This summer I vowed to find enchantment in every action and not just from the results of the action. To remember to do this I drew, or had someone else draw, a symbol, art, or faux tattoo on my right wrist. The changing pictures, the ever present Sharpie, the ritual I hoped would remind me of the quote I used in my May blog “Compared to What,” and remind me to find enchantment in the moment. Here is the quote and some of what I found, learned and created along the way from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
“We live under the power of modern consciousness, which means that we are obsessed with progress. Wherever you are is not good enough. We always want to achieve something, rather than experience something. The opposite of this is spiritual consciousness.
By that I mean you find enchantment in every action you do, rather in just the results of your action.”
The preparation was easy: a Sharpie on my desk at work and one at home. It turns out that is not near enough Sharpies, I also needed a purse Sharpie for travel, opportunity and forgetfulness. Thanks to Nadia I got one the first week I forgot to draw on myself. What that taught me was when you invite others into your adventure you build community, you build relationship, and they help you succeed. I waited until the Thursday before Memorial Day to ask someone to draw something for me to kick-start my summer. I knew exactly who I wanted to draw on me first, my former student, co-worker and friend Chelsea. She is an amazing artist and I wanted the sign of infinity on my right wrist as I am right handed, so anything I managed would be purely crazy eights at best.
I will take a detour here to say that 25 years ago my evil-twin-half-sister Tony and I got tattoos. I have not had a real pull, or reason to get a second tattoo, though in recent years I have toyed with getting a second tattoo on my right wrist and maybe an infinity sign, as that ties me to many things, one of which is my sister Amy. That is why I wanted the faux tattoo done well and with skilled hands to assess if this was something I might really want to put a needle and ink to, not just ink. Chelsea did a beautiful job and I knew at first glance that no I didn’t want a permanent mark on my wrist, it felt wrong. No other way to say it. Knowing “no” to a real tattoo, and putting that to bed, I began my summer of enchantment.
Each time I was asked if it was a tattoo I explained about my summer experiment. Each time I was drawn in to remembering why I was doing this and being in the moment. Each time I had to take the Sharpie in my left-non-writing hand and draw something, over my morning coffee and post shower I took pause. Each time I looked down at a different, sometimes less-than-attractive symbol on my wrist I was there enjoying my folly, bad art and whoever was with me in the moment. The tale of my summer drew smiles, nods, laughter and puzzlement depending on my audience. Most people engaged, but there were a few that did not. That was interesting to see who stepped in to play and who did not. That is true for any adventure we plan: some will go with you down the road, some will cheer and others just shake their heads. What is always the most interesting is it is never who we expect in each of those roles. People’s reactions to our actions can be surprising, sweet or even disappointing. I try to remember that it is about them not me, not to judge, and tally on.
I asked many people if they wanted to draw something on me and it was fascinating to watch the reactions, and art that came forward. One time I asked a close friend who is an amazing artist and a very deep thinker. She needed time to plan in her head prior to drawing. I gave it to her. A few hours later I prompted her again and she was ready. As she started to draw on my wrist I watched and thought “oh my that is not good.” Not that it was ugly mind you… but rather what she started to draw was starting to look a lot like a swastika. Yikes. I stopped her and asked her about what I was seeing, and then she saw it. She had been aiming for a mandala but clearly it had not gone as “planned.” Art, and life, rarely go as planned so stopping to think can be a good thing, but sometimes in creative endeavors it may not be the best approach. She took the drawing in a better non-swastikary-Arian-white supremacy mode and went more floral.
A couple of times people went big, my wrist and my forearm were involved. That was always a little surprising and uncomfortable. The first time it happened, I had a picture that was four to five inches down and maybe three inches across, if not more. I had not planned on how bigger would feel. It felt a little embarrassing and goofy which I was. Nobody noticed. It was just there but my expectations of what was going to be drawn moved out of my scope of possibilities, and there was an adjustment for me to make. This was uncomfortable, not in a bad way but in a “Oh, that is where we are going” kind of way. Like when a new hairdresser finishes your cut and color then styles your hair in a way that you have not expected or planned. Sometimes though, in that example, we get as far as the car and do damage control. Whether that damage looks like a brown helmet, blonde cotton candy or red cartoon Heat-Miser, though that one I kept ….
So yes when my expectations in inviting someone in to partake were not met, or shifted into unknown territory I got more than I bargained for. It gave me a moment to check myself, to choose to be in the enchantment of the unknown, unexpected and interesting. We know that unmet expectations can also go to fear, anger or resentment, which is the dark-side of the unknown. Paying attention to my reaction and not anyone else’s when I got shifted out of my script in my tiny head was surprising. I found myself embracing the initial reaction of embarrassment and feeling goofy then digging deeper, finding humor, and finding out I had a script and letting it go. Small things can bring big learning.
Another interesting moment came when I was getting ready to interview a student for a fall tutoring job. We did not know each other. She is about 19 years old; the other person in our office that day was my friend, Wendy, who was subbing for us over the summer and had done some lovely artwork on my wrist earlier in the summer. I grabbed the interview questions, the young woman’s application and on a whim a Sharpie. I had forgotten to draw something that morning. I asked her if she wanted to do something odd and draw on my wrist, explaining why I was doing it. I told her she didn’t have to if it was too weird or she didn’t want to and it was no big deal. She did not hesitate or blink. She took the Sharpie from me as Wendy watched with a question in her eyes. The young woman drew a lovely little symbol quickly and efficiently then off we went into the other office for our interview. She did well in the interview, most do. I hired her thanking her for her sense of adventure and willingness to jump in.
After she left I looked at Wendy who still had that question in her eyes and then I explained using an old movie. In Men in Black, Will Smith goes in for an interview. He finds himself in a crazy room with a bunch of other guys in suits filling out applications. There is nothing to lean on and they are all struggling to write while propping the application on their thighs with their pens periodically puncturing the paper. Will gets up and grabs a heavy table to lean on and drags it slowly, due to its heft, across the floor making a racket the whole way. He invites the others to use it to fill out the paperwork when he gets it close to their seats. They decline, and he fills out his application easily. All the while the hiring manager watches this play out.
I was curious what this young woman would do with my odd request. It wasn’t part of the job interview, just my summer “art” project. But here’s the thing: tutoring is uncomfortable the first few times you step into a new classroom. It is about initiating, moving out of your comfort zone and being brave. She did that in spades. She would not have lost any points not doing it. I would have thought it was interesting but nothing more. This small task, requested on a lark, showed me who this young woman was in that moment. I was impressed and delighted.
Some days I forgot to draw something, best guess about a dozen days all summer; not great but not too shabby overall. Even in the forgetting I would look at my naked wrist and remember, so the reminder was there still. Seeing something new drawn there caught my attention each time and it brought me back to the moment. A piece of jewelry or a real tattoo might have become too familiar and disappeared into the everyday; and therefore not giving me what I wanted. The ever changing symbol, the guest artists, the ritual of doing it, trying to draw something with my left hand, to looking down at it in meetings, and while driving, all made me look for something beautiful in that moment. It was great fun, frustrating sometimes in forgetting it, or going sideways when my expectations were toppled.
This summer’s experiment was all good learning, all good lessons, and a valuable tool for my and your bag of tricks. I went looking for enchantment and found it. I also learned a lot about myself and a little about others. Whether you decide to do this for a weekend, a week, or a vacation I highly recommend it as a social experiment if nothing else. Who knows what you might find? My guess is if your experience is anything like my experience, it will be more than you expect, and as Dr. Seuss says, “Oh the places you will go!” Grab your Sharpie’s and head out on to an adventure…