Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Making Faces in the Psych Unit

Daughter #2 formed the face you see in the photo on the right. I don't remember where we were living, just that we were overseas and it was about 20 years ago. She brought it home and I was amazed. Never had I seen such a face. I wish I could remember how she described it at the time. Much later she recalled that the piece was not originally designed to be a face but rather a little bowl of some sort. Somehow she changed plans and pinched it into a human (?) image.

Clay is a remarkable thing and not only when used by artists. It's very basic-- just you and the clay. No paintbrushes, needles or knives are required. Not even a potter's wheel. Your fingers can roll it, squeeze it and punch it, and most of the time it feels good. Most of the time.

I spent a couple of weeks in a psychiatric unit when we lived in Germany. As a patient, I should add. At this point in my life, over 18 years later, the experience is filed under Been There, Done That, Glad I Did- Though It Was Awful. What my experience has to do with clay is this: A smug occupational therapist, in his daily session with us, assigned the task of making someone out of clay. The Someone had to be the person we hated most in the world and, consequently, blamed for our misery.

I remember being surprised that I was the only one who formed my own self-- sitting down, legs extended, head bowed, hands in pockets. My comrades-in-distress came up with: husband, boss, ex-husband of fiance, former friend, and parents. Then there was Victor.

Victor was on staff, a psychiatric technician or "psych tech." Which means the Air Force may have given him one hour of extra training on how to be with crazy people. Victor's mouth, when it wasn't making an inappropriate remark, was shaped into a permanent smirk. I loathed him. . . him and his blonde buzz-cut, wispy little mustache, macho posturing, and icy blue eyes. He was probably no older than 21.

As I was being urged by the therapist to explain my model, I heard snickers. To my relief, my new friends weren't laughing at me. They were looking at Victor and his creation. Victor had made a lumpy-looking dog. The dog was squatting. The dog was, yes, you guessed it, defecating. Victor was still rolling little turds. (I know that's a nasty word to use, but there's just no other way.)

I don't remember the therapist's reaction, if he even noticed. I just remember feeling a new bond with Victor. Yes, Victor, that's exactly how I feel about this stupid exercise and about life in general right now.

Victor secured his improved status with me by helping us order pizza, then organizing us into a band of leering idiots before the delivery person arrived. When the unsuspecting pizza man stepped hesitantly into our game room, our crossed-eyes, stuck-out tongues and wild grimaces awaited him. He hurriedly took our money and left.

As I said before, isn't clay amazing? And aren't faces even more so?

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