Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Drawing Lessons

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Drawing Lessons

Article excerpt


This is such a lovely interplay. There is a required stillness in exchange for a kind of intimate attention, and also a type of surrender--sort of like getting a haircut. And there is a mutual independence in the gazes of the participants. You are looking at Mindy, observing the shape of her face with careful scrutiny but oblivious to the fact that she is rigorously watching you look at her. There is more accuracy, but less recognition. An essay comes to mind by a girl who insisted on posing for her painter boyfriend, thinking that the looking might somehow be desirous. In reality, it was not at all this kind of gazing, and she hated the objectivity with which he regarded her. There should be different words for this kind of seeing, knowing, and recognizing.

Now you are studying the angle of Mindy's cheek as her eyes are looking down at her cell phone. She can do whatever she wants with her eyes for most of the drawing because you will "do" them last. She talks about her family and her cousin named Shy. She keeps looking down. You are both quiet for a few minutes, so you work on her lips, which have a looseness to their volume that you had not noticed in your everyday interactions with her. She talks about the pinching game that she and her brother played when they were little, decades before he would start locking himself in his room for days, tapping methodically, coming out only to ask her if she could see the alien in their living room.


You are trying to "get" her glasses now. What is happening with that cat-eye shape at this angle? You have been looking at her without the kind of connectedness that comes with eye contact. Suddenly her eyelids lift and, and because you are working on the area around her eyes, she looks right at you, which seems somehow miraculous in this instance. The sentience behind the shapes is startling, and you almost look away, as if you have been caught staring. She speaks to you and, although you were having a conversation only minutes ago, now there is something disarming in this, too--that these silent but specific forms you were intently rendering can blossom with the abstractness of sound. It is as if the character on the screen in the movie you were watching were to direct her lines down at you in your scratchy red theater seat.

"Do you ever think that maybe you're not the best historian for your life?" Initially it feels like a psychic accusation, until you realize that she is talking about herself. She has been erasing her cell phone messages and recognizing with part one of herself that she did not recall the events being mentioned in the messages and with part two of herself that she might be erasing the only memory--tangible or otherwise--of those events. Those two selves never synchronize enough to actually stop the erasing, but that disconnect and its coy tricks on memory are familiar, however inefficient. It is how we are able to hide money from ourselves in old pants pockets or keys on virtually any surface in the house. But it can hide bigger things, too.

Mindy still feels that when she and her boyfriend broke up, he left with the only existing memories of some events they experienced together. She had trusted that she would always be able to access her grandmother through his memories of their time with her. Her own mind did not record things in such a grounded and reliable way. …

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