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Colin Summers Headshot

The Texture of My Brain

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I've written before about learning to draw, but the truth is I can't really draw. I mean, not the way I would like to. Not like an artist. Not like Renee French. She's been drawing every day since she could hold a pencil. That gives you such a great control of line, light, and texture.

And the texture, ah the texture. For me art is all about expelling something from your head, getting it out of the place of rumination and into the world. And there is the hope that it will resonate with someone, connect and make sense to someone else. Renee's art does that for me. There is a lot of congruent lines on the page that she fills and what is crowded up behind my eyes.

For her latest book, that's even more true. It is called H Day and will be published by PictureBox on November 15 2010. There are no words, it is a story told entirely in pictures, a story about Renee's struggle with migraines and the world she descends into when she has one.

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That's something I'm familiar with. Like Renee, I have had migraines since I was a teenager. When they returned (after a decade-long hiatus I attribute to meeting my wife) I was no longer quite as willing to suffer through them and went to a neurologist who sent me to get scanned. So now I know what my brain looks like sitting in my skull. I wish it had more room. Especially when it is wrapped with a migraine.

Wrapped with a migraine, I long for my brain to have wide open vistas. But not deserted plains, those feel like they'd have a whistling wind. Whistling is the last thing you want with a migraine. Nothing sharp. Soft edges, deep spaces that vanish into shadow, calm waters that stretch to an indeterminate horizon. Just like some of these drawings.

Lying abed, my brain strangled, the small motive portion of my mind still capable of movement tries to wander these landscapes. Some other, slightly crippled portion of my mind creates the scene around the next corner just before I turn it. All the while, I can't move. The room needs to be dark. Sounds need to be muted.

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For some sense of this, read Renee's book. Her migraines last for days. On the pages on the left a figure struggles with the migraine (here abed), while on the right is the story. For me the story is the stutter-shutter, strobe flashed, retina searing but burn-fading images that I can make out during a headache.

It is a little unnerving to page all the way through Renee's book. The first time I picked it up I couldn't finish it. I've never seen the end of one of my own migraines. They knock me out, exhausted and spent I fall into a sweaty-pillow sleep. I swim shallow dreams usually disconnected from anything real, unpeople by anyone I know, and I awake having only just returned from these odd places. These landscapes are in her book.

Many migraine sufferers have visual components to their headaches. Renee gets some aura. I have had that only once or twice, usually mine affect my vision by tunneling it and removing information (I no longer know the centerline of a room, something which is there for me otherwise). And I can't really talk.

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So a book of all images, the verbal component removed, with one desperate character pinned to a bed, which the staccato, syncopated story of a character unable to fully understand or explain its surroundings, that's exactly what's happening to me. It is a glove my hand fits into so perfectly that I turned the book over a couple times, looking for the trick.

In my twenties I could stand at a drafting table and draw while a migraine rolled over me. It wasn't easy to talk, but I could live in the world of the page. Now I try to duck dive (my friend Antoine is a surfer, he could explain that term better than I can) and let the wave of the migraine pass over me. So H Day also shows me what I'm missing. And reminds me that I can't draw.