Last week, I made a presentation in my friend Dylan Eret’s class in Humanities at the community college where I teach. The subject was Illness Narratives, and I spoke about my surgery and the creative process I engaged in in order to write my memoir. To help students get a real feeling for this creative process, I asked the students to think about a scar or scars that they have. It could be a real scar or an emotional scar. I asked them to draw one or however many of them. Then I asked students to write words associated with the scar. The words did not necessarily have to tell a story. They could write associatively, that is, whatever words or phrases that came up. Writing the narrative was also an option–the story of the scar in sentences as in first this happened, then that. To complete the exercise, I suggested that they pair up to discuss the image or images that they’d drawn. (They could also choose not to.) It was wonderful to watch the students busily engage in drawing, writing and sharing.
In order to write my memoir, I made a series of pastel drawings. The first was of my face as I was about to embark on writing about my experience of infant surgery. My face was one of confusion and terror. I was about to enter my scar so-to-speak, and I was flooded with fear. After two or three drawings, I made one of my scar, a wispy representation. The pictures that followed were full of the color red. One drawing depicted me as a baby, a huge knife slicing into my belly. In it, my eye looks dislocated from consciousness–very eery–a dead eye but alive. One of the final series of fifteen or so drawings shows a large orange egg split in half by black lightning. I wrote words on many of the drawings or on the opposite side of the drawing. After sharing these pictures with several close friends and talking about what they represented to me, my memoir began to unfold, released or catalyzed by the process of artistic expression. Images drawn unlock story; words can then create narrative.