Odd Mood 

I haven't been feeling well for most of the day. A sort of faint queasy feeling settled in the upper part of my stomach, and, only now, at the end of the day, is it starting to go away. I think this feeling might be the cause of the odd mood I am in currently. Well, actually, that and the thoughts I have been having about one of my assignments for figure drawing class. Let me explain.

I admire my figure drawing instructor tremendously. Perhaps I shouldn't admit this, but my overall opinion of community college instructors as a whole is that generally they are a mixed bag of the merely competent, the mostly mediocre, or the frankly terrible.

For example, in my first pass through this very community college ten years ago, I had a writing 121 instructor who refused to grade anything seriously. One of his more memorable assignments required us to find and stare at a spider's web for ten minutes and then write about the feelings inspired by that experience. Being a serious student and simply grateful to be in college in the first place, I followed his instructions. I found and stared at a spiderweb, and I felt like a total jackass. The only thoughts this was inspiring in me were about how incredibly dumb and pointless this was.

On the day assignments were due in this class, each student would read his or her two page essay aloud, while the instructor silently nodded and sat as a houseplant. His most common response was a rather cryptic, "good contact." And, typically, one student or another would wind up gushing about their feelings concerning spider webs in a far too personal way which was also revealing more about themselves than they realized. In a normal world, this should have embarrassed them tremendously. But, when you stepped in that writing class, you quickly found you were no longer in a normal world. Clearly, we were not being prepared to research or write the argumentative essays that the rest of undergraduate college was going to demand from us. Thesis statements? Building an argument based upon scholarly evidence? Thinking critically about arguments in class? Forget about it.

Suffice it to say, my large experience of college instructors has run the gamut, from community college to graduate school. My figure drawing instructor is one of the best. Not only is she scarily talented at painting and drawing in general, but she is super smart, and has fantastic teaching skills.

In any event, our latest assignment is to examine the "geological strata" of our lives and draw the things that have the most meaning to us as we have grown into the people we are now. Dividing our drawing paper into sections which might represent our childhood, teenage years, adulthood, we will bring to our portrait drawing experience the spirit of ourselves beyond our actual image. Yes, I know it sounds just as "ooga booga" as the staring at the spiderweb exercise ten years ago, but I think the difference lies in the fact that the writing class should have been teaching us concrete writing skills that would help us clearly communicate our ideas to others, while the drawing class is all about developing our self-expression.

And it is this "geologic strata" assignment that put me in the odd mood. I've been toying with some ideas in my sketchbook already. Initially, I think most people think about the objects that they had while they were growing up, like a favorite teddy-bear, a bike, or a videogame. Anyway, this was how the instructor was describing it. Later when I was working on ideas for it, what stood out for me most were not the things I owned, but the places I have been, the things I was doing, and, not least of all, a few very important people in my life.

In this vein, I was trying to remember the child I was in the late seventies. I know as one gets older, nostalgia has a tendency to color perception to the point where the facts matter much less than the personal narrative one slowly builds as they live their lives. Even with this in mind, this period seems unique.

My mother was still very young during this period, in her twenties. The "adults" in my memory of then were younger than I am now (seems odd to think of it now). And as young people are, they were are still very idealistic about changing the world. And, most of them were the spiritual version of hippies, much less into drugs and rock and roll than the ones seen now in popular movies and memory. And, I was absorbing all of this in. The idealism, the art, the youth, and the sense that the world would soon be changed into a paradise of happiness. The world, or rather my world, seemed full of a kind of hope that had less conflict between people, and had more honest, practical, emotional connection instead.

Of course, the world was changing. This was the era before the personal computer, before the arcades I would fall in love during my teenage years, and before the terror of nuclear war that seemed so present during the eighties. The electronic age had yet to reach my part of the world. Maybe it hadn't yet arrived for us since, we were also so desperately poor. So I guess I'm seeing this part of childhood as a more artistic and human world between people than the one we have now, which admittedly has its nice features, but also feels like it is missing something.

Hence, the odd mood that I mentioned at the beginning. The tragedy of my above description is that it does not really come close to accurately describing the half hidden moods, unconscious memories, and emotions that drift around these thoughts like a misty fog. Describing an emotion, especially one as inchoate as this one, is like describing the color green. How do you do it?

17 April 2009
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