I watched someone I loved once—when the world was of a collapsing density and was, for the two of us, like the brambles thickening from in the hedge—literally fill a page—right in the thick of it—with an ornate, coral labyrinth of scribbling, in a (precious) matter of (overwhelming) minutes.
Growing upon the page was that high anxiety, and after it had bloomed and the pen had left her hand, it remained upon the page (later lost); but worse: upon the wall of my eyelids still squirming and upset; weaving with a cold shock into the dreamtime oxygen one gets towards sleep; driving the eyes open; wakes one up with fleeting shivers.
I hope this confuses things for you as much as it does for me.
It used to be the case that when I thought of scribbling or doodling my mind awoke, without hesitation, nested associations of graphite and ink meanderings in the place of notes on dissected fetal pigs, sodium-potassium pumps, Lord of the Flies, Impressionists and civil wars, more fetal pigs, double-negatives and clause structures, and so on and so on…these scholastic associations abound and are not always self-centered—that is, I can even (still) make them up—and range from lead breaking on a naked math teacher coauthored by idle, virile young boys in collusion, a pen-scratch lycanthropic, hirsute and stooped individual armed with a crude samurai sword of uneven lines my brother could have drawn, to certain exercises in sketching that hold the promise of strange manifestations within a page of initially idle marks (contingency-design*) and stains welling up in magnificent pages of smoke. And all of these myriad associations had had, for me, the feeling of the distractive and, more immanently, the meditative.
Allow me a moment to break my hand from the page to gesticulate in the air before me and center myself upon this inconsolable shift in things;
(It is a good, active air today, besides for the humidity for which one feels as though in the very throat of certain gods of these Southern Winds that gather nearer—more erotically—to the ground than those swift, frostrime patriots of the North.)
The sinister had not yet, for me, insinuated itself into this world of idle hands—the rendering of all these small movements of disposition. I would laugh at hermaphrodite werewolves I remember my brother drawing on the back of children’s menus while I created full genera of innocuous monsters.
Nowadays, I will say, my tastes have shifted and any fabulous beasts I draw are at the very least vaguely anthropomorphic. And, when I look at them afterwards seem unnervingly human: perhaps the tentacle of a young girl in a flower dress seems grotesque not for its sleek, rubbery form but rather for the way it hangs so limpid by her waist; or maybe two immodest, under-grown and uneven eyes that seem to remind me too much of myself so that I have to sometimes stand before the mirror further unnerved by reality and the melancholy proximity of those little unblinking eyes, and—as has happened once (or twice)—turn to the toilet behind me and evacuate myself into the bowl.
It wasn’t always like this. As I have already tried to get to, scribbling could be meditative or at the very least disassociative. The absent-minded little creations that came down in the place of notes on the sublimation of solid to gas could never achieve such an action of their own and, as such, had remained innocuous. Lifeless and, ultimately, defenseless to the closing of pages.
It wasn’t until the staggering intensity of that aforementioned moment when the girl I love was vomiting so frenetically upon a page—in those coral reticulations—our high and tried anxiety in that moment.
It has confused and infused the innocent with a possibility for tremor; for small sketchy eyes to seem to look back; for me to feel a fear both (simultaneously!) for and of myself.
List of things I often find myself drawing: stars; nonsense; the Moon; crouched figures in as few lines as possible; the occasional fern or succulent; an owl in seven steps (steps included); lots of little Cronopios and Loons; naked women and fictitious trees; scenes while lying on my side; the little creatures I have mentioned; many, many masks ranging from the Congo to the lower region of the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea; and, often, the strangers and furniture surrounding me in buses and airports and in coffee shops. For examples from this list—by no means full index—consult my various notebooks…
Given the warmth and light of this good weather currently conferred upon myself and my fellow strangers, I have elected for ice in my coffee. Things are coming along quite well in terms of the initial strokes into my current illustrations.
I enjoy how fabric stretches and folds over the bodies of the over-weight—such as the women two tables away—for many reasons most relevant among them that they are complimented so well by the technique of cross-hatching. This is a fine place to start.
This habit of drawing people: I am trying to get back to that meditative, innocent, state where you could just draw something (,anything,) down and float between that simple, going action of moving ones hand across a page and creating lines—the represented act and the being in place. Drawing and looking in such a way as the page does not look back at you. Scared as I am of the meaning behind abstract, coral reticulations. Because, one the one hand, I know there is no going back and that the page cannot be innocent the way watching a hummingbird float over an Hibiscus can be; but, on the other, I have invested into the page and left something that cannot, for me, be any longer static, or remained to that moment of illustration. The force of the drawing steps back from me and stays. I can but hope that it does not endanger me. And so, I am afraid and torn but still somehow optimistic—having given up, finally, upon those floating orbs of isolate truth one finds in Aristotle, Kant, Heidegger…sowing/seeking the generative.
And, so, I draw people I see and do not know, and hope that I do not come to know them, lest the page come into conflict and to war with the person with whom I might exchange any kind of more or less benign human correspondence; or worse, whisper the lingering remains of a passing remark.
As the birds here are all green, it seems only appropriate to choose my dark green Le Pen from the wrinkled depths of my pockets. The woman closest to me wears a hooded sweatshirt (hood down) that folds in such a fashion as to produce sharp black lines running from below her lateral muscles towards her spine. They widen towards where her breasts disappear behind the backs of her broad arms. I cross-hatch heavily here, with a gentler grade of cross and hatch running down the edge of her green sweater. I think things are going well for the reason that I can sit here, admiring the folds in a woman’s sweater approaching towards her breasts and admiring this thick, warm air and the breeze that currents through the bamboo that clump at the corner of the fence across the patio.
I think of the one I loved and that moment after which so much began to coil in the interminable space between page and vision and grow alive and I remember the coffee house patio that afternoon when I was trying to talk to Him—the Nemesis of Our Love— and saying really anything and She was just sitting there turning her page to gorgeous, terrible coral.
It is not so different from the one where I sit now, drawing the edge of the table those two women sit before; the metal legs and those clothed tapering down to the bricks; a particularly indigent, dusty green bird skittering between two disparate crumbs. I try to capture the bird, its natural contours, but it bounces over the bricks and is left upon the page without feet or tail and I let my pen stream across the page (over bricks not yet drawn in) to begin again—the same/another bird/angle—and end up with a skittering through space on the page in breeze of contour lines and (as) wings terminating on either end in little green sketches of the bird, where you see the clearest shapes to be drawn, the places where the ink bled most: the eyes and beak (such that there are two little eyes and beaks proximate to each bit of fallen bread on the ground.) Drawing one scaled leg, I look up again to find that my little companion has gone off to blend into the trees.
The pen stays; the ink spreads, turns the paper around that bird’s ankle into a pool of deep green; I flinch the pen away.
My stomach turns, something whistles from inside me, and, in simply trying to draw this bird in motion—this desultory, glossless little bird—what I have left is a flurry of strokes not so different from some kind of contingency-design and in and among them, like the hushed orbs of a just-revealed revenant—the eyes I find staring back at me when I have been known to draw strange little beast-folk. These two birds/moments have collapsed into a singular sapient presence looking back at me, with an expression of withheld disclosure in its damning eyes. Though, this time they are not the possible consequence of some design on my own part. (Hence fear.)
That is, they have emerged from the page in the simple act of trying to draw a small, desultory green bird moving in space: hence the turning over of my stomach. (My thumb feels hot as though I had been writing furiously for hours.
Though, surely, I have not.) Let me withdraw to something I know well.
I went through a stage for several years when I would draw my right hand (being left-handed) over and over again: furled and unfurled; taught and relaxed; the shape of a fist, over-large knuckles; (or temporarily quadruped with the long neck of a middle-finger.) There is a scar on this hand that runs along the webbing between thumb and forefinger. I cannot speak for its origins. But, it is here now and is in every drawing (past contours) I have made of my long right-hand. Sometimes I would restrict myself to simple contour outlines of the hand, and the line of that scar. Today, my hands bear more scars and though I have not drawn my hand in years, there would be a unique disparity in what I would draw to what I know to draw—(omission speaks for (private) worlds.)
When I was much younger, at an age when my sexuality was not yet loaded and inamorate, I had a Monstrous Compendium wherein someone had illustrated a beautiful, scantly clad Medusa. Her nipples showed through a loose, gossamer gown. At first, I would place a sheet of paper over her and trace her in her entirety—her serpentine locks curling about her face—but, as you can imagine, she eventually lost her clothing and eventually I did not need to trace her or even open the volume.
I never masturbated to that first page (nor did I ever omit that curling, venomous hair—something like Guilty Conscience), but the act of drawing her—(eventually from thin air)—aroused me and left me concupiscent (with an urgency the young boys— engrossed in their academic strip-tease—I mentioned earlier could not inspect) until I would inevitably take her with me to the bathroom and put her on my lap, a piece of toilet paper in my right hand.
From the table behind me, I can hear three people sitting down, three cigarettes being lit in incandescent sequence.
“Apparently, he’s a writer’s writer.” I hear a smooth, sibilant voice of a man utter in sharp articulation.
“Sounds suspicious, Greyson” the girl among them said; her hair touching my back, her own voice more resonant and clear. Of course… closer.
“Sounds suspect.” the other man mumbled out forcefully.
“Well, anyway, things looked nice upon the pages. But, Charlie, Charlotte, thank you both for your sanguine dismissals.”
“It’s nothing.” And you can hear the shared affection in these three, disparate voices. Charlotte lets out a slight laugh (I feel in her hair shaking): a tuft of hair, rather, air from her nostrils.
“You’re a real sweetheart, Charlie,” Greyson emits. Someone taps out a rapid little melody on the table with their fingers, “it’s gonna rain soon huh?” Greyson slides out. And it is true that there is an uneven quality to this air; that the air is heavy and active; that it would appear that rain would seem inclement in all of this.
“Nah,” and a pause a sight, “it’s just getting weathery.”
Charlotte releases, casually, like a question to the air, “Weathery…”
This girl’s voice, in its few words, has the effect of calming me, and I think back within a moment to that moment I began all of this with and as I think of it and I can feel okay. I hear her laugh, and I think back upon a distant moment when She laughed.
She was telling me, while we were in a grove of arid oaks, from a sleeping bag, face inches away, of a little guy (/girl) she had created for a work of digital art later changes of which had, sadly, put him into extinction. A little red dot with legs, knee joints, three toes. And it made me so happy to think of that little guy trekking across a computer screen among words and images and video, going about his own business with the temerity of a Cronopio. People were trying to sleep in tents, someone was sick, but it was so hard, as we talked about this little, digital homunculus, to keep ourselves down and we laughed in whispers and looked long at one another—smiles like incarnadine tides—looked at one another’s hands.
While my left hand has not come to rest in the past few moments, I have not been paying particular attention to the page it has been moving across. And you can imagine how I might just now feel, once again aghast, upon looking down and seeing a woman five, six, yards away whom I cannot account for in the reality of the scene before me; and you can imagine how I just now might feel a pale fire in my stomach upon looking down upon her (granted, attractive) form and the shape in her hands of a camera pointed directly at my own true self, the eye of the page, and I want to pass the page away that I might rid myself of her drawn camera-eye (an existential crisis in itself, if there ever were one: what might lie stored within the files of her camera.) But there is little I can do but go on. The man, Greyson, behind me is saying something about a tattoo artist in Philadelphia who is being sued by twelve clients for, apparently, tattooing his email address upon the arms and the limbs and backs and breasts and that recently popular space half-hidden behind the ears of his clients…hidden in Chinese characters. “Email address not disclosed.”
Before me, the middle-ground of this café patio is coming into itself upon the paper: those two corpulent women I have already dictated my affinity for—their flesh and the clothes that cling and in which they resolve; the disks of patio tables, disks cusping the pen-lines of coffee cups; seven lines of someone who was only still for seven seconds; smoke trailing in slight, curling strokes from a hand disembodied—(by means of impatience)—over an adjacent table… there are tracers of passing human form…or sometimes I am all but done with someone—the lines are not tracers of presence or even vibrations between stooped and rigid backs—and then they are leaning over, gathering things and I had drawn all but their face or maybe just their lips or eyes or fingers and they are up and gone and the rest must be remained to blank space, (the table or other shoulder their face should or would have shielded)…cipher.
And here is another small corner of my webbed fears: a kind of superstition/prohibition against filling someone’s face, or their palms (the width of their fingers), a woman’s covered breasts… against filling what is there with apocryphal indulgence or mental indigence or erotica—that by replacing the real with the imaginary one might (some how instill in the imaginary a kind of life.)
I have drawn things that have stayed upon (/within) the page with a kind of robust, eyeing awareness—not unlike this one time when I caught someone else drawing me, and I cannot tell you the dynamite/perturbation that exploded as I walked passed, trying not to look and finally not being able to; when I was so close to getting past and seeing myself there, in strokes not so much separate from my own—credibly fashioned—with one of the expressionist masks (that the Occidental denizens of the West refer to as Primitive) that I, myself, have drawn and known so well, covering my poor, eluded face.
It has been a source of vociferous nightmares: that masked figure with eyebrows of cowry shells and painted, geometric slashes of pale blue signifying cheek bone; an ochre band running from forehead to tip of nose. It haunts and begets other hauntings: dolorous synergies of history’s bramblings and the penumbral id-work of the mind.
From the table behind me, another trio of cigarettes light; smoke passes through her hair; tendrils of smoke and of hair pass my ear, cross my face in this breeze. The 3rd suspect, that certain Charlie, emits his clear(ly/mumbled) voice, “I’m glad we’re all reading this together.” And I can hear pages behind me opening.
“Pass me Julio,” Charlotte says, softly, and a book slides across the table. The breeze rifles through the pages; her hands (presumably) rifle the pages, “okay, silence.”
“Silence granted,” Greyson suspect responds.
“Shut up, Greyson,” warmly, “okay. A dream is a displaced present arrived at by a purely human operation,” she pauses and I sigh, “a saturation of the present, a piece of ambergris afloat within the now, yet apart from it. For dreaming has its own present and its disquieting forces appear outside Kantian space and time.” And that seems so close to the truth and the truth of my own drawings (this interminable condition), and aren’t they all becoming contingency-designs outside my own control? And should it frighten me as much as it does? And it is to my own shock and enervation to watch what transpires. Nothing that should seem so fearful, but that I am not doing this: my hand picking up the pen. My hand beginning to draw, in precise symmetries, the white fence at that final background space here before me. My hand suddenly flashing over the page remaining with accuracy a tawdry green bird perched there.
And God! How my gut burns. And I am reminded of that coral labyrinth She, the girl I love(d), drew upon a page long ago and how it took on a life of its own, but, at least, a life I could recognize as begot of love and agony. And I watch my hand work its work with a kind of horror. And my eyes are wet: watching & remembering:
(like a nest of fire ants foaming to the discourse of the curious stick:)
The familiar shapes, the familiar angles, the lines—the scars—that come and that wear and those that stay: Our Hands are just the same size (, Hers slimmer such that they might hide (, like a love behind a tree,) behind the digits that extend from these (heated) palms), I have seen our hands from so many angles—(a scar that is not doubled—a webbing that matches perfectly (: collapsing (blessedly) the incongruous))—beyond her face, between our necks, below certain oaks, and before certain, southern birds…
Through what can only seem to be propitious miracle, I can hear Charlie raise his voice, clear his throat—simultaneously (/synergistically) with the trespass of a living ant upon the page.
“He doesn’t know that we like to roam through his paintings, that we have long loved to adventure through his drawings and engravings,” and I watch this minute, living, physical ant begin to amble across the page (reclaiming it, I hope, to a simple piece of paper), and I watch my hand, my giant green pen, follow his wayward path in trailing green ink, “examining each twist and each labyrinth with a secret attention, with an endless palpitation of antennae. Perhaps it is time to explain why, for several hours, even at times for an entire night, we renounce our avid anthill activities, the endless lines coming and going with little bits of herbage, crumbs of bread, and dead insects,” and I watch this ant, my colossal, heaviest hand behind him—trailing inken pheromones— encounter the page’s border (,white precipice,) and turn away: if ‘forward’ does not equal ‘forward’, turn back and descend the stair… But I cannot recognize extremity or white precipice and I , myself, cannot turn back and descend the stair (as there is no end in the sequence), and I am feeling that I, myself, am becoming contained within some sort of contingency-design…watching my hand trace the passage of this little ant. The ant, in its constant progression of feints and counter-feints comes toward those staring eyes made of a single bird’s aberrant search for little bits of herbage, crumbs of bread, and I swear to god, the eyes blink right there—right now—in front of me and the sketchy lines that have indiscriminately brought them into being seem to have subtly changed. I hear a page turn from behind me. The ant has vanished and my hand, without hesitation, moves back to that white fence.
“Perhaps he will be slow to discover us, because the lines and colors that he has put there move and tremble and come and go just as we do,” and the fence is complete (ten real yards away—a van, grey and worn, idling at the curb), like a coral labyrinth rendered in fine lines and right angles, and I watch my hand begin to trace the lines of someone’s legs, cloaked in loose pants, from the other side of the fence, “and in this traffic that explains our love and our confidence we might perhaps pass unnoticed; but we know that nothing can escape his eyes,” and there is a figure beginning to take shape, knees bent legs akimbo, “that he will begin to laugh,” and the shirt folds loose over a stomach, the chest leans forward, and
in this moment I have the pearled imagining that it might be Her there before me…there is an arm raised, the beginnings of an arm raised, “that he will think we are scatterbrained because our thoughtless wanderings are altering the rhythm of the drawing or even introducing a scandal into a constellation of signs.” And to my total horror, there is, on the page before me, crossed by the trail of ink of a passing ant, a spear raised up at me in a closed fist, and I fear to look up. “What can we say to exonerate ourselves?” enunciates, in clear, smooth tones. And I watch, in a small collapsing of moments, as the face resolves and there before me is the mask glaring awesome, primal, and there before me is the masked figure; spear raised vibratory towards me, that horrible mask looking fixedly at me. And I wish I could hide in that coral labyrinth that began all of this, for whatever splendor and pain it might have resolved in(to) and I watch my hands drop the pen upon the paper and I look up and see the van I had already forgotten parked in the place of this horrible nightmare figure. And I sigh, my chest declines, and I stare at that van, would almost laugh, but the taillights turn red, the engine starts and coughs, a tawdry green bird makes flight from a fence-post, a pen bleeds its ink upon an eyeing page, and