For several months now I’ve kept a sketchbook as I attempt to learn to draw. When I examine the pen and ink drawings in the book I’m using as a guide, Rendering in Pen and Ink, and as I try to draw what I see, over and over I notice how one small squiggle on the page, one tiny turn of the pen can either make something feel real, or make an object look distorted. Details matter, and learning to get them right will take years of practice. I have to face the fact that most of what I’m going to make will look wrong, and will probably continue to do so for sometime. If I’m going to learn to draw, that’s something that must be accepted. This isn’t what drawing is really about, though, seeing well, and getting the details all down correctly.
So, why do I want to learn to draw anyway? What’s the motivation? It’s something about that when the pen is in my hand, I’m living right there in the tip of the ink flow on to the page. I am in the texture, the line, each turn of a curve. It doesn’t matter so much to the direction the world is moving in that I learn to draw. Of course the world will go on. It always does. Will it change the course of my life or anyone else’s for that matter? Who knows, really, if something we learn will directly lead to something else significant in the future. This will certainly be true in some cases. But this is not necessarily the best measure of the value of all things—their practical use. There are a number of things I am trying to learn that don’t necessarily have an immediately understood practical value: playing the clarinet, learning to speak Spanish. These could have utilitarian value at some point, but not in my immediate circumstance, and that is not why I want to learn them. Some things just call to us for mysterious reasons, and have value in themselves. The act of learning, just being with that process is somehow intrinsically engaging. Maybe these kinds of motivations are akin to playing in the mud when a child. Something about them just feels delightful. We don’t have to understand why we want to do everything we do; we just know we feel more alive, more human, or more full when we participate in them.
Over the past few days I’ve spent a few hours pulling weeds from the garden walkway. My husband offered to use the weed whacker to cut them back, but I preferred to pull them all by hand, sitting quietly in the sun, picking out the tiny blades of grass between the thyme I planted last summer. Slowly, the thyme plants reemerge from beneath the weeds. Even though the pathway looks very pleasant after the weeds have been pulled out, and it might have been a waste of time to pick weeds by hand, it somehow seems better. It’s satisfying. You can pull out the roots, not just cut off the top of the plants, and the thyme will have an easier time growing in the long run.
Like many other people, I work in a job where pretty much every moment counts, or you want to make it count for something. When I am drawing, or pulling weeds, however, I do not think of time. I’m not trying to make every moment count. Instead I’m gliding inside of time like a bird turning in an updraft of air at the edge of a cliff. I’m waiting there in space, doing some kind of mysterious thing soil does when it regenerates itself while sitting fallow. There is something wonderfully rare and precious about such moments. They are moments of being balanced against the moments where everything is measured out tick by tick. I don’t think I am the only one in this world hungry for such moments—for the space inside of time that existed before clocks. They keep me well, and as I peer forward into the new year, this is what I wish for, for more space in my life and of those around me to be found and given to unmeasured moments of being.
May you, too, be well.