I just finished Jonathan Franzen’s Purity. Secrets, keeping them, exposing them, interpreting them, getting them right, getting them wrong. Memory. What is the real truth and how much of who we are is because of what we believe. How much of what we believe is anything more than a story we tell ourselves?
The story I told myself on July 25, 2015 while sketching this little guy was that he’d be all right. I had walked less than two feet away from him on a sidewalk and he didn’t move. He was nosed (beaked?) up to the building and seemed intent on staying there. I stopped about four feet away and pulled out my Strathmore sketchbook and pen. He stayed there the whole time I sketched. The longer I sketched, the longer he didn’t move, the more fearful I became that I may be sketching a dead bird. I could feel myself not wanting to believe that because it didn’t match the story in my head about the serendipity of coming across a bird resting on a sidewalk. I also kept pushing back the idea that I should help him. I didn’t want to think about the bird. When I think of it like this, I see that this sketch is a result of how I tell myself stories about what is around me. Oh, and as I walked away the bird flew away.
Here is one of my first ever attempts at sketching humans. I did this on August 12, 2015. It is a picture from a photograph of a past lover and his friend. Why did I keep sketching after I did this primitive drawing? Because I saw that, no matter how bad the head and faces were, I had nailed the body language of both individuals. I’m not going to go into stories we tell ourselves about past lovers…I’m sure you have a few examples from your own life. Have at it.(Have at it. A phrase a different ex-lover used frequently. The stories have staying power, don’t they?)
Which leads to the sketch below. It is of the Fish Pond at what is now the Manzanar National Historic Site, part of the National Park Service. I visited it in Independence, California on November 22, 2015. The Fish Pond is a deeply peaceful place. I wanted to stay in its presence and bask in the industry and love and care that went into building it. I hadn’t been to the exhibit in the main building yet and hadn’t been exposed to the heart-wrenching photographs of my fellow Americans adjustments to the unspeakable tragedy of their being incarcerated in the Land of the Free because of the color of their skin.Even without really understanding what had gone into building the Fish Pond, I felt compelled to linger near it until long after my lunch time. Manzanar, and other WWII internment camps, came into existence because of fear, and the stories we tell ourselves.
My sketch’s perspective is all wrong, and you can’t really tell how much work went into building this pond in the middle of the sandy, windy desert. Why did I keep drawing after I made this? Because I caught the peaceful hope of this place.
I hope your day is full of peaceful hope. Do me a favor, okay? Look at the stories you tell yourself and see if you, too, can’t find fear at the root of them. Then say a prayer, any prayer, even the Atheist’s Prayer, that you’ll pay more attention to the stories you tell yourself.