Writing 201 post: reflection: Word images

Dreaming, I was only dreaming, I wake and I find you asleep in the deep of my heart here… -Billy Holiday, Gloomy Sunday

But wait a bit, the oysters cried, before we have our chat, for some of us are out of breath and all of us are fat. “No hurry”, said the carpenter. they thanked him much for that.” -Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Although we can’t impose quiet on our mind, through meditation we can find the quiet that already exists in the space between our thoughts. Sometimes referred to as “the gap,” this space between thoughts is pure consciousness, pure silence, and pure peace. -Deepak Chopra

These images are from the “mind map” I learned about as part of the reflection piece assignment in WordPress’ class, “Writing 201” about blogging long form. As I’m a visual person this was the obvious jumping off point for me of the suggestions given…

Exploration: Words as Images and Words in Images. When words are in images like drawings, they become images. They are part of what your are looking at.

When I started making images, I felt finally liberated from the tyranny of words. It was spring semester 1989 at Harvard. All my life I had been imprisoned by words, mainly at school but also at home. Saying the right thing, winning the argument, memorizing words and remembering them correctly for reciting poems, for plays, for speech debates in the drama category, for all kinds of things that involved success at school, that was a huge part of my life up until that first day of Drawing Class. Writing words was the biggest part of the prison sentence: learning to write, writing tests, quizzes, exams, and most of all, especially in college, writing papers. The five page, ten page and longer papers. I was up to my next in words. Even the grades, A was the best word, A- a good word, Bs not great and I didn’t venture into the Cs.

When I randomly took my first drawing class at Harvard, Alfred DeCredico, visiting professor from Rhode Island School of Design, liberated me from words. It was a big class, and he noticed me and my drawings but probably forgot about me; however, his attention to my explorations in drawing, which he said in a strong accent of some kind was nothing more than “marks on paper” (mawks on paper) changed my world, turned me upside down and shook me up out of a sophomore year depression. If not for him and that class, I would not be making images and writing this blog post today, 25 years later.

Wow. I can make images of just marks, unrecognizable ones, and feel like a five year old watching her mom put my picture on the fridge in the form of the “class “critique, during which the teacher basically focused on “breaking” the real drawing experts in the class by talking about how tight, rigid and uninteresting their drawings were, and encouraged slobs like me by admiring my enthusiastic messes on paper. His Buddhist approach to drawing was evident in the first assignment, though at the time I new pretty much nothing about Buddhism. We were instructed to find about 12 twigs and put them together and make something and bring it to the next class. I don’t remember doing much with my twigs but enjoying the silliness of my homework being finding twigs and sticking them together while everyone else at Harvard was doing “serious” stuff. Everyone brought in their twig sculptures all excited to show them off, and he tore apart show and tell very simply: big pieces of paper and pots of black ink awaited us, and we were instructed to make marks using our twig sculptures. Impermanence, Destruction as necesary to Creation, and non-attachment – all in a big Drawing 101 class. it wasn’t even reminiscent of kindergarten, as I don’t think kindergarten was as fun!

It was that class that caused some deep buried part of me to wake up and ask,” Is this what real Artists do, and if so, am I actually allowed to do it for the rest of my life and tell people I’m an artist when they ask me what I’m going to do with my life?” My usual answer was something akin to, no just because I am majoring in Russian Lit doesn’t mean I am thinking about how to make money by doing something practical like “working for the United Nations or teaching or omething”. At age 18-23 nobody had gotten through to me about having to figure out how to make money, even though I had my first job in the summer of 84 working in Law Firm mailroom. Jobs were fun and strange things to do and tell people about, and nice to make money at, but I didn’t think they were the main part of life at all, and though I was naive and earnest, I think I was probably right in some way that I only now have come to.

The main point of this longwinded reminiscence besides explaining how I escaped words and permanently committed to pictures as my main activity of life, is to connect it to my arriving relatively recently at the idea of using words again but in pictures.

Well, blogging is a lot of words, but you can put images in your blog. You can put only images in your blog. What am I doing even writing a blog? My first blog involved comic strips, which still had words in them.

There is still an enthusiastic writer in me who writes this blog. Blogging is perfect for her, as she doesn’t have to make too much sense or organize thoughts coherently and wrap them in a nice bow; there are no grades or critiques,  only enthusiastic very nice readers who sometimes make constructive comments. She can trail off at the end without a conclusion paragraph and nobody cares.

My main question my last year at Harvard, taking a creative writing class and a basic painting class was: “Do I want to keep writing fictional stories, OR, do I want to keep making images? Though my writing teacher encouraged my and even gave me a cool beaded hat that I still have, Painting and Drawing, Image Making won out because they were just easier. Even Creative writing seemed to involve way too much thinking, editing and especially reasoning and “figuring out” the right words. I guess I discovered the Artist in me and she was the victor; she wanted to leave words behind and Make Images. She blazed ahead with an interest mostly in texture and materials and no words.

My first discovery of words as images was through collage, probably over ten years into my “career” as an Artist. I started out making lots of oil paintings and awkward drawings, and didn’t’ try collage until at least six years into my working as an artist. My deepest exploration was in the last ten years or so, using magazine words and words torn out of books, before I even knew what an altered book was. I also discovered tearing up music books and gluing music notes into my work, which was perhaps connected to my complete “forgetting” of how to read music and how to play the piano even though I played it from age 7 until end of high school.

Forgetting is discovery. It leads you down a rabbit hole into some kind of great archeological exploration. I have never had a good memory, and it finally is serving me in some way, in terms of discovery and exploration. Forgetting involves re experiencing things as though for the first time, and that is one of the key aspects of being an artist, what the Buddhists refer to as “Beginner’s Mind”…

Altering books has been a meandering intuitive process and has landed me back into the land of destruction and rewriting, in the form of turning books filled with words and sometimes pictures into art objects, usually using words as images here and there.

What I am now focused on is these journal drawings in which I write a word in the middle of the page and then turn the page into a drawing. This mind map suggested by Writing 101 as a way to gather ideas and connect thoughts for the reflection piece I am now writing seems to have  turned into a diagram/drawing of sorts.

The words in pink circled are the words I have already used in my journal drawings, some of which I have posted on this blog. The words in squares circled in orange are words I might use in drawings in the future and the words in blue are the ‘ideas” to write about in this piece. My “Blavatar” is from a drawing with the words “I AM”.

Writing words and coloring them in is something children do. They love asking us so called adults to make them “bubble letters”, so making the words in these drawings is of course lots of fun. The words usually come to me and if I like the word I do it and make the drawing. Some of the first ones were not in time order, Calm, Breathe, I Am, Whole, Play/Mess, Act, Nothing, Love, Awake, Stay…

A word in a drawing, I discovered, can connect me to meditation and mindfulness, or at least thoughts about the process. Quiet and Silence are there when I write the word, and my association to the word involves contemplation and no speech, no sound. Probably I have come to this partly for the reason that my childhood was not a quiet one, though an adventurous one as I travelled to many places, with a very talkative, loud, argumentative family headed by two people who met in law school (obviously not training to be quiet and forget words). However, one parent had parents who were musicians and got silence and contemplation through listening to classical music. This person, though a lawyer, did not like conflict or heated arguments and liked to retreat to the quiet of beautiful classical music.  This was the parent who expressed themselves through song and poetry, remembered from childhood, out loud, often in the middle of conversations. This was how I was led down the first rabbit hole, the one from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, still my favorite books of all time: But wait a bit, the oysters cried, before we have our chat, for some of us are out of breath and all of us are fat.” “No hurry”, said the carpenter. They thanked him much for that.

Wait a bit, silence and quiet, the sound of the ocean, a pleasant walk upon the briny beach… Growing up in NYC there was somehow in the land of imagination a place to go filled with talking animals, a girl changing sizes and reciting nonsense, a mad tea party and all sorts of delights not connected to the bore of daily reality for a child. “Dreaming, I was only dreaming, I wake and I find you asleep in the deep of my heart here…” (Billy Holiday, Gloomy Sunday)

Create, Imagine, Imitate, Explore, Make, and Make Something New, Something that Never Existed. Be quiet in stillness. Find your breath. Find your heart, Find your body. Be in the Moment and Awaken from your slumber, your daytime slumber as you let the seconds, minutes, hours slip by. Are you Alive and Aware and Awake, or are you one of the walking dead? Can you feel the space between all the words? That space is the golden, magic enchanted land of imagination and of what reality is. It turns out when you go back to your own land, the one you invented at some point in childhood, the one that is “Unstruck”: ANAHATA, the seventh chakra of super consciousness, in that space of silence and purity, the gap between all words, you will find yourself and lose your Self, and there is the place open to all, the place of calm and peace, the place of awakening to yourself and your connection to all living creatures, to stones and rocks, to the rhythm of the ocean, to your own heartbeat.

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