At the end of my last therapy session my therapist suggested that I go home and draw a tree. But I cannot draw her a tree.
This followed on from a discussion in which I’d told her that I had been surprised by the strength of my desire, at various points over the last few months, to express myself in pictures rather than words. These periods tended to coincide with times when I found it particularly difficult to write, and also with times when I was more dominated by one or other of my ‘inner parts’. These periods were also very frustrating as I have never been competent or confident about drawing, and I felt completely incapable of giving my feelings visual expression.
We talked about the fact that the aim was not to create the perfect painting, and the quality of the output was not the point of the exercise. I could draw a tree, and I could bring it to her and we could talk about it. Drawing a tree seems perfectly simple, and I understand the idea that it doesn’t need to be a particularly good picture. However, when I imagine drawing a tree, this happens.
Almost immediately, I need my tree to be more than a tree. I cannot just draw a picture of a tree – or I don’t want to. What would be the point? All of a sudden I want my tree to be a metaphor, to convey so much more than ‘tree-ness’ – whatever that is. I want my tree to be about something. I want it to be about therapy, and the relationship between me and my therapist. I want it to be about how she both grounds me and nourishes my growth, and also inspires me to let my imagination take me where it will, like the roots of a tree spreading out in all directions. I want some of the tree branches to resemble weeping willows, falling heavily towards the ground. I want others to reach upwards and delight in finding the sun. I want the weeping branches to be like hair falling down around my shoulders, and I want other branches to be like arms and hands placed gently on that hair. I want there to be a face, barely discernible, peering out from behind the hair, and a million little tributary-like branches, coming off the tree-arms reaching to the sky. I want the two sides of the tree to be definitely but imperceptibly leaning in towards each other, though also seeming to pull in two different directions. And I want there to be simultaneously both a noticeable difference in the colour palette of the two sides, but also a seamless blending and fitting in together. I want the reaching branches to stand out vividly but softly against their backdrop, and I want the weeping branches to be slightly out of focus, but jarring at the same time.
Now, my artistic skills being what they are, if I cannot produce an ordinary looking tree, how can I produce the tree that I have just described? And if I try to simply draw a tree, just an ordinary tree…..well, I know that part of the point of the exercise is to talk about it. But then, it isn’t really just a tree, is it? It’s a seeming-tree, or a telling-tree, and then we’re back to metaphor and right back where we started.
I cannot draw her a tree. And so I wrote her this tree, instead.