Monday, August 24, 2009


She was in the 400 quad, a cluster of classrooms in the shape of a square donut, each room’s door facing the cement courtyard outside that was marked with small patches of green grass in the process of turning yellow. It was the quad for math and chemistry, the quad where she had mostly learned to tune out and endure with open eyes but shuttered attention. Inside Mr. Payne’s classroom were six rows of steel legged chairs topped with a single piece of plastic that acted as both backrest and seat bottom. Six rows began five feet away from the blackboard and six chairs behind it stretched towards the back wall. Whether chosen or assigned, the chairs in the back tended to be filled with the failing and apathetic. Whether by design or happenstance, the tendency seemed to move through those back chairs like an angel feeding on determination and understanding. It was in one of these seats where she sat, just two chairs away from the back wall. It was true, she did not want to be there. She did not want to be in this small classroom, not in this sprawling school, not chained as she felt she was. She wanted to run through open fields and chat with runaways on the streets of Venice and splash in the ocean that beat against quiet rocks only an hour away. But she was complicit in her own constriction, driving everyday to this place, walking her body to each required class, coming back after lunch, the same routine each day until she couldn’t stand it and she would purposely drive past Indian Hill Blvd and keep on going till she hit the 10 freeway, then she let intuition guide her along cemented veins and to the strange encounters and mysteries that were waiting in the distance.
But most days, she found herself in Mr. Payne’s classroom. She occupied her time in many ways, but always aware of the slow moving second hand on the wall. As always, the man wore black running pants to school and paired it with a white T-shirt and unzipped running jacket. The material of his pants made a swishing sound as he walked and the elastic waistband accentuated his bubble butt. On top of the pants, around his waist, he accessorized with an overstuffed black leather fanny pack that bulged in the center and drooped down at a point, looking like a extra large penis. She saw him pull something out of it only once, she watched him curiously as he dug in deep for a calculator. It was his teaching style to turn his back to the class and work out math problems on the blackboard, mostly talking to himself in a slightly louder voice that if she paid attention, she could understand. But she didn’t care enough about it to weed through the gauze.

She had come back a few months ago from six weeks in Italy and she had been electrified ever since. Although she sat like a self-imposed prisoner, she let her mind drift and her hand draw. She brought her sketchpads to class, Mr. Payne’s and others, no teacher ever asked her to stop. She did what she called, “stream of consciousness” drawings. She was in the habit of using either blue or black ink pens and she would start by putting her pen to the paper. She would allow her hand to move, making a mark. She would just watch her hand, like watching a foreign object with a mind of its own. The pen would touch the white and it would all begin. She let her hand expand on the ink marking. Her mind would quiet and she would watch it all, her hand moving with quick intelligence. Lines turned into bulbous shapes and then those bulbous shapes expanded into other worlds. For many months she had let her hand move and work, turning mistakes into shapes and two dimensional movement.
She had done it enough times that she realized a particular process would always occur. She would begin the drawing, then at a particular point within the life of the piece she would come to the “uncomfortable stage,” the place where the drawing was only a rough outline of what was to come. There were forms, but none were finished. Sometimes she would step out of herself and look objectively at the paper. Seeing it this way, she would see scribbles and lines and messy ink markings. But this was also the stage of profound trust. The stage that always came but which also ended. She would dive back into the piece then, watching her hand, letting her body carry on, moving as it wanted, marking as it liked. She knew, very, very deeply, that the uncomfortable place was part of the process, a place to travel through that would end in delight and something she could never have planned.
Time and again, she would reach the uncomfortable stage and she would keep drawing, turning the page to the left or to the right, sometimes turning it upside-down until she saw a form or shape she recognized and then her hand would start expanding on the vision; and when there was nothing recognizable, she was content to create shapes that danced and twirled in on themselves. The uncomfortable stage was never the end, it was just the small hurdle, the gap that required patience to swim though, and for many years she trusted that knowledge.

But like a stone battered by a single drop, she eventually forgot the process, forgot the necessity of the uncomfortable stage, the same one that would occur over and over with each piece. Sometimes she would still draw, but she would hit the uncomfortable stage and get stuck. She would look at the piece of paper with critical intentions, through the eyes of another and she would see something ugly and unclean and unfinished. At this stage she would stop, thinking once again that she had failed. And she hit the wall over and over, always thinking that she had forgotten something. That she had forgotten how to draw or had lost inspiration…but she had forgotten the process. She stopped picking up pens and looking for paper and letting her hand take the reins, she thought that drawing was something that had come and gone, just like the force Bob Dylan had talked about in an interview she read a long time ago. It was something that had come in, from another place, from a place without words. It went through her, and now, she could not get back there.

And after many years of wandering a desert made of angst and tears and open questioning, she learned again about the uncomfortable stage, she learned another way to understand the gaps within the process. She looked at the intervals within the octave, the places to easily fall and be derailed, and she remembered that she had once recognized this interval when she had no name for it, and she had intuitively known that it was something that needed to be crossed with passion and zeal. And now, with a new language, she could begin again. It would all start with a new DO.

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