I am midway through this course and I feel as though I am lost. The strange stranger surrounds me. The concepts are slippery, just out of reach, yet my fingers brush by them, feeling that there is something to grab onto, something to help hoist myself up over the ledge of misunderstanding. Just as I start to believe that I will be seated upon the plateau of knowledge, basking in the glow of understanding, the strange stranger passes my peripheral vision; shattering the illusory idea that ecocriticism can be nailed down and dissected.
Ellen Meloy, in her essay “The Deeds and Suffering of Light” divulges that she suffers from a neurological disorder which causes “’a reduction in mental acuity’” (5). Though I am unaware of having any neurological conditions that could be clouding my understanding, I can relate to this statement:
“because there is the possibility of an abrupt slide into chronic befuddlement, I thought it might be useful to acquire some basic motor and tactile skills, like pushing around cool, gooey paint in mindless, repetitive motions, as preparation for that freshly vacated space, that airy void between the ears” (5).
This course is a blank canvas, stark white and waiting for an image. As the weeks pass by, I apply “cool, gooey paint” yearning for a familiar pattern to emerge. With each new paint that I am provided, my frantic fingers rush across the canvas. I stand back and I am not satisfied with the blobs I have produced. Perhaps it is the angle. Perhaps it is the lighting. I must come at this canvas sideways; casting aside my expectations of the image I thought I would produce. It is time for me to abandon the rules of painting and create my own guide on how to see the world surrounding me. Shattering categories is hard work.
How can one create a “visual aphrodisiac”? (226). For Meloy, the color red is ecstasy, passion and a signal of reproduction. Squeezing the cold metal tube of red paint, I dab a small circle in the center of my canvas. I create a focal point. I create a place to fall into when the outer edges blur out understanding. And perhaps that is the point, to abandon the notion that the “Name ha[s] to match reality, and reality [has] to be made uniform in samples, chips, and swatches” (229). The image I create does not need to be codified to that which is recognizable. The red circle is the truth I have created on the canvas. It has become the place that I dwell in to seek understanding of the slippery concept of reality.
My time is spent staring at a canvas, taking shape in unrecognizable ways. The canvas demands to be worked upon quickly, though I find myself begging for time to slow down so that I can lean into the red splashes. I beg for the strange stranger to reveal itself, but Buell thwarts any time devoted to the uncanny. Oppermann insists that I examine paints I have not yet touched. Yet I find myself comforted by Meloy’s words, “Our sense of wonder grows exponentially; the greater the knowledge, the deeper the mystery and the more we seek knowledge to create new mystery” (243). When ideas sweep past my fingers, when the red dot comforts an unsure mind and as each theory is placed before my befuddled mind, I am comforted that it is creating a mystery. I now paint on a canvas that must be viewed sideways.