Dabbling in Doodles
Someday I will be a professional doodler. When I tell this to my doorman Faisal he chuckles. I show him notebooks filled with sketches, pages crawling with portraits of classmates and cartoons of fantastical polka dotted critters. As he gazes at the drawings he shares stories of his own quirky childhood hobbies, memories of the life he led in far-away Bangladesh.
My favorite time to doodle is while gazing past water-splotched bus windows on my way home from school. My loose-leaf pages become a sanctuary from work and productivity. Each doodle is a soundboard for my dreams and imagination. I draw my younger brother standing before the Capitol building, fulfilling his aspiration to run for Congress. I draw my mother tending to her windowsill flowerpots and Faisal sitting behind his lobby desk. The audience for my doodles is expansive, encompassing family, peers, and neighbors. When I decide to show them to my building superintendent José, we begin to develop a friendship. His chuckles bob alongside the bang banging of his toolkit as he admires my sketches and in return informs me of his own passions, such as his interest in auto racing.
One day I show Faisal a doodle of my mother gardening and describe her budding interest in blossoms. Perking up, Faisal tells me that he volunteers at a community garden near his home in Queens. “You should give my mom advice for her flowerpots,” I exclaim. But Faisal shakes his head uncomfortably. He and my mother do not speak often, besides exchanging the occasional “good evening.”
Flipping through my notebooks, I see that the doodles reflect a community that is tight-knit, yet fractured. My circle of neighbors functions as an extended family of sorts, leaving apartment doors unlocked and sharing Friday night dinners. One sketch portrays us partaking in a Sukkot celebration; each year we mark the Jewish harvest festival by building a Sukkah, a hut, in which we eat a potluck dinner. Though my neighbors eagerly engage with one another, they do not often reach out to Faisal and José. The community is homogenous—Jewish and white-collar—and individuals like Faisal and José are shoved into the margins.
But I have come to learn that my doodling dexterity can be used to bring people together. During Sukkot of my junior year I invite Faisal and José to join me and my neighbors in decorating the Sukkah and eating dinner together. We all gather in the hut, acquaintances turned friends as the attendees exchange smiles and handshakes. I propose that we create a communal poster to brighten the Sukkah’s walls and we all begin to doodle on a large canvas. The paper absorbs the many facets of our community. It absorbs Faisal’s childhood memories through his sketches of home and family and my brother’s political aspirations through the campaign slogans that he scrawls. José’s drawings depict automobiles and my mother’s convey her interest in gardening. As we doodle we share memories and anecdotes. At the end of the evening the canvas is hung on the Sukkah’s wall.
I have realized that my doodles are not isolated images. Like the dots of pastel color in Seurat’s pointillist paintings, they unite to form one large portrait. Gazing at the canvas I see my mother’s cartoons and Faisal’s sketches. The canvas, like my community, is a work in progress—divisions still need to be erased and connections penciled in. But when I step back and squint my eyes the lines between the images begin to blur. The doodles overlap, forming a single reflection of my community.