How To Climb Out Of The Bad Hole by Frances Waite

Prose, The Process Column


"Upcycling," 2016, 14 by 17 inches
“Upcycling,” 2016, 14 by 17 inches


Sixty scary afternoons per year I spend wondering if my drawing will ever come back (it does). When it’s good it’s great and when it’s bad it’s missing. I’ve built my own mantras, my own prayers and tricks to make it reappear.

My best remedy is to find a second system of expression that hits as close to the bone as possible. For me this is often a lot of reading, a lot of writing, a lot of music, and most importantly, a lot of shitty drawing for as long as I can stand. If you stop drawing when your system is down it might be years before you get it back, and I don’t think I could survive that. So, lots of drawing that you hide from everyone including yourself because it feels so weak and so unrelated to you. And you do this until you’re crazy and then you read until you’re dumb.

"When It's Sweet," 2016, 14 by16 inches
“When It’s Sweet,” 2016, 14 by16 inches

If you do it right and you do it long enough, eventually something tiny and great lands in one of your shitty, embarrassing drawings. It winks at you and says hey, remember me? And then you want to cry because you finally got your pieces back, but you don’t cry because now you can draw about it instead. The rest is very close to magic. The first good drawing after the storm feels like the best drug. And it really is the best drug, because it makes you feel like a person that can move their body around again, and it makes you feel like you can say real things to anybody that wants to listen (somebody always wants to listen). This part of the process makes me humble. I have my baby back but my baby is me, and by some stroke of luck or greatness I have the tools I need to be real and to be alive and to feel good.

Last time I was in the reading phase I plowed through The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis and found “Break It Down,” which in its last paragraph says most of what I’m trying to say here, but better.

I guess you get to a point where you look at that pain as if it were there in front of you three feet away lying in a box, an open box, in a window somewhere. It’s hard and cold, like a bar of metal. You just look at it there and say, All right, I’ll take it, I’ll buy it. That’s what it is. Because you know all about it before you even go into this thing. You know the pain is part of the whole thing. And it isn’t that you can say afterwards the pleasure was greater than the pain and that’s why you would do it again. That has nothing to do with it. You can’t measure it, because the pain comes after and it lasts longer. So the question really is, Why doesn’t that pain make you say, I won’t do it again? When the pain is so bad you have to say that, but you don’t.

"Me and My Ghost," 2016, 12 by 16 inches
“Me and My Ghost,” 2016, 12 by 16 inches

I think she’s talking about love, but making a drawing to keep on living is loving, too. And I know it’s dramatic and maybe not relatable to constantly sew together one’s will to live with one’s ability to draw, but that is really how it feels for me. Without drawing I am a lump that can’t express itself, can’t even perform itself as a lump. And so by that measure, drawing is loving because being alive is being in love with anything enough to stick around.


Frances Waite‘s new show, “My Girl,” is on display through October 9 at the Elijah Wheat Showroom, 1196 Myrtle Ave, Brooklyn.