Palimpsest…

The blackboard hangs on the wall, one half smeared with the white dust of last day’s markings: equations erased sweeps of chalk, conjugated verbs yesterday’s faint powder tracery or, perhaps, listed assignments an obscured scrawl.

I have been out of the class room for the past twenty-two years. Yet, every August about half-way through the month, my thoughts return, like migrating geese to their winter home, to the class-rooms of my fourteen year career as a teacher.

The other day I was in Staples looking for a mechanical pencil, of the type I like to keep in my purse and with which to make scratchy diagrams and drawings to illustrate points of discussion whenever I am having coffee with friends. Down one aisle of the store were cork bulletin boards and small blackboards that could be hung on a kitchen or office wall. It occurred to me that a medium sized blackboard would come in handy for my at-home-studio teaching of drawing and painting.

When I taught high-school art classes, I loved to go into school early in the morning and lay out with white and coloured chalks notes and drawings of ideas we were involved in exploring. The previous afternoon, before leaving the class room my last  act would be to sweep aside that day’s scrawled and drawn information. Often, I would pause and study the cryptic comments made by students in the margins of my own marks – these were signs of their engagement, or not, in our mutual mind activity of the day. Sometimes, I would be careful to preserve little islands of student scrawls and leave them on the board for days; this mystified the kids.

I always loved the immediacy and casual nature of the black-board – its impermanence, its vast empty space for mind-markings, its pentimentos of coloured chalk echoing through newly printed and drawn information.

I think I’ll go to the lumber yard and buy a 4ft by 4ft slab of masonite, buy some chalkboard paint and make my own blackboard for my studio.  On it I can then rehearse ideas, work out images, play and elaborate to my heart’s content, have a space for students to also work out their own concepts and carry forward in the present this fondness for that matte-surfaced, valuable palimpsest.

5 Responses to “Palimpsest…”

  1. citrus Says:

    What kind of pencil do you favor?

  2. ybonesy Says:

    Your words make me long for a big chalkboard that I could keep in my bedroom (for some reason, that’s where I’d put it), where I could write, wipe, write, wipe, write, wipe. (Maybe the longing for it in my bedroom is tied to your comment about going to the chalkboard first thing in the morning.)

  3. mariacristina Says:

    What a great idea! You sound like a wonderful teacher – I like how you kept the students’ scribbles on the board without comment. No wonder you balked at my instructor who was so rigid in her approach. In a way, she reminded me of painters who teach on TV, showing how to paint so that everyone’s painting comes out looking the same. Hotel art.

    The only other time I’ve seen the word “palimpsest” was in The Handmaid’s Tale. I had to look up the meaning when I came across it. Unusual word. Is your opening line a quote from the book? I seem to recall the word showing up in the classroom scene.

  4. suburbanlife Says:

    Christine – The opening line is my own, and took a little word wrangling to put together. On the other hand, who knows just how much has seeped into my brain from reading a lot of Margaret Atwood. Are we ever able to claim originality when our brains are a cauldron seething with stuff picked up from all kinds of sources? I would put quotation marks around others’ writings. G

  5. Trish Scott Says:

    aha… I knew you and Margaret Atwood were in alignment.

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