Porkpie Hat – How You Can (Accidentally) Become an Artist

Porkpie Hat – How You Can (Accidentally) Become an Artist

This column originally appeared September 19, 2008, in issue 1637.

One day You’re in the classroom, in the fifth grade maybe, and you spend too long staring out the window. You notice the flickering light of an approaching storm, the faces of angels or gargoyles rising and falling in a cauldron of clouds.

You turn your attention back to the inside of the classroom (the outside of your mind) because the teacher is saying your name and the other kids are snickering.

You notice everything has changed. Desks are no longer desks, pencils not pencils; all things are charged, crackling with beauty and menace.

Walking home after school, a crow falls dead at your feet. There is meaning here.

A few years later, It’s twilight and you are sitting on the window ledge of your bedroom. You have the radio turned up loud to drown out the sound of your screaming parents. Someone is singing about a girl with an orange silk dress. You hear a dish or maybe a glass smashing against a wall.

The kids in the house next door are putting on a shadow puppet show. They have a sheet strung across a clothesline, a school overhead projector plugged into an extension cord. You watch as fabulous-terrible shadow creatures take shape and dissolve on a luminous screen.

That night you have a strange dream about an owl circling above your head. You are holding a green gardening glove, and it is the funniest thing you have ever seen. You wake up at four a.m. with tears of laughter rolling down your cheeks.

Many years later, you are on a business trip midway across the Great Plains. There is a strange light in the night sky, hovering above the cornfields. You pull your car off to the side of the road. The crickets are deafening; moths swirling like black snow. The light floats above your head for a few seconds, turning everything a frozen blue, then disappears. A hundred feet away, there is a coyote gnawing on the remains of a house cat.

When you check into the motel that night, you phone your wife to tell her what you saw. She tells you she is pregnant. In another room, someone is singing an aria. You think the beauty of cheap motels is the way one thing just leaks into another.

You take out a pad of motel stationery, and begin to draw.