Posts Tagged ‘Italo Calvino’

They are already living their lives.

They are already living their lives.

As a child, I never had an imaginary friend. I longed for one, was envious of the leagues, and mysteries into which I was not an initiate. I did not have that someone to encourage shenanigans, and in turn, to blame mistakes, missteps, and misguidance upon. There were times I might have liked an ally, someone invested only in me, as their creator, protector, inspiration, confidante and of course, as my scapegoat. I tried to conjure one, but I think intention is sort of counter-productive to the process – the more I tried to create her in my mind, the further away she’d slip. Maybe it was because I had so many books to read – I found friends between the pages, worlds to fall into, societies to which I most certainly belonged.

elk sketch

The elk belongs to autumn.

Or maybe it was because I had my stuffed animals. It is not unusual, I should think, to believe fully in our stuffed animals’ world as children. Anthropomorphized, each of them had a personality: Phoebe, Jenny, Puppy, Unicorn, Tiger. I absolutely believed they breathed, spoke, dreamed and interacted with each other, though rarely did they deign to include me. They had parties on my bed at night, went into the kitchen for snacks when nobody was looking, played in the backyard, argued, fell in love, fought, frolicked and bantered. I was witness to – and sometimes a part of – a world that was huge and wonderful and private and very secret – a world that was only theirs and mine, did not belong even to a book.

wolf and bear sketch

I don’t know when exactly this started, but I do know when it ended. I may have been a bit old to believe in such things, but there was nothing to dictate the ebb and flow of endings until we moved – I was twelve and suddenly in a new place across the country. Though their stuffed bodies moved with me, their world had vanished, and they lay limp in my arms. I suddenly had no friends, real or otherwise, within a thousand mile radius. Those cypress trees, those alligators, those huge herons with wings dripping with Spanish moss terrified me. The frenzied afternoon thunderstorms that hissed while drying were unfamiliar – a good thunderstorm should unfold itself and leave the air just a little bit cooler than when it began, a hush in its wake. 

Rabbit Sketch

We moved again, to the other side of the country where I made some of the best friends I have in this world. And of course, I always had my sister, mother, father, a dog and my dear, sweet old cat, and more dogs to come. I didn’t have to conjure worlds or animals or friends, but it seems I couldn’t stop.

Wolf Sketch

The wolf belongs to winter.

Even now, when I look at toy animals I think, “would you like to come home with me? would you like to meet your new friends?” and “who are you? what are you really like?” 


rabbit and chipmunk sketch

There are some people that can write and draw simply by remembering observations they have made and combining them with imagination. On an entirely blank page, with only a pen or a keyboard, they create a universe, visual or literary.  I’m not that talented. I like to have something to work from – I’ll listen to Bob Dylan before I sit down to write, or I’ll leaf through “Invisible Cities,” by Italo Calvino. When I draw, I pull up images on the internet (“chipmunk,” “chipmunk running” “chipmunk hiding.”) Yet I have seen hundreds of chipmunks in my life. If I were to go to the window of the cabin (or look under the couch? see here…) I could probably see five in one glance. I ought to know how to draw one… but looking at a still picture is helpful. I can always change him into the chipmunk that I want to draw.

bear sketch

I was thinking about this, and about the wooden hand model I have, and the little wooden jointed person that can become whoever I want when I draw, and so got online to find some animal models. (Some things are easier to draw than others. I spend hours looking at my dog. Petting him. Feeling how his bones work together, the little ligaments and tendons and muscles, how his expressions change with such small movements. I can draw him – looking at him or not looking at him. I know a little bit more about drawing other animals because of him.) I chose some very inexpensive animals online – they arrived and were so static, unfeeling, cold – so plastic – but when I look at them more closely to draw them, they seem to change, have personalities, things they want me to pull out of them, put onto the page. I begin to imagine their lives. I begin to think of their personalities. What their life was like when they all lived together in a tiny box, and what must have transpired there. And then I am eight years old again bearing witness to a world in which I am a part, in which I am more than just just an observer, a place that manifests with intentions rather than slips away.  

fox sketch


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