One morning, before going to school — I guess I needed the silence of mornings back then too — I started drawing on a large pad made for such a purpose. The paper was thick and slightly rough so that the graphite would come off the pencil and stick to the surface. I drew my own hand, my left hand. I drew it with great love apparently because the result was life-like. I was stunned.
I had never tried to draw before except the scrawls you make as a kid with a yellow sun and a blue house. But there it was, my own hand on the page, surprisingly rugged and wise before its time. I went to school that day carrying a secret: I had discovered art inside me. Or maybe it had discovered me. Maybe, I thought, I would draw my way through life.
In the end, it was a passing fancy. I didn’t continue drawing in any serious way and the few sallies I made after that, fizzled out unsatisfactorily in crumpled pieces of paper. Never again did I draw like that first time. (By the way, that first drawing was lost long ago, so you will have to take my word for its preternatual quality.)
However, what did persist was another sort of art that flowed, also from my hand: writing.
Handwriting is the dance of the hand. Words flow from your mind down through your arms via your sinews and into your fingers. Every word is experienced as a physical impulse, a minuscule dance.
I love the process of writing by hand. The computer keyboard has intervened in many daily tasks but I still start every day writing by hand in my journal.
It’s a habit that’s hard to break and one that comforts me.
On my first day working as a journalist for The Daily Californian in Berkeley, California, I had to find a vacant office in the advertising department in order to write my first story. Though the newsroom was filled with glistening, battle-ready KayPro computers, I couldn’t write on them; I had to do it longhand. Afterwards I had to knock it out on the computer so that it could enter the editing process and then typesetting. While I knew how to type, I did not know how to compose ideas without pen in hand. My editor found this quaint and humored me. But eventually the contempt of the other journalists obliged me to learn to write directly on a computer.
But I didn’t like it.
And while this morning I am writing on a computer, the original spark for this piece and the scenes that came to mind emerged from jotting ideas down in my notebook, by hand.
Without a notebook, I don’t know how to think.
It is surprising to me to realize how much of life I perceive and process through my hands. Maybe that’s why I could draw a portrait of my hand in a way that I have never drawn anything before or since.
I would rather give up my sense of sight than my sense of touch. Many times during the day I close my eyes even if I am wide awake. When I do yoga or go to ballet class, I close my eyes as much as possible. If I am following in tango, I do the same. For some, the dark is a prerequisite for making love. In short, when I am most connected to my body, I have the urge to turn off the distractions that come in through my eyes and just feel.
I am perhaps addicted to touch. I suspect all tango dancers are down deep. We say we are enamored of the dance, but it is the touch that keeps us coming back.
At a luncheon at a swank hotel, the President of Argentina is soon to speak. A perky journalist from an Argentine media outlet is seated beside me. She regularly punctuates our conversation by placing her hand on my thigh, sending an electric shock though my body. Even under the barrage of her attack, I have enough wits about me to realize that it is a case of mistaken identity: she has confused me with a potential source who can provide her with privileged information of some sort, something I know I can never do because I am so low on the food chain at the organization.
Still, I marvel at the effect a mere 75cm2 of flesh placed on the thigh at strategic intervals. We are all so hungry to be touched. It comes as no surprise when I later see the woman’s face plastered on billboards around the city promoting her new TV show. She knew how to to get her story. She knew the power of touch.
I was walking with you, arm in arm, by a train track when you stopped to kiss me beneath a tree, in the shadows. You surprised me. Pleasantly. People passed. Other couples. Loners walking their dogs, alone. The sidewalk was narrow and there was that bulging tree trunk. They brushed us as they passed but you did not care. We were kissing. No excuses, no apologies. Just a long, slow kiss.
I write about it now and I can feel your kiss all over again in the jig of my fingers as the words come careening down my sinews and make their final, desperate leap for the page and that elusive promise of salvation that it holds.