Thursday, November 01, 2007

When you read, you begin with A, B, C. When you blog, you begin with me, me, me.

Hello, and welcome to NaBloPoMo Day One. I kind of can't believe I haven't even made any jokes yet this year about the absurdity of that acronym. I figure I did enough of that last year. (My favorite is still rhyming it with Mario Cuomo, but I think I was the only one amused by that.)

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?


Jess said...

This is such a fascinating post. It's always so interesting how people you meet at different times in your life view you so differently. For me it's about hair length--some people think of me as having short hair, and other as having long hair, all depending on whether they met me before or after I cut my hair off to donate.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to the rest of the alphabet.

lizgwiz said...

I had a big crate of "art" supplies under my bed for most of my growing-up years. I think I'd pretty much given it up by high school, though...too involved in music. I'm sure I wasn't all that good, but I always enjoyed it so much...why did I cut it out of my life so completely? Maybe I should force myself to take an art class at some point.

Are you going to make the "O" post the "hooray for olives" post we never got last year? ;)

L Sass said...

Lady, take an art class. Why not? We perfectionist types tend not to indulge our hobbies unless we can be Perfect at them. Why not just draw because you enjoy it?

I have always loved to write fiction, but, same thing, felt I needed a more practical career. But, I feel like I've come to peace with the idea that I can write little sketches and stories just for myself and never have to worry about the professional angle. (And blog, too, of course!)

Whiskeymarie said...

Like you, I gave up the idea of a more "artistic" career, at least for about 10 years. In high school I wanted to go to the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC, which- as I type it now- seems kind of lame.
But I had all the info, I had started filling out all of the forms...
then I chickened out.
I'm not sure why.
I don't think that I would have been the next Karan or LaCroix or anything, but I thought if I could carve out some sort of career in the field, well, that would be fine.
But, such is life and here I am in a still somewhat creative and interesting vocation.

But I still always think- what if?

-R- said...

Why are you trying to make me think so hard at 10 am?!

Just kidding. Good post. But I am not sure what I gave up. Writing fiction maybe.

Anonymous said...

I definitely stopped writing fiction. I considered trying the NaNoWriMo this year instead of the blog posting, but I couldn't wrap my head around 1,500 words a day of a coherent story line. Maybe next year!

And yeah, why not take an art class? It would be fun, if nothing else...

Anonymous said...

That's sweet. My grandma wanted to be an artist, too, and actually got into an art school. She was all set to go when her evil, horrible father told her she couldn't. (He really was a bad man, and that was the least of the reasons). Anyway, I know that's always been a big regret of hers, not defying her father and just going.

I blogged about it once, but I really wanted to be an astronaut. For serious. I gave it up when I learned I needed math aptitude, which I have none. I still don't get that. I mean, let the math guy fly the spaceship. I'll point out the stars and shit.

Anonymous said...

I totally identify with your childhood artistic confidence. I was the same way. But, despite worries that I'd never make it as an artist, I decided to be an art major anyways. I struggled with a lot of feelings of inadequacy at first, and through the whole of the experience really. But, I learned a lot about myself and about art. I eventually discovered painting, and found that to be something I really enjoyed.

I had grand plans of moving to New York and living the difficult life of an artist. But it never happened. I stayed at the University and managed to get a job that's half paperwork half graphic design. It's a compromise, but I've found myself happy with it.

To answer your question about what I gave up after childhood... I think perhaps I gave up a large part of my imagination. It just sort of floated away and the gap was filled with work and responsibilities and reality. I miss my childhood sense of wonderment and fantasy.

Anonymous said...

Also, I love that they asked your Mom if she knew that you could add. Like she was going to make a shocked face and say, "No! Really? I wonder where she might have picked that up?"

Paisley said...

I gave up on DREAMING. I wanted to do gymnastics (and did for a while), ballet, sing, and write.

I was the third and my mom did all of that stuff with my sisters, so not really with me. I did it all by myself in the family room, pretending really well.

So I miss writing (I didn't pretend writing. now that's just weird) and I wish I could say I missed ice skating.

Anonymous said...

Also, thanks for putting yet ANOTHER song in my head.

Mair said...

May I steal this idea? Abby suggested it to me.

Also, LOVE the redesign. Love, love, love. Sorry I have been away and did not see it.

Anonymous said...

I could not add at 4, but I could play adult card games at 4. My parents had no lofty goals for me. Luckily my daycare did.

Poppy said...

Sigh, stupidity. Alright, I'll use my damn Blogger account.

Stefanie said...

Jess--I know what you mean about people viewing you differently in terms of appearance, too. Everybody knows me now as a girl who wears glasses, and it's weird to think I'm one of those people who, if people see without the glasses, they say, "I don't think I've ever seen you without your glasses! It's weird!" I am very familiar with the way my face looks without them, but I know what they mean, I guess.

Liz--I guess I decided that "Hooray for Olives" would just be code for a tiny post of no import, but I did use it as a subject line on my last NaBlo post last year! :-) Think they'd bump me out of the running if I actually published a post that said nothing but that??

L Sass--It's not even so much that I need to be perfect, but it's like art (much like creative writing) is something I came to do just for a class, not for myself, and when I wasn't taking classes anymore, I stopped. Maybe you're right, then, and if that's what my problem was, I should take a class now.

WM--I'm glad I'm not the only one who simultaneously wonders "what if" and realizes it's OK that I didn't pursue it because the choice I made instead is just fine.

R--Sorry. You sound cranky! Still sick?

NPW--I'm not sure I have a novel in me, actually, but 30 days of blogging seemed do-able. Good luck to you if you try it, though!

Nabb--Ha! I definitely think it would be OK to let at least one astronaut on the shuttle at a time who doesn't know the math stuff. NASA may, unfortunately, disagree.

Kelli--Good for you for pursuing art anyway. And it sounds like you've found a good balance. Also, I think we all probably miss our childhood sense of wonderment and fantasy. Why does growing up make us so boring?? :-)

NPW--Yeah, I was all stealthy and wily, learning math on the sly. Too funny.

Paisley--I always wanted to do gymnastics, too, but they didn't even offer it in my hometown. Damn small town life. Also, I don't think I knew you were the youngest of three. For some reason I just assumed you were a middle child like me!

Nabb--You're welcome. As I said in my email, just consider it payback for sticking "Why Does the Sun Shine" in MY head yesterday. :-)

Malia--Certainly you may steal it. It wasn't my idea in the first place, and the woman I got the idea from encouraged stealing it and creating a big meme. I look forward to reading your own alphabet!

Poppy--See, your parents were just teaching you something USEFUL! Who needs math anyway? Oh. Right. Astronauts. (Poor Nabbalicious.) Also, what--wouldn't Blogger let you post using your new credentials?? I'm baffled by what goes on with comments sometimes.

Poppy said...

I can't comment subscribe and it just says "poppy" but doesn't let you know you can click my name to visit my site. Not that I'm trying to pimp my site on your site... But it just looks like I'm not who I say I am.

Anonymous said...


Stefanie said...

OK, I just commented as you and it worked for me... I'm not sure why the first time it put my own URL in front of yours, creating a broken link. :-(

You're right, though; it doesn't seem to let you comment subscribe. Damn. Blogger is getting a lot more stuff right lately, but I guess it's still not ideal.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea about this! (Why am I shocked? As though I actually knew you in real life? Weird!) I definitely think you should get a sketchbook and/or take an art class. Ooh! Maybe you'll meet a Mr. Sensitive Artsy Man in the process!

I gave up the french horn and never looked back.

Anonymous said...

I used to do art, but I've never been able to "let go." I'm just good at copying. I never attempted to draw the turtle.

Julia said...

When I was a freshman in high school, I had signed up for a fashion and design class because I love to sew, but then I dropped it because I thought that only losers took any family and consumer ed type classes in high school. I, of course, was far too academically minded for that kind of thing. It's the one thing I regret about my high school career. Sewing is still something I love, and if I could have learned how to draft patterns back in the day, I would be so happy right now. Instead it's mainly off the shelf patterns for me, unless it's something simple like a skirt.

Courtney said...

Can we see some of your old drawings? Please?

Michelle | Bleeding Espresso said...

This is a great post--so great, that I just may borrow this idea and link to you. Just so happens that I used to draw well too, and still can, although like you was never sure I had the creativity to invent things on my own (same with writing fiction until I sat down and did some of it). I'd love to get drawing again, do more painting (took classes in high school, but stopped b/c I don't know why...didn't see a career in it, so what was the point?).

I also used to play the flute pretty well although it was never a huge passion--wouldn't mind picking it up again though now, just as a method of relaxation (assuming I can still play somewhat otherwise not very relaxing!).

I think I gave up a lot of artistic/creative things b/c I was dead set on doing something practical that would give me a good, stable career. And then I left the law to write. Huh.

Great post and Happy NaBloPoMo Mario Cuomo ;)

VermontRockies said...

Music and theater. And musical theater. I was one of those kids who was always on stage somewhere, usually as Cute Background Child #4 or some equally important role with the Duluth Playhouse or other community theater. For instance: I was the Statue of Liberty as a third grader because I was the only kid in the entire elementary school capable of standing still for 45 minutes. A couple years later I was in a professional staging of Hansel & Gretel...not as one of the lead children - oh no, those are played by Actors Equity grownups! - but as part of a singing gingerbread fence. Seriously. I loved this stuff.

I'm not a stellar actor or singer by any means but I can hold my own on the community theater level. Yet, at some point in the latter half of my college career, I just...stopped. Stopped auditioning, stopped wanting to be on stage, stopped craving the energy of "being in a show." I was the rehearsal accompanist (yeah, I'm good on the piano - that's one thing I *haven't* given up) for a couple of shows after I quit auditioning, and then I stopped doing even that. And suddenly I miss it, now that everything I'd learned has gone completely cold and I've moved to a state with more cows than culture. Figures.

I doubt I'd actually go try out, though, even if I learned of a theater somewhere around here.

Funny how we change. The sad kind of funny, I think.

BTW, this is VermontStefanie, but I've misplaced the neurons that were responsible for the password associated with that name, so I'm defaulting to my other Google name. And yes, I know the Rockies aren't in Vermont, but our horses are all Rocky Mountain Horses (from the 'rocky mountains of Kentucky'!!).

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful way to fill up the NaBloPoMo.

At the ripe old age of 48, I got myself a sketch book and started drawing, something I hadn't done since I was a kid. I've been enjoying relearning. And unlearning. I've had to unlearn a lot of bad habits (such as being overly critical).

Anonymous said...

I love this! Beautiful!

At the moment, I have given up playing the flute for a living. But I haven't given up playing completely. I'll be writing about this for my Letter F post.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I gave up trying to be perfect- and I am so glad I did. I now try anyhting- and even like doing things I am not good at. I feel like I hve lost so much time only doing things I am good at and being afraid of trying new things in case I fail.
thanks for the fantastic post- I look forward to B

Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to steal this encyclopedia idea. Because I joined NaBloPoMo at the last minute and am now petrified of dropping out like I did last year!

One thousand awesome blogger points for the "Wonder Years" quote. I miss the way I wrote as a child. While I still write today, it's not with the freedom and fun that I had then. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

What a great post. If your art skills are as good as you imply, you are lucky to be a skilled writer AND artist.

As for what I gave up, I'd say dance. I loved taking dance classes. I even took more in college. However I never liked performing. Just taking the daily/weekly classes and going through the rituals of warmups. Yoga is as close as I've come as an adult.

Great quote from Kevin Arnold too. It's a keeper.

steve said...

Why not try a little sketch and post the results when you get around to "S"? I'd like to see it.

Also, good luck on the NaBloPoMo. I might be stealing ideas from you. I need all the help I can get.

Red said...

Ooooh I love your new design!

Stefanie said...

Lara--You just proved my point: people who know me today don't know about this! If it evens things out, I had no idea you were an award-winning French horn player!

Noelle--I'm glad someone remembered the turtle! :-) I was worried no one would get that reference.

Julia--Sadly, I think part of why I dropped art was for a similar reason... I had it in my head that to spend all day drawing would be a waste of my brain. That sounds so horrible now that I don't really even want to admit it.

Courtney--I was actually thinking it would be fun to include that in this post, but sadly, all my old art stuff is one of the many things that's still at my parents' house (six hours away). The prom pictures I wanted to post several months ago are there, too. :-(

Sognatrice--Like I said back to Julia, I totally get that. Art didn't seem practical (nor did any sort of creative writing). Also, I played flute, too!

VermontStefanie--I LOVE that you were part of a singing gingerbread fence! :-) The picture of that in my head is cracking me up. I'm sure you were adorable.

Robin--Good for you! We could all stand to unlearn a few bad habits, I think.

Abbersnail--Thanks! I loved your letter A post, too.

Monkey--Thanks. And you're right; life's too short not to do things that sound fun just because you don't think you'll be good at them.

Chickadee--Steal away! I'd love to see what other people do with the alphabet.

Pam--Well, I didn't say my art skills were great NOW... but in grade school, I was awesome. :-)

Steve--You should do the encyclopedia thing, too!

Red--Thanks! :-)

Akkire said...

Tap dancing. I started when I was 5 or 6 and from the beginning, it came naturally to me. I was the girl the rest of the class would look to when they forgot the steps (and my mom LOVES to show the recital tape of when this happened on stage).

When I went into 8th grade, I longed to play the sports I had been denied as a child. I gave up dancing so I could run track...and I SUCKED at track. Then in high school I tried tennis. I was NOT a tennis player. Then in college, I tried Rugby and though it was fun and I could do it, my heart was never really in it.

I wish I had been able to stay true to my talent rather than switch to something I couldn't excel at and a desire I longed for but didn't have...