The ivory soap bar carved into an owl when I was in kindergarten sat yellowing by the guest bathroom sink, unused, until seven months before my mom’s passing. I have subsequently culled the stashed remains of all my early art, disposing of some and leaving the rest for my dad to figure out. There will be no retrospective.
My mom kept everything my little hands fashioned. It wasn’t that she gushed over any particular work to exclaim my talent, but that she kept ever last piece confirmed in my little mind that I might be a master. The works she carefully put in boxes shoved under beds or on the top shelves of closets, with the exception of a few that she set out on display. Not one hung on the refrigerator’s door or sides because that was a little to kitschy and low class for her, none the less her storage system function as two magnets and one refrigerator door in proclaiming my childhood naïve fame. To cherish even creative crap or unsuccessful attempts that can’t hold up to broader cultural review is the job of a mom. My mom did this quite well, but that is all just now stored in memory.
Hunched over my desk, I look to my right. I hesitate, hating that damn black bulldog clip thingy. It sits silently clasping itself, clinging impotently and unused to my wall mounted magnetic strip. Waiting, I calculate and cull from my course readings—Paper Clips, Sausage, Candy Cigarettes, Silk: ‘Thingy-ness’ in Flash Nonfiction—but the black bulldog clip’s thingy-ness and function remains verbless and voiceless. There is no fusion of form or frame for content or cognition. No muse at all, just a damn mute inanimate thingy. It watches me subjectlessly grope my way through the assigned text. I turn the page hoping for more from the next. I stop. I wait. I try not to do smart. Smart is stupid. It stalls me, binding up as yet unwritten moments. I stare empty eyed at that stupidly smart bulldog clip, clamped shut, failing to give voice. I hold there, for a memory of my own, for histories released. I wait; I waffle, like an unmoored blank page a drift to the floor.
And, I mull down on my unwritten, unadmitted, whys—the whys that planted my ass back in school for yet another, my third, but final degree. My why sits heavily in my thoughts, I try to leverage them to push the pen. But I am not comfortable admitting my these whys in such a public form, they make me look weak. So the whys provide me with no content.
Instead, I cultivate convincing myself to just freaking mimic the process I forced, a mere forty-eight hours ago, on my drawing students, set with the remedial task of blind contours. Literally positioning students with a laterally outstretched penciled arm, reaching slightly behind themselves to mark their easeled bulldog clamped pad of paper. They stare into a stool perched peer’s face, a mere socially inappropriate two feet in front of them, stretching the non-penciled arm forward, finger extended, pointedly poking and tracing the multiple contours of a face not their own. The pencil and padded hand translates with one continuous threading line their peer’s face. So focused, they work until their shoulders’ scream with exerted burn. They intermittently stop a moment, arms windmill around the room and then each returns to their page and the other’s face. The drawings develop in trusting the process and not focusing on outcome or on what a face “should” be. One eye large, one small and displaced below the nose, the ear a cheek, the chin so small, the nose laps over the mouth. Compression and expansion of details depend on drawing what they see and not presume. Each drawing distortedly different—fragility and frustration processed, released. The works are beautifully disfigured and emotive, yet cohesive. The act of touching, focusing on interior contours instead of outline and being denied visual access to their page are methods used in unlearning their cognitively compressed or assumed knowings. Those that forego fixation on the outcome but rather trust the process, find face. The drawings read as oddly real. Those that are attached to the “shoulds” and final conclusion, produce work that is worth only two magnets, one mom, and a refrigerator door. It is a pattern I witness year after year in academics.
An encroaching deadline returns me to put pen to page in a parallel process, but to write. I lie. I instead thumb my digital device. I try to swipe away my glossed knowings, my false facades, and “should” like attachments. I close Facebook to reduce the temptation of repetitive reviews of the LIKES on my most recent updates.
Still I flounder for content and imagine your eyes shift down from their low casting across the long table’s surface to the one with blush burned cheeks. With eyes averting, you wait for something small, something smart, worth the wasted while, worth the writing workshop. Waiting. Waiting. My cheeks burn all the more in the stalled stretching span. The words on the page coarsely twist off my lips. Stupidity overwhelms me in that first unrecoverable instance.
My nose flares with a frustrated hmmph. In fact, there are no words on the page to twist off my lips, and you, you, and you, with your already penned publishes, gathered here in round three for the terminal writing degree, have yet to sit. At least this is how I imagine it.
I point to the damn convoluting contours of that impotent black clip, again, and my mind’s eye fingeringly follows the contours of my unfaked fragility and frustration leaving a textual trace with this forced first draft. I feel the residual taint of my own feared stupidity and am left with missing my mom, two magnets and her refrigerator door.1