Ode to Paper

Ever since I can remember, I have always had an obsession with stationary. Many times as a girl, I would slip away from my mother, and could be found wandering the aisle of the office supply section of the grocery store. To this day, I cannot leave a store without perusing the aisle of pens, pencils, and paper. I appreciate a good pen, a quality pencil, and nicely textured sheet of paper.

My biological mother gifted me a bag of trinkets saved from my early childhood, from a time before trauma had fully engulfed my family and I was still living at home with her. Among the old pictures, standardised test results, report cards, and drawings, I discovered what is most likely the first poem I had ever written, given my handwriting, inability to properly write my own name, and the phonetic spelling of words, I would place it somewhere around age 5.

The poem is not particularly well crafted, it kind of stinks, actually, however the emotional sentiment expressed is compelling. More interesting to me, however was the paper on which it was scribed. As I looked at the poem, I felt a sensual memory coming to the front of my mind, driven by the texture and scent of the damaged paper.

I recalled that paper was often in short supply at my house, since paper was expensive for my family, it wasn’t something with which my mother readily parted. I can imagine, my mother sitting in the dining room at her makeshift office, making cold calls. One of my mother’s three jobs was to work at home as a telemarketer for an independent insurance agent setting appointment leads with businesses.

I would listen to her professional phone voice and marvel at her ability to switch dramatically between that serene tone, and the shrill screech she used to correct my brother, as he attempted to lift my body high in the air by my arms while I cried out in terror.

She’d mark her notations on a yellow legal pad, and make doodles along the edges of the margins as she ran through her well rehearsed pitch. I remember asking her for a sheet of paper, and she looked at me and sighed, “If I give this to you, you need to take it in to the other room, and let Mama work.” I took the long floppy piece of yellow and ran with it gleefully into my room. I lied down on my stomach as I always did when I wrote. I used my pencil to scrawl a picture of her. After my creation was complete, I ran back into the dining room, and gifted her my masterpiece. She sighed, and watched my beaming face, slightly annoyed that I had once again interrupted her phone calls, but also happy to review my work of art. I asked for another sheet of paper.

“No more paper, that’s enough. Go play.” She stated firmly. I begged her to play ‘Barbies’ with me, and she replied, “Play with your sister.” Which of course, I did not want to do, because she was a baby, and she would only break in her new baby teeth all over them. The few Barbies I had, were littered with bite marks, and their hands and feet had already become a mangled mass of flesh coloured plastic.

As I continued to plea with her, she handed me a book, and told me to go read it to my sister, and play school. Under normal circumstances, I would have done just that. As playing school, was among one of my favourite games. On this particular occasion however, I opened the front of the book, and saw that the first page was blank. The texture of the paper wasn’t like the waxy pages found in my picture books, it felt soft, like real paper. I took the book into my room, and slowly peeled the page out of the book as carefully as I could. A fresh sheet of paper!

I decided that in order to justify my crime, I had to make this ill gotten piece of paper into something spectacular. My mother often wrote poetry, and read it aloud to hear the pattern and flow of the words as they fell into the air. I thought I might write a poem about her, and that was sure to impress.

I wanted to make it official though, so I created a title page, complete with a picture of the author. On the reverse side, I wrote my poem:

the sun is rising
just like the flowers bloom
and you are sitting
all day long
just like the flowers are still
but you are still, like a flower
and I like you
you, you, you, you

While, “The Sun is Rising” certainly isn’t going to start a new poetic renaissance, the poem did illuminate my fascination, and I no longer wonder at my proclivity for paper, or why I am drawn to the shelves brimming with school supplies. The tactile expression of paper has the power to recall memories buried deep inside ourselves, in a way that my MacBook will never be able to emulate.

The immense joy and pride that I felt hanging on to my very own pad of paper, and pack of Crayola jumbo crayons, as I ran into my first day of Kindergarten, will likely never be matched. Perhaps, the joy I feel as I watch my students transform a blank page into a work of art, or the pride I have felt as I watched my own children craft a piece of paper into a creative work comes closest.

The power of autonomy that comes from creating something out of nothing, and the simple pleasure of the tactile sensation of paper, creates a memory that can be recalled through our senses and experienced again, decades after we thought we had forgotten.

Published by Naomi

M. Naomi Fuqua is an Art Educator and Multimedia Artist from Houston, Texas.

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