When I was studying art in college, one of the exercises the professor had us do at the beginning of every class was a series of gestural drawings. A model would come into the studio, disrobe, strike a pose and then we would have 10-15 seconds to capture the line, the attitude and the form before he or she struck another pose.
The value of this exercise was that it taught me to see – to see what was important, what was essential. I learned to quickly capture the essence of a composition with just a few simple lines.
Now that I have a three year old, I don’t get to spend much time in my art studio, but I still use this same technique, only now I use words on scraps of paper instead of charcoal on newsprint. Like the gestural drawings, sometimes I’ll see something in what I’ve recorded that can be worked into a greater composition and other times I’ll look at a nonsensical string of words and wonder if Sudafed should really be an over-the-counter drug.
Earlier this week I opened the drawer of my nightstand so that I could sweep everything off the top and into the waiting drawer with my forearm. Dusting and cleaning all in one economic motion. Down in the dark recesses of the drawer, a small scrap of paper with my own handwriting caught my eye. I picked it up and read it:
Sean on tricycle, helmet, mails here, chapstick
While those words would make no sense to anyone else, for me they reconstituted a sweet and previously forgotten moment and brought it back to life.
A day or two after I returned home from the hospital last month, I was resting in bed. Bringggg-bringggg! Sean announced his arrival by furiously working the bell on his little red Radio Flyer tricycle. He pedaled into my bedroom wearing a helmet. “Mail’s here ma’am,” he announced. Then he got off of his tricycle, opened the trunk and pulled out some coupons and junk mail. He handed them to me and then extended his other hand so that I could pull him up into bed with me. He was quickly distracted from his postal duties by the tube of Chapstick on my nightstand. “Can I use your Chapstick? My wips are willy willy chapped,” he said somberly. Before I could grant permission, he grabbed the tube and vigorously smeared Chapstick in a big circle around but not on his lips. “Want some?” he offered, holding the waxy stub up for me to see. When I declined, he scampered down out of my bed, got back on his bike and rode out of the room ringing his bell.
I smiled to myself as I looked at those few words scribbled on the back of a dry cleaning coupon. A verbal snapshot. I was reminded that it is the small, spare and even unremarkable memories that are the very essence of life. And maybe, even more so than grand moments in life — the weddings and the graduations –they are worthy of capturing and preserving.
And I think that’s why I blog.