Trauma & Therapy
Trauma & Therapy
I was invited by Priest Bobue Horaguchi to attend his session on Painting Therapy, which he conducts every Sunday at his Santa Monica Temple. I remember visiting his temple last year to discuss an article I was working on for the blog. We discussed the history of Triads in the early days of the railroad reaching the West Coast thanks to the labor of Chinese immigrants. The Triads were paid to protect the interests of the workers of Chinese descent, but they also watched out for Japanese, Black, and Italian workers as well. There was much profit in the protection racket, and it was with this growing income that Chinatown was built. In Los Angeles, Chinatown, Little Italy, and Little Tokyo are adjacent to each other.
Horaguchi's teachings helped me to understand the backdrop to the conflicts between cultures in dealing with crime. It was believed at the time that the Police were not doing enough to stop crime against the Chinese community in Santa Monica.
I rode the train to Union Station and caught the Big Blue Freeway Bus to Lincoln Boulevard by the Santa Monica Pier. It was walking distance from there to the temple.
On the way to the Temple, I saw remnants of an old shrine to a missing girl. Her picture was torn off, but the flyer was still up, water damaged by rain and wind. I remembered this place. It was covered in my blog last year. Suddenly, behind me, a young girl tapped my arm. When I turned to face her, I saw a teenager standing with her mom, (she looked like a smaller version of the older woman). "Hello, Professor Servante," said the mother. "I hope you remember me. I am Mrs. Hanasaki. And you must remember my daughter, Norie." It was more a statement than a question. The young girl bowed politely and said, "That's me in the poster. Are you going to the temple for the painting classes?" I told her yes. "Good," she said, "we can walk together."
Along the way, Norie told me that she send me the updates on her school friends in trauma, the church-going one and the one in a coma.
We continued the walk in silence as I tried to remember her friends. Mrs. Hanasaki walked a few feet ahead of us, as if she were giving us space to talk. Norie broke the silence. "I heard you're seeing a psychiatrist."
"Who told you that?"
"Why would he tell you?"
"Because your trauma and mine are similar. Nightmares, right?"
"Right," she said, answering her own question. "My friends Suz and Brie also have similar problems."
"Suz has nightmares, and Brie can't wake up from her nightmares."Brie's the one in a coma."
Norie sighed and said, "I'm sure she's having nightmares though. When me and Suz visit her, we can see her REM movements, you know, the eye flutters. Her body doesn't react, but her eyes always seem active when we're visiting, according to her mother. When we're not there in her bedroom on a visit, her eyes don't flutter. Suz and me seem to be the trigger. Is that the right use of the word? Trigger?"
"Yeah, it's used a lot today by younger social media kids. It's a simplification of a reminder for the traumatic event of one's life."
"You talk like your blog."
"Thanks, I guess."
"I'm glad you're here for the therapy. Suz won't be here today, but when you come next Sunday, she'll be here to talk to you too."
"If I come next Sunday. Wasn't the best train ride over here."
"I'm sure Priest Horaguchi can pick you up."
"I live pretty far away."
"Not according to him. He says you live a stone's throw from the ocean."
"I live by the mountains."
"Ocean. Mountain. Stone's throw. You have to think like a Buddhist priest to see the connection."
Before we entered the Horaguchi Temple, the girl told me not to be so shy, that the others there are outgoing. Then she said something very, very familiar. "To understand painting therapy, you have to surrender to the Buddhist frame of mind. Don't be a buzzkill."
My head started to ache.
Priest Horaguchi had coffee available. Everyone but me was having tea. Horaguchi told me to stop staring like it's the first time I've seen Asians drinking tea. Some cliches are true, he said and laughed. "Sugar-free cookies if you like," he offered. "Still got a few calories, but no sugar." My nervous stomach told me not to eat anything. I slurped the hot coffee, impatient for it to cool. The caffeine should take the edge off my nerves. It worked. My headache subsided. I poured myself another cup as the late arrivals sat around the two tables pushed together to fit at least a dozen painters. 8 people in total showed up.
"Let's begin," Horaguchi announced.
There were three volunteers from Santa Monica College Liberal Arts Department to walk among the 8 artists to help us. With what? I didn't know. But I learned quickly. A young girl came over to me and praised my materials, a box of colored pencils, a box of 100 colored crayons, and a Sketch Pad. She told me the first thing I needed to learn was "perspective". We started with "two-point" perspective. I followed her instructions without really understanding what this had to do with therapy.
This was my first attempt to do a two-perspective drawing. I put to points at the upper left and right of the top of the page, and then I tried to draw a house with walls and a roof that coincided with the two points. I got lost very quickly as you can see. The volunteer told me to try another one.
This is my second two-point perspective drawing. It looks like a M.C. Escher puzzle house.
The third drawing was a bit more satisfying, simple, and it actually looks like it's somewhere close-by with a horizon behind it. I like this one for some reason.
It was about here that Priest Horaguchi, the therapist, saw my drawings and told the volunteer that we are not trying to teach drawing but to help draw out suppressed memories in a safe medium. It was here that the therapist told me to draw whatever came to my mind at that exact moment, not to think about it, just draw.
Without thinking, this is what I drew. The sun, clouds, mountains, and that's supposed to be water flowing down from the mountain under the sun. Funny, but I knew these did not look like mountains, but I liked the sun in the middle.
When the therapist saw my drawing, he asked me how it made me feel. I told him it reminded me of my neighborhood without all the houses, all nature, no people. He said, Good. Draw another.
This is a drawing of the San Gabriel River Basin. I tried using the two-point perspective, and I got confused. So, I added a tree in the corner. Don't know why.
The volunteer stepped in when the therapist moved on to another artist. She told me to forget about the two-point perspective and just draw anything.
I drew a bird. I couldn't get the tail right. Or the wings. Nice head though.
The volunteer said, Good. Now try to expand on the bird idea, but take it in a new direction.
So I drew this bird with human arms. The talons look more like high-heels than claws. The creature is reaching up for the three birds flying overhead. Yeah, those three "M"s are birds. At this point, the volunteer was saying "Good" over and over instead of telling me how to draw talons. She asked me how the drawing made me feel. I told her that it made me feel like a bad artist. She apologized for the whole "two-point perspective" thing and to concentrate on how I feel when I draw what I draw. I looked right at her, eye to eye. She smiled and said, "That's what Priest Horaguchi wants." I nodded and said that the drawing makes me remember something vague. She said, "Good. Go with that feeling and drawing another bird like this one."
I drew this next. A combination of an owl and a "I don't know what". It too felt familiar.
Without waiting for further instructions, I drew this. It's the owl again, only this time it looks more human. I kept on going.
Here I drew a bird-man. The volunteer called the therapist. The both nodded. Horaguchi said that now we're getting somewhere. I told him that I didn't want to draw anymore. He insisted, One more and then you can stop. He sounded like my physical therapist who always asks for five more push-ups when I've reached my limit. I know the extra dive into this area that is bothering me is supposed to be healthy, but it's scary too. I felt uncomfortable, like an anxiety attack was coming. Maybe too much coffee.
Then I drew this one. This was my extra five push-ups, my dive into the man-bird image buried deep in my head. Only here I separated the bird from the man. On the left, that's a "plague doctor" with the infamous beak mask; he's staring at me on the right, and I'm staring back at him to show him I'm not scared, that I know he's just wearing a mask, that's he's not really a bird. This was my favorite picture. The therapist said that I was avoiding the man-bird by creating a "safe" bird, a masked man. The other drawings were real birds with human features, features that scared me. I told him that I liked the drawing. He said that was because it was safe. Safe was not therapeutic. He walked to another artist. The volunteer told me to draw one more picture.
I drew this. It's supposed to be me, but I don't look anything like that. That looks more like me in the picture above with the hoodie and the beard. I think I was diving deeper into that safe place. This was a grotesque version of a little boy. I think. Anyway, it seemed like a good place to stop.
There was about twenty minutes left in the session. No one bothered me as I went to pour myself another cup of coffee. I watched the other artists at work and noted that the volunteers were very young. Both Norie and her Mom were artists. They didn't look like traumatized victims. I wondered if I looked traumatized to them. Before I left, Norie asked me to see my drawings. When she saw them, she smiled and said, I knew it. Birds, huh? Me, too. There part of the nightmares. Yours, too? I shrugged and said, I don't know. I don't remember. That's why I'm here. She added, Well, I've been here longer and I can tell you that you're on the right track. She pointed to my house drawing and wanted to know what that was. "Two-point perspective", I told her. She laughed and said, It needs a little work. We always get different volunteers. Some of them think it's drawing classes. When they find out we're trauma patients, they get uncomfortable and some of them quit. These three volunteers are all new. Are you going to be okay getting home? Sure, I said. She smiled nervously and said, You quit early. I responded, My first time, that's all. And maybe too much coffee. Then she pulled my drawing of the bird-man in the suit. When I first drew this guy, I stopped drawing too. You drew him? I asked. Yes, sir. He's scary. Yes, he is, I agreed. Do you know why? she asked. No, but that's why I'm here--to learn. I'm glad you're here, Professor. Then this teenage girl hugged me. Caught me off guard. Her Mom came over and put her hand on my shoulder. See you next week.
I said my goodbyes and walked to the train station. I dreaded the long ride home.
In my next update, I will summarize my second session with Painting Therapy. I also look forward to talking with my new friends and fellow trauma sufferers.