Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Scribe of Scribblism

It was inevitably the case that as a child, whenever one of those mega-boxes of crayons was placed in front of me and next to a blank sheet of white paper, I would reach for a random color and begin scribbling. I liked the way different colors mixed together in an expanding flow of chaos. However, I had no sense of how to fix this chaos into an orderly pattern, though the more I scribble the more a pattern seemed to emerge on its own.

There were many of us who scribbled their way through life, but it was hard to avoid comparisons with the other kids who designed extravagant images, magnificent in their detail. How did they do it, without even a ruler to guide their way.

I continued on this pathway in college. It is visible in so many instances of recollection: in the way I randomly chose courses during my freshman and sophomore years from a vast spectrum of offerings; in the way disparate parts of my thesis gradually came together in a re-run of the many times I put pencil to the paper of those connect the dots books I liked as a kid (they must have been designed with us scribblers in mind); in the way I splattered wax on T-shirts during batik class; and in the way I took each day as it came without much thought about the future. I figured my career would come to me (or it would not) and their was no need to waste too much energy on formulating a resume.

Then, following college, I went to China for a year; this was a move that full-filled a life-long dream, but was also one--at least in the short-term--that did little to imprint a direction on my life. It would come, but at the time I was still scribbling. It was as if I was thrown smack dab in the middle of the ocean, or rather in the heart of the Middle Kingdom. I had also moved beyond the peaceful hamlet of my upbringing into the wider world, where I threw off the armor protecting my cultural assumptions.

But would a pattern emerge from all my scribbling. Would I walk in a specific direction outside the dreams that filled my consciousness?

At the time, the notion of direction was actually something that I feared. I was searching but not deciding, and it was the very idea of making a decision that scared me. First of all, there seemed to be so many possibilities out there, and at the same time, I pictured each potential decision as influencing--really fixing--the rest of my life. There was no turning back.

Thus, even though I was in China, my head was really in the clouds and I wasn't appreciating the reality that was in front of my eyes.

Then I returned to America and for the first time in my life I heard the words: "What are you going to do with your life?" This question freaked me out because of what I already described--that fear of making a decision. But I was also scared of somehow missing that golden moment, that once in a lifetime happening that transforms one's destiny in a serendipitous flash. Or had I already missed it?

Unless you are a scribbler you probably have a hard time imagining how difficult it can be to make this determined leap into an unknown venture--or perhaps it is only scribblers who would even dream of the alternate reality on the other side of the rainbow. You are organized, matter of fact, and down to earth. I am fine with that; there are myriad paths to the capital. I am simply describing my experience.

I endured a period of total confusion, one in which my scribbling got out of hand. I was afflicted also by a culture shock induced by my return into America's orbit, one which I likened to Zhuangzi's butterfly dream. It was much more of a challenge than going to China.

I revved up my car on a wintry day in February. It was dark and stormy and I drove on slippery roads in a direction despite my fear of direction. I drove into the unknown blizzards of the future that have become the past. I drove even though I witnessed no hope of finding a destination. That voice in my head--the one that likes to say, "You can't!"--was predicting doom.

And do you know what happened? Within days the sun was shining in the heavens. The chirping of birds in a morning park instilled hope in my heart. Encounters with strangers renewed in me an optimism about humanity and the possibilities that life has in store.

The more I drove the more I found my direction...and then came the single most important decision of my life up to that moment, the one that brought me out of my head and onto the page, which was at the time comprised of thousands and thousands of flashcards.

It was the decision that forced me to focus all my energy on linguistic mastery--the language was Chinese. For years I gave up scribbling. Other modes of being were crucial: memorization, internalization, and comprehension, etc. You couldn't just say anything because, "Chinese people don't say that." So it also called for becoming culturally sensitive, learning how to express things not how I was comfortable expressing them, but how it was acceptable to express them. This is a lifelong process, but the more I have learned the more "acceptable" has become "comfortable."

After all these years, I am still a scribbler. What has changed is that I no longer see scribbling as the creation of a chaotic mess; it is more a process. One must have faith that a pattern will emerge, that accumulated pages will come together into a dissertation, that the web has no weaver.

I introduce a new mode of thought to the world: scribblism. There are millions of us faithful out here, though unfortunately we have hitherto been unable to develop an effective form of communication. Our correspondences are percieved as jibberish and each of us has his/her own method of scribbling that is undecipherable to anyone else. Our religious structures are a mishmash of different materials assembled without any thought for function--or for that matter--form.

Of course, neither do we have leaders nor a social structure. And without a social structure no cohesive belief system.

The only thing that unites us is a faith--a principle--that there is something more to our scribbling, something that can be detected, something that, once discovered, can bring coherence to life, and with that coherence, a basis for everything else that humans hold dear.

2 Comments:

Blogger ismael said...

Scribblism: Art & Practice of the Scribble

1:31 PM  
Blogger Wulingren said...

That's so cool! Who knew as the idea hit me on my approach to the Xinbeitou station that there really is something called scribblism.

1:58 PM  

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