SpruceRoots Magazine - February 2002

SpruceRoots Magazine - April 2003

SCRATCHING THE SURFACE

by Amanda Reid-Stevens

We are a society of doodlers. And, so, if for some reason all of the pens and pencils in the world rolled into a hole so deep that we couldn't get at them, would we experience doodle-withdrawal symptoms?

Would we be struck by irresistible urges to sprint down to the beach at low tide and scratch wiggly lines in the sand, with a stick? Would we find ourselves using our pointer fingers to draw sunshines and valentine hearts onto any available fogged-up window? Would we be inspired to use lawnmowers to cut jaggedy doodles into grass? Come hell or high water, would we find a way to doodle? And, minus the pens and pencils, would we take any satisfaction from it?

Is a doodle still a doodle if it isn't drawn with ink or lead?Luckily, our pens and pencils haven't fallen down a hole, so we have no reason to pay any attention whatsoever to these questions. I don't even know why I asked them.

Two of our favourite things on which to doodle are our shopping lists (when they're sitting beside the telephone) and on the copious notes we take at meetings. At times we doodle so much on our shopping lists that they become illegible. But that's okay because nutritionists maintain that none of the foods on our lists is healthy or necessary, anyway. It isn't a tragic thing, either, that our meeting notes are illegible under our doodles, for we rarely, if ever, refer back to them.

It is important to understand that one does not have to be a Da Vinci or a Picasso to create a brilliant doodle. Truth be told, I occasionally dazzle myself with my own doodles. Sometimes I'm so dazzled, I can hardly believe it was me who produced them and I want to have them framed.

The question of why we doodle is a good one. The first answer that springs to mind is boredom, of course, but frustration can play into it as well. Think about it: The phone rings and you answer it. The caller is in a talkative mood but you're not because you're in the middle of constructing an extremely delicate and time-sensitive halibut souffle. You don't want to be rude and hurry the conversation along or, worse yet, cut it off, so you take your growing frustration out on your shopping list by grabbing a pen and drawing something small perhaps the head of a daisy in the margin. And the caller keeps talking, and you keep replying "uh huh", and you can't stop glancing at your sagging souffle batter, and you feel like screaming, and you can't for the life of you figure out how to get off the phone.

It is at this point that you do what any sensible person would do under the circumstances you add two leaves to the daisy and the beginnings of the tendrils of a vine.

Over the next few minutes, the vine creeps along the edges of the shopping list and eventually boasts a veritable explosion of flowers and leaves. Flowers and leaves that bleed into some of what's written on the list. Still, without consciously realizing it, you force the doodle to continueits graceful weave, over, under, and through every single word on the list. However, right now, you're not worried about it. In fact, the doodle looks so good that you're compelled to do it all over again by retracing its lines eleven or twelve times, and maybe shading in some of the petals or leaves.

And the caller is still talking, and you're still saying 'uh huh', and your souffle is ruined.

Suddenly and for no apparent reason you top off your elegant doodle by throwing in 150 cross-hatch marks, exclamation points, eyeballs, hieroglyphics, spirals, and stream-of-consciousness words fashioned in the calligraphy you've been trying to perfect since you were in Grade 7.

And we do the same thing at meetings. Not only do we doodle on the notes we take throughout meetings, we draw on the materials handed out at the beginning of meetings, and on the paper tablecloths that cover the tables at which we sit during meetings. In fact, the longer and more boring the meeting, the more widespread and elaborate the doodling. Doodles help make meetings bearable.

Every now and then, instead of doodling at a meeting, I'll study other meeting participants as they doodle. I see people who have their heads bowed low and a protective arm curled around their drawings. They take their doodling seriously and thus work intently, giving the impression of being off in another world and having no clue as to what's being discussed around them.

I notice other people slumped in their chairs. These folks doodle in fits and starts, and intermittently stare up at the ceiling or down at their stomachs, riveted by what they see. In between these activities, they tap their papers with their pencils, which I'm guessing results in an impressive series of doodle dots.

Anyhow, just when I'm convinced that very few people are paying any attention to what the damn meeting's about, a doodler's head jerks up and their hand shoots into the air. This is immediately followed by said doodler leaping out of their chair and proceeding to vehemently argue a point just made at the meeting. It startles me. It amazes me. Probably because I'm prone to thinking I'm the only person on the planet who can doodle and listen and think all at the same time. It also leads me to the conclusion that, during their presentations, facilitators and speakers shouldn't be incensed or insulted if they see people doodling. They should be flattered.

I figure doodling helps people sift and retain interesting stuff from boring stuff; it may even help us form, refine, and verbalize particular thoughts and opinions. And there is strong evidence that doodling keeps us from sneaking out of meetings, stops us from exploding, and can result in the creation of surreal and, at times, remarkable snippets of art not meant to be viewed by the world.

Maybe doodles are dreams on paper. Maybe they're the id on paper. It seems more likely, though, that they're perseverance on paper. Whatever they are, I wish they'd stop obliterating my shopping lists.