Dan Dot Blog

Based on a true story

Honey Bees and 3rd Grade Charm

Last Thursday I was transported back to middle school.

I have a friend who, each February, does this incredibly sweet thing. There’s a whole preparation that goes into it that involves fund-raising and preparation but ultimately reaches it peak with her costumed as a fairy, distributing hand-made cards, candy, and good cheer, to those most in need of it on Valentine’s Day (think area hospices, pediatric wards, etc). I really really like this idea, and was thrilled when I was invited to help prepare the hand-outs.

I forgot that I have poor fine motor coordination, ADD, am colorblind, lack any artistic vision, and am miserably uncreative when it comes to aesthetics. There is nothing more intimidating than a blank canvas, or, for me, a blank piece of colored construction paper.

As I arrived at the bar where the assembly line was already in full swing, I sat down and was immediately overwhelmed by the situation. I grew quiet and tense as my inner monologue, usually easily excerpted verbally into conversation, went silent. My eyes nervously darted around the room and suddenly I was back in time, trying to kludge together a papier mache snowman, or pop-up book illustrating my knowledge of Nicaragua, or cut-out snowman. More than trying to accomplish something I was really just trying to find a way to disappear, bide my time until the activity ceased, and then run away as fast as I could. I’ve always loved school—it was an arena where I excelled and drew enormous sums of confidence and identity—but on arts and crafts day I was just a terrified poor student, trying to keep my head down and get the hell out of the situation.

Weirdly, this is the strategy I adopted again. As I looked around the table I saw my friends gleefully glue-sticking, integrating stickers, glitter, markers, and crayons into visual masterpieces that I knew would really make somebody feel special. Meanwhile, I fumbled through my box of crayons. The paper I had selected was green, so to me it looked brown. That meant that decorating it with green was out. Brown is a dumb color, and the paper already looked brown, so strike that. Red seemed like a natural choice for Valentine’s Day, but every time I tried to find a red crayon I pulled out either a green, limegreen, seagreen, brown, limebrown, seascum brown-green, or browngreenbrown crayon. When I finally did find a red crayon, it seemed dull and uninteresting, like dried clay. I would’ve been unexcited to find this color in nature, so why would somebody want to look at it on my card?

Fortunately, nobody seemed to be paying much attention to me, and repeatedly changing crayons at least gave off the illusion of progress. I was succeeding in getting out of the situation! This small triumph was quickly overtaken by pangs of guilt as I realized that this card was not something for my mother who had long ago downwardly revised any expectations of me expressing my affection and gratitude through the visual arts, but was meant to warm the heart of some downtrodden stranger. I was going to have to dig deep and come up with something moving. Surely if I opened my own heart and peered into it honestly something creative, adorable, and uplifting would emerge.

This resulted in the idea of drawing a flower on the upper right hand corner of the front of the card that so far only had a clumsily cut out heart pasted to it, surrounded in glitter glue that was supposed to be a concentric heart but instead looked more like I had been holding onto a glue gun that unexpectedly went off and I had lazily done my best to capture its issue on unused paper by lazily avoiding the only contribution I had so far made to it.

Moved to action by my vision of a flower (which to be honest did not come from the depths of my soul but instead by squinting at other people’s cards, treating them like Rorshach blots for inspiration), I scribbled away with the crayon that happened to be in my hand. The result was disappointing. To me it looked like I had wiped mud on some slightly more dried mud, and not only that, it looked more like a “Y” than a flower. Not one to be discouraged, I decided that when life gave me uninspiring lemongrass, I could make lemonade, or at least an honest-to-goodness “Y”. Without thinking I elongated the “stem” of my flower, and now had the beginnings of a word. The same muddy crayon easily multiplied this zygote of a thought into “You.”

Word complete, I decided to go for broke and make a sentence. I had a subject, so why not add a predicate? Unwilling to think ahead but not wanting to draw myself into a corner, I went with the most general verb that I could think of, “are,” and hastily plopped it in the same lazy scrawl to the bottom of the card. The sentence was grammatically complete, but I realized that I now shouldered a heavy burden. Telling somebody what they are is something not to be done lightly. Even when complimenting people, I tend to avoid it. “You look pretty today!” or, “You smell nice!” and even when not using some conjugation of “to be” would be too awkward, I can at least contract it: “You’re good at this!” I had committed a full word to “are” and anything that followed it would necessarily carry some weight.  There’s an ambiguity with “to be” in English in that it can be interpreted either to indicate permanence or transience. Spanish does a better job distinguishing these two notions with estar and ser (also drawing seemingly arbitrary distinctions between them when describing the weather or other weirdly grammatically cordoned-off domains), but English leaves it up to the listener’s imagination. I had never met the imaginary person who would be reading my card, so what business did I have telling them what they were? I could cop out and make a present progressive (“You are reading this card!” *snicker*) but that seemed really lame and unlikely to brighten the day of whoever my unlucky recipient was to be. What would I want to be told I was? Could I leverage the permanence of “are,” make a value judgement that lay in the realm of possibility, and simultaneously spread cheer and love? After discarding “so special” and “really neat,” I settled upon “loved” and I decided that I could make it true. Whoever received my card, I would love them, indeed, already did. I pitied them a little, too, that they should receive my card, and not the handsome, aesthetic gift one of my tablemates crafted, but ugly card or not, what I could offer was love, and isn’t that what Valentine’s Day is all about? Satisfied with the sentence, I adhered some other prefab cuteness in the form of stickers to my card and tossed it in the box where finished product went, feeling more confident that I could make some contribution to the group’s effort.

Picking up steam, I moved on to my next charm. I had had such good luck following my random idea to draw a flower/Y I decided to ask the stochasticity generator in my brain to give me another random image. Embarrassingly, it came back with a Venn Diagram.

Alright, I can draw a Venn Diagram. Maybe the circles won’t be shapely, but at least I can draw it, and if I color it maybe it will look cool and deco to somebody. My hands strayed from the Platonic form in my head, but when they were finished it did look kind of like a Venn Diagram, but I was somewhat worried by how narrow the overlap was. Casting aside my concerns, I colored it. This time I had started with white paper so as to not immediately render half of my crayon palette redundant to my colorblind eye, so I lit it up with blues and yellows. When I was finished, I saw what had disturbed when it had merely been an outline. Rendered in color, the narrow overlap in the middle looked more like a slit, a narrow opening that, when set between two ovals seemed sexual and dirty. My Rorshach approach had come back to bite me in the ass as the only thing I could see in my Venn Diagram was a vagina.

Panicking, I scraped for things to turn my dirty Venn Diagram into. Sticking with fertility, I thought I could do a birds and the bees theme, which was a nod to my original, dirty interpretation of my art, but had much greater potential for cuteness. The Venn Diagram would not have made a flight worthy bird, so instead I made it a butterfly, and it actually came out pretty well. That just left a bee, and for the first time, I knew exactly what I wanted to draw before I started.

It came out fantastic! The bee was innocent and charming, trying its best, in its awkward way, to make you smile, and served as a weird self-portrait of its creator. As the bee tugged at my heart strings, I realized that although I was not likely to move anyone to tears with the beauty of my art, at the very least I could settle for sweet and make an honest attempt to create something that would make somebody happy. I hope that whoever got my cards experienced some small pleasure when looking at them. I know that that bee was hard to part with, so it had better be magneted to somebody’s refrigerator right now, offering its innocent charm to the beholder.

If I’m going to fail at something anyway, I might as well do it cutely.

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February 16, 2010 - Posted by | Personal | , , , , , , , , ,

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