Mapping with Crayons
By Jon Keppel
I used to snap crayons and imagine that that was what it felt like for God to break people’s necks. To me it felt cathartic and so it made me wonder, did God practice catharsis? Of course you could use the crayon after it was broken but it never felt the same in your hand. It did not alter the quality of the color that the crayon would make but it did alter the utensil’s standing as an object. It changed the handling so to speak.
I had been give the suggestion of a coloring book upon attempting to recover from depression and found the notion to be absolutely vexing. Coloring was supposed to be calming but I kept finding myself surrounded by halved crayons and a mostly untouched coloring book.
Of course people were not objects, not really. Sure they could be objectified but in the end there was a quality to human life that transcended the idea of being simply a thing among things. There was a whole stew of feelings and psychosis that went into everything from tying a shoe to professing love and all that ambiguous mush in-between that fueled the spurting and sometimes comical theatre of life.
I have always wondered what it is that makes the world tick in this way as a kind of chimera. Actors and entities, people and places, emerge quite literally out of nowhere. The paradox of being in perpetual motion while at the same time never leaving your body, or the earth for that matter, was one that I would come to consider many times over. Sometimes that thought haunted me while at others it felt like a miracle. This juxstapositioning of seemingly contradictory ideas was something that would become a theme in my life. It was the idea of holding diametrically opposed ideas in your head and heart at the same time.
I remember taking a comparative religions course at university that had me contemplating a whole host of different belief systems: hinduism, buddhism, taoism, shintoism, jainism and on and on. The instructor of the class had spent time with a Navajo Indian tribe as a part of his research and that seemed so exotic to me. It was funny to me that that which was most exotic could in fact be the most native as well. It makes me think of how so much of the ocean is as yet unexplored, housing creatures of outrageously alien shapes and formulations giving the depths of space a real run for its money. Nevertheless, an ocean is a thing that we are used to seeing on a map and once something is on a map we feel more attuned to it because in a way it has been defined simply by entering our consciousness.
The act of naming something whether an ocean or a person seems to in a very real way bring something into being and yet at the same time blocks its potential as a so-called natural phenomenon, one that enters the senses with no preconceived notions or judgements similar to the way the avant garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage described a baby seeing grass for the first time. There is no conceptual filtration of the world but instead an intuitive encounter with the awesome power and mystery of nature.
After my breakdown it was recommended that I take up coloring as a way of calming myself down. It was a practice in peace. I remember how when I got out of college I got involved with working at a call center for a roadside assistance company and that we were asked to color a character in a coloring book to represent us on a goals chart that was prominently placed at the front of the office. I thought it was an insult to be asked to color a page from a coloring book after completing a four year degree in art but that was what the universe asked of me.
The universe asked me many a strange thing over the course of my lifetime, things that never seemed to make much sense, even in the grand scheme of things. I had always worked hard in school and prided myself on getting mostly A’s and some B’s. I grew up believing that if you worked hard for something you would be rewarded for it. But as my life unfolded that premise did not seem to hold up.
I eventually quit that job like I quit many other jobs. I did this with drinks too. Not alcoholic drinks but regular sodas and juices. I was always leaving half emptied bottles of this or that in the refrigerator, abandoned because I did not care enough for it to finish it or because the thrill of opening it had all too soon faded or perhaps it was just because I was plain full.
I had had as many jobs in my life as there are crayons in a crayon box. I would just pick ones out so to speak and use a little bit of this one and then a little bit of that one and then put it back in the box or simply snap it. There was no semblance of a career. I tried to make a career out of being an artist but you have to create art in order to do that and after the learning that you do not necessarily get what you work for I found it difficult to carry any project to full fruition because of an innate hopelessness.
Ironically it was hopelessness that brought me to spirit. Spirit with a small “s” and Spirit with a capital “s” as I think they are probably one in the same thing. At some point I just sort of dropped off the map so to speak. I lost direction so to speak and then I thought the idea of direction itself. For years I existed in a haze of doctors visits, prescription medicine and odd jobs that really only had one thing in common…me.