Clearing Out

My friend, Ivan Pacheco came by this morning.  We’d planned this meeting a week ago to work on his website and to do a kind of  ‘clearing’ exercise for me.  I was excited about the ‘clearing’ part because of my  recent problems with the Bruja.  The exercise was not about that but I figured, what the heck, it couldn’t hurt.

I saw Ivan a couple of days before my run-in with the Bruja.  We were talking about other things when he stopped and said, ‘You have a good strong heart but it is surrounded by rock.’   Of course, he was speaking in Spanish so I assumed this was a basic ‘you are a good guy’ type of compliment, laced in Spanish expression.

‘Funny, ‘I said, trying to make a joke, ‘My X-Wife claims I only have the rock!’

‘No,’ replied Ivan, ‘I mean it – you have rock around your heart.’ Hmm, I thought.  This guy is a brilliant artist but outside his studio you’d probably think he was an auto mechanic.  Now he’s talking like some kind of Shaman.  He went on . . .

‘We are going to take all of the good things in your heart, the love the creativity, the caring, the beauty, and we are going to make a tea of it for you to drink.’

‘Will that take care of my rock problem?’ I asked.

‘Yes, of course.’

He grabbed a napkin and asked someone for a pen . . . ok, we were in a bar.  Then he interviewed me.  They were stupid high school questions about favorite colors, vegetables and fruits but also about favorite places and most prized possessions.  The interview was actually quite detailed and he took occasional brief notes.  Then he grabbed another napkin and made a list 1,2.3 . . .

‘This is your list,’he said, sliding it over toward me.  ‘You need to get all of these things and have them at your house when I come by next Saturday morning.’

It was most of the ‘favorite’ things I’d mentioned in the interview:  A beet, grapefruit, fig, pear, carrot juice and so on but also included red and blue paint, a box of 8 Crayolas, pictures of Homer and a couple of things I value (there really are only a couple . . . I’m not much of thing person), and 8 sheets of paper, of two different types and in a couple of specific sizes.  It was all very mysterious.

He showed up right on time: 10 am – a rarity for Ivan.  We got the website work out of the way and then got into the heart project.  I’d gotten everything including the fresh carrot juice, made just 30 minutes before he arrived.  (Carrot juice is always best within an hour or so of creation.  After that it’s pretty blah.)

He had me take a bite of the fig, and the pear . . . and then he had me cut them up into a bowl.  I also cut up the grapefruit and added some of it, then a few bits of beet.  He went over to the kitchen and added most of the mix to a pot of boiling water.  The balance he worked over good with a potato rasher.  He returned with that part in a bowl and told me to hold it close to my face and just breathe it, the aroma.

It was a wonderful scent dominated by the pear and the fig but brightened by the grapefruit.  It smelled like November in Pennsylvania to me, like it was when I was a kid.  Cold outside, grey, maybe even snowing, windows foggy and a fire in the fireplace.  Fall spices in the air from something baking in the kitchen.  I used to love to sit in the window seat on days like that coloring in my book.

Now Ivan was back with a tee shirt.  He put it over my head and positioned it so I could not see.  I imagined I looked like some kind of hostage sitting there at my table.  In a moment he was back with something . .. . that he put under my nose.  It was steaming hot and had the same kind of aroma but much stronger and more powerful with the added heat and steam.  It was the tea.  He had me inhale that for awhile and then, exposing my mouth, had me take a few sips.  It was delicious!  Really delicious!

He’d positioned one of the big pieces of paper in front of me and helped me find its edges by moving my left hand around it.  ‘This is North,’moving, ‘East,’ moving, ‘South’ moving, ‘And West.   Your left had will be your eyes.’ And he put it in the ‘East’ position, upper left corner.  Then he took my right hand and put two of the crayolas in it, the red and the blue – two of my favorite colors.

‘You are going to fill this page with whatever your heart tells you to do.  Use your left hand as your eyes, let it guide you.  Try not to run off the page.  Use big broad strokes, whatever you feel.’ Blindfolded, I couldn’t see, but I heard him walk away as I placed the two crayons in my right hand in what I thought was the center of the paper.

I moved my right hand around and across, up and down,  I imagined myself going almost to the edge on each side, my left hand poised in the upper left corner watching to make sure I didn’t.  I worked and worked . . .and then I stopped.  I was through.  Ivan was there to take the crayons from me.  Then he took the tee shirt off my head.  The light from the window over my table blasted through turning everything blistering white for a moment.  But then my drawing came into focus.

2The only word for it is meager.  It was SMALL.  Great bands of white space surrounded it on all sides.  And in the middle was this tangled mess of lines that seemed to go in every direction and then in no direction at all.  ‘It’s very constricted,’ I said.

‘Yes,’ he agreed, ‘You need to let go.  Quit trying to tell the crayons what to do.  They know.  And USE your eyes!’

Back on went the blindfold and once again I pushed an pulled and floated across the paper.  I was so bold that at one point I felt the crayon leave the page and go off on the table.  Ha!  this one would be bigger.  This one would be better.  But when the blindfold came off . . . it was almost identical to the one that went before:  great white gutters around a tight tangle of lines . . . with one line racing off the side of the paper and then coming back to the safety of the center.  Hmmmm.

Ivan took the red and blue crayons from me and this time gave me only one:  black. ‘Once more,’he said’,’But this time I want you to guide your right hand with your eyes.  Let your eyes, your left hand, lead your right around the page.’ That was new.  I’d kept the left hand in the ‘East’ position the previous two times and it had failed me miserably.  Now I was going to relax and let it lead me.  Very good.

P10803831When the blindfold came off, I saw a page filled with big, broad, lyrical stokes that almost hit the edge on all sides but somehow managed to stay in bounds.  There was a simplicity about this drawing that I liked a lot – very different from the tangle of lines in the previous two attempts.  We did two more drawings with just black, each just as interesting as the first.

Ivan took each of the three black drawings and put them, one at a time in front of me.  He started by orienting each one in the way it was painted:  up was up and down was down.  Then he’d rotate the piece 90 degrees and then 90 degrees more.  With each rotation he wanted to know what I saw.  People, objects and situations were there and were different with each orientation.  In each of the three pieces, there was something that called to me strongly, and that was the orientation we chose to use.

I did most of the talking at this point, mostly responding to Ivan’s questions.  But he did inject himself into the discussion a time or two, pointing out something I didn’t see or putting a different spin on what I did.  I won’t go into the details here; it was all pretty personal.  I will say that my drawings brought into focus issues I’ve dealt with all my life.  You know:  those kinds of things.

I was really into this project by this point and had entered the somewhat altered state that comes when you shut everything out and just focus.  It was time for the big paper and the paint.

Ivan had me sit on the floor in front of a large piece of paper.  He put the tube of red acrylic paint in my right hand and the tube of cerulean blue in my left.  ‘You are going to use the paint directly from the tube to make these next two drawings,’ he said.  ‘You can paint with your fingers, your fists, whatever, or you can just paint with what comes out of the tube. No brushes.’

The blindfold went back on and I took a minute to explore the surface of the page with the butts of my hands.  Then I started, first with blue.  I squeezed a line on the paper, on the left, in the middle then followed with several arcs to the right.  I emphasized each stroke with my fingers. Then I changed hands and colors and enveloped what I had done in red.  I worked quickly and pulled my hands up when they seemed to say ‘It’s Finished.’

The result was remarkable.  Flipped on end it had distinct people, faces and situations in it.  It was 4all there and it seemed to be telling a story.  There was a child’s face inside an adult’s face, one happy, one sad.  There was a person with wings.  And then there were my hands: absolutely covered with bright red and blue paint which was drying quickly.  I went to wash up before the final piece.

There’s not much more to say about that last one because it was much like the one that went before, only clearer, less sloppy.  Funny, though I paint all the time and even sometimes use the  ‘A’ word when describing myself (Artist), I had not finger painted since, oh, third grade or something.  It is wonderful to have that kind of contact with the media you are using, to feel your way through a painting.

Ivan handed me the original list.  It was full of things I love.  And then he asked me to tell him what I had learned.  Of course, there were a few heavy lessons, but what I was surprised to discover was that I felt normal for the first time in a week.  The pain and discomfort in my abdomen was gone.  And my head was clear, too.  Somehow this exercise seemed to take care of my Bruja problem at least for now.

Before we started, Ivan and I talked about the Comparsa, the parade, the party, the woman with the mezcal and its aftermath.  I showed him pictures of the Bruja.  First he was upset with me for having accepted food or drink from someone I didn’t know.  I guess he’s right.  But as he studied the woman’s picture he started talking about a good Bruja he knows in town.  He said she could counteract anything this other one did.  He would take me to her if I wanted.  In other words: he thought there might be something to this whole Bruja story.  ‘Let’s see how I feel in a day or so,’ I said.  And now that my exercise was over I was feeling pretty good.  Just hungry.

I remembered there was a big dance festival going on in Parque Llano a couple of blocks away and there were vendors set up selling food from some of the distant pueblos in the Sierras.  I remembered seeing a sign for Iguana Tacos.

‘Hey,’I said, ‘You ever eat Iguana?’

‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘Delicious!’

‘What does it taste like?’I asked.

He thought for a moment.  ‘Chicken.’

And so we left to see some dancing and eat an Iguana Taco.



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