How to Hold a Paintbrush

Gabriel Parker

It has been said that the spear was the first use of science fiction. Perhaps. If so, my room speaks to me of days when men sat around an open fire and plotted the death of the dinosaurs. Monsters, colossal behemoths walking among bearded oak trees, that treat you as nothing more than a fly beneath them as they walk among pits of reeking sulfur. Or maybe it tells of days when men sit around fires plotting the conquest of Mars, days when fire leaps up and gets caught in their eyes and lights their ideas. They grab hold of it, taste it, feel it burning their insides and then they act, with fire glinting from their fingertips and embers in their tongues. They change the world. They change the universe. That is what my room reminds me of. Days already happened and those not yet happened. Spears that have already buried themselves in graves of flesh and those that haven’t yet been thought up, those that still need the right man sitting around a roaring flame and thinking. Always thinking.

There’s a pleasure in a fire, a humanity in the unfeeling chemical reaction. Something ethereal, eternal. We may colonize the stars, set foot on every planet in the universe, tame the seas and melt the mountains down until every single one of us lives in a concrete cage, but never will we lose the serenity of a fire. We may forget, but it’ll spark back up one day when men need to think again, be quiet again. Breathe again. Then, with their eyes dull and the lights out, they will light a candle and set the world aflame.

These are the thoughts I have in my room, my quiet amber-green room whose walls burn like a cretaceous inferno. I find that people wonder at the vibrancy of it. They wonder how I can think with all that’s happening. I wonder how they cannot.

There was a time when I couldn’t think. I couldn’t breathe, I felt trapped inside my own room that was both mine and not mine. We were moving. My first room was green, not amber. A brilliant neon green that spoke of summer fields, cut grass, putting mats, and astro-turf. Fire? No this was power, precision: a line of eleven men working together like the pieces of a clock but with the explosion of a shotgun. But the gears must turn and the power must go. Great gashes of white crisscrossed my beautiful field, and like locks of Samson’s hair hitting the ground, one by one the gashes bled together, each strip of green seeming to pound the air as it died. Days, weeks, for months I was trapped in a room that had all my furniture, books, clothes, but it was not mine. It didn’t have me. As if all the hours I had spent in that room were baked into the color that hid behind a white veil. A bride soon to be married to someone else.

Tell me, how can someone move every year, every other year? I’ve heard that home is neither four walls and a door nor a button on your phone but a pair of eyes and a heartbeat. Yes, but it is a pair of green eyes and a red heart. Or perhaps blue eyes, or beautiful, rich coffee brown. But it has color and it has life. Color is life, a life all its own, a life that you give it. It speaks and tells you stories of all its brothers and sisters across the world if you let it. Tales of ash and coal and bleeding wounds in space or of days where you look out over the ocean and can’t draw a line between it and the sky and of bright baby’s cups and oven mitts and the colored spine of your favorite book. Colors tell you everything, and nothing. But a white room? It’s a blank canvas, a bride waiting at the entrance to the church, a brand-new baseball just from the factory. There’s no story there. Just anticipation. I found myself holding air between my pursed lips inside my un-room quite often. But never satisfaction. White doesn’t tell stories, it just waits for you to tell them, to find them. But they’re never there to be found.

My mother knew that. Of course, she knew that everyone innately knows that, they sometimes don’t know that they know, but they do. I find that perhaps the most rewarding activity is finding out what I know that I didn’t know I knew. For instance, I know my mother loves me. I’ve always known. But the hours she spent in my new room, my home, getting everything just right, layering the greens and the yellows so that they ended up as dinosaurs and green flames and the sounds of a Pterodactyl swooping high above your head. That’s love. Hours and hours she spent, and she sent pictures each layer. “More green? More yellow? Do they mix well?” You never know if they mix well until you live with it. You must simply feel a color to know the stories it tells, breathing it in. Therefore, I always deferred to her better judgement, her colored eyes. It was never good enough, never magical enough. One coat, two, three, five, eight. More and more until the feel was just perfect. Finally, it was right— like a mossy pond set ablaze.

Then as if a final tribute, a final act of brilliant artistry she named her piece. In bold letters above my door she wrote, “find your adventure”. Find it. Look around in your room and find it. Its there, shapes in the flames, burning in your mind. Find it.

So, I do. On nights when cicadas streak screaming across the night I open my window and I listen to their screams and I wonder what they scream about. I open up a blank page and I wonder. I wonder through the eyes of a bug or the cold Martian soil feeling the touch of humanity for the first time. I wonder through time, and places, cities that seem to have always existed and cities that haven’t even been started yet. Oh, the loveliness of a white page! It tells no story but what you dictate to it; so I look up at my walls and hear a story, then I write it down. Nights with nothing but the sound of keys playing their own strange little songs are possibly the most beautiful nights of all. Or days when I crawl out on the roof with another book to find the words of a dead philosopher, once again alive and weaving his web of literary sorcery there, on top of my house, in the middle of a neighborhood with no one to hear but me.

Then, with their words filling me up and running out my ears, I climb back inside my window, stare at those fiery walls, and I write. Taking the cup of my mind I shake until a little of that dead philosopher sloshes out. A little of him, a little of myself, a drop or two of my philosopher, teacher, from last week, last month and voila, a brand new story. That’s the kind of adventure I want, the kind of adventure that seeps through you like a drug. Don’t ask a writer where he’s been, ask him where he thinks he’s been. You’ll hear stories of cities more ancient than Machu Pichu and tales of wonders more beautiful than Gustave Eiffel could have ever dreamed of: great monstrous heads of stone buried broken in deserts, fireman who burn books instead of dousing flames, ravens that sit in the room with you cursing you from their glinting beaks; it’s all there. You merely need to know the writer. That’s the easy part, for writers are artists of a unique sort. Theirs is the only medium you can hold in your hands, feel each word, each brushstroke in your mind, under your roving fingers; and if you begin to read, really read, then you’ll suddenly notice that you’re not alone in your study or the easy chair in the back of the library or on top of your roof. No, you’re not alone, you have a man, or woman, there beside you telling you a story that they imagined. You’ll hear the gusto in their voice, or the cold contemplation that reeks through their breath. You’ll smell the fear in their sweat and in that moment, you’ll know them. There’s such intimacy in the written word dictated by a master. He can tell you so much about man, so much about yourself and not a single solitary fact about himself, yet you believe him to be your best friend. You would fully expect the man to walk up to you in a restaurant and start catching up like old friends. Those are the books you savor, the ones that you take the time to read through each course and then sit at the table, conversing with your host while you digest what he’s just fed you.

All of this because you learn how to find your adventure. Because you learn how boring white walls are. Paint them. You’ll find that it’s the best decision you can make. If you’re lucky enough to have someone who loves you, then you have it even easier, for love paints before you even have a drop-cloth down. Sometimes messily, but always gorgeously. So, find a painter, they live at the library and speak quietly at first, but sometimes, if you find a good one, they’ll sit down in a chair you didn’t know you had and take a long puff on an ancient pipe. Then they will start teaching you how to hold a paintbrush.

About the author

Gabriel Parker is an undergraduate at Oklahoma State University majoring in Creative Writing. He has had fiction published by FoxPaw Literary, Ripples in Space, and in an anthology by Grey Wolfe Publishing and poetry by BeznCo. He can usually be found deep in the bowels of the campus library holding back piles of books with one hand and typing away with the other. You can find him on Instagram @gabrielparkerauthor or online at


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Frontier Mosaic Copyright © 2023 by Gabriel Parker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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