Like Watching Paint Dry

He played a lot of the Sims 2 as a child. He enjoyed building incredible homes for himself, or in most cases, downloading others’ incredible homes off the Internet, since the ones he built were generally as ugly as they were incredible, and he lacked the attention span for detailed projects anyway. He always wanted to own one such house in real life—to have his own “new game” moment—to step out of the taxi, luggage bags in hand, in front of a place he could call his own. A place he could begin a new chapter of his life in.

And at some point, he did achieve his goal. The house was neither majestic, nor fitting of his terrific taste, but it was his, and that’s what mattered. Like a starter home you’d move your Sim into before they first get a job, or before the multiple cash cheat codes. Quaint and simple, but he knew he could impose his flavour on it.

This was the moment his entire life had built up to. He knew it would be a gradual project, but looked forward to getting started. The house was bare but for the most fundamental necessities. So it began, with paint cans and brushes. Every waking hour he dedicated to the house, and every non-waking hour he spent on a mattress. He fancied himself an everyday Michelangelo, a dreamer among common men. Things were going well. The living room was done.

The study came next. He wanted to change things up: throw in a pop of colour here, a feature wall there. The study was a room more personal to his lifestyle than the living room. He thought it looked decent.

On the third day came the first visitor: somebody from work, who looked rather concerned. After getting her to shut up about the state of the business without his presence, he offered her a tour of the house, which she hesitantly accepted. At the living room she expressed approval, and at the study a tight-lipped nod. After her departure, he began work on the kitchen. He wanted it fun and lively, a manifestation of the artist he considered himself.

The next morning came another visitor: that same colleague, armed with a sombre expression, a plastic bag of his belongings, and news he had been fired. He was not surprised, wisely noting that corporations had a history of suppressing their employees’ artistic urges in favour of the apathetic well-oiled corporate machine, advice she took with a sad-looking nod. He insisted on showing her the work in progress on the kitchen, and after some persuasion, she left her review (a contemplative “hmm”) and the house. The kitchen was soon completed.

All that remained were the bathroom and the bedroom. But he was getting a little tired of painting walls. He decided it was time to furnish the living room. He had painted all four walls the same colour, a plain, simple white, but now that he thought about it, he wanted more personality. So an eccentric assortment of furniture was assembled, but in combination, in his living room, it looked just right.

Except for the table. It was a masterpiece on its own, and he eventually decided it wasn’t the style he disliked but the positioning. He just could not decide whether to leave it as it was, or exactly 0.7 cm to the left. Many days were spent pondering the positioning of that particular table, many hours passed staring at it in both the original placement and the other. As hard as he tried to forget about it, the dilemma thoroughly consumed him.

After approximately one week of pondering, he decided 0.35 cm was a fair compromise.

Progress was made, both in time and on the house. But one room he left untouched—the bedroom. He wanted to focus his full attention on it, the entirety of his creativity. And when the moment came, he delivered. The bedroom was perfect: every component carefully curated, every detail paid attention to, not even one overlooked. It was the cherry on top, but the plumpest, juiciest, most enticingly glossy cherry that could possibly adorn a cake.

Then he stepped back to admire his creation in full, beginning with the living room. It was beautiful. From room to room he strolled, making minor adjustments as he did, until his final quality control check was complete, and he returned to the living room for some much-deserved rest. He sank into the tremendous couch, and relaxed.

But, the table.

It looked just a little out of place. So he experimented, shifting it a little to the left, and a little to the right, and a little in whatever direction he thought best, until he decided the table itself was the issue, and threw the whole damn thing out the door.

Deeply unsettled and dissatisfied, believing the critic in him was finally unleashed, he went from room to room, making minor adjustments from place to place, with the exception of the bedroom, which was perfect. On the other hand, he quickly realised that no room was perfect. He had to be ruthless, he had to be exacting, but he knew it’d be worth it. Around and around the house he went, with the end goal of making one final round around the house and seeing, at last, his much-corrected creation perfected.

He began noticing larger mistakes, however, than before. The kitchen was too loud and bright, he disgustedly remarked, horrified by his gaudy choice of colours. The study, too, looked rather distasteful. Those were major changes that only much effort could remedy, so out came the paint cans and paintbrushes once more. Out came the muted tones, as opposed to those he had initially favoured. The study he worked on first, patching over the spots of colour he added to give the room life. And very soon, he was done.

But, the furniture.

It no longer matched. He tried his best to shift them about, to alter them as much as he possibly could. He painted them over and over again, in various combinations, improperly and impatiently, till the colours were muddied and no amount of paint he slathered on could fix the issues before him.

The dream was falling apart.

He gave up on the study, and walked into the kitchen to size up the monumental task that faced him. But a quick look around at the changes he would have to make was enough to break his resolve, and, on the verge of a breakdown, he retired to the solace of the bedroom. His perfect, perfect bedroom. Upon entering, he found that his bed, much to his surprise, had grown arms. They reached out to him in a warm, secure embrace, a place of refuge from the house he had built and torn apart. Never had he seen a more welcoming sight. He clambered onto his bed as the arms curled around him, smothering him, and wept.

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