It’s been a tough summer for so many reasons, including my concerns about the Delta variant, and some challenges with my mental health. Neurodivergent traits like synesthesia, ADHD, and misophonia have their known co-morbidities including depression, anxiety, and insomnia. All three have been my companions over the last few months, rendering me tired and on edge.
My treatment to combat the fear, ennui, and sleep deprivation that have hounded me comes from a very special tool kit, one contained in a playful children’s lunch pail. I call my medicine bag a PAK for Portable Art Kit, an acronym I learned from artist and Stanford University instructor Trevor Tubelle, with whom I studied drawing last winter. My PAK contains various media and implements: watercolor paints, beeswax crayons, hard and soft graphite pencils, Stabilo pens, brushes, an X-acto knife, and a sweet little sketch book. All of these tools are so beautifully contained, I can take them anywhere.
A few weeks ago I holed up in my office with my PAK and a canvas, where I played the Gene Autry version of “Deep in the Heart of Texas” repeatedly. Then, with a yellow watercolor wash as a background, I recreated my synesthetic perception of that song. The handclaps can’t be ignored: they reveal themselves in my visual field as feathery and amorphous blue-green smears. The clarinet creates salmon pink ellipses, the muted trumpets chartreuse bars that stack up and over each other. The trombone is so funky, with purple cloud-like forms that I couldn’t quite capture. The sound of that instrument stands in stark contrast to the smooth blue of the accordion.
All of the shapes created by the tune get overlaid with my highly literal way of thinking. I know that the concept of heart in the song is a metaphor. But my brain goes straight to the human organ, complete with aortic arch and superior vena cava. And, I see all of the lyrics to the song like a ticker tape, with the words shaded to match my grapheme-color synesthesia. The end result is a bit of a hot mess, with pop art stylings and a folksy flair. Gazing at the finished work makes me feel so much better, and full of gratitude for the healing power of my simple PAK.
If you’re in Texas hill country, you can see “Deep in the Heart of Texas” at the Walkers’ Gallery in San Marcos. It’s part of an exhibition titled “Visualizing Music” curated by Linda Kelsey-Jones. “Visualizing Music” runs through August 28th. Details can be found here. And if you’d like to study with Trevor Tubelle, his website is here. Check out his fab Instagram account here.