It was a cinch to cut 11 of 18 pages from a 15-year-old essay, the second essay I wrote in graduate school, but challenging to represent the feelings of the 21-year-old girl who quit debate after watching four California condors fly above the Tehachapi Mountains. To help, I thought about a recent interview The Turnip Truck(s) conducted with abstract artist Robert Wilson, who (with romantic sensibilities relying on imagination, insight, instinct, inspiration, and intuition) explains abstraction gives us new ways to express new sensations. He explains how art is the artist and is not visual but what is left after the initial visual experience. It’s a fantastic interview. I also began rereading Annie Dillard’s Holy the Firm. (I’m fairly certain Dillard is the only writer who can get away with telling her readers “Nothing is going to happen in this book”—and on page 24!)
So, freshly inspired, I tackled the part of the essay in which I discuss R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know it (And I feel Fine).” Like I often do, I drew it first. I also listened to the song on repeat. I imagine it was the closest thing to meditation I’ll do, and for a moment, I became the song making the song. (Wilson also discusses musicality in visual art.) By the time I finished drawing, old feelings had percolated to the surface and externalized through image, which in turn allowed me to translate the image to text. The jury is still out as to whether or not the exercise was successful, but, after the exercise, vegetarianism was cast aside and slugs of caffeine and the San Andreas fault got involved. For those who are familiar with the song, none of this is surprising—and I suppose that was the point.