People are craving the weird and eccentric, even when they may not even know it. Sure, we like pants whose legs are both the same length and houses painted more or less one color – and even food that bears some resemblance to its assigned name. As for me, I’d prefer to live in a world of spilled paint, one adorned with mismatched clothing and polychromatic houses spelling doom for a bored eye. It would be a carpenter’s dream to build in such a world. (But a carpet installer’s nightmare.)
Being around people, though, demonstrates that their eyes are drawn to those things less expected and strange. They may behave differently about it if they feel they are being observed, but the fascination with the novel is undeniable. Given a way to stop and look at something, they usually will, provided life gives them a moment to do so. Too much of our daily life is devoted to cursory swipe-left or swipe-right stimulus, rapid judgments without careful insight. It’s true that we tend to enjoy the feeling or familiarity. I’m not arguing specifically against that tendency, but instead am pointing out that if given a chance, people will frequently step off the known path for a weird stroll. The more they choose to do so, the less appeal the black and white world holds for them.
This week, I had the opportunity to watch and listen to a multitude of voices. When given the chance, I would sit and draw strange things. Some years, I’ve done 20+ feet of artwork along the paper-laden tables in the common areas where people congregate. All of the writing and drawing occurs where people constantly pass by, most taking at least a stolen look at whatever I’m doing. Some projects go quickly, whereas others take hours.
People stop and comment, most of them engaging with humor and relatively striking admissions about art, their lives, or how they wish they were more creative or able to do whimsical things. This week, several asked me if I were an art teacher, a writer, or something impossible to guess; I take these wrong guesses as high praise. We all need a plumber when the tides rise, so to speak, but it is the unseen and shared je ne sais quoi underlying our motivations that truly make the extra step worthwhile.
The passersby perhaps think they are observing me; however, I’m certain I’m getting more from the interaction than they are. The “What in the heck….?” type of reaction never fails to amuse me. I suppose that some expect me to be engrossed in drawing something pragmatic, such as a large intestine with vascular indicators – or a boat sailing along a riverbank filled with somersaulting otters.
One of the teachers who expressed interest in what I was doing asked me, “How do you get the detail so exact?” Her question puzzled me, so I asked in return, “Why do you think I had a vision in mind? Life doesn’t work that way – and even when it does, everything changes once we’re halfway through.” She laughed, “It seems like you were just waiting for me to ask something like that.”
Several people shared their stories with me, while others told me about things which sprang to their minds when watching me draw. All of them had something interesting to say, something which was already perched inside of them, waiting to stretch out into the world.
For those trying to make sense of what I was drawing, I would offer a spontaneous interpretation for each, with my goal being to devise a new explanation for each person asking.
The scale of the picture is much larger than you would imagine: the paper stretched across a full-size cafeteria table. I couldn’t take a picture of it unless I had dangled by a harness from the ceiling. Given that I’m three times the girth of Tom Cruise, I opted to avoid buying the school a new ceiling. This time, instead of leaving all of my work for the puzzled maintenance staff, I cut one piece of it off and brought it home. One person insisted on writing a compliment to the artist, so I brought that, too.
Most years, I leave the tables intact, with whatever I’ve created upon them. No matter how diligently you work, even on a whim, you simply are going to get up from the table one day, without even a glance behind you, and leave this world. Some of us will lament, “Not enough time!” while others will just shrug their shoulders and admit, “I didn’t make enough time.”
I’m hoping that you have color-stained fingers and a mind stuffed to the rafters with strange ideas when it’s your turn to go. You have permission to lead a normal, unflinching life, but it’s possible to lead a normal life and still have your hair full of crazy straws and pockets filled with half-scribbled notes to yourself.
I learned a lot this week, as I always do. I met new friends and shared outrageous jokes. However life is measured, my mind grew a bit, which is more than many days offer.