Shaping Your Story: What’s Your Angle?

I took this blogging class, Shaping Your Story, in 2016. I did the assignment “What’s your angle?” and posted it on 9/14/16. I’ve decided to edit what I wrote and repost it.

I had started a specific writing project spring/summer 2016, a kind of personal narrative/memoir… Here is the edited version, probably 4th edit!

Explanation of the assignment, What’s my angle? It’s kind of memoir but it’s about a job. It’s a loss, as this program doesn’t exist anymore. My angle is connecting with people with chronic mental illness, close to the homeless person you saw on the subway today. My angle is also about the space I get into when I’m with someone in an art therapy session making a drawing, or when I’m alone making my own drawing. This space is a kind of Twilight Zone, where 15 minutes or 50 minutes aren’t really divided into minutes and seconds; time gets stretched out like taffy. Text of this part is below:

The subway, I could go to the end of the line, the last stop; it’s where I would go if I were homeless sleeping on the subway. I’d pick the F line to Coney Island; I’d have one of those old supermarket  wire carts, the red kind, filled with notebooks, pens, a few used books. Once I took the T in Boston to the end of the line. It was a dog race track called Wonderland. I’ve never been to dog races or horse races or seedy betting places in real life but lots of times in all kinds of movies.

I saw a good racetrack scene recently in a shitty movie. This 10-12 year old girl goes to the horse race place because someone told her to put her money on a certain horse. It has only 3 legs. She knows the place; its where her grandfather bets all his money, where you get betting tickets, like raffle ticket stubs, for your money. There are small old TVs the guys crowd around to watch their horse. It’s always a kind of shabby place filled with all these down on their luck people who bet all the time. Of course she wins the one time she places this bet; she went there to get back the rent money her grandfather bet on and lost. He shows up and gets so excited when she wins and this great feeling that she has the betting blood in her. It’s a great moment because he doesn’t want her to be a gambler but let’s her give him the money to pay the rent. It’s a very sweet scene. I think he probably returns to the place later and loses their winnings…

I am reminded of this guy I worked with a long time ago at Rockwell on Jay Street, the day treatment place for people with chronic mental illness to go to and have somewhere to be during the day as they can’t work at jobs. You could even eat breakfast there, so you woulnd’t stay in your room at your residences/SRO just staring at a wall.  A place much better than hospitals and not a place you had to leave after two weeks or a month or a year. It was a place to find and stay at and make your day home and that’s what the clients who stayed long term did.

You could have a great moment with anyone, usually in the hallway or waiting for the elevator or in the kitchen helping the lunch expert clients with lunch. The clients all had time cards and clocked in when they arrived, old school style.

This one guy, more of an old fashioned gentleman I worked with was a gambler. He was quiet, quiet like you know he is there but nothing can come out really. Very dignified, Latin American, thin gentleman who didn’t meet your eyes, looked down, hidden somewhere nobody could get to. He has no words; he’s in a very small room in his head. I don’t remember him in groups at all, I just remember sitting with him in my office or the art room.

I liked to watch him draw; that was the one thing he had that nobody could take away from him that he could do it and keep doing more, not like losing on a gambling ticket. I feel the same way. Put me in an empty room with no pens and I will use my shoelaces to create line on the floor. I can’t even remember what he gambled. It was the kind where you use any money to buy a lottery ticket and scratch off looking for a few dollars. He just spent all his money on these little gambles. Maybe he had a secret life where he went to some racetrack. I wasn’t really checking in with him at all about the gambling. I didn’t want to take it from him. I knew much had been taken from him though I knew very little about him. We had a different kind of connection. I don’t believe in taking away people’s rituals; it’s even hard to work with skin pickers. There is no good replacement for digging into one’s skin. Maybe poking holes in paper with a pencil but then you don’t get the satisfaction of taking something out. Flossing repetitively, a client recently shared that discovery. You take out, dig out the pieces of food hidden in the gums.

He drew with a regular pencil and then used colored pencils. He drew these buildings and trucks. He had a particular style and was very orderly with making his lines. Everything about him seemed contained and held in. I’ve always been fascinated by very quiet contained, deliberate people, something about that energy. There was nothing sloppy about him but there was some softness.

Those drawings were of a city but it felt really peaceful; you could step into one of his drawings, and all the noise would be gone, all that noise of the world that made him sick. Very simple and quiet spaces with no people in them. I was amazed I was there with him it was like being in a church with him, his own mind’s church.

I hate when people tell you to put something in your painting. Like I’m outside in the park on a beautiful day, and I’m drawing, filling a square with shapes. Someone says I should go outside and draw the landscape and I can’t draw landscapes: of course what I’m doing will not have anything to do with the park and the sun; it might even be a lot of black. I can do dots forever and a day in a park and the picture will not have the sun or park in it.

Yesterday I did birds on a large piece of paper. I copied my birds from an IKEA tray, except I made two tracks so it’s like it’s outside, but you see birds on the first and second floor. I love the birds on the IKEA tray; it’s black and white and the line work is great. I could get crazy wondering who the hell drew those birds because I know I’m connecting to that artist. It was already the kind of road on the way there where you stop and sit in a field with stuff in it not too much and you take a quiet nap there. Sometimess I just fill the paper with so much in there it just becomes patterns, and I don’t care; it’s a drawing.

Like for the guy I worked with. He didn’t care when he was done. He had to draw the shapes that were the building and cars, so he wouldn’t shut in too far, when you get tuna out of a can and the top doesn’t go all the way off so you make the tuna come out the sides. You can’t get rid of the tuna smell. The water leaks out with bits of tuna like when you floss and the bits come out on the thread. You can’t go back in right then or those bits might crawl back into some space in the gums.




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