their eyes met, and there was a connection immediately. If they could have felt each other’s heart-beats they would have had no doubts that they should strike up a conversation. Yet the distance of strangers in this world is so vast. So they didn’t.

They both got off at Central. Both desperately struggle to find something to say some way to bridge the divide, but neither says a word. Fate decides to force the moment and as Sam trips on a stair Grace catches him.

‘Hi’. She says. Hands still holding Sam’s arm.

‘Hi’. He replies.

Both are nervous, the silence expands but their eyes stay locked.

‘I’m Sam’, he says finally, disappointed he can’t think of anything more charming.

‘Grace,’ she says as she puts her hand out to shake his, cringing to herself at how formal she seems. ‘Do you drink coffee?’ Grace continues, calculating out how long she has before her meeting.

‘I know a great place around here’, he smiles.

They get coffee. Grace has to leave eventually for her meeting, by that time she’s 10 minutes late. They make plans to have dinner. Dinner develops into a long walk discovering each other. Soon they are on the phone to each other for hours at night. It’s not long before Sam moves in.

**

The tears come and they don’t stop. Her body shakes and heaves, the trauma of distance forcing itself out. She’s still in the hallway, slumped against one wall. Tangled up in herself. Time moves in and around her, and her tears evaporate into the air of the dimly lit hall. She is pulled up by some invisible force, stands and wipes her eyes.

Sometimes life is a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes it’s just thinking about doing it.

The hallway seems so long, but at the end of it are soft couches to collapse on. Sleep is her only plan.

A lifetime away a phone rings. And rings. And rings. No, not far away, right here, right now, in her pocket.

She pulls out her phone. It’s Sam.

‘Hello?’ She asks.

‘I just wanted to check you got home fine’, comes the eventual reply.

And then she is a vortex. A whirlpool of mind inside a body pulling around and down. Thoughts drip into the flurry of activity and spin. A small pause grows larger. Can he hear her tears?

‘I’m at home’. Is her compromise reply.

‘Are you ok?’, he asks.

She is being ripped apart by distance. Sam so far, Sam so near. An alternating current of emotion.

‘No’, she breaths.

‘Me neither’, he confesses.

The whirlpool slows, the vortex stops, like a hole at the bottom has been plugged. She is no longer being pulled down, just around. The impossibility of this conversation realises itself. She almost smiles. Distance has been folded by a phone-call.

‘I don’t know what to do’, he adds. ‘You’re the only thing I can think about. I thought we were doing the right thing, but now I’m not so sure.’

Fuck, she thinks.

‘Have you had dinner?’ she asks absent-mindedly.

‘I can’t eat right now’ he says.

How could they be the cause and solution of all this suffering?

‘I have to go Sam.’

‘Call me if you need. Please.’

‘Goodbye Sam.’

‘Goodbye Grace.’

**

Sam sighs and places his phone back in his pocket. It was true Grace was all he could think about. All his life had been about for 10 years.

He didn’t know how it had come to this. He loved her and she loved him, but the closer they had gotten the more they had pushed each other apart. It was as though each recognised something of themselves in the other and resisted that. Until eventually this separation. He was so tired.

He buried his head in his hands. In the background his sister making dinner. His niece playing a video game. His brother-in-law watching the nightly news.

Grace was a fact of nature. A universal force he had come into contact with but couldn’t control, that even Grace couldn’t control. Just had to be.

One day over breakfast they quietly decided to separate. That was a week ago. Tonight was their first night apart in 10 years.

The more he thought about it the sicker he became.

**

The whirlpool that is Grace slowed fractionally every moment, like a wound healing, imperceptible but incremental.

Surrounded by artefacts that cause memories of Sam; his voice still echoing in her mind. Meeting Sam had been like a miracle that opened her eyes to life, a connection that had justified all the suffering she had experienced before him. It had been so beautiful, but so sad. They had multiplied each other’s happiness immeasurably but had deepened each other’s pain so much as well. Things that could be ignored before had opened up, like the volume had been turned up on things each wanted to forget.

In that moment she felt that the beauty of life was so closely tied to the pain of life. The passing away of beauty is the arising of pain.

The minutes passed slowly. There seemed to be an inevitability to their individual suffering, neither made a move to call the other but time was leading up to that moment. A realisation dawning over both of them that there was no him and her anymore, but that there was just a them.

In her mind she replays old memories. Simple times like cleaning the kitchen together, accidentally burning something or wine on the verandah.

She stops herself and tries to think this through. She can’t live without Sam. The pain of being away from each other eclipsing the petty fights, the misunderstood communication, the minor insensitivities that are the shadow side of proximity. Her hand already reaching for her pocket, gripping the weight of her phone, all habit, all automatic. She starts to call him, unleashing the potential energy of this device like an explosion. Sam coming home is all a result of the action of her picking up her phone.

**

She waits for him on the chair outside the front door. The world is breathing her, pushing air in and out of her, whilst sounds trickle into her ear into her mind. The world is inside her and Sam is coming home. The wait is not difficult; she can feel the distance between them decreasing. Neither pleased nor sad, the sharp edges of life have been dulled until they can no longer cut. She pays attention to her breath which is a compromise between the inner and outer. Something has changed, something in her is flipped.

**

Sam drives slowly, carefully, belying the almost desperate desire to see Grace. His hands feel the steering wheel, radio playing below attention. The dark night feels calm and he feels stoned as the lights play softly around him, as the warm wind stirs the hairs on his arms.

**

She hears the car before she sees it. It hums into the driveway. Sam unfolds himself from the car and steps out. For a moment he stands at the car door eyes fixed on her. He suddenly remembers how tired he is. He feels older than he is. Looking at Grace she briefly appears geriatric. Is this a premonition of them getting old together? He hopes it is.

He makes his way up the path, as she makes her way down.

Their eyes make contact and neither breaks the gaze. 10 years ago the world knocked them together, now they chose it for themselves.

‘I want to be with you forever’, he says.

‘Welcome home’, she replies.

They grip each other’s hands and walk through the front door. Silent hinges.

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The Inevitability of Grace (short story)

On Finishing

 Leonardo da Vinci is recorded as saying “art is never finished only abandoned”. In considering what it means to finish I identified the following. A work is finished when:
  • the dead-line is up
  • its purpose is served
  • someone makes a copy
  • those around you say it is finished
  • one’s time would be better spent elsewhere
  • the message is transmitted or received
  • (and tautologically) when it is complete

The Deadline is Up

For this project, there was a definite time-frame in which to complete an artefact. This is a good way to complete something, but it is not a standards-based metric so the quality is not the deciding factor.

Its Purpose is Served

What matters is some appropriate level of standard is achieved. This purpose could be to make something beautiful.

Someone Makes a Copy

If at some point someone makes a copy of a work, then that work is finished though work may continue in another copy.

Those Around You Say it is Finished

The advice of those close to you may be enough sometimes to get you to abandon work that is of a high enough standard or is taking too much of your resources.

One’s Time Would be Better Spent Elsewhere

Abandoning a work to work on something more fruitful may be a good strategy at times.

When it is Complete

Almost a tautology, but a work may feel complete in which case working on it further is waste or time or will reduce the quality. That is, having sat down to write a song, then ending up with a .mp3 will be sufficient reason to stop. Then again life is rarely so simple and we probably sat down to write a good song in which case the fuzzy metric “good” will be problematic.

The Message is Transmitted or Received

In conversation, sometimes one party says “are you finished?”. In this way if a project has communicated its message it can be deemed to be finished.

On Finishing

Booting Kubuntu on a Surface Pro: Success

 History:

I bought a Surface Pro in 2013 for ~$1400 mainly because of the touchscreen. Was told when I bought it it had a ~8hour battery life. I wish! I wanted to return it but didn’t. As a laptop it’s basically unusable: the battery life is terrible and the placement and operation of the power button makes it too easy to turn it on whilst in a bag. Instead I’ve plugged it into a external screen and a powered USB hub with separate keyboard and mouse. I turn off the surface’s screen and just use the second monitor. In this configuration it works quite well. Aside from the battery life – which is enough to take the surface to the nearby printer and back – my main complaint is the 128Gb storage.

I played around with dual booting two or so years ago and I got Ubuntu up and running. It was booting fine but after a Windows update Ubuntu stopped booting.

Eventually I decided to ditch Windows and go full GNU/Linux on the Surface Pro.

Aim:

To single boot *ubuntu on a Surface Pro.

Method:

Make live USB and install Ubuntu (or Ubuntu Studio) as primary OS overwriting windows. Later use VMware to run Windows (10?) for programs I need Windows for.

Results:

Installation went fine. On reboot the Surface Pro only booted into tpm settings black screen. Could boot from a live USB if one was inserted. Couldn’t work out how to boot Ubuntu from the hard drive. At this point I thought I might have broken my machine, the only thing I could boot was a liveUSB.

Since I didn’t have a Surface Pro recovery disk there wasn’t much I could do. I went online and on the microsoft website I found a recovery image. The problem was that the download link was behind a login and the download kept getting an error part way through. It was about 7Gb and there was no way I could see to resume the download. I must have tried 7 or 8 times to download that file. Late one night I decided to have another go and managed to successfully download the Surface Pro recovery drive file. From there I copied the recovery files to a USB and used that to reinstall windows. Bye bye gnu/linux!

I got busy setting up Windows again so I could make some music using Maschine and Ableton Live. I still wanted to try gnu/linux again though. Partitioned c:\ to make room for Ubuntu. Installed Ubuntu using new partition creating a swap partition at the same time. Installed efi to /dev/sda2.

Ubuntu wouldn’t boot though! :sadface:

Tried reinstalling: no dice.

Tried rebooting into the troubleshooting mode and booting from ubuntu but no luck.

Not really wanting to mess around with boot partitions I left it there and searched for a workaround.

Eventually I came across easyUEFI and late one night I tried altering the boot order. I also tried mounting the EFI partition and making sure the grubx64.efi file was there (it was there in a ubuntu directory).

After a  lot of searching online I decided the next step was to try boot-repair. I booted into the live USB disk and ran kubuntu off the USB. I installed boot-repair and ran it but on finishing it said the efi parition (/dev/sda2) was locked. As per online suggestions I made sure it was unmounted which didn’t seem to help. Same error message. Eventually I followed boot-repair’s suggestion and created a new efi partition (200mb FAT32) with a boot flag. I put it as early as I could which was at the end of my ~80Gb windows partition I didn’t want to mess with the first two partitions (the first one was labelled a recovery drive ~1Gb and the next was /dev/sda2 the EFI partition). Ubuntu had definitely installed stuff on //dev/sda2/ as there was a ubuntu folder.

I ran boot-repair telling it to look for the efi bootloader on the newly created /dev/sda9, but I got the same error message.

Eventually I gave in and tried rEFInd which I saw mentioned somewhere. I booted into the kubuntu live usb and installed rEFInd after mounting /dev/sda2 as /boot/efi. It installed. I rebooted and was left with a bunch of boot options! Looks good! I chose one of the first ubuntu partitons and it booted!

The instructions that worked for me:

First boot into a live OS.

$ sudo mkdir -p /boot/efi
$ sudo mount /dev/sdXN /boot/efi

where sdXN is your efi partition, eg sda2 in my case. If you don’t know the values of X and N for your system then fire up gparted and look for the partition with a boot flag.

$ sudo apt-add-repository ppa:rodsmith/refind
$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install refind
$ reboot

Future Plans:

I’m going to investigate whether I can run (at a reasonable speed) Maschine and Ableton Live in a Windows 10 virtual machine using VMware Workstation Player 12. If I can then I can get rid of my Windows install and just use VMware under Kubuntu.

tl:dr

Tried installing Ubuntu on a Surface Pro. Install worked but Ubuntu wouldn’t boot. Using liveUSB I installed rEFInd as per these instructions: . On reboot I could boot to Kubuntu.

Booting Kubuntu on a Surface Pro: Success

Updating Life

I’ve been feeling much more positive about life recently, though there’s still not so good days. I don’t know what to put it down to, but here’s a few things that help.

You Feel Like Shit

You Feel Like Shit is interactive flowchart that helps with self-care. Starting with food, water, medication and sleep needs it spurs self-care and problem solving around the difficulties in life.

The Pomodoro Technique

Is a productivity technique where you work for a specified period of time (personally from 15 – 25 minutes) then rest for a short period (I use 5 minute breaks) then repeat. After (say) 4 cycles you take a longer break (15 minutes in my case).

I like this way of breaking up time, and the reliance on the clock means I keep working until the break – which can mean pushing through lulls in attention. There are many apps that automate this process, the one I use is Productivity Challenge Timer on Android (Free with paid Pro upgrade).

Studying in Maths and Science

This helpful book has good advice for studying even beyond STEM subjects.

  • The brain can be thought of as having two thinking modes: focused and diffuse. The focused mode involves linear thought and is necessary for learning facts and ideas.  The diffuse mode is non-linear and creative and integrative. The diffuse mode can use the knowledge from the focused mode to creatively solve problems. Both modes are necessary, and taking breaks from focused thinking can reward with creative solutions from the diffuse mode.
  • Write a to-do list for tomorrow and include a knock-off time.  To-do lists are so simple and can simply be a text file on the desktop of your computer. The satisfaction in crossing off an item on a todo list is real. Including a knock-off time builds in rewards and stops fatigue.
  • Recall don’t reread. Rereading a textbook chapter might seem like a good way of studying, but it’s better to also try and recall what you just read after reading it. That is to try and reconstruct the chapter by yourself.

Todo.txt

Thanks LifeHacker.

Meditation

I aim for 5 minutes a day, but am happy if I follow Susan Blackmore’s rule of sitting for any period of time: 3 breaths to 30 minutes. I meditate because I seek Awakening, but also to calm and focus the mind, to be aware of my body and surroundings, to process stress and trauma and to listen more deeply.

 

The Internet

I have had a shift of perspective to the internet. As a tool for research it is simply unparalleled. YouTube is a big place, one that will teach you how to use a fire-steel, loosen a drill with an automatic chuck, and pollinate vanilla beans by hand. Being on social-media can be tiring and I find myself interacting with people to a smaller amount than I would like, but realising that one is a brand and one can take charge of the perception of that brand may help you.

Self-branding

It’s early days yet, but I’ve begun a process of self-branding. This ranges from simple things like standardising my avatar across social media, to considering my Unique Selling Point, the (big) idea that sets my brand apart. Like it or not we are either letting others brand us, or we’re branding ourselves.

Formal Study

2016 was the year I returned to study, undertaking a rather expensive Graduate Certificate in Creative Industries. There is something very satisfying about formal study, beyond having access to a University Library and its attendant online materials. Seemingly everything can be examined and analysed. It may not be going to university or trade school but learning (as I did) music production on Coursera. Another highlight of the year was playing rosalind.info and learning a bit of python to solve bioinformatics problems.

Sleep Hygiene

Early days again with this one, and complicated by the medication I take but I’m trying to have better sleep hygiene. Limiting electronics use in bed, going to bed and waking up earlier, having a bed time, exercising more and restricting afternoon caffeine use.

Self-determination Theory (SDT)

A happy coincidence saw a pamphlet on self-determination cross my path. SDT refers to different things in different contexts but I refer to it in relation to mental illness. To me SDT appears to be about viewing oneself as a whole person rather than an illness or negative aspect, setting and striving for goals, and building a support network to achieve those goals. Find out more here.

How to Steal Like an Artist

A good read and very short.

Analogue/digital

Separating the creative process into analogue and digital components. Create using analogue, arrange and edit using digital. Be more hands on.

Bushcraft and Survival

I’ve spent this year slowly building a 72hour survival bag in case of Shit Hitting The Fan. The final test of the bag is to take it camping, which I plan to do at the end of next holidays. As part of training I’ve been hiking up a nearby hill and back most days. Doing this made me realise that the best form of exercise is something you enjoy doing.

This is me finally using this blog as something other than a storage place for recipes though it will probably serve that function too.

Peace

Updating Life

Nan’s Spaghetti

Brown one finely sliced onion. Add 500g minced beef (or mushrooms or quorn mince) and brown. Mix in one tin tomato sauce, two beef flavour stock cubes, a dash of mixed herbs. Gently simmer for about 30 – 45 mins, adding more water if needed. Mix in a pack of cooked thin spaghetti, top with grated cheese and bake.

RIP Olive

Nan’s Spaghetti

Channa Masala

I found this recipe many years ago somewhere on the Internet but I’ve never been able to find the source again. If you find it somewhere else online please let me know so I can credit it.

  • Chickpeas (1cup)
  • Onion (1medium finely chopped)
  • Tomato (1/2 finely chopped)
  • Tomato puree (1/2 tbsp optional it will only give a nice color)
  • Ginger garlic paste(1tbsp)
  • Chana masala (1 and ½ tbsp)
  • Coriander powder (1/2 tbsp)
  • Cumin powder (1/4 tbsp)
  • Red chili powder (1/2 tbsp optional)
  • Oil/ghee/butter (2tbsp)
  • Salt (as per taste)

Soak the chick peas over night in water. Boil it in pressure cooker. If you want the little brown color you can use some boiled tea water for soaking the peas. You can also use the frozen chickpeas available in the market. Take a pan add oil, when oil starts boiling add the onion and coriander, cumin powder, fry it till it turns to golden brown. Add ginger garlic paste and fry for two minutes. Add chopped tomato, tomato puree and half of chana masla and again fry it in a low flame till oil comes out from the masala. Now add the boiled chickpeas to the fried masala and mix it well. Add rest of the masala and fry it for two minutes. Add ½ cup of warm water and balance the salt according to your taste. And let it boil for three to five minutes. Garnish with chopped coriander if you want can add more butter for flavor, serve it with rice or chapati.

Channa Masala

Priyan’s Ceylon Daal

The first time I made this mum and I were blown away by how good it tasted. When I tried to recreate it again it was nowhere near as good, I think I fried the spices too long and caused them to go bitter. IT’s hard to know how much of the spices to put it, I’m still playing with the amounts myself. I’m enjoying playing with this recipe until I perfect it.

For two

  • yellow split peas
  • 1/2 tsp tumeric
  • 1 smallish onion
  • olive oil
  • garlic
  • 2 tsps fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsps mustard seeds
  • coconut milk
  • curry leaves

Wash lentils and cook in water and tumeric powder. When almost cooked begin frying onions in oil then add garlic. Add fennel seeds, cumin, and mustard seeds and fry for two minutes. Add curry leaves and continue cooking for one minute. Add to lentils with coconut milk to taste and serve.

Priyan’s Ceylon Daal