Waking the Sleeping Integer … 15

Ch. 15 ~ Inner Eye

“You should really put your own identity into the piece.  The point is to learn.  Learn, learn, learn. And use that knowledge…make it all your own.”

Art imitates life.  But sometimes it’s the other way around.  When it comes to his latest creation — a portrait of a portrait –Wilson didn’t really know which it was in this case:  art or life or something altogether different.  Normally, he didn’t bother to think too much about it.  But then someone had to go and spoil it all.  Someone had to go and make art an idea and then make the idea of art an exercise in mental masturbation.  Or maybe it was just Wilson and Wilson alone and no one else who had his hand down the pants of his brain, so to speak.  But whichever way he caressed that thought, no matter how many twists and turns, or rubbing up against things, it all came down to this:  this whole notion or question of what art was, of what identity in art was gnawed at his mind more than quite a bit right now.  More than it ever had before.  Beause someone Wilson admired — an accomplished artist, no less — had said those words to him.  About putting his own identity into things.  About learning.  About making knowledge all his own.  

And now those words sat there about ready to burst in his head…which is why he had his hand down the pants of his brain.

Is that even possible, the idea of claiming all knowledge even — like you could corner the Everything of Everything — in one piece of art, he wondered.  Or at all.  Wow.  He seemed to recall reading somewhere — he couldn’t recall where — that usually growth comes not from what we know but from what we don’t know.  This led Wilson to believe that ignorance might not be so dimwitted afterall.  And then of course he felt compelled to wonder what he didn’t know he didn’t know, until he finally gave up on that mental chase and satisfied himself with interpretting the whole thing to mean this:  being right all the time isn’t all of what it tries to make itself out to be.

It was then that he pulled his hand out from the pants of his brain.  Good thing he was in his own house when he did; although Wilson wasn’t exactly a stranger when it comes to engaging in a bit of public mental gymnastics.  Still, it had been a while since he had.  As for the here and now, well, he sat quietly by himself at the dining room table until all at once, he reached across it for his sketch pad.  He was in the practice — a subconscious picadillo of a habit — of having a rather nice sized sketch pad within 10 feet of his reach no matter where he was.  Wilson fancied himself an artist, you see, and he regularly worked the craft.  He flipped the pad open until a white page announced itself.  And then a pencil quickly rolled loose.  He picked it up and began to sketch his self portrait, and he did so completely from memory.  Afterall, he shrugged internally, how long would it take for him to forget the details in his own face.  He’s lived with it for all of 36 years now, after all.  Of course he wouldn’t forget his own face, of this he was certain.

But then when Wilson finishes his self portrait, he realizes something.  Not only is he changing verb tense throughout this story and in a rather willy nilly sort of way at that.  But staring at the sketch, he realizes he is seeing the face of a man who he doesn’t know at all, and he realized that he saw that same face staring right back at him.  (See?  Just when you think you know the verb tense, it fluttered…and even so, you still know what it all means.  Really, what is the concept of time anyway?)

“How can this be,” he muttered under his breath and continues to stare into the dark charcoal eyes that gaze back at him, rather unflinchingly so.  Almost in defiance but not quite so.  Yet at the same time, they were definitely not pushovers, those eyes.  Even if they didn’t utter a word, those eyes spoke volumes.  And still.  Even without uttering a word, they cause Wilson to lean more closely in — not because he can’t hear but only because he finds himnself so drawn into what’s happening — so Wilson leans more closely in, fusing his vision with the vision of that presented in the mute charcoal etched eyes. 

And then Wilson hears those eyes say just as plain as day without any confusion whatsoever: 

 “This is not you.”

A pause.  A silent sigh carried on the slow uplift of his eyebrows and the long downpress of his lips.  What else could he do?  He nods his nead slowly, resigning himself to the truth.  The self portrait he created, from his very own hand from his very own mind from his very own memory of a face that he had absolutely no hand at all in creating (he couldn’t even make the claim that his own face was made from his sense of self more than it was made from his parents’ sense of self) but the very memory of his own face that he had lived with every day for 36 years and from which he generated this rebellious creation that made such a bold proclamation, well…that self portrait staring back at him from his rather nice size sketch pad did not reflect Wilson’s own identity.  That was the reality.  It simply would not own Wilson’s identity.   He pondered all of this a bit longer and still couldn’t escape the fact that he knows it’s the truth.  It’s simply not him, this sketch.  And it’s simply not his either, that sentence structure.  More likely than not it belongs to Yoda, that way of speaking, and where Yoda picked up on it is anybody’s guess but probably most assuredly it was not something that rose all from his own identity either.  It was probably all from a melting pot of ideas and experiences and interactions without any one person having the right to claim full dominion on the creation.  Like the creation was an object.  Like it had no identity of its own accord.  But really that line of thought is neither here nor there.  The realization of how tenuous the claim of identity in any creation was, well that realization was here and Wilson had busied himself with accepting it, so much so he wasn’t surprised in the least when the etched portrait seemed to smile softly.  Almost as if to soften the blow.

Wilson fancied himself an artist, yes.  But it wasn’t like his life or income depended on any of this, he finally decided.  He had to remind himself of that.  It was easy to lose sight of that while his hand greedily manhandled his brain…even after it had climbed out of the seat of his cranium’s pants, sheesh!  Still.  The truth was he didn’t make his living as an artist, but still…Wilson is an artist in his own right.  He’s not famous, no.  He’s not renowned in the least.  He doesn’t have mass appeal and doesn’t even try to cultivate it.  He’s not constantly chasing the perimeter of his social graph trying to push that envelope out even further in hopes of breaking the sound barrier.  He felt sympathy for artists now, writers especially who are socially screened by the publishing houses and whose projects are evaluated and greenlighted based on the size of their social sphere.  “Come be my friend,” until all you thousands of people pile on high enough to form a critical mass, an untapped marketplace, and we’ll all delude ourselves into thinking that building up a market of a gazillion unknowns isn’t anywhere near the same thing as having an artistic voice repeatedly whiplashed by the wills and whims of a worldwide “social” ratings game.  Gee…just how popular are you?  Gee…let’s be real…just how marketable are you… 

No kid in the schoolyard liked being picked last for the team.  But it still happened every day.  Only on multiples of the ridiculous, because more often than not for artists, the social platform served more as a digital portfolio than anything else.  All gazillion friendships aside.  And that’s what spoke volumes to the publishing houses, to galleries, venues, the backers.

Wilson didn’t care if he never broke a sound barrier by having the loudest voice in the social networking world.  Hell, he didn’t even have a following of a few.  But all of this didn’t make Wilson any less of an artist.  His particular craft was in being able to draw freehand any image that spoke to him.  Anything he saw that reached through to his inner eye and clearly reacquainted his instincts with whatever inspired him…as if the two had known each other all along, throughout the ages, whether or not they had actually met.   An instant connection.  There were never any words with this announcement, you see.  It was a quiet, unspoken language.  Between Inspiration and vessel.  Between Pencil and paper.  But apparently, all of that got in between the art and his identity.  Or so he had just been told.  And so Wilson decided then and there he was going to change that.  He even had an idea how he would go about doing that.

He nearly bolted out of his chair.  In a huge flourish, he rose and scooped up the rather large sketch pad.  He silenced the announcement of the white page by closing the book and tucking it under his arm.  He strode with purpose through the dining room, down the hall, to the foyer.  He unlatched the door, swung it open and stepped into life.  Wilson lived in the city, just a couple of blocks down from what he thought must have been the busiest residential area in the world.  Didn’t matter if it was a bit of hyperbole for Wilson to make that claim, even in the privacy of his own head.  What mattered was the streets were filled with people.  Every sort of people.  And that’s what he was after.

“Put my identity into the piece,” Wilson muttered, almost trance-like.  “Put my identity into *them*…into the world.” 

His eyes spread wide at the onslaught of tall, thin, wide, short, dark, light, young, old, beautiful, nondescript, interesting, vapid, fully alive people who all at once came into view.  He deliberately dropped the rather large sketch pad to the pavement.  He knelt down to it…

“Hey!  Watch where you’re going!”  “Dumb ass.”  “Dude…whaddya doing?”  “He’s kind of cute…giggles!”  “Mommy, mommy!  Look!  LOOOOOOK!!”  “Sheesh…can’t even text in peace anymore without tripping over some moron.”

…and flipped the cover over.  He rummaged willy nilly for the first blank white page to announce itself.  With one firm pull, he tore it away from the binding.  Then he contracted the fibers in his legs until he stood straight, while his legs immediately began to carry him headlong into the first fully alive person to walk head first smackdab into the press of the white paper. 

“Hey!” the first fully alive person shouted.  Their voice was smothered in muffled irritation that rebounded off of the tight press of the tightly combed cotton paper.

“This will only take a minute,” Wilson muttered.  He worked rapidly, holding the paper against the contours of the person’s face.  Wilson suddenly couldn’t remember if the person before him was a man or a woman underneathe the full press of his fingertips holding the sketching paper determinedly on their face.  His pencil flew across and along the facial contours, but even then, even with tracing the outline, Wilson didn’t see the person at all, no.  Instead, Wilson looked into his own mind’s eye and burned into his memory the contours of the face that spoke of his own identity all these 36 years.  Even if that particular face had been created by his parents and not of Wilson’s own making, he still claimed his self image as his identity — what else did he have???? — and as he stared into that face in his mind, Wilson drew wildly onto the sheet of paper as it lay gingerly over the now thrashing being of a fully alive person who apparently did not take kindly to being treated like a human canvas.

“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING!?”

The voice ripped through the air like the long tenacious blast of a train horn scorching the breeze, but Wilson remained transfixed as if deaf to it all while he stared down deep into the fiber of his creation.   And even in the grips of such quietly violent focus, he couldn’t dismiss the sound of a voice that reverberated around his eardrums, when the image that Wilson had just drawn declared with finality yet again:

“This is not you,” it said.

But before the last syllable blasted into his eardrums, Wilson tossed away the paper that contained what he thought was his self portrait, despite the fact that he had just heard otherwise…not to mention that he had just sketched it…yet somehow even his own perspective and hand in the act meant nothing if the criticism to “put yourself into the piece” from his artist friend was to be believed.

Shit.

He tore the pavement.  As much as two feet in sneakers could tear into cement, he tore the pavement into pieces around his heels and raced back to the rather large sketch pad that lay in a somewhat sublime state on the pavement.  Unlike Wilson, that sketch pad remained blissfully ignorant of the world’s judgement of the potential or promise that lay well hidden within its pages.  Unlike the sketch pad, the world around Wilson jostled him at elbow and hip, at shoulder and calf, at knee and head and all well within a hair’s breath of his patience.  But the world owed him no favors after all.  It owed no one any favors, and he was wise enough to recognize that much.  But he had never asked for a favor and he wasn’t about to start to now.  He only held onto what spoke to him, and what spoke to him was a need to express himself, to share of himself with the world…even if that meant creating something from which something else had already been created.  Was that somehow any less legitimate a form of creative talent or sharing?  Could ANYONE claim they had created something that never before existed in any aspect or by any measure or examination of life histories and perspectives?  That somehow their idea was so original to the world that it came *only* to them, delivered on the wings of a perfect vacuum, devoid of life experiences and memories and expectations and experiences and influences, unsullied by any context or knowledge or doings or explorings of anyone who came before or who walked side by side?  Is that even possible?  Was Wilson supposed to hold himself up to the standard of the Alpha?  Wasn’t that just more than a touch of megalomania to think he could be the Creator of All…even in one sketch?

He ripped several pages of white paper away from the binding of the sketch pad.  He dug in his heels and thrust himself and his vision back into the world around him.  When he stopped hurtling forward, he dropped his sketchpad like a rock to his feet, and frantically whipped page after page onto person after person, all the while pressing the large sheets of white combed cotton onto their faces, molding it to their contours and and sketching his own self image from his own memory into the fibers of the canvas and onto the molds that his subject matter provided.

The sun burned hot.  The art of creating was fucking sweltering, pounding the rays down, sizzling these words into his ears:  “This is not you.  This is not you.  This is not you.  This is not you.”  And on and on and on the universe proclaimed on heated breath, while on and on and on, Wilson tossed sketch after sketch after sketch into the will of the world in which he did in fact exist.  Present.  One.  Himself.  Faces flew into the air around him, all faces that were not him if he believed the artist who had chastised, if he believed the universe of creation.  Yet all faces that did look like him, that he fully recognized as being brought into being from the very act of art, in spite of the mold or the medium or the environmental influences.  Created onto the white combed cotton paper where prior to no other existence broadcasted itself. 

Wilson stood transfixed into the day and all around him at every turn he saw his own face staring back at him, peering wide eyed at him from the canvas of white papers that swirled and dashed and floated in the breeze.  He would have laughed in a sort of triumph way, clearly identifying his involvement in every image and every sketch that swirled his way.  But he experienced a sudden feeling that he was about to be blinded by the light of his creations as they presented Wilson in various moments of creation and as impacted by various other environmental cues — say the contours of the fully alive face-forward persons who had unwittingly served as his canvas.  He wasn’t sure what was blinding him more…the world or the truth.  And as it turned out, he was about to discover the answer soon enough.  Because Wilson had in fact been blinded by the critique of an artist who had in fact been surprised to see that their own “original” work — with elements borrowed from other people, cultural references and experiences — wasn’t so original that it couldn’t be replicated freehand at a fairly high quality by someone other than the “original” artist themselves.   

“Wow,” Wilson muttered to the world in particular.  He stooped briefly and retrieved his sketch pad.  Along the way, he stalked out and retrieved the various pieces of himself that flew randomly into life on the wings of the breeze in the day in one of the busiest neighborhood’s on the planet. 

He strolled calmly home.  As he did, he stuck his hand gently back into the pants of his brains.  What is art, his brain asked?  Is an artist’s identity in anything they create?  Wilson didn’t know if there was a definitive answer to those questions.  The only thing he could say with certainty was that it sure didn’t happen in a vaccuum.

Nanowrimo10 total word count: 3,120.  Total wordcount to date:  40,820 of 50,000 (not including any of this notation).  Yes, I intend to hit the 50,000 word count if it takes me 1/2 year to do it.

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