This morning, I took a seat on the 2 Train and opened my sketchbook as I always do. I like to look at the blank sheet of white. It reminds me to empty my mind. And I close my eyes. And I listen to ambient music. And I breath. I welcome gentle thoughts and when I feel a tickle, an idea, a visual, an inspiration, a fear, a joy, a plan, I open my eyes and draw something. It doesn't have to be anything specific. I allow myself to draw that thought or feeling poorly. Hastily. No judgements. I've learned that A) other people (who don't matter at this point) tend to like things that I've drawn poorly, and B) I tend to refine awkward first sketches into something more final, as opposed to working on sketch after sketch to get it just right. Today I was reminding myself about God or whatever you choose to call the flow of energy that surrounds us and carries us if we choose to accept the ride down uncharted waters. God's Light appearing through clouds is a theme in my daily work. It reminds me that there is good that patiently waits behind these vaporous, drifting obstructions. And that we can use that good power as a tool to connect us to the universe and to each other. Then, quickly, the thought moved to presenting artwork in a fashion that is consistent with the work I do. I thought of a large alter-type frame that is made out of clouds. I took out a pencil (I always work in ink but today I felt like being able to erase and modify a design). Across from me sat an old lady who seemed familiar. Kind eyes. She smiled art me. She looked like family. My Bubbie. Grandpa George. And I continued my drawing.
When I'm in the flow, working in my sketchbook on the subway, I'm aware of people watching me. I would too. It's human nature to want to watch someone create. Make something. It reminds us that we are all creators. And I secretly hope seeing me draw inspires others to grab a piece of paper later in the day and make something. Anything.
Sometimes, people will want to talk to me. If this happens, I take my headphones off and listen to what they have to say and answer any questions they have as honestly as possible. I used to explain in vague terms what I was drawing, but have since felt more freedom by telling people the real feeling behind the sketch. I tend to understand more deeply about what I'm actually drawing by hearing myself say it out loud.
This morning, a high school aged, boyish girl gestured to me and I took off my headphones. She offered me a pencil. One of those cheap yellow plastic mechanical pencils. She said it was good because it has a finer point. She said that she used to use them to draw but she doesn't draw anymore. When I asked why she said, "What's the point? People keep stealing my sketchbooks."
"Where do you put them where people can take them? Maybe you should keep them in your backpack."
"I do," she said. "But I live in a group home and people go through your stuff. I used to write poetry but stopped because I can never keep a book. And it's really sad because I like to look back at what I wrote so it can help me get through tough times. People say the things I write are too dark."
I mentioned that the only people who matter are the people that your art touches. That darkness might help others get through their tough times.
Then she told me that she likes to read for that very reason. That she can connect with what people are going through in stories, and that helps her. She showed me her book. "Impulse," a novel by Ellen Hopkins. She said that she is a "recovering cutter."
I didn't know what that was. You might.
She showed me her tattoo on the inside of her right wrist. An outline of a heart - half of it a beautiful calligraphy line and the other half red droplet shapes. She said it reminds her when she looks down, not to cut herself.
Then she showed me her scars on both arms.
And I couldn't stop tears from obscuring my sight.
And I said, "You must have been so scared."
She's been in and out of group homes. Kicked out of schools. But now, somehow living with some kind of strength and on her way to school. She told me that drawing and writing poetry were her therapy. I told her that therapy and some sort of self healing is why I draw every day. It's not for anyone else, unless someone else can also be helped in some way by connecting with one of my pieces.
Her name is Camilla.
I wanted to write, "Camilla, the Cutter" but she's not anymore. She's living with the memory of doing that to herself. She's getting help.
And her stop came. Penn Station. I could only image how hard her commute to school is. How worth it it is.
I gave Camilla her pencil back. "You're going to need this when you start drawing again... today."
And she took it and smiled. And the old God-like lady who smiled at me before, smiled at me again. And I could feel every muscle in my body relax all at once.