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  • Learning
  • Catherine Lacey (bio)

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It’s hard to know which of us began to wear our shoes in the apartment, but one of us did—one of us, then the other. First it was just in the kitchen, but soon there were tracks in the bedroom, bathroom, living room, everywhere. Old receipts and leaves crept in. The floor grew filthy. We got out-of-season colds. Ellen let clumps of her hair tumbleweed around, clogging the carpet, the drains, and I was no longer careful with the dishes, dropping plates and glasses so often we learned not to flinch at the smash, and though we still recycled, we did so poorly, never rinsing, never sorting, curbing them on the wrong night. We both knew the baking soda had been in the freezer a very long time, many years, a lifetime, but neither of us made a move to dispose of or replace it.

Perhaps, I thought, we had both given up together, both given up being good at exactly the same moment.

Around this time the commissions stopped coming and I decided to take a job I was grateful to have but hated to do: teaching (I use this word loosely) a watercoloring elective at a law school downtown.

Half the students came to class stoned or loudly eating takeout noodles from a Chinese restaurant across the street. The rest openly disparaged the idea of making something so useless as art, insisted this wasn’t a real class, that it was just meant to be stress relief. Like adult coloring books, one of them said, none of this really matters.

And isn’t that great, I said, isn’t it just so great that nothing matters? They stared at me and blinked at the floor, or maybe it was the other way around. One yawned, making the one next to him yawn, then the one next to her, and the yawning spread like that, like a wave of sports fans.

Early in the semester, as I was demonstrating a technique for creating a nuanced palette, I noticed an inky bruise on my white shirt (we’d stopped sorting the laundry, letting the darks bleed on the lights), which would have been fine except it soiled my strategy of overdressing for class to get them to take it seriously. Friday afternoons already felt like the crumbling end [End Page 41] of something, and I knew I was just a mangy little adjunct in stained clothes with the perpetual look of having just been slapped. They blended their pigments into muddy grays and browns and fondled their telephones. They all had telephones and spent most of their time gazing at them.

Some of them had two telephones; one of them carried, it seemed, three telephones.

How could I even call this teaching? All I did was speak to a roomful of people who made no reply. No discussion. No inquiries. Nothing even remotely Socratic. They were pointedly silent during the critiques. Once I tried to rally them with something like a motivational speech about how watercolor, unlike other water media, requires the artist to anticipate and influence the movements of liquid instead of trying to fight them.

It’s a lot like being a lawyer, I said, repeatedly shifting my weight from one leg to the other. Or it might be like that. You know, leveraging a situation…the uncertainty and improvisation you might need…in…

I returned my attention to the painting tacked unevenly to the corkboard.

Okay, so who’d like to start the critique? Sean had disregarded the landscape assignment and instead painted a cartoon duck in a gray puddle. Someone sighed heavily, though when I turned to see who it was, they all appeared to have been sighing.

Does anyone have something to say about Sean’s landscape? Yes? No? This silence, I thought, could choke a person.

Okay, I’ll start. So I think you’re developing an interesting sense of line, but I’m curious, Sean, about how you came to the decision that this would count as a landscape?

It is a landscape.

It really just isn...


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pp. 41-51
Launched on MUSE
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