Today in painting class, we had to dérive (the French word for “drift”) in pairs around the CalArts campus, focusing on how different spots made us react. Psychogeography is what my painting teacher, Jay, called it—how the mind interacts with its environment. My mind is unwinding in this environment, where you call the teachers by their first names.

I was randomly paired with Hao. Hao came to CSSSA directly from China. As a result, he speaks in a Cantonese dialect. We have been communicating with him through a translator app on his phone.

I was really happy to be paired with Hao. I had fun with him and discovered his sense of humor, previously concealed by the language barrier. I wondered if maybe Jay paired us on purpose, because I had worked with Hao before, but I saw with my own eyes, him pulling our names out of his straw hat.

Hao and I followed the road that circled the campus. At first, I relied on the phone to tell him things and make sure he understood. After a while, we just dérive-d and gestured at all of the artistically meaningful things we saw. I realized that I saw a lot more with Hao. Without cloudy pressure to talk or to be funny the skies were clear, and we followed where the road took us.

We entered the school for some AC, where I found my friends with their male partners, sucking in all of the cold air and turning it into flirtatious comments and bouts of fake laughter. I generally observe these instances from the outside and rehearse what not to do when someone I am attracted to walks my way. Even Hao was confused. “They are like this because they are around boys,” I typed into the phone. Laughter and ferocious nodding from Hao’s end.

They were still my friends, so we sat down in the hallway with them. Something bubbled inside me whenever they said something stupid to the boys. I turned my attention to Hao, who was laughing at an NBA mashup video on Twitter. I typed to him about basketball; he typed back. No one else was in on our conversation. The “barrier” was more like a blessing, or just a vessel that meant our thoughts took longer to reach each other. We were forced to choose our words instead of spitting out whatever our minds conjured. Having not spoken (coherently) to each other for the whole two hours, using only gestures and noises, I can say that I experienced more psychogeography than anyone else in the class. ♦