Make art, they told us. Don’t think, just do! Our little group – all of us deemed malfunctioning in some manner – had looked on blankly. Some in defiance, most in actual blankness. Chosen mindlessness, that is. It’s possible here to immerse yourself in dream while appearing to otherwise function normally. Shift your mind to its chosen dreamstate and you’ll still blink, breathe, move and nod or shake your head as needed. When you’re being shuffled from room to room to do little more than sleep and eat and defecate, it’s a good way out. No thinking, no wondering. No remembering the doors we cannot pass, the world we cannot reach. Yet I refuse to do it. Apparently this is a manifestation of my reluctance to deny or accept reality as it is. Their reality, I would add. That’s how I’ve always thought of it.
My name is Martin. I’ve been a little unusual for as long as people have been pointing it out to me. Apparently I see things a little differently, but it makes people, other people, uncomfortable. They twitch and mumble, apologise and wander away. We don’t quite see each other, and that’s how it’s always been.
Our art class, then. A once-a-week, Thursday afternoon slot where we were led by the hand to a room of tables and paper, pencils and inks, paint pots and modelling clay. No chairs, though. There is a theory that seating leads to indolence, and they think that all aspects of our awareness need rekindling to their level of perception. Their limited, unseeing perception – but on such a mass scale that it’s normality. Trauma has upset how we see the world, they claim. And there’s more of them than us so they’re the law. The odds are stacked against us however you look at it – we’re a few, and no-one quite likes us or what we can say, or think. I’ve been slowly becoming more interested in what that means we can do differently, though. It’s a little explored area. I’m about to embark on a bit of discovery in this art class, sloughing the more habitual indifference. Indolence.
We’ve shuffled into a circle about the tables, a small deep-grained wooden surface in front of each of us and materials to hand. It’s another white room with softly curving walls, but this one has windows. Near the ceiling they’re open, letting in some air. I stare for a little while at the untouchable outdoors, assuming we’re not being shown projections. If it’s truly what’s out there then it looks as if there’s just ocean and sky. Flat grey ocean, faintly rippled grey sky. No rocks, no sunbeams, no buildings, no sign of anyone else. I’m not sure there are even many others holed up in this tall old building. Maybe it’s just us, forming a circle in this room.
One or two are so shifted out to dreamstate that they’ve had pencils placed in their hands, and they’re just doodling. It’s near automatic movement, just lines and spirals that curl off the page. Sometimes these are analysed or played back to the artiste Rorschach style, to see what they think of them. They’re just involuntary twitches though. The hand jerks one way or another because they thought of ice cream, of the grit in their shoe or of when a grasshopper chirped. Dreamstate isn’t complex or else the other functioning doesn’t happen. Just simple moments strung together, unchallenging and unchallenged. You can see why it’s attractive when you’re in a place like this. We’re held in a web of monotony, and seemingly if we even made it outside there’d be nowhere for us to go.
There’s only really two of us in the room, then, along with the tutor. My companion, a beetle-browed mutterer called John, has found some chalks. He doesn’t shift to dream much, just carries on as he is and mutters to himself. It never makes sense to the rest of us. There again that’s why we’re here – not one of us makes sense to anyone else.
John is blending tones in endless stripes across the page. He likes lines. He told me once that he likes it best when the lines merge and fade in and out of one another. Then he’d said that he’d told them this once and that they hadn’t liked it at all. I guessed I was missing some context, because that seemed a bit strange even for their minds. Nonetheless they let him work on these endless striped pages, and so he continued. Muttering. Unsettling our watchers, but only a little.
Some modelling clay lay on my table. I thought about it for a bit. What do they expect? I wondered. What can I make that’ll really put the cat amongst the stuffy ol’ pigeons?
The pigeons have some rather detailed tomes on how the world works, although they’re always revising it. Delving deeper, as far as I can tell – subdividing to an ever smaller scale and apparently never seeing the gelling whole. It struck me, at that moment, that perhaps they didn’t know about that. How everything came together, to my mind. It seemed like the kind of thing that would blur the lines, ruffle some feathers. I mentally shrugged. Might as well give it a try, I thought. They didn’t seem to have any idea of letting us out any time soon, and I wasn’t giving in to the dreamstate. Not yet, not until I had to.
Black and grey clays. I worked them with my fingers and palms, moulding pieces and blending them a little in places. Shades of grey. Formed curving shapes and little bent sticks. Sticks that became branches, worked onto fine strips of bark and a trunk. A tree was forming under my hands without my quite realising it. Small, stubby, looked as if it had grown up on the shore – weathered and beaten and saltstruck. I let the branches feather out, working steadily and surely. The tree spanned the space of a small globe with its outreaching limbs and roots. As if it were trying to take a breath, breathing, taking in one air and expelling another. Shifting nutrients and water and gas, only it was all clay. Tiny little particles of clay. So small they almost weren’t there.
Breathe! I thought suddenly. Under my fingers this little ensemble had come together and now – I felt it come alive. An extraordinary sensation ran through me. I could see it moving. It was shifting gently in the breeze that crossed the room, a current that blew right to the feet of the tutor. Just at that moment she looked up. She saw me, and my tree, and its soft impossible undulations. She saw us, and for the first time I’d ever known someone saw me.
This didn’t make them very happy though. They took me, and my tree, away. Left John to his muttering and the rest to their mind-numbed sketches. The tomes I told you about, they don’t say anything about letting clay trees work like that. Don’t allow them a little cycle of their own going on because it’s not something that already exists. To them it’s new – it’s just subdividing though. Break it down and I can see the same things moving around. If you can see how they all stick together you can turn them about a bit. Make clay breathe and maybe have the air fall down as tiny little motes of solid dust.
They put me in a new room. I couldn’t keep the tree – although I took a tiny half handful of clay while they weren’t looking, hid it in a pocket. Later I made a small model. Just a pebble, looks like a simple rock. Only it shifts ever so slightly if you watch it carefully and I know it’s breathing. Breathing, like me. In my new room, with air that fits the descriptions in their tomes. Most of the time. I think I can make this air into dust, too – they won’t notice. They’re still unsettled by the tree.
They keep asking me questions, and once they brought the tutor in. She wouldn’t look me in the eye. I didn’t say anything that time. They later told me she was finding it hard, especially dealing with the hypnosis. Apparently I’d hypnotised her. I asked them about the tree, then. They didn’t say anything about that. Asked me if I’d like to shift to dreamstate and draw them some theories they could take a look at. I told them what to do with the pen and paper, and they left. Guess they didn’t like what I had to say then, not at all.
So now I’m waiting. Something is going to change, and soon – they’ve told me some other people are coming. I might get to leave this room. Me and my rock – they still haven’t seen it. The last time they came for one of their chats I left it in the middle of the bare floor, and not one of them saw it right there. Inhaling quietly when they breathed out. What it takes and what it keeps is its own business – I like it though. It’s kind of a pet. An unusual pet – malfunctioning in just a perfect way. I think it sees me, in its own manner. It feels as if I have a connection. Not as brilliant nor as fleeting as that moment with the tutor, but a link nonetheless. What the pigeons don’t know is how searingly, blindingly wonderful that feels.
Now – if only I could make all of them see. All of them. Just a matter of time, I figure. So I wait, I wait and I will see. We breathe.