Who doodles at a writing conference?

May 31st, 2014, 5pm

Yesterday was a beautiful day in Oregon. You know the kind, sun’s out, temperature in the mid-70s, the occasional cotton-ball cloud sauntering across the sky. The kind of weather that gets every dog a walk, where picnics explode on grassy hills like flowers blooming in a stop-motion montage, a day where laughter bounces off trees and buildings throughout the state. Yes, it was a gorgeous day and I was right where I wanted to be: in a classroom on the second floor of the Gregory Forum building on the Clackamas Community College campus.

I love writing conferences. I never feel more at home than when surrounded by writers. My first trip to AWP was this year in Seattle. I remember walking around the convention center, glimpsing friends from around the country and authors whose work I love, and thinking, “these are my people.” And now, this, an all-day conference less than an hour from home, with workshops and presentations from ten a.m. to four p.m. Yesssssssssssss.

I got some great prompts and starts to pieces I plan to flush out. I absorbed information about publishing, got exposed to new authors I want to read, and watched a purple-caned, floppy-hatted beautiful witch perform magic on the paper towel dispenser in the restroom. She was the only one who could get it unstuck, I watched five different people try throughout the day, and even tried myself a couple times.

Among the poetic descriptions and introspective lines I wrote yesterday were two lil’ doodles that I have since fallen in love with. The first, pictured above, is a donut-hole-bodied lil’ person in crisis. His mouth is flatline and his speech bubble says, “I feel empty inside.” He is the second hole punch in my notebook. I drew him at the end of the day, while listening to statistics on self-publishing. He was supposed to be a visual pun, a little funny in my zen doodle moment, but he managed to make me a little sad, instead. So, I drew three spikes of hair on top of his head, hoping their awkward angles would give him a sillier feel. Nope, still lonely-sad. But I shouldn’t have worried, because soon my pen had drawn him a companion around the third hole punch. this lil’ one was all smiles and hopeful misinterpretations. He said, “Me, too, wanna’ go have dinner?”

I giggled. Just once, then silently giggled for a few seconds. I elbowed my husband and showed him the hole punch duo. He chuckled. This was better. This felt more balanced. This was representational of the conversations in my head. Overwhelming sadness countered by optimistic potential resolutions to the problem. These two lil’ dudes on my paper described my battle with depression and mood swings in a handful of ink lines and words. Fake it til you make it is a real coping strategy. It can work.

I kept coming back to these two after the conference. I’d look at them and smile, have more realizations about what they meant to me. There was a reflection of my old tendency to eat as an emotional response, the fact that lil’ guy #2 came as a direct response to lil’ guy #1, the fact that I felt the need to fix the sadness somehow that lil guy #1 felt and how that was in direct contradiction to the idea of sitting with an emotion, and on and on. Oh, I can analyze things to death. It’s a hobby.

I have always been a big believer in creative expression. I have spent a good chunk of my life doing workshops and programs to get different options for creative expression to people that might not otherwise take the time or have the opportunity. I believe that every art form has its own place. I know that when I paint or doodle or collage or take photographs, I can express things that words have a hard time pinning down. I know that when I play music or sing I tap into a primal place within me that feels very connected to everything around me. Writing is my first love, my main choice for expression, but every now and then a couple of stick figures with big round empty torsos show up and remind me that parts of myself sneak out into whatever I create. That the act of creation can spark a cathartic response. That you may have no intent in the moment of creation, but you can build beautiful meanings from it afterward.

Paul, Shu, Sanna and David Wade said thanks.

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Jessica Standifird

Mom, wife, writer, photographer, performer, musician.

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