Thursday, December 24, 2009

Conversational Ghost

Caught between the shadow of sleep and the light of wakefulness, I dreamt the sound of a ringing phone and sat up in bed to answer it. Upon waking, I realized the phone call was a phantom; nothing had woken me except my own mind. Tako lay next to me, blue in the moonlight and peacefully at rest. I went back to bed and took up the dream again. It was a call from a beautiful blue-grey cat with elongated, elegant limbs, short hair, and great posture. The cat could speak, and he immediately began to discuss an important development. He explained that he works at Yale's Beinecke Rare Book Library, technically employed as a mouser, but also serving in his spare time as a general researcher. While crawling around the stacks, he had made a discovery in the archives, something that would cause great literary and cultural excitement in both academia and popular culture. Just as he was about to explain the details of his newest find to me, his speech turned from English to French to the standard vocabulary of a cat: meows, purrs, hisses and wails. I woke again, unfulfilled in my hopes to hear the news of his great discovery.

Agitated, I headed downstairs to the workroom. I flipped on the light to my drawing desk and started to sketch the Beinecke Library cat as I had seen him in my dream: confident, mischievous, luxurious, and refined.

The curve of his tail and the side of his body created a shape that at first was hard to see. It was a curving slice of negative space, a non-space that was created by everything around it, but consisted of nothing; it was defined by its boundaries, not by itself. The shape was long, curved, and ingenious. I placed a second sheet of drawing paper on top of the first one and re-drew the negative space, this time leaving off the rest of the image that had previously constituted the cat. I stared at the shape for a few minutes. I had seen it before, but I was not sure where. I closed my eyes and traced the shape in space. If a falling object had created it, then the bends and curves would have resulted from the object intersecting with a second shape and then gliding along its surface. I concentrated on this imaginary second surface. I felt like I could see it. I took out my pencil and sketched along the paper as I imagined the curved shapes in my mind. I know this sounds like some type of higher mathematics, or scientific visualization, but this type of surface bending is just like draping for pattern-making, and at this point, I feel like I could bend a piece of fabric around a women from across the room in my sleep. Sloping curves are my first language. Drape is my primary utterance. When I opened my eyes, I had drawn something that seemed to be the path a single tear would take if it fell from a woman’s eye and ran down her cheek, only to drop into the well created by the hollow of her clavicles.

I took out a third sheet of paper and drew a woman’s face, neck and shoulder correctly sized for the tear-path. The image didn’t line up. I tired again, this time tilting the woman’s head every so slightly. It was a perfect match. Like an archeologist recreating the face of a long dead ancestor by molding muscles onto a found skull, I had drawn a woman from the negative space between cat’s body and tail. The imaginary cat had brought me to a discovery.

But why was the woman crying? Was it a tear of joy or weeping sorrow? What more can I discover? Is there another secret in the design?

I moved the shape lower along her imagined body. The same pathway created a gorgeous curve just interior to the hip. Could this be a new cut line for swimwear? An alternative to the low-rise and the "french" cut? I drew the rest of the standing woman's figure and sketched a suit on top of it. The new cut line was bold - but was it based on pathos, empathy, or simply exploratory discovery?

I went back to bed, promising myself that I'd try out the new cut on an actual suit in the morning.

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