Anyway, I decided that to get me through a month of posts at a time when my blogging ambition is lagging, I needed a theme. And then a couple weeks ago, without even knowing it, Marmite Breath gave me one. She linked to Bella Dia's Encyclopedia of Me meme, the basic idea of which is to post one thing for every letter of the alphabet in sequence. They can be little-known facts, memories, associations--anything, as long as it starts with the right letter. In the end, everyone participating should have something akin to Amy Krouse Rosenthal's Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.
It sounds like an intriguing idea to me. Moreover, it sounds like damn-near a month of posts. So that is what I shall be doing. Feel free to join me and play along if you like. The more the merrier, Bella Dia encouraged.
Today, on Day One, we begin with A, of course. And for me, A will be for art.
(Note: My story doesn't start with art, but I promise you, I will get there.)
When I was four years old, my mother took me to the local elementary school for pre-kindergarten testing. It must have been a big day in my young life, as I've heard my mother recount the story with bits of pride and disdain countless times in the twenty-nine years since. In particular, there are three details she likes to share about the event. First, when the school representative brought me back out to my mother after the test, the woman apparently said she was sorry it took so long, but that she "couldn't find [my] top." When my mother tells this story, she explains how baffled (and presumably at least marginally horrified) she was, as she couldn't imagine any reason pre-kindergarten testing would involve removing my shirt. It turns out the lady meant she couldn't find the top of my skill level, or she couldn't stump me on much. I was smarter than the average four-year-old. Yay me. I think I may have peaked too early in life, unfortunately.
The second thing my mother relays is how appalled the tester was that I could do basic math. "Did you know she can add??" the woman asked. "Well, yeah," my mom responded. "We work on that sort of thing on the way to her grandma's house every week." "But... four-year-olds can't add!" the woman insisted. I'm pretty sure four-year-olds can add, actually, and that modern-day pre-schools probably include that in the curriculum. In the late 70s, however, the field of education must have had less lofty goals for us.
Finally, the third thing my mother remembers is that despite how impressed with me the tester was, despite how confident she was that I'd have no trouble tackling the academic rigors of kindergarten, she was disturbed by the pictures of people that I drew during the test. No, my undoubtedly crude figures weren't holding knives or guns, and they weren't doing anything unnatural or inhumane. They just didn't have necks. Apparently four-year-olds are supposed to know that people have necks, and they should know enough to include those necks in their drawings. Oh, the horror. How dare I.
That was, however, the last time for several years that anyone criticized my artistic talents. In grade school, if my class had had a "Best Artist" prize, I'd have won it every year. I loved to draw. I filled notebook after notebook with pictures of people and places and things. In junior high, I started copying ads from Seventeen and Sassy, not just recreating the turtle or the pirate in the "Take this test and get into art school" ad in the back, but sketching the girls and the clothes in the Esprit and Benetton ads, trying to capture their hair and outfits in every detail. In high school, I quit band to make room for art electives, and I took every class the department offered.
Like any other kid, I went through phases with the "what do you want to be when you grow up" question, but the first thing I ever remember wanting to be was a children's book illustrator. By the time I got to 11th grade, that was my answer yet again. I had planned for my whole life to be an art major, and I still assumed that was what I would do.
And then came Senior year. I don't know what happened that suddenly made me doubt my ability, but I rather hastily decided I would never make it as an artist. I had been torn between Art and English anyway, so when I got to college, I went down the literature and writing path instead. I don't regret it. My 17-year-old self was right: I really didn't have the talent to earn a living in art. I could replicate other people's ideas, but didn't have nearly enough of my own. I've always been a bit regimented and left-brained, but for years I fought it, thinking, "No! I am creative! Really!" And in some ways, I definitely am. But logic and structure almost always win out. This may have little to do with artistic talent, but it overlaps somehow, I think.
I had only one class in the Fine Arts building during my entire five years of college, and it was an Art History class, not hands on. I still sort of scratch my head wondering how I gave it up so quickly--something that was so important to me for so very long. I could have been an art minor, at least. Some more well-honed design skills would actually be a helpful complement when creating documents in my current line of work. I didn't think of it that way at the time. Paranoia set in, and I think I figured I'd be laughed straight out of Fine Arts. Who did this to me? I have no idea. The teenaged mind is a strange and unpredictable place.
What's more strange to me is how something that so consistently defined me for all of my young life is something most of my friends today don't even know as part of me. "Hey, you can draw pretty well!" someone will say, in a game of Pictionary or Cranium. My high school friends would have handed me the pencil for their team immediately, knowing I was their go-to girl.
I was just trying to remember a quote I once read... It was from either some well-respected and timeless sage such as Emerson or a modern-day Chicken Soup for the Soul-type prophet like Robert Fulghum, and it addressed whether growing old is a process of giving things up or if you grow old because you give things up. I can't remember the precise wording, though, and a Google search for it has been futile. Or, almost futile, rather. I didn't find the quote I was looking for, but I found the same sentiment from an unexpected source: Kevin Arnold. Yes, the Kevin Arnold played by Fred Savage on TV's The Wonder Years. He said...
"When you're a little kid, you're a little bit of everything. Artist, scientist, athlete, scholar. Sometimes it seems like growing up is the process of giving these things up one by one. I guess we all have one thing we regret giving up. One thing we really miss. That we gave up because we were too lazy or we couldn't stick it out or because we were afraid."
I can relate. And maybe (that great big someday maybe), I should get myself a sketchbook and see if any of it is still there.
So tell me... what did you give up after childhood that you sort of miss today?