I was thinking this morning that I should probably call this blog of mine “Most of the good things I know are things I’ve learned from my son, John Henry.”
I opened my eyes at 5:45. I’d set the coffee pot for 5:35, so after arguing with myself about whether or not I could blow off getting going early, I reluctantly rose and poured a cup, let the dogs out to pee, then returned to bed to snuggle in with some thoughts, my cup and my laptop, and the agreement I made with myself to write something every Wednesday. As I sipped, my thoughts began to dance around how the day might unfold, then my mind landed on the drawings that I’ve started doing to accompany these writings. Of course, I would need to do one before I posted today’s missive, and the clock was already ticking. I started to try to talk myself out of doing it. I could just find a photo to go with whatever theme I landed on, couldn’t I?
And besides, who the hell do I think I am? I can’t draw.
However, I draw, even if I have to fight with myself over permission to do so.
Sometimes I watch my son observe and experience a new thing or place and his reactions always fascinate me. He doesn’t process the world in a typical way, and I also don’t know exactly how his memory works, so though I know there are some things he never forgets, a lot of life can appear to be novel to him. He seems to walk through the world constantly thinking, “Hmm… what is this? How can I use it?” For instance — we discovered a few years ago that one of his favorite toys is a head scratcher. Yes — one of those things that has a handle and curved tentacles that you push down over your head to get a tingling massage. He doesn’t use it to scratch or massage his own head (though I do think he would enjoy that and think he might one day relent to using it in such a way), but instead carries it around and taps it on surfaces, submerges it in the bathtub, runs it over textures. I watch, and can see him listening to the sounds the tiny spines make — metallic on this surface, softer on that one —and my realization is, he’s always discovering and making music. Out of everything. I think music is one of the ways, if not the absolute primary way, that he organizes his world.
I can become overwhelmed when I begin to dig into that. My thoughts about how endless his exploration of sound and music is tend to be simultaneously too opaque and crystal clear for me to grasp unless I really sit with it for a while. Infinity is mostly incomprehensible to me, an unconfined space that makes me nervous, so I tend to shy away from it.
What do you mean there is no beginning and no end?
That’s the most cosmic idea of all of the ideas, and I can mostly only allow the feeling of knowing, instead of the truth of knowing, that it may be that everything, every single thing, is music to him — when he looks up at the leaves when a breeze rustles them, when he pours water from a cup and watches it puddle, when he splashes in the swimming pool, when he vocalizes, when he looks at the sky, when he looks at me — because I’m unable to imagine such a world. He hears, sees, and knows things that have been typicaled, regulared, and ordinaried out of me. How can I be as open as he is?
Is it possible for me to spend the second half of my life learning how to forget how things are supposed to be and allow what they could be? Can I learn, instead of assuming things are what they appear to be, to say my own version of “Hmm… what is this? How can I use it?” I am sometimes envious of my son’s lack of confines when it comes to discovery. We typicals spend a lot of time sorting one thing from the other — wills and won’ts, cans and can’ts — we assume we know it all. We don’t.
So what if I say to hell with the fact that I can’t draw and do it anyway? What if I learn how and become better at it? What if it’s another route to me knowing more about myself and through that I become better at being a person, more loving, more empathetic, more whole? Wait — they’re just drawings, right? Yes, they are. And no, not really. The practice now feels like as much a part of this whole experiment as the words I write do. I can’t explain why except that it feels right. Drawing is another way to communicate, another way to try to say “you are not alone.” That’s my job. And I like the drawings so much better than any photograph I could take — they aren’t visual explanations so much as extensions that reach out when I allow myself to plunder around outside my comfort zone. They’re discovery. They’re me learning about myself right in front of you. My pastels are my head scratcher.
Who cares if John Henry uses his head scratcher as a musical divining rod? Who cares if I don’t know how to draw? Isn’t it more important that we both might stumble onto something, some new music, if you will, while we explore with the tools we have at hand?
Do you have a head scratcher of your own? I hope so. Tap it on everything you see, wind some Mardi Gras beads around it and scrape it across the grid of the rack from the toaster oven, swirl it in a bucket of water, and find the music like John Henry does. I’m certainly trying to.
The teacher shows up when you’re ready to learn the lesson.
Sending love everywhere today,