Coming Back to Sketching after an Accident (But It’s True for Any Break Too)July 19, 2010
The sky sort of fell in on me.
July 1 I was conked on the head by a falling 1—1/2 pound globe of glass. During my recovery I've written several versions of the incident. Some are screamingly hilarious, some obscene and fierce, others matter-of-fact. None of them seemed right to share, in fact for awhile I actually thought I wouldn't even mention it. Now it seems I have to, because the accident has had impact on more than my head.
First I have to tell you we (Dick and I) did everything we were supposed to after the accident (which happened at home). He is an engineer who deals with brain devices after all! But all of that is really rather boring, at least it is to me right now. Except for two things. First friends (and I) found it exceedingly funny that while the impact did cause a large cut, it was an impact cut, not a cut from broken glass. The globe didn't break until after it bounced (yes bounced) off my head and hit the counter. (I think this puts to rest forever the assertion by some that I am hard-headed!) Second my vision immediately improved, improved to pre-car accident, 1996, levels. (OK, I don't know about immediately because immediately I wasn't trying to read or write anything—so the next morning.)
I looked on the eyesight improvement as the silver lining, but viewed it as temporary. As it was I couldn't take advantage of it because I was unable to read or draw because of a phenomenal headache. I began to wonder when my eyesight would return to "normal."
Here's the point I want to make today because I believe it is worth sharing—how and why do you come back to art after an accident?
I didn't draw for 3 days after the accident. And when I did, I realized immediately that there was something horribly wrong. I couldn't draw the same way any more. The internal dialog which is "just there" wasn't. And there was no hand-eye-brain coordination. I spend a lot of time with my brain, and it freaked me out that I couldn't access it for normal (to me) activities.
I did what I always do when faced with a new phenomenon—I observed it. It meant I had to work with my brain despite the pain and nausea. (I was also pretty much motion sick for the first few days.)
So, unhappy with a car sketch I'd done on the 3rd, that looked like it had been drawn by an 80-year-old with Parkinson's, and some laborious (painfully so, and painfully slow) sketches I did at one of the doctor's offices (on the 8th), and a bird study (also on the 8th), with notes that went every which way (despite my intent to not have them do so) I decided to get systematic.
I pulled out the dip pen the next day. To me the dip pen makes a deliberate mark, almost a cutting into or a carving. It's also one of my earliest drawing tools, so I was going back to something familiar and comfortable, but deliberate. (If that makes sense—another problem I've had since the accident is articulating exactly what I mean, which given that I'm so verbal you can understand has been very frustrating to me.)
I wrote about the experience on my journal page. Some of it may be visible, but here's the bit I think will help you understand what I was experiencing:
So I asked myself, what if it doesn't come back—the hand-eye coordination? and as if to negate the essential possibility of it I immediately made a zoo date on Monday with a friend. But in the meantime I'm left looking at the uneven crab trail scrawl my handwriting has become. Maybe no one else notices, but when I make a line now I can tell it isn't going where I want it to go—just before it actually goes somewhere else. And then the nausea begins—which I think is just an internal manifestation of the frustration.
So I have a choice—to mope…or to suck it up, throbbing head and all, and place one line slowly after the other, with more deliberation than I ever use…until the result is stylized, stripped down…but controled [sic]. I wanted controlled. I got it. An alien drawing from an alien hand that doesn't know its brain. But it looks familiar—just an earlier version of self.
When you spend your life noticing nuances, every little thing can seem glaring. Like the inability to make even-edged columns when you normally would do this without thinking, or the smooth fluidity of a line you might achieve without looking—now no longer possible. The end result might not look different to everyone else, but you know the difference, it's as plain as day. Just as the feeling and experience of execution is as foreign as, well, speaking in a foreign language with only a third grade vocabulary. All the hard-earned adult vocabulary is gone. You can't even reach for it. It's just gone.
A little bit of self examination can result in some unheard of clarity. I know now that the one sense I would least be able to manage the loss of is sight. (I used to think I'd adapt, but I need that visual stimulation coming in; it's how I experience joy and for me joy and wonder are the cornerstones of life as I live it.) And for the person who grew up believing she was all so sensible…well…
There would be no more observing because I am totally wrapped up with my eyes…look, see, note, watch…and then catalog the nuance that you find. It is all I've ever wanted. I'm like the beauty queen who has pinned all her hopes on features that will fail. My youthful arrogance is hilarious now—all features fail…it's the order of breakage that determines what our life will be.
The emphasis added in the above excerpt from my journal is added by me now as I type. That's the clarity, it is this that is all I ever wanted, not one of the 10,000 other things I could list as attractive goals. Just this, my eyes observing, never much, but always with me, always fulfilling. I was quick in youth to disparage the poor choices (in my mind) of others, without seeing the equally flawed choice I was making. (OK, I still think my choice was better than the beauty queen's, the glass globe didn't knock all the arrogance out of me.)
But this breakage of features, that's something I see all around me now—in injured friends with bad teeth and replaced joints, in Dick's parents slipping into old age, in my own increasingly slower metabolism. I express gratitude every day for all my faculties, for the use I get to put them to. But this incident has also made me realize that the gratitude has to go deeper and has to savor even more than before.
And if I really only ever wanted one thing, then I have to fight for it every day, even if my head is splitting, even if it never returns to "normal" (because let's face it, after a certain age the body argues with increased frequency with us about the nature of what "normal" is!).
Moping isn't an option, for me, or for anyone facing a return to art after an accident or some other incident which causes a break. First of all, moping is boring. Both to the Mopee and to those who observe the Mopee.
Trying gets us somewhere, even if that somewhere comes with a headache and motion sickness. Even if our tries can only be sustained for brief periods. But it helps to remember that a string of short intervals will still push your mind or body towards change. (That's why I always tell my journal students—15 minutes a day rather than wait for a weekend "session" which never materializes.)
Getting in and doing is your only choice. That, and gratitude for the clarity (which can help you build muscles for future feature failures—because they are coming).
Trying repays those who are just building skills too, not just those who have lost them. The act of doing actually repays everyone in an equal opportunity manner. Remember that the next time you think your nose is runny and you want to skip drawing, or you have a headache and think you won't work on your script pages, or your muscles are sore and you're going to give gardening a pass.
You may think that the person with skills gets more from the act of doing than you do, because you don't think your drawings look like anything. But "skills" is a continuum down which you can push yourself. (Remember I'd like to paint like Gerôme and I know I won't get there in my lifetime, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to paint.)
If you don't make an effort to come back to art after an accident or a long break (caused for some other reason, you fill in the blank) there is one sure result—you never will push yourself down that skills continuum.
Me, I'd rather have the headache that comes from doing. I know in your heart you would too.
Note: Over the next few weeks I'll post more about my progress reconnecting my hand and eye and brain because I think it might be helpful to people to see what happens. Actually I don't really have any choice do I? Posts would pretty much trail off if I didn't make new sketches. It did seem important to me, in the interest of disclosure, to share what had happened to me. With luck and a bit of time it might be no more than a glitch in my continuum. With luck and a bit of time it might also mean my life goes in a new direction. For the first couple of weeks, however, post-accident posts will be mixed with pre-accident posts (and sketches) as I really did hope on the morning of July 1 that I was finally going to get that summer hiatus! I had posts in the queue.