My author, L, had a mother who saved stuff, lots of stuff. Among all these savings was a small cache of artifacts L produced when she was five or six years old. L likes to dig out these artifacts from time to time and look through them: a crayon drawing of birds in flight on lined paper; a calendar drawn on brown paper with a sun high in the sky above a kite or a balloon, it’s hard to say which; a mother’s day card with a stylized yellow duck; a small, brown-paper bag from Simpsons-Sears with a row of buttons drawn in pen and labeled “ButtoMs”; and, finally, a small piece of white cardboard with a sequence of drawings that show the choreography for a dance invented by little wee L.
The most charming of these artifacts — and the most amusing — is, in my opinion, the choreography scheme. It’s presented on a piece of cardboard about 10 by 16 centimeters that once was part of a margarine box. (This was the white margarine that used to come with a coin of yellow colouring. You could soften up the margarine and mix in the colouring to make it look more like butter, but that seemed like a lot of work just to change the appearance of a block of fat.) As documented by the six-year-old hand of L, the dance progresses through six small drawings, four that depict only legs from the hips down, one that shows a head and torso, and one that shows a full body. Each small drawing has a number, and this is a good thing, because they are scattered about on the white cardboard in no logical order. The numbers written beside the drawings are 1, 2, 3, backwards 4, 5, and backwards 6. L does love to dance, and it seems this was a trait that had emerged even by the age of six. But choreography on cardboard, now that’s a little stiff, isn’t it?
L has lately been working on the book about Mavis, that other favourite character of hers, and I’ve been watching how she goes about it. To help her think about the shape of the book, L has made a drawing of a tree, and the drawing is, by now, a mess. She keeps deciding that she’s got the shape of the thing wrong, and maybe this branch has to leave the trunk a little earlier than she’d originally thought, and that one over there should come out here. So she’s been drawing on top of the drawing, to the extent that soon she won’t be able to decipher her own scribbles. I am aware that sometimes it’s important to step back for a good long moment and consider the shape of a thing, but as a spectator I’m getting impatient. I’ve begun to suspect that all this sketching and stepping back and drawing it out (pardon the pun) is just an elegant guise for procrastination. I know, I’ve done it myself with a painting I’m afraid to ruin, when what I really should be doing is getting colour onto the brush and messing around. It’s true that I’m sometimes jealous of Mavis and the time L spends on her book when she could be working on mine; nevertheless, I have some sympathy for the woman: the tree of her life is being flattened and forced like an apple tree espaliered against a garden wall. She’s trapped on paper like the choreography of that six-year-old. I want to shout at L, Don’t think so hard. I want to shout, Just dance!
Mentioned in this post: dancing
Next week, watch for a guest post from inside a poem by Jeanette Lynes.