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My Ink Therapist

by Holly Pyle 6 months ago in art

One unconditional circle at a time

One-inch circle, just below center and slightly to the left.

Thick line to hug the circle to its bottom right.

Seven switchback squiggles to the left completes the hug.

Ink-melt blob over the upper circumference.

What will it become? A quail? A flower? An eager sloth family? I never know. Frankly it's not my business. My concern is the tip of a fresh Micron 005 pen, smooth bristol paper, and whatever the page wants each moment. Sometimes I etch a pre-game of random pencil lines to spice up the conversation. It might invite some geometric commentary or reflect a leafy artifact. But the party doesn't begin until my pen arrives. In pen, each statement is owned and seen exactly as it is. There are no mistakes or expectations, just unraveling blooms of shapes, free of opinions.

I don't really know what to call it. The closest label is doodling, though doodling is defined as "absentminded scribbling." I'd prefer "deliberate wandering."

When I turn on my magnifying glass drawing light and take a stroll through a blank 9"x12" patch of paper, I discover an organic and abstract black-and-white world that I'm stubbornly proud of creating. The more marks I make, the more respect and reverence I feel for the blank page, but I never fear any consequences from courting it with my black pen.

I long for this world in my 3D life. Adding the third dimension of "depth," I become "Holly Pyle, jazzy singer-songwriter." I write songs about mental illness. I perform standards and pop songs for a living, sometimes I make educational videos when I feel a fleeting baseline of self-efficacy. But none of these activities feel as loving and intimate as stumbling upon a cat face hidden behind circle abstractions on my desk. My rational sensibilities know nearly everything is subjective, people love and hate simultaneously. Asking, 'circle or line?' feels so timeless on paper, but any other question is exhausting: I obsess over questions of whether or not my songs are lovable or understandable, whether or not my sounds are pointless, and what consequences there might be of making said pointless sounds- likely time wasted and time embarrassed. Over the years these questions have paralyzed my relationship to making sound. It dawns on me in this moment: Drawing is not my therapy: It is my therapist.

The difference between my approach to drawing and my approach to living rests in stumbling upon a practice of unwavering patience, attention, and non-attachment, all in one stroke. Life, on the other hand, feels constantly overwhelming. I whack-a-mole shopping lists alongside my plans for the evening alongside a weak lunge towards my hopeful yet hopeless hopes for a creative legacy.

Drawing, as I inhabit it, can only be one mark at a time: every other mark depends on the one that's currently unfolding. To miss one moment is to miss the most nuanced and calming of conversations. Drawing reminds me of the life I want to live: One unconditional circle at a time.

I love sitting at the drawing-therapist chair. She's an abstract but ephemeral blob. Two large white asymmetrical circles mark her eyes, her hair wildly inconsistent, she has a "leg" that resembles a duck head with a whale body. One might call her grapefruit-shaped if she had a torso. I can't really plan these things. She looks like her name could be Nancy. Minding her own business with a periphery of curiosity, she briefly looks up from her plant-care magazine.

Nancy asks, "How are you feeling?"

I start with a few tall 'S' shapes side by side on a new paper, my left shoulder hunches a little higher than my right. "I'm... uh, kinda nauseated. I had a fun melody idea this morning, but. It feels... pointless to do anything with it. I don't really have anything to say, it's just a melody in my head. Besides, so many people are making songs–younger people with relevant topics... I'm not exactly suffering enough to make anything meaningful–I don't really want to waste the space anymore."

"hmm." Nancy pauses and looks out calmly, holding silence as if she didn't hear my woes and instead was busy contemplating the ideal amount of water for her caladium."Waste of space. Quite a travesty." She flips to the next page. After another page of silence,"How did you get here, at the drawing table?"

A cluster of  'S' shapes begin implying a circular shape. I add a few nearby black blobs."I get really overwhelmed to the point where I can't speak with words– I get exhausted easily. Outside of excessive naps all I really want to do is make some lines on this paper. Sometimes I'll be on a phone call or listening to a lecture and my brain over-fires, so I'll draw to listen better."

Nancy looks mildly annoyed but she also expends energy like an overweight cat. She calmly smirks, "Isn't drawing just as pointless and popular?"

"Yea but–"

Nancy interrupts, "BUT THAT IS THE REAL QUESTION."

More silence. My pen stops for a moment. I stare at Nancy, waiting for her to break the silence. Honestly I'm a little stupefied. I complain like this often in 3D and I'm able to easily convince people that I've outgrown music. Nancy has overheard all my 'woke' soapbox retirement speeches through the past year and a half–she's not buying it.

Nancy retracts back to a gentle cluster of squiggles. "Why is drawing any different?"

My pen starts to move a little slower, but I don't enjoy feeling so careful. I breathe out a sigh while my left arm commits to a sweeping curve that breaches the northern hemisphere of the paper. I add a cluster of dots to the left. "I don't care who I am on this paper. I don't have to be anyone or anywhere else. No one expects me to show up in a specific way in something that's designed to be completely unplanned. 3D is messier." I'm exhausted trying to explain this in detail but Nancy still waits patiently, assuming I'm not done. For a time we have a small silence contest... she always wins.

I sigh audibly, "Everyone's obsessed with labels and badges and comparisons and... I know none of it matters... but it's hard to tell my body that, so it just sits there. And it keeps sitting. And then sound–gets harder to make. And then living life this silently starts to feel normal. Plus, here on paper I have a magnifying glass where everything can get so small that it's kinda too small for anyone to have opinions. I don't care if I suck at this or what it means... I just enjoy it, and it's mine."

"There it is." Nancy lowers her tone."You need to remember that your joy is more real than anything else. The names and labels are not your business, just as the outcome of S-shapes on this paper is not your business." She stares at my paper for a moment. Her mouth-squiggles curve up a bit before her gaze darts back at me. "If you weren't so caught up in the drama outside of yourself, you might remember what joy feels like in your own sounds, and then you wouldn't care so much about what isn't even yours to care about." Nancy paused and leaned towards me, getting even quieter, "All you ever wanted–is the ability to listen. To listen to the most nuanced of conversations: the ones from you. Your shapes are lovely, but your sounds have just as much a right and permission to veer up and cluster to the left. Whether or not it's a waste of time is not your question to ask or answer."


It's very easy for me to say these things to other people and completely mean it. Nancy's observations risk collapsing every compassionate encouragement I've ever given to anyone else. There's no reason I can't sing and live the way I do on bristol paper. I don't have to care whether I suck at deliberate wandering through music or what each sound means about me or my worth. Life has never been a badge earned: It is only a practice, ideally of unwavering patience, attention and non-attachment all at once. Even if art, and being alive, seem pointless sometimes: it's ours to enjoy.


Holly Pyle

Obsessed with communication. Inspired by psychological epiphanies found in the voice.

Read next: Dealing with mental illness’s

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