Thursday, June 8, 2017

December 22



Today was a class-A shit storm. I guess the bloom is off the rose where Clan Seot and I are concerned. Real life has invaded my happy fantasy.

We left Abcuhera this morning after a terrific stay. Truly, it was a great time in the city and I even enjoyed the underground jungle hike we took. Everything was so perfect…the word I’ve been overusing from the start. I guess reality wanted to kick some sense into me and remind me that there is no such thing as perfect.

With us underway on the ship, I finally got the opportunity to sit down with the raw footage that Cifa and I have been shooting. I scanned over the hours of vid, trying to find that ‘balance’ between family intimacy and exhilarating adventure Cifa demands this production to be. I quickly discovered it wasn’t happening.

I rolled my eyes at the task. All the anticipation I’d had for the project bled out. I struggled with ideas, arranged shots, rewrote the outline…I must have fought with that damned mess for two hours. I had nothing to show for it at the end of all that time.

In the end, I went back to my original plan. It was solid. It would look great and present the new ship in the best possible light. I had been writing it in my head from the moment I set eyes on the ship, always a good sign for me when I embarked on a vid project. Once Cifa saw it, he’d realize I’d done the right thing.

So I put it together, recording myself as the narrator and even getting one of the Zelts to play a light, happy tune for background ambience. It was a rough cut to be sure, but a damned good one. The flow was there. The warmth and joy of familial togetherness fairly dripped from it. I loved it and knew it could only get better when I went back in and added any new footage and finetuned it. I was proud as a peacock with myself and arranged to show it to everyone in the main cabin that afternoon.

The reaction was even better than I’d hoped for. The gang applauded me and Erom even made me take a bow. “This might become our best campaign ever,” he beamed at me. “The finished product is going to knock everyone’s socks off.”

“If this is what you do in only a couple of hours with a portable edit suite, I can’t imagine how good it will be when you’re serious about it!” Ila laughed, hugging me. “Bravo, Shalia!”

I exulted in the congratulatory atmosphere. Everyone was still chattering about it as they left the cabin for the open deck.

I was following them out when a breath warmed my ear. “Will you wait a moment, Shalia? I’d like to speak to you.”

I turned at Cifa’s soft voice. My being warmed to see him smiling at me, his sweet face as adorable as ever. “Sure.”

The door closed behind the last of our companions, leaving Cifa and me alone. He nodded to the vid on which I’d shown the project, which was now back to giving us a window view of the outdoors. “That was quite an excellent job you did. Everyone is impressed. I’m impressed, and I had a good idea of what to expect.”

“Thanks,” I said, feeling more than ever that I needed to perform a happy dance.

“Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to use it.”

I blinked at him. “What?”

He shrugged, his smile slipping away. “It wasn’t the project I asked you for. I thought we had cleared that up.”

My pleasure stuttered. “Well, no, it wasn’t exactly what you were hoping for—”

“It’s not even close. Oh, the idea of families getting close and sharing while on vacation was there in full force, and that part was beautiful. I smiled through the whole thing, because I could feel the warmth we want to convey. But that bit of adventure, of magnificence and thrill despite this being a cozier setting? I don’t think you got any of that across.”

All the gratification I’d gotten from the others’ reception disappeared. “I tried, Cifa. It wasn’t working when I combined the two ideas. It ended up awkward and contrived. I couldn’t find a way to meld such differing perspectives.”

“You pulled together a fabulous promotion in less than three hours. How much of that was spent trying to meet my – your client’s – expectations? Because giving up on what I asked for in such a short amount of time makes me feel like what I wanted was ignored.”

I stared at him openmouthed. He didn’t act mad. I wish he had been angry. Instead, he looked hurt, as if I’d discounted his requests on purpose. As if all my work had been done just to thwart him.

“The climb on the invisible walkway through the rocks of Nacabri didn’t show excitement? The cliff-plunge stuff you, Seot, and Larten did? Did you miss that I included those parts?” I wasn’t trying to sound peevish, but in my disappointment that he’d not been won over, my tone was a bit testy.

“Those were the only two instances that didn’t feel like a warm, fuzzy domestic moment. They were barely there. In all honesty, those quick scenes felt like an afterthought.” The distressed expression he wore deepened. “It feels like they were thrown in just to keep me quiet.”

“Now just a second,” I spluttered. “That’s a nasty accusation.”

“I’m not accusing you of anything. I’m telling you how it felt to me after the discussion we had about how important it was for the promo to get this particular idea across. It’s not there. The spot as it stands won’t work.”

I stared at him, with his expression miserable. My first instinct was to tell him to wipe the stupid pout from his face and stop acting childish. My idea had been great. Everyone had said so. Why couldn’t he just accept that his idea hadn’t worked out?

Instead, I managed to gather my own bruised self-esteem and keep my composure. I damned near choked on the words, but I said, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I did not do anything in an effort to belittle your wishes. I just went with what my years of experience told me was right.” I turned to leave.

“Shalia—”

My tone was all business as I said, “I will re-visit the footage in a couple of days, after I’ve had a chance to think it over more. For now, let’s just let it rest.”

I didn’t know if he wanted to discuss the matter further. I didn’t care. I left the cabin and spent the rest of the afternoon making sure I wasn’t left alone with Cifa and that he never caught my eye. I had nothing to say to him anyway.

We pretended otherwise that everything was fine, laughing along with the others as we relaxed on our way to the next port. The day was gorgeous, the temperature perfect, and the ship’s enjoyments had not dulled with familiarity. It was a shame I couldn’t enjoy it, and I noted Cifa didn’t seem as happy as usual either. I sensed tension strung tight between us.

We carried on in this way until dinner. Someone – Ila, I think – made mention of my ‘wonderful, perfect vid’ to everyone’s agreement. Except Cifa. He sat next to me, as had become the norm during meals.

He said, “Well, Shalia and I had a conversation and we talked about broadening the scope of it. Not just the intimacy of this particular cruise, but also how small can be magnificent. We need to address some of the more exhilarating aspects now that Shalia has scored so perfectly on the first part.”

Everyone exclaimed what a terrific idea that sounded like. I was forced to smile and nod along, though my ire spiked at the passive-aggressive move the Imdiko had made. He’d made sure to force my hand, and it pissed me off. I could have shoved his face in his bowl of lobster and rizpah bisque.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it for the night. No, Seot had to be his usual discerning self and pick up on the tension between me and his Imdiko. No sooner had we gone to our shared quarters for the night and put Anrel down for sleep when he and Larten made us sit down.

“Tell me what’s happened between you two. Shalia, you will go first, and then I’ll hear Cifa. Neither of you is allowed to interrupt the other. You’ll both have your say and we’ll go from there.”

Ugh. Obviously, that sucked big time, talking about how we’d ended up at loggerheads with each other. I have to give Seot and Larten credit for staying noncommittal while I talked about my take on the matter and then Cifa had his turn. They listened to us with respect, only speaking to clear up any confusion they experienced.

Afterward, Seot shook his head at both of us. “I can see it from both points of view. You each have a valid complaint against the other. You’ve also escalated the problem by not speaking for most of the day.”

“I have a thought on that, my Dramok,” Larten said. “The hurt and anger they felt at each other might not have made for constructive conversation. Sometimes it’s best to stay apart to let some perspective in.”

“In most cases, yes. At the beginning of this little drama, most definitely,” Seot agreed. “But instead of that happening, they ended up stewing until Cifa decided to try to push his view by saying something a dinner. Not your finest moment, my Imdiko,” he told a red-faced Cifa.

“I’ll concede that point,” Larten said. “Once an hour or two had passed and they still weren’t able to talk, Cifa should have known to consult with you. It didn’t need to reach the point it has.”

“Let me tell you what I see going on,” Seot said to Cifa and me. “Cifa gives Shalia a basic idea of what he wanted from this vid project. He was vague on one aspect from the beginning, the ‘big things come from small cruise ships’ idea. Vague enough that Shalia didn’t understand it was as important as it was. Am I right on that?”

Cifa and I agreed with his assessment.

“Good,” he continued. “So Shalia has a creative starting point that isn’t quite on base, and starts working from there, coming up with an overall plan. Conversations she and Cifa have don’t allow for either of them to pick up on the fact that they are thinking two different paths for this vid to take. It’s not until Shalia is ready to sit down and commit the rough idea to vid that they learn they’ve been planning separate projects all this time. Am I still seeing this right?”

Again, we had to concur. So far, so good.

“That’s where the problem kicks in. Cifa and Shalia discuss the matter. They make their concerns known to each other, but not the depth of those concerns. Shalia is already so committed to her vision, she can’t make room for what Cifa wants to see. She also can’t see how much Cifa wants his company displayed to the public…and as one of the owners of that company, it is his right to get what he demands, even if Shalia disagrees. You’ve come across this with clients before, have you not Shalia?”

I scowled but had to admit he was right. It was Cifa’s cruise line, not mine. His call on how the company was represented. I said as much.

Seot thanked me for my honesty. “On the other hand, Cifa was so committed to his vision, he couldn’t see that Shalia was struggling to change the vid in mid-course. He didn’t acknowledge that she’d built an entire promotion in her mind, and that he was essentially asking her to scrap at least half of it. That will throw anyone off their game. Worse still, he didn’t offer to help her when she was obviously floundering with the abrupt change in her strategy. There was no attempt to give her concrete ideas, just a general ‘make it bigger so it appeals to all breeds’. Am I right, Cifa?”

He stared at the floor. “Unfortunately, yes. I argued for what I wanted, but didn’t address how she might make it happen.”

“Good. We’ve got a misunderstanding getting bigger all along, and the attempted fixes are only making it worse. Shalia, forced in her mind to start from the beginning and on her own, makes a grudging attempt to make a vid that will give Cifa what he wants. She’s also trying to remain true to the vision she’s fostered and fallen in love with. When it doesn’t come quickly or easily, she goes with what she wanted all along, telling herself and Cifa she did her best. And probably feeling vindicated while she does it, especially when everyone agrees it’s terrific.”

I wanted to refute him. Yet I couldn’t come up with any evidence that Seot would believe. I stayed quiet.

“When Shalia shows us this vid, Cifa feels hurt. It’s not what he wanted. Because he missed the signs that Shalia was grappling with a project far different from the one she thought she was going to do, he takes it personally. He feels disrespected, ignored.”

Larten added, “And when Shalia doesn’t apologize or admit fault, he retaliates by discussing in front of others the vid he wants to happen, making sure everyone knows it will be the way he wanted it.”

“And here we have this mess of hurt feelings and misplaced anger on both sides.” Seot shrugged. “What did I miss? What did I get wrong?”

There was a stretch of silence. Then Cifa sighed. “The fact that being wrong and called out for it stinks. I hate hearing that I’ve been a jerk.”

Larten winked at him. “I suggest you get over that. There’s no profit in being right if it doesn’t make you and those you care about happy.”

“I know. I’m sorry I didn’t make things clear to you in the first place, Shalia. And that I left you holding the bag when it wasn’t what I had in mind.” He gave me a shamefaced grin. “I guess you’ve been so perfect all along that I expected you to be able to read my mind too.”

I had to snicker. “I have read your mind. Stop thinking of me naked.”

All three laughed. “No one who likes women is going to manage that,” Larten cracked.

Cifa sobered. “I also apologize for what I did at dinner. It was completely out of line to put you on the spot like that.”

“Okay,” I said, knowing he meant every word. “I’m sorry I put together a rough cut when I knew it wasn’t what you wanted. I should have insisted you sit with me so we could have brainstormed a few more ideas to make something we were both happy with.”

“Excellent,” Seot said, looking at us as if we’d done something particularly intelligent. “I have to agree with Shalia on one thing…you two should put off working on the vid for at least another day or two. Clear your heads before you put them together again.”

“Clean slate,” Cifa agreed. He looked sunny and adorable again in his relief that the matter had been settled.

But if it’s settled, why do I still feel like crap?

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