My life drawing class (drawing the human body) is a challenge. I have the ability to find the outline of a shape and render it. I am not so good at values. I don't see them easily, I don’t readily grasp whether the white wall in shadow is actually a darker value than the brown blanket in the light. And by the time I decide which is the lighter value and which is the darker value, I forget what goes where. Using the side of the charcoal or my fingers and oil paint, I place shapes up against shapes letting the differences in value tones imply where one shape begins and the other one ends. Things don't begin and end in a sharp line, do they? In physical reality the line between this and that on a microscopic level has give and take. So I am letting my drawings be their awkward and stinky selves as I learn to see in shades of grey.
Drawing this way is like learning a new language, I mangle the values, I mangle the figure, the drawing is nearly gibberish. I am reminded of learning Spanish in high school. Correction, of learning to take Spanish tests in high school. I aced the tests and I was so efficient at studying for them that I had learned almost nothing in four years of accelerated Spanish classes. My senior year I had a new teacher. Mrs Roach wanted us to actually learn the language instead of the tests. At first I had no idea what she was talking about, then after awhile I got it. Mrs Roach wanted us to actually try, to make mistakes, to head for a life larger than this weeks' vocabulary test.
I realize I slowly took that lesson to heart. I still don’t know much Spanish and I am still a little ashamed of myself for not seeing the forest for the trees on that one till it was too late, but boy, I have made a life habit of allowing myself to roam in the land of mistaken, awkward and unsure. It has helped me to feel more at home with uncertain outcomes, in other words, everywhere.
Not very often did my father complain about the way of the world except when it came to 'The Price of a Pizza'. When his offspring and their offspring would wind up at his house near a mealtime, my parents ordered pizza instead of scaring up dinner for nine or twelve on a moments notice. My father often took that opportunity to start again with 'how much do you think it costs to make a pizza?' Various adult children regularly responded variously. "I am buying it, Dad" to "You are right, Dad, that is exactly what is wrong with America" or "Yes but add in labor costs..".
I am intrigued with some of the new brain science I know so little about. As I understand it, your brain thinks thoughts as an automatic muscle response just like scratching an itch, the more you think a thought the more your brain seeks to think that thought. Is that why my father didn't tire of the pizza conversation and why I forget the same things over and over again? Much of this winter I have thought about random patterns, such as on tree bark, in rock beds, in feelings and bird tracks in snow. In salamander season I astound my trail pal Jen with my ability to spot them. The salamander 'pattern' is wired in my brain therefore I see them, I might not see the tree I ran into, but salamanders, I see. Why? Twenty years ago my very young visiting nephew nearly kicked one. He'd only ever seen plastic ones, he thought the salamander was a toy.
Seems we are back to that, the world is what we think it is, but if we get a glimpse out of our regular pattern, maybe we'll see much more.