A Caboodle of Doodles

I’ve been doodling a lot lately. Not in a gaze-off-into-the-distance kind of way but as an activity with intrinsic merit and no aim or outcome – a novelty in my task/deadline-oriented world. This is seemingly at odds with the rationale for doodling that I recently submitted as part my art therapy practitioner qualification: 

Although it may seem like messy child’s play, doodling (or scribbling) is a valuable and effective tool for tapping into our subconscious, leading to work that can be highly expressive and symbolic of what is happening within us, and therefore can promote self-awareness and understanding. Doodling is a useful complementary tool for CBT that encourages self-reflection without the stress of trying to perfect an art technique or to not make mistakes. In music terms, doodling is comparable to jazz, particularly scatting (non-vocal improv). As a representation of the unconscious mind, doodling may seem unconstructed, random even, but themes and deeper meanings often emerge, which can be unpacked by the art therapist and client.

So much for doodling having no aim or outcome.

This, of course, begs the question of whether a person is well-situated to discern the nuances of their own doodling, let alone to analyse its meaning. For someone who imagines, conceives, plans, plots, develops, refines and organises ad nauseam each day, it was, er… challenging to let my pen drift across the page with no destination in sight. It was even more challenging to clear my cluttered consciousness, so I wasn’t bogged down by the fact that my pen was drifting across the page with no destination in sight. My drawing harks back to my toddler days. And as for its meaning? Well, your guess is as good as mine.

My first doodle started off with shapes, which soon became objects at great height and some distance. There were stairs to climb, depths to fall. Books (representing knowledge, and possibly also work?) appear larger than the adjacent buildings. In the middle of the sky, people are coming to rescue someone at the top who is calling out, presumably me. The major theme – I’m guessing – is pressure. Not sure what the (overgrown) flower-like shapes represent – perhaps the roundabout of life and its choices (though possibly the towers in the final season of Westworld, which I had just binged). Vertical lines towards the left of the drawing resemble a staircase, though there are obvious gaps in the handrail (symbolising risks in seeking growth or hazards in the journey?). Additional themes (again, a strong guess) include fear, fear of heights, stress and surrender. 

Hardly earth-shattering stuff. But the interesting thing is by doodling this drawing, I started to ponder the pervasive sense of pressure that I feel most days – work, social, family etc. Some of the pressure is circumstantial (too much to do, not enough time); most times, the pressure is self-imposed. And I couldn’t help but wonder why, in my seventh decade on the planet, am I still subjecting myself to so much pressure? Why am I not only embracing, but creating, challenge after challenge, as though I am on some sort of existential game show where the winner is, in fact, the loser? (Side note: why am I spending time and energy getting an arts therapy practitioner qualification that I have no plans to use, much like my PhD in philosophy all those years ago?)

This is the second doodle that I produced for the module, which expounds on the pressure theme, even though I didn’t quite realise this as my hand was moving across the page.

Some of the puzzle pieces stand out more than others. Some are edged in colour, possibly revealing an integration of various aspects of my life, though most days it seems more like a fragmentation. Perhaps the pieces edged in red are what my subconscious deems as pressing and perplexing, and the ones edged in blue arguably less troubling. Yellow is not my go-to colour, yet here it seems to demarcate the areas of life where I’m seeking a better balance or outcome. 

What’s the point of all this? I honestly have no idea. But I’m trying to get used to the fact that there doesn’t have to be an immediate answer for every question, that purpose is often found down the track or after the fact, that meaning, whether in life, work or doodling, tends to reveal itself in stages … and sometimes not at all. As I find that statement deeply disconcerting, perhaps the real point is that there doesn’t need to be a point, that questions are still worth asking even when answers prove elusive. No wonder I studied philosophy for so many years.

What I’m doing (other than asking questions with no point): pitching a picture book to an overseas publisher who has expressed interest, jumping into the text for another (picture) book coming out in ’24, doing one last check on a YA novel before a final hurrah, exec producing a music video to be released early next year, entertaining family visiting from overseas, growing avocados, checking in with friends who are not well, winding down for the holidays, eating too much chocolate. 

Oh, and doodling.