Ink comes from ashes and paintbrushes are made of fur. The good ones, my teacher said, are horsehair.
I caressed my brush, the long, thick soft fur, and it was only because other people were there I didn’t run it across my lips. A soft paintbrush or an apricot, he two most beautiful feelings on a lip, without other lips or a forehead or a cheek to kiss.
“Are they ever made from squirrel?” someone asked.
I like squirrels. But I fear New York City squirrels, bastards are always so close you could grab them. Just try it! they say with their beady eyes.
Glue, which holds the ink together, or makes it stick, I don’t know, I never took chemistry, anyway the glue in ink is from cow skin and bone (that Elmer’s cow) or rabbit (I also like rabbits), or egg yolks.
“Where does ink come from?” my teacher said.
I didn’t think I should say, “Octopi.” So I was silent.
“Ashes,” someone said.
We got a bowl of ink, a plate to make a light tone, and a plate to make a medium tone. We had to start with the biggest brush.
“You’re supposed to have the time preparing the ink meditatively,” teacher said. We were not meditative, ours was poured right from a bottle.
The whole brush soaks in light ink, half the brush in medium ink, and just the tip in ink itself, undiluted.
The first half of class, teacher said nothing to me, presumably because I am a genius. Later she gave me bigger paper, advised I mix tones more, and make my carrot bigger. By carrot I mean, my representation of a carrot.
Chinese ink is from the 23rd century B.C.E. You’re saying, “It can’t possibly be that old.” You know the Chinese weren’t fucking around back then. They were inventing ink while everyone else was picking his nose.
“She is the best at using the gradations at the ink on the brush,” my teacher said, of me. I would have preferred she say, “And she is a genius,” instead she added, “And thinking. I could see how much she was thinking about everything she does.”
Shit, I know, I thought. She thinks. About everything. She does.
At painting class, I was thinking visually, measuring size and shape and weight and balance, without words. At least that was a change.
We could crumple the paper, to give it texture. Or let the ink drip dots.
I was reminded of how art classes go, some people ooh and ahh over some pieces, others laugh at themselves, some people are validated, some are frustrated, some are nonchalant, and you don’t know if that’s real.
I loved the full ink, undiluted, but making a stroke you liked with the full ink wasn’t easy. It could look so rude.
Where does ink come from?
Squid. So they can hide.
The animals. It all comes from the animals, all of us.
What gives our skin pigment, and tan, melanin, is what the squid’s ink is. Mostly. Melanin and spit.
Every morning I re-ink myself, Mercy, in sharpie: xylene, ethylene glycol mono butyl, propanol, butanol, and diacetone, resin. Color, and something that holds it together.
Three of my students have noticed and asked. “Do you have a tattoo?”
“Are you going to get a tattoo?”
“Why did you write that?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “It makes me think of a Shakespeare quote, and a Biblical quote.”
“Who needs the mercy? You need to be more merciful to other people? Or you need to be more merciful to yourself? Or you need mercy?”
“Those last two, I think,” I said.
In 5th Century China, there was no distinction between calligraphy, writing, and painting. Painting was writing, and writing was painting. Painting, I have a scribbly way in me that I naturally make cities on hills, with water around and below. Where does that come from, and how is it like my constant reliance on certain words: but, warm, gold.
How is my father’s handwriting loopy, curly, and my mother’s is scratchy, and mine is scratchy, but fatter, and why does my father doodle in boxes with balls on the corners, and why do I doodle in cities on hills, with water around and below? Why is my sister’s handwriting more like my father’s, why is my own beloved to me like the shape of my eyes? What if I had a stroke, and then I had new handwriting?
Traditional Chinese landscapes are made this way: the painter goes to the top of the mountain, sketches. Goes down to the valley, sketches. Goes up to the foothills, sketches. The final piece will use all three of these views combined. The final piece will be a view no one will ever get, except in the painting. It is some kind of “how it could be.”
Ink comes from ashes.