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July 2014

We had two dogs at that house and they both died before we moved; one fell in a swimming pool and got sick from the exposure, the other ran after a car while my sister and I were playing in the front yard and I watched him get run over. I was three and I can still hear his yelp.


The writing is paused because I sense some insight is lingering in those dog memories but getting there is like deciding to go after that little end of the splinter that breaks off deep in the finger. I don't know what technique it will take to get these thoughts out. To make matters worse, whenever I try some instinct inside me contracts and shuts me out. Fear? Am I protecting myself? From what? I'll stay with my breath and let you know what I find.



Summer days slipping by...

The moment of death for that puppy under the wheel of the car was an awakening for me. I was too young to know what was happening and did not sense any danger. One moment I was excitedly kicking a ball with my sister, the next a car, a yelp, a lady crying, my mother rushing about, going away and coming home without the puppy. Of course I felt shock but in my three year old mind the emotions passed quickly. What didn't go away was my lifelong connection to the puppy through that memory.

In the instant the dog lost its life, I *knew* at a low level everything I could about what had occurred and what I keep asking myself is, "How was that reality transmitted?"

I never cried for that dog until today. Why has that helped? What was released? How can such strong emotion remain stored inside me for so long? What influence on my reasoning, intuition, and compassion has this undigested emotional experience had on my attitudes and decisions throughout my life?


What I'm finding out is that it takes much more time than I expected to process memories that are anchored in strong emotional experiences. Memories like weeds whose taproots have grown deep, the soil around them hardened; I can't pull them without altering the fabric of my personality, without changing the relationship of my self to my past. I have started transplanting them to a richer context where they can be viewed from a more mindful perspective, not just through a child's eyes. When the memory comes out there are the facts to consider, the state of the world, my age when it happened, and then I have to identify the filter of whatever I can see back through the tunnel of time from now until then.

As I said, it takes time.

When I began my drawing practice in 1999 I hoped to make a drawing every day but even with discipline it took years to let go of the fear and just draw. So now I am learning the rhythms of writing and trusting my voice.






I wouldn't exactly call it writer's block but the pressures that have kept me from writing for the past few days include: impatience, unrealistic comparisons, sticking too closely to what I hoped this new piece of writing would be thus causing forced storytelling, and not being open enough to accept and document all the thoughts that are actually emerging around the memories.

Another certainty: remembering is nonlinear.

I had some idea a week ago that this unfolding story would be a memoir because it started at my birth. I could easily recount memorable anecdotes with mindful commentary, self aggrandizing, confessing all from birth to now. No such luck - I can't force this narrative through that tunnel - my thoughts won't follow a line, my memories evoke related memories and unless I stop, divert, and cover the branches of that rhizomatic trail, what I write would not only be predictable but something greater would be lost. Settling for a linear narrative limits uncertainty and does not allow a larger story to emerge.

And I know from making drawings that these moments of emergence from uncertainty are where mysteries reveal themselves. We don't want to miss those moments.

So I am on the winding path again, back to the day when I was three, standing in the street, back to back with my sister, my mother in the yard, a ball being kicked, and the tragedy that followed. The first non-linear branch is in the present. My parents visited me here in upstate NY a week or so ago, coincidentally just around the days that the puppy incident was published. We had a discussion of what details we could remember from each of our own points of view. My mother remembered it much the same way I did, especially how emotional the lady driving the car got. The discussion set off a kind of parallel vibration in my mind between emotions from the day it happened and the day we discussed it. I had the briefest of thoughts that somehow my consciousness was in touch with itself through that remembering. My fantasy is that memory is not just recalled facts and sensory information; but in fact when things happen we become entangled with them, we store that entangled state, and access those entangled particles through our brains to activate, communicate, and exchange feelings across time.

See what I'm saying about nonlinearity?


John Cage ...once told me, 'When you start working everybody
is in your studio - the past, your friends, enemies, the art
world, and above all, your own ideas - all are there. But as
you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you
are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave.'

Philip Guston speaking on 'The Philadelphia Panel', transcribed
in It Is, no.5, Spring 1960, pp.36-8.


For every movement, two in return.





It seems to be quite a bit about surprise
About not knowing what the outcome will be

This anomalous memory has lingered in my mind for years. I thought I was remembering a dream, since the margins are fuzzy, but, unlike a dream, the details persist and my mother has confirmed the facts; so I believe this happened when I was 4 or 5 years old.

It begins like a dream, arising from a mist, I try to wake up, I am groggy, anxious, and in some sort of hospital room, I hear voices, adults talking, I am being put on a table, made to sit up and lean forward, I am cold, my back is bare, hands hold me, I feel something cold, a needle is poked into my back. At that moment my perception shifts and I am looking down on the scene, from high above, I see everyone in the room, I see myself below, on the table, surrounded by people. I linger in that space for a timeless second or two.

The memory that follows is bright and crisp by comparison, sharp colors, smells, sounds, and the feel of my sheets; all vivid. I am wide awake, my sister and mother are coming into my room bringing in a new game, they are smiling and excited. Later that evening my father comes into the room and sits on the bed, he agrees to play the game which thrills me. It is a complicated game. a green plastic board with voodoos and a witch doctor, some sort of contraption that is triggered, I remember the metal pins that are part of the game's strategy...

[By the miracle of the internet I have located a description of the game! It is called "Voodoo Doll Game for Boys and Girls (1967)" ]

My father arranges for me to win dramatically just in time for supper. I am happy for the attention but still confused about what occurred the night before.

When I was a teenager these memories resurfaced and I recounted the hospital scene to my mother who remembered the incident. She said that I had a high fever and they could not wake me up so the pediatrician met us at the hospital. The doctors suspected meningitis and preformed a spinal tap, which was negative, so I must have had a bad flu.

In my forties, while sitting in meditation, the whole incident came back to me clearly, and it finally dawned on me that, for those few delirious moments in the exam room, I had experienced the world from a point of view outside my body.





"Because, what you'll notice, what happens is, as you get to each new plane of understanding of 'how it is', you look back, and you'll write your whole biography entirely differently."

Ram Dass (a.k.a. Richard Alpert) - from a public talk at Hunter College, 1970