All of my bad art friends

The thrill of thievery.

Art by Bonnie Huang

You subscribe to lots of email newsletters, write morning pages, label drafts, back them up, plan scenes, delete trite metaphors, diligently network, attend a weekly reading group, a quarterly writing circle, and a semi-annual symposium. You meditate frequently on your artistic practice, receive a poorly paid fellowship for something, and are unequivocally a cat person.

You know so many interesting people and consider every one of them a source of inspiration. You either guffaw, cackle, or snigger at the thought of how they would react to the grievous act of you writing about them. You think about all the ways your monastic repetition of servile rituals might one day elevate you to the status of small-time thought leader. You sit above the keyboard, quivering under the imaginary weight of the moralising public discourse you aspire to one day evoke.


A fun science activity that explores the graceful interplay between gravity and air resistance.

He’d been pretty into folding them, paper helicopters, since he was five. The coolest thing was to stand along the balcony of his childhood home and drop one down, seeing if he could win the race against the object of his creation, catching it before it hit the ground.

The first one was an accident, but in a way they all are. He was driving home after a work function and saw a figure standing very still along the bridge’s pedestrian walkway. His sociable self thought “Why not?” and pulled over. They chatted for a really long time until the person called a taxi for themselves and left. He spent a while thinking about it, realising his power, the unintentional lifeline, the secret satisfaction of it all. He journaled about it and told no one.

Eventually, he would spend weekends there, folding chair and esky stocked with beverages on hand. Like going on a fishing trip except very much not going on a fishing trip. Other supplies included a bucket hat, SPF 50+ sunscreen, portable phone charger, book, and bluetooth speaker. The best streak was three in one day (Blue Monday), the worst: none for a month. Often, he learned it was people’s birthdays and wondered why this was how they chose to celebrate. He told a friend about how he might phrase this interest on his online dating profile, but thought better of it later.


His father, the youngest chessmaster in the district. His mother, an astronomer. No wonder he was drawn to the black and white; he possessed a natal bent that determined he sit and play, play, play. His hands were a pair of spindly daddy-long-legs, stretching and embracing and fighting over the keys. He never rose from his work. He stitched a web more and more ornate, building a row of pews to proselytise and trap prostrate flies. If a thought with wings emerged from his mind, a morose memory, a raw recollection, it would stick and be stuck. Strangled by the silky thread, he could bid it farewell as it sang cries of the wounded. Farewell to his checkered past. Farewell to the accidentals that jarred scores of the past.

He never rose from his work. But his fame did, the fanfare did; it rose to a forte so deafening it reverberated in his emptying mind. It was once full and buzzing, but the cells lost energy, and abandoned him. All the while, he played, played, played. With every note, he was one semi-quaver further away from what he sought to escape. Semi-quaver, quaver, the source of his pain, crochet, minim, his wounding vice, semibreve. 8-bar rest. Slow the pace. 

Life was once a suffocating allegro. Legerdemain faster than sound itself. Feet tiptoeing into the store. Lowered eyes, silent shuffling. Light lifting, his lean fingers his instruments. First a note, then a stave, then a score. He rehearsed the same overture: eyes meeting the employee’s, fumbling small talk, a tight-lipped smile. Then for the refrain: the arched hand, the thieving clench. And the coda: the stuffed bag, the swift exit. 



He applied to maintain and monitor the traffic light (the only one in town) because he had a desperate, primal urge to know how it all worked. While waiting at it for the umpteenth time, motivation struck. 4am, car idle, engine humming, street empty.  The beaming red ignited a seething impatience and he visualised a myopic attendant in a little booth somewhere, blank-faced, watching him through a CCTV feed, seated behind a panel with scattered buttons, switches, and something that you have to twist to activate. He didn’t run the light – there was indeed a camera – but he’d played the long game and it was him behind the panel now.

He studied semiotics to develop the sensibility of signs, symbols, and signification. He would debate it constantly, but couldn’t quite decide whether the yellow or red light was his favourite. He considered that pedestrians, albeit few, essentially pressed the button to ask, nay, beg to cross the road when they really needn’t – and was suitably aroused. One day, he went on an unscheduled inspection to note down the model number etched on the base of the little control box on the nearby telegraph pole. With it, he located the maintenance manual in the old filing cabinet at work and took some scans of it which he transferred to his eReader. His superior, watching a camera while seated behind a slightly larger panel in a slightly larger booth elsewhere, rattled off an email to him asking about the inspection. He replied that it was to apply an industrial lubricant to the button mechanism.

On a night shift when he knew he wasn’t being watched, he pressed, switched, and twisted the requisite instruments that would turn the light off of autopilot. Two cars approached in the distance, he decided to make them wait.


Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 

5 of the following criteria must be fulfilled: 

  1. An active interest in the patient. In some cases, a hyper-fixation. The patient is the center of your solar system, and you are a revolving planet. They are the sun; you edge closer in awe, but without warning, the flares reach out and torch your arm. It is a dangerous game. You have to advance stealthily, as you do towards frightened wildlife shrouded in a bush. You have to be imperceptible. It’s not hard — you know them better than anyone else. “What area do you live in?” and “How long have you and your boyfriend been together?” can slip in easily in a slew of “And how does that make you feel?”
  2. Feelings of love and/or affection for a patient. Or the idea of a patient. In some cases, limerence, emotional co-dependency. There are more words to describe it than you require. No one warned you. Your second-year professor scoffed at the concept of “limerence.” “If you’re stuck in someone else’s orbit,” he’d say, “that’s a choice.”
  3. Feelings of disconnection from the world around you. Like walking through fog. The world turns chiaroscuro, but her heart is beating and screaming colour. 
  4. Maladaptive daydreaming. Nothing is restrained in the dream. 
  5. A significant impairment in one’s functioning. 


Every year as the sultry stupor set in, the rising temperatures were a sign to start packing her bags. A wash of sweetness came over her every time the plane landed. The air was more crisp, and the wind lashed her as a reminder that it missed her. She always nestled in the back garden once she’d arrive at her second home. The pigeons donned colours she’d never otherwise see. The pecking order was a vibrant clothing store, with spots, pale yellows and purple streaks. Her grandfather’s chest would swell like a rock dove’s breast when she affirmed his work.  

As her cousins flocked to the mall with her grandmother, she opted to listen to her grandfather recall the scientific names of his beloved doves. If she could remember the name of a clade, her reward was a small red lollipop he kept in an old cookie tin. She would suck the cherry-medicine sweetness as the birds circled her, and claimed her as their own. 

One summer, she didn’t board a plane. She never tasted the crisp air again, her skin was never lashed. Instead: cross-legged in her room, eyes shut, she recited the names of birds. With each name chanted, she was joined by another colourful spectre at the feast of memory. 

As she grew older, she couldn’t shake the habit. She attended university and completed a perfunctory course in zoology, but only watched ornithology lectures. Barely scraping by with her knowledge of primates, she excelled in classes on bird anatomy, flying back to the place she once loved most. The taste of cherry formed in her mouth with every achievement, every honour. 


“Everything you’ve experienced is in your possession. Convey yourself accordingly. Were they seeking your praise, the people would have made themselves worthy of it.”

You’re told this, or something like it, by someone giving you advice. They gently, dryly, didactically hold one of your hands, placing their other arm a little further up, bringing it around your elbow as if not just to communicate – but to commune. Completely without delusion, they look you dead in the eyes and utter it like it is what gives their life meaning.

You know then that the adulation of your learned contemporaries is yours at last. Your brazen new voice and the prose that heralded it will surely be the subject of, at minimum, one third of the circlejerkery at the next writing retreat. You relish the infamy and question nothing.

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