July 29th, 2010

Dark Tower

Taking Competence for Granted

There was a period of time where I felt equally competent in writing and drawing. Back in about the seventh grade. I wrote and drew instinctively--I got completely lost when perspective was explained to me in art class, for example, but I could turn out a credible drawing of any random old thing I set my mind to, and maybe I was even better at drawing than I was at writing at that point. My social studies teacher "forgot" to give back my extra credit drawings of various African animals we did when we studied Africa; I saw them in her room the next year, on the bulletin boards, when the new seventh graders did that unit.

But the drawing was an also-ran, something I did because I could, but not with any intention to be an artist, because the ideas just weren't there, the way they were with writing. I illustrated my world-bibles slightly, and drew stuff that caused my mother to blink at me and say, "There's a lot going on in your head, isn't there?" --but no, I wasn't going to use the skill.

I took an art class a few years ago--well, I guess more than ten, since I'm pretty sure it was when I still lived in Ypsi--and I was saddened by how much my skills had deteriorated in the drawing-free years of college. I never got back to where I was, though I look at those drawings now and think, "Yeah, you weren't terrible by a long shot." Ten years on, and extreme dedication to writing for the last seven of them--well, there're still things I'm trying to get a handle on in fiction-writing-land, and I foresee the possibility of skill jumps therein yet ahead of me--but it is extremely mystifying, almost physically painful to recognize how incompetent I now am at drawing.

Part of it is a study of contrasts between two skills I used to possess in similar levels. Part of it is definitely that I know how much skill I've lost. And part of it is, to be honest, that I haven't had to struggle with writing in a long time. Sounds like I'm tooting my own horn, but I'm talking simple competence, the ease of creating something passable/credible, not how close I'm approaching genius or art or anything.

In the first grade--my mom would be happy to tell you this story--I brought home astonishing levels of praise from the art teacher, and a picture of a shoe. I didn't understand the fuss. I'd just drawn what I'd seen. But it was, yes indeed, a picture of a shoe, a very good shoe for a six-year-old. I'd drawn the stitching on the edges and the eyelets and all of it, the texture of the leather. I remember thinking, during the praise, that I'd simply had an unfair advantage over the other students: I'd been sitting closest to the shoe. I know, of course--though I probably didn't figure it out until I was 15 or something--that it was sort of an astonishing drawing, though I recall looking at it when I was 8, and thinking contemptuously of that particular drawing for being somewhat wobbly-lined.

My husband and I are taking a drawing class. Our current assignment is drawing a shoe.

It is nowhere near as good as my six-year-old self's shoe.

I'm so annoyed with myself for losing that casual competence I once possessed. I'm struggling to draw paper bags. I have forgotten how to see, let alone to draw what I see.

I am resolved to keep drawing, once the class is over, but as usual, I lack for ideas. But, it doesn't take that many ideas to keep the skills up--I knew that once. And the point here is to have a hobby, not produce something to sell or whatever. Do I need ideas, when I can just keep drawing paper bags and shoes?

My brain fills up with story ideas from all of this, of course. There's something clearly in here about magic and magicians. Lost skills, lost magic. I could work with this...
Eclipse, Shhh

lives unlived

Having been mildly thwarted in my plan to order up a furnace today--who closes their office at 10 to 4?!--I thought I'd share this brief interlude I had while driving home from the lake this weekend.

My preferred route to the cottage--and I think we each have our own, everyone in the family--involves driving through a nowhere town called Hickory Corners, down West Hickory Road from the Gilmore Car Museum. Lest you think proximity to the car museum makes Hickory Corners a thriving metropolis--let me disabuse of that notion very quickly. There is a gas station. I can't even remember if it's out of business or not. (I think it's in business. It might have been out briefly.) There is a four-way stop. And there are some abandoned storefronts.

I had the brief, mad notion of what it would be like to buy one of the abandoned storefronts and open a bookstore and private lending library. Combo, of course. Wherein the residents of Hickory Corners could borrow books at will, and non-residents could pay a fee to join, and anyone who happened buy could also just buy any of the books. Like, if Powell's had a rental service as well.

It's an endeavor designed not to make money, of course; it's a public service, a way to house a lot of books in a place without a lot of books. You'd be a curiosity, a place people might stop on the way to the car museum--or not. But, it's just--I had a vision, a life I'll never live, delivered to me in a flash while I drove past the abandoned storefront. It'd be so very quiet in my store/library. I could get a lot of writing done.

Rationality usually takes hold whenever I think of moving someplace rural in Michigan, however; I am not meant for rurality. I'd go stir-crazy in four days. And arguing politics would be a nightmare. And let's not even get into what the diversity situation is like in no-town Michigan.