A friend told me when I turned 50 some magical effect would take over me, and that essentially, I would be able to let most things go, not give a hoot over the little things (little things include petty, perfectionist people) and other positively beneficial emotions. Now that I am a few months into my 11th anniversary of 39 years, I suppose she was right. Maybe 50 is a magic number: in this decade we have thirty years of cumulative (starting from our 20s) life experiences: bosses, jobs, mates, perhaps children, and a reel of social media platitudes constantly reminding us to relax, relax, and relax. And I confess: last year, when I was turning 50, I was elbow-deep in teacher evaluation hell and crying uncontrollably. A lot. (Of course there were plenty of organic, changes, milestones, and other layered factors that contributed.)
But there is something about finding that “good enough” confidence. And if you find it before you turn 50, or well after, it doesn’t matter. There is never a bad time to find this lily pad of peace. Toward the beginning of September I had this bubble of calm moment, this Zen chewy center, where I realized how much my whole life of art has created who I am, and how amazing that is. That no other teacher I know has my unique and qualified essential background in the visual arts, or approaches Language Arts the same exact way I do. I run my classroom more like a studio than a cubicle office. For years, I recognized my fatal flaw is not handling those who lack imagination well. (Understatement? Oh yes.) The dart-throwers, balloon-poppers and candy-stealers. Those who would rather take my mojo and throw it in the garbage than figure out how to create their own.
I am somewhat envious of Two Writing Teachers. They have found this collaborative and important place to do good work. I am at an odd place right now, where I’m on the sidelines – no longer the rock star teacher, and not really asked to contribute or lead. I am definitely at that “now what?” question/stage in my teaching career.
So exactly how did my BFA help me be a better Language Arts teacher?
1. I took plenty of risks, including hours of figure drawing.
2. I put my art on the “wall” for review on a weekly basis.
3. I spent hours experimenting with various mediums to get exactly what I wanted. (Truth be known I didn’t know ahead of time it was what I wanted: my world was full of happy accidents.)
4. I got my hands (and clothes) dirty. I was primarily a print-maker, so rubbing grit on a lithographic stone is a texture that is burned in my memory.
5. I talked.
6. I listened.
7. I spent hours looking.
8. I failed.*
9. I was rejected.
10. I succeeded.*
11. I painted little.
12. I painted HUGE canvases that took up whole walls.
13. I lost art along the way.
14. I knew to pour black paint on a white canvas and get over fear.
15. I sought to understand art throughout history, and the story those artists were telling.
16. I had great mentors.
17. I painted over. Started over. Trashed. And Resurrected.
But the answer to the “now what?” question may be just this simple: enjoy this time. Enjoy this time that I know what I’m doing, I know when I need to change or tweak something, and I know when to put something aside or try something new. I am, and always will be, a work in progress. And if no one else understands my themes or style, then so be it. I will keep focused on this on-going struggle for communication and connection, and know that a portfolio of life is not always what stays in, but what is taken out.
*the biggie: it was how I determined my failures and successes, and this reflective, recursive, and responsive process has helped me immeasurably. My personal metric was often a combination of what I was trying to communicate synergized with what others perceived. Powerful stuff.