Staying Sane

I am one of the least artistic people I know. The closest I’ve come to drawing a human figure is a game of hangman. Once, several years ago, I participated in a yoga retreat that included an afternoon of landscape painting. After several random dabs of colour, I slinked off to sulk about my lack of artistic ability while everyone else created masterpieces. I have to take a poll of my friends before deciding what colour to paint the living room walls.

So, it’s something of a surprise to me that I’m taking an art class—and enjoying it.

Jack has always wanted to take up water colours. He claims to be utterly without talent, but he minored in Art in college and he’s a damn fine potter with a good sense of form and colour. And—unlike me—he’s an adventuresome soul. When he decided to sign up for an art class twice a week here in Guanajuato, I mumbled something about maybe joining him. I’m not sure I meant it. I think I was probably just trying to show support for his latest enthusiasm. But one thing led to another, and this afternoon I’ll be trotting off to my third class.

While Jack plays with colour on one side of the table, I’m learning to sketch on the other. It’s that kind of class—you do whatever you want and the teacher wanders around and offers suggestions from time to time—in Spanish or English, your choice. At first, when the teacher somehow had the idea that I’d had some previous experience, he had me draw a pitcher. I think he was somewhat relieved, as he looked at the result, to learn I’d never done anything like this before. I have now progressed from a pyramid to a line of trees. Today, I am going to see if I can make an open door look like anything more than a flat rectangle.

This is just what I need right now. I’m writing, of course—or trying. I’m hoping to gather together and publish a collection of essays, some already polished and published, some just notions. But the thing about writing is that you can’t really do it without setting your mind loose. And I’m having trouble spending a lot of time inside my head these days. It’s a bit scary in there.

So it’s something of a relief to ponder instead about how long a shadow the pyramid should have and whether the tree looks far enough away, or even whether it looks like a tree. There’s been a lot of comment in the ever-present media lately about how we need to turn off the media. “My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane” says the cartoon which appears with some regularity on my Facebook feed.

I can’t bring myself to be uninformed, but I am very aware that consciously focusing on the details around me is both calming and a reminder that even in times of fear and crisis, daily routines help keep us sane and grounded. I’m finding playing with a pencil and paper can do that, too. Maybe it will even become a daily routine.

PS. I decided to embarrass myself by including photos of a couple of my artistic endeavours. I snapped the pics with my phone and emailed them to myself. They are apparently trapped somewhere in cyberspace and refuse to come through. There may be a message there…

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