The following is a Paradoxical Undressing “outtake” about an Art Therapy class. Like the rest of Paradoxical Undressing, it is an excerpt from my diary. It takes place in 1986 when I was trying to finish my college degree before Throwing Muses’ record came out and my baby was born.
I wanna go back to the ocean. The buzzing fluorescents are making me feel sick and the other students don’t look particularly promising.
The first thing the teacher asks us to do is lie on the floor and relax. I’m not me anymore, though, I’m pregnant, so I don’t relax, I just pass out and then wake up as the other students are shuffling around, grabbing art supplies and moving desks into groups. Oh, crap, I think. I slept through the assignment.
I follow a woman with blond pony tails and glasses over to the art supply cabinet and copy everything she does, taking a gigantic piece of paper, some colored pencils, charcoal and a drawing pen from the cabinet, then scoot my desk over to her group. Peeking over some shoulders to see what “art” we’re supposed to do, I see that the other students are all drawing animals. Okay…I can draw an animal.
The paper is enormous and difficult to manage. I try spreading it out on the desk, but it spills over the side, so I put it down on the carpeted floor. Then the pen I’m using tears a hole in it. Goddamn it. I grab a small book off a nearby shelf, place it underneath the paper and, stretching my arms out past my protruding stomach, draw a tiny blowfish in the middle of the paper.
While I’m coloring it blue, the instructor calls for everyone’s attention and asks that we begin discussing our imaginary animals with the other people in our group. Imaginary? Quickly, I draw a horn on my blowfish’s forehead, then sit down at a desk, leaving my drawing on the floor.
A painfully nerdy guy sitting across from me stands up, offering to go first. “I drew myself as the Golden Eagle of Fantasy,” he says nervously, holding up an incredible picture of a shining bald eagle on top of a mountain, surrounded by vivid blue sky. It looks like a frame from a government-issue comic book. How did he have time to do that? He must have brought it from home. Every inch of the magnificent eagle is colored gold, with silver cross-hatching. It glares at us from the paper, wings outstretched.
“That’s you?” I ask, without thinking.
“Why…’fantasy’?” asks a middle-aged woman with jet black hair, pointedly. Do you have to ask?
The nerdy guy clears his throat. “I feel at home in the realm of fantasy and I’d like to bring a more dream-like quality to my every day life.” He has memorized this little speech.
The woman smiles knowingly. “I feel like you have a lot to offer this world, but you keep it locked away inside you.” She wears many, many silver bracelets and a black pantsuit that makes a crinkling sound every time she moves. When she says the word “locked”, she folds herself up as if she’s locking away inside her all that she has to offer this world.
Golden Eagle nods noncommittally and sits down. Then the black-haired woman reveals her picture. It looks like a pony with butterfly wings. Her paper is completely filled with color, like Golden Eagle’s, but she can’t draw as well as he can. The butterfly pony is crooked and distorted; maybe it’s a butterfly camel. It stands in a meadow, eating a square-ish apple, its horizon and ears masked by an enormous rainbow.
She stands. “I am Metamorphosis,” she says. “Ever changing. I am in flux, yet constant, like a river.”
Huh. We all look again at the pony. It doesn’t look constant like a river. It looks lumpy.
“Where’d it get the apple?” asks a heavyset man in a Budweiser t-shirt. “I don’t see an apple tree.”
Metamorphosis turns her drawing to face her and looks at it. “There’s an orchard nearby,” she answers quickly.
“Oh.” He doesn’t seem satisfied with this answer.
The blond woman I’d followed over here points at the pony’s butterfly wings. “When you fly,” she asks, “where do you go?” Oh for christ sake.
Metamorphosis smiles. “I’m a healer. I break through the illusionary walls of space/time to commune with patients on a quantum level.”
The pony tails lady smiles back. “I, too, am a quantum field dweller,” she says, standing and holding up her picture. It looks like puke—a big pile of puke. Her picture fills the paper, too, but with what? “I am Amoeba,” she says dramatically.
What the hell? Do I have to pretend I think I’m a unicorn fish?
A quantum field dwelling pony and a quantum field dwelling amoeba. Do they think the quantum field is an apartment complex? Metamorphosis presses her face up against Amoeba’s drawing, squinting. Slowly, she sits back down in her chair, the wind knocked out of her quantum sails.
“That’s nice,” offers Golden Eagle. Amoeba pushes her glasses up her nose and looks at the group expectantly for questions and comments, but we’re all busy grimacing at her puke picture. Eventually, she sits back down, disappointed.
Then Budweiser stands up, placing his picture in the center of the desks. He has drawn Batman. No one says anything.
“I’m Batman,” he says.
Golden Eagle looks terrified. Metamorphosis stares at Budweiser’s drawing, then at his face. “What did you say your name was?”
“No, your real name.”
“Bob, I believe the assignment was to identify our personalities with a mythical creature—”
“Batman’s not real,” he says defensively. “He’s mythical.”
“—of our own invention,” finishes Metamorphosis, inventor of the butterfly pony.
Amoeba cuts in, looking sorrowful, her glasses glinting, ponytails swishing. “So it can’t be human.”
Bob thinks for a second. “Oh yeah. Batman’s human. He just wears a bat suit, huh?”
“Yes,” says Amoeba sadly.
“I see what you’re saying,” says Bob, folding up his drawing. Metamorphosis stops him with a bangled, manicured hand.
“No, Bob,” she says. “Tell us why you’re Batman. If it’s important to you, then it’s important to us.”
Amoeba nods, not to be outdone. Metamorphosis and Amoeba are clearly both jockeying for position as Grooviest One Here after their drawings’ disappointing receptions.
“Well,” says Bob. “I’m a rebel.” He looks at us all. “Of society,” he articulates. He looks around again, with growing desperation, then points at his drawing impatiently. “And so’s Batman.”
We all nod wildly.
“Stay focused on the assignment, Bob. Tell us where you live,” says Metamorphosis gently. “What are your immediate goals?”
“In the Bat Cave, see?” Bob, exasperated, points at a penciled semi-circle over Batman’s head. His picture looks like it was drawn by a six year old. “I guess my immediate goals,” he adds miserably, “would be to…fight crimes.”
We nod again, vigorously. Golden Eagle says, “That’s important.” This can’t possibly be educational. I can’t wait to get back to the studio.
“I guess I may have misunderstood the assignment,” Bob says sadly, looking at the clock. Four more hours to go, Bob.
Metamorphosis won’t let him off the hook, though. “Tell me,” she presses. “How did you become interested in Art Therapy?”
Bob looks like he’s under attack. He starts talking fast. “I’m-a-maintenance-professional-employed-by-the-University,” he says. “Completing-my-degree-nights-and-weekends.”
“I see,” says Metamorphosis, looking smug. “And what is your degree in?”
Bob’s crumpling. Golden Eagle looks like he’s gonna die. “I’m…undecided,” says Bob quietly.
Golden Eagle comes to his aid. “Sometimes a double major is the only option for those of us with varied interests,” he says hopefully.
Bob looks over at him, grateful. “Yeah, pro’bly,” he says. Art Therapy creates strange bedfellows.
There is a tense silence, then they all look at me. Crap. I’d hoped we’d run out of time before we did me. The Batman drama was making it look possible. I look up at the clock in spite of myself. Four more hours to go, Kris. I pick my drawing up off the floor and spread it out on the desks.
It’s difficult to see the tiny blowfish in such a huge expanse of white. Golden Eagle, Metamorphosis, Amoeba and Bob all stare at my dumb, little fish.
“Who are you?” Amoeba asks me.
“I guess I’m a…blowfish,” I say, looking down at the pathetic blue dot.
Metamorphosis cocks her head to the side, trying to understand. “Where do you live?” she asks. “What are your immediate goals?”
I think for a second. “I live underwater.” I can’t think of any pressing mission I might take on in the form of a blowfish with a horn on its head.
They all look from the drawing to me. Bob says to Golden Eagle, “Aren’t those things poisonous?”
Golden Eagle nods. “I think so. If you eat them.”
“Do they bite?” asks Bob. “Do they got that kinda poison?”
“No, I don’t think they’re aggressive.”
“Not like a piranha.”
“Those things’re nasty,” says Bob.
“Yeah,” says Golden Eagle.
I wonder if I can sit down yet. I begin lowering myself into my seat when Metamorphosis sticks out a hand and pokes at the blowfish violently and repeatedly. I stand back up. Her shiny red nails strike angrily at the little fish. “It! Makes! Me! Sad!” she says shrilly, punctuating each syllable with a jangly blow to the paper, “that you live in a sea of nothingness, with no immediate goals, no friends and nothing to eat!”
“Do I?” I ask, looking at my drawing. Maybe there’s an orchard nearby.
Amoeba heartily agrees. “I feel sad, too,” she says.
Bob and Golden Eagle look sympathetic. Golden Eagle says, “Some people are natural loners.”
Bob nods. “Poison’s like a super power…
Posted in: words on October 19, 2008