I realized recently that most people might not experience life as a constant barrage of chaos. However other people engage with the world, good or bad, it doesn’t necessarily feel like a battle against drowning. I don’t feel that way every day, or at least not consciously, but it’s my primary operating framework.
In the past two years I’ve read two graphic novel memoirs about mental health: Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother and Ellen Forney’s Marbles. Bechdel and Forney are both established professional artists and I’ve been a fan of Bechdel’s work for over 20 years. She has an extraordinary gift for storytelling and I can relate both to her depiction of how she moves through life, and her concise, fairly linear graphic rendering. Ellen Forney was diagnosed some years ago as bipolar and wrote a graphic novel about her struggle not just with the disease but with the available treatment regimes and how they affected her as an artist.
I can’t draw. I can do schematics and on a good day I can manage a loose caricature or two. But the other day as I was thinking about being in a sea of things and trying to expand and hold out a bubble of space around me, I thought it might be interesting to try to visualize it.
I started with some of the decorative plaques I pick up from goodwill and a new medium called modgepodge, which I might of heard of once before the biker-looking chap working at JoAnn fabrics told me I needed it. I have some association in my mind with suburban crafters and Pinterest. In any case I thought I’d try it instead of my usual wax layers. It works okay, but it smells awful. Like rotten eggs and volatile organics. I’m probably killing my brain cells and my kid’s.
The first layer was fabric. I wanted something blue because I was picturing blue sky in the eye of a hurricane and happened upon a discarded piece on the floor of the spare bedroom. The other piece was leftover from my hassock covering project. Then I tore off pieces of book pages and started layering them in with “help” from my four year old. The book pieces included an ancient, decaying copy of the Uncle Wiggly stories that once belonged to my mother in law (which she had kept for years and sent us, along with her own father’s physic’s text book from the 50s and godonlyknows what all else). I also added in part of a deck of Joe Camel playing cards.
At first the circles were not precise enough, which made me tense. Then I thought of adding a layer of the modgey stuff around a circular placeholder (a salsa lid and a coconut water jar) and adding something to the stickiness. I sanded the modge with a sprinkling from one of my kids’ craft projects: one of those where they send the kid home from preschool with a babyfood jar of colored sand in layers, which then get shook up into a multicolored mess. The precision of the resulting circles made me feel much better.
The heart is a piece of bone from a red-cooked pork shoulder roast. I felt anxious at the thought of putting something in my nicely excavated circle of quiet, but the heart didn’t look right any place else.
The pile of stuff below the blue hole isn’t quite placed correctly. It really ought to be washing up around the perimeter of the hole, but for a first shot it looks okay. It’s mostly a bunch of little hair clips that came in a batch of larger hair clips. I wanted the larger ones and took the little ones with the bag. (Yes, I got hair clips at the goodwill. I run them through the dishwasher first). I also added a marble, and a bunch of stuff I found on top of my dresser and in the medicine cabinets. (No, the dental pick and Q-tip were NOT used before incorporation).