Wednesday, June 13, 2012

thank you to phil lee.

once upon a time, i was waiting in line at a hotdog stand, biding my time before trudging off to another dreaded biology lab.

i had bribed myself, with a hotdog i could not afford, into attendance at my bi-weekly punishment for being a science student: 3 hours of torturous biological bliss. it was horrible. i don't remember the details of these terrible times, but i remember avoiding them like the plague, and having my grades in the class decline terminally.

back in line: it was a beautiful october evening, with the sun setting and everything crisp but not yet cold, basking in golden nostalgia for the summer, about to don a toque for the fall. i was savoring another glorious drawing class in the studios of the heart of the campus. i had spent the last three hours putting charcoal to newsprint and manila paper, scraping conte contours and smearing true, absolute black into shadows only i knew the depths of. it was second year drawing, my only elective in the fall of my first year, and i was in love.

how i would fantasize in those days! i would picture myself walking along the paths of the quad, bearing the weight of my artistry in a massive black portfolio slung over one shoulder. i would dream of the victorian, jacobian, elizabethan volumes scattered across my desk. i would envision myself, twitching, pressing buttons to different floors in the library, seeing the stacks instead of the scientific journals, signing out shakespeare instead of organic chemistry for absolute idiots.

i was in the middle of just such a daydream when i recognized a classmate heading away from the cart with his own hotdog. he was actually in second year. he was dashing, charismatic, friendly, and, most importantly, a really good artist.



we made small talk, gabbed a bit about the class and our crazy but gifted prof, and what we were working on for our series due next week. i eventually got my hotdog. i looked at my watch. he asked me what my plans were for that night. being an absolute novice, i didn't recognize the invitation in the inquiry, and couldn't have wished to respond appropriately if i had, and i told him the truth: biology lab.



what are you studying?

human biology, a major. i'm going to be a doctor.

what? i thought you were in art!

no. i wish. i would love to be in art. i really hate science here.

man. you should switch.

what? no way. i can't.

yeah. well. you should. your stuff's really good.

and i don't remember much of the conversation past that because my head started to swirl and everything faded away and all i knew was this: someone, who didn't know me at all, who owed me absolutely nothing in confidence or compliment or commitment, who was hardly even a friend, and who made wicked works on paper, told me that my stuff was really good.

for someone who grew up to become someone like me, that moment was crystal. and, about a year later, it would all come to a head and i would make the big switch and paint a painting of it and rid myself of the suffering sciences forever. i was an artist. and that fact shone so truly that a stranger could see it and believe it! here was no daydream. here was no sick fantasy about having a pile of homework written in verse and iambic pentameter. here was no coaxed and forgotten cheap thrill compliment from a girl i'd rather kiss than critique my art with. here was the real potent deal.

i grew up always looking for praise. my parents tried very hard to make me non-dependent upon praise or other stimuli in the model of externalized self-esteem. this was, despite all their efforts, to no avail. maybe they wanted me to depend so little on direct praise that they almost never gave it to me, or i learned to ignore it if it did happen. maybe i internalized every struggle, triumph, and pride so that my rewards were mine, and i wouldn't mess up the tenuous balance between my sister's moods and my brother's learning disability and my mother's shift work and my father's philosophies. either way, whatever happened, i learned to keep to myself, and give absolute licence to the things i could not help but love doing. i didn't need praise if i just needed to do the thing, no matter how "well". i didn't need approval if i couldn't help myself but do it.

the hotdog started to drip grease and relish onto the web of skin between my index finger and thumb. the grease joined some of the conte and charcoal dust trapped there, and i thought a minute about primitive pigments and visions and the big Truth. it was all there. i went to the lab. i barely passed the course. i didn't become a doctor. and i'm still an artist, approved or otherwise.

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