Now this is the law of the jungle
As old and as true as the sky
The wolf that shall keep it may prosper
But the wolf that shall break it must die
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk
The law runneth forward and back
For the strength of the pack is the wolf
And the strength of the wolf is the pack.
Last night was Art Club. I really like Art Club- even though I can barely hold a paintbrush. My talent lies with the written word, not with tubes of paint. The good news is that Art Club doesn’t care. They let me come anyway, and I get to spend hours in a real artist’s studio, just doodling or staring off into space. It’s also a very low pressure social situation, and it’s helping me make new friends out in the real world. Plus, last night they had gluten-free yogurt covered pretzels. So really, Art Club is a win all around.
But not always.
At Art Club two weeks ago, I felt like an imposter. Everyone else painted beautiful pictures, made mixed media collages, or hodge-podged papers, while I sat and stared at a blank canvas or fought with a temperamental vintage typewriter. I had found a scrap of wallpaper that looked like a cross between animal skin and tree bark, and typed a poem onto it. I’d also found a rectangular piece of canvas-covered wood. I figured the paper and the canvas would look good together, but I couldn’t figure out how. I spent most of the evening isolated from the others, growing more and more frustrated with myself.
I ended up leaving that night with a blank piece of canvas and my scrap of wallpaper.
But last night was different. As I drove to the studio, I had a minor epiphany (yeah, I know. I’m prone to epiphanies. Bear with me here). I realized that the reason I am so bad at art was because I am so good at forcing perfection. I can’t let myself go, because I might make a mistake and ruin a canvas, or use too much glue, or spill blue paint on the studio’s fluffy white muppet of a dog. But art isn’t about perfection- the exact opposite, actually. (Except painting the dog- that’s always frowned on).
So, being the well-trained social scientist that I am, I decided to conduct an experiment. I would make myself draw, with well-defined pencil strokes, something on my canvas that night. I would have to add color, I would have to figure out a use for the wallpaper and the poem, and I would have to leave with a finished art-type product. Those were the rules.
I kind of hate myself sometimes.
I sat down at the table in the studio and I picked up a pair of scissors. I cut apart the words of the poem into phrases and single words. I replaced the misspelled words with proper spellings, and laid the poem out on my canvas. Then I picked up my phone and consulted Google Images for a picture of a jungle tree.
Then I made myself start drawing.
It kind of, sort of, looked like a tree. With winding roots. Almost.
The artist who runs Art Club came up to me at one point and asked what I was working on. I meekly explained that I was creating a background for my poem, and she asked what poem I had chosen.
It’s from The Jungle Book, I said.
Oh? The artist asked.
Yep, I said. AND THEN I STARTED SAYING IT.
You guys- I haven’t quoted poetry to anyone since I was 8 years old and it was a school requirement to pass 3rd grade.
Then an even weirder thing happened.
As I said the words of the poem, a new meaning sprang into my mind. The pack cannot exist without the wolf, but the wolf is nothing without its pack. It may be the law of the jungle, but it’s also the law of life. My family wouldn’t be my family without me (they’d be someone else’s family). I also wouldn’t be anybody without my family (because they’re the only ones who tolerate my crazy). The same is true for my friends. They’re my pack, and without them, I’m not much.
It was big moment for someone who generally avoids being out among people. (I told you I was prone to epiphanies).
It doesn’t actually change anything, since it didn’t make me suddenly willing to go out every night, but it did bring a deeper and more personal meaning to a poem I’ve loved for many years. It also inspired this blog post.
Oh, and my experiment was a success. I made an art-type product.
An art-type product? Definitely. Anything else? No, probably not. But still cool to me.
And it’s now hanging on my bedroom wall, right across from my autographed picture of Tom Felton.