within the lines

Lucy inspires me. Really she does, and in concrete ways too. This morning, I washed and hung the kitchen rug and an old blanket of Lucy’s out in the balcony to dry, and then settled down to do some reading outside. As the sun climbed higher in the sky and began to shine directly at the balcony, I retreated back inside, but Lucy decided to do a spot of sunbathing. I watched her from my desk at the door, very happy that she is at last getting over her fear of being in the balcony, thinking about how my own enjoyment of the space and a few well administered treats may have helped her along the way.At the same time, I was distractedly contemplating the article I was reading, about Autistm and proprioceptivity, and the following memories and resultant thoughts flooded my mind.

“Colour within the lines!” That was what my art teacher at school used to tell me, most sternly, and one met with serious repercussions if one failed to do as told. Alas, my uncooperative proprioceptive and visual quirks made this extremely difficult at the time, and strangely distasteful too. I mean, it ‘tasted wrong,’ I remember feeling somewhat physically repulsed by the concept and activity of colouring within prescribed lines. Why, I do not know. Needless to say, I failed miserably at the exercise, and met with dire consequences.

I was told that I would never make a good artist if I couldn’t or wouldn’t colour within the lines. I was also told that I was defiant. Well, many other classmates far less artistically inclined could colour perfectly within the lines, so why couldn’t I? Of course, I was punished and mocked. That was almost 40 years ago. It is over now. I supposed my teacher never dreamed for a moment that this child would someday, albeit late in the day, become a Ph.D scholar and a practising multi-artist. So, I suppose the last laugh is mine, and I can chuckle generously at the absurdity of that teacher’s ominous prophecy. However, some things that adults in authority say to differently abled children do sometimes leave behind long lasting residue.

No, I could not colour within the lines. Somehow, my entire body felt revulsion at that activity, and my mind resisted the very notion. Firstly, the ‘lines’ were the skeletal framework of some horribly ugly pictorial representations, which triggered a bitter taste in my mouth. The said ugly lines seemed to be jiggling around on the page, laughing at me. To make matters worse, during art class, my eyes wandered away from the prescribed colour combinations, and I found myself gravitating towards mixes and syntheses which my teacher violently objected to. My preferred textures were either too watery or too thick, never just right, according to her expert opinion. The ‘lines’ always turned out fuzzy, blurry, bleeding, palpably vibrating sonic buzzes. The frustration was that I knew instinctively that she was wrong, and I was right, yet, I was unable to persuade her to see anything from my vantage point.

Then, on a related tangent to the colouring within lines, there was and still is, the mysterious problem with the paintbrush. Attempts at blind obedience to instructions were easier when the medium was coloured pencils. All hell broke loose when it came to painting, though. Proprioceptive and sensory quirkiness probably contributed to a strange inability to wield a paintbrush. I was folding origami, following the visual diagrams in my mother’s books, at the age of 3, before I could read the instructions. I loved doodling and had no problems using pen and pencils. In fact, my penmanship was excellent, something I took great pride in. So it was not a matter of lacking fine motor skills. However, I felt strangely inept when a paintbrush was in my hand. It felt like a loose limb, something that flopped around disobediently, something not attached to me, I couldn’t make it do what I wanted, unlike pen and pencils, unlike origami paper. The recalcitrant wobbling made me nauseous, and the teacher’s admonishments made me afraid.

After a lot of contemplation, and of course, fuller knowledge of who and what I am, I now have a hypothesis that I would like to test out. Perhaps, wielding a paintbrush may be akin to the process of walking, whereby I need mitigation, to help with proprioceptive concentration and fluidity. When I walk, I need a song or anything with a repetitive rhythmic pattern in my mind, to help my body perform the complex task of walking more or less in a straight path without tripping over my own feet. I’ve tripped over Lucy a few times, just because I was distracted and lost the rhythm that was playing in my head.

There is, of course, the toxic residue of that teacher’s mockery to deal with. Fear knows little logic, especially when that fear is an ingrained one stemming from an unpleasant childhood experience. However, at this stage in my life, I do think that that particular fear is less ominous a challenge than the proprioceptive oddity connected with manipulating a paintbrush. If I can find an attenuating agency for the task, I might just be able to master that quivery, precarious task. 🙂

Let’s get painting, Bunny!


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