My Unscripted Life(9)

By: Lauren Morrill


A brand-new sketchbook like this one is something that usually fills me with excitement and a sense of possibility. Will I fill it with variations on a theme? Will it be a catchall for whatever flies through my mind? Will anything inside it turn into a bigger project? Leap from the thick white pages onto a canvas, or carve its shape into some clay? I never buy a new sketchbook until I have only one page left in the old one. It’s a rule I made for myself long ago, partially to save money, and partially so I wouldn’t wear out the feeling that comes with handing over $19.99 and bringing it home, of writing my name, email address, and “Reward If Found” on the inside front cover.

It all started when I was little, and my mom was on deadline for her first book, the kind of bodice-ripping romance novel she’d soon become famous for. I wanted to write books “like Mommy,” but I was too young to know many words, much less spell them, so Mom gave me a coloring book and a brand-new box of crayons. When I’d filled every page, she started handing me blank pages from her printer, and when I started going through those too fast, she gave me old marked-up drafts so I could draw on the back of the pages. She says my art obsession grew out of her need to distract me without turning to the television. Whatever the reason, “making pictures,” as I called it back then, soon became my favorite pastime.

When I started school, art class was my favorite. I loved everything I tried, from drawing to painting to collage. Even forming shapes out of gray lumps of clay. By middle school I was painting sets for the school plays and helping my teachers with their bulletin boards. I doodled in the margins of my notebooks and on every chalkboard I came across.

I didn’t really care about being good at it. In fact, the thought barely occurred to me. It was just something I enjoyed doing, and my chief priority was doing it as much as possible. Sort of like my dad and running. I don’t think he’s ever entered a race, but he still loves his daily three-milers. Being the fastest, or even just fast, doesn’t seem to matter to him at all. It’s about going out every morning, lacing up his running shoes, and putting one foot in front of the other. For me, it’s about pencil to paper, brush to canvas, hand to clay.

But then high school started, and everybody sorted into their groups: athletes, drama kids, school nerds. Everybody had a thing, and so art became mine. I was the girl who took every art class, and when she ran out, she started taking them again. Soon it wasn’t just an identity, but a path. A future. Shows and competitions and the possibility of art school, maybe even a good one like RISD or Pratt. And one of the steps on that path was the Governor’s School. It was an achievement, and also a necessity. It would look great on my applications, after all.

It was supposed to be a foregone conclusion, all of it. Dee is the art girl. She’s going to art school. That’s that. It was never even a decision I remember making. It just was.

And then it wasn’t.

Getting that rejection letter didn’t just knock me off the path, it drop-kicked me into the next county, and I’m still trying to figure out how to get back. Or if I even want to. Because staring down at this brand-new sketchbook, I don’t feel anything. Not excitement. Not possibility. I feel as blank as the pages inside.

I tell myself that it’s because this book isn’t mine. I’m not supposed to draw in it at all. In fact, I’m supposed to treat this one exactly the opposite of how I normally treat my sketchbooks, which I guard from liquids and dirt and carefully close the covers with the elastic band to avoid bending the pages. This one needs to be exposed to the elements in a way that would normally make my skin crawl.

I wander around the parking lot until I find a patch of Georgia red clay, dusty and dry on the pavement. I glance around to make sure no one is watching this ridiculous exercise, and then I drop the journal into the dirt. A pink dust cloud rises up around it, but when I pick it up, all the dust mostly brushes off. Other than a bit of discoloration on the edges of the pages, the thing still looks brand new. So much for all that time I spent protecting my own books. Looks like this assignment is going to be a little harder than I thought. I’m going to have to get a little more rough with it, apparently.

I try again. This time I raise the journal over my head with both hands, then fling it down into the dirt. The dust cloud rises high enough to send me into a sneezing fit. Still, it hardly looks well worn, or even worn at all. So I pick it up and whip it like a Frisbee across the parking lot. It bounces and skids across the blacktop, landing with a spin. I run over and give it a decent kick with the toe of my boot, sending it farther across the ground. Then I chase after it, picking up speed and leaping at the last second so I stomp down on the cover hard with both feet.