It’s a strange thing, writing about my life. Deciding what to share, what it is that I want people to know about me. My instinct is to write openly about my struggles and disappointments. I’ve noticed sometimes, though, that doing so can incite a reaction of pity or sympathy. That’s not really what I want, so I’m not effectively conveying my message in those instances. What I would really like to convey is a message of: that really sucked, it was awful, but I made it through, and I’m better for it. I want to convey a message of hope.
I was 17. My best friend for the past year and a half had suddenly and abruptly moved across the country. He was my boyfriend and constant companion. Things were bleak, and I was more than a little lost. The highlight of my days had started to become art class and it was the one class that I still attended regularly. I’d always loved art, but at this point, I really began throwing myself into it, spurred on by a substitute art teacher. The regular teacher was taking time off to recover from a surgery. The temporary teacher was young and vibrant, possibly fresh out of college or still attending. She was encouraging, and available for discussion. Perhaps it was her age that made her more accessible and approachable in my mind. I’d shared with her my desire to create art as a professional. Again, I was met with encouragement. She gave me information about the art department at the local college.
The regular teacher returned before the end of the semester of my Junior year. He pulled me aside one day told me he had discussed my plans with the substitute. He then told me that he thought I should reconsider, he didn’t think I had what it took to be an artist and added that I didn’t have a style of my own.
I was crushed. Now, I can look back at this moment and I realize that it was the first time of many when I would give too much credence to what other people thought of me and my decisions. But it wasn’t just his words that weighed on me. I had a secret: I was pregnant. I was lonely, lost, and scared. The thing that I clung to as my own, my artistic nature, had just been slapped down. Everything that I thought I knew had turned upside down, and inside out. I began to question everything from my judgement to my abilities.
Not long ago, I pressed my mother to tell me when she had been proud of me over the course of my life. She said that she’d never been more proud than the day that I stood in front of the whole school, 8 months pregnant, and did the choir program. I allowed myself to imagine what that must have been like for her. Sitting in the high school auditorium watching as her teen daughter held her head high. Surely, she must have seen my strength and determination in completing the task at hand, regardless of my advanced state of pregnancy. The only problem with her point of pride is that it never happened, at least, not the way she told it. I did finish my Junior year, I did sing with the choir, but I was only a few months pregnant at the end of that year. My pregnancy was not clearly visible.
I didn’t return for my Senior year. I received my GED that summer when I truly was round and obviously pregnant. When I started college the following year, I majored in English, not Art. But I couldn’t keep myself from art completely, and within my first year, I’d signed up for a watercolor class, because it’s what I was comfortable working with. Early one morning in the studio, my painting professor paused at my work station. She asked what I was majoring in, upon hearing my response, she pointed out that we needed to fix it. Clearly, I was an artist. It was a moment of redemption.
I’ve often reflected on the motivations of my high school art teacher. Perhaps it was intended as a way to motivate me. Perhaps he really thought I was in for nothing but disappointment. Perhaps it was a reflection of his own experience: he was telling his story, not mine. It doesn’t matter.
I trudged through a strange and tumultuous time, sometimes doubling back, spinning my tires, or completely misguided. But it all came up again: clearly, I am an artist. I create because it is a compulsion, a need within me. To deny it is futile. Regardless of what anyone else thinks of it.
A friend of mine from college sent me a photograph this morning. She’d kept a piece of my art. It would appear that it is a timely coincidence for this blog.