Short Story – The Sketchbook

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Waiting for her Ubers Emily would, once reading the driver’s name on her phone, imagine what the driver looked like.  

Emily lost focus and started dreading what repulsive car freshener the driver might have hanging from his rear view mirror.  She figured the person who invented those things probably had been rejected by the Hallmark greeting card company and these reeking, chemical infused cardboard cutouts was their revenge.  Chemical cocktails that induce stupid headaches with flavours labeled: pure steel (a gross attempt to negate foot odour), pina colada (sweetness gone overboard), spice market (dollarstore ramen spice packet gone rogue), watermelon (grade school lip gloss) or summer linen (why?).  

Emily’s phone pinged – her Uber had arrived.

Gustav pulled up right in front of her and threw it into park so the doors unlocked.

Anything but Spice market Emily sneered to herself.

Emily opened the door  ‘Who are you picking up?’

‘Emily.’ said Gustav the Uberman

‘Ok and you are …?’  Emily didn’t give a shit if the driver took it personally that she made sure she was safe.

‘Gustav’ the driver said. His mask was strung from ear to ear but simply hugged his chin not covering any orifice.

Emily had dressed for an early winter morning but it was now a balmy November urban afternoon.  Bulked up on layers in the morning she was now clammy with slow sweat.  Annoyed how this fickle eastern Canada weather was, she unravelled her scarf and loosened her top button.  

Tossing her sketchbook on the back seat Emily put her phone face down on top of it as she settled in.  She pushed her jaw down to free her nose from the face mask and breathe easier.  Emily questioned herself in case she was imagining a hint of cedar and salt water.  Did she miss the Pacific that much?

Driver and passenger caught eyes in the rearview mirror.  As strangers they connected with unusual ease for an extended second.  Emily felt like she had just been hacked.  Emily shrugged her shoulders to disguise the sudden shudder and looked out the window as Gustav pulled into traffic.  Stopped at a red light they met again in the mirror.  It felt like a prohibited affair where they couldn’t resist the affliction to see their lover.  

Emily nodded and broke the weirdness asking ‘So Gustav … how are you today?’ 

The light turned green, Gustav turned his attention to Ubering, then answered,

‘Me?’  As a painter he was sizing up his passenger’s posture.

‘I am fine.’ he said in a thick accent.

Emily could register several European accents having studied painting in Paris.

‘In 500 metres turn left on Richmond Street.’ The metallic matron GPS voice gave Gustav his next instruction.  Emily gave a brief chuckling breath as she was surprised the GPS didn’t speak English with a hard accent.

‘She sure is bossy’ Emily joked the same joke she always says about the GPS lady.

‘Bossy Boots.’ Readily agreed Gustav, who in fact liked his painting subjects to be strong women.

Emily’s instinct was tugging on her shirt sleeve repeatedly ‘Emily’,  ‘Hey Emily’.

Annoyed by its insistence she growled under her breath and with clenched teeth.  ‘What?!’  

Despite her camouflage Gustav heard Emily anyway and searched for her in their mirror.  Sensing his look Emily didn’t join in.

Gustav drove Uber to see the scenery of people’s faces:  Foreheads as a back alley wall aching for graffiti;  Bags under their eyes were hammocks where spent blues and languid purples reclined.   Each nose, a nexus of cartilage reconciling the face’s horizontal grounding with its vertical reaching.  Cheeks were reflective sharp cliffs or absorbant rounded boulders.  In the way that eyebrows couldn’t be trusted, lips were married to the truth.  Which made no sense because Gustav knew, we lie so much. 

‘Wait!’  Again another word slipped out of her stream of consciousness.

Confused, Gustav needs to know,

‘Madame, did you want me to pull over?’  

‘No no no  It’s all good.  Very sorry.’  Emily assured him through a pained, weak smile.

Emily’s brain was madly rifling through her memories trying to figure out where in the world she knew him from.

Within two minutes, ‘Get out!!’  Erupted another verbal surprise.  This time it was loud.  And accusatory.

‘Pardon me?!’  Now Gustav was insulted.  He had seen many things in his life, especially while driving Uber but he had never been told he had to get out of his own Uber by the passenger.

He in fact had recently told a disrespectful fare reeking of magazine-sample-aftershave to do exactly that.

‘Skedaddle!’ He had ordered his rude passenger who was demanding Gustav take him to a new destination (without ordering a new ride through the app) because the obtuse passenger had just received a text from his friend who had not waited for him at the bar which was the original destination.

The guy didn’t understand what ‘Skeedawdow’ meant in Gustav’s Austrian accent.

What the hell did you just say?! The annoying and arrogant bar guy demanded.

‘Get out!  Get out now!!’ Gustav shouted into the mirror of his own car.

‘Ok ook ok. Chill Uber dude.’ On his departure he slammed the door just to prove he was in fact that immature and arrogant.

‘Sorry, sorry, sorry.  Please forgive my mouth.’  Begged Emily.  ‘It seems to have a mind of its own right now.’  

Needing to identify herself as a lucid person; 

‘I’m an artist.  My name is Emily’

‘Yes, I know.’  He wagged his head quickly back and forth with what Emily called a low tide smile.  Those are smiles that are not insincere but not the real deal.  She didn’t like the word fake.

‘What?’  Questioned Emily – did she just radiate artist?  Did he know her?  No. Of course.  Emily realised her first question before even jumping in the Uber was to confirm her name.

Why in the world did an Uber driver named Gustav with an German/Austrian accent need to know her name, or that she was an artist as he turned down Richmond Street.  

Maybe she just needed to talk, thought Gustav, and so now he was adding therapy to his list of talents while Ubering.  Which wasn’t the first time.

This one fare had jumped into his car and said:

‘Fire it up.  Come on, let’s get this show on the road.  What?’  The woman had asked.  ‘

Is there an issue?’

‘No madame.’  The car was fine but Gustav had stalled. 

‘Then just turn on your little turn signal there and pull Chitty Chitty Bang Bang into the street like it says in the Uber training manual.  Ok?  Good.’

​​Wow!  Was für ein Zugunglück – thought Gustav.  As he pulled away from the curb the GPS lady said the trip to Kensginton market was going to take 24 minutes.  This duration of trip is usually the best money maker.   But who knows with this lady.  

23 minutes later Shelia, as Gustav learned was her name, stepped out of the Uber into Kensington market.  She breathed in the kaleidoscopic air of the neighbourhood: dope, tacos, fish, buskers, coffee, dirty asphalt, more dope, community.  Then she popped her head back into the car,

‘You’re the man Gustav!  Thank you so much. Have you ever thought of becoming a psychologist?  


Do you have any hobbies when you don’t drive?


‘What’s that?’  Sheila waited like a dog expecting to be rewarded for a trick.

Gustav looking over his shoulder across the back seat – ‘I Paint’.

‘Cool.  I am sure you’d be good at it.’

Are you married? Asked Sheila without waiting for an answer.  ‘Just saying, you’ve got wisdom coming out the wazoo.  You must be making a lucky woman happy.  That’s all.’ 

So as not to prolong Sheila’s exit Gustav would ask someone else to confirm what he thought a wazoo was.  Sheila was too much.  Like thick cut bacon on a double cheeseburger. 

‘Thank you.  Be well.’  Gustav sealed his conversation with Sheila.

‘Thank you too.  Be safe.’  Signed off Sheila.

Gustav had listened to Sheila’s nightmare story and her confession that she was complicit in the toxicity of her relationship with Bruno.  But Sheila insisted she had actually tried to right that ship.  Bruno it seemed, commented Gustav,  Was happy to just have it run aground. Sheila lapped up his completion of the analogy.  

‘The sketches are good; they are alive.’ He looked back at Emily.  ‘Honest and human.’  Nodded Gustav mulling slowly over each page of Emily’s sketchbook.

But …? Prodded Emily for nuggets of approval while resisting falling into a pool of self sabotage.

But what?   

Car horns honked, bike couriers whizzed by and Emily’s back twinged because she had been sitting too long.  

‘It’s like you are drawing postcards to yourself.  Because you and your art are in two different states.’

Emily’s eyes yearned to decipher the mysterious mist, her hands longed to touch the vibrant green; her lungs inhaled in search of the thread that connected her to the reliable west coast.

‘Are you …?’ How could she be asking this?  She reloaded her question ‘Has anyone ever told you you look exactly like Gustav Klimt?’  In the rush hour of her mind to find out what had been bothering her she hadn’t put two and two together: his name, with his accent and that he looked exactly like Gustav Klimt.

‘Go home Emily!’  Cheered Gustav. 

What I Look For In A Leader (And What You Should Look For Too) – 4 Key Pillars

concise and actionable

strategic teams

When leading people through the murky and turbulent seas of life in its different forms, there are four components I look for in leaders…

Graphic – The Lighthouse – Leaders shine the light on the way forward!

The lighthouse graphic shows the four key elements you need to weigh up when steering your team to greater success. Of course, these elements are just as applicable when trying to find or even help a leader. A simple explanation regarding what I mean by Core, Qualities, Mindset and Persona (CQMP) is provided for you below. Please read on…


The core of a leader is important. Without a core, a leader has no sense of purpose. These are their values, the underlying drivers. For instance, when trying to understand the values they have, ask yourself whether they are ethical or unethical.

Ethics is the process of questioning, discovering and defending our values…

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In The Meantime

Photo by Content Pixie on Unsplash

Yesterday walking up the moist front steps Tammy sniffed some mineral earthy air that her memory associated with the white quartz.  

‘Let’s rent a car.  Take the day off.’ Tammy offers Malik to agree with her fresh idea as she walks in the front door.

Malik stands up straight from his work desk, takes in a big breath and looks her dead in the eyes.

‘Tammy ..?’ His voice, simply saying her name, went through a 2 – part process of getting her attention with a strong ’T’ and dipping at the end trying to bring her back to earth.  Her spontaneous whims always threw him for a loop.  What’s wrong with planning? He says with his eyes.

‘Malik ..?’A It’s-all-part-of-the-package look was how she responded to his need for a plan.

After a two hour drive out of town the next morning they set off on a five km hike into the forest following the curving river lined with attentive cedar and spruce.  On the riverbank the cedars’ gnarly roots suction themselves to the iron infused sedimentary rock that frames the river.  On the forest side of the river bank tree roots delve quickly into the forest floor littered with spongy, green rock cap moss.

It’s a good 5 degrees cooler under all the verdant trees where the river quickly narrows and drops four feet through the effervescent rapids.  Just past the brief rapids as the river widens again slightly is a massive white quartz.   Although radiant and striking, it is so ensconced in the place it can be confusingly easy to miss. Tammy can’t remember how they found out about it.  Malik remembers and relishes holding the mystery. 

A mystery that the quartz holds is its size.  The carpet of bright green moss acts like a receding hairline on the top and also grows on one side hiding where the quartz meets the riverbank rock.  The outlines of the massive white boulder hinted that the beautiful crystal extended some metres beyond what was visible.   In his enthusiasm to find out how far it reached Malik confused it with the pockets of snow clinging to winter under the tree skirts; playing hide and seek with the invigorating rays of the spring sun.  

They came to dwell with the quartz, to remain in its presence, seeking to be transported deeper within and higher up.  The quartz made you wonder. Wonder with confidence. Wonder up.   The massive cool fresh quartz engages you as if you were on time and up to speed on your life trajectory.  It draws your truth out of you.

They agreed to eat lunch in an hour and served themselves some steaming tea.  They sat cross-legged on their yoga mats 10 metres apart on the river bank.  Once settled in, breathing and clear of mind Malik found his faculties subtly intrigued.  He was being pulled to grasp what was going on:  it was the rapids.  As the rapids bounced the water all over the place, they were challenging the river, asking the river how important the flow of water was to it.  The river, regaining its composure a few metres downriver, always answered the same:  I may bend but I will never break.   

Tammy didn’t like a sudden burst of her bubble of connection when they were in nature.  Malik knew that.  But the words just popped out.

‘I don’t think nature…,’ Proposed Malik, impacted by the electrical wash of the huge quartz. ‘… knows the concept of: in the meantime.’  Hearing himself speak he realised he had broken the connection bubble but for him this was a pretty deep thought so he just kept going. ‘Nature is always in the here and now…never waiting… endlessly passionate.’  Malik liked how his poetic kites floated into the early afternoon cool air.  Soaking up the moment with his sense of transcendence he sought, Malik breathed in deeply.  

Tammy, chill, aware and reflective in the robust, rewarding afternoon was shaken by Malik’s declarations.  Hearing him utter in the meantime jolted her out of her cozy emotional vacation and dropped her into an unsettling mental state.  Tammy went from cupping the thermos cup of green tea to strangling it.

In six year old Tammy’s mind meantime was what she called the episodes of her parents arguing.  She instinctively recoiled under her bed in her and Shelly (her half-sister’s) room. Her bookshelf was empty.  Her story books were in piles under her bed.  Tammy lay among the dust bunnies and socks turning pages until the yelling and screaming stopped.   She found a corporeal focus that completely blocked out life in the meantime.   Fifteen  year old Shelly wasn’t around so much so Tammy ended up being the flag bearer of her own safety.  It seemed her parents first had to be mean to each other before they could approach her smiling saying:‘Don’t worry sweetie, come out from under there. Everything is going to be ok. Mommy is happy.’  Nine months and two police visits later there was no more meantime.