I have not posted in awhile because my writing was just getting so amazing that I felt like I could not possibly be any better than I already am. I was worried that my talent was on the verge of scorching the virtual earth.
So I took a break to antagonize my wife and stare vacantly out my sliding kitchen door for a few weeks.
This is what artists do; it's called 'sabbatical'.
When a sabbatical is finished, the sabbaticalee comes back twice as much of a genius.
That is how I was able to produce this:
I know at first glance it resembles much of my other work, but notice how I used white space to not draw anything.
To give you a better idea of how far I've come, I am including my conceptual drawings for this piece.
From early sketches to finished picture, it was about four minutes.
The pace of my work was fevered.
I am in the thick of summer school right now, which means I am away from the clutches of Baba Pam Yaga.
This in and of itself is amazing and exhilarating, so any complaining I proceed to do in this post should be regarded with great contempt and 'geez there's no pleasing this guy' harrumphings.
The student pictured above is new to me this summer. I will call him Curdy for no reason.
Curdy's current caretaker, Bill, has been told to train me on all the ins and outs of the kid, but Bill seems more interested in his Ipad interactive video games and his motorized bubble gun.
In the mornings, before any students have even arrived, Bill walks about, whimsically blowing bubbles into the air.
On the first day that he did this, we all jumped around popping them and taking part in the magic of it, but now just one person lights up when the bubbles start floating into everyones peripheral vision. That person is Bill.
Sometimes a bubble will pop on the skin of my bald head, at which point for some reason I feel compelled to give Bill a smile. I tell myself that this time I won't smile, I won't, but I always do, because it seems terribly awkward to not acknowledge his bubbles at all. Its one thing if they are just loose in the air, but if they touch me, well then....what is a man to do? He and I both know what has passed between us. I'd be a fool to pretend it wasn't happening.
Anything you could possibly say, Bill compares unfavorably to his two tours of duty in Okinawa. After awhile, you say nothing and wish in your heart that you had been an Army guy so you could talk about distances in terms of "humping klicks" too, or discuss a wide variety of rations.
As well as bubbles and their battery powered dispensaries, Bill enjoys having thick slices of habanero cheese for breakfast. He often tries to get me to eat some while I sip my morning coffee.
I tried telling him it was too early in the day to eat spicy cheese, but he did not seem to understand, so now when I hear the crinkling of the package or the retrieval of a knife from the kitchen drawer, I hide in the bathroom for ten minutes and wait for him to look about, shrug, and take for himself the portion meant for me.
"You gotta put it on crackers," he said, on the only morning I was willing to try the cheese. He pulled some individually wrapped saltines from his tight jean pocket.
The crackers were warm, and blended nicely with the fire of the habanero and the briny green olive bits hiding within the cool, soft flesh of the cheese.
Bill's idea of training me is to wait until I do something and then tell me not to do it.
This style of learning people things probably has a fancy name like "education through negatory exclusion" or "learn by not doing after already doing", but to me, it's just annoying to have Bill on me like a tut-tutting fairy godmother.
Curdy suffers from intense, terrible intrusive thinking coupled with echolalia.
A simple phrase said to him like "close the door now" will build up in his mind until he lashes out and starts yelling.
He always screams "Curdy has to take a shit" or variations on that theme. I don't know why. It seems as good an expression of unmanageable frustration as any other, I suppose.
I consider my own struggles with intrusive thinking to be fairly vanilla by comparison.
For instance, my brain has been stuck on the idea of nail scissors for several months now. Not owning nail scissors, or collecting many pairs of them or anything, just the idea of the sensation of them expertly clipping overdue nails off in perfect rectangles that clatter to the floor.
Unable to sleep the other night, I confessed my odd fixation to the pile of blankets and mumbles that was my wife.
"You know, we have a pair of nail scissors in our junk drawer."
I stood in the kitchen and turned the scissors over and over in my hand.
I thought of Curdy, needing to take a big shit.
There was no relief; the reality of the nail scissors seemed completely unrelated to the intrusive idea.
I put them away and went back to bed, feeling lost.
Why can't obsessive thoughts be directed towards something more useful?
If you had obsessive drive to direct towards anything at all, where would you point it?
I guess the easy answer is towards something like voter apathy or blood diamonds, but that all seems complex and out of reach.
I like passions and obsessions that are immediate. Say something like rock collecting.
This summer, I dabbled a bit in that heady world of geologic accumulation. Mostly, I stared at the picture of a gold nugget in my DK Let's Look at Rocks! field guide and sighed longingly.
Several things about rock collecting quickly became clear to me. Though I loved the feeling of being outside on an overcast day, letting the wind tug at my luxurious shoulder hair and uncurl my most restless thoughts, my neck started to hurt from always looking down, and I felt my fatty back hump begin to swell. It was also extremely frustrating that when they lay gravel down on our road, they don't liberally sprinkle it with little nuggets of gold as well.
I moved from rocks to panning for gold, but the sexual gyrations of the prospector in the Internet tutorial video as he sloshed water around in his pan made me uncomfortable.
I couldn't see myself standing in our local stream, perhaps wearing a homemade sleeveless tee, and passionately wiggling a dinner plate.
It's too bad people like Curdy and I could not direct our obsessiveness towards push-ups or other feats of physical fitness. We would have such beautifully cut shoulders and triceps by now.
Instead, he and I share thick, pasty bodies that sweat easily and prowl kitchens for unclaimed cookies. No one wise to the epic, all-consuming nature of our secret thoughts until we scream them out loud or whisper them to our pillows in the middle of the night.
I wonder how much money it would cost to get Bill to stand in my room at bedtime, shower me with bubbles, and assure me that I would be fine.
For a little extra, he'd produce the Harry Potter replica wand he proudly purchased from Walmart for forty dollars, wave its little white LED tip around, and say "Expelliarmus" in a voice as magical as it is commanding.
That echolalia is a curious thing.
I've worked with many students who have it, but another student I have this summer, Floyd, echoes me while I am speaking to him, so that I keep stopping my conversation to say things like "do you hear something?" His repeating undercurrent grows in volume and accuracy when he's able to predict the word I am going to say next, like someone doing their best to join in on a song that they do not really know.
Floyd's mother died recently from a sudden illness, leaving her boyfriend of many years to care for her son.
He often echoes things this man, Don, has said to him, using a gruff, Fat Albert voice that is completely unlike his own, high-pitched, almost babyish speaking tone.
Usually, it's just repeating commands, things like "Sit down, we'll take the bottles back later", "Get in there and wash again" or "Hey hey hey". Not that last one, I only wrote that there to emphasize the Fat Albert connection.
Occasionally, though, I'll get a glimpse into Don's awful private grief.
"Ah, ah," Floyd will grown,"Ah just miss her so much." He imitates deep sobbing and rakes his fingers over his face. "That's what Don says, mmm-hmm." He smiles at me.
I picture this Don: middle aged, rough around the edges and all leathery from his construction job, losing the love of his life only a few days after a hospital bedside wedding, and now living in the wake behind her, out in a rundown farmhouse with her twenty-year old autistic son to care for, and to hear his own turmoil echoed back to him in an unflattering Fat Albert voice, over and over again, while he thaws out Floyd's dinner or changes his soiled pull-up.
Summer school has now ended, just yesterday, and I have a few weeks here to write my way out of the damp, unfunny box I seem to be stuck in, but I most likely will waste it away.
Thanks to all of you who keep reading, I really appreciate it.